12th. July 1853: Cannibal tales from Levuka: Joseph Waterhouse “We live in a dark spot of the world. I could fill the sheet with horrible tales”

After a year in Fiji at Levuka Joseph Waterhouse has lot some of his sparkle. He writes about a the joy of a pot of jam received as a gift, and reports of the Bau culture of cannibilism, where any person with “salt water on them” – friend or not, is eaten – and sometimes eaten alive. This is the fate of a person who falls out of canoe and swims to a beach.
Ovalau, Feejee, 12th. July 1853.

My dear brother and sister Padman,

With many thanks I have to acknowledge the receipt of my brother’s letter written when in Melbourne, and one of the 13th March 1852. Yours of Feb last, my sister came safely to hand by Mr.Owen. It is well that I did not receive the letter of /52 before. “I will try to be a better correspondent in future” says the writer. But a year passes away before another is written. Try again. We can sympathize with Mary Ann in respect of her want of time for correspondence. We make allowances for you as you must for us. But do try and send us a short letter now and then. Surely a letter once a quarter is not too much to ask at your hands. If we are spared to live in Australia when the Revd. George Waterhouse Padman & lady are in Feejee we‘ll try and write once a quarter. Come now, be sociable, and do unto others, & I think that I exhausted my small talk last time. But I know how fond Mary Ann is of little things and I must try to scrape them together.

Mary Watson was born 8 Dec 1852. She is a pretty and very intelligent little girl: but awfully restless – must be doing something. Her uncle Samuel was surprised to find such a fine baby in Feejee. She was born just as five women were being strangled.

Mary Ann’s remarks on training children are very good. I hope she will send me 6 copies of “Mrs. Padman’s Fathers’ Practical Guide” when it is printed.

Bessy suffered a great deal after her confinement. Mrs. Calvert was obliged to leave about a fortnight after little Mary’s birth & as our flour had become disgusting she could not eat it & was unable to recover her strength. At length a vessel arrived from Sydney & we procured a bag of good flour. Bessy soon felt much better.

We received your two cases by Mr. Owen. The Jam is delicious. We take a little now & then; then dreamt about for a few days; & then we try it again. The Book shall be studied according to the wish of the Donor. The picture came safe. The print helps to fill our pots with yam. The bonnets are especially welcome: they are just the things for this climate. We handed Esther’s over to her. One of ours Bessy gave to Mrs. Calvert, to whom we feel deeply indebted for past kindnesses. O how pleasant to inhale the fragrance arising from what our Father did. How different it would be to follow in his steps if he had been as others unfortunately have shown themselves to be. In a few months’ time the bonnets from Lydia will fit little Mary – the Rasp: Vinegar has disappeared long since. George’s flour is eaten daily.

Well, you can not imagine how welcome all the letters & papers were. We read letters over every four or five days for the first month, think of them during the second, look at them again during the third, and then we frequently dream that we received fresh letters. Sometimes when we are unwell, we go & get the letters & read them over again. Of course they are assorted in my pigeon holes in my study. I sometimes think that if the house were burnt down my first care, after ourselves, would be about the letters. The “Illustrated London News” is put by to be read in order & at suitable seasons. Thanks to George for it.

We live in a dark spot of the world. I could fill the sheet with horrible tales, but really I see no use in it: you have heard a great deal about Feejee & I can assure you that the principal part is as bad as the whole was formerly.

16 Jan/52. A man, on whose word I can depend, a steady consistent Christian, confirms the report of the destruction of a town. He was a visitor at the enemy’s town and counted fifty cooked bodies of all ages & sexes. This within a few miles of a Mission Station.

14 May/52. One teacher informs me that 50 have been killed & eaten lately at Ba. At Nandronga, in addition to 40 previously reported, about 80 have been killed by the enemy, who were unable to carry off the spoil. The friends of the slain returned to bury (?) no ! to cook and eat – the bodies of their own friends.

28 Jan/53. A canoe left a town half a mile distant from my house, with 9 on board. It was capsized & four swam to an island wh. was near them. The remaining five thought they could not do better than allow the canoe to drift, as it was drifting right towards that part of the island, at which their friends resided, to whom they were paying a friendly visit. They did so & in due time landed, received a hearty welcome, saw the ovens prepared in wh. their food was to be cooked and when the ovens were “all ready”, they were clubbed, cooked & eaten by their own friends ! And why? Because “salt water was on them”.

Mch/53. A man cooked alive in Bau.

Here are the dates for you: make no mistake: A.D. 1853. Keep your gold if you can after such facts. Go to bed without praying for Feejee, if you can, after such facts.

Mary Ann says that she quite anticipates seeing us again, if our lives be spared. hope so too, but I trust that I am willing to leave myself in the hands of my Great Master. We know not what a day may bring forth.

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I have given a good sheet full of news to George & it is of no use to dish it up again for you. Remember us in your prayers – Remember us to all friends. Mr. & Mrs. Draper, Mr & Mrs Harcourt &c &c &c. If I do not write to the Longbottoms it will be for want of time. With a kiss for all the little ones & a hope that Mary Ann is a very good girl,

I remain,
Yours in increasing affections,
Joseph Waterhouse

I am afraid that Bessy will not be able to write this time. She is very busy having Mrs. Williams & 5 children with us, and is anything but strong.

We have procured a Baby Jumper for little Mary Watson with wh. she is delighted & the natives much astonished.

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