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The buccaneers under Davis in the mean time scoured the South Sea, and took a great number of prizes. They mustered above a thousand men, distributed in nine or ten vessels. They were foiled, however, in their attack on a Spanish fleet that was sent against them; the towns along the coast were no longer to be surprised; so that, finding the profit by no means proportioned to the great risks they ran, after cruising three years in the South Seas they determined to return home. Leaving their retreat at the Galapagos accordingly, the squadron under Davis steered southward, and in lat. 27° 20' S. discovered a low island, which is generally supposed to be Easter Island. In this part of their course they felt a dreadful shock, as if the ship had struck on a rock ; but they found no soundings, and seeing the sea turn white as if mixed with sand, they concluded it to be an earthquake, - a conjecture which they afterwards found to be correct. When they felt this shock they were 150 leagues from the main land of America, where Lima experienced its fatal effects. When Davis and his companions arrived at the West India Islands, in 1688, a proclamation had been recently issued, offering the king's pardon to all the buccaneers who would abandon that course of life and claim the benefit of the proclamation. Our adventurers, who were not without money, availed themselves of this opportunity of enjoying some repose. Davis returned to England, and was always regarded by his old companions with the esteem and respect due to the generosity of his temper and his ability as a seaman. Captain Swan, in the Cygnet, accompanied by many veteran buccaneers, and by Dampier among the rest, had parted from Davis in 1685, and sailed towards the north-west, along the coast of New Spain, in hopes of intercepting some ships from Manilla, and of obtaining a rich pillage on land. At St. Pecaque, while carrying. off the provisions from the town, a large body of Spaniards came suddenly upon them, and gave them the most signal defeat which the buccaneers had yet received in the
South Sea. Above fifty Englishmen and a few blacks were killed; nearly half their force. Dampier tells us that “Captain Swan had been informed by his astrologer of the great danger they were in; and several men, who went in the first party, opposed the division of their force: some of them foreboded their misfortune, and heard, as they lay down in the church at night, grievous groanings, which kept them from sleep.” On the 31st of March, 1686, they sailed westward from the American coast; and they seem to have commenced their voyage across the Pacific with a short allowance of provisions. “The kettle,” Dampier tells us, “ was boiled but once a-day, and there was no occasion to call the men to victuals. All hands came up to see the quartermaster share it, and he had need to be exact. We had two dogs and two cats on board, and they likewise had a small allowance given them; and they waited with as much eagerness to see it shared as we did.” The first land they made was at the Ladrones, where they anchored on the west side of Guahan, about a mile from the shore. The Acapulco ship arrived here shortly after; and it was with difficulty that Swan could dissuade his heroes from attacking her. Dampier praises the ingenuity of the natives of the Ladrones, and gives a minute description of their fast-sailing canoes, called flying proas. “I have been particular,” he says, “ in describing these canoes, because I believe they sail the best of any boats in the world. I tried the swiftness of one of them with our log; we had twelve knots on our reel, and she ran it all out before the half-minute glass was half out. I believe she would run twenty-four miles in the hour. It was very pleasant to see the little boat running so swiftly by the other's side. I was told that one of these proas, being sent express from Guahan to Manilla (a distance of about 480 leagues), performed the voyage in four days.” At Mindanao the buccaneers were well received. Being frank in manners, and regardless of their money, they became great favourites with the natives, who were surprised to see Europeans so free from pride and griping avarice. Each of them had a native comrade, who exchanged names with him, according to the usage of the South Sea; and they were allowed also to have pagallies, or friends of the fair sex, with whom they might share the tender happiness of Platonic attachment. But these were dangerous familiarities among a people deadly in their resentments. While the Cygnet lay at Mindanao, sixteen of her crew died, in consequence, it was supposed, of poison: many more suffered tedious illness from the same cause. As they wished for a secure retreat to repair their vessel, they steered for five small islands that were marked in the chart between Luconia and Formosa, and which they hoped to find uninhabited. They had no sooner anchored near one of these islands, than the ship was surrounded by canoes: the natives came on board, welcomed the strangers with a drink called bashee, and sold them a fat hog for an old iron hoop. The five islands now received severally the names of Grafton, Monmouth's, Orange, Goat, and