The Adventures of Charlie Savage

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Charlie Savage

Charlie Savage had to be one of the most well-known Europeans to have stepped foot on the islands of Fiji. In the early 1900s, many vessels from around the world converged on the islands to partake in the very lucrative sandalwood industry that was taking shape. The American vessel  ‘Eliza," captained by E. Hill Correy, carried the castaway from Tonga to Fiji; little did they know this particular piece of cargo would lead to the sequence of events that would change the dynamics of the tribal powerhouses in Fiji and the way natives conducted their internal tribal warfare.  The story has it all: a shipwreck on a tropical island, treasure, being marooned on a tropical island, inter-island warfare, and the well-documented finale at Dillon Rock.

Table of Contents

Table: William Lockerby Vessels and Crew

VesselPositionNameNationWeightGunsCrew
JennyCaptainWilliam DorrAmerican205614
MateWilliam Lockerby
Super CargoMr. Francker
ElizaCaptainE. Hill CorreyAmerican135310
Chief MateMr. Elderkin
Second MateMr. Barton
Nantucket SeamanSamuel Patterson
CastawayJohn Husk
CastawayCharlie Savage
ElizabethCaptainStewart
FavoriteCaptainWilliam CambleAmerican245425
General WellesleyCaptainDavid Dalrymple4001550
TonquinCaptainBrumley
HunterCaptainRobinson

It was a mild night, close to midnight on June 20, 1808 (2300 hours), the American brig ‘Eliza’, Captained by E. Hill Correy, hit the Mocea Reef near Nairai, in the Lomaviti archipelago in the Fiji Islands.  She ‘Eliza’ was a 135-ton, brig-rigged vessel armed with 3 guns, and carried a small but motley crew of ten, originally, constructed and registered in Providence, Rhode Island, United States, and was owned by Brown & Ives.  She is most notable for being the ship that provided passage for Charlie Savage and the formidable muzzle-loaded long gun the Musket to Fiji.

The ‘Eliza’ and her crew originally left the port of Port Jackson, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on the 22nd of April 1808, where she touched base in the Norfolk islands, an external territory of Australia located in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and New Caledonia, followed by the islands of Tonga then her principle destination of Bua Bay on the south-western coast of the island of Vanua Levu in the Fiji group (Commonly called Sandlewood bay), to fill her bilges with the prized possession of sandalwood, a commodity identified by a prior American seaman named Oliver Slater in 1804, a survivor of the Argo exhibition, recorded that ‘Fiji contained large areas of highly valuable sandalwood, to constitute a very worthwhile commercial proposition’.  This started a deluge of vessels to the coast to stake their claim and make money from the Chinese market.

Upon arriving in Fiji, she ‘Eliza’ was to rendezvous with another American ship, the ‘Jenny’, under the Captainship of  William Dorr Jun, she ‘Jenny’ of ‘205 tons, carrying 6 guns and 14 men, owned by Messrs. John Dorr & Co’ (Wharton, 1922), both ships intending to join in the recently initiated and lucrative sandalwood trade.  William Lockerby of Liverpool, the first mate aboard the Boston-based ship Jenny, recounted how in 1808 Captain William Dorr paid the equivalent of £50 for 250 tons of Fijian sandalwood that subsequently fetched £20,000 in China. (Melillo, E. D. 2015).

The journey of ‘Eliza’ from Norfolk islands to Tonga was uneventful, reaching Tongatapu, the furthermost south of the three small groups of islands comprising the Tongan archipelago, at the beginning of the month of June, the few days they were in port, supplies were taken on from the canoes loaded by the natives.  This is where the first appearance of Charlie Savage, a castaway, a survivor of an English privateer, the Port au Prince, whose crew was massacred when his ship was taken at Ha’apai Island, alongside his comrade John Husk informed Captain Correy of a similar impending fate is being planned by the natives, upon hearing this news he promised them both passage and informed the crew to immediately clear the decks and raise the anchors and set sail for the Fijian islands, a slight deviation was printed detailing this introduction to Charlie Savage, it read as follows ‘that about 140 canoes filled with armed men encircled the ship, but on Charlie Savage’s advice, the Eliza’s Master Capt. Correy pointed a pistol at the Chief’s head. The canoes turned back, from fear of the wrath of the gods. (Fiji Times Monthly).  The journals of William Lockerby 1808-1809, stated a very similar account reading,

On the 16th of May, it being calm, we could not get under weigh, and there came 140 canoes of savages alongside and went to trading; at length, the chief, who had laid his plans to take us, made his appearance, and we permitted him to come on board. We kept every man to his arms, but soon one of the Englishmen who knew their signs and language, told our captain that a signal was given to attack us, he asked by whom and was told by Torki the chief, who was sitting by the tafiil raiU. The Captain then pointed a pistol at him, at which he fell off backwards and went on board of his canoe.  At this time I was unwell but was called from below by the captain, and directed to sit on the hen coop with a brace of pistols and a cutlass, and not to let my weakness be observed.  (Wharton, 1922)

Map: Voyage of the ‘Eliza’


Map displaying the route of the 'Eliza Vessel; in 1808
Map displaying the route of the ‘Eliza Vessel; in 1808 | Image: Supplied

‘Shipwreck’

Hence; we return to the beginning of the story, on the starlight night of June 20th, ‘Eliza’ and its expanded crew totaling 12 now, struck the hidden Mocea Reef near Nairai island,  the vessel had veered too far south from the designated course, laying wrecked only  80 miles from their intended destination Sandal Wood Bay in Vanua Levu.

