Why should I linger over the sufferings
of the miserable week that followed our capture?
Hauled back to my former home, I was again made the
object of the mocking reverence of my captors.
Ah, how often, in my reckless youth, have my serious
aunts warned me that I “would be a goat at the
last”! Too true, too true; now I was to
be a scapegoat, to be driven forth, as these ignorant
and strangely perverted people believed, with the
sins of the community on my head, those sins which
would, according to their miserable superstition,
be expiated by the death, and consumed away by the
burning, of myself and William Bludger!
The week went by, as all weeks must,
and at length came the solemn day which they call
Thargeelyah, the day more sacred than any other to
their idol, Apollon. Long before sunrise
the natives were astir; indeed, I do not think they
went to bed at all, but spent the night in hideous
orgies. I know that, tossing sleepless through
the weary hours, I heard the voices of young men and
women singing on the hillsides, and among the myrtle
groves which are holy to the most disreputable of their
deities, a female, named Aphrodighty. Harps
were twanging too, and I heard the refrain of one
of the native songs, “To-night they love who
never loved before; to-night let him who loves love
all the more.” The words have unconsciously
arranged themselves, even in English, as poetry; those
who know Thomas Gowles best, best know how unlikely
it is that he would willingly dabble in the worldly
art of verse-fashioning. Think of my reflections
with a painful, shameful, and, above all, undeserved
death before me, while all the fragrant air was ringing
with lascivious merriment. My impression is
that, as all the sins of the year were, in their opinion,
to be got rid of next day, and tossed into the sea
with the ashes of Bludger and myself, the natives
had made up their minds an eligible opportunity
now presenting itself to be as wicked
as they knew how. Alas! though I have not
dwelt on this painful aspect of their character, they
“knew how” only too well.
The sun rose at last, and flooded
the island, when I perceived that, from every side,
crowds of revellers were pressing together to the place
where I lay in fetters. They had a wild, dissipated
air, flowers were wreathed and twisted in their wet
and dewy locks, which floated on the morning wind.
Many of the young men were merely dressed if
“dressed” it could be called in
the skins of leopards, panthers, bears, goats, and
deer, tossed over their shoulders. In their
hands they all held wet, dripping branches of fragrant
trees, many of them tipped with pine cones, and wreathed
with tendrils of the vine. Others carried switches,
of which I divined the use only too clearly, and the
women were waving over their heads tame serpents,
which writhed and wriggled hideously. It was
an awful spectacle!
I was dragged forth by these revellers;
many of them were intoxicated, and, in a moment I
blush even now to think of it I was stripped
naked! Nothing was left to me but my hat and
spectacles, which, for some religious reason I presume,
I was, fortunately, allowed to retain. Then
I was driven with blows, which hurt a great deal, into
the market-place, and up to the great altar, where
William Bludger, also naked, was lying more dead than
“William,” I said solemnly,
“what cheer?” He did not answer me.
Even in that supreme moment it was not difficult
to discern that William had been looking on the wine
when it was red, and had not confined himself to mere
ocular observation. I tried to make him remember
he was an Englishman, that the honour of our country
was in our hands, and that we should die with the
courage and dignity befitting our race. These
were strange consolations and exhortations for me
to offer in such an extremity, but, now it had come
to the last pass, it is curious what mere worldly
thoughts hurried through my mind.
My words were wasted: the natives
seized William and forced him to his feet. Then,
while a hymn was sung, they put chains of black and
white figs round our necks, and thrust into our hands
pieces of cheese, figs, and certain peculiar herbs.
This formed part of what may well be called the “Ritual”
of this cruel race. May Ritualists heed my words,
and turn from the errors of their ways!
Too well I knew all that now awaited
us. All that I had seen and shuddered at, on
the day of my landing on the island, was now practised
on self and partner. We had to tread the long
paved way to the distant cove at the river’s
mouth; we had to endure the lashes from the switches
of wild fig. The priestess, carrying the wooden
idol, walked hard by us, and cried out, whenever the
blows fell fewer or lighter, that the idol was waxing
too heavy for her to bear. Then they redoubled
It was a wonderfully lovely day.
In the blue heaven there was not a cloud. We
had reached the river’s mouth, and were fast
approaching the stakes that had already been fixed
in the sands for our execution; nay, the piles of
green wood were already being heaped up by the young
men. There was, there could be, no hope, and,
weary and wounded, I almost welcomed the prospect
of death, however cruel.
Suddenly the blows ceased to shower
on me, and I heard a cry from the lips of the old
priest, and, turning about, I saw that the eyes of
all the assembled multitude were fixed on a point
on the horizon.
