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The Tempest: voyages

    "This island's mine" (1.2.333)

Martin Frobisher sailed in search of the Northwest Passage in 1577, looking for gold on the way, and keeping an eye open for five Englishmen who had been captured by the local natives in an earlier voyage. The passages that follow are not in any sense sources for Shakespeare, though it is fairly certain that he was thinking of some more recent voyages when he wrote The Tempest. Rather they are intended to give some idea of the attitude of those in the period towards the natives they encountered; from this distance it is easy to see the way that the strangeness--the otherness--of the natives led the Englishmen to assume that they were cannibals and barbarians. Notice the unselfconscious use of the word "prey" to describe one of their captives; at the same time, observe the honesty of the description of the courage of the natives in battle, and the admiration they show in observing (rather voyeuristically, we might think) the decency in the behavior of the man and woman together.

This first section from his account of the trip illustrates the Englishmen's naming of the land they travel through; to name is in one sense to own.

[Arriving in the new land]

Having therefore found those tokens of the people's access in those parts, and being in his first voyage well acquainted with their subtle and cruel disposition, he provided well for his better safety, and on Friday the nineteenth of July in the morning early, with his best company of Gentlemen and soldiers, to the number of forty persons, went on shore, as well to discover the inland and habitation of the people, as also to find out some fit harbor for our ships. And passing towards the shore with no small difficulty by reason of the abundance of ice which lay along the coast so thick together that hardly any passage through them might be discovered, we arrived at length upon the main of Hall's greater Island, and found there also as well as in the other small Islands good store of the ore.

And leaving his boats here with sufficient guard we passed up into the country about two English miles, and recovered the top of a high hill, on the top whereof our men made a Column or Cross of stones heaped up of a good height together in good sort, and solemnly sounded a trumpet, and said certain prayers kneeling about the Ensign, and honored the place by the name of Mount Warwick, in remembrance of the Right Honorable the Lord Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick, whose noble mind and good countenance in thus, as in all other good actions, gave great encouragement and good furtherance. This done, we retired our companies, not seeing any thing here worth further discovery, the country seeming barren and full of ragged mountains and in most parts covered with snow.

And thus marching towards our boats, we espied certain of the country people [people of the country--the natives] on the top of Mount Warwick with a flag wafting us back again and making great noise, with cries like the mowing [bellowing] of bulls seeming greatly desirous of conference with us: whereupon the General being therewith better acquainted, answered them again with the like cries, whereat and with the noise of our trumpets they seemed greatly to rejoice, skipping, laughing and dancing for joy. And hereupon we made signs unto them, holding up two fingers, commanding two of our men to go apart from our companies, whereby they might do the like. So that forthwith two of our men & two of theirs met together a good space from company, neither party having their weapons about them. Our men gave them pins and points [laces] and such trifles as they had. And they likewise bestowed on our men two bon cases and such things as they had. They earnestly desired our men to go up into their country, and our men offered them like kindness aboard our ships, but neither part (as it seemed) admitted or trusted the other's courtesy.

Their manner of traffic [trade] is thus, they do use to lay down of their merchandise upon the ground, so much as they mean to part withal, and so looking that the other party with whom they make trade should do the like, they themselves do depart, and then if they do like of their mart they come again, and take in exchange the other's merchandise; otherwise if they like not, they take their own and depart. The day being thus well near spent, in haste we retired our companies into our boats again, minding forthwith to search alongst the coast for some harbor fit for our ships, for the present necessity thereof was much, considering that all this while they lay off and on between the two lands, being continually subject as well to great danger of fleeting ice, which environed them, as to the sudden flaws [squalls] which the coast seemeth much subject unto.

But when the people perceived our departure, with great tokens of affection they earnestly called us back again, following us almost to our boats: whereupon our General taking his Master with him, who was best acquainted with their manners, went apart unto two of them, meaning, if they could lay sure hold upon them, forcibly to bring them aboard, with intent to bestow certain toys and apparel upon the one, and so to dismiss him with all arguments of courtesy, and retain the other for an Interpreter.

The General and his Master being met with their two companions together, after they had exchanged certain things the one with the other, one of the Salvages [savages] for lack of better merchandise, cut off the tail of his coat (which is a chief ornament among them) and gave it unto our General for a present. But he presently upon a watchword given with his Master suddenly laid hold upon the two Salvages. But the ground underfoot being slippery with the snow on the side of the hill, their handfast failed and their prey escaping ran away and lightly recovered their bow and arrows, which they had hid not far from them behind the rocks. And being only two Salvages in sight, they so fiercely, desperately, and with such fury assaulted and pursued our General and his Master, being altogether unarmed, and not mistrusting their subtlety that they chased them to their boats, and hurt the General in the buttock with an arrow, who the rather speedily fled back, because they suspected a greater number behind the rocks.

Our soldiers (which were commanded before to keep their boats) perceiving the danger, and hearing our men calling for shot came speedily to rescue, thinking there had been a greater number. But when the Salvages heard the shot of one of our calivers (and yet having first bestowed their arrows) they ran away, our men speedily following them. But a servant of my Lord of Warwick, called Nicholas Conger, a good footman, and uncumbered with any furniture, having only a dagger at his back overtook one of them, and being a Cornishman and a good wrestler, showed his companion such a Cornish trick that he made his sides ache against the ground for a month after. And so being stayed, he was taken alive and brought away, but the other escaped.

