By the time our people had taken their comrade out of the water, and were making the best of their way to the squadron, the flames had got possession of every part of the town with so powerful a hold, by means of the combustibles laid for the purpose, and by the slightness of the materials of the houses, and their aptitude to take fire, that it was now quite apparent no efforts of the enemy, who now flocked down in great numbers, could possibly stop its ravages, or prevent the entire destruction of the place and all the merchandize it contained. Our detachment under Lieutenant Brett safely joined the squadron, and the commodore prepared to leave the bay that same evening. On our first arrival there were six vessels belonging to the enemy at anchor, one of which was the ship, that was to have sailed with the treasure to the coast of Mexico; and, as she was supposed to be a good sailer, the commodore resolved to take her along with us. The others were two snows, a bark, and two row gallies of thirty-six oars each. These last, as we afterwards learnt, with many others of the same kind built at different ports, were intended to prevent us from landing in the neighbourhood of Callao; as the Spaniards, on the first intelligence of our squadron being destined for the South seas, and learning its force, expected that we would attempt the city of Lima. Having no occasion for these five vessels, the commodore ordered all their masts to be cut by the board at our first arrival; and on leaving the place, they were all towed out into deep water, scuttled, and sunk. The command of the remaining ship, called the Solidad, was given to Mr Hughes, lieutenant of the Tryal, with a crew of ten men. Towards midnight the squadron weighed anchor and sailed out of the bay, now consisting of six ships, the Centurion, Tryal's prize, Carmelo, Teresa, Carmin, and Solidad.
Before proceeding to narrate our subsequent transactions, it may be proper to give a succinct account of the booty we acquired at Payta, and the losses there sustained by the Spaniards. It has been already observed, that there were great quantities of valuable effects at this place, but most of them were of a nature that we could neither dispose of nor carry away, and their value, therefore, can only be guessed at. In their representations to the court of Madrid, as we were afterward assured, the Spaniards estimated their loss at a million and a half of dollars; and as no small portion of the goods we there burnt were of the richest and most expensive kinds, as broad cloths, silks, cambrics, velvets, and the like, perhaps that valuation might be sufficiently moderate. The acquisition we made, though inconsiderable in comparison to what we destroyed, was yet far from despicable, as, in wrought plate, dollars, and other coin, there was to the value of more than 30,000l. sterling, besides several rings, bracelets, and other jewels, the value of which could not then be ascertained; and besides the very great plunder which became the property of the immediate captors.
It has been already observed, that all the prisoners we had taken in our preceding prizes were here discharged. Among these were some persons of considerable distinction, one of them a youth of seventeen, son to the vice-president of Chili. As the barbarity of the buccaneers, and the artful uses the Spanish ecclesiastics had made of that circumstance, had filled the natives of these countries with the most horrible notions of the English cruelty, we always found our prisoners, on first coming aboard, extremely dejected, and under great horror and anxiety. This youth particularly, having never been before from home, lamented his captivity in the most moving terms, regretting the loss of his parents, his brothers, his sisters, and his native country; all of which he believed he should never see more, conceiving that he was devoted for the remainder of his life to an abject and cruel servitude. Indeed, all the Spaniards who came into our power, seemed to entertain similarly desponding notions of their condition. The commodore constantly exerted his utmost endeavours to efface these terrifying impressions, always having as many of the principal people among them as there was room for to dine at his table; and giving strict charges that they should at all times, and in every circumstance, be treated with the utmost decency and humanity. In spite of this precaution, they hardly ever parted with their fears for the first few days, suspecting the gentleness of their usage to be only preparatory to some after calamity; but at length, convinced of our sincerity, they grew perfectly easy and cheerful, so that it was often doubtful whether they considered their captivity as a misfortune. The before-mentioned youth, who was near two months on board the Centurion, had at last so completely conquered his original melancholy surmises, and had taken such an affection for the commodore, and seemed so much pleased with the manner of life on board, so different from all he had ever seen before, that I much question, if it had been in his choice, if he would not have preferred a voyage to England in the Centurion to going on shore at Payta, though he had here liberty of returning to his friends and country.
This generous conduct of our commodore to his prisoners, which he continued without interruption or deviation, gave them all the highest idea of his humanity and benevolence; and, as mankind are ever fond of forming general opinions, induced them to entertain very favourable thoughts of the whole English nation. But, whatever opinion they might be disposed to form of his character before the capture of the Teresa, their veneration for him was prodigiously increased by his conduct towards the women who were taken in that vessel, as formerly mentioned. For the circumstance of leaving them in possession of their own apartments, the strict orders he issued to prevent any of our people from approaching them, and his permitting the pilot to remain with them as their guardian, were measures that seemed so different from what they expected in an enemy and a heretic, that, although the Spanish prisoners had themselves experienced his beneficence, they were astonished at this particular instance; and the more so, that all this was done without his ever having seen the women, though the two daughters were both reckoned handsome, and the youngest was celebrated for her uncommon beauty. The women were themselves so sensible of the obligations they owed him for the attention and delicacy with which he had protected them, that they refused to go on shore at Payta till permitted to wait upon him, that they might in person return him thanks. Indeed all the prisoners left us with the strongest assurances of their grateful remembrance of his uncommon kindness. A Jesuit, in particular, of some distinction, expressed himself with great thankfulness for the civilities he and his countrymen had experienced while on board, declaring that he should consider it his duty to do Mr Anson justice at all times; adding, that his usage of the men prisoners was such as could never be forgotten, and merited the highest acknowledgments; but his behaviour to the women was so extraordinary and honourable, that he doubted all the regard due to his own ecclesiastical character would be scarcely sufficient to make it believed. Indeed, we were afterwards informed that he and the rest of the prisoners had not been silent on this topic, but had given the highest commendations of our commodore, both at Lima and other places; and the Jesuit, as we were told, had interpreted in his favour, in a lax and hypothetical sense, that article of his church which asserts the impossibility of heretics being saved.
Let it not be imagined, that the impression received by the Spaniards to our advantage on the present occasion was a matter of slight import; for, not to mention several of our countrymen who had already felt the good effects of these prepossessions, it may be observed, that the good opinion of this nation is certainly of more consequence to us than that of all the world besides. Not only as the commerce we have formerly carried on with them, and perhaps may again hereafter, is so extremely valuable, but also as its transacting so immediately depends upon the honour and good faith of those who are entrusted with its management. Even if no national conveniences were likely to flow from this honourable conduct of our commodore, his own equity and good dispositions would not the less have prevented him from the exercise of tyranny and oppression on those whom the chance of war had put into his hands. I shall only add, that, by his constant practice of this humane and prudent conduct, he acquired a distinguished character among the Spanish Creoles over all their settlements in America, so that his name was universally mentioned with honour and applause by most of the Spanish inhabitants of that vast empire.
Occurrences from our Departure from Payta to our Arrival at Quibo.
Setting sail from the road of Payta about midnight of the 16th November, we stood to the westward, and next morning the commodore caused the squadron to spread, on purpose to look out for the Gloucester, as we drew near the station where Captain Mitchell had been directed to cruise, and we hourly expected to get sight of him, yet the whole day passed without seeing him.
At this time a jealousy between those who had gone ashore to the attack of Payta, and those who had continued on board, grew to such a height, that the commodore became acquainted with it, and thought it necessary to interpose his authority for its abatement. This was occasioned by the plunder taken at Payta, which those who acted on shore had appropriated to themselves, considering it as due to the risks they had run, and the resolution they had shewn on that service. But those who had remained on board, deemed this a very partial and unjust procedure; urging, that they also would have preferred acting on shore if it had been left to their choice; that their duty on board was extremely fatiguing while their comrades were on shore; for, besides the labour of the day, they were forced to remain all night under arms to secure the prisoners, who were more numerous than themselves, and of whom it was then necessary to be extremely watchful, to prevent any attempts they might have planned at that critical conjuncture. They insisted, also, that it was undeniably as necessary to the success of the enterprize to have an adequate force on board as on shore in its execution, and, therefore, that those who remained on board could not be deprived of their share in the plunder, without manifest injustice. These contests were carried on with great heat on both sides; and though the plunder in question was a mere trifle, in comparison with the treasure taken, in which there was no doubt that those on board had an equal right, yet, as the obstinacy of sailors is not always regulated by the importance of the matter in dispute, the commodore thought it necessary to put a speedy stop to this commotion. Accordingly, on the morning of the 17th, he ordered all hands to assemble on the quarter-deck, when, addressing his discourse to those who had been detached on shore, he highly commended their gallant conduct, and thanked them for their services on that occasion. He then represented to them the reasons that had been urged by those who continued on board, for an equal distribution of the plunder, telling them that he thought these reasons were conclusive, and that the expectations of their comrades were justly founded; and he insisted, therefore, that not only the men, but all the officers also, who had been employed in the capture of Payta, should immediately produce the whole of their plunder upon the quarter-deck, and that it should be impartially divided among the whole crew, proportionally to the rank and commission of each. To prevent those who had been in possession of this plunder from murmuring at this decision, and the consequent diminution of their shares, he added, as an encouragement to those who might be afterwards employed on like services, that he gave up his entire share, to be distributed exclusively among those who had been detached to attack the place. Thus this troublesome affair, which might perhaps have had mischievous consequences if permitted to go on, was soon appeased by the prudence of the commodore, to the general satisfaction of all. Some few, indeed, whose selfish dispositions were uninfluenced by the justice of this procedure, and who were incapable of discerning the equity of the decision, were dissatisfied, as it tended to deprive them of what they had once possessed.
