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Castaways 3;
Robinson's Crusoes.

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This is the 3rd and last of the trilogy of tales of castaways left behind during the May 1825—October 1826 voyage of the colonial schooner Hunter, 61-tons, James Craig master, George William Robinson (abt.1800-1839) Supercargo. During the voyage, the schooner left a scattering of castaways across south-west New Holland and on islands in the Indian Ocean.
The schooner Hunter arrived at Port Louis, isle of France (Mauritius) on 28 May 1826, a year 'out' from Hobart Town. It brought a disappointingly small cargo of seal skins, likely loaded during the Hunter's 3rd visit to King George's Sound (New Holland). While the schooner was at Port Louis it underwent repairs, was re-coppered, offered but failed to sell at auction and was then loaded with a cargo of sugar, rice and other sundries for the return voyage. The Hunter, with 2 paying passengers (and with, apparently, 6 men recruited for a new sealing gang as additional crew) embarked, sailed from the Isle of France on 14 August 1826 bound for Hobart Town and Sydney, as the Mauritius Gazette of 19 August 1826 noted:[1]

DÉPARTS: Le 14 [Août] – La goëlette Hunter, capitaine Craig, pour Hobart Town et Sydney.

By agreement with a sealing gang which had previously been left on the small remote island of Rodrigues, the schooner was supposed to return within 7 weeks to pick them up and take them to Île Amsterdam where an attempted landing had previously been abandoned after nearly 5 weeks 'standing offshore'. As the Hunter sailed from Port Louis it was already a month overdue to return to pick up the gang. In fact, the schooner did not return. Whether or not the Hunter's Master, Craig, attempted to return will forever remain in doubt given Robinson's mounting commercial imperatives. The fate of that gang was told in the first of the castaway tales.
Leaving the Isle of France behind, the heavily laden Hunter reached Île Amsterdam, ca. 2,800 km south-east of Port Louis 3 weeks later, on 4 September 1826. On this visit the landing of a gang of 6 men was interrupted when the schooner was blown to leeward after only 2 men had been put onshore. It did not return. The discovery and recovery of the 2 men from the Hunter left as castaways on Île Amsterdam follows.[2]

QUARTERLY REGISTER OF OCCURRENCES IN THE EAST,
Jan. to June, 1828.
MISCELLANEOUS ASIATIC INTELLIGENCE
Account of two Men rescued from a desert Island, in the Southern Ocean,

