HMS Sandfly (1872)
HMS Sandfly (1872)

Royal NavyVessels

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NameSandfly (1872)Explanation
TypeSurvey schooner   
Launched5 December 1872
Builders measure120 tons
Ships book
Extracts from the Times newspaper
Th 30 April 1874Owing to the difficulties and dangers of navigation among the islands in the South Pacific, the following steam schooners [actually sailing schooners] belonging to the Royal Navy have been added to the fleet on the Australian station as tenders to the Pearl, Commodore J.G. Goodenough, the flagship on that station, for special service in those waters: - The Alacrity, Lieut-Commanding F.W. Saunders; the Beagle, Lieut.-Commanding F.S. Rendell; the Conflict, Lieut.-Commanding A.R. Mansell; the Renard, Lieut.-Commanding T. Suckling; and the Sandfly, Lieut.-Commanding W.B. Nowell. They are constructed of a light draught of water to allow of their cruising in and out among the 200 islands in the South Pacific which form a large portion of the Australian command.
Th 18 February 1875The Sydney Empire, of the 11th. of December, gives an account of a collision between South Sea Islanders and the schooner Sandfly, 1 gun, Lieut. Howell, which returned to Port Jackson on the 10th of December:—
"The Sandfly commenced her cruise on the 2d of July, on which date she cleared Sydney Heads, and proceeded to Norfolk Island. Nothing of importance occurred till reaching Tapoua, on the 14th of September, in quest of water. A large number of canoes came off on the 17th, but brought no trade. The natives were very friendly and offered the crew inducements to go on shore. A watering party landed, being accompanied by some of the natives, and searched for water, but found none. Early in the afternoon, when most of the crew were below, the natives began firing arrows at those on deck. Orders were at once given to get ready to repel the attack. A few shots were discharged and they dispersed, many taking to the water and deserting their canoes. Twenty of these were destroyed and two villages were fired. On the 20th of September, the island of Santa Cruz was being approached, and extreme caution was exercised, as the treacherous and warlike nature of its inhabitants was known. Canoes fully manned came out to meet the vessel. The largest canoe pulled astern and made signs for a rope to tow with the schooner. They appeared annoyed at not getting one and became impatient. At half-past 10 a.m. anchored in 14 fathoms, 200 yards from the shore, and inside Carlisle reef. Natives came off in great numbers, many of them bringing pigs, cocoa-nuts, &c., which they gave in exchange for articles of trade. Several canoes, however, were well armed and they began to get very thick round the schooner. It was noticed that the boys were all swimming for the shore, and as the natives were detected uncovering their bows and arrows, it was thus surmised that they meant mischief. The marines got their rifles on the after-deck, taking care to keep them out of sight. The natives, who thronged the gunwale in great numbers, were becoming noisy and insolent. A blank shot was fired from the ship's gun, but had little effect in frightening them. At a quarter-past 11 a.m. the natives opened fire with poisoned arrows. Lieutenant Howell discharged his revolver at the leading native, and gave the order to his men to commence firing, which the crew responded to with deadly aim. In an instant the natives were panic-stricken. Those on the vessel's gunwale either fell or jumped into the sea, many of them dead, others wounded and struggling for the shore. The canoes' crews were so astonished at the effect of the rifle shots that they jumped overboard and struck out for the shore. During the short time the engagement lasted, about 30 natives were killed; the majority escaped into the bush. The Sandfly lowered her boats and the crews spent the afternoon in destroying all the abandoned canoes, some of which were very large, and set fire to two of the natives' villages. In the evening the schooner hoisted in the boats and kept a good watch, in case of another attack. On the 2lst of September a watering party proceeded on shore for water, taking a war rocket in the boat, and fired at random into the bush. They managed to get a supply under cover of the rifles of another boat. On the 22d watering the ship was continued. The bush was thick with natives, and a few shots were fired to keep them off. A shell was also thrown from the gun on deck. After the boats had left, at a quarter past 3 p.m., the crews saw the natives at the ruins of their village. One of their number came down to the beach and fired two arrows at the vessel. In return for this a shell was lodged in their midst, and they at once scampered off for the bush. They were not again visible till the 23d, when they came on to the beach, but a few rifle shots soon dispersed them. On the 24th the Sandfly left for Havannah harbour, and then went to Cherry Island. The natives of this place were friendly, and were fine, stalwart men. The schooner called at Api Island on the 20th of August. At this place a boat's crew of the Zephyr had been murdered and eaten some time since. An attempt was made to capture the perpetrators of the crime. As this failed, the village was shelled."
We 17 March 1875

(From our own correspondent.)