Looking automatically in the direction
towards which they were gazing, I beheld oh
joy, oh wonder! I beheld a long trail of
cloud floating level with the sea! It was the
smoke of a steamer!
“Too late, too late,”
I thought, and bitterly reflected that, had the vessel
appeared but an hour earlier, the attention of my cruel
captors might have been diverted to such a spectacle
as they had never seen before.
But it was not too late.
Perched on a little hillock, and straining
his gaze to the south, the old priest was speaking
loudly and excitedly. The crowd deserted us,
and gathered about him.
I threw myself on the sand, weary,
hopeless, parched with thirst, and racked with pain.
Bludger was already lying in a crumpled mass at my
feet. I think he had fainted.
I retained consciousness, but that
was all. The fierceness of the sun beat upon
me, the sky and sea and shore swam before me in a mist.
Presently I heard the voice of the priest, raised in
the cadences which he favoured when he was reading
texts out of their sacred books, if books they could
be called. I looked at him with a faint curiosity,
and perceived that he held in his hands the wooden
casket, adorned with strangely carved bands of gold
and ivory, which I had seen on the night of my arrival
on the island.
From this he had selected the old
grey scraps of metal, scratched, as I was well aware,
with what they conceived to be ancient prophecies.
I was now sufficiently acquainted
with the language to understand the verses which he
was chanting, and which I had already heard, without
comprehending them. They ran thus in English:
“But when a man, having a chimney
pot on his head, and four eyes, appears in Scheria,
and when a ship without sails also comes, sailing without
wind, and breathing smoke, then shall destruction fall
on the island.”
He had not ended when it was plain,
even to those ignorant people, that the prophecy was
about to be fulfilled. From the long, narrow,
black line of the steamer, which had approached us
with astonishing speed, “sailing without wind,
and breathing smoke,” there burst six flashes
of fire, followed by a peal like thunder, and six
tall fountains, as the natives fancied, of sea-water
rose and fell in the bay, where the shells had lighted.
It was plain that the commander of
the vessel, finding himself in unknown seas, and hard
by an unvisited country, was determined to strike terror
and command respect by this salute.
The noise of the broadside had scarcely
died away, when the natives fled, disappeared like
magic, leaving many of their garments behind them.
They were making for their town, which
was concealed from the view of the rapidly nearing
steamer. From her mast I could now see, flaunting
the slight breeze, the dear old Union Jack, and the
banner of the Salvation Navy!
My resolution was taken in a moment.
Bludger had now recovered consciousness, and was
picking up heart. I thrust into his hands one
of the branches with which we had been flogged, fastened
to it a cloak of one of the natives, bade him keep
waving it from a rocky promontory, and, rushing down
to the sea, I leaped in, and swam with all my strength
towards the vessel. Weak as I was, my new hopes
gave me strength, and presently, from the crest of
a wave, I saw that the people of the steamer were
lowering a boat, and rowing towards me.
In a few minutes they had reached
me, my countrymen’s hands were in mine.
They dragged me on board; they pulled back to their
vessel; and I stood, entirely undressed, on the deck
of a British ship!
So long had I lived among people heedless
of modesty that I was rushing, with open arms, towards
the officer on the quarter-deck, who was dressed as
a bishop, when I heard a scream of horror. I
turned round in time to see the bishop’s wife
fleeing precipitately to the cabin, and driving her
children and governess in front of her.
Then all the horror of the situation
flooded my heart and brain, and I fell fainting on
When I recovered my consciousness,
I found myself plainly but comfortably dressed in
the ordinary costume, except the hat, which lay beside
me, of a dean in the Church of England. My wounds
had been carefully attended to, William Bludger had
been taken on board, and I was surrounded by the kind
faces of my benefactors, including the bishop’s
consort. My apologies for my somewhat sudden
and unceremonious intrusion were cut short by the
arrival of tea and a slight collation suitable for
an invalid. In an hour I was walking the quarter-deck
with the bishop in command of the William Wilberforce,
armed steam yacht, of North Shields, fitted out for
the purposes of the Salvation Navy. From the
worthy prelate in command of the William Wilberforce,
I learned much concerning his own past career and
the nature of his enterprise, as I directed the navigation
of the vessel through the shoals and reefs which lay
about the harbour of the island.
The bishop (a purely brevet title)
would refresh his memory, now and then, from a penny
biography of himself with which he was provided, and
the following, in brief, is a record of his life and
Thomas Sloggins (that was his name),
from his earliest infancy, had been possessed with
a passion for doing good to others, a passion,
alas! but too rarely reciprocated. I pass over
many affecting details of his adventures as a ministering
child: how he endeavoured to win his father from
tobacco by breaking his favourite pipes; how he strove
to wean his elder brother from cruel field-sports,
by stuffing the joints of his fishing-rod with gravel;
with many other touching incidents.
