From the Vineyard Gazette edition of May 12, 1904:
Story of the First Bombardment of the Island of Magdalena, as Told by Capt. Cyrus Manter, of West Tisbury. The Gazette is privileged to print the following, furnished the paper by a special correspondent. It may be added that Capt. Manter, who is now 77 years of age, is recovering from a severe attack of pneumonia, a fact which is a cause for thankfulness in all sections of the county, where he has been prominent and universally esteemed for many years.
A half century ago when the New Bedford whale ships made long, three or four year voyages they frequently visited the different groups of islands in the Pacific Ocean for the purposes of replenishing their stock of water and wood, and would often trade with the natives calico and other articles that they wanted for chickens, pigs, etc.
In about the year 1859, says the captain, I was master of the ship Europa, Edgartown, 450 tons, Abram Osborn agent, and was cruising “between seasons” in the Pacific before going north in the spring. It was getting along toward the last of the season and we were in need of water and fresh meat so decided to touch at Magdalena.
The island of Magdalena is the southern island of the “Marquesas” group, situated just south of the “Sandwich Islands.” There is a range of mountains over the island and a tribe of natives inhabit either side which were at that time at war with each other. After a battle the winning tribe would gather up their dead victims and roast and eat them, and have a great celebration of their victory.
We sighted the island and came in at the mouth of a small bay at the head of which was a village. The houses were made of bamboo and had thatched roofs, the chief’s house being the prominent among the huts.
As soon as a ship anchored they would come off in canoes around the ship, anxious for trade and to see if water was wanted. There was a white man in a canoe with the chief who acted as interpreter.
There were cannibals and it was not safe to go ashore, so we proceeded to make a bargain for three hundred barrels of water. We were to raft the casks part of the way ashore, then the natives were to take them ashore, fill them and swim them out through the breakers, where our boats were to take them in tow and bring them to the ship. This was to be done by the natives for one keg of powder.
The water was about all aboard, only one more raft to get, so I and another captain who was there at the time left the ship to go to another bay where the natives were more friendly and we could land for trading purposes. I left orders with the mate to get the rest of the water while I was gone.
I had not been at the bay long before I saw one of my boats coming being rowed very fast. The crew had the following story which they told very excitedly: They said the boat-steerer went in with the last raft of casks for water and had let his boat land. No sooner had he done so than he found boat, crew and all being carried up the beach toward the bushes. The crew jumped out and ran for their lives, but the natives were too much pleased with the boat and whale gear to chase far. The men came out on the point of rocks by the ship and were taken aboard in a very excited condition.
So I went back aboard the ship and found the story true. The natives were very much elated with their prize and supposed they would not be molested. But they had not only the boat but all the whale gear and the raft of casks, and I did not propose to go away and leave them.
I had one cannon aboard and got another from the other ship. These I mounted in a convenient place, made cartridges of considerable strength of powder, greased the guns well inside. We had plenty of old chain that we cut up in pieces of two or three links in a piece. The pieces we put in on good charge of powder. Now, the guns all ready, we hauled the ship pretty close in toward the village, broadside to.
We gave them several rounds, mowing down houses and pruning their trees at a great rate. Later on we saw a canoe put off from the point with a white flag. We stopped shooting and the canoe came to the ship, in it the chief and the white man, he plead with us not to do any more damage to the town.
I told him to put the chief aboard, I wanted to see him, so he came aboard and we immediately put him in irons and sat him down on the main hatch.
Now the conditions are, I said to the interpreter, that you bring back the casks full of fresh water, the whale boat with all the gear, and all the other plunder you have taken immediately, or I shall deliver this chief over to the tribe you are at war with.
They were only too glad to bring everything back as quickly as possible. I kept the chief until everything was returned, then let him go.
Hauled the Europa off at anchor, for the night. Leaving the next morning for the Sandwich Islands, we gave them a gun as we weighed anchor as a parting salute.
Compiled by Hilary Wall