On Sunday, the 4th of November, 1827, the Palmira made the desert island of Amsterdam, or as it is sometimes called, St. Paul, the two islands, situated in the same longitude, 77° 53’ East, and in 37” 62’ and 37° 0’ South latitude, being often described by either name, in different maps and charts, According to Horsburgh, the Dutch Navigator Vlaming, examined these islands in 1697, and called the northernmost Amsterdam, and the southernmost, or largest island, St. Paulo, which is more accessible than the other and better known. “They are nearly,” he says, “on the same meridan, and distant from each other, about seventeen leagues, and may be seen at twenty leagues distance, in clear weather. St. Paul, sometimes called Amsterdam by the English, is about eight or ten miles long, and five in breadth.”
The island which the Palmira approached, was the northernmost; and, passing to leeward, at a distance of about five miles, a quantity of smoke was distinguishable on the north side, which induced the Captain to run in as close as possible, supposing, that some sufferers from shipwreck might have lit the fire by way of signal;—and, when within a mile of the shore, two men were distinctly seen standing on a little eminence near it. A boat was immediately lowered down, and Mr. Addison, the Chief Officer, proceeded to ascertain the condition of the men, and afford such assistance as might be required. In less than an hour, the boat returned with the two strangers. Their appearance at the first glance, was truly squalid and miserable; they had long beards; their old ragged clothes were patched with seal skin, with the fur on. The bristly hide of a wild hog, fastened together, served for the breeches of one of them; their shoes were also made of hog’s skin, of the form called Moccasin, which consists of a circular piece, with the hair outside, and when the foot is placed in the middle of it, a cord, rove through the edges, draws the leather together round the ankle and instep. The name of one was James Paine, about twenty-two years of age, and of the other Robert Proudfoot, about forty, both sailors, and natives of Edinburgh. They had been fourteen months on the island.
It appeared, from their own account of themselves, that they joined the Governor Hunter, a Schooner of about sixty tons, belonging to Van Dieman’s Land, at the Isle of France, that vessel being engaged on a sealing voyage; and in September, 1826, they arrived off the northernmost island, above mentioned. It is customary for these ships to land a number of their crew at the different islands, where seals and sea-lions are procurable, and to take them up again a few months afterwards, with the oil and skins they may have been able to obtain. Accordingly, a boat was sent off from the Schooner, with a bag of biscuit, a few pounds of flour, and—other provisions—also a kettle, a frying pan, and a considerable quantity of salt, for the purpose of curing the seal skins. It happened to be in the evening, Paine and Proudfoot, and the provisions, were landed at a convenient point, where two comfortable huts were discovered, roofed with grass—the habitants doubtless of some former adventurers. The boat had to return again to the Schooner to take off more provisions, and four other men, but after getting on board, a smart breeze sprung up, the vessel was driven to leeward, and nothing more was seen or heard of her at the island. The two sufferers were thus left to themselves, and, in the morning, examining the extent and quality of their resources, they found that almost all the stock of salt had been destroyed by the surf; and that neither of them, a most extraordinary circumstance for sailors, had even a knife; Paine’s being in his jacket pocket, accidentally left in the boat, and Proudfoot had lent his to a mess-mate. Their only clothing was on their backs. They seem to have husbanded their little store of bread and provisions with great care, having made them last five months. After that, they were thrown entirely on their own ingenuity and exertions for every meal they had.
Circumstanced as they were, it was natural for them to keep a constant look out for ships, and they saw several, but at a great distance, during the first month of their residence on the island. The last they saw was the Hope bound to Hobart’s Town, Van Dieman’s Land, which, in November, 1826, approached within a few miles of the shore, and sent out a boat, to fish. Paine and Proudfoot ran with alacrity to the beach, and, hailing the boat, communicated their situation to the Officer, who, in reply, told them, that when he returned to the ship, he would inform the Captain of the circumstance, and act according to his orders. He did return to the ship—and the unhappy men had soon the mortification to see the boat hoisted up, and the vessel making all sail in prosecution of her voyage. They had then, however, been but a short time on the island, and their provisions not being exhausted, they had not yet felt the utter desolateness of their condition. From that period to the appearance of the Palmira, twelve months afterwards, they had not seen a single ship.
It was suspected, that the master of the Schooner must have committed a mistake, and that the men were intended to be landed on the southernmost island, which we shall call St. Paul, where seals are to be met with in abundance, whilst at the other, during the whole fourteen months, Paine and Proudfoot were only able to obtain seven. It is certain, that they thought themselves on the island of St. Paul, for they kept continually looking to the north in search of Amsterdam, the islands, being in sight of each other on a clear day, and wondered, why it could not be seen. It was in other respects a great misfortune to them for there are hot springs on the other island, of temperature high enough to boil fish, which are to be caught with the greatest facility in a lagoon, or bason, close by. It may be worth while to quote the particulars of this curious and amusing fact.
“Mr. John Henry Cox, anchored off the southernmost island, in 1789.—”May 31st, proceeded in the boats towards the shore abreast the vessel, which is here a sort of cause way, formed of large pebbles appearing as if raised by art; in the middle of this we saw an opening, about a pistol shot wide, into a bason or lagoon, where a great many seals were playing. A strong tide running out of the entrance, at least two and a half knots, it being nearly half ebb, with some difficulty got the cutter over the bar, which is formed of loose pebbles; we were then in deep water, and smooth as a mill-pond, though the sea ran very high without. We landed on the north side of the entrance, where we found seals innumerable.
“The bason is between two and three miles in circuit, having twenty-nine fathoms in the middle. Around it is table land. In rowing round, saw smoke rising amongst the stones in several places close to the bason; we landed, and found the water so hot that we could not bear our hands in it. I had a pocket thermometer with me, which, in the open air, stood at 62°, but when put in the water, at 190°, and then, in about a minute fell to 185°. I tried it in several other of the hot springs, in different parts of the bason, and it never rose above 190°; and after being immersed a short time fell to 185°. Our people who were on shore sealing, constantly boiled their dinner of fish in some of these springs; which are in all parts close to the bason, and in some parts mix with, and heat it to a considerable extent; and as all parts of the bason abound with incredible numbers of fish, and no art is requisite to catch them, one of the boys would, in five minutes, catch as many as the whole party could eat, so that, as Vlaming says you may really throw the fish fastened on the hook, out of the cold into the hot water, and boil them.” “The stones around the bason are of a dark blue colour, very hard, and most of them bear the mark of fusion, some of them are burnt to a cinder.”
1793, the Hindoostan anchored at this island, and on examination found the bason to be the crater of a volcano. In the hot springs, the Thermometer stood at 212°, the general standard of heat at all the springs round the water’s edge, at which the men boiled some fish.
The hot springs at Keikhalt and Tungahoer, in Iceland, are exactly of the same temperature.
To keep an account of time, Paine and Proudfoot, notched the stave of a cask every morning: but they had committed an error of two days—their calculation bringing the date up to the 2nd of November, instead of the 4th, when the Palmira arived at the island.
Destitute, in a remarkable degree, of the means of assisting themselves—without tool or instrument,—fortune, after a short time, contributed a little to their aid. They found on the rocks, at different times, a needle, an old knife, and a spike-nail: with the latter they made a hook and a piece of coir rope supplied them with a line. With this they contrived to catch fish, but there being no barb at the point of the hook, they had often the misfortune to lose their prey. The only kind of fish, they could obtain, was, what the sailors call the Trumpeter, and the only shellfish, Limpets. They were frequently much distressed for want of fresh water. The rocky surface of the ground, not being covered with more than two or three feet of earth, digging for a spring was out of the question, even if they had been furnished with the means. They had, therefore, to search for pools of rain water, and sometimes they bad to go several miles for a draught to quench their thirst. The island was well furnished with wild hogs, but all the time they were on it, they could not manage to catch above five. These they ran down, and felled with a stick, torn from a stunted tree, only two or three inches in diameter. “You must have run very fast, for your dinner!” said the Captain. “Certainly we ran fast for a dinner,” was the reply, “but the pig had to run for his life!” The flesh of the Amsterdam wild hog was very dry and hard, without an atom of fat. Once they caught a few young ones, which could not, in running away, keep up with the old sow. These, of course, afforded the two Robinson Crusoes a sumptuous banquet.
Soon after their arrival, they were under the necessity of clearing the ground, by setting fire to the impenetrable tufts of tusak and long grass, which obstructed their proceedings, and the conflagration, spreading over the greater part of the island, is said to have lasted several months. To improve their resources, they attempted to make a bow and arrows, but the branches of underwood, and the shoots of stunted trees, were found too brittle for the purpose. They could only subsist indeed from hand to mouth as the salt failed— which prevented their laying up a stock of fish—and for many months they were accustomed to eat their casually procured victuals without any salt at all. On more occasions than one they were three days without an opportunity of obtaining a morsel of food. They had a tinder-box when they landed, but the tinder was soon expended, and there was nothing to be found of a vegetable nature, dry enough to supply its place. Keeping up the fire in the hut, therefore, during the latter part of their residence, became a subject of most painful anxiety, especially in the night, for if it happened to go out, there was no chance of lighting it again; and the preservation of the “vestal flame,” seems to have been the only, at least the chief cause of any quarrelling, or difference between them. The youngest was a heavy sleeper, so that upon Proudfoot more frequently fell the imperative and indispensable duty of watching. And if they went together any distance from the hut, it was usual with them to heap the fire with peat and moss; and sometimes, for better security, they carried a piece of ignited peat along with them.
In Horsburgh, the island is said to be about twelve miles in circumference, but they reckon it much more, having been a whole day in going round it, and they therefore think it cannot be less than about twenty. One day, they succeeded in ascending to the highest peak, where they discovered the crater of a volcano, more than a hundred yards in diameter, and so deep, that no bottom could be seen. The island produces nothing edible, except parsley, which is found in great quantity;—it is covered with thick underwood and tusak, and dried grass was the only thing they had to supply the place of a bed, or to keep them in any degree warm, during the night.
No snow fell in the winter months—but hail and sleet continually, and it was extremely cold at that season of the year. Their health continued good without interruption—and the only accident that occurred, was a fall, which Proudfoot experienced, from a precipice, and which confined him with a violent sprain in his shoulder, for four months.
The only birds they could get hold of were the Snowy Pettrell, and these they caught in holes—the flesh, of course, dry and fishy—but the eggs were good. The Albatrosses laid their eggs, and continued themselves, in the most precipitous and inaccessible parts of the rocks—defying the exertions of man to disturb their repose.
On the 4th of November, when the Palmira was first seen by them, Paine was sanguine enough to anticipate their deliverance, and offered a wager that his notion was right. Proudfoot, less confident than his young companion, derided the idea. But seeing the vessel come nearer, they both rushed down from the height upon which they stood, and instantly lighted as large a fire as they could, to give intimation of the presence of human beings on the spot. Nearing the island, the ship hoisted her colours, and then their happiness was complete, for they then felt certain of their sufferings being at an end. The surf, though, on the lee side of the island was very high, and threatened destruction to the boat. Mr. Addison hailed the men, and the moment his voice was heard, Paine said to his companion; “I am sure that is my old chief-mate,” and so it was, for three or four years before, they had belonged to the same Ship, the Regalia, and had been at Macquarrie island together. As the surf ran so high, it was fortunate that they had left a sufficient length of coir-rope to throw into the boat, and hold on by, which enabled them to get on board without much difficulty.— Govt. Gaz. Jan. 3.

