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THE FIJIAN INQUIRY., Issue 7932, 13 June 1889
THE FIJIAN INQUIRY.
The steamer Fijian, from Melbourne to the New Hebrides, was wrecked off Tanna Island on May 13. She struck a reef on the eastern side of the island, but].was got off on tho engines being reversed. Soon after she commenced to fill, and the engines being put ahead, the steamer was taken through the opening of tho reef, and grounded on a sandy bottom. The crew and passengers landed, but tho Natives mustered in force, and the passengers returned to the vessel. Tho captain sent a boat to tho mission station, twelve miles off, and lauded stores and requisites for forming a camp. Several Natives came aboard and assisted in landing the stores. By the time the work was well underway, about 300 Natives had assembled, about 100 having rifles and ammunition, and the others being armed with knives, spears, and tomahawks. The position of the stranded crew and passengers was anything but pleasant, as the only firearms they possessed were a Winchester rifle and revolver belonging to the captain. The boats were hauled up near the camp, and the Btrength of the compauy concentrated as much as possiblo in preparation for any hostile movement ; but with some presents of tobacco to the chiefs, Captain Fielding secured the withdrawal of all but a few Natives from the vicinity of the camp, and the party were left unmolested during the night following the accident. Next morning the Natives came down in larger numbers, swam off to the vessel, and began looting wholesale. Fortunately, Captain Fielding had taken the precaution to knock the heads out of all tho spirit casks, and as far as possible prevent intoxicating liquor falling into the hands of the Natives. At noon on May 14 the Rev. W. Watt arrived in the mission boat, and advised that the wliolo party should leave their camping place as soon as possible, as he could not guarantee their safety for five minutes, the Natives of the coast being savage and treacherous. The passengers left in the mission boat, but the officers end crew had to remain at tho camp until May 10, when the .reamer Tonterden called iu and took the crew aboard. The Natives meantime had taken everything they could find, and were gradually becoming moro numerous and troublesome. The passengers were Mr Buchatun, M.L.A., of Sydney, and his daughter, Mr Spook, and Mrs Groom (a lady travelling to Fiji). The members of the ship's company saved most of their effects.
the inquiry into the e.mso of tho wreck opened in Sydney on Juno 3. Captain Fielding detailed the circumstances of the wreck, and deposed that he distinctly made an order in tho night order book " Call me at 3.45 a.m." prior to going below, and the sentence was undoubtedly not an afterthought. The officers had it distinctly open to them to check the courses.
Albert Duder, late chief officer of the steamer, deposed that he had tho first watch previous to the vessel being wrecked. He received the night order book from Captain Fielding prior to the wrock. Tho first four lines were what lie saw and read after having received it from Captain Fielding. Ho signed it by tho binnacle lamp as usual,' fcnd placed it in its customary place in the bridge box. At present there was more writing in it than there was when he read and signed it. He said that unhesitatingly. He kept watch until midnight. The second officer then came on duty, got the course, and was told where the book wbs, and that there was nothing very particular in it. He made this remark because it had always been his habit to specially mentiou tho fact to the mate if any particular orders were iu the book. The night was cloudy, with a moderate trade wind, and distant objects could have been fairly well picked up. He turned in as usual, and was awakened by the turning-out bell. Ho walked out on deck, putting on his coat as eight bells struck, and saw land ahead. He did not expect to s>eo it, and so hurried along. Getting on tho lower bridge he saw a slight break a little bit on the port bow. He ran for the upper bridge, and then sang out " Full speed astern." The second officer was then at the telegraph, and he (witness) jumped to it and rang it repeatedly. Almost immediately afterwards tho ship struck. As a sailor his impression was that on getting on deck he would have found tho captain there, being so close to land, but such waß not the case. He had not the slightest idea- that they would see land until "next afternoon. He took a personal interest in the navigation of the ship, and worked out the sights ; but he had no charts of his own. On a previous voyage, under the former captain, he saw the ship's charts frequently ; but under the present captain ho never was invited to look at them. Ho was strongly under the impression that he was not welcome, and he never asked to see them. The addendum made to the book was "Call me at 345 am," with a dash or stroke under it He would distinctly affirm that those woklb were not there when lie signed, nor was it usual to nee interlineations in the night order book. After the ship struck he found tho book on the captain's chest, not in its usual place, the captain having called upon him to bring it. Prior to that the captain had asked him if ho had seen the special order, but witness replied "No. I see it now, but it was not in it when I signed." lie believed that he distinctly looked at the book at the time, and found that the order bad been afterwards inserted. It was quite possible to have inserted an entry, as four hours had elapsed. The captain was not at all well, and, as a matter of fact, on getting ashore he left for the mission station with the missionary, and left his officers and crew to get along as best they could amongst the cannibal Natives. Ho never had any sleep for two days and two nights on the island, but kept guard over the camp with tho only rifle available in his right hand for the protection of their lives. F. S. Harding, who relieved the chief officer, deposed that he had read tho night order book, and was distinctly clear that the entry " Call me," etc., was not there. They mistook tho island for a bank of clouds, and stood right on to it from a quarter past three to four o'clock. Immediately the foresail was hauled up, the mistake was found out. His previous captain had voluntarily shown the officers tho charts, bat tho present captain had not dono so, from some unaccountable cause. The look-out man also stated that ho had not been informed they were approaching laud, nor did he anticipate they wore.
THE FIJIAN INQUIRY., Issue 7932, 13 June 1889
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