Thus with their strange and new prey our men repaired to their boats, and passed from the main to a small Island of a mile compass where they resolved to tarry all night; for even now a sudden storm was grown so great at sea that by no means they could recover their ships. And here every man refreshed himself with a small portion of victuals which was laid into the boats for their dinners, having neither eaten nor drunk all the day before. But because they knew not how long the storm might last, nor how far off the ships might be put to sea, nor whether they should ever recover them again or not, they made great spare of their victuals, as it greatly behoved them. For they knew full well that the best cheer the country could yield them was rocks and stones, a hard food to live withal, and the people more ready to rate them then to give them wherewithal to rate. And thus keeping very good watch and ward, they lay there all night upon hard cliffs of snow and ice both wet, cold, and comfortless.

[They make a further capture.]

. . . Notwithstanding, our men which marched up into the country, passing over two or three mountains, by chance espied certain tents in a valley underneath them near unto a creek by the sea side, which because it was not the place where the guide had been the night before, they judged them to be another company, and besetting them about, determined to take them if they could.

But they having quickly descried our company, launched one great & another small boat, being about 16 or 18 persons, and very narrowly escaping, put themselves to sea. Whereupon our soldiers discharged their calivers, and followed them, thinking the noise thereof being heard to our boats at sea, our men there would make what speed they might to that place. And thereupon indeed our men which were in the boats (crossing upon them in the mouth of the sound whereby their passage was let [prevented] from getting sea room, wherein it had been impossible for us to overtake them by rowing) forced them to put themselves ashore upon a point of land within the said sound (which upon the occasion of the slaughter there, was since named the Bloody Point) whereunto our men so speedily followed, that they had little leisure left them to make any escape. But so soon as they landed, each of them brake his oar, thinking by that means to prevent us, in carrying away their boats for want of oars. And desperately returning upon our men, resisted them manfully in their landing, so long as their arrows and darts lasted, and after gathering up those arrows which our men shot at them, yea, and plucking our arrows out of their bodies encountered afresh again, and maintained their cause until both weapons and life failed them. And when they found they were mortally wounded, being ignorant what mercy meaneth, with deadly fury they cast themselves headlong from off the rocks into the sea, lest perhaps their enemies should receive glory or prey of their dead carcasses, for they supposed us belike to be cannibals or eaters of man's flesh.

In this conflict one of our men was dangerously hurt in the belly with one of their arrows, and of them were slain five or six, the rest by flight escaping among the rocks, saving two women, whereof the one being old and ugly, our men thought she had been a devil or some witch, and therefore let her go: the other being young, and cumbered with a sucking child at her back, hiding her self behind the rocks, was espied by one of our men, who supposing she had been a man, shot through the hair of her head, and pierced through the child's arm, whereupon she cried out, and our Surgeon meaning to heal her child's arm, applied salves thereunto. But she, not acquainted with such kind of surgery, plucked those salves away, and by continual licking with her own tongue, not much unlike our dogs, healed up the child's arm. . . .

And now considering their sudden flying from our men, and their desperate manner of fighting, we began to suspect that we had heard the last news of our men which the last year were betrayed of these people. And considering also their ravenous and bloody disposition in eating any kind of raw flesh or carrion howsoever stinking, it is to be thought that they had slain and devoured our men: for the doublet which was found in their tents had many holes therein being made with their arrows and darts.

. . . This Cape being named Queen Elizabeth's Cape, standeth in the latitude of 6z degrees and a half to the Northwards of Newfoundland, and upon the same continent, for any thing that is yet known to the contrary. Having now got a woman captive for the comfort of our man, we brought them both together, and every man with silence desired to behold the manner of their meeting and entertainment, the which was more worth the beholding than can be well expressed by writing. At their first encountering they beheld each the other very wistly [silently; intently] a good space, without speech or word uttered, with great change of colour and countenance, as though it seemed the grief and disdain of their captivity had taken away the use of their tongues and utterance: the woman at the first very suddenly, as though she disdained or regarded not the man, turned away, and began to sing as though she minded another matter: but being again brought together, the man brake up the silence first, and with stern and stayed countenance, began to tell a long solemn tale to the woman, whereunto she gave good hearing, and interrupted him nothing, till he had finished, and afterwards, being grown into more familiar acquaintance by speech, they were turned together, so that (I think) the one would hardly have lived without the comfort of the other. And for so much as we could perceive, albeit they lived continually together, yet they did never use as man & wife, though the woman spared not to do all necessary things that appertained to a good housewife indifferently [impartially] for them both, as in making clean their cabin, and every other thing that appertained to his ease: for when he was seasick, she would make him clean, she would kill and flay the dogs for their eating, and dress his meat. Only I think it worth the noting, the continency of them both: for the man would never shift himself [change his clothing], except he had first caused the woman to depart out of his cabin, and they both were most shamefast, lest any of their privy parts should be discovered, either of themselves, or any other body.

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This page last updated on 28 August 2006. © Michael Best, 2002.