Description of the earliest known Contact with the Andamanese 1771
by Capt. John Ritchie
This article was edited and published 1901 by R.C. Temple under the heading "An Unpublished 18th Century Document about the Andamans" in The Indian Antiquary 30:232-238.
This text not only gives the earliest known detailed account of a meeting with the Andamanese Negrito, it is also gives the first mention of the Sentineli. Besides which it contains an account of one Andamanese man's hilarious reaction to the intruders.
R.C. Temple wrote in 1901: Since communicating Capt. John Ritchie's remarks on the Nicobars to this Journal under the title of 'An Unpublished Document about the Nicobars, ante, Vol. XXIX. p. 341, I have discovered that it formed part of a MS. in the India Office entitled "Remarks upon the Coast and Bay, of Benga1, The outlets of the Ganges and interjacent rivers, according to Surveys by John Ritchie, Hydrographical Surveyor to the Honourable the United India Company." This MS. now numbered C.10, is endorsed on the cover as follows: Captain Ritchie's Nautical Remarks for which I have given a Receipt to the Secretary the 25th March 1820. Jas. Horsburgh." It relates to the work done by Ritchie in 1771. For the present purpose I shall content myself with communicating the contents of pp.111-129 relating to the Andamans and Narcondam, nowadays' included in the Administration of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. To his general volume Capt. Ritchie prefixes some quaint introductory remarks in the self-depreciatory fashion of his day, which are here reproduced.
Prefaratory to the remarks, it is necessary to observe, that the first part relative to the head of the Bay of Bengal; from Point Palmiras to the southern extremity of the Coast of Chittigong, are observations made in the Course of a regular Survey: it is hoped therefore, that these will be found tollerably complete, the latter part, which begins with the coast .of Arakan, contains broken remarks upon a running survey: these are very lame, but if the writer should ever be enabled to make any addition to them, the most trivial parts shall be expunged, to give place to others of greater importance. As to the language, the Will must be taken for the Deed, the writer being very sensible of his inability that way. Writing is neither his talent, nor profession, and the remarks, in their present form, are only the work of a few days.
Great Andaman Island together with the Situation of Narcandam with respect to Negrais, etc.
Great Andaman Island, is situated from 11 20', to 13 35' north Latitude, being 135 miles long, and how broad I cannot tell; at the south end where I had the opportunity to examine it, the width at a mean is about 20 miles, but towards the middle it must be a great deal broader. The Island is generally mountainous , and in some places very high, particularly a double peek'd hill at the east side [Saddle Peak], which I have seen at 70 miles distance the whole island is covered, or rather loaded, with Timber , except where the hills are nearly perpendicular, and there the rains washing the earth down, shews it to be of reddish colour.
There is, no doubt, continued soundings between the Coccos, and Andaman; altho we had one cast with no ground, at 80 fathams. The eastern part of the north end of the Island, bears from the middle of little Cocco S. 25 Wt., and the distance is 30 miles. I do not here mean, the little Island [Landfall Island], at the north end of Andaman, which lies in the same direction from Cocco, but the distance to it is only 23 miles: it is said that there is a very good passage [Cleugh Passage) between Andaman and. This Island, but I can say nothing of it from my own knowledge. The bank which joins Cocco's and Andaman, extends about 25 miles to the eastward of the Islands, in the parallel of the passage, but along the east side, of the Andaman, there is no soundings at the northern part except perhaps, very near the land, where it has not yet been sounded. The course of the shore for about 20 miles from the north end. of Andaman along the East side, is S. /2 Et. nearly: this part seems to be broken into divisions, if we might judge from the two mouths, or inlets, which appear upon the eastern shore. [Cadell Bay and Port Cornwallis]. The land hereabout is high and very scraggy, rising almost perpendi-cular from the water. In the Latitude 13 north, there is a very fine inlet [Stewart Sound], with two Islands at its mouth; the northermost of which pretty large and rises gradually on all sides, to a moderate hill; it is every where covered with trees, very thick; and at a distance, appears as if only covered with grass. The Southern Island is very small, with open scraggy trees upon it. The inlet bends round to the southward, behind a point upon the left hand side of entrance, and seems to promise a good Harbour [Bacon Bay]. It was my intention, to examine this place closely, altho' I had much to do, and little time to do it in; but happening to come to it in the evening, and there being no soundings in the offing, nor any probability, that we could get into anchoring depth before night, or rather before dark; we were obliged to ply in the offing, until morning, and daylight shew'd us, that we were drove 10 miles to the southward by a Current: this untoward circumstance, was unlucky enough at this juncture, and we endeavoured to repair it by Plying to windward, for two days, and nights, under every sail the Vessel could bear; it was all in vain, the wind and. current was too much to struggle with; and the Weather became so threatning, that we were obliged to provide for the safety of the vessel and ourselves, in case of an easterly gale. - Just to the southward of the inlet, the land juts out, into a round point to the eastward, and rises into a high steep hill [Mt. Diavolo); if the depth be moderate there will be found, a good Anchorage by the shore, between this point and the inlet, for the S. W. monsoon; and indeed, this inlet might be as easily examined, in that monsoon, as in the northern one.
