CHAPTER V

THE QUEST AT TRISTAN

THE great happening of May 1922 was the visit of R.Y.S. Quest to the island, with the members of the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition.

Very early in the morning of May 19, 1922, we were awakened by the joyful cry of "Sail Ho!" I heard people running about and talking loudly and excitedly close outside the house, arid there was much barking of the dogs. We were soon up and dressed, and Robert Glass came to the door to tell us he had seen the ship first and it was the eagerly expected Quest, and that she was steaming in towards the beach coming from the westward and the direction of Inaccessible Island. We looked at the brave little ship with a very great interest, and were glad she had come so far safely through the perils of her voyage of discovery amid the unknown seas and islands of the south.

It was not a very cheerful day for a visit to Tristan da Cunha. The island is sadly desolate-looking at any time, but to-day it was obscured by heavy clouds and rain was falling thickly. The sea had also rather a heavy ground swell running. The bad weather kept the people more closely indoors than usual, but the Quest hastened activity on the Settlement by firing a detonator, and soon the people were all out of their doors and running towards the beach, and the men quickly got boats out and rowed swiftly to the ship. As soon as she had taken some of the men on board to act as pilots, the Quest came in as near as was safe and anchored in the kelp. Out of compliment to the ship the people afterwards named her anchorage in the inner bay "Quest Bay," and also one of the new small dinghies was christened the Quest, so it was a double-barrelled compliment of a permanent character to our visitors. We had approached the Quest ourselves a year before, when we heard of her intention to call at Tristan da Cunha with a mail, asking for the favour of a passage to the island, but Sir Ernest Shackleton had been unable to accede to our request as there was no spare accommodation on board. This decision turned out for the best, for the plans of the expedition had to be changed, and, as it was, we succeeded in reaching our destination about a month before the Quest arrived.

After the Quest anchored a number of men got on board from several small boats and tried to begin a bit of trading by bartering curios and offering to supply fresh meat and poultry to the captain and crew. There is always a lot of shouting and confusion among the boats' crews as they seem never to acknowledge any leader and all talk together, but the Quest officers took the invasion good-naturedly. Commander Wild asked if they had any headman, and after a consultation they put Bob Glass forward as spokesman for the island, my husband being still on his way. There had only been one ship since December 1920, besides the Tacoma Maru which brought us, until the Quest came.

When my husband arrived, he went on board the Quest and had a little talk with Commander Wild and the officers, and noticed Scout Marr, in whom as a brother Scout he felt a particular interest. The ship was rolling a good deal, and he said afterwards it upset him a bit, though he is a good sailor as a rule. He noticed that it rolled even at anchor in a calm sea, and one of the Quest men said, "She would roll even if she were propped up underneath." He was glad to get back on shore after having made some arrangements as to the landing of the mails and some cases for us and the people.

The islanders were fond of comparing my husband with the Rev. J. G. Barrow, the last missionary before us, and used to say, "Mr. Barrow was a fine climber but a bad one on the water, and Mr. Rogers is a good sailor but not much at mountaineering." My husband constantly went out with the men in the small boats, and was very seldom seasick even in a ground-swell.

During the morning Commander Wild came ashore and had a good look round the Settlement. He said "it reminded him of an Irish village in many respects. The thatched cottages seemed to be cosy inside, though rather bare of furniture." Commander Wild expressed himself pleased that we had been able to start a church and school and get a troop of Boy Scouts going. The boys had turned out in their new uniforms, looking very smart, and showed much keenness to help in any jobs going. But what most interested him was the island boats. He considered them, as also did the commander of H.M.S. Dublin, our next important visitor, to be marvels of skill in building, made as they are of a combination of pieces of driftwood picked up on the beaches and bits of branches from the small apple-trees grown on the island, and then covered with one thickness of canvas and painted. Several other members of the Quest Expedition were ashore with Commander Wild, and they came and had lunch with us, taking island fare.

I spent the afternoon giving out mails and parcels to the people. A year previously, long before we left England, we had written letters to the island to let the people know that we were coming, and we had the curious experience of anticipating the arrival of these letters, for they had come by the Quest. As they were no longer of service I impounded them.