Nothing is known of the fates of Paine and Proudfoot after their arrival in Calcutta. In all likelihood, after a few moments of notoriety, they have signed onto another ship and continued their nomadic maritime wandering, likely rueing the day at Port Louis when they were recruited to join Robinson's sealing gang.
It would seem that Paine and Proudfoot took shelter in the 'accommodation' used by the 6-man gang left by the American sealing brig, General Gates, 200-tons, Abimelech Riggs master. Robinson, a member of that gang, spent 23 months on Amsterdam Island between April 1819 and March 1821. This was almost certainly the same 'accommodation' subsequently used by several of the survivors of the shipwreck of the Princess of Wales cutter after their rescue from the Crozet Islands by the Philo and then being left on Amsterdam Island [see Charles Medyett Goodridge's Narrative of a voyage…]. The Philo arrived at Amsterdam Island on 26 March 1823 and, after a falling out between the master and some of the survivors, 10 men chose to remain on Amsterdam Island where they found a shelter left by previous visitors, with which they did not “consider it requisite to find much fault”. Only 5 weeks after being left by the Philo, 3 men left Amsterdam Island on 5 June 1823 bound for Van Diemen's Land in the small sloop Success; It is not known what happened to the 7 men from the Princess of Wales remaining after the departure of the Success. Goodridge states that 2 survivors were picked up about 12 months later and reached the East Indies, purchased a ship and, after abandoning an attempt to sail to South America, settled on an island “near Japan” before returning to England. From this series of visitors, castaways all, we can ascertain that the primitive shelter used by Paine and Proudfoot had been used at least 3 times.
One can only ponder George Robinson's response upon hearing of the recovery of the 2 men he had left as castaways on Amsterdam Island when the news reached Hobart Town during early April 1828. The story of their privations and their fortunate rescue 14 months after being left by the Hunter became public when an abridged account was published in the Hobart Town Courier:[3]