The ship did not break up immediately,  allowing the crew time to release the longboat and to start loading some necessities,  including “muskets, a cask of powder and balls and the amount of 34,000 dollars”,  further attempts were made to create a lifeboat, by rigging two canoes together, this abruptly came to an end when the violence of the swell parted the line, breaking the connection,  the canoes were instantly swept away with two crew members onboard, one successfully made landfall further along the coast and found some days later., and the other being John Husk who had recently joined the crew in Tongatapu, he was lost to sight shortly afterward, and the only casualty.

Throughout the night, the rest of the crew with their captain remained in the longboat close to ‘Eliza’, with Nairai island only becoming visible for the first time as the sun started to rise the following morning, a cold, tired and drenched crew could see faintly a small gathering of natives on the beach, with canoes being launched, in the attempt to reach the wreck before it broke up.  Expecting a hostile and ultimately bloody welcoming reception, from the savages who were wielding their warclub and spears, the crew was relieved when they were only stripped of the possessions rescued from the brig from the previous night, and the clothes, that adorned their bodies.

Thus, the crew of the Eliza survived their double misfortune and were led away by the Nairai natives to their village: a beginning, for some of the crew at any rate, of a new and very different life.

‘Beachcomber ‘

With the help of Charlie Savage who could speak the native language, Captain Correy managed to get some of the money back, and after several days on the island of Nairai, in all about 6000 dollars was recovered.

Charlie Savage had learned a little of Tongan and some Fijian in Tongatabu and put forward a reasonable argument to the chief of the village, that eventually gave permission to Captain Correy to set off with the longboat and four able and trusted men, these being Billy Elderkin chief mate, Seth Barton second mate, Charles Bowen, a son of judge Bowen on the Mohawk river, and John Holden, the destination; Sandalwood Bay (Vanua Levu) to look for help, from the ships he expected there loading sandalwood.  Before leaving he called down to the boat the remaining crew (Samuel Pattersons amongst them), gave charge, and shook hands; with the expectation, they would be back within a week.

On 29 June 1808, Captain Correy and his crew found the ‘brig Elizabeth’ and the American ship ‘Jenny’ lying at anchor in Sandalwood Bay, they were making negotiations and trading with the local natives for a cargo of sandalwood.  Exhausted, naked, and hungry the crew was welcomed aboard the ‘Jenny’, supplied with clothes and other necessities.

On the 3rd. of July two boats were fitted out for the purpose of recovering the crew and as much of the money as we could that was on board the ‘Eliza’ which amounted to thirty thousand dollars. The boats were well provided, manned, and armed; Captn. Correy, his mates, Mr. Francker, and William Lockerby were of the number and the rescue party was formed, which subsequently left there on 06 July.

Upon arrival to Nairai, the recovery expedition soon discovered that the remaining crew members of the Eliza had relocated to another island (Batika), with the largest part of the money, and muskets.  They still managed to procure a further 9000 dollars.   Upon their departure, they were attacked by the natives, whose curiosity had grown surrounding the importance placed on the coins   Lockerby and Correy were thrown into the water, but managed to climb back aboard, making their escape after firing muskets and a swivel gun.

During this time, Lockerby kept a journal which is easily the best historical description of events during Fiji’s sandalwood era. the journal provides valuable insight, into the customs, battles, and day to day of the native Fijians during this time and can be read in full The Journal Of William Lockerby 1808-1809

Charlie Savage

Not too much is known about Charlie Savage before his arrival to the South Pacific, except that he was Swedish and his real name was Kaile Svenson,  While he was still on the Island of Nairai after the shipwreck of ‘Eliza’, awaiting the return of Captain. Correy, a canoe voyaging from Lakebato Bau stopped at the island. The Tui Lawaki, the Chief of Nairai, was asked to part with Charlie Savage as a gift to the King of Bau – to be the ‘Vunivalu’s, white man’  Charlie took with him several muskets and some ammunition.

Before the arrival of Charlie Savage, inter-island warfare was a balanced affair, with the natives typically settling their disputes in a battle of strength, with weapons they both possessed, this all changed with the introduction of the musket, any army who disputed the dominance of the king of Bau, would be ceremonially attacked and made example of.