The people were full of joyful excitement as the Quest Expedition presented the islanders with a very considerable gift of stores in a large variety. They all said how grateful they felt to Commander Wild and Dr. Macklin, the store-keeper of the expedition. During the few days of their visit to Tristan the members of the Quest Expedition were all very active, and kept the island very full of life. The botanist collected plants, and Mr. Douglas, the geologist, with another man, made the ascent of the Peak, taking two young men, Robert Lavarello and Arthur Rogers, as guides. They went up from a point close to the Settlement near to Hottentot Gulch and Goat Ridge. They were gone all day, though an early start had been made, as Mr. Douglas was collecting geological specimens and surveying operations were conducted. Mr. Douglas says: "Tristan da Cunha rises as a prism for about 2,000 feet, above which it ascends as a cone for about 6,000 feet. The base is of hard columnar lava with alternating layers of basalt, agglomerate, scorral, and cinder. The rainfall on the upper levels is considerable and the erosion correspondingly great." The Expedition also took important soundings round the island, and did some re-charting where it was incorrect on the standard maps.


ISLAND BOATS AT SEA


LANDING STORES FROM THE "QUEST" BY NIGHT

Dr. Macklin spent a great deal of time going round amongst the people, and seemed to take a most kindly interest in their curious ways of thinking and living, of which he afterwards wrote a very good description in the volume Shackleton’s Last Voyage. He stayed ashore with Bob Glass and family, and it took him some time to get used to one of Tristan's inconveniences. He said, "I could not sleep at night on account of an army of small marauders." Fleas are one of the minor drawbacks to life at Tristan.

I spent a part of one day going round with Mr. G. H. Wilkins, the Quest naturalist, who was also its photographer, and he kindly took photographs of every family on the island and promised to send each a copy and a set to me. He got some very interesting studies of the boats, the women at work spinning and carding wool, the Boy Scouts and school children, and many good ones of island scenery. Some of these were for film exhibition.

The Quest officers and men were from all parts of the Empire, and we enjoyed chatting with representatives of New Zealand (which my husband and I had both visited), South Africa, and Canada. Three of them slept at Tom Rogers's house, and we lent our largest bed and some bedding. They camped out in the big front room and said next day that they were very comfortable. Commander Wild was photographed with me standing outside our house, the tiniest parsonage in the world, less than 20 feet long. They soon adopted the Tristan title for me and called me "the Missus."

The great events on the second and third days of the Quest visit were the presentation of the Troop flag specially given for the Tristan da Cunha Troop by the Chief Scout and the erection of the wireless pole. The Scouts were paraded outside the school house with my husband in Scout kit at their head, with Commander Wild present and myself as A.S.M. Scout Marr presented the flag, which was received by the Patrol Leader, Donald Glass, on behalf of the Troop, and he then made a straightforward little speech on the real meaning of scouting, and, after the boys had given the salute and been dismissed, he came up with us to the parsonage and had a meal of damper bread and tea. We had a pleasant talk on Scouting and other matters. He was in his Highland dress as a Scottish Scout Patrol Leader, and the Tristan folk, who had never seen the kilt, were much impressed. Scout Marr is a big, hefty fellow, and his fine manly style was a great help to our lads, and he must have been a valuable asset to the Quest crew.

The next day my husband was early on board the Quest, as we were all waked up by the "time" rocket which she fired at 5.30 to enable us to correct our clocks or watches, which had all gone wrong. The noise startled the whole population, and some of the women and children screamed loudly and were much frightened. Tom Rogers took my husband off from Little Beach to the ship, and they carried our mail with them, as the ship, it was known, might leave at any time then, the voyagers having done all they intended to do in these parts with their exploration of all three islands of the Tristan Group. Their next port of call was Gough Island, 200 miles away, which, like Inaccessible and Nightingale, is uninhabited and little known. Strangely enough, John Glass and his brother Robert have both been to Gough Island and lived there with a sealing expedition. On this visit to the ship my husband was not seasick, though he said that the old Quest rolled as much as ever, so that Sidney Glass, one of the Scout boys who had come on board with his father, was obliged to lie down on the deck he was so upset. Bob Glass, John Glass, and Henry Green were also on board, and the Quest cook gave all a good breakfast in the tiny saloon. They had porridge, fried bacon and potatoes, bread and butter, marmalade and hot coffee with condensed milk, so they did not do so badly. Mr. Wilkins was most anxious to get a good photograph of the Peak, and accordingly the ship steamed out about a mile and a half, but it was rather too cloudy for the best effects, though my husband said the Peak looked very imposing and majestic from the sea.

