John McCluer

At the south western part of New Guinea  the Spanish found some Chinese items which proved that they were not the first foreigners who landed here. Further west (the Dutch called it: ''Vogelkop'' they met a Spaniard called Biliato who lived in a settlement with his servant. They met also some Muslims in this village from other Indonesian islands. One of them, the ''alfaqui'', told Don Diego that Chinese ships used to come here every year to trade for gold and black pepper. During the 144 years that followed there are some reports from members of the Dutch East Indian company, who visited these coast lines. According to these reports the Papua's of the south western part seemed to be less peaceful. Almost every intercourse ended with fights. Not only Papua's but also white sailors lost their lives during these first contacts. When James Cook passed the Torres Strait after he had made his famous survey of the east coast of Australia, he landed in 1770 at the Casuarine coast, where the Asmat tribe use to live. Cook was shocked by the furious attitude of the Asmat and because he hated bloodshed, he left soon after he landed and never returned. Less known is John McCluer, the commander of the British vessels 'Panther' and 'Endeavour'. McCluer entered in 1792 the large bay in the south west, which was called to his name during the colonial days. (Now the Indonesians call it ''Teluk Berau'' and ''Teluk Bintuni''. This is an excerpt of his report: 

McCLUER JOHN; commander of the `Panther` and the `Endeavour` October 26th 1792 Gulf of McCluer (2. 30. S, 133. E); 
''The 2' day of our entering this Gulph we had the misfortune to lose our Surgeon in the following manner. 26th Oct. we got under sail at day light with a light breeze from the Land, upon looking along the Shoar to the Westward, we saw several Canoes paddling towards us, as they approached us, we could perceive 3 of them to be large Coorooworas and paddling 3 rows of each side on the outriggers, carrying from 60 to 70 men each, the others were smaller Canoes 8 in number from 3 to 10 persons in each, they came on boldly within hail of us (with Flags flying and Feathers in their hair) then made a full stop and took a view of us; their appearance looked hostile. Each man having a Bow or a Dart stick in his hand, they made a whooping noise and danced about like Madmen, which we could not well distinguish whether it meant rage or joy. However, I ordered 20 stand of arms to be loaded and laid down on the Quarter-deck; also the People in the Tops to their Quarters but with orders not to shew their arms or Fire 'till they were ordered. As I wished to make friends with them if possible: they kept  a considerable time talking to each other at a bow-shot distance from us and we inviting them to come close to us by every sign we could make. They then stood for the Endeavour but Mr Proctor would not let them come near him, by waving to them to keep off, and pointed for them to go to us. This they obeyed, and came now close under our stern and held fast by our boat we made every sign we could  of friendship to them. By making the Boat Keeper throw some salt water over his head and we stretched out our arms to shew them we had no weapons of offence and called them ''Battee Battee''; which was understood perfectly well in Revenge Strait for Friendship, and some of them returned the compliment by calling ''Battee'', but they did not put down their bows which were all strung and an arrow inhand. They were apparently reconciled and held up Birds of Paradise to us, which we supposed were for sale, and thought they wished to trade with us. The Doctor being always forward and wishing to have the preference in trading seeing the Savages held up the Birds of Paradise begd of me to let him go into the Longboat to purchase them. The hauling up of the Boat to let the Doctor get in, caused a confusion among the Savages and Mr Wedgbrough observed some of them to fix the arrow in their Bow and begd I would not expose myself so much to them, but their confusion subsided; on my shaking my hands and the Doctor dropping astern in the Boat, to the Chief of the nearest Boat he gave fathom of Chintz and followed the custom of putting water on the head. But I observed this was not returned on their side. I then threw a piece of white cloth to the Doctor to present to the Chief of the other large Boat who were one on each quarter of our longboat which he did accordingly  and asked of me to give him down the box to make them all presents. I told him I would not give him the box, but I would go and fetch him some things from it, while I was doing this.''


Mr. Wedgbrough called to me that the Doctor had gone into one of their Boats and they had pushed off with him: when I looked; sure enough he was seated in one of the small Canoes, and 3 or 4 fellows dancing round him and they took him in the large Boats out of our sight. Several fellows now jumpt in the water from the large boats and made for the longboat, one of them got in and wrestled with the Boatkeeper to get him out of the Boat, but he was too much for him and upon drawing a knife from his pocket the Savage leapt in the water and left him: at the same instant a Shower of arrows and darts came towards us and many fell on board, 4 men were wounded by the first flight. We then fired our musquetry among them that they were glad to make off and from the Endeavour they could perceive them killing the Doctor, they sent several charges of round and grape all among them which must have done great execution. the Savages used every exertion to get with all speed out of our reach. And they got into the opening of a Creek where they remained some time and we were with a light air lying helpless. I looked with the Glass among the boats. but could not see any thing like the Doctor. After this business was over I called a Council of Officers and we all agreed to proceed on our work, as Mr Proctor from the Endeavour saw a man strike the Doctor with what appeared like a chopper, and Mr. Michie of the same vessel saw him all bloody before a musquet was fired from us. also one of the Servants from the Cabin window saw one of the Savages strike the Doctor upon the neck with something like a Hatchet and by the same blow he fell overboard and another fellow threw a lance at him in the water after which he was seen no more. Being certain we could not recover the Doctor again dead or alive and to seek further revenge would answer no good purpose would be only sacrificing the innocent for the deeds of the guilty, and indeed to pursue them would be madness, for they could take their boats into Creeks that we would not enter with our boats so that burning their Villages would be the only revenge we could take and that would be highly imprudent we therefore stood on our course to the Eastward. Having instances of the treachery of these people from the Journals of the Queen and Northumberland, I always treated them with caution and never trusted our boats from the vessel unarmed and at Revenge's Strait we had some trouble to make them believe we were not Dutchmen and every European they see they take them to be of that Nation they not having sense to discriminate one Nation from another; and while the Dutch are in possession of the Malucos the Papoos will be their mortal Enemies, I was told at Amboina that those who could produce 3 whites heads were entitled to the rank of a Chief of the first order in Papua, but this I did not give credit to. '' 

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