This important affair employed the best part of the day after leaving Payta; and at night, having seen nothing of the Gloucester, the commodore made the squadron bring to, that we might not pass her in the dark. Next morning we again spread on the look-out, and saw a sail at 10 a.m. to which we gave chase, and which we came near enough by two p.m. to observe to be the Gloucester, having a small vessel in tow. We joined her in about an hour after, when we learnt that Captain Mitchell had only taken two small prizes during the whole of his cruise. One was a small snow, the cargo of which consisted chiefly of wine, brandy, and olives in jars, with about 7000l. in specie. The other was a large boat or launch, taken near shore by the Gloucester's barge. The prisoners on board this boat alleged that they were very poor, and that their loading consisted only of cotton; though the circumstances under which they were surprized, seemed to insinuate that they were more opulent than they pretended; for they were found at dinner on a pigeon-pye, served up in silver dishes. The officer who commanded the barge, having opened several of the jars in the prize, to satisfy his curiosity, found nothing as he thought but cotton, which inclined him to believe the account given by the prisoners; but when these jars were examined more strictly in the Gloucester, they were agreeably surprised to find the whole a very extraordinary piece of deception; as in every jar there was a considerable quantity of double doubloons and dollars, artfully concealed among the cotton, to the amount in all of near 12,000l. This treasure was going to Payta, and belonged to the same merchants who were proprietors of most of the money we had taken there; so that, if this boat had escaped the Gloucester, her cargo would probably have fallen into our hands. Besides these two prizes, the Gloucester had been in sight of two or three other ships, which had escaped them; and one of them, from some of our intelligence, we had reason to believe was of immense value.
It was now resolved to stand to the northwards, and to make the best of our way either for Cape St Lucas, in California, or Cape Corientes on the coast of Mexico. When at Juan Fernandez, the commodore had resolved to touch somewhere in the neighbourhood of Panama, to endeavour to get some correspondence overland with the fleet under Admiral Vernon. For, on our departure from England, we left a fleet at Portsmouth intended for the West Indies, to be employed there in an expedition against some of the Spanish settlements. Taking for granted, therefore, that this enterprise had succeeded, and that Portobello might then be garrisoned by British troops, the commodore conceived he might easily procure an intercourse with our countrymen, on the other side of the isthmus of Darien, either by means of the Indians, who are greatly disposed to favour us, or even by the Spaniards themselves; some of whom might be induced, by proper rewards, to carry on this correspondence; which, when once begun, might be continued with little difficulty. By this means, Mr Anson flattered himself that he might procure a reinforcement of men from the other side, and that, by settling a prudent plan of co-operation with our commanders in the West Indies, he might even have taken Panama. This would have given the British nation the command of the isthmus, by which we should in effect have become masters of all the wealth of Peru, and should have held an equivalent in our hands for any demand, however extraordinary, that might have been thought advisable to make on either branch of the Bourbon family.
Such were the magnificent projects which the commodore revolved in his mind, when at the island of Juan Fernandez, notwithstanding the feeble condition to which his force was then reduced; and, had the success of the expedition to the West Indies been answerable to the general expectation, these views had certainly been the most prudent that could have been devised. But, on examining the papers found on board the Carmelo, our first prize, it was then learnt, though I deferred mentioning it till now, that the attempt on Carthagena had failed, and that there was no probability of our fleet in the West Indies engaging in any new enterprise that could at all facilitate this plan. Mr Anson, therefore, had relinquished all hope of being reinforced across the isthmus, and consequently had no inducement to proceed at present for Panama, being incapable of assaulting that place; and there was reason to believe there was now a general embargo over all the coast of the South Sea. The only feasible measure that now remained, was to steer as soon as possible for the southern parts of California, or the adjacent coast of Mexico, and there to cruise for the Manilla galleon, which was now known to be at sea on her voyage to Acapulco; and we had no doubt of being able to get upon that station in sufficient time to intercept her, as she does not usually arrive at Acapulco till towards the middle of January, and, being now only about the middle of November, we did not suppose our passage thither would cost us above a month or six weeks, so that, in our opinion, we had nearly twice as much time as was necessary.
There was one business, however, which we knew must occasion some delay, but which we hoped might be accomplished in four or five days. This was to recruit our water; for the number of prisoners we had to maintain, ever since we left Juan Fernandez, had so far exhausted our stock, that it was impossible to think of venturing upon a passage to the coast of Mexico, till we had procured a fresh supply; especially as we had not found enough at Payta for our consumption while there. It was for some time a matter of deliberation with the commodore, where we might take in this necessary article; but, by consulting the accounts of former navigators, and examining our prisoners, he at last resolved for the island of Quibo, beyond the bay of Panama. There was indeed a small island called Cocos, less out of our way than Quibo, where some of the Buccaneers pretended to have found water: But none of our prisoners knew any thing of that island, and it was thought too hazardous to risk the safety of the squadron, by exposing ourselves to the chance of not finding water at that place, on the mere authority of these legendary writers, of whose misrepresentations and falsities we had almost daily experience. Besides, we were not without hopes that in going to Quibo some of the enemies ships bound to or from Panama might fall into our hands, particularly such of them as were put to sea, before they had intelligence of our squadron; we therefore directed our course to the northward, being eight sail, and so having the appearance of a very formidable fleet; and on the 19th at day-break, we discovered Cape Blanco, bearing S.S.E. 1/2 E. seven miles distant. This cape lies in the latitude of 4 deg. 15' south, and is always made by ships bound either to windward or to leeward, so that it is a most excellent station to cruise upon the enemy. As our last prize, the Solidad, was far from answering the character given her of a good sailer, and she and the Santa Teresa delayed us considerably, the commodore ordered them to be cleared of every thing that might prove useful to the rest of the ships, and then to be burnt. We then proceeded in our course for Quibo, and, on the 22d in the morning, saw the island of Plata bearing east, distant four leagues. One of our prizes, which was ordered to stand close in, both to discover if there were any ships between that island and the continent, and likewise to look out for a stream of fresh water reported to be there, returned without having seen any ship, or finding any water. At three in the afternoon point Manta bore S.E. by E. seven miles distant; and there being a town of the same name in the neighbourhood, Captain Mitchell took this opportunity of sending away several of his prisoners from the Gloucester in the Spanish launch. The boats were now daily employed in distributing provisions on board the Tryal and other prizes, to complete their stock for six months; and, that the Centurion might be the better prepared to give the Manilla ship (one of which we were told was of immense size) a warm reception, the carpenters were ordered to fix eight stocks in the main and fore-tops for the mounting of swivel guns.
On the 25th we had a sight of the island of Gallo, bearing E.S.E. 1/2 E. four leagues distant; from hence we crossed the bay of Panama with a N.W. course, hoping that this would have carried us in a direct line to the island of Quibo. But we afterwards found that wrought to have stood more to the westward, for the winds in a short time began to incline to that quarter, and made it difficult for us to gain the island. And now, after passing the equinoctial on the 22d, leaving the neighbourhood of the Cordilleras, and standing more and more towards the isthmus, where the communication of the atmosphere to the eastward and the westward was no longer interrupted, we found, in a few days, an extraordinary alteration in the climate. Instead of uniform temperature, we had, for several days together, close and sultry weather, resembling what we had met with between the tropics on the eastern side of America. We had besides frequent calms and heavy rains, which we at first ascribed to the neighbourhood of the line, where this kind of weather is found to prevail; but, observing that it attended us to the latitude of seven degrees north, we were induced to believe that the stormy season, or, as the Spaniards call it, the Vandevals, was not yet over; though many positively assert, that it begins in June, and is ended November.
On the 27th Captain Mitchel's largest prize being cleared, was scuttled, and set on fire, and as the remaining five ships were all good sailers, so we never occasioned any delay to each other. Being now in a rainy climate, which we had been long disused to, we found it necessary to caulk the decks and sides of the Centurion, to prevent the rain-water from running into her.
On the 3d of December we had a view of the island of Quibo, the east end then bearing N.N.W. four leagues distant, and the island of Quicara W.N.W. at about the same distance. Here we struck ground with sixty-five fathom of line, and found the bottom to consist of grey sand, with black specks. When we got sight of the land, we found the wind to hang westerly, and therefore thought it adviseable to stand off till morning, as there are said to be some shoals in the entrance of the channel. At six the next morning, point Mariato bore N.E. 1/2 N. three or four leagues distant. In weathering this point, all the squadron, except the Centurion, were very near it, and the Gloucester, being the leewardmost ship, was forced to tack and stand to the southward, so that we lost sight of her. At nine, the island Sebaco bore N.W. by N. four leagues distant; but the wind still proving unfavourable, we were obliged to ply on and off for the succeeding twenty-four hours, and were frequently taken a-back. However, at eleven the next morning the wind happily settling in the S.S.W. we bore away for the S.S.E. end of the island, and about three in the afternoon entered Canal Bueno, passing round a shoal which stretches off about two miles from the south point of the island. This Canal Bueno, or Good Channel, is at least six miles in breadth; and as we had the wind large, we kept in a good depth of water, generally from twenty-eight to thirty-three fathom, and came not within a mile and a half distance of the breakers, though, in all probability, if it had been necessary, we might have ventured much nearer without incurring the least danger. At seven in the evening we came to an anchor in thirty-three fathom, muddy ground; the south point of the island bearing S.E. by E. a remarkable high part of the island W. by N. and the island Sebaco E. by N.