Being almost entirely uneducated,
young Sloggins, when he reached man’s estate,
conceived that he would most benefit his fellow-creatures
by combining the professions of the pulpit and the
press by preaching on Sundays and at odd
times, while he acted as outdoor reporter to The Rowdy
Puritan on every lawful day. Being a man of great
earnestness and enterprise, he soon rose in the ranks
of the Salvation Navy; and at one time commanded an
evangelical barge on the benighted canals of our country.
Finally, he made England almost too hot to hold him,
by the original forms of his benevolence, while, at
the same time, he acquired the utmost esteem and confidence
of many wealthy philanthropists and excellent, if
impulsive, ladies. These good people provided
him with that well-equipped and armed steam yacht,
the William Wilberforce, which he manned with a crew
of converted characters (they certainly looked as
if they must have needed a great deal of converting),
and he had now for months been cruising in the South
Pacific. A local cyclone had driven the William
Wilberforce out of her reckoning, and hence the appearance
of that vessel in the very nick of time to achieve
When the bishop had finished his story,
I briefly recapitulated to him my own adventures,
and we agreed that the conversion of the island must
be our earliest task. To begin with, we steered
into the harbour, where a vast multitude of the natives
were assembled in arms, and awaited our approach with
a threatening demeanour. Our landing was opposed,
but a few well-directed volleys from a Gardiner gun
(which did not jam) caused the hostile force to disperse,
and we landed in great state. Marching on the
chief’s house, we were received with an abject
submission that I had scarcely expected. The
people were absolutely cowed, more by the fulfilment
of the prophecy, I think, than even by the execution
done by our Gardiner machine gun. At the bishop’s
request, I delivered a harangue in the native tongue,
declaring that we only required the British flag to
be hoisted on the palace, and the immediate disendowment
of the heathen church as in those parts established.
I was listened to in uneasy silence; but my demand
for lodgings in the palace was acceded to; and, in
a few hours, the bishop, with his wife and children,
were sumptuously housed under the roof of the chief.
The ladies of the chief’s family showed great
curiosity in watching and endeavouring to converse
with our friends. I was amused to see how soon
the light-hearted islanders appeared to forget their
troubles and apprehensions. Doto, in particular,
became quite devoted to the prelate’s elder
daughter (the youngest of the bishop’s family
was suffering from measles), and would never be out
of her company. Thus all seemed to fare merrily;
presents were brought to us flowers, fruit,
the feathers of rare birds, and ornaments of native
gold were literally showered upon the ladies of the
party. The chief promised to call a meeting
of his counsellors on the morrow, and all seemed going
on well, when, alas! measles broke out in the palace.
The infant whom I had presented to Doto the
infant whom I had found on the mountain side was
the first sufferer. Then Doto caught the disease
herself, then her mother, then the chief. In
vain we attempted to nurse and tend them; in vain
we expended the contents of the ship’s medicine
chest on the invalids. The malady having, as
it were, an entirely new field to work upon, raged
like the most awful pestilence. Through all ranks
of the people it spread like wild-fire; many died,
none could be induced to take the most ordinary precautions.
The natives became, as it were, mad under the torments
of fever and the burning heat of the unaccustomed malady;
they rushed about, quite unclad, for the sake of the
deceptive coolness, and hundreds of them cast themselves
into the sea and into the river.
It was my sad lot to see my dear Doto
die the first of the sufferers in the palace
to succumb to the disease. Meanwhile, the bishop
and myself being entirely absorbed in attendance on
the sick, the crew of the William Wilberforce, I deeply
regret to say, escaped from all restraint, and forgot
what was due to themselves and their profession.
They revelled with the most abandoned of the natives,
and disease and drink ravaged the once peaceful island.
Every sign of government and order vanished.
The old priest built a huge pile of firewood, and
laying himself there with the images of the gods,
set fire to the whole, and perished with his own false
After this event, the island ceased
to be a safe residence for ourselves. Among the
mountains, as I learned, where the pestilence had not
yet penetrated, the shepherds and the wilder tribes
were gathering in arms. One night we stole on
board the William Wilberforce, leaving the city desolate,
filled with the smoke of funeral pyres, and the wailing
of men and women. There was a dreadful sultry
stillness in the air, and all day long wild beasts
had been dashing madly into the sea, and the sky had
been obscured by flights of birds. On all the
crests of the circle of surrounding hills we saw,
in the growing darkness, the beacons and camp fires
of the insurgents from the interior. Just before
the dawn the William Wilberforce was attacked by the
whole mass of the natives in boats and rafts.
