At Sea to the Aru islands, 21 June 1893

During the night from the 20th to the 21st June we crossed the Sea of Papua and at noon on 21st the small reef of Bramble Cay came into view. This reef between the Great Northeast Canal and the Bligh Canal is the Northern entrance to the dreaded Strait of Torres which we had already passed on our journey from Java to Sydney. Now we steered again between the numerous islands made partly out of volcanoes and granite masses partly out of coral matter, through reefs and banks which fill the connecting water ways between the South Sea and the Indian Ocean. All these islands and smallest of islands, reefs and banks usually are of two types only: either they are only white coral reefs or dunes that appear in the sea as clear strips or they are islands with vegetation. On some of the larger islands appeared now and then native huts situated in the shadow of palm trees.

During the journey through the Strait of Torres we saw only a small steamer that we assumed to be on its way toward Numea and some sailing schooners which the mother of pearl fishermen tend to use in these waters to perform their as dangerous as profitable business so that the sea seemed quite empty even dead and „Elisabeth“ went its way alone.

As many of the flat islands and reefs in these parts of the Strait of Torres only offered very narrow passages and could not be detected in darkness as the sailor has no point of orientation, we were forced to anchor leeward of Rennel Island at 9 o’clock in the evening.

During the day we enjoyed splendid weather. The sea was glittering in a flashy light green.

Health conditions on board were unfortunately not good: Wurmbrand was struck down sick from the consequences of the last exhausting excursion. The after effects of the stay on the Solomon islands and also New Guinea showed themselves of numerous fever cases. At the beginning the daily increase of fever patients was 5 to 6, later 12 to 15 men, and now 5 staff officers, my servant, my orderlies, my secretary as well as nearly 80 men were affected by the disease. Especially the stokers and machine room crews seemed to be struck hard. The battery where they took the fever patients  looks like a big hospital!

A further inconvenience was the want of provisions: We could not restock fresh victuals either in Ugi or in Port Moresby. The supplies of fish, poultry etc. that „Elisabeth“ still possessed had gone bad and had to thrown overboard. Not a single egg was left and the meat of the few small oxen we still had and now butchered became rotten within only a few hours. But even if this had not been the case, we as beef-eaters would not have enjoyed it much as the animals had for the past few days been exclusively fed as „concentrated feed“ palm leaves and straw that had been used to wrap wine bottles.

Our ice supplies were already exhausted before coming to Numea and obviously could not be restocked at any of the stations.

In short, everybody on board — sick or healthy — had to suffer or spare something from the climate’s influence and thus had to overcome many challenges that can not be avoided on long sea voyages.

Links

  • Location: near Rennel island, New Guinea
  • ANNO – on 21.06.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Der Geigenmacher von Cremona/König Oedipus“. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is closed from 1 June to 19 July.

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