The Calcutta Government Gazette has a very interesting account of the rescue of two men from the Island of Amsterdam (next that of St. Paul, between this and the Cape of Good Hope) by the ship Palmira, Captain Lamb, on the 4th November last. The men, whose names are James Paine and Robert Proudfoot, had been left by the schooner Hunter, of Hobart Town, 14 months before, for the purpose of sealing, when it was intended to have left other four men with a store of provisions, but a gale driving the vessel to leeward, she went out of sight and was no more seen. The two sufferers were thus left to themselves Their whole stock of salt had been washed away on the beach, they had not even a pocket knife, their only clothing was on their backs. They had a small store of bread and provisions, which they husbanded so well as to last them five months before it was all expended. The only vessel they saw was the late ship Hope, bound to this place in November 1826, which coming within a few miles of shore, sent a boat out to fish, which they hailed, and the officer in the boat told them that when he returned to the ship he would inform Captain Cunningham of the circumstance, and act according to his direction. He did return to the ship and the unhappy men had soon the mortification to see the boat hoisted up, and the Hope making all sail on her voyage.
From that period to the appearance of the Palmira, twelve months after, they did not see a single ship. During the whole 14 months they obtained only seven seals. Had they been on the neighbouring island of St. Paul they would not have indured so much, for there are hot springs there, of a temperature hot enough to boil fish, which are to be had in a lagoon or basin close by in great abundance. The water in these springs is generally hot enough to raise the thermometer to 212 of Fahrenheit.
These poor men thus left entirely destitute, by accident found on the rocks a needle, an old knife, and a spike nail, with the last of which they made a hook, and a piece of coir rope formed a line with which they contrived to fish, but there being no barb at the point of the hook, they had often the misfortune to lose their prey. The only sort of fish they caught was trumpeter, and limpets. They were often much distressed for want of water. The rocky surface of the ground not being covered with more than two or three feet of earth, digging for a spring was out of the question. They therefore had to depend on pools of rainwater alone.
The island is well furnished with wild hogs, but they could not manage to catch more than five. These they ran down and felled with a stick. “You must have run very fast for your dinner”, said the Captain. “Yes, we did,” said they “but the pig had to run for its life”. Their flesh was very hard and dry, without a morsel of fat. Once they caught a few young ones, which could not in running away keep up with the old sow. After their arrival they were obliged to burn the long grass which obstructed their proceedings, and the conflagration spreading over the island, continued burning for several months. They tried to make a bow and arrows, but the wood was not fitted for the purpose. They had a tinder box when they landed, but the tinder was soon expended, and they could find nothing dry enough to supply its place. The necessity of keeping their fire constantly alive, was therefore both anxious and difficult.
They could scarcely make the circuit of the island in one day, though its circumference is laid down in the maps at only twelve miles. At the top of the highest pic [peak] they found the crater of a volcano, more than 100 yards in diameter. There is no eatable vegetable on the island but parsley, which is plentiful. No snow fell during the winter months but hail and sleet continually, and it was extremely cold at that season of the year. Proudfoot once got a severe fall from a rock, which confined him with a violent sprain in his shoulder for four months. The only birds they could get hold of was the snowy petrill, which they caught in holes. The albatrosses made their nests in places quite inaccessible.
On the 4th November when the Palmira was seen by them, Paine was sanguine enough to anticipate their deliverance. Proudfoot was less confident and derided the idea, but seeing the vessel come nearer they both rushd down from the height upon which they stood and instantly lighted as large a fire as they could, to give intimation that there were human beings on the island. Nearing the island the ship hoisted her colours and then their happiness was complete, for they felt certain that their sufferings were at an end. Mr. Addison, the chief officer of the Palmira hailed the men and the moment his voice was heard Paine said, “I am sure that is my old chief mate”, and so it was, for about four years before he sailed with him in the Regalia, Captain Collins, bound to Van Diemen's Land.

