The Indian brig Matilda
, Captain Fowler
, on a voyage from New South Wales
, to the Derwent
and Eastern Islands
, was cut off and plundered on the night of the 10th of April, 1815
, white lying at anchor in Duff's Bay
, at the Island of Roodpoah
, one of the Marquesas
. Five of the crew, who were Poomatoomen, had previously deserted, and joining with some of the Roodpoah natives, took the opportunity of a dark night, to cut the vessel adrift; when she drove ashore through a heavy surf, and was soon bilged and filled with water. When the natives saw that it was impracticable to get the vessel afloat, they concurred, universally, in the design of putting the whole of the crew to death; which is a constant practice among the different natives towards one another, when their canoes happen to fall upon a strange shore, through distress of weather or any other accident.
Fortunately, Captain Fowler had formed an intimacy with the chief, or king, of these savages, Nooahetoo, who presided at the horrible tribunal that had devoted the wretched mariners to instant slaughter. He withheld his assent to the murder, but had no hesitation in permitting the plunder of the vessel. The crew were informed by the significant gesticulations that accompanied the vehement debate on the occasion, that their lives were dependent upon the issue. The good chief who was seated with his son by his side, was opposed by many other chiefs, though of inferior rank he had besides been called to the supremacy of the island, by the general wish of the people, his dignity not being an hereditary right, but elective, and the people now pressed their solicitations earnestly, peremptorily demanding his assent to the sacrifice. For a length of time he opposed this cruel resolution by force of words but this not seeming likely to prevail, he adopted a mode, which, while it did honour to his humanity, silenced his people in an instant. Finding that all his expostulations were defeated, upon the principle of undeviating custom, he deliberately took up two ropes that were near him, and fixing one round the neck of his son, and the other round his own, he called to the chief next in command, who immediately approached him. The conference was short and decisive; he first pointed to the cord that encircled the neck of his son, and then to the other which he had entwined round his own. 'These strangers,' said he, 'are doomed to death by my chiefs and my people, and it is not fit that I, who am their king, should live to see so vile a deed perpetrated. Let my child and myself be strangled before it is performed: and then it never will be said, that we sanctioned, even with our eyesight, the destruction of these unoffending people.'
The magnanimity of such conduct produced, even in the mind of the unenlightened savages, a paroxysm of surprise, mingled with sentiments of admiration. For a moment the people looked wildly on their king, whose person they adored. They saw the obedient chief to whom the order of strangling had been imparted, aghast with horror and amazement at the change which a few moments had produced. The mandate which had proceeded from the king's own lips must be obeyed; and commanded to perform the dreadful office, he proceeded to obey, when a sudden shout from the multitude awed him to forbear. 'The king! the king!' burst forth from every lip 'What! kill the king? No, no, let all the strangers live-no man shall kill the king.' Thus were the lives of Captain Fowler and his men preserved, and they afterwards reached Sydney in safety.
From The Percy Anecdotes, published 1823