Our Proceedings at Quibo, with an Account of the Place.
The morning after our coming to an anchor, an officer was dispatched to discover the watering-place; and, having found it, returned before noon; then we sent the long-boat for a load of water, and at the same time weighed and stood farther in with our ships. At two we came again to an anchor in twenty-two fathom, with a bottom of rough gravel intermixed with broken shells, the watering-place now bearing from us N.W. 1/2 N. only three quarters of a mile distant.
The island of Quibo is extremely convenient for wooding and watering, for the trees grow close to the high-water mark, and a large rapid stream of fresh water runs over the sandy beach into the sea; so that we were little more than two days in laying in all the wood and water we wanted. The whole island is of a very moderate height, excepting one part. It consists of a continued wood spread over the whole surface of the country, which preserves its verdure all the year round. We found there abundance of cassia, and a few lime-trees. It appeared singular to us, that, considering the climate and the shelter, we should see no other birds there than parrots, parroquets, and mackaws; of the last there were prodigious flights. Next to these birds, the animals we found in most plenty were monkeys and guanos, and these we frequently killed for food; for though there were many herds of deer upon the place, yet the difficulty of penetrating the woods prevented our coming near them, so that though we saw them often, we killed only two during our stay. Our prisoners assured us that this island abounded with tygers; we did once discover the print of a tyger's paw upon the beach, but the tygers themselves we never saw. The Spaniards, too, informed us that there was often found in the woods a most mischievous serpent, called the Flying Snake, which they said darted itself from the boughs of trees on either man or beast that came within its reach, and whose sting they believed to be inevitable death. Besides these mischievous land-animals, the sea hereabouts is infested with great numbers of alligators of an extraordinary size; and we often observed a large kind of flat fish jumping a considerable height out of the water, which we supposed to be the fish that is said frequently to destroy the pearl-divers, by clasping them in its fins as they rise from the bottom; and we were told that the divers, for their security, are now always armed with a sharp knife, which, when they are entangled, they stick into the belly of the fish, and thereby disengage themselves from its embraces.
Whilst the ship continued here at anchor, the commodore, attended by some of his officers, went in a boat to examine a bay which lay to the northward; and afterwards ranged all along the eastern side of the island. In the places where they put on shore in the course of his expedition, they generally found the soil to be extremely rich, and met with great plenty of excellent water. In particular, near the N.E. point of the island, they discovered a natural cascade, which surpassed, as they conceived, every thing of this kind, which human art or industry hath hitherto produced. It was a river of transparent water, about forty yards wide, which ran down a declivity of near a hundred and fifty yards in length. The channel it ran in was very irregular; for it was entirely formed of rock, both its sides and bottom being made up of large detached blocks; and by these the course of the water was frequently interrupted: For in some places it ran sloping with a rapid but uniform motion, while in other parts it tumbled over the ledges of rocks with a perpendicular descent. All the neighbourhood of this stream was a fine wood; and even the huge masses of rock which overhung the water, and which, by their various projections, formed the inequalities of the channel, were covered with lofty forest trees. Whilst the commodore, and those with him, were attentively viewing this place, and remarking the different blendings of the water, the rocks, and the wood, there came in sight (as it were with an intent still to heighten and animate the prospect) a prodigious flight of mackaws, which hovering over this spot, and often wheeling and playing on the wing about it, afforded a most brilliant appearance, by the glittering of the sun on their variegated plumage; so that some of the spectators cannot refrain from a kind of transport, when they recount the complicated beauties which occurred in this extraordinary scene.
In this expedition, along the eastern side of the island, though they met with no inhabitants, yet they saw many huts upon the shore, and great heaps of shells of fine mother-of-pearl scattered up and down in different places: These were the remains left by the pearl-fishers from Panama, who often frequent this place in the summer season; for the pearl oysters, which are to be met with every where in the bay of Panama, are so plenty at Quibo, that by advancing a very little way into the sea, you might stoop down and reach them from the bottom. They are usually very large, but extremely tough and unpalatable.
The oysters most productive of pearls, are those found in considerable depths; for, though what are taken up by wading are of the same species, yet the pearls found in them are rare and very small. It is said, too, that the pearl partakes in some degree of the quality of the bottom on which the oyster is found; so that if the bottom be muddy, the pearl is dark and ill-coloured.
The diving for oysters is a work performed by negro slaves, of whom the inhabitants of Panama and the neighbouring coast formerly kept great numbers, carefully trained to this business. These are not esteemed complete divers, till they are able to protract their stay under water so long, that the blood gushes out from their nose, mouth, and ears. It is the tradition of the country, that when this accident has once befallen them, they dive for the future with much greater facility than before; that no inconvenience attends it, the bleeding generally stopping of itself, and that there is no probability of their being subject to it a second time.
[Footnote 1: The intelligent reader will demand more than the tradition of the country to induce his belief, that this diving business is not most certainly destructive of the miserable wretches who are compelled to pursue it. The divers in the Persian gulph, where it is well known the pearl fishery is carried on by individuals on their own account, "seldom live to a great age," (says Mr Morier in the account of his Journey through Persia.) "Their bodies break out in sores, and their eyes become very weak and blood-shot. They are restricted to a certain regimen; and to food composed of dates and other light ingredients." It cannot be imagined that the negroes of Panama fare better in this hazardous occupation. But to the expression of any solicitude as to their blood, it is very probable the answer might be something in the style of one of Juvenal's worthy ladies:
——ita servus homo est? Hoc volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas.—P.]
The sea at this place furnished us with a dainty, in the greatest plenty and perfection, viz. the turtle. There are reckoned four species of turtle: the trunk-turtle, the loggerhead, the hawksbill, and the green turtle. The two first are rank and unwholesome; the hawksbill (which furnishes the tortoise-shell) is but indifferent food, though better than the other two; but the green turtle is esteemed, by the greatest part of those who are acquainted with its taste, as the most delicious of eatables; and that it is a most wholesome food, we were amply convinced by our own experience: For we fed on this for near four months, and consequently had it been in any degree noxious, its ill effects could not possibly have escaped us. At this island we took what quantity we pleased with great facility; for, as they are an amphibious animal, and get on shore to lay their eggs, which they generally deposit in a large hole in the sand, just above the high-water mark, covering them up, and leaving them to be hatched by the heat of the sun, we usually dispersed several of our men along the beach, whose business it was to turn them on their backs when they came to land; and the turtle being thereby prevented from getting away, we carried them off at our leisure. These proved of great service both in lengthening out our store of provision, and in heartening the whole crew with an almost constant supply of fresh and palatable food; for the turtle being large, generally weighing about 200 lb. weight each, what we took with us lasted us near a month, and by that time we met with a fresh recruit on the coast of Mexico, where we often saw them in the heat of the day floating in great numbers on the surface of the water fast asleep. Our mode of taking them was this; we sent out our boat with a man in the bow, who was a dexterous diver; when the boat came within a few yards of the turtle, the diver plunged into the water, and took care to rise close upon it; on seizing the shell near the tail, and pressing down the hinder parts, the turtle awakened, and began to strike with its claws, which motion supported both it and the diver, till the boat came up and took them in. By this management we never wanted turtle for the succeeding four months in which we continued at sea; and though we had been three months on board, without putting our foot on shore, except for the few days we stayed at the island of Quibo, and those employed in the attack of Payta, yet, in the whole seven months, from our leaving Juan Fernandez to our anchoring in the harbour of Chequetan, we buried no more in the whole squadron than two men; a most incontestable proof that the turtle on which we fed for the last four months of this term, was at least innocent, if not something more. It appears wonderful, therefore, that a species of food so very palatable and salubrious, and so much abounding in those parts, should be proscribed by the Spaniards as unwholesome, and little less than poisonous. Perhaps the strange appearance of this animal may have been the foundation of this ridiculous aversion, which is strongly rooted in all the inhabitants of that coast, and of which we had many instances in the course of this navigation. Some Indian and negro slaves we had taken in our prizes, and continued on board to assist in navigating our ships, were astonished at our feeding on turtle, and seemed fully persuaded that it would soon destroy us; but finding that none of us died, nor even suffered in our health by a continuation of this diet, they at last got so far the better of their aversion, as to be persuaded to taste it, to which the absence of all other kinds of fresh provisions might not a little contribute. However, it was with great reluctance, and very sparingly, that they began to eat it: But the relish improving upon them by degrees, they at last grew extremely fond of it, preferred it to every other kind of food, and often felicitated each other on the happy experience they had acquired, and the delicious and plentiful repasts it would be always in their power to procure, when they should return to their country. Those who are acquainted with the manner of life of these unhappy wretches, need not be told, that next to large draughts of spirituous liquors, plenty of tolerable food is the greatest joy they know; and that the discovering a method which would supply them with what quantity they pleased of a kind more luxurious to the palate than any their haughty lords and masters could indulge in, was a circumstance which they considered as the most fortunate that could befal them.