Before I proceed, it may be usefull to settle a point, which hitherto has been only guess'd at; I mean the Situation of the Island Narcandam: this is a high mountain, rising almost perpendicular out of the sea, and is used as a mark, to direct ships from the southward, for Negrais, or Syriam River. The north Peek of the Saddle hill, upon Andaman, we observed to be in the Latitude 13 10' N., it bears S. 13 Wt, distance 50 miles, from Little Cocco Island, and by collecting the Meridian, distances, from Island to Island, between this peek and Cape Negrais, as I have stated the Situations, it will appear, that the whole meridian distance between these places, is 72 miles; and that they lie SSW., and NNE. from one another, very nearly. The observed Latitude of the Peek of Narcondam is 13 23 North, consequently the difference of Latitude, between the Peek of the Saddle, and it, is only 13 miles. The journal of Wednesday 9th of January 1771, Says, that at noon the Latitude observed was 13 32' N., The Peek of Narcandam bearing S. 79 E., and the Peek of the Saddle upon Andaman S. 59 Wt. By this Position, the meridian distance, between the Vessel and Narcandam, was 46 miles: and between the vessel, and Saddle 37 miles; making in all 83 miles, for the meridian distance of the Peeks; and by the difference of the Latitudes, they must lie,N. 81 east, and opposite, distance 84 Geo. miles. It may be worth observing, that by a run from the north end of Andaman, to Narcandam, and estimating the distance of the vessel, from the shore at each Island, our log gave 82 miles, for the distance between the Islands, which was exceedingly neer the truth. As a proof that the saddle upon Andaman is very high ; I shall just observe, that the journal of the just mentioned day says, that at Sunset the peek of the Saddle bore S, 69 30' Wt., and that of Narcandam, EbS. 14 or 15 miles distant, at this rate we must have been 70 miles from the Saddle at the time. Since the difference of Meridians of the Cape Negrais, and the Saddle hill of Andaman, is 72 miles; and that of Narcandam, and Saddle hill 83 miles; it follows, that the meridian distance between Cape Negrais, and Narcandam, is only 11 miles: and so much, the latter is to the eastward of the former; the bearing, therefore, is N. 4 West and opposite, and the distance 152 miles. I might here give the Situation of Syriam bar, from Narcandam; but as I have already said, that the information I have, about the extent of the Coast of Pegu, is only that French manuscript plan; it is, I think, the best way to let every Navigator, settle this point for himself, 'till better authorities can be obtained.
From the elbow before mentioned, in Latitude 12 50' north, to what we have called Diligent Strait, the course of the Shore, is South a little Westerly; and in the Latitude 12 38', there is a fair bay not very deep [Cuthbert Bay], but the land is high all about it, and would be a tollerable good anchorage in the SW. Monsoon: from the South point of this Bay, begins a fine bank of Sand, and mud; which runs off SE. upon this bank, we had the first soundings about the east side of the Island;(except at the north end which I have mentioned) and the depth, at about 2 miles from the land, is between 20, and 25 fathams;it is consequently, fine anchoring ground, in the SW. monsoon.
Between the Latitudes 11 55', and 12 15', north, lies a great Cluster of Islands, detached from Andaman, by a Passage, which in the plan, is mark'd, Diligent Strait.
This place is an excellent harbour for ships of all dimensions, at any time of the year;the narrow of the Strait, .is in the Latitude 12 10' north, and is less than a league over;the southern part is a Spacious Bay, fit for the whole Navy of England to Ride in, the northern part has three small Islands, with a spit of hard ground in it, but nevertheless is a very good harbour, which we experienced for five days in very bad weather. As this circumstance gave us the only opportunity we ever had, of seeing any of the natives of Andaman, I shall relate it nearly as it stands [in] my Journal.
