Giles Watson

Giles Watson

Posted on 06/25/2014

Photo taken on June 25, 2014

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fruit bat
Sir Joseph Banks
Endeavour voyage

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Vampire Bat

Vampire Bat
Vampire Bat

I seen ‘im, Mr Banks, black as the divil ‘imself,
jes’ like a one gallon cagg, wi’ great pointed
‘orns on ‘is ‘ead, all draped about wi’ leathern
cloak, ‘angin’ arsy-varsy from a wither’d branch,
oglin’ me wi’ bulging eyes. ‘E climbed but slowly,
but I daren’t touch ‘im, God save us: gi’ me
a lee shore any day – I baint goin’ there again fer
nowt. ‘Twould suck yer blood soon as look at yer.

The Endeavour languished, half-keeled over,
timbers scrimshawed by corals, awaiting her
careening. I walked ashore amongst the trees:
nothing but a musty smell, and rank spatters
on the forest floor – fruit eaters, I surmised,
but they were nowhere to be seen. Tupia
found them later, amongst the mangroves,
some flapping about the canopy, some hanging
like pendulous fruits, bickering. I never once
saw one or shot one – heard only rumours –
and the Endeavour came to rights, floated
clear of reef and shoal, as the wide river,
reflecting black hordes with ragged wings,
snaked off inscrutable through terra incognita.

Poem by Giles Watson, 2014. Picture: ‘Grey-Headed Vampire’, John Gould, The Mammals of Australia, Volume 3, London, 1863. A seaman reported sighting a “vampire bat” – in fact, a harmless fruit bat or “flying fox” – to Sir Joseph Banks whilst the Endeavour was being careened at the opening to the Endeavour River, after the ship was badly damaged on the Great Barrier Reef in June-July, 1770, and kedged to shore. Tupia, a Polynesian man who befriended Banks in Tahiti, travelled with him to the coast of Australia, and reported seeing “a kind of Batts as large as a Partridge but these also we were not lucky enough to get”.