In three days time we had completed our business at this place, and were extremely impatient to put to sea, that we might arrive time enough on the coast of Mexico to intercept the Manilla galleon. The wind being contrary detained us a night, and the next day when we got into the offing, (which we did through the same channel by which we entered) we were obliged to keep hovering about the island, in hopes of getting sight of the Gloucester. It was the 9th of December, in the morning, when we put to sea, and continuing to the southward of the island, looking out for the Gloucester, we, on the 10th, at five in the afternoon, discerned a small sail to the northward of us, to which we gave chase, and coming up took her. She proved to be a bark from Panama, bound to Cheripe, an inconsiderable village on the continent, and was called the Jesu Nazareno. She had nothing on board but some oakum, about a ton of rock-salt, and between 30l. and 40l. in specie, most of it consisting of small silver money, intended for purchasing a cargo of provisions at Cheripe.
I cannot but observe, for the use of future cruisers, that had we been in want of provisions, we had by this capture an obvious method of supplying ourselves. For at Cheripe, whither she was bound, there is a constant store of provisions prepared for the vessels which go thither every week from Panama, the market of Panama being chiefly supplied from thence: So that by putting a few of our hands on board our prize, we might easily have seized a large store without any hazard, since Cheripe is a place of no strength.
On the 12th of December we were relieved from the perplexity we had suffered, by the separation of the Gloucester; for on that day she joined us, and informed us, that in tacking to the southward on our first arrival, she had sprung her fore-top-mast, which had disabled her from working to windward, and prevented her from joining us sooner. We now scuttled and sunk the Jesu Nazareno, the prize we took last, and having the greatest impatience to get into a proper station for the galleon, stood altogether to the westward, and notwithstanding the impediments we met with, left the island of Quibo in about nine days after our first coming in sight of it.
From Quibo to the Coast of Mexico.
On the 12th of December we left Quibo, and the same day the commodore delivered fresh instructions to the captains of the men of war, and the commanders of our prizes, appointing them the rendezvouses they were to make, and the courses they were to steer in case of a separation. And first, they were directed to use all possible dispatch in getting to the northward of the harbour of Acapulco, where they were to endeavour to fall in with the land, between the latitudes of 18 and 19 deg.; from thence, they were to beat up the coast at eight or ten leagues distance from the shore, till they came a-breast of Cape Corientes, in the latitude of 20 deg.20'. When they arrived there, they were to continue cruising on that station till the 14th of February; and then they were to proceed to the middle island of the Tres Marias, in the latitude of 21 deg.25', bearing from Cape Corientes N.W. by N., twenty-five leagues distant. And if at this island they did not meet the commodore, they were there to recruit their wood and water, and then to make the best of their way to the island of Macao, on the coast of China. These orders being distributed, we had little doubt of arriving soon upon our intended station; as we expected, upon the increasing our offing from Quibo, to fall in with the regular trade-wind. But, to our extreme vexation, we were baffled for near a month, either with tempestuous weather from the western quarter, or with dead calms and heavy rains, attended with a sultry air; so that it was the 25th of December before we got a sight of the island of Cocos, which by our reckoning was only a hundred leagues from the continent; and we had the mortification to make so little way, that we did not lose sight of it again in five days. This island we found to be in the latitude of 5 deg.20' north. It has a high hummock towards the western part, which descends gradually, and at last terminates in a low point to the eastward. From the island of Cocos we stood W. by N., and were till the 9th of January in running an hundred leagues more. We had at first flattered ourselves, that the uncertain weather and western gales we met with were owing to the neighbourhood of the continent, from which, as we got more distant, we expected every day to be relieved, by falling in with the eastern trade-wind: But as our hopes were so long baffled, and our patience quite exhausted, we began at length to despair of succeeding in the great purpose we had in view, that of intercepting the Manilla galleon; and this produced a general dejection amongst us, as we had at first considered this project as almost infallible, and had indulged ourselves in the most boundless hopes of the advantages we should thence receive. However, our despondency was at last somewhat alleviated, by a favourable change of the wind; for, on the 9th of January, a gale for the first time sprang up from the N.E., and on this we took the Carmelo in tow, as the Gloucester did the Carmin, making all the sail we could to improve the advantage, for we still suspected that it was only a temporary gale, which would not last long; but the next day we had the satisfaction to find, that the wind did not only continue in the same quarter, but blew with so much briskness and steadiness, that we now no longer doubted of its being the true trade-wind. And as we advanced apace towards our station, our hopes began to revive, and our despair by degrees gave place to pleasing prejudices: For though the customary season of the arrival of the galleon at Acapulco was already elapsed, yet we were unreasonable enough to flatter ourselves, that some accidental delay might lengthen her passage beyond its usual limits.
When we got into the trade-wind, we found no alteration in it till the 17th of January, when we were advanced to the latitude of 12 deg.50', but on that day it shifted to the westward of the north: This change we imputed to our having haled up too soon, though we then esteemed ourselves full seventy leagues from the coast, which plainly shows, that the trade-wind doth not take place, but at a considerable distance from the continent. After this, the wind was not so favourable to us as it had been: However, we still continued to advance, and, on the 26th of January, being then to the northward of Acapulco, we tacked and stood to the eastward, with a view of making the land.
In the preceding fortnight we caught some turtle on the surface of the water, and several dolphins, bonitos, and albicores. One day, as one of the sail-makers mates was fishing from the end of the gib-boom, he lost his hold, and dropped into the sea; and the ship, which was then going at the rate of six or seven knots, went directly over him: But as we had the Carmelo in tow, we instantly called out to the people on board her, who threw him over several ends of ropes, one of which he fortunately caught hold of, and twisting it round his arm, was hauled into the ship, without having received any other injury than a wrench in his arm, of which he soon recovered.
On the 26th of January, we stood to the eastward, expecting, by our reckonings, to have fallen in with the land on the 28th; but though the weather was perfectly clear, we had no sight of it at sun-set, and therefore continued our course, not doubting but we should see it by the next morning. About ten at night we discovered a light on the larboard-bow, bearing from us N.N.E. The Tryal's prize too, about a mile a-head of us, made a signal at the same time for seeing a sail; and as we had no doubt that what we saw was a ship's light, we were extremely animated with a firm persuasion, that it was the Manilla galleon, which had been so long the object of our wishes: And what added to our alacrity, was our expectation of meeting with two of them instead of one, for we took it for granted, that the light in view was carried in the top of one ship for a direction to her consort. We immediately cast off the Carmelo and pressed forward with all our canvass, making a signal for the Gloucester to do the same. Thus we chased the light, keeping all our hands at their respective quarters, under an expectation of engaging in the next half hour, as we sometimes conceived the chase to be about a mile distant, and at other times to be within reach of our guns; and some positively averred, that besides the light, they could plainly discern her sails. The commodore himself was so fully persuaded that we should be soon along-side of her, that he sent for his first lieutenant, who commanded between decks, and directed him to see all the great guns loaded with two round-shot for the first broadside, and after that with one round-shot and one grape, strictly charging him, at the same time, not to suffer a gun to be fired, till he, the commodore, should give orders, which he informed the lieutenant would not be till we arrived within pistol-shot of the enemy. In this constant and eager attention we continued all night, always presuming that another quarter of an hour would bring us up with this Manilla ship, whose wealth, with that of her supposed consort, we now estimated by round millions. But when the morning broke, and day-light came on, we were most strangely and vexatiously disappointed, by finding that the light which had occasioned all this bustle and expectancy was only a fire on the shore. Indeed the circumstances of this deception are so extraordinary as to be scarcely credible; for, by our run during the night, and the distance of the land in the morning, this fire, when we first discovered it, must have been above twenty-five leagues from us. It was indeed upon a very high mountain, and continued burning for several days afterwards; it was not a volcano, but rather, as I suppose, stubble, or heath, set on fire for some purpose of agriculture.
[Footnote 1: The reasons for this supposition ought to have been adduced. It is not improbable that the volcanic mountain in the neighbourhood of Acapulco did furnish this vexatious light.—E.]
At sun-rising, after this mortifying delusion, we found ourselves about nine leagues off the land, which extended from the N.W. to E. 1/2 N. On this land we observed two remarkable hummocks, such as are usually called paps, which bore north from us: These, a Spanish pilot and two Indians, who were the only persons amongst us that pretended to have traded in this part of the world, affirmed to be over the harbour of Acapulco. Indeed, we very much doubted their knowledge of the coast; for we found these paps to be in the latitude of 17 deg.56', whereas those over Acapulco are said to be in 17 deg. only; and we afterwards found our suspicions of their skill to be well grounded: However, they were very confident, and assured us, that the height of the mountains was itself an infallible mark of the harbour; the coast, as they pretended, (though falsely) being generally low to the eastward and westward of it.