Bashee Island. “The easternmost,” says Dampier, “at which we careened, our men unanimously called Bashee Island, because of the quantity of that liquor which we drank there every day. This drink, called bashee, the natives make with the juice of the sugar-cane, to which they put some small black berries. It is well boiled, and then put into great jars, in which it stands three or four days to ferment. Then it settles clear, and is presently fit to drink. This is an excellent liquor, and I believe wholesome, and much like our English beer both in colour and taste. Our men drank briskly of it during several weeks, and were frequently drunk with it, and never sick in consequence.” The inhabitants of these rocky islands were found to be a gentle, cleanly, and industrious people. They resembled the Chinese in features, but were darker coloured, and had larger eyes. No trace of superstition or of government was observed among them by the English; all seemed to be on an equality: yet, while the Cygnet lay here, a young man was buried alive for some offence. When his grave was dug, his friends took their last farewell of him, and he quietly resigned himself to his fate. The ship being suddenly driven to sea by a heavy wind, six seamen were left behind on the island: but in a few days she returned to her anchorage; and the men, when they came on board, related, that when the ship was out of sight the natives redoubled their kindness towards them, and tried to persuade them to cut their hair short, according to the fashion of the islands, promising to each of them, in case of compliance, a young woman to wife, a piece of ground, and agricultural implements. These offers were declined; but on the return of the ship, the natives received for their kindness three whole bars of iron. The Cygnet, on leaving the five islands, steered a southerly course, by Celebes and Timor, till she arrived at the north-west coast of New Holland, in 16° 50'. A party went ashore to search for water, and surprised some of the natives. Pains were taken to calm their fears, and to induce them to lend their assistance in filling the water-casks and conveying them to the boat. “But all the signs we could make,” says Dampier, “ were to no purpose; for they stood like statues, staring at one another, and grinning like so many monkeys. These poor creatures seem not accustomed to carry burdens; and I believe one of our ship's boys, of ten years old, would carry as much as one of their men.” His general description of the natives of New Holland is accurate and just. “The inhabitants of this country,” he says, “are the most miserable people in the world: the Hottentots, compared with them, are gentlemen. They have no houses, animals, or poultry; their persons are tall, straight bodied, thin, with long limbs; they have great heads, round foreheads, and great brows; their eyelids are always half closed, to keep the flies out of their eyes (for they are so troublesome here that no fanning will keep them from one's face), so that, from their infancy, they never open their eyes as other people do, and therefore they cannot see far unless they hold up their heads as if they were looking at something over them. They have great bottle noses, full lips, wide mouths; the two fore teeth of the upper jaw are wanting in all of them; neither have they any beard. Their hair is short, black, and curled ; and their skins coal black, like that of the negroes in Guinea. Their only food is fish, and they consequently search for them at low water; and they make little weirs, or dams with stones, across little coves of the sea. At one time, our boat being among the islands seeking for game, espied a drove of these people swimming from one island to another, for they have neither boats, canoes, nor bark logs.”
Dampier quitted the Cygnet at the Nicobar Islands, and reached England in 1691. The captain and a large party continued their piratical cruising in the Indian seas, till, after a variety of adventures, they put into St. Augustine's Bay, in Madagascar, where their worn-out vessel sunk at her anchors. Some of the men embarked in European ships, and others engaged in the service of the petty kings of the island.
The association of the buccaneers gave rise to a greater number of bold navigations than had ever yet proceeded in an equal space of time from the rival states of Europe. Those who commanded in the South Sea were almost all Englishmen; and many of them were evidently able seamen, and, in other respects, men of ability. In the narratives of Dampier and of Cowley, the toils and dangers of a roving life were shown combined with much to exhilarate and delight, and a voyage round the world was no longer looked upon as a wonderful achievement. Mariners grew more daring, and ceased to associate the ideas of danger and of distance. Since the time of sir Francis Drake, England rose steadily in maritime power, and continued to send forth the most skilful and intrepid seamen ; and it redounds not a little to her honour, that the first expedition equipped solely for the purpose of making geographical discoveries, and without any ulterior objects of political or commercial gain, was despatched from her shores.