Many of the natives had not seen the destructive power of the musket, combined with the swedes pattern of attack, wearing only bark loincloths and painted skin so as to be less conspicuous, he primed several muskets and targeted the removal of the chief,  disempowering the warriors who disperse and lose all the will to fight on ‘believing the gods had come’, in a siege of Nakelo, Charlie Savage had the Bauans plait a basket of sinnet large enough to hold him and thick enough to turn arrows. With a small slit for the musket, he was lifted into the trees overlooking the wall of the fort, firing at leisure. The town shortly fell.

Charlie Savage’s reputation and notoriety spread across the islands of Fiji, with many ex-convicts, and deserters joining him on the island, with the promise of an easier life than at sea, and multiple wives, the lure was too much to resist.  When sandalwood ships came, the beachcombers were only too pleased to lend a hand, taking their pay in muskets, ammunition, and rum.  One of these ships was the hunter an east Indian man under Captain Robson who reached Wailea in February 1813

First-hand accounts are the most reliable in regard to raw information because they were written by people who knew Savage. There are only two; Patterson (1817) and Dillon (1829), who fit into this category.   Below we have transcribed the final few moments of Charles Savage’s adventures, on the infamous Dillons Rock from Peter Dillon’s 1829 written account, which is in the public domain (Voyage in the South Seas of La Perouse’s Expedition interspersed with accounts of the Religion, Manners, Customs, and Cannibal Practices or the South Sea islanders by the Chevalier Captain. P. Dillon, 1829).

The Events of Dillon’s Rock


The siege atop Dillon's Rock
The siege atop Dillon’s Rock
  • Ship Hunter anchors. Friendly reception by the natives, met with European sailors
  • Trade for sandalwood. Hunter’s crew joins the native’s war expedition.
  • The captain quarrels with his allies, over the quantity of sandalwood provided, taking eight prisoners. Ship’s company and Bow natives go on shore to fight.
  • The whole party was defeated and obliged to fly.  Three men escape to Dillon’s rock, and see their companions cut up and devoured.
  • Charlie Savage was killed in a skirmish with Wailea Fijians on September 6, 1813.
  • They escape to the ship, which sails from the Fejees.

Ship Hunter anchors at the Fejees. Friendly reception by the savages, Meet with European sailors on shore

In 1812 and 1813, I sailed as an officer in the Calcutta ship Hunter, Captain Robson, on a voyage from Bengal to New South Wales, the Beefee Islands (Commonly called Fejee Islands, and Canton).  I had before visited these islands in 1800, and remained among them for four months, during which time, being in the habit of associating very much with the natives, I made considerable progress in learning their language.  On joining the Hunter, I found Captain Robson had been at these islands twice before and had obtained considerable influence over the natives of a part of the Sandlewood coast, by joining them in their wars and assisting them to destroy their enemies,, who were cut up, baked, and eaten in his presence.  The Chief with whom he was most intimate was Bonasar, of the town of Vilear and its dependencies in the interior.

On the afternoon of the 19th of February 1813, the ship Hunter anchored in Vilear Bay, at a distance of a quarter of a mile from the entrance of a small river that led to the town.  The town of Vilear is about a mile, or perhaps one and a half, from the anchorage, situated on the verdant banks of a beautiful stream.  The sides of the river are covered with thick forests of mangrove bushes to within a short distance of the town, where the land is somewhat elevated and clear of wood.

Before the anchor was let go, the chief’s brother came on board to congratulate the captain on his return. and shortly after, the chief with several other chiefs and priests, with a Lascar or East-Indian sailor, who had deserted from the Hunter at this place about twenty months before.  The chief informed the captain, that shortly after his departure for Canton’s last voyage, the towns which he had conquered on the coast and interior by the captain’s assistance, revolted, and being joined by the powerful tribes who reside on the banks of a large river, called Nanpacab, they had waged a furious war against him.

The chief then hinted at the impossibility there was of obtaining sandalwood until this powerful alliance was put down by the force of musketry, and requested the commander to join him in a new campaign.  The chief urged the danger to which his subjects would be exposed while they were in straggling parties cutting the sandalwood for us, as the enemy would lay wait for them, and cut them off when they least expected it.  I went on shore with the captain and chief to the town, where we were exceedingly well received, and got present of a hog, yams, and cocoa nuts.  We were visited the next day by Terrence Dun and John Riley, British subjects: the former was discharged from Hunter’s last voyage, and the latter from an American brig at the same time.

They informed me that they had resided during their time on shore at various parts of the islands, and were exceedingly well treated by the inhabitants; but that their countrymen who resided on the neighboring Island of Bow had become very troublesome to the islanders.  Such was their bad and overbearing conduct, that the natives rose on them one day and killed three of them, before the king of Bow had time to suppress the wrath of his people, who wished to destroy all the Europeans on the island.  Dun was therefore of the opinion, that the surviving Europeans would be prevented from visiting the ship.