And now being in the track of the Manilla galleon, it was a great doubt with us (as it was near the end of January,) whether she was or was not arrived: But examining our prisoners about it, they assured us, that she was sometimes known to come in after the middle of February; and they endeavoured to persuade us, that the fire we had seen on shore was a proof that she was as yet at sea, it being customary, as they said, to make use of these fires as signals for her direction, when she continued longer out than ordinary. On this information, strengthened by our propensity to believe them in a matter which so pleasingly flattered our wishes, we resolved to cruise for her for some days; and we accordingly spread our ships at the distance of twelve leagues from the coast, in such a manner, that it was impossible she should pass us unobserved: However, not seeing her soon, we were at intervals inclined to suspect that she had gained her port already; and as we now began to want a harbour to refresh our people, the uncertainty of our present situation gave us great uneasiness, and we were very solicitous to get some positive intelligence, which might either set us at liberty to consult our necessities, if the galleon was arrived, or might animate us to continue our present cruise with cheerfulness, if she was not. With this view the commodore, after examining our prisoners very particularly, resolved to send a boat, under night, into the harbour of Acapulco, to see if the Manilla ship was there or not, one of the Indians being very positive that this might be done without the boat itself being discovered. To execute this project, the barge was dispatched the 6th of February, with a sufficient crew and two officers, who took with them a Spanish pilot, and the Indian who had insisted on the practicability of this measure, and had undertaken to conduct it. Our barge did not return to us again till the eleventh, when the officers acquainted Mr Anson, that, agreeable to our suspicion, there was nothing like a harbour in the place where the Spanish pilots had at first asserted Acapulco to lie; that when they had satisfied themselves in this particular, they steered to the eastward, in hopes of discovering it, and had coasted along shore thirty-two leagues; that in this whole range they met chiefly with sandy beaches of a great length, over which the sea broke with so much violence, that it was impossible for a boat to land; that at the end of their run they could just discover two paps at a very great distance to the eastward, which from their appearance and their latitude, they concluded to be those in the neighbourhood of Acapulco; but that not having a sufficient quantity of fresh water and provision for their passage thither and back again, they were obliged to return to the commodore, to acquaint him with their disappointment. On this intelligence we all made sail to the eastward, in order to get into the neighbourhood of that port, the commodore resolving to send the barge a second time upon the same enterprize, when we were arrived within a moderate distance. And the next day, which was the 12th of February, we being by that time considerably advanced, the barge was again dispatched, and particular instructions given to the officers to preserve themselves from being seen from the shore. On the 13th we espied a high land to the eastward, which we first imagined to be that over the harbour of Acapulco; but we afterwards found that it was the high land of Seguateneo, where there is a small harbour, of which we shall have occasion to make more ample mention hereafter. And now, having waited six days without any news of our barge, we began to be uneasy for her safety; but, on the 7th day, that is, on the 19th of February, she returned. The officers informed the commodore, that they had discovered the harbour of Acapulco, which they esteemed to bear from us E.S.E. at least fifty leagues distant: That on the 17th, about two in the morning, they were got within the island that lies at the mouth of the harbour, and yet neither the Spanish pilot, nor the Indian who were with them, could give them any information where they then were; but that while they were lying upon their oars in suspence what to do, being ignorant that they were then at the very place they sought for, they discerned a small light upon the surface of the water, on which they instantly plied their paddles, and moving as silently as possible towards it, they found it to be in a fishing canoe, which they surprised, with three negroes that belonged to it. It seems the negroes at first attempted to jump overboard; and being so near the land, they would easily have swam on shore; but they were prevented by presenting a piece at them, on which they readily submitted, and were taken into the barge. The officers further added, that they had immediately turned the canoe adrift against the face of a rock, where it would inevitably be dashed to pieces by the fury of the sea: This they did to deceive those who perhaps might be sent from the town to search after the canoe; for upon seeing several pieces of a wreck, they would immediately conclude that the people on board her had been drowned, and would have no suspicion of their having fallen into our hands. When the crew of the barge had taken this precaution, they exerted their utmost strength in pulling out to sea, and by dawn of day had gained such an offing, as rendered it impossible for them to be seen from the coast.
And now having got the three negroes in our possession, who were not ignorant of the transactions at Acapulco, we were soon satisfied about the most material points which had long kept us in suspense: And on examination we found, that we were indeed disappointed in our expectation of intercepting the galleon before her arrival at Acapulco; but we learnt other circumstances which still revived our hopes, and which, we then conceived, would more than balance the opportunity we had already lost: For though our negro prisoners informed us that the galleon arrived at Acapulco on our 9th of January, which was about twenty days before we fell in with this coast, yet they at the same time told us, that the galleon had delivered her cargo, and was taking in water and provisions for her return, and that the viceroy of Mexico had by proclamation fixed her departure from Acapulco to the 14th of March, N.S. This last news was most joyfully received by us, as we had no doubt but she must certainly fall into our hands, and as it was much more eligible to seize her on her return, than it would have been to have taken her before her arrival, as the specie for which she had sold her cargo, and which she would now have on board, was prodigiously more to be esteemed by us than the cargo itself; great part of which would have perished on our hands, and no part of it could have been disposed of by us at so advantageous a mart as Acapulco.
Thus we were a second time engaged in an eager expectation of meeting with this Manilla ship, which, by the fame of its wealth, we had been taught to consider as the most desirable prize that was to be met with in any part of the globe. As all our future projects will be in some sort regulated with a view to the possession of this celebrated galleon, and as the commerce which is carried on by means of these vessels between the city of Manilla and the port of Acapulco is perhaps the most valuable, in proportion to its quantity, of any in the known world, I shall endeavour, in the ensuing chapter, to give as distinct an account as I can of all the particulars relating thereto, both as it is a matter in which I conceive the public to be in some degree interested, and as I flatter myself, that from the materials which have fallen into my hands, I am enabled to describe it with more distinctness than has hitherto been done, at least in our language.
An Account of the Commerce carried on between the City of Manilla on the Island of Luconia, and the Port of Acapulco in the Coast of Mexico.
Though Spain did not acquire the property of any of the spice islands, by the enterprising labours of Magellan (related in our tenth volume, to which we refer,) yet the discovery made in his expedition to the Philippine Islands, was thought too considerable to be neglected; for these were not far distant from those places which produced spices, and were very well situated for the Chinese trade, and for the commerce of other parts of India; and therefore a communication was soon established, and carefully supported between these islands and the Spanish colonies on the coast of Peru: So that the city of Manilla, (which Was built on the island of Luconia, the chief of the Philippines) soon became the mart for all Indian commodities, which were brought up by the inhabitants, and were annually sent to the South-Seas to be there vended on their account; and the returns of this commerce to Manilla being principally made in silver, the place by degrees grew extremely opulent and considerable, and its trade so far increased, as to engage the attention of the court of Spain, and to be frequently controlled and regulated by royal edicts.
[Footnote 1: Much of the original in this section is omitted, as either unimportant now; or elsewhere given in the work.]
In the infancy of this trade, it was carried on from the port of Callao to the city of Manilla, in which voyage the trade-wind continually favoured them; so that notwithstanding these places were distant between three and four thousand leagues, yet the voyage was often made in little more than two months: But then the return from Manilla was extremely troublesome and tedious, and is said to have sometimes taken them up above a twelvemonth, which, if they pretended to ply up within the limits of the trade-wind, is not at all to be wondered at; and it is asserted, that in their first voyages they were so imprudent and unskilful as to attempt this course. However, that route Was soon laid aside by the advice, as it is said, of a Jesuit, who persuaded them to steer to the northward till they got clear of the trade-winds, and then by the favour of the westerly winds, which generally prevail in high latitudes, to stretch away for the coast of California. This has been the practice for at least a hundred and sixty years past, (1740-4:) For Sir Thomas Cavendish, in the year 1586, engaged off the south end of California a vessel bound from Manilla to the American coast. And it was in compliance with this new plan of navigation, and to shorten the run both backwards and forwards, that the staple of this commerce to and from Manilla was removed from Callao, on the coast of Peru, to the port of Acapulco, on the coast of Mexico, where it continues fixed at this time.
This trade to Acapulco is not laid open to all the inhabitants of Manilla, but is confined by very particular regulations, somewhat analogous to those by which the trade of the register ships from Cadiz to the West-Indies is restrained.
The trade is limited to a certain value, which the annual cargo ought not to exceed. Some Spanish manuscripts', I have seen, mention this limitation to be 600,000 dollars; but the annual cargo does certainly surpass this sum; and though it may be difficult to fix its exact value, yet from many comparisons I conclude, that the return cannot be greatly short of three millions of dollars.
This trade from Manilla to Acapulco and back again, is usually carried on in one or at most two annual ships, which set sail from Manilla about July, and arrive at Acapulco in the December, January, or February following, and having there disposed of their effects, return for Manilla some time in March, where they generally arrive in June; so that the whole voyage takes up very near an entire year: For this reason, though there is often no more than one ship employed at a time, yet there is always one ready for the sea when the other arrives; and therefore are provided three or four stout ships, that, in case of any accident, the trade may not be suspended.
