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Home > Books > An Essay on Archery > Chapter VII: Of Poisoned Arrows
Chapter VII
Of Poisoned Arrows.
Part 2 of 3

I find the following circumftantial account of this affair in the Hiftory of Guiana, by Bancroft. The author fays, " The poifoned Arrows are made of fplinters of the hard and folid outer fubftance of the Cokarito tree, and are ufually about twelve inches in length, not larger in bulk than a large common knitting-needle. One end of the Arrow is formed into a fharp point, and envenomed in the poifon of Woorara; round the other end is wound a roll of cotton, adapted to the cavity of the reed through which the Arrow is to be blown. The Arrow, thus decked and armed for deftruction, is inferted in the hollow ftraight reed, feveral feet in length, which being directed towards the object, the Arrow is by a fingle blaft of air from the lungs, protruded through the cavity of the reed, and flies with great fwiftnefs and unerring certainty, the diftance of thirty or forty yards, conveying fpeedy and inevitable death to the animal from whom it draws blood. Blowing the Arrows is the principal exercife of the Indians from their childhood, and by long ufe and habitude, they acquire a degree of dexterity and exactnefs, which is inimitable by an European, and almoft incredible."

The fame is practifed in the Eaft almoft univerfally. The inhabitants of Makaffar, particularly, are accuftomed to poifon their arms. The brother of Mr. Tavernier, (the celebrated French traveller) while in India, had a remarkable proof of the activity of this poifon exhibited to him.

An Englifhman refiding in Makaffar had in a rage, killed a fubject of the king of that ifland, but his offence was pardoned. In confequence of which the other Englifh, French, and Dutch inhabitants of the ifland, fearing left the refentment of the natives might be exercifed againft them, requefted the king that the perfon guilty of the charge fhould fuffer for what he had done, that no future revenge might be meditated by his fubjects, againft the Europeans, as was fometimes the cafe. The king con-fented, and as he wifhed the criminal to fuffer as little pain as poffible, he faid he himfelf would inflict the ftroke by a poifoned Arrow. He defired the brother of Mr. Tavernier, (for he was very intimate with the king) to attend him to the execution. When the man was brought, the king afked him what part he fhould wound, upon which he named the great toe of the right foot. The king then took an Arrow, properly poifoned, and adapted it to the tube, and blew it with incredible exactnefs to the point. Two European furgeons on the fpot, immediately exerted their fkill, but though they amputated the part far below the wound, with quick difpatch, the man died in their hands.

All the kings of the eaftern countries collect this poifon to tinge their Arrows, and keep them ready for ufe during a long time. The king of Achen made a prefent of a dozen of thefe Arrows to a Mr. Coke, envoy at Bavaria, with whom Mr, Tavernier was well acquainted. One day when thefe gentlemen were together, they had the curiofity to try whether thofe weapons retained their virulence or not, as they had been kept feveral years unufed. They fhot fome of them at fquirrils and other animals, all of which dropt the moment they were wounded, a circumftance which fufficiently proved, not only the violence, but alfo the permanence of this terrible poifon.85

I cannot authenticate the violent effects of poifons applied to Arrows better, than by producing the refult of fome experiments which were made on the poifons of Lamas and Ticunas, brought to France by Mr. de la Condamine, from South America.86

This gentleman gave a part to Mr. Heriffant, who wifhed to afcertain whether the reports concerning the violent effects of thefe fpecies of poifon, were true or falfe. He accordingly began to prepare the poifon in the way Mr. de la Condamine informed him the Americans did, but in his proceedings he met with two accidents, either of which might have coft him his life.

He underftood that the proper method was to diffolve the poifonous fubftance he received, in water, and to evaporate the folution till it become thick, and dark-coloured.87 He began the procefs, but the fumes almoft deprived him of his fenfes, and had he not taken a large quantity of fugar diffolved in wine, which was prefcribed as an antidote, he might have fallen fuffocated, and lifelefs on the floor of his room.88

He, however, effected the procefs compleatly at another time, and corked the liquid in a fmall bottle, and locked it up. But wifhing to begin his intended courfe of experiments, he one day took the phial containing the poifon, into his hand, when in a moment the cork flew to the ceiling of the chamber, and the liquor ran ftreaming over his hand. In this fecond dilemma he configned himfelf to an inevitable and fpeedy death. However, as there was no wound or puncture on his fkin, by which the poifon could penetrate to the blood, wafhing effectually removed the danger.89

Having efcaped thefe misfortunes, he began his experiments on the 6th of June, 1748.

He made a little wound about three lines90 in length, in the hinder leg of a Habit, and put a bit of cotton moiftened in the poifon of Ticunas to the place; the creature died fuddenly in his hand, without giving any fign of pain, before he had time to put a bandage on, as he intended. This experiment was repeated the fame day, on feven different animals, all of which died in lefs than a minute.—

June 7.—He dipped the point of a lancet into the poifon, and pricked fome Cats with the inftrument, all of which died in lefs than three minutes.—

June 8.—He made an incifion with a lancet, between the ears of a Cat, and with a pencil, put into it a drop of the poifon of Ticunas, mixed with that of Lamas; in an inftant the creature died in his hands.—

June 9.—He tried experiments in the fame manner on fifh, reptiles and infects, none of which were affected by the poifon.

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