It is here necessary to explain, how so many sailors from different countries got on shore to reside on these islands.  In 1823 an American brig from the river Plate was lost on one of the islands with 40 000 Spanish dollars on board.  The crew was saved in the vessel’s boats and part of them joined an American ship then lying at Myanboor Bay, on the Sandalwood coast, others escaped to the neighboring island of Bow, with as many of the dollars as they could conveniently carry off.  Shortly after the above shipwreck, several vessels, English, Indian, American, and New South Wales men, came to the coast for the purpose of procuring sandalwood.  The seamen on board these vessels became allured by the report of so many dollars being on shore at the neighboring islands.  With a view of enriching themselves, some deserted, and others were regularly discharged by their commanders and proceeded to the field of wealth.  Some of those men, with the few dollars, then procured, brought firearms and gunpowder, with which they rendered important assistance to the king of the neighboring island of Bow, and were on, that account through highly of by the islanders, from among whom they procured wives and lived very comfortably until their insolence and cruelty induced the natives to destroy a part of them, and it will shortly be seen what a dreadful fate awaited the others in consequence of Captain Robson’s proceedings.

Trade for sandalwood. Hunter’s crew joins the savages. War expedition in company with the savages.

From the time of our arrival up to the end of March following, the sandalwood came in but very slowly.  The natives in our neighborhood begged several times of the captain to assist them in their war, and promised as a reward for such service, to load the ship with the desired article in two months after the enemy was conquered.  Captain Robson consented; and we accordingly set out for the island of Nanpacab, situated about six miles up the river of the same name, and distant from the ship forty or fifty miles.  The armament consisted of three armed boats carrying twenty musketeers, and in one of the boats, there was a two-pound cannon mounted.  We were accompanied by forty-six large canoes, carrying I suppose nearly a thousand armed savages, besides three thousand more, marched by the land to the scene of action.  The weather being wet and stormy, we were obliged to rendezvous at an island near the entrance of the Nanpacab until the morning of the 4th, at which time we entered the river, and saluted by showers or arrows and stones from slings by the enemy who were standing on its banks.  On getting near the island of Nanpacab we found it fortified.  After a few discharges of the two-pounder, the defenders abandoned the fortress and escaped to the mainland, from whence they were soon driven by the fire and musketry.

There were eleven of the Naupacab people killed on this occasion, whose bodies were placed in the canoes of our party, except one, which was immediately despatched in a fast sailing canoe to Vilear, to be there devoured.  After this short skirmish, we proceeded fifteen miles up the river and destroyed the towns and plantations on its banks.  In the evening we returned to a landing place, where the islanders began to cook their yams in a kind of oven that will be hereafter described.  The dead bodies were placed on the grass and dissected by one of the priests.  The feet were cut off at the ankles, and the legs from the knees; afterward the private parts; then the thighs at the hip joints; the hands at the wrists, the arms at the elbows, the shoulders at the sockets; and lastly, the head and neck were separated from the body.  Each of these divisions of the human frame formed one joint, which was carefully tied up in green plantain leaves and placed in the oven to be baked with the tara root.

On the morning of the 5th, we proceeded along the coast to the eastward but found the towns, forts, and plantations abandoned.  On the night of the 8th, we returned to the ship.

The captain quarrels with his allies making eight prisoners. Ship’s company and Bow natives go on shore to fight.

Early in May, we were joined by our tender, the Elizabeth Cutter, Mr. Ballard’s master, which had sailed from Port Jackson before us from the Sandwich islands, and a few days after we were visited by the Europeans who resided at Bow.  The captain employed them to work in the ship’s boats, for which they were to be paid the rate of 4 pounds per month, in cutlery, glass beads, ironmongery, &c at a fixed price, and to return to Bow when the ship was prepared to proceed on her voyage.

May, June, July, and August passed over, and we had only procured one hundred and fifty tons of sandalwood from the islanders, which was not more than one-third of a cargo.  They then declared their inability to procure more wood, as the forest was exhausted by the great number of ships that had frequented the coast from some years past.

The chiefs and men of consequence kept away from the ship, being apprehensive they might, be detained as hostages until their engagements of loads the vessel were fulfilled.  Captain Robson was very much displeased at this trick played on him by a savage and cunning people, and vowel vengeance against his old and faithful allies, whose stomachs he had often helped to glut with the flesh of their enemies.

Early in September two large canoes from Bow, carrying about two hundred and twenty or two hundred and thirty men, visited the ship, for the purpose of taking home the Europeans and their wives that joined us in May.  Captain Robson, about that time being sixty miles distant from the ship in the tender, attacked a fleet of Vilear canoes and took fourteen of them, on which occasion a native of the latter place was shot dead by a small cannon shot.  On the ship, and the cutter rejoined company, the captain proposed to heave the cutter down, to repair the damage she had sustained in her bottom.  However, he deemed it prudent before doing so, to endeavor to process himself of the remainder of the Vilear canoes, to prevent, as he said their attacking the people whilst employed about the cutter, as it would be necessary to haul her ashore at high water.