We are at present enlivened by a good many ships of war on this station. The Pearl, Alacrity, Conflict, Dido (eight guns), Sandfly (one gun), Rosario, Blanche, Renard, Beagle, Barracouta are cruising. The Conflict is just in from a five months' cruise in the Solomon Group of Islands. The Alacrity has been among the Admiralty and Hermit Islands, and made sundry inquiries about the murder of Englishmen, and has returned islanders found in plantations under distressing circumstances to their homes. From the Hermit Islands the murderers of an Englishman were secured and made prisoners for conveyance to Sydney, but at the Duke of York Island they escaped by jumping from the side of the vessel, and by this time are probably "eaten by the New Irelanders."
We 25 August 1875


The following are copies of two telegrams received at the Colonial Office from the Governor of New South Wales:—

"August 23.

"I regret to have to announce the death, on 20th inst., of Commodore Goodenough, from wounds received at Santa CruzExternal link. Have only just received the sad intelligence by telegraph from Nelson's Bay, on the coast. Her Majesty’s ship Pearl, with body on board, now coming into Sydney Harbour. Further particulars later."

"August 23, 2 p.m.

"No. 2. — Pearl just anchored; have learnt following particulars from Captain Hastings. On 12th August Commodore and party landed at Carlisle Bay, Santa Crus Island, to open friendly intercourse with natives; this being place where "Sandfly" was attached last year. After being nearly an hour on shore, and satisfied with conciliatory progress made, the party were preparing to leave for ship, when a native standing about four yards off fired a poisoned arrow at Commodore Goodenough, which struck him on the left side. The boats at once shoved off, receiving at the same time several flights of arrows. Seven were wounded altogether, including Commodore and Sub-lieutenant Hawker. The Commodore and two of the boat's crew have since died; the remainder are doing well, but cannot be pronounced out of danger from tetanus for 20 days from the date of wound. Before leaving Carlisle Bay, village was burnt by boats from Pearl. Commodore's funeral takes place to-morrow afternoon."
Th 26 August 1875Telegrams bearing last Monday's date have been received at the Colonial Office from Sydney announcing the loss of valuable life under peculiarly painful conditions. The Captain and two of the crew of one of Her Majesty’s ships have died from the effects of wounds received during what was on their part intended as a friendly visit to one of the islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The screw steamer Pearl, the flagship of the Australian Station, in the course of a cruise among these numerous islands touched at Carlisle Bay, Santa CruzExternal link, and a party, headed by the Flag Officer, Commodore Goodenough, went on shore for the purpose, as we are informed, of bringing about an amicable intercourse with the natives. Their reception, as it appeared to them, was satisfactory, and they remained ashore nearly an hour exchanging customary civilities. As the party was re-embarking, a native standing at a short distance discharged a poisoned arrow at Commodore Goodenough, which pierced his left side. The boats at once pushed off, followed by several flights of arrows. Seven of the party were wounded, three of whom, including the Commodore, have since died, and it is more than probable that fatal consequences will follow in other cases. The story is a lamentable one, and those who are familiar with the history of our intercourse with these islands, and are interested in the not unsuccessful efforts which have hitherto been made for their civilization, will find but little consolation in the sequel. Summary vengeance was resolved upon and executed. Boats instantly put off from the Pearl to punish the outrage, and the island village was reduced to ashes, with what loss of life our information does not say, The Commodores body was brought on Monday morning into Sydney Harbour, to be interred on Tuesday afternoon. Such is the outline, as it appeared in our issue of yesterday, of a most disastrous and lamentable incident. Perhaps the most lamentable of the circumstances is that almost everything that happened might, by persons possessing an ordinary knowledge of previous events, have been distinctly foreseen. A party from the Sandfly, a small sailing vessel on the same station, was last year attacked in the same place; and there can be little doubt that the speedy appearance of a man-of-war like the Pearl in the same seas was interpreted by these restless and suspicious islanders in the most hostile of all possible senses. The island is almost unknown to Europeans. The party who landed can have known next to nothing of the language of the natives, and there were no interpreters. In these circumstances the utmost tact, forbearance, and discrimination could have been of small avail. Fear, mingled with the natural instinct of aversion, obviously prompted the murderous resolve, and a distinguished and promising officer, locally holding high rank in the Royal Navy, has fallen a victim to his imprudence. The circumstances of this melancholy event closely resemble those attending the fate of Cook, the greatest of maritime discoverers since Columbus. They will recall to every English mind the sad death of Patterson, the devoted apostle at once of Christianity and of civilization, who fell a victim to his noble enthusiasm in these very islands, and near the very spot which has just been made memorable by the untimely death of Commodore Goodenough.