On the 16th of January 1771, at 3 in the afternoon, we anchored in the northern part of Diligent Strait, in 19 fatham water, and soft ground. At 1 o clock of the morning, of the 17th, Came on, a very heavy squall of wind, and rain, attended with much Thunder, and lightning , from the S. E. quarter;the strength of the squall, continued about half an hour, at which time the wind abated, but the rain continued;and in short it seems that for all that day, and the two succeeding ones, it rained without intermission, and, at times, the wind was boisterous and squally. During all this time we saw no boats, nor was there the least appearance of houses, or cultivation, any where upon the land about the place; in the nights indeed, the shore was lighted up with hundreds of Torches, which made an appearance, as if we were in the middle of a great Lake; surrounded by houses lighted up. The morning of Sunday the 20th was fine weather, and at 8 o clock a Canoe paddled off, from one of the eastern Islands, and came very near us;we made what signs we could to them, to come on board;this they took little notice of: and fearing lest they should give us the slip, I order'd our boat to be hauled up, at the side opposite to that where the Canoe was and manned with European Seamen, the moment the people in the Canoe saw our boat put off, they took to their paddles, and with all their might, pulled towards the nearest land: they were soon overtaken, and two of them jumped into the sea, and swam to the shore with amazing swiftness, the other two (for there were only four men) staid in the Canoe, and struck at our people with their paddles.
An old lascar, who had been a prisoner in Aracan, and who pretended to understand the Birmah language, at his own request, was sent in the boat as a linguist;this man went into the Canoe, and stood between the two people;but while he spoke to the man before him, the other behind, took up a torch made up of Rushes and Dammer and after blowing it up as much as he could, held it to the Lascar's bare breech;the poor. old fellow roared out in a horrible manner, and leaped into the sea, to cool his posterior: the boats crew could easily have prevented the firey attack, made upon the lascar's hinder parts;but a little mischief and a great deal of mirth suited them best. When the' two Strangers were brought on board, surely never were people more terrified; they were two 1ads about 14 years of age;and no doubt, thought that they would be immediately sacrificed: despair was strongly painted in their faces, and neither of them could support their' weight, but fell upon the deck, as if they had lost the use of their limbs;a very little time however, brought them too; fear, and terror gave place to wonder, and amazement! Their countenances cleared up, and we could soon perceive, that the observations they made, were mixed with a degree of pleasure. Boiled rice was offered them to eat, but this they only turned over with their hands, and certainly, did not know what it was: I then thought of coconuts, and had some. open'd for them;this they eat greedily of .; but I observed that of one nut, which was not opened in their Presence, they would not eat;this convinced me, that they dreaded poison. They soon. found the use of their legs, and being convinced that we intended to do them no injury, began to walk about, and stare at every thing in the vessel;the difference of colour between the Europeans, and lascars, was a matter that took up much of their attention. Between 10, and 11 o clock, another, Canoe paddled off towards us, and when they came near, we made the two lads call to the men in it, and they soon came alongside, and were only two, an, elderly man, and a lad; the latter came in immediately, but the old fellow made some difficulty;two lascars went over to help him up, and got him upon the Bends of the vessel;but he turned short about, and caught each of the lascars by the neck, under his arms;and plunged into the Sea! they went down altogether, for about a minute of time, and then the lascars came up on each side of the old man at some distance;they said he was the devil and much stronger than 10 men. The old man swam about for a little time, and, then went forward to the Cable, and came up of his own accord. He stared at every thing, as much as the young ones had done, and several times tried to pull the ring bolts out of the decks;and roar'd, and whoop'd like the American wariours. Sometimes he laid his hands upon the great guns, crying Coo,- Coo,- Coo. At 11 o clock we spyed two large Canoes, paddling off, from where the two men swam on shore, these had 8 men in each; and we soon perceived, that they were war boats;for the upper end of their paddles, were bows; they being in this form ~. They came pretty near, but not alongside, and were carefull to expose their paddles to our sight, as little as possible;we had no doubt, but they came with an intent to rescue the two. lads that we took in the morning;however they shewed no menacing Signs; but lay by at small distance, and talked to the two lads; and sometimes with the old man, who now became perfectly satisfied with his treatment. I had given those we took, pieces of coarse cloth to wrap round them; for these people were all stark naked: and when they seemed desirous of going into the Canoes, to their friends, they were permitted to do so; but they no sooner got into the Canoes, then they threw the peeces of cloth into the old canoe that they were taken; in and leaving it behind, they pulled toward the shore, with great swiftness. The old man and his comerade were still on board, nor did they seem under the least apprehension of being detained; but they laughed very heartily to see the others in such a fright. I gave them some nails, and bits of old Iron, which pleased them much; and about 3 in the afternoon, they went into the Canoe, and tried hard to pull the Chain plates from the vessels side, they went astern when this would not do, and dragged strongly, and long, at the rudder chains; but these were too well fixed;and at last, they went towards the shore at an easy rate, looking at their nails, and singing all the way.