Curiously, Robinson's Crusoes, in telling their story after arriving at Calcutta, made mention of the aborted landing and possible rescue by a boat from the ship Hope. That statement was repeated in the abridged account subsequently published in Hobart. The Hope, 230-tons, Robert Cunningham master, arrived at Hobart on 27 January 1827 having sailed from London and Portsmouth, from where it departed on 9 August 1826, before then calling at Port Elizabeth, Algoa Bay (now South Africa). It sailed from the latter port on 9 November 1826. It's 'track' across the Indian Ocean would very likely have taken it close to Amsterdam Island.[4] The statement prompted a strongly worded rebuttal from the Chief Officer of the Hope:[5]

Hobart Town, April 18, 1828.
SIR,—Having noticed in your paper of last week a paragraph purporting to be an extract from the Calcutta Gazette, relative to two men who were left on the Island of Amsterdam by the schooner Hunter, I beg leave to state in reply, that the part alluding to the late ship Hope is entirely unfounded, and as it is evidently intended to cast a stigma upon the character of Captain Cunningham, or the officer said to have been in the boat, I feel myself called upon in justice to refute it. I of course know not how the mistake could have arisen, but can assure you the Hope neither made St. Paul's, Amsterdam, or any other land whatever on the passage in question, after leaving Algoa Bay, till our arrival at Van Diemen's Land.
Trusting, that you will give this publicity in your next, I remain,
Yours &c, H. Parker
Late Chief Officer of the Hope.

Regardless of the force of Chief Officer Parker's strongly worded rebuttal, it was almost certainly a blatant lie! Paine and Proudfoot could not have possibly known of the passage of the Hope past their temporary refuge, nor had they the slightest reason to fabricate such a story. It takes little imagination to understand why Parker had so vigorously defended Captain Cunningham. Leaving castaways pleading for rescue was a despicable act! Neither Payne nor Proudfoot, however, were present in Hobart Town to defend their version of events.

POSTSCRIPT: The Calcutta Gazette account was also published in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser on 16 April 1828. An abridged account was published in the same newspaper 10 months later under the heading of Britsh Extracts, the source being cited as the Sun.[6] This shows that the story of George Robinson’s “Robinson Crusoes” had ‘legs’ so to speak. The version published in the Sun apparently received wide circulation in a number of the journals of the period and was, quite possibly, translated into other languages. In 1867, around 40 years after the event, the French author Jules Verne (1828-1905) also incorporated the story into Les Enfants du capitaine Grant, the English translation of which was In Search of the Castaways, the 5th volume, or book, in his 54 volume Voyages Extraordinaires.

A Profusion of Confusion: The full extract from the Calcutta Gazette included a lengthy description of St. Paul Island (Île Saint-Paul) for reasons known only the editor. St. Paul lies ca. 85 km south of Amsterdam Island (Île Amsterdam). Apart from being volcanic, the islands bear not the slightest resemblance to each other. It is not a surprise that although Paine and Proudfoot knew St. Paul was the southern island of the pair they thought themselves to be on St. Paul because that was the name Robinson erroneously used for the northernmost island. The reason they could not see Amsterdam