The archipelagos of the South-West Pacific are exceedingly various in the character of their population. Most of the islanders are willing to enter into a simple kind of trade with Europeans, consisting mainly in the exchange of fresh provisions for iron and glass implements. The enthusiasm of a few men has gone far beyond this point, and there are many stations where European ideas have of late years been largely introduced, though hardly to an extent approaching the semi-civilization of the Sandwich Islanders. The South Sea Islanders are quick and vivacious to a high degree, and they think little enough in general of what the European mind considers to be crimes of violence. At the same time they can be, especially to those who have learnt the art of dealing with them, friendly, docile, trusty, and obedient. Those who habitually visit them divide them into three classes. There are, in the first place, those with whom intercourse has long subsisted, where Christian morals and civilized life have in some degree established themselves, and where the flower of the youth are annually committed to the care of missionaries to be educated in the schools of New Zealand. There are those who are yet in a more or less rude condition, where even cannibalism, it may be, is not extinct, but who receive Europeans with respect, and make advances to them with confidence. Lastly, there are those who are in an emphatic sense in a savage state, and among whom the European sets foot at his peril. Among these the Santa Cruz group has long been notorious. It was at ErromangoExternal link that WilliamsExternal link, the Christian pioneer, perished. It was at the same place, only fourteen years ago, that Bishop PattesonExternal link performed the sad task of reading the Burial Service over the GordonsExternal link, murdered from the supposed connexion of missionary warnings with a devastating epidemic. It was in Santa Cruz that the lives of Bishops SelwynExternal link and Patteson were twice aimed at, and twice providentially spared. The island is fertile and populous, the inhabitants are said to be not devoid of ingenuity and industry, but Patteson, even with the rare tact, the persevering and laborious skill, and the amazing courage which made him the greatest missionary of modern times, was never able to gain a footing among them. Seven times he landed on the island in 1862, in seven different places, and each time with the same result. Still undaunted, he returned in 1864, when two of his followers perished in the attempt, and he himself narrowly escaped. In 1866, the missionary ship was once more at Santa Cruz, but prudence compelled a speedy retreat. Disappointed in all his attempts on the chief of the group, the devoted Bishop confined his efforts to the smaller islands, and it was on landing at Nukapu, hard by, that he met with his martyr's death. He had paid considerable attention to the Santa Cruz group, and especially to the chief island. "I am sure," he wrote in 1870, "that no white man has set foot in Santa Cruz for many years, except myself, and I can't speak a sentence of their language." Where Patteson could not set foot in safety, what confidence could be inspired by the commander and crew of a man-of-war, appearing, as must have seemed only too probable, to punish former outrages? Savages, in the ordinary sense, all these islanders may not be, but they have not yet developed the mental qualities necessary to understand elementary European ideas. Above all, as Patteson himself pointed out, in great alarm, when it was first proposed to send men-of-war cruising about these seas, the idea of the "great ships" fills them with terror. Most of them do not even know the nature of the abuses which the Queen’s ships are commissioned to prevent. At any rate, they may well regard them as the greatest manifestation of the power of those Europeans by whom they have been too often cheated, plundered, and outraged. It would be easy enough, therefore, to understand these terrible incidents, even though there were no cases in which they might be traceable to circumstances almost accidental. The mere habit of warfare is often enough. A young native, or a party of them, may draw their bows on the visitors from mere wantonness. A chief, it may be, has through ignorance not been sufficiently distinguished by marks of consideration. Fear mingles with the feeling of offended dignity and of the excitement of a rare and apparently portentous visit, fingers nervously clutch the familiar bow, and the old sad scene is repeated. Half-hesitating, half-resolved, the wild, armed crowd of dusky figures follow the strangers down to the beach. Then comes a single arrow, followed by the fatal flight from many bows, the hasty retreat, and the lingering death.
From the present sad case English crews who navigate these seas may learn a useful lesson. The South Sea Islander is not to be dealt with successfully by mere force; nor are his repugnance and fear to be overcome by the ordinary forms of finesse. Intercourse with these people demands a special talent and very considerable observation. An experienced traveller will detect as he advances to land, in some apparently insignificant circumstance, the sign that should warn him off. A couple of young men separating themselves from the rest, an unusual call, an apparently unmeaning gesture, are sufficient. Such signs have remained nearly the same for three hundred years, for the experience of the Spanish adventurer who first sought these seas was identical with our own. Familiarity with danger, however, leads to the neglect of precautions. Those who sail under the British flag are more than all disposed to imagine themselves secure in the strength which its terrors usually communicate. But it is plain that where real and reputed benevolence, habitual conciliation of manner, and profound and extensive knowledge have utterly failed the blunt approaches of British sailors are hardly likely to be successful. Where the Southern Cross was repeatedly repulsed an English man-of-war may well anticipate terror, resistance, and treachery. Under existing circumstances, none should venture upon communication with those islanders where danger may reasonably be anticipated without special qualifications for the task.

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