There were only 20 in all of these Andamaners, which we saw; and all of them were Cafferies; if wooly heads be the characteristic of cafferies: their noses were not flat, like the Africans;but they had thick lips, as these have;and if all the inhabitants of this great Island. be of the same cast; it is not to be doubted but they are a race of people, very distinct from those of the adjacent countrys.
Triffling as this account is, it is all I am able to give ooncernin[g] the natives of Andaman;for no other of them came near us, while we were about the Island, and our time was so very limited that we could not enter into any close enquirys;besides, at that time I did suppose, that the Island would have afterwards been further enquired into, respecting its harbours, produce, inhabitants, and every thing else, necessary to be known.
The coast of Andaman Island, from Diligent Strait, to the South end, is S. 15 degrees, West;the land is regularly high, untill near the south end, and there are several inlets upon this side, the most remarkable of which, is not far from the south end, in Latitude 11 30' north and as we after-wards found, that there is another inlet upon the west side, nearly opposite to this, it should seem that the Island is cut thro' here ; at any rate, I think, it promises a good harbour, and I hope some one will in time Enquire into this matter.
At the South east corner of Andaman, lie three small Islands [Cinque Islands], but very high, and like the rest, covered with trees; they are nearly in a line SbW., and NbE., the near[es]t being about 2 miles from Andaman; we went through this pass [Manner's Strait], (as our tract shews) and had no ground at 40 fathams; there was a strong current in it, which look'd like brakers;I mention this, that any ship taken short by bad weather, or otherwise, may run thro without fear, if there be occasion. The south end of Andaman, is beset with great rocks; which however, do not extend to any great distance from the land, for the soundings here, as in other places, I must refer to the tract prick'd in my plan; and hope the Navigators who may have occasion to come this way, will not hold me accountable for any changes of depth, they may happen to meet with at a distance from that tract they will remember, that soundings are very variable, at small distances in rocky ground, and that our knowledge of the Island is very superficial. The land of Andaman, at the South end rises gently on all sides, to a moderate high Peek [The Whale Back], with some hummocks about it; the whole is evenly covered with trees, and has a very pleasant appearance. At the S. W. corner of the Island, and detached from it, by a Channell 4 miles broad, lies a patch of great black rocks under water; on which, we had no less than 7 fathams water, with sudden overfalls of two or three fathams. I have marked our tract over it, and it does not appear to be dangerous; however, I wish that ships may avoid it, at all times, because, among such great pointed rocks, there may be some much nearer the surface of the water, than any that we met with. The channel between this bank and the Island, is fair soft ground, having 13 or 14 fathams water in it.
NWbW. from the south west corner of Andaman, lies a fine low Island covered with trees; it is a league long, and two miles broad; and if we may judge from the multitude of lights seen upon the shore at night, it is well inhabited; this Island is marked N. Sentinel in the plan; and it is between the Latitudes 11 32' 'and 35' N. a ship may anchor in very good ground, at the east side of it, in the S. W. monsoon, should there be occasion. Between the Latitudes 11 24', and 11 41' N., at the west side of Andaman, there are' eight Islands of different magnitudes [The Labyrinth Islands], for the Situation of all which I refer to the plan, only observing that the land is much indented here, and there appears to be good harbours for the N.E. monsoon; particularly where /37 is marked [Port Mouat]; and a little farther to the southward, within side of the Islands where the Inlet , or what I suppose to be a passage thro' the Andaman is [Macpherson's Strait].
I have traversed the whole ground over, westward of these Islands, as far to the northward, as the Latitude 12 N., and have marked the soundings regularly, upon the Plan, to which I must refer for the depths, and only observe that the bank is fine soft ouzy ground. The land about this place is not so not so mountainous as at the east side; it appears hummocky, and Scraggy, with fine redish cliffs near the shore [Port Campbell];but the whole is covered with trees, except where the hills are too steep for any thing to grow upon them. We saw here multitudes of lights every night, and I have no doubt but the whole of this great Island is well inhabited; but what is somewhat singular, we saw not anything like a house or habitation upon the Island, nor so much of a landing place clear of wood, as the men could stand upon: I do not mean to insinuate that there is no such thing; on the contrary, there must, I think, be plenty of both;but the nature of our trip would not allow time for minute enquirys, as I have already mentioned. We were obliged to leave Great Andaman, without making farther discoverys about it, the gale set in strong at N. N. E,, and obliged us to beat, under close reef'd Topsails against a current, with the Vessel laid gunwall too; so that in twenty four hours we could not gain a league; and it being then, the 29th of January, it became necessary to proceed to the southward, in pursuance of our orders but before I quit the subject of this Island, I shall, I hope, be excused, if I offer the following observations.