On the morning of the 6th of September, the Europeans belonging to the ship were all armed with muskets, also those Europeans from Bow, and placed under the direction of Mr. Norman, the first officer.  We landed at a place called the Black Rock, a little way to the eastward of the river, the two canoes shortly after landed at the same place.  We were joined by the Bow Chiefs and a hundred of their men.  The canoes and boats the put off into deep water, which precaution was used to prevent their getting aground by the tide ebbing.

On landing the Europeans began to disperse into straggling parties of two, three, and four in a group.  I begged of Mr. Norman, our commander, to cause them to keep close together in case of a sudden attack from the islands; but no attention was paid to my remonstrance.  We proceeded by a narrow path over a small level plain without interruption until we arrived at the foot of a hill, which we ascended, and soon gained the level or tableland on its top.  There a few natives showed themselves, and by shouts and gestures tried to irritate us.

Mr. Norman turned to the right along a narrow path, which led through a thicket to some native houses:  I followed him with seven other Europeans and the two bow Chiefs, with one of their men.  Here a few natives tried to dispute our passage: they were fired at one shot dead, and the other retreated.  Mr Norman then directed the chief’s house with some others to be set on fire.  The order was immediately complied with, and all were in flames in a few seconds.  A few minutes after we heard dreadful hells and shouting of savages proceeding from the road by which we had ascended of the tableland.  The Bow chiefs understood from the yells that some of their men as well as Europeans were killed by the Vilear people, who lay concealed in ambush until they got us on the table land, where they attacked our straggling parties, who had discharged their muskets, were killed before they had time to reload.  Others, I afterward understood, on seeing themselves nearly surrounded by the savages, threw down their muskets and ran toward the boat: only two of who escaped.  In Mr.Normam’s party, there were ten musket men, with the two bow chiefs and one of their followers.  We determined to keep close together and fight our way to the boats.

We immediately got out of the thicket on the table-land, where there were not more than three of the islanders, who shouted and called out to use and that several of our men were killed, as also a number of the Bowmen, and that we should immediately share a similar fate.  On reaching the brink of the path by which we were to descend to the plain, we found Terrence Dun lying dead with his brains beaten out by the native club, and the whole plain between us and the boats covered with thousand of infuriated savages, all armed.  Before descending to the plain, a young man named John Graham separated from us and ran into the thicket of bushes on the left-hand side of the road, where he was quickly pursued by the three savages above mentioned. who despatched him.  This young man was the son of a publican at Port Jackson and had served his time to the sea, had joined an American brig about two years before, as an interpreter for those islands, and after procuring a cargo for her, was paid off and discharged at his own request.  The remainder of us proceeded down the precipice.  On getting to the bottom the savages prepared to receive us,  they stood in thousands on each side of the path, brandishing their weapons, with their faces and bodies besmeared over with the blood of our slaughtered companions.

At this moment a native who came down to precipice after us threw a lance at Mr. Norman, which entered his back and passed out of his breast:  he ran a few yards and fell down apparently dead.  I fired at this native and reloaded my musket as soon as possible when on turning around I found my companion had all fun off by different routes.  Taking advantage of this absence of the natives who had all quitted the path and pursued our unfortunate flying men,  I dashed along with all the speed that was possible but had not proceeded more than a few years when I came on the dead body of William Parker, who was prostrated across the path with his musket by him, which I took up and retreated with.

The whole party was defeated and obliged to fly.  Three men escape to a rock, and see their companions cut up and devoured.

About this time the natives observed me and gave chase.  One of them came up so close to me that i was obliged to throw Parker’s musket away, as also a pistol which I had in my belt.  In a moment after this, I reached the foot of a small steep rock that stood on the plain.  Finding it impossible to get to the boar through the crowd of natives that intercepted the pathway, I called out to my companions (some of whom were on my right) ‘take the hill take the hill’ we then got to the top of it where I joined the following person CHARLES SAVAGE, Luis a Chinaman, and William Wilson.  The three former men resided at Bow, and joined us on this island for the purpose before mentioned.  the two latter were seamen belonging to the ship.  Mic Macabe, with Joseph Atkinson and the two Bow Cheifs, were killed, those men had joined us also here.  Dafny fired his musket on the plain and then broke it off at the butt defending himself.  he was wounded in several parts of the body, and he had four stuck in his back: the point of a spear had pierced his shoulder, having entered from behind and came out in the fore part under the collar bone.

It, fortunately, happened that the rock or hill to which we escaped was so steep that few persons could ascend it at a time. and it was too elevated for the natives to annoy us much with their spears or slings.  They however shot several arrows at us, which were impeded by a strong gale of wind that blew them off their intended courses.  Our chief officers having fallen, I now as next in rank, took command of the party and stationed them in the best way I could to defend our post.  I did not allow more than one or two muskets to be fired at a time and kept the wounded men loading for us.  Several of the natives ascended the hill within a few years and were shot by us in self-defense as fast as they approached.  After some of them had been killed in this manner the rest kept off.  Having but little communication, left we were as sparing of it as possible; besides which we did not wish to irritate the natives more than they already were by firing, except when driven to it by necessity.  From our elevated situation, we had a clear view of the landing place, the boats at anchor waiting for our return, the two Bow canoes, and the ship.  This we had but little prospect of ever again rejoining, though I had some hopes that Captain Robson would make an effort to rescue us, by arming himself, six Indian soldiers that were on board, two or three Europeans, and the Bow people in the canoes.  These hopes soon vanished, when I saw the Bow canoes set sail and steer towards their island without passing alongside the ship.