As it was Empire Day (May 24th), as soon as the Quest had returned to its anchorage my husband came ashore to review the Scouts, and the ceremony went off very well. They marched round the Settlement and halted at Henry Green's, where the oldest flagstaff stands, and there the Union Jack was hoisted and the boys listened to a short address on "Good Citizenship," and gave three cheers for the King and three for the Chief Scout.

By this time a party had come ashore headed by the Quest wireless operator, and including "Mae" Marr, Naisbitt, and some others, and they were going to erect the wireless given to us in Cape Town on a site near Tom Rogers's house. My husband was helping, assisted by a big crowd of almost too willing helpers amongst the Tristanites. A hole had been excavated with difficulty to hold the pole, which was made up of lengths of hollow iron piping. It was about 60 feet in length, and by means of improvised tackle of all sorts they were trying to hoist it. Just as the whole dubious-looking thing was rising into the perpendicular it was noticed to be sagging dangerously at the top, there was a loud shout of warning, and everyone had to run for his life. A big length of piping crashed to the earth, and a bad accident was only averted by a hairbreadth.

The over-zeal of the assistants had caused the top-heavy structure to snap above a joint. At length it was again hoisted and finally fixed in position, but the pole was a good deal shorter than at first intended. We were never able to make much use of it. It was hastily erected in an unsuitable spot, and the islanders were frankly nervous of it, fearing it would attract lightning. One day when Tom Rogers was putting in new windows to his house, he quietly disconnected the wires, and he was careful never to set them up again. My husband grumbled, but not very seriously, as he did not think we should get calls in any case.

Commander Wild took three Tristan men with him as guides to Inaccessible and Nightingale when the Quest left us to explore these two islands on the evening of May 20th—Henry Green and John and Robert Glass. They proved very useful, as they knew every inch of the ground and are all good seamen. It was not a nice day and blew up very rough at night, and we heard that they were not able to land at Inaccessible the next day, but had to steam across to Nightingale. They explored Nightingale and Middle Islands pretty thoroughly, and then returned to Inaccessible and managed to land at the second attempt. They thought the scenery of the interior good, and that the island was better suited for human habitation in some ways than Tristan. There is plenty of vegetation there and good water.

Ascension Day, May 25th, proved to be the last day of the Quest's visit. It was very wet and the sea seemed making up, but the boats went out early to the ship and remained by her. She blew a farewell on her syren, and very soon the boats returned. The Expedition was very kind to the people, and my husband wrote a letter thanking them and sending a case of souvenirs from Tristan for Mr. Rowett. "The islanders," one of the officers said, "behaved like big children. I was immensely sorry for them, as they seemed to lack even common necessities." One man asked for a mouth-organ, a pipe, and a suit of clothes, while another was ready to barter an entire sheep for a pipe of tobacco. When the Quest arrived the islanders seemed to have very poor clothes, as the crew did not fail to note, but the Dublin, which came a year later, in her report describes the Tristan folk as There is probably no place in where people are so careful of their clothes as at Tristan.

It seemed very dull again when the Quest was gone and life settled down in the old ruts. We missed our friends, even "Query," that big dog, who had landed and made friends with the Tristan dogs and the children, and it was with great grief we heard long after that he had been washed overboard and drowned on the way to Gough Island. We have one cherished souvenir of the visit of the Quest to Tristan da Cunha in the shape of a beautiful Bible presented by Commander Wild on behalf of the Expedition to my husband. We were personally grateful for the useful gifts consisting of carefully selected stores, for, while on the island, we had no means of replenishing our own save by chance ships. We had no idea at this time that within a year the Dublin would come with relief stores for the whole island, and certainly, if it had not been for the visit of these two ships, our people would have suffered extreme hardship, as the potato harvest failed us two years out of three.

