Eli's Easter Error

by | Jan 15, 2013 | Creative Writing, Short Stories, thefirstline.com | 0 comments

On a perfect spring morning with flat seas and clear blue skies, Captain Eli P. Cooke made a terrible mistake in his decision making. This was not his first big mistake, of course, but it certainly proved to be his last.

It was 1722, and for years before Eli had been sailing around the world looking for new islands to plot onto the map of the world that his Dutch second cousin, Jacob, was charting. But this voyage was different. He and his ship mates were now on the run from the law, and looking for a place to hide. Eli’s ship’s crew had only yesterday discovered a completely new island, seemingly uncharted so far.  Cousin Jacob would have been impressed, had Eli still been in command of one of the ship’s in Jacob’s flotilla. 

Where the island had come from he had no idea. He wondered how an unspoiled paradise such as this island could have remained undiscovered up until now. But he knew he liked it here, and it was here that he wanted to stay….forever.

Eli and his crew had moored their schooner “Yorkonwater” in a small bay the day before, and rowed into shore.The island was lush with vegetation: bananas, coconuts, yams, sweet potatoes and all other sorts of fruit that Eli didn’t recognise. They had found no inhabitants so far, but some weird statues standing overlooking the sea were evidence that at least some ancient civilization had inhabited the island once. This place would do very nicely for a permanent retreat, he thought to himself, having tasted some of the amazing fruits.

The evening before, having explored the north shore of the island, Eli and his crew returned to their ship and feasted well on the lush fruits that they had gathered on the shore. Their feast made a very pleasant change from the ship’s usual dried food stores that they had brought with them.They would start exploring further inland the next day, but now it was time for a rest, a bit of fun and some celebration. 

Eli rose early, with the sun. He dressed quickly and walked the decks. His crew were mostly all still sleeping, after their overindulgence the previous evening. He waved at the look-out, who signaled that all was well. Eli decided to go for a swim, and stripped off his ragged uniform before making a perfect dive from the bow of the ship into the warm South Pacific seas. This was sheer luxury. Why would anyone want to return back to England and risk capture after this? Maybe they would set up a new colony here, he thought, as he swam lazily around the ship. They could stay here forever. Back home everyone would think that the ship had gone down, if they didn’t return. No-one would be any the wiser. They could steer the ship into deeper waters and sink it, just in case another exploration expedition came along. They had everything they needed here, didn’t they? They even had some wenches they had brought with them for amusement.

Eli thought his plan through carefully. Cousin Jacob wouldn’t miss him. They had never got on, especially after Jacob tried to take the credit for discovering Terra Australis, when it had actually been he, Eli, who had spotted it first, while his cousin Jacob was in a drunken stupor. The motley crew Eli had mustered for the Yorkonwater had said that they had no relatives to care about when they agreed to come on this voyage, so he doubted they would be missed either. All his crew had a chequered history, some were wanted for smuggling, some for piracy, others for stealing. Eli himself had escaped from England by the skin of his teeth after having shot his lover’s husband. He knew that it would not be long before they were after him, so he commandeered the ship and fled at the dead of night. Through necessity, they had become a band of notorious sea pirates. They had all the right equipment on the ship, and with Eli’s good naval training, it had been easy to overpower other ships, and rob them of their arms, valuables and supplies. But Eli had more than enough of running away from the law. This little undiscovered island would be a perfect refuge for them.

Eli finished his swim and clambered back aboard. By now there was some activity below deck, as the lads were all starting their day. Eli dressed quickly and joined them.

“Now lads,” he said. “We’ll have a day exploring the island, seeing if we can find any natives. We’ll tow the ship out to deeper waters first though, and row back to the shore in our towboats.”

Two boatloads departed, while the remaining crew stayed to tow the ship further out to sea. Eli gave the order to drop anchor, then commanded all his remaining crew to leave the ship on the final rowing boat.

“But what about you, Cap’n?” asked William, the first mate.

“Never mind about me, Will,” replied Eli. “I’ll follow later on in the skiff. I have a couple of things to do here first.”

Will reluctantly left with the others, leaving Eli standing on the deck looking out to sea. After he had watched the little boat reach the shore, he went down to his cabin and recorded his last post in the ship’s log. “A squall is bowing up and the sea is heavi….. “. His writing was erratic and stopped there, trailing away, making it look as if he was being hurled around his cabin on a heaving sea. He stuffed his pockets full of the valuables he had robbed from the ships they had pirated, took a last look around his cabin and went to pull up the anchor. He was going to sink the ship. However, as he passed a lamp he had a better idea. He would set fire to her instead. He tipped the lamp so that it set fire to some loose materials in the hold. Best to get rid of all the evidence altogether, he thought. The ship would burn well, and there was no-one left to put out the fire. It shouldn’t be too long before the fire took hold. Now to make his escape.

The ship was already burning well as Eli made his way back on deck, but in his haste he tripped on a loose rope lying on the deck and fell, banging his head on the capstan. He lay there stunned as the flames engulfed the ship.


“Ship Ahoy!” shouted the lookout to Jacob. “I can see smoke. Looks like a ship is on fire.”

Jacob peered through his eyeglass. “That’s the “Yorkonwater!” he exclaimed, “My English cousin Eli’s ship. All hands on deck! Hoist up the main sail! Full speed ahead!”

But with the lack of wind, it was useless. They were becalmed, and they watched helplessly as the burning wreck sank slowly into the sea.

“Land ahoy!” shouted the lookout again. 

Jacob peered into his eyeglass again. “You’re right, milad. And it looks like there are men on the shore.”

“Maybe it be the ship’s crew,” said Hendrick, the first mate.

“Drop the anchor, we’ll row out to the shore!” commanded Jacob. “But take care, those men are all wanted by the law.”

Half an hour later they were wading ashore, being warmly greeted by the motley crew from the Yorkonwater, who obviously had no idea of Captain Eli’s real plans, nor any idea that their marauding exploits on the high seas had been reported to the authorities.

“Where’s Captain Eli?” demanded Jacob.

“He’s not come yet,” said Will. “He stayed aboard to write up the ship’s log, and things. We were all setting up a camp here when we suddenly saw the ship was burning. He was supposed to have been rowing back here in the little skiff.”

“Well, if he got off the ship he should have been here by now. He’s probably gone down with the ship. And serve him right too!” said Jacob. “He was probably the first to discover this island. Under normal circumstances, we would have perhaps honoured him by calling it Cooke Island. But he’s a fugitive from the law now, as are all you vagabonds. You are all under arrest!”

Without their captain, the crew of the Yorkonwater were quickly overpowered by Captain Roggeveen’s men and taken back to one of the ships in the flotilla, where they were locked up.

“Old Eli’s done us a fine favour finding this island, Henrick,” said Jacob to his first mate. “We’ll call it Easter Island. It’s Easter today! Now let’s go and explore it.”


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N.B. Captain Eli P Cooke is a purely fictional name and bears no relationship to Captain James Cook (1728-1779), the famous explorer, navigator and cartographer who didn’t discover Easter Island, as it was discovered by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, Easter Sunday 1722.