The plain which surrounded the rock was covered with armed savages assembled from all parts of the coast, amounting to several thousand, who had been in ambush waiting for us to land.  This assemblage now exhibited a scene revolting to human nature.  Fires were prepared and ovens heated for the reception of the bodies of our ill-fated companions, who as well as the bow chiefs and their slaughtered men, were brought to the files in the following manner.  Two of the Vilear party placed a stick or limb of a tree on their shoulders over which were thrown the bodies of their victims, with their legs hanging downwards on one side and their heads on the other.  They were thus carried in triumph to the oven n prepared to receive them.  Here they were placed in a sitting posture, while the savages sang and danced with joy over their prizes, and fired several musket balls through each of the corpses, all the muskets of the slain having fallen into their hands.  No sooner was this ceremony over, than the priests began to cut up and dissect these unfortunate meant in our presence.  Their flesh was immediately placed in the ovens to be baked and prepared as a repeat for the victories after the manner already described; meanwhile we were closely guarded on all sides but one, which fronted the thick mangrove forest on the banks of the river.  Savage proposed to Martina Bushart to run for that, and endeavor to escape to the water’s side and swim for the ship.  This I opposed, threatening to shoot the first man dead that left the hill, and my threat for the present had the desired effect.

By the time the fury of the savages was somewhat abated, they began to listen attentively to our harangues and offers of reconciliation.  I reminded them that on the day the fourteen canoes were seized and taken, eight of their man had been made prisoners on board the ship, where they were now confined.  One of them was the Nambeatey (or high priest) of Vilear’s brother.  I represented to the multitude, that if we were killed the eight prisoners would be put to death on board, but if I with my five companions were not sacrificed we would cause the eight prisoners to be released immediately.  The head priest, who is regarded as a deity by these savages, immediately asked if I was speaking the truth and if his brother and the other seven men were alive? I assured him they were, and that I would send a man on board to the captain to order them to be released if he would convey the man safely down to the boat from among the multitude this priest promised to immediately.  As Thomas Dafay was wounded and had no way to defend himself.  I prevailed on him to venture down the rock with the priest, and thence to the boat.  He was then to inform Captain Robson of the horrid situation, which may be more easily imagined than described.  I also directed him to tell the captain that it was my particular request that he should release one-half o the prisoners and show them a large chest of iron mongery, whales teeth &c which he might promise to deliver to the remaining four prisoners with their liberty, the moment we returned to the ship.

Charlie Savage was killed in a skirmish with Wailea Fijians in Bua, Vanua Levu on September 6, 1813.

This man proceeded as directed and I did not lose sight of him from the time he left us until he got on the ship’s deck.  A cessation of arms took place in the meantime, which might have continued unbroken, had it not been for the imprudence of Charles Savage, who put a greater temptation in the way of the natives than they could withstand.  During the interval, several native chiefs ascended the hill, came within a few paces of us, with prostrations of friendship, and proffered us security if we would go among them.  To these promises I wouldn’t accede, nor allow any of my men to do so; till Charles Savage, who had resided on the islands for more than five years and spoke the native dialect fluently, begged of me to permit him to go down among the natives with the chiefs to whom we were speaking, as he had no doubt their promises would be kept, and that if I allowed him to go he would certainly procure a peace, and enable us all to return safely to the ship.  Overcome by his opportunities, I, at last, gave my consent, but reminded him that I did not wish him to do so and that he must leave his musket and communication with me.  This he did, and proceeded about two hundred yards from the foot of the rock to where Bonasar was seated, surrounded by chiefs, who were happy to receive him, their secret determination being to kill and eat him.  They conversed with him, however for some time, and then called out to me in the native dialect, ‘Come down, Peter, we will not hurt you: you see we do not hurt Charley’  I replied that I would not go down until the prisoners landed.  During this discussion the Chinaman, Luis stole down the opposite side of the hill unknown to me, with his arms, for the purpose of placing himself under the protection of a chief with whom he was intimately acquainted, and to whom he had rendered important service in former wars.  The islanders finding they could not prevail on me to place myself in their power, set up a screetch that rent the air: at the moment Charles Savage was seized by the legs, and held in that state by six men, with his head placed in a well of fresh water until he was suffocated; whilst at the same time a powerful savage got behind the chinaman, and with his huge club knocked the upper part of his skull to pieces.  These wretched men were scarcely lifeless when they were cut up and put into ovens ready prepared for the purpose.