And first the great Andaman is, evidently, an Island of a very different nature, from what it has hitherto been represented; for all had agreed, to make it a place where no soundings could he obtained, and consequently no anchorage had about it. The natives it was said, were a terrible cast of people, who came out in their Canoes and attempted to board every ship that came near the Island; that they shot their arrows to a great distance, and seldom missed their mark. Now very little, if any thing at all of this is true; for except at the east side, between the Latitude 12 30', and 13 30' North, we have had soundings every where near the land; Anchorage, we had almost every night, when we chose to bring too, and that was very often. The people may be dexterous perhaps, but they are not fierce; and we could observe, by their observations upon our guns, that they knew the use of them; and had, no doubt, been taught it in a manner, that dos no great honour to those, who were their preceptors. Untill a farther examination of this Island takes place, the only use my remarks can be of, is confined to ships in distress, or those who would skreen themselves for a few days, from tempestuous weather: in such cases, they may be very useful; and to such, I recommend them, but there are other matters, not less worthy of attention, altho we can only guess at them; I mean, the probability of getting excellent timber for building, upon this Island. Timber is an article, which all the Company's SettIements about the Bay, are destitute of, especially the kinds which serve the purposes of ship-building and Fortification. Andaman offers fair, to supply this article plentifully, if we may judge by the quantity it is loaded with; there is variety of grounds upon the Island, high, and low; and who would doubt of there being variety of Timber, surely it is an object worth enquiring into; considering the vast sums, sent annually to Pegu, for this very article; and the disadvantageous, not to say dishonourable manner, in which the Peguers treat us. If ever the French take possession of Andaman, we shall then see the vallue of it; the Island in general, is naturally disposed to be fortified and a little art, properly bestowed, may produce Moora's, and Havannah's enough;it is difficult to fix an Idea of the importance of this Island, in the minds of those who have not seen it;and yet its situation and extent bespeaks attention, when considered in a political light; for who dos not know that our restless Neighbours want only ground to build their Indea projects upon: there is here ground enough, to occasion subsequent differences; and a Mauritius in the Bay of Bengal might become troublesome.
Little Andaman Island is seperated from the Great one, by a passage of 9 leagues broad; have mark'd it Duncan's passage, because a Captain Duncan is said to have sailed thro', between these Islands many years ago. The small Islands and soundings in this passage, are marked upon my Plan, to which I must refer, as I must also, for the situation of the southern Sentinel. The Island itself, is situated between the Latitudes 10 30', and 10 52' north, being full 7 leagues long, and barely three leagues broad, bearing from the south end of great Andaman, S. 8 Wt. This' Island is low, and flat, at the north end, and rises gradually to the southward, where it is a kind of flat hill. In a little Bay at the west side of the Island, there is a very good Anchorage for the N. E. monsoon; here ships may Anchor in 12 fathams water [Ekiti Bay], within half a mile of the shore, there is a sandy beach here upon which we saw five or six people, walking about. The land here is totally covered with trees, but I think the soil must be very different from that of the great Island. At the S. W. corner of little Andaman, 2/2 leagues distant, lies a patch of great rocks [Dalrymnple Bank] with about 9 fatham water upon them; they are not dangerous, as far as we saw, but a look out should be kept here about, because there is no sounding at a smaIl distance to the south and west-ward of them, there is between 15 and 20 fathams water, with very coarse ground, between this patch and the Island.
At the south end of Little Andaman, there is no soundings within lees than a mile of the land, to the westward; but the bank projects further off at the S. E. corner; there is also, reefs of rocks above water, at this end, but these run no great way off, and in the Plans I have marked their utmost extent. In all the old Plans, this Island is drawn as two Islands, lying near one another: I will venture to say, that the Person whoever he was, that gave the sketch of little Andaman in that manner, had never seen the Island, except perhaps, at a great distance: and the same may he said of Great Andaman, for with respect to both, the only thing that the old Charts are right in, is that there are Islands somewhere about the places assigned in them.
Little Andaman agrees exactly with the descriptions given of Barbados when it was first discovered; the demensions, the face of the Island, and the Climate, agree; and I have not the least doubt, but the former would be equally fertile with the latter, if equal pains were taken to make it so: in its present state there are many inhabitants upon it, I should suppose, from the many lights seen on it in the night: what the ground produces, for their subsistance, I cannot say; doubt less, they have food in great plenty, of whatever kind it be; and foreign invaders have not yet desturbed their peacefull habitations.
Last changed 30 March 2006