But we had not been unprepared for this movement,
nor were the resources of science unequal to the occasion.
We had surrounded the William Wilberforce with a
belt, or cordon, of torpedoes, and as each of the
assaulting boats touched the boom, a terrible explosion
shook the water into fountains of foam, and the waves
were strewn with scalded, wounded, and mutilated men.
Meanwhile, we bombarded the city and the harbour,
and the night passed amid the most awful sounds and
sights fire, smoke, yells of anger and
pain, cries of the native leaders encouraging their
men, and shouts from our own people, who had to repel
the boarders, when the boom was at last forced, with
pikes and cutlasses. Just before the dawn a
strange thing happened. A great glowing coal,
as it seemed, fell with a hissing crash on the deck
of the William Wilberforce, and others dropped, with
a strange sound and a dreadful odour of burning, in
the water all around us. Had the natives discovered
some mode of retaliating on our use of firearms?
I looked in the direction of their
burning city, and beheld, on the sharp peak of the
highest mountain (now visible in the grey morning light),
an object like a gigantic pine-tree of fire.
The blazing trunk rose, slim and straight, from the
mountain crest, and, at a vast height, developed a
wilderness of burning branches. Fearful hollow
sounds came from the hill, its sides were seamed with
racing cataracts of living lava, of coursing and leaping
flames, which rolled down with incredible swiftness
and speed towards the doomed city. Then the waters
of the harbour were smitten and shaken, and the William
Wilberforce rocked and heaved as in the most appalling
storm, though all the winds were silent, while a mighty
wave swept far inland towards the streams of fire.
There was no room for doubt; a volcanic eruption
was occurring, and a submarine earthquake, as not
uncommonly happens, had also taken place. Our
only hope was in immediate flight. Presently
steam was got up, and we steamed away into the light
of the glowing east, leaving behind us only a burning
island, and a fire like an ugly dawn flaring in the
When we returned in the evening, Boothland as
I may now indeed call it, for Scheria has ceased to
be was one black smoking cinder.
Hardly a tree or a recognizable rock
remained to show that this had once been a peaceful
home of men. The oracle, or prophecy of the old
priest, had been horribly, though, of course, quite
Little remains to be told. On
my return home, I chanced to visit the British Museum,
and there, much to my surprise, observed an old piece
of stone, chipped with the characters, or letters,
in use among the natives of Scheria.
“Why,” said I, reading
the words aloud, “these are the characters which
the natives employed on my island.”
“These?” said the worthy
official who accompanied me. “Why, these
are the most archaic Greek letters which have yet
been discovered: inscriptions from beneath the
lava beds of Santorin.”
“I can’t help that,”
I said. “The Polynesians used them too;
and you see I can read them easily, though I don’t
I then told him the whole story of
my connection with the island, and of the unfortunate
results of the contact between these poor people and
our superior modern civilization.
I have rarely seen a man more affected
by any recital than was the head of the classical
department of the Museum by my artless narrative.
When I described the sacrifice I saw on landing in
the island, he exclaimed, “Great Heavens! the
Attic Thargelia.” He grew more and more
excited as I went on, and producing a Greek book,
“Pausanias,” he showed me that the sacrifice
of wild beasts was practised sixteen hundred years
ago in honour of Artemis Elaphria. The killing
of old Elatreus for entering the town hall reminded
him of a custom in Achaea Pthiotis. When I had
finished my tale, he burst out into violent and libellous
language. “You have destroyed,”
he said, “with your miserable modern measles
and Gardiner guns, the last remaining city of the
ancient Greeks. The winds cast you on the shore
of Phaeacia, the island sung by Homer; and, in your
brutal ignorance, you never knew it. You have
ruined a happy, harmless, and peaceful people, and
deprived archaeology of an opportunity that can never,
I do not know about archaeology, but
as for “harmless and peaceful people,”
I leave it to my readers to say whether the islanders
were anything of the sort.
I learn that the Government has just
refused to give the Museum a grant of five thousand
pounds to be employed in what are called “Excavations
in Ancient Phaeacia,” diggings, that is, in
With so many darkened people still
ignorant of our enlightened civilization, I think
the grant would be a shameful waste of public money.
We publish the original text of the
prophecy repeatedly alluded to by Mr. Gowles.
The learned say that no equivalent occurs for the
line about his “four eyes,” and it is
insinuated, in a literary journal of eminence, that
Mr. Gowles pilfered the notion from Good’s glass
eye, in a secular romance, called King Solomon’s
Mines, which Mr. Gowles, we are sure, never heard
of in his life. ED.
[The Prophecy in Greek not