Fairchild Tropical Garden Expedition aboard the Cheng Ho 1939-1940
NOVEMBER 1939
 
 
 
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DECEMBER 1939
 
 
 
 
 
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JANUARY 1940
 
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FEBRUARY 1940
 
 
 
 
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FEB 1940
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“Calamity Sunday,” Marisa, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Written by Edward Beckwith on Sunday, February 25, 1940

Cheng Ho launch near the Maleo nesting site
Cheng Ho launch near the Maleo nesting site, photographed in the early morning by Edward Beckwith.
The Cheng Ho after the engine room fire
The Cheng Ho after the engine room fire, Marisa, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photographed from the launch by Edward Beckwith
Marian Fairchild, Anne Archbold, and David Fairchild aboard the launch
Marian Fairchild, Anne Archbold, and David Fairchild aboard the launch following evacuation from burning Cheng Ho. Photographed by Edward Beckwith.
Fenton Kilkenny, Ted Kilkenny, Daan Hubrecht, and John Fant after the fire
Fenton Kilkenny, Ted Kilkenny, Daan Hubrecht, and John Fant after putting out the engine room fire using seawater. Photographed by David Fairchild.
Shrine to the goddess Tian Hou in the dining room of the Cheng Ho
Shrine to the goddess Tian Hou in the dining room of the Cheng Ho. Photographed by Edward Beckwith.
Statue of the goddess Tian Hou (Mazu) at Qingdao, China
Statue of Tian Hou (Mazu), goddess of the sea and protector of sailors, at Qingdao, China. Photographed in 2008 by Elliot Li.
Anne, Fenton and I took the big launch with Ah Fook to run it and started at about 4 AM for the Maleo place. It was a cool beautiful morning with the East just reddening as we landed. We each went in different directions and I took up a place which commanded a view in several directions. The birds took some time to appear and we were evidently too early, certainly for photography. A few appeared but disappeared quickly. I could hear them in some trees, so, after no luck at 7 AM, I went to the trees and saw a number, taking shots at a distance with my telephoto and Anne’s movie camera. They were at a distance of perhaps 70 or 80 ft.

Anne appeared and said she had seen some at close range. I went with her but it was very difficult to approach them and I only got a few rather unsatisfactory shots. We got back at 9:30.

I was tired and went to sleep in my berth. In the meantime we started for Popayato, a port about 30 miles west, at about 10 o’clock.

At 10:45 I was awake and heard the engines stop and a commotion on deck. I got up and smelled smoke. Heard someone say “Fire!” I went on deck and saw Anne standing fixing something and told her there was a fire. Black smoke was coming up around David’s laboratory, apparently from the engine room.

The crew working quickly got the large launch lowered. One of them was about to throw some gasoline cans but Fant stopped him. Buckets of salt water were passed up and poured down the engine room ventilators, there was too much smoke to go below. Fant ordered Anne and Marian into the launch, also David and I as we were acting on Daan’s suggestion to tow the junk with the launch to shore and beach her if necessary. Before doing this we stuffed cushions in the port holes from outside. Fook ran the launch and in getting the two lines fast it became snarled in the propeller. He jumped over board and finally got it free with considerable difficulty. Before we started Anne insisted that I return and get my camera. Practically nothing but ourselves went in the launch but Fant got in his precious range finder and for some reason my Abercrombie & Fitch boots got in too. In the mean time the smoke seemed to lessen through vents being plugged and Fant called out he thought the fire was under control. We towed the junk the short distance to the coast and she anchored in 7 fathoms.

Kilkenney said not to come aboard yet as the smoke was bad. So we stood by and I took a few photographs. We felt by this time that the junk would be saved.

We finally came on board at 12:30. There was too much smoke for anyone to go below. Everything on board looked very much upset.

The fire had started from a short circuit on the switchboard in the engine room, and the engine room was blackened and generally messed up. No estimate could be made immediately of the extent of the damage or the extent to which plans would have to be altered.

The Chinese crew told Ted that they associated the trouble with Hugo’s python, a snake sacred to the the goddess Tian Hou, patron saint of the junk whose image is in the dining room. This was a serious matter with them and Ted suggested that we should not joke about it in their presence.

Ted told me some of the sequence of events for my record. The fire was discovered by Ah Fook who was cleaning out the launch on the davits. He saw smoke coming out of the engine room ventilator and yelled. (According to my estimate this was close to 10:45 A.M.) Ted and Don? Mo So went to the engine room which was filled with smoke and shut off the engines. They could see an area on the switch board and that one of the automatic extinguishers above the board was in operation.

The ventilator had been purposely placed above the switchboard and they then went on deck and poured salt water through the ventilator. The stairway from David’s laboratory was then cleared and the partition to the engine room from the stairway opened up with axes in order to play water through this opening.

The door to the engine room from the passage was not closed as they left the engine room after shutting off the engines as they had to leave quickly because of the smoke and gas from the extinguishers.

After several hours it was possible to go below and examine the damage. Smoke and soot was all over the cabins and dining room. The switch board in the engine room was twisted and blackened. The important question was whether the engine would operate, and this was not determined until the evening when the port engine was started. One thing was evident, there would be no lights, no refrigerator without extensive repairs.

We had lunch on deck at 2 PM, an excellent lunch, and the last cold water until the refrigerator could be fixed. Current is on again.

The crew worked splendidly all through and while excited none lost their heads. Fant, Ted and Daan did all they could have, and Ted estimated later that a few moments more and the fire could not have been controlled.

It was necessary to open the trap doors in the floors to let out the gas and one was left open in David’s cabin. Marian placed a chair over it but David did not see it, moved the chair away, and slipped in, cutting his leg badly. This happened at 4:30 PM. He had a deep cut about two inches long in the side of his left leg. It was also bruised.

This caused considerable anxiety because the circulation in his legs has not been good since his attack of rheumatic fever some time ago. It certainly was a very important factor in determining our future plans, as medical and possibly hospital treatment was important. The wound was treated with iodine and Peruvian Balsam and bound up without stitching. He stayed in the deck house and slept there so as not to move more than necessary.

We had supper on deck, David in the deck house. Fortunately only a few drops of rain fell although there was plenty in the coastal mountains.

Cleaning up began at once. Fant and Ted worked till late pumping out salt water from the bilges.

In the afternoon, before David’s accident, Anne and I, David and Marian, went to sleep in the deck house. Anne woke me up, said I was snoring, and that David had been perfectly quiet.

Turned in early on deck on Fant’s cot in spite of the noise of pumping out the bilges.

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