On the next Sunday my husband held a Thanksgiving for the visit of the Quest, and sought to point the moral by urging the men to do as Commander Wild had suggested, and all to pull together and try and improve the conditions of life. He endeavoured during his stay at Tristan to evolve some system of local government which should induce a sense of corporate responsibility among the men of the island, which seemed to us to be a good deal lacking, and as a first step he took up and utilized the islanders' own custom of the Meeting of all the Heads of Families. He called it "Our Parliament," and he always took the opportunity to call together this gathering when big public matters were concerned. He wished now to employ it to enforce the lesson of the visit of the Quest more insistently, and so the bell was rung and all the men came, and my husband constituted himself chairman or speaker, controlling the debate and putting resolutions. He was listened to very respectfully and good work resulted, and matters affecting the school, roads, boats, houses, and other welfare matters were discussed and decisions arrived at. I think this assembly met four times during our stay on the island, as it is never called except for really important matters touching public morals or public business.

A missionary in these days has to be a jack-of-all-trades, and, as we got to know, more particularly so if he or she goes to Tristan da Cunha. Our ordinary avocations were very varied. We did all our own housework save washing and scrubbing floors, for we found the island girls unsuitable as cooks and for general work. They are, however, excellent as charwomen. We added to our own business the departments of postmaster, schoolmaster, Scoutmaster, medical adviser, dispenser, first-aider, architect, explorer, journalist, meteorological observer, organizer of entertainments, magistrate, and universal umpire, with more or less success. We had had some medical experience. I am fairly skilled in ambulance work, and so was my husband, and we often had to handle more or less serious accidents. Dangers on sea and land are a feature of daily life at Tristan. I give a few of our cases.

William Rogers, thrown out of surf boat on shingly beach, two fractured ribs; Peter Repetto, two accidents—head cut open by stones falling from cliff, and neck badly cut in fall on mountain patch by axe he was carrying; Tom Swain, fall from mountain, fracture of collar-bone and many bruises; John the Baptist Lavarello, hand badly bitten by a snoek fish, the bite of which is always poisonous. Cuts, bruises, and sprains are of daily occurrence. The patients generally neglected everything at first, let the wounds get shockingly dirty, and when thoroughly septic came to me expecting to be cured in a few days. My husband considers that I "was wonderfully successful in my treatments." My great standby was hot water and permanganate of potash, and I used iodine. Though there are no germ diseases at Tristan there is much need for better sanitation, more cleanliness, and more hygienic conditions. There is much dirt and carelessness. On one occasion I cured a woman who had swallowed quantities of raw, dried beans. She was delirious when I was called in, but I gave her a strong emetic and she completely recovered. An awkward complication in the case was that she was expecting a baby.

We treated a good deal of sickness by administering castor oil and Epsom salts, as the islanders suffer very much from stomach and bowel disorders caused by bad food. Round-worms are almost a universal complaint, and cause much sickness among old and young. There is also a mild form of dysentery, which is so common at certain seasons that my husband named it "Tristan sickness." It is troublesome and weakening, and for this I had a special mixture. I had with me a medicine chest supplied by Parke Davis, Ltd., of carefully selected drugs, with directions as to use. Missionaries and explorers need one of these. Asthma, rheumatism, and lumbago are all ordinary complaints at Tristan. We used saltpetre and various embrocations, and thermogene wool. We kept a dispensary and were asked constantly for pills. My husband said, "I believe here they think pills will cure a broken arm." We had to be careful over bandages as some would pretend to be sick or hurt to get bandages to mend their clothes. They come in handy for everything, from shirt-cuffs to boat-sails. We were asked daily and hourly for all sorts of things. In fact they seemed to think we were a kind of Universal providers, and must have hidden hoards of everything in heaven or earth.



Chapter 6