We the three defenders of the hill were then furiously attacked on all sides by the cannibals, whom our muskets however kept in great dread, through the chiefs stimulated their men to ascend and bring us down, promising to confer the greatest honors on the man who should kill me, and frequently inquired of their people if they were afraid of three white men when they had killed several that day.  Thus encouraged, they pressed close on use.  Having four muskets between the three of us, two always remained loaded: for Wilson being a bad shot, we kept him loading the muskets, while martin Bushart and I fired them off.  Bushard had been a rifleman in his own country and was an excellent marksman,  He shot twenty-seven of the cannibals with twenty-eight discharges, only missing once:  I also killed and wounded a few of them in self-defense.  Finding they could not conquer us without a great sacrifice on their part, they kept off and vowed vengeance.

The human bodies being now prepared, they were withdrawn from the ovens and shared with the different tribes, who devoured them greedily.  They frequently invited me to come down and be killed before it was dark so that they might have no trouble in dissecting and baking me in the night.  I was bespoken joint by joint by the different chiefs, who exultingly brandished their weapons in the air, and boasted the number of white men each had killed that day.

In reply to all this, I informed them, that if I was killed, their country meant confined on boars our vessel would be killed also, but that if I was saved they would be saved.  The ruthless savages replied ‘Captain Robson may kill and eat our countrymen if he please, we will kill and eat you. When it is dark you cannot see to shoot us, and you have no more powder’.

Myself; and companions seeing no hope or mercy on earth, turned our eyes towards heaven and implored the Almighty Ruler of all things to have compassion on our wretched souls.  We had now not the most distant hope of ever escaping from the savages and expected to be devoured as our companions were but a few minutes before.  The only thing which prevented our surrendering quietly was the dread of being taken alive and put to torture.

These people sometimes, but not very often torture their prisoners, in the following manner,  They skin the soles of the feet and then torment their victims with firebrands, so as to make them jump about in that wretched state.  At other times they cut off the prisoner’s eyelids and turn their face to the sun, at which he is obliged to look with his bare eyes, this is said to be a dreadful punishment. From the fingers of others, they pull off the nails.  By all accounts, however, these punishments are very rare, and only inflicted on persons who have given the greatest provocation, such as we had done this day, by shooting so many men in our own defense

They escape to the ship, which sails from the Fejees.

Having no more than sixteen or seventeen cartridges left, we determined as soon as it was dark, to place the muzzles of our muskets to our hearts with the buts on the ground and discharge them into our breasts, thus avoiding the danger of falling alive into the hands of these cannibal monsters.

At his moment the boat put off the ship and soon got close to the landing place, where we counted the eight prisoners landing from her.  I could not imagine how the captain could have acted in this strange way, as the only hope presented of our lives being spared was by allowing a part of the prisoners to land, who would, of course, intercede with their friends on shore to save us, that we might return protect their countrymen when we returned to the ship.  But this precaution not having been attended, all hope seemed how fled, and the only means of relief left consisted in the dreadful determination of destroying our own lives in the mode already mentioned

Shortly after the eight prisoners landed, they were conveyed unarmed up the rock to me, preceded by the priest, who informed me that Captain Robson had released the eight men and sent a chest of cutlery, ironmongery,&c. on shore for the chiefs, with orders that we were to silver our muskets to them, and that he would see safe to the boat.  I replied, that as long as I lived I would not part with my musket, which was my own property, as I was certain they would slaughter me and my companions as they had done Charles Savage and Luis.

The priest then turned to Martin Bushart and harangued him on the policy of our complying.  At this moment the thought entered my head of making the priest a prisoner, and either destroying him or regaining my liberty.  I tied Charles Savage’s musket with my neck handkerchief to the belt of my cartridge box and presenting my own musket to the priest’s head, told him that I would shoot him dead if attempted to run away, or if any of his countrymen offered to molest me or my companions.  I then directed him to proceed before me to the boat, threatening him with instant death in case of no compliance.  The priest proceeded s directed, and we passed along through the multitude, he exhorted them to sit down, and upon no account to molest Peter of his countrymen, because if they attempted to hurt us he would be shot, and they of course must be aware they would consequently incur the wrath of the gods in the clouds, who would be angry at their disobedience of the divine orders, and cause the sea to rise and swallow up the island with all its inhabitants.

The multitude treated their priest’s injections with profound respect and sat down on the grass.  The Nambety (which is the term for priest) proceeded as directed toward the boars, with muzzles of Martin Bushart’s and Wilson’s muskets at each of his ears, while the muzzle of mine was placed between his shoulders.  Finding that night was approaching, and anxious to prolong life, I had recourse to this dreadful expedient, being aware of the influence and away which the priests in all barbarous nations have over their votaries.

On getting to the boats, Nambety made a sudden stop.  I ordered him to proceed.  this he refused to do in the most positive manner declaring that he would go no further and that I might shoot him I liked.  I threatened to do so and asked him why he would not go to the water’s edge. He replied.’ you want to take me on board alive, and put me to the torture.’  There being no time to spare, I told him to stand still and turned my face to him with my musket presented, threatening to shoot him if he attempted to move until I got into the boat,  We then walked backwards to the waterside and up to our breasts in water, where we joined the boat, and had no sooner got into her than the islander’s cam down, and saluted us with a shower of arrows and stones from slings.