The ship having received her cargo on board, and being fitted for the sea, generally weighs from the mole of Cabite about the middle of July, taking the advantage of the westerly monsoon, which then sets in, to carry them to sea. It appears that the getting through the Boccadero to the eastward must be a troublesome navigation, and in fact it is sometimes the end of August before they get clear of the land. When they have got through this passage, and are clear of the islands, they stand to the northward of the east, in order to get into the latitude of thirty odd degrees, where they expect to meet with westerly winds, before which they run away for the coast of California. It is most remarkable, that by the concurrent testimony of all the Spanish navigators, there is not one port, nor even a tolerable road, as yet found out betwixt the Philippine Islands and the coast of California and Mexico; so that from the time the Manilla ship first loses sight of land, she never lets go her anchor till she arrives on the coast of California, and very often not till she gets to its southermost extremity: And therefore, as this voyage is rarely of less than six months continuance, and the ship is deep laden with merchandise and crowded with people, it may appear wonderful how they can be supplied with a stock of fresh water for so long a time. A supply indeed they have, but the reliance upon it seems at first sight so extremely precarious, that it is wonderful such numbers should risque perishing by the most dreadful of all deaths, on the expectation of so casual a circumstance. In short, their only method of recruiting their water is by the rains, which they meet with between the latitudes of 30 deg. and 40 deg. north, and which they are always prepared to catch: For this purpose they take to sea with them a great number of mats, which they place slopingly against the gunwale, whenever the rain descends; these mats extend from one end of the ship to the other, and their lower edges rest on a large split bamboe, so that all the water which falls on the mats drain into the bamboe, and by this, as a trough, is conveyed into ajar; and this method of supplying their water, however accidental and extraordinary it may at first sight appear, hath never been known to fail them, so that it is common, for them, when their voyage is a little longer than usual, to fill all their water jars several times over.
[Footnote 2: In the original is inserted a chart for the explanation of this track, which it is unnecessary to give here.—E.]
The length of time employed in this passage, so much beyond what usually occurs in any other navigation, is perhaps in part to be imputed to the indolence and unskilfulness of the Spanish sailors, and to an unnecessary degree of caution and concern for so rich a vessel: For it is said, that they never set their main-sail in the night, and often lie by unnecessarily. And indeed the instructions given to their captains (which I have seen) seem to have been drawn up by such as were more apprehensive of too strong a gale, though favourable, than of the inconveniences and mortality attending a lingering and tedious voyage; for the captain is particularly ordered to make his passage in the latitude of 30 deg. if possible, and to be extremely, careful to stand no farther to the northward than is absolutely necessary for the getting a westerly wind. This, according to our conceptions, appears to be a very absurd restriction; since it can scarcely be doubted, that in the higher latitudes the westerly winds are much steadier and brisker than in the latitude of 30 deg.: So that the whole conduct of this navigation seems liable to very great censure. If instead of steering E.N.E. into the latitude of thirty odd degrees, they at first stood N.E., or even still more northerly, into the latitude of 40 deg. or 45 deg., in part of which course the trade-winds would greatly assist them, I doubt not they might considerably contract their voyage. And this is not merely matter of speculation; for I am credibly informed, that about the year 1721, a French ship, by pursuing this course, ran from the coast of China to the valley of Vanderas on the coast of Mexico, in less than fifty days: But it was said that this ship, notwithstanding the shortness of her passage, suffered prodigiously by the scurvy, so that she had only four or five of her crew left when she arrived in America.
The Manilla ship having stood so far to the northward as to meet with a westerly wind, stretches away nearly in the same latitude for the coast of California: And when she has run into the longitude of 96 deg. from Cape Espiritu, Santo, she generally meets with a plant floating on the sea, which, being called Porra by the Spaniards, is, I presume, a species of sea-leek. On the sight of this plant they esteem themselves sufficiently near the Californian shore, and immediately stand to the southward; they rely so much on this circumstance, that on the first discovery of the plant the whole ship's company chaunt a solemn Te Deum, esteeming the difficulties and hazards of their passage to be now at an end; and they constantly correct their longitude thereby, without ever coming within sight of land, till they draw near its southern extremity.
The most usual time of the arrival of the galleon at Acapulco is towards the middle of January: But this navigation is so uncertain, that she sometimes gets in a month sooner, and at other times has been detained at sea above a month longer. The port of Acapulco is by much the securest and finest in all the northern parts of the Pacific Ocean; being, as it were, a bason surrounded by very high mountains: But the town is a most wretched place, and extremely unhealthy, for the air about it is so pent up by the hills, that it has scarcely any circulation. The place is besides destitute of fresh water; except what is brought from a considerable distance; and is in all respects so inconvenient, that except at the time of the mart, whilst the Manilla galleon is in the port, it is almost deserted.
When the galleon arrives in this port, she is generally moored on its western side, and her cargo is delivered with all possible expedition. And now the town of Acapulco, from almost a solitude, is immediately thronged with merchants from all parts of the kingdom of Mexico. The cargo being landed and disposed of, the silver and the goods intended for Manilla are taken on board, together with provisions and water, and the ship prepares to put to sea with the utmost expedition. There is indeed no time to be lost; for it is an express order to the captain to be out of the port of Acapulco on his return, before the first day of April, N.S.
The principal return is made in silver, and consequently the rest of the cargo is but of little account; the other articles, besides the silver, being some cochineal and a few sweetmeats, the produce of the American settlements, together with European millinery ware for the women at Manilla, and some Spanish wines, such as tent and sherry, which are intended for the use of their priests in the administration of the sacrament.
This difference in the cargo of the ship to and from Manilla, occasions a very remarkable variety in the manner of equipping the ship for these two different voyages. For the galleon, when she sets sail from Manilla, being deep laden with a variety of bulky goods, has not the conveniency of mounting her lower tire of guns, but carries them in her hold, till she draws near Cape St Lucas, and is apprehensive of an enemy. Her hands too are as few as is consistent with the safety of the ship, that she may be less pestered with the stowage of provisions. But on her return from Acapulco, as her cargo lies in less room, her lower tire is (or ought to be) always mounted before she leaves the port, and her crew is augmented with a supply of sailors, and with one or two companies of foot, which are intended to reinforce the garrison at Manilla. And there being besides many merchants who take their passage to Manilla, her whole number of hands on her return is usually little short of six hundred, all which are easily provided for, by reason of the small stowage necessary for the silver. The galleon being thus fitted for her return, the captain, on leaving the port of Acapulco, steers for the latitude of 13 deg. or 14 deg., and runs on that parallel, till he gets sight of the island of Guam, one of the Ladrones. In this run the captain is particularly directed to be careful of the shoals of St Bartholomew, and of the island of Gasparico. He is also told in his instructions, that to prevent his passing the Ladrones in the dark, there are orders given that, through all the month of June, fires shall be lighted every night on the highest part of Guam and Rota, and kept in till the morning.
At Guam there is a small Spanish garrison, purposely intended to secure that place for the refreshment of the galleon, and to yield her all the assistance in their power. However, the danger of the road at Guam is so great, that though the galleon is ordered to call there, yet she rarely stays above a day of two, but getting her water and refreshments on board as soon as possible, she steers away directly for Cape Espiritu Santo, on the island of Samal. Here the captain is again ordered to look out for signals; and he is told, that centinels will be posted not only on that Cape, but likewise in Catanduanas, Butusan, Birriborongo, and on the island of Batan. These centinels are instructed to make a fire when they discover the ship, which the captain is carefully to observe: For if, after this first fire is extinguished, he perceives that four or more are lighted up again, he is then to conclude that there are enemies on the coast; and on this he is immediately to endeavour to speak with the centinel on shore, and to procure from him more particular intelligence of their force, and of the station they cruise in; pursuant to which, he is to regulate his conduct, and to endeavour to gain some secure port amongst those islands, without coming in sight of the enemy; and in case he should be discovered when in port, and should be apprehensive of attack, he is then to land his treasure, and to take some of his artillery on shore for its defence, not neglecting to send frequent and particular accounts to the city of Manilla of all that passes. But if, after the first fire on shore, the captain observes that two others only are made by the centinels, he is then to conclude, that there is nothing to fear: And he is to pursue his course without interruption, and to make the best of his way to the port of Cabite, which is the port to the city of Manilla, and the constant station for all the ships employed in this commerce to Acapulco.
Our Cruise off the Port of Acapulco for the Manilla Ship.
I have already mentioned, that the return of our barge from the port of Acapulco, where she had surprised three negro fishermen, gave us inexpressible satisfaction, as we learnt from our prisoners, that the galleon was then preparing to put to sea, and that her departure was fixed, by an edict of the viceroy of Mexico, to the 14th of March, N.S. that is, to the 3d of March, according to our reckoning.
Having satisfied ourselves upon this head, we indulged our curiosity in enquiring after other news; when the prisoners informed us, that they had received intelligence at Acapulco, of our having plundered and burnt the town of Paita; and that, on this occasion, the governor of Acapulco had augmented the fortifications of the place, and had taken several precautions to prevent us from forcing our way into the harbour; that in particular, he had placed a guard on the island which lies at the harbour's mouth, and that this guard had been withdrawn but two nights before the arrival of our barge: So that had the barge succeeded in her first attempt, or had she arrived at the port the second time two days sooner, she could scarcely have avoided being seized on, or if she had escaped, it must have been with the loss of the greatest part of her crew, as she would have been under the fire of the guard, before she had known her danger.
The withdrawing of this guard was a circumstance that greatly encouraged us, as it seemed to demonstrate, not only that the enemy had not as yet discovered us, but likewise that they had now no farther apprehensions of our visiting their coast, indeed the prisoners assured us, that they had no knowledge of our being in those seas, and that they had therefore flattered themselves, that, in the long interval since our taking of Paita, we had steered another course. But we did not consider the opinion of these negro prisoners so authentic a proof of our being hitherto concealed, as the withdrawing of the guard from the harbour's mouth, which being the action of the governor, was of all arguments the most convincing, as he might be supposed to have intelligence, with which the rest of the inhabitants were unacquainted.
Satisfied therefore that we were undiscovered, and that the time was fixed for the departure of the galleon from Acapulco, we made all necessary preparations, and waited with the utmost impatience for the important day. As this was the 3d of March, and it was the 19th of February when the barge returned and brought us our intelligence, the commodore resolved to continue the greatest part of the intermediate time on his present station, to the westward of Acapulco, conceiving that in this situation there would be less danger of his being seen from the shore, which was the only circumstance that could deprive us of the immense treasure, on which we had at present so eagerly fixed our thoughts. During this interval, we were employed in scrubbing and cleansing our ships, in bringing them into their most advantageous trim, and in regulating the orders, signals, and stations to be observed, when we should arrive off Acapulco, and the time of the departure of the galleon should draw nigh.
On the first of March, we made the high lands, usually called the paps over Acapulco, and got with all possible expedition into the situation prescribed by the commodore's orders. The distribution of our squadron on this occasion, both for the intercepting the galleon, and for the avoiding a discovery from the shore, was so very judicious, that it well merits to be distinctly described.
The Centurion brought the paps over the harbour to bear N.N.E., at fifteen leagues distance, which was a sufficient offing to prevent our being seen by the enemy. To the westward of the Centurion there was stationed the Carmelo, and to the eastward were the Tryal prize, the Gloucester, and the Carmin: These were all ranged in a circular line, and each ship was three leagues distant from the next; so that the Carmelo and the Carmin, which were the two extremes, were twelve leagues distant from each other: And as the galleon could, without doubt, be discerned at six leagues distance from either extremity, the whole sweep of our squadron, within which nothing could pass undiscovered, was at least twenty-four leagues in extent; and yet we were so connected by our signals, as to be easily and speedily informed of what was seen in any part of the line: And, to render this disposition still more complete, and to prevent even the possibility of the galleon's escaping us in the night, the two cutters belonging to the Centurion and the Gloucester were both manned and sent in shore; and were ordered to lie all day at the distance of four or five leagues from the entrance of the port, where they could not possibly be discovered; but they were directed in the night to stand nearer to the harbour's mouth, and as the light of the morning came on, to return back again to their day-posts. When the cutters should first discover the Manilla ship, one of them was to return to the squadron, and to make a signal, whether the galleon stood to the eastward or to the westward; whilst the other was to follow the galleon at a distance, and if it grew dark, to direct the squadron in their chace, by shewing false fires.
Besides the care we had taken to prevent the galleon from passing us unobserved, we had not been inattentive to the means of engaging her to advantage, when we came up with her: For, considering the thinness of our hands, and the vaunting accounts given by the Spaniards of her size, her guns, and her strength, this was a consideration not to be neglected. As we supposed that none of our ships but the Centurion and the Gloucester were capable of lying alongside of her, we took on board the Centurion all the hands belonging to the Carmelo and the Carmin, except what were just sufficient to navigate those ships; and Captain Saunders was ordered to send from the Tryal prize ten Englishmen, and as many negroes, to reinforce the crew of the Gloucester. For the encouragement of our negroes, we promised them, that on their good behaviour they should all have their freedom; and as they had been almost every day trained to the management of the great guns for the two preceding months, they were very well qualified to be of service to us; and from their hopes of liberty, and in return for the usage they had met with amongst us, they seemed disposed to exert themselves to the utmost of their power.
Being thus prepared for the reception of the galleon, we expected, with the utmost impatience, the so-often-mentioned third of March, the day fixed for her departure. And on that day we were all of us most eagerly engaged in looking out towards Acapulco; and we were so strangely prepossessed with the certainty of our intelligence, and with an assurance of her coming out of port, that some or other of us were constantly imagining they discovered one of our cutters returning with a signal. But, to our extreme vexation, both this day and the succeeding night passed without any news of the galleon: However, we did not yet despair, but were all heartily disposed to flatter ourselves, that some unforeseen accident had intervened, which might have put off her departure for a few days; and suggestions of this kind occurred in plenty, as we knew that the time fixed by the viceroy for her sailing was often prolonged on the petition of the merchants of Mexico. Thus we kept up our hopes, and did not abate of our vigilance; and as the 7th of March was Sunday the beginning of Passion-week, which is observed by the Papists with great strictness, and a total cessation from all kinds of labour, so that no ship is permitted to stir out of port during the whole week, this quieted our apprehensions for some days, and disposed us not to expect the galleon till the week following. On the Friday in this week our cutters returned to us, the officers being very confident that the galleon was still in port, and that she could not possibly have come out but they must have seen her. On the Monday morning succeeding Passion-week, that is, on the 15th of March, the cutters were again dispatched to their old station, and our hopes were once more indulged in as sanguine prepossessions as before; but in a week's time our eagerness was greatly abated, and a general dejection and despondency took place. It is true, there were some few amongst us who still kept up their spirits, and were very ingenious in finding out reasons to satisfy themselves, that the disappointment had been occasioned by a casual delay of the galleon, which a few days would remove, and not by a total suspension of her departure for the whole season: But these speculations were not relished by the generality of our people; for they were persuaded that the enemy had, by some accident, discovered our being upon the coast, and had therefore laid an embargo on the galleon till the next year. And indeed this persuasion was but too well founded; for we afterwards learnt, that our barge, when sent on the discovery of the port of Acapulco, had been seen from the shore; and that this circumstance (no embarkations but canoes ever frequenting that coast) was to them a sufficient proof of the neighbourhood of our squadron; on which they stopped the galleon till the succeeding year.
The commodore himself, though he declared not his opinion, was yet in his own thoughts very apprehensive that we were discovered, and that the departure of the galleon was put off; and he had, in consequence of this opinion, formed a plan for possessing himself of Acapulco; for he had no doubt that the treasure remained in the town, though the orders for dispatching the galleon were countermanded.
[Footnote 3: It is unnecessary to detail this plan, as, for sufficient reasons soon discovered, it was not attempted to be executed.—E.]
His scheme was formed on a supposition that the galleon was detained till the next year; but as this was a matter of opinion only, and not founded on intelligence, and there was a possibility that she might still put to sea in a short time, the commodore thought it prudent to continue his cruise upon this station, as long as the necessary attention to his stores of wood and water, and to the convenient season for his future passage to China, would give him leave; and therefore, as the cutters had been ordered to remain, before Acapulco till the 23d of March, the squadron did not change its position till that day; when the cutters not appearing, we were in some pain for them, apprehending they might have suffered either from the enemy or the weather; but we were relieved from our concern the next morning, when we discovered them, though at a great distance and to the leeward of the squadron: We bore down to them and took them up and were informed by them, that, conformable to their orders, they had left their station the day before, without having seen any thing of the galleon; and we found, that the reason of their being so far to the leeward of us was a strong current, which had driven the whole squadron to windward.
It afterwards appeared that this prolongation of our cruise was a very prudent measure, and afforded us no contemptible chance of seizing the treasure, on which we had so long fixed our thoughts. For it seems, after the embargo was laid on the galleon, the persons principally interested in the cargo sent several expresses to Mexico, to beg that she might still be permitted to depart: For as they knew, by the accounts sent from Paita, that we had not more than three hundred men in all, they insisted that there was nothing to be feared from us; for that the galleon (carrying above twice as many hands as our whole squadron) would be greatly an overmatch for us. Though the viceroy was inflexible; yet, on this representation, she was kept ready for the sea for near three weeks after the first order came to detain her.
When we had taken up the cutters, all the ships being joined, the commodore made a signal to speak with their commanders; and upon enquiry into the stock of fresh water remaining on board the squadron, it was found to be so very slender, that we were under a necessity of quitting our station to procure a fresh supply. It was agreed, that the harbour of Seguataneo or Chequetan being the nearest to us, was, on that account, the most eligible; it was therefore immediately resolved to make the best of our way thither: And that, even while we were recruiting our water, we might not abandon our views upon the galleon, which perhaps, upon certain intelligence of our ship being employed at Chequetan, might venture to slip out to sea; our cutter, under the command of Mr Hughes, the lieutenant of the Tryal prize, was ordered to cruise off the port of Acapulco for twenty-four days, that if the galleon should set sail in that interval, we might be speedily informed of it. In pursuance of these resolutions we endeavoured to ply to the westward, to gain our intended port, but were often interrupted in our progress by calms and adverse currents: In these intervals we employed ourselves in taking out the most valuable part of the cargoes of the Carmelo and Carmin prizes, which two ships we intended to destroy as soon as we had tolerably cleared them. By the first of April we were so far advanced towards Seguataneo, that we thought it expedient to send out two boats, that they might range along the coast, and discover the watering-place; they were gone some days, and our water being now very short, it was a particular felicity to us that we met with daily supplies of turtle, for had we been entirely confined to salt provisions, we must have suffered extremely in so warm a climate. Indeed our present circumstances were sufficiently alarming, and gave the most considerate amongst us as much concern as any of the numerous perils we had hitherto encountered; for our boats, as we conceived by their not returning, had not as yet discovered a place proper to water at, and by the leakage of our cask and other accidents, we had not ten days water on board the whole squadron; so that from the known difficulty of procuring water on this coast, and the little reliance we had on the Buccaneer writers, (the only guides we had to trust to) we were apprehensive of being soon exposed to a calamity, the most terrible of any in the long disheartening catalogue of the distresses of a sea-faring life.
But these gloomy suggestions were soon happily ended; for our boats returned on the 5th of April, having discovered a place proper for our purpose, about seven miles to the westward of the rocks of Seguataneo, which, by the description they gave of it, appeared to be the port called by Dampier the harbour of Chequetan. They were ordered out again the next day, to sound the harbour and its entrance, which they had represented as very narrow. At their return they reported the place to be free from any danger; so that on the 7th we stood in, and that evening came to an anchor in eleven fathom. The Gloucester came to an anchor at the same time with us; but the Camelo and the Carmin having fallen to leeward, the Tryal prize was ordered to join them, and to bring them in, which in two or three days she effected.
A short Account of Chequetan, and of the adjacent Coast and Country.
The harbour of Chequetan lies in the latitude of 17 deg. 36' N. and is about thirty leagues to the westward of Acapulco. It is easy to be discovered by any ship that will keep well in with the land, especially by such as range down coast from Acapulco, and will attend to the following particulars.
There is a beach of sand which extends eighteen leagues from the harbour of Acapulco to the westward, against which the sea breaks with such violence that it is impossible to land in any part of it; but yet the ground is so clean; that ships, in the fair season, may anchor in great safety at the distance of a mile or two from the shore. The land adjacent to this beach is generally low, full of villages, and planted with a great number of trees; and on the tops of some small eminencies there are several look-out towers, so that the face of the country affords a very agreeable prospect: For the cultivated part, which is the part here described, extends some leagues back from the shore, and there appears to be bounded by the chain of mountains, which stretch to a considerable distance on either side of Acapulco. It is a most remarkable particularity, that in this whole extent, being, as hath been mentioned, eighteen leagues, and containing, in appearance, the most populous and best planted district of the whole coast, there should be neither canoes, boats, nor any other embarkations either for fishing, coasting, or for pleasure.
The beach here described is the surest guide for finding the harbour of Chequetan; for five miles to the westward of the extremity of this beach there appears a hummock, which at first makes like an island, and is in shape not very unlike the hill of Petaplan, hereafter mentioned, though much smaller. Three miles to the westward of this hummock is a white rock lying near the shore, which cannot easily be passed by unobserved; it is about two cables length from the land, and lies in a large bay about nine leagues over. The westward point of this bay is the hill of Petaplan. This hill, like the forementioned hummock, may be at first mistaken for an island, though it be, in reality, a peninsula, which is joined to the continent by a low and narrow isthmus, covered over with shrubs and small trees. The bay of Seguataneo extends from this hill a great way to the westward; and at a small distance from the hill, and opposite to the entrance of the bay, there is an assemblage of rocks, which are white, from the excrements of boobies and tropical birds. Four of these rocks are high and large, and, together with several other smaller ones, are, by the help of a little imagination, pretended to resemble the form of a cross, and are called the White Friars. These rocks bear W. by N. from Petaplan, and about seven miles to the westward of them lies the harbour of Chequetan, which is still more minutely distinguished by a large and single rock, that rises out of the water a mile and a half distant from its entrance, and bears S. 1/2 W. from the middle of it.
[Footnote 1: In the original are references to some plates, which cannot be given in this work.—E.]
These are the infallible marks by which the harbour of Chequetan may be known to those who keep well in with the land; and I must add, that the coast is no ways to be dreaded from the middle of October to the beginning of May, nor is there then any danger from the winds, though in the remaining part of the year there are frequent and violent tornadoes, heavy rains, and hard gales, in all directions of the compass. But as to those who keep at any considerable distance from the coast, there is no other method to be taken by them for finding this harbour than that of making it by its latitude; for there are so many ranges of mountains rising one upon the back of another within land, that no drawings of the appearance of the coast can be at all depended on when off at sea, for every little change of distance, or variation of position, brings new mountains in view, and produces an infinity of different prospects, which would render all attempts of delineating the aspect of the coast impossible.
The harbour is environed on all sides, except to the westward, with high mountains overspread with trees. The passage into it is very safe on either side of the rock that lies off the mouth of it, though we, both in coming in and going out, left it to the eastward. The ground without the harbour is gravel mixed with stones, but within it is soft mud: And it must be remembered, that in coming to an anchor a good allowance should be made for a large swell, which frequently causes a great send of the sea; as likewise for the ebbing and flowing of the tide, which we observed to be about five feet, and that it set nearly E. and W.
The watering-place had the appearance of a large standing lake, without any visible outlet into the sea, from which it is separated by a part of the strand. The origin of this lake is a spring, that bubbles out of the ground near half a mile within the country. We found the water a little brackish, but more considerably so towards the sea-side, for the nearer we advanced towards the spring-head, the softer and fresher it proved: This laid us under a necessity of filling all our casks from the furthest part of the lake, and occasioned us some trouble, and would have proved still more difficult had it not been for our particular management, which, for the conveniency of it, deserves to be recommended to all who shall hereafter water at this place. Our method consisted in making use of canoes which drew but little water; for, loading them with a number of small casks, they easily got up the lake to the spring-head, and the small casks being there filled, were in the same manner transported back again to the beach, where some of our hands always attended to start them into other casks of a larger size.
Though this lake, during our continuance there, appeared to have no outlet into the sea, yet there is reason to suppose that in the wet season it overflows the strand, and communicates with the ocean; for Dampier, who was formerly here, speaks of it as a large river. Indeed, there must be a very great body of water amassed before the lake can rise high enough to overflow the strand, for the neighbouring country is so low, that great part of it must be covered with water before it can run out over the beach.
As the country in the neighbourhood, particularly the tract which we have already described, appeared to be well peopled and cultivated, we hoped thence to have procured fresh provision and other refreshments which we stood in need of. With this view, the morning after we came to an anchor, the commodore ordered a party of forty men, well armed, to march into the country, and to endeavour to discover some town or village, where they were to attempt a correspondence with the inhabitants; for we doubted not if we could have any intercourse with them, but that by presents of some of the coarse merchandise, with which our prizes abounded (which, though of little consequence to us, would to them be extremely valuable,) we should allure them to furnish us with whatever fruits or fresh provisions were in their power. Our people were directed on this occasion to proceed with the greatest circumspection, and to make as little ostentation of hostility as possible; for we were sensible that we could meet with no wealth here worth our notice, and that what necessaries we really wanted we should in all probability be better supplied with by an open amicable traffic, than by violence and force of arms. But this endeavour of opening an intercourse with the inhabitants proved ineffectual, for towards evening, the party which had been ordered to march into the country, returned greatly fatigued with their unusual exercise, and some of them so far spent as to have fainted by the way, and to be obliged to be brought back upon the shoulders of their companions. They had marched in all, as they conceived, about ten miles, in a beaten road, where they often saw the fresh dung of horses or mules. When they had got about five miles from the harbour, the road divided between the mountains into two branches, one running to the east and the other to the west. After some deliberation about the course they should take, they agreed to pursue the eastern road, which, when they had followed for some time, led them at once into a large plain or savannah; on one side of which they discovered a centinel on horseback with a pistol in his hand: It was supposed that when they first saw him he was asleep, but his horse startled at the glittering of their arms, and, turning round suddenly, rode off with his master, who was very near being unhorsed in the surprise, but he recovered his seat, and escaped with the loss of his hat and his pistol, which he dropped on the ground. Our people ran after him, in hopes of discovering some village or habitation, but as he had the advantage of being on horseback, they soon lost sight of him. However, they were unwilling to come back without making some discovery, and therefore still followed the track they were in; but the heat of the day increasing, and finding no water to quench their thirst, they were first obliged to halt, and then resolved to return; for, as they saw no signs of plantations or cultivated land, they had no reason to believe that there was any village or settlement near them: But, to leave no means untried of procuring some intercourse with the people, the officers stuck up several poles in the road, to which were affixed declarations, written in Spanish, encouraging the inhabitants to come down to the harbour and to traffic with us, giving the strongest assurances of a kind reception, and faithful payment for any provisions they should bring us. This was doubtless a very prudent measure, but it produced no effect; for we never saw any of them during the whole time of our continuance at this port of Chequetan. But had our men, upon the division of the path, taken the western road instead of the eastern, it would soon have led them to a village or town, which, in some Spanish manuscripts, is mentioned as being in the neighbourhood of this port, and which we afterwards learnt was not above two miles from that turning.