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How a ship's crew was massacred — all save one; how that solitary survivor wandered despairingly for days, through a barren land, driven eventually to trust himself to the mercies of a tribe of natives whose hands were stained with murder, is told in a thrilling story by Mr. Alfred Cole, of Bristol. He not only carried his life in his hands when, weakened by exposure and privation, he submitted to those natives closing around him, but he had to remain with them for upwards of three months, adapting himself to their crude customs and restless mode of existence, before being rescued. Throughout that period of tension he had to be ever wary of treachery, yet doing nothing to arouse suspicion ; and in the end he was allowed to depart in peace. This happened at distant Tierra del Fuego. When Mr. Cole returned to England he landed at Bristol, and the old city has been for many years the home of himself and his wife. They have just celebrated their golden wedding. Mr. Cole, who is a native of Taunton, has long followed the sea, and now, at 75 years of age, his association with ships and their travel is a thing of the past. He and his wife have their home at 14 Croydon street, Easton, and both are in the enjoyment of old-age pensions — "which are a Godsend, parenthetically remarked Mr. Cole as he chatted to a Lloyd's News representative of adventures of upwards of half a century.

— Black Horror. —

Of medium build and wiry frame. Mr. Cole does not look his age. He is nimble, alert, and unassuming in manner. His narrative touches on a tragic chapter in missionary records, for the massacre of which he was the horrified witness occurred when an unsuspecting party of Englishmen were holding a Sunday morning service, carrying Gospel tidings and Christian teaching to a strange people. Plunder is assumed to have been the pretext for the sacrifice of life which was brutally effected —the desire to appropriate a ship's stores and equipment. The date of the black horror was November 6, 1859.

— Surprised by Treacherous Natives. —

Let the story be told in Mr. Cole's own words:— "It was the crew of the Allan Gardner missionary schooner that was  killed," he says. "I joined her in 1858 at Monte Video and did the cooking. She was a boat of about 90 tons, and she was on missionary service up and down the coast of Patagonia, in the service of a church society, and also calling at Tierra del Fuego, where she stopped a week or a fortnight at a time. Capt. Alexander Fell, who belonged to the Isle of Man, was the master, and then there was his brother, Mr.H. S. Fell, who acted as mate. Well, we had been backward and forward to Monte Video and the Falkland Island once or twice, and then we put in at Tierra del Fuego (the Land of Fire), where on a previous visit our people had built a hut. The natives seemed friendly ; no one dreamt of anything amiss. We were there for some days, and all the week natives were gathering for the services, we thought, though after what occurred they must have been plotting. They came around in canoe parties, landing by the hut. There were signals — beach fires and the like — and these brought people from all parts of the island. There were, I should imagine, 300 gathered together on the Sunday of the massacre. That morning all our crew, except myself, put ashore for service, taking one of the two boats with which the schooner was provided: and every man of the eight met with a violent death at the hands of the treacherous natives. I had remained behind to get the dinner. I went on with my preparations, little thinking of trouble, and by-and-by, when I came on deck with something in my hand, I saw that there was mischief. We were lying about a quarter of a mile out, and I was shocked to find that our party had been set upon and were being beaten to death with stones and clubs. They had all come out of the hut where the service had been started. The mob was in a frenzy surrounding our poor fellows, whose chance of escape was hopeless. I could hear the noise — a frightful row. The natives had lost all sense of restraint, and almost immediately our men were beaten to the ground, the lives crushed out of them. Not one remained to tell the tale.  

— Race for Life. —

"I was helpless. I could do nothing single-handed. Then I realized that it was unsafe to remain on the schooner, as the canoes would soon be out to her. She lay at anchor, and I could not navigate her on my own account. There was nothing to be done but to make for the woods. I lowered the remaining boat, and paddled away up the bay, the natives in pursuit as soon as they saw what I was up to. I was then only 22 years of age, and pretty active, and, feeling that there was a terrible issue at stake, I had what I regarded as a race for life with the jabbering natives who were in my wake, and I kept my distance, by-and-by safely landing and getting under cover, so that they soon lost track of me. But that was only the beginning of a spell of desolate wandering. For four days I travelled through country, trying to get across the island, but river torrents kept me back. I found that escape was cut off in this direction, and I drifted back to the beach, where for a further 12 days I eked out an existence as best I could. I was then miles away from the schooner, on the outer coast of the island. I was without solid food. All I could get to eat in the woods were the pulpy roots of coarse grasses. There were berries about, but I did not know how far these might be poisonous. I soon lost flesh. Moreover, in trying to swim the river I had got wet through, and my clothes never properly dried. By-and-by, when on the beach, I saw two canoes come around a point. I found they were going after some wonderful fruit that I should only like to have known of earlier. The natives detected me, and I just waited for them. I thought they might as well take me and kill me at once if they wished to. I was weak from want of food. They knew me, and I knew them as some of the people we had before encountered. They took me with them, and away we went for a couple of miles into another little bay, where we came upon a crowd, with their wigwams built up. They gave me fruit and things, and I soon regained my strength a little, but not much.  

— In Fear of Murder. —  

"Thus I entered into a period of three months and two days' life with the natives before a rescue party arrived on a search expedition. I was always on the lookout  for a passing boat, hoping against hope, for I felt certain that sooner or later a search vessel would come along. At first the natives deprived me of my clothing, and I particularly missed my boots, but after a while I got some of my things back. They did not trouble about clothing themselves, unless it was some bits of sealskin which they were lucky to pick up; they were pretty well naked, and they painted themselves — men, women, and children — with a pigment of burnt red clay mixed with fat, declaring that it kept out the cold. Sometimes a few black dots were introduced by way of variety. These people have a copper coloured skin, but that is only dirt; if they were washed they would be as white as any of us. I found the tribe I was with of a Japanese type of feature, with straight, black hair, and they were a thick-set race, women in the majority, and all bandy legged from crouching on the haunches when canoeing. I was pretty much in touch with a man known as Jimmy Buttons, a full-blooded native who had picked up English, for he had come to England once as a boy when they were surveying the island. He had two or three wives, as many of the others had, and a lot of children. I soon found that plunder had been at the bottom of the massacre, and the natives had swarmed into the schooner and stripped her of every bit of rope and canvas, breaking her up inside, as you may say, and clearing out every thing they could. She carried firearms, but our men had gone ashore without them, simply with their Bibles in their hands; and what became of those arms after the natives had gone through the ship I cannot say. The men had no use for them. I found one musket only, and that was in a wigwam, and the people did not know how to use it. So I took possession, and by-and-by managed to get some powder and shot from the schooner, and was able, as long as the ammunition held out, to shoot a few birds. I did not," adds Mr. Cole, "glean any addition to the story of the massacre while I was with the natives. It was never discussed. I would not have any thing to say in case they turned round on me, for I never knew whether at any moment they might not serve me as they had the others. But I could see that Jimmy Button was the ringleader. He had acted as interpreter, and he knew there were a lot of clothes and things aboard ship, and he wanted the captain to give these to him. There is no doubt it was he who brought the crowd together, and the whole affair was a plot, taking our people, thrown off their guard, completely by surprise.

— Never Safe at Night. —

"Though having a constant sense of danger, my life with the natives was uneventful," continues Mr. Cole. "It was summer in that region, even if it was November, and we drifted from place to place without discomfort from exposure. They   were a primitive race, with a gipsy-like restlessness about them. They broke up into small parties — two or three canoes, with their families, and at halting points put up their huts, which were merely a few sticks in the ground, leaving them standing when they moved on. I picked up fragments of their talk. They were friendly, and treated me like one of themselves, their passion having cooled now that they had had their haul. The canoes they used — and I was soon able to manage one —were made of bark — not a dugout —   worked by single-bladed paddles, and each carrying a man and his family. They lived chiefly on the beach, and fish and fruit entered largely into their diet: and at night I slept with them in their huts, where you crowded in where you could, with your feet to the fire in the centre. I never felt safe at night, and, I used to exercise much caution: and. though they never attempted to harm me, I was glad when at last I was out of it. One thing I noticed was that these folk were never without a lighted fire, even having it with them in their canoes, and what cooking they did was always in the way of roasting on the embers. The only thing they possessed of any account in the way of domestic utensils was a mug made of bark, which they also used for baling out their boats. These people had their doctors, who were in favour or otherwise as a weather prophecy might turn out accurate or the reverse. So far as I could learn of their social customs children were promised in marriage as soon as they were born. I don't know what wedding rites, they had, if any; but marital relationships were apparently respected. I heard of only one girl leaving her husband, and he gave her a good hiding when she returned.

— Homeward Bound. —

"Well," concludes Mr. Cole, "the vessel sent in search of the missing mission party was the Nancy, from the Falkland Island, belonging to the American commercial agent there; and she took me back to Port Stanley, where I made my deposition to Governor Mackenzie. I was able to leave Tierra del Fuego without any demur, and, so far as I understand, no enquiry was afterwards made as to the people really responsible for the murders, and no one was punished. A crew was got together at Port Stanley to bring home the mission schooner, and I signed on, so that I got back to Tierra del Fuego to find the old boat still at anchor. The natives had tried to fire her, without doing much damage, and as soon as we had effected the necessary repairs we headed for Bristol, finding that the news of disaster had long previously reached   home. At Bristol the schooner was lengthened 12 ft., and she returned to mission work, and afterwards she gave place to  smaller craft, and was diverted to trade purposes. That was the last I heard of her."

Source: "The Register" (Adelaide, SA), 6 April 1912
Clipped: 22-IX-2012
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