Being thus once more out of danger, we returned thanks to Divine Providence for our escape and proceeded towards the ship, which we reached, just as the sun was setting.  I expostulated with Captain Robson on his extraordinary conduct, in causing so many human beings to be unnecessarily sacrificed.  he made use of some absurd apologies, and inquired if we were the only person who had escaped: I replied, yes but that if the natives could have made proper use of the muskets which fell into their hand on that occasion. we must all have been killed.

Table: List of the killed, who fell into the hands of the natives.

NamePositionFurther Details
Mr. NormanFirst officer (Crew)
Mr. C. CoxThird Officer (Crew)Son to Mr. Cox, paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. or 102d Regiment.
JonowBoatswain’s Mate (*A lascar) (Crew)
HassenSeaman (*A lascar) (Crew)
MosdeanSeaman (*A lascar) (Crew)
Louis EvansSeaman (Crew)This young man was said to be the son of Governor Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales.
Charles SavageJoined on the islanda Swede, who had been shipwrecked in the Eliza.
John GrahamJoined on the islandof New South Wales, discharged from an American.
Terrence DunnJoined on the islandan Irishman, discharged from the Hunter last voyage
Michael MaccabeJoined on the islandan Irishman, discharged from the English ship City of Edinburgh.
Joseph AtkinsJoined on the islandan Irishman, discharged from the English ship City of Edinburgh.
William ParkerJoined on the islandof London, deserted from an American
LuisJoined on the islanda Chinese, shipwrecked in the Eliza.
PemiJoined on the islandof Otaheite, discharged from an American.
*A lascar was a sailor or militiaman from the Indian subcontinent

It was the end, not only for Charlie Savage but of the sandalwood trade as well, with one exception, it would be five years before any other ships were to visit… this time in search of a new cargo beach-de-Mer also known as sea cucumber.

The Historiography Of Charles Savage

An article titled ‘The Historiography Of Charles Savage‘ discusses the different sources of information and the reliability of that information in an attempt to discover the foundational truths about the most infamous Beachcomber in Fijian literature Charles Savage.  In the article, oral and written sources are subject to rigorous scrutiny to discover the different historical distortions, as neither source type is inherently more reliable than the other.  Elements such as the time of authorship of written articles, ‘cross-influences as later writers draw on whatever earlier written accounts were available’, and exposure to the culture at the time are discussed and forensically dissected.  We have linked the article above.  The author concluded the following points are the most accurate and reliable takeaways from the extremely scarce selection of sources.

  • The Rewa-Bau traditions supply details of Savage’s life of which we can perhaps be fairly sure, but are not sufficiently substantial to provide the basis for a biography.
  • He was probably Swedish.
  • He was a sailor, working on ships out of Port Jackson, and was left by one of them in Tonga, probably in 1807.
  • The Eliza carried him from Tonga to Fiji in 1808, was wrecked near Nairai where his knowledge of Tongan proved useful, and he was taken to Bau.
  • He discharged his obligations to his patron, Naulivou, by joining in the latter’s wars with his musket, which he used to good effect.
  • He was favoured by Naulivou, honoured, and given wives (whose identity is known) appropriate to his status.
  • He was intolerant of some Fijian practices and like many beachcombers, might have been outspoken enough to provoke some scepticism or dissent within Bauan society. But his longevity—five years—suggests that he probably knew when to restrain both his tongue and his hand.
  • Naulivou found him useful as a warrior and probably welcome as a companion, and, because he was the most prominent of the early European residents and died at a time after which few successors were to appear for over a decade, he was remembered in Fijian tradition.’

If Charlie Savage’s life is half as courageous as his final demise in trying to save his comrades on their final stand at Dillon’s Rock,  his life deserves to be remembered, sure there may have been over time an amalgamation of many beachcombers’ adventures, simply told as a single tale of one man’s life.  The broader understanding of the times told in an embellished tale can extend the legend for future generations to enjoy and seemingly impossibles tales do have a grounding in fact, and may not be as fantastical as we imagine.    

References

  • Charles Savage (beachcomber). (2021, June 12). In Wikipedia. Link
  • Eliza (1808). (2022, January 10). In Wikipedia. Link
  • Melillo, E. D. (2015). Making Sea Cucumbers Out of Whales’ Teeth: Nantucket Castaways and Encounters of Value in Nineteenth-Century Fiji. Oxford University Press, 456.
  • Wharton, L. C. (1922). The Journal of William Lockerby 1808 – 1809 (2nd ed.). Hakluty Society. Link
  • Walter, M. A. H. B. (1974). A $40,000 Question, Or : Some Remarks On The Veracity Of Certain Ancient Mariners, Beachcombers And Castaways. The Journal of Polynesian Society, 83, 58-83. Link
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