This week Discovering Fiji brings you the story of Samuel Patterson, a sailor who experienced first hand the famous wreck of the Eliza at Nairai in 1808.
He spent over six months in ‘dreadful sufferings’, following the wreck, a tragedy that not only defined his time in Fiji but perhaps, also changing the course of Fiji’s history.
His voyage is detailed in the book titled: ”Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of Samuel Patterson, experienced in the Pacific Ocean, and many other Parts of the World, with an Account of the Feegee, and Sandwich Islands.”
Patterson was born at North Providence, Rhode Island on August 16, 1785.
His father Hezekiah Patterson was a poor man who had gone on a voyage to the East Indies, forcing his mother to ‘place her six children at different places’ out of necessity.
At the age of 13, he attached himself to a sea caption named Jonathan Eborn and served under his command on a vessel trading to New York and Savannah.
He had left the ship when it returned as he did not wish to cross the Atlantic and later in 1780 he entered on board the United States frigate George Washington then next engaged onboard a brig bound for Jamaica.
It was later in the years after his trip to Canton and Port Jackson that he sailed for the Fiji Islands.
On the American Brig ‘Eliza’ belonging to Providence (Rhode Island), Patterson sailed in May 1808 and arrived after 12 days at Tongatapu.
“While lying here there came two men to us, John Husk and Charles Savage and stated that the Port-au-prince, an English Letter of Marque, had been taken by the savages and all the hands massacred, excepting 21 and they were two of the survivors, but the others were on different islands,” Patterson wrote.
“These men wanted a passage, and we received them on board. They also informed us that a chief by the name of Torki (Togi) intended to rise on us.
“Great numbers of the natives came alongside, and we had a profitable trade with them for a number of days.”
Note that Savage later influenced Fijian chiefs and had a hand in the rise of Bau as a powerful chiefdom.
Wikipedia notes that Savage easily insinuated himself in the company of the Bau Island chieftain Naulivou.
The wreck of the Eliza is believed to have marked the introduction of arms to Fiji.
“From the wreckage of the Eliza, Savage was able to salvage a number of muskets which he then demonstrated to the Bauan leaders,” Wikipedia reports.
“This combination of circumstance, personality, and technology allowed Savage to participate in the Fijian wars, allegedly the first time firearms were ever used in Fiji.”
On May 16 (1808) the visitors were approached by 140 canoes with the natives and trading began at length and the chief was permitted 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,” Patterson noted in his book.
“The captain then pointed a pistol at him, at which he fell off backward 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 for I was hardly able to walk. The savages were soon dispersed, and we got immediately under weigh.”
A purchase was then made of several canoes to carry to Fiji to purchase sandalwood that was to be later sold in India, where the timber fetched lucrative prices.
“Our voyage to the Feejee Islands was principally to procure this article (sandalwood). We touched at a number of islands, and on the 20th of June were nigh the place to which we were bound.
“On the 20th of June 1808, being in S. lat. 17, 40, E. Long 179, at about eleven o’clock p.m. the man who had the lookout on the forecastle, seeing breakers but just ahead, cried out with the greatest vehemence, and gave us the alarm. Although Patterson was still sick in his bunk below, he jumped out with others, but before they could get on deck Eliza struck the rocks.
“We catched the axe and cut away the rigging, and the masts went over the side ; and as they fell brake our whaleboat in pieces, but we got the long boat out and put the money in it to the amount of 34000 dollars, the navigating implements, muskets, a cask of powder and balls, cutlasses and some of our clothes.”
Patterson described the violence of the sea and how they quickly went into the long boat to save themselves.
“Our fears were great that if the vessel went to pieces, we should be killed by the timbers.
“We lay by the wreck all night in the long boat, and when daylight appeared in the morning, we saw the island of Nirie (Nairai), one of the Feejees, about nine miles distant from us, and we took our two remaining boats and steered for it.
“The natives seeing us coming, came down in great numbers with their implements of war, such as bows and arrows, spears and war clubs, and gave us to understand that they would not injure us if we would give them what we had in our boats.”
Patterson said the natives stripped him of his jacket, trousers and shirt and was left completely naked with the rest of the crew.
“The captain endeavoured to encourage us, and told us he would try to prevail on the chief to let us have the long boat; and after about one week he procured it and started off with his two mates, and two others, having first collected as much of the money from the savages as they could, in all about 6000 dollars.
“When they set off the captain called us down to the boat, gave us our charge, and shook hands with us.
“He told us that he was going to the island of Booyer (Bua) in hopes of finding a ship lying there, and if he did he would be back in the course of a week and take us off.
“He ordered us to collect what money we could from the savages, and take care of it, which we endeavoured to do, though it was attended with considerable difficulty, for it was scattered extensively among the ignorant natives.”
Patterson said the captain had found the American ship but did not return as soon as was expected and not until he was gone from Nairai.
“He however at length came back, but succeeded only to bring off his boy. The savages opposed him, and two of those with him were killed, and several wounded.
“He sailed for Canton, but before he arrived, he put into port in distress, took charge of a Spanish ship, was cast away and died. Charles Savage, who was with those left behind could speak the local language and therefore became the group’s interpreter.”
Patterson, said while the crew were on the island of Nairai, a chief from another island Mbatiki (Batiki) persuaded him and one of his shipmates to go home with him.
“We took all the money we had collected and went, Beteger (Mbatiki) lies not far from Nirie (Nairai) and we arrived there in a few hours.
“The people of this place were very fond of us and the chief used to take us over his plantations and shew us his cane and the produce he had growing.”
Note also that Savage was with a party of sandalwood traders who got killed in a skirmish with warriors from Wailea in Bua on September 6, 1813.
This has already been discussed in detail in Discovering Fiji, Sunday, March 20, 2023 under the headline “The man behind Dillon’s Rock, Bua”.
• Next week: PART 2