CHAPTER III

ARRIVAL AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

THE morning of April 1, 1922, was misty, and soon it poured with rain, but the sea was beautifully calm, and when I woke and looked from the porthole of my cabin in the Tacoma Maru I thanked God for that. But my feelings were very mingled as I stood gazing at the big lonely rock which was to be our home for the next three years. In the rain of the cold, foggy dawn it looked very cheerless and uninviting. It gave me the idea of a somewhat awful desolation. The island rises sheer out of the sea for 2,000 feet, and above this tableland is the gigantic peak, 8,000 feet above sea-level, with no smaller peaks to diminish the effect.

We kept a good couple of miles from the shore, drawing in a little as our vessel rounded Sandy Point and Big Head and came in sight of the tiny Settlement, called Edinburgh on the maps after the Royal Duke who visited it in 1867. It was still very early, and there was little sign of life, save a few stray animals, until the sudden blast of our siren roused the whole place to bustling excitement. Immediately there was every sign of the wildest commotion. The entire population could be seen hurrying shorewards, the dogs commenced a loud barking, there was evident surprise and confusion, and very quickly the men and boys had launched three boats with very full crews, and these raced towards us propelled by lusty rowers. I thought, however, as I watched them draw near that the island boats, built of canvas and thin planking, looked very frail and small and much in need of paint, and the men also looked wild and strange with unshaven faces and clothes much patched. They wore stockings of white wool pulled high over their trousers up to the knee, and moccasins instead of shoes or boots, and a few lads were barefooted. Their headgear was very varied. They did not make a good impression on me, as all were shouting and gesticulating at once, while many were dark-complexioned, and I had rather a fear of coloured races.

The Japanese captain soon brought his ship to anchor, but seemed dubious as to the expediency of allowing the Tristanites aboard, and at length lowered a gangway and requested my husband to go down it and speak to the men in the boats.

My husband did so, telling the men that we were missionaries sent out by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to the island to hold church services and teach the little children in school, and we wished to help them in every possible way, and added that, as we had brought a mail and stores, boats would be required and assistance to land the things, and that, if they were pleased to see us, would they signify their pleasure by holding up their hands.

When he ceased speaking all held their hands up, and then stood up in the boats and gave three cheers for us, waving their caps and smiling. They seemed genuinely pleased we had come, and, as I stood looking at them over the side of the ship, my fear vanished and I felt really sorry for them.

The captain now asked my husband to invite one man from each boat to come on board, saying that he could allow no more up at present. There were about sixteen or seventeen hands in each boat. The three who came up we learned were Tom Rogers, Old Sam Swain, and Bob Glass. Tom Rogers came up to me and said that his wife would be very pleased if we would come and stay with them at their house until our house was built. I said, "Thank you very much; I will tell my husband of your kind offer." Bob Glass, who as yet did not know who I was, rather amused me by trying to barter some island curios with me, remarking, "I would like some clothes, if you can spare any, as I have a lot of big girls and boys to provide for, and it is hard to get anything for them."

The men told us that they had not had a ship at the island for eighteen months.

The Japanese lowered one of the ship's own boats to take us ashore, and, taking two of the islanders as pilots, we got in and the stewards placed our bags and boxes in it. Captain Kamaiashi, his chief officer, and the purser, with seven Japanese sailors, rowed us ashore to Big Beach. The Japanese could not speak English, and so there was much gesticulating and nodding on both sides, and they seemed bothered at not finding a pier or landing-stage. We had to make our way through big masses of kelp which surrounds the islands on all sides. The current was also very strong. However, we made a safe landing, and as we struck the beach one of the men waiting on the shore to meet the boat waded in knee deep and carried me up to the dry sand and set me down among a crowd of women and girls. My husband was next lifted out and a crowd of curious youngsters pressed round us, along with a host of mongrel dogs, and I noticed a good many donkeys wandering round aimlessly. Several dark-faced elderly women came up to me and rather shyly held out a hand and said in soft voices, "Welcome, marm, to Tristan da Cunha." One woman, Mrs. Frances Repetto, a widow, said as she took my hand with tears in her eyes, "Thank God that I have lived to see another missionary come to our island, for we greatly need a leader and someone to teach the little children."

Soon, I was left quite alone while my husband and the people were busy superintending the landing of the mail and our stores. I began to feel very tired and hungry, for I was not in very good health and the rain was falling heavily. I walked up to the nearest woman and said, " Please, where is the Settlement?" However, she was so frightened that she simply turned and ran away, but a tall, dark woman, who was Mrs. Tom Rogers, came up and asked me if I would come along with her, saying that her husband had spoken to us on the ship and everything was now quite ready for us. She hoped she was not insulting me by asking, but it was so wet on the beach. I went with her gladly but it made me feel very tired walking over the big loose stones and climbing up a long, rather steep cliff pathway.

After we had thus set the example, a general movement took place, everyone carrying something in the way of boxes, sacks, or parcels. As soon as I had got up to the house with my hostess, I longed for some food and the means to wash; but I quickly found that I should not get any of these things, for just as I had settled myself on the only wooden chair a number of women came in. As they entered they curtseyed and said, "Good afternoon, marm," and sat down on the two boxes or a wooden bench which, with a table, comprised all the furniture. Some stood against the wall, all with hands folded and no one speaking a word. Finally some mail sacks were brought in by two men and placed in front of me. I realized I was expected to give them out, and thinking these sacks were all the mail and the sooner they were given out the sooner my new friends would go home, I hastened to distribute them.

I was rather nervous and very much overtired, and no one spoke to me, yet I felt that I should get to love these poor people, for they clearly meant to do their best for our comfort. Seeing me standing up rather forlornly one woman got me a chair, and when I said, "Thank you so much," she broke into a smile, and I noticed that, though she was very dark, she had quite a nice face and beautiful eyes. Two others now came forward to help me distribute the mails. One woman cut the strings of the bags and another handed me packets of letters, and as I called the names people took their letters and departed with a "Thank you, marm." More sacks suddenly appeared, rather to my dismay, and fresh crowds poured into the room, and it grew stifling hot, and the door and window were obscured by numbers of men and boys. Someone called out, "Tell the Missus the ship is going away," and as I looked through the window the men moved very considerately so that I might see clearly.

The steamer's siren gave a farewell hoot for "good-bye," and I saw the Tacoma Maru steaming slowly away. My heart felt heavy, and as I looked I could have wept. However, I went back to my work, fully realizing that after nearly thirteen months of waiting we were now upon Tristan da Cunha, with miles of ocean between us and our dear ones at home. That evening all the men who were heads of families visited us to have a look at us, and all expressed their appreciation of our coming to the island " to larn the children."

About seven o'clock we managed to get our first meal. It consisted of roast mutton, baked potatoes, and tea. I found out later that a boy had been sent six miles for a sheep when we landed, and it had to be killed and prepared for cooking, hence the long delay in dinner. Almost everyone brought us a present of some sort as a token of amity—eggs, milk, or stockings. People kept coming and going, speaking little but often staying a long time; so at length, feeling utterly exhausted, I left them to my husband and departed into the bedroom. Alas! under the scarlet blanket I could not sleep, for the bed only boasted of one sheet, and was, as nearly all Tristan houses are, full of fleas. I got up next day at dawn to find my husband sitting on a chair half dozing, but in spite of such a disturbed night we both felt refreshed and eager to make a start with our work on the island.



Chapter 4