Willem Barentsz (Queequeg)

Quequeg… Queek… Saw-bones… Kwe-Kue… I have many names, but there are few who know my real one.  In 1701, I was born, christened Willem James Barentsz, third son to Jacobus of Leiden, a practicing crankbesoeker* at one of Holland’s most prestigious medical schools.  My mother was Nottingham-born, Margaret Gulliver, daughter of an inn-keeper.  I lived with her and my siblings in England until I was six, while my father was overseas taking a contract for the Dutch East India Company, the VOC.  When he returned he moved the whole family to Leiden, where we stayed until another contract came up. This time
 it was a permanent job, surgeon in the colonies to the East.  In 1712 we boarded a ship named the Zuytdorp bound for Batavia.  But the vessel and its 286 passengers never reached their destination.

Shipwrecked off the coast of Western Australia, there were few survivors.  Those who were not dragged to a watery grave by the monsters plying the deep were cast ashore on a desolate land.  I was one of the four score marooned and spent my twelfth birthday spearing fish in the shallows of Shark Bay.

Eventually we left the desert-land, sailing northwards on makeshift rafts made from all that was salvageable from the Zuytdorp.  I have no idea how long we drifted on those tropical seas.  Time was stretched into agonizing length, many more of us perished along the way.  I recall a terrible storm which fractured most of the rafts and drowned half of the group.  I became separated, and never saw the others from the Zuytdorp again.  Dehydrated and close to death, I was eventually flung upon the pestilent, humid shores of Papua New Guinea

It was there that I met the Mosu.  For reasons still unclear to me even now, the natives of the region adopted me as one of their own.  Perhaps it was my few skills as a surgeon, taught to me by my father from a young age, or perhaps the paleness of my skin in comparison to their swarthy flesh.   Whatever their reasons, the Mosu honoured me as one of their tribe, adorned me with tattoos and taught me their ways.

It is hard to put into words the changes that come over a man when he spends so long in a place altogether alien from his homeland.  Feelings of intense loneliness and overwhelming kinship were experienced in those strange tropical lands.  I bore witness to heathen rites and ancient medicine-magic, danced the dance with the warriors of the forest and became embroiled in a savage way of life, one of blood, flesh and darkness.

When the crew of the Avenger found me in Madagascar some ten years later, they encountered a man who had spent far too long in the jungle to be considered sane.  They took me aboard as Saw-bones after I saved several of their crew from a virulent pox that had broken out among them.  Mishearing my Mosu name Kwe-Kue, they dubbed me Quequeg and from then on I was a part of the Avenger crew.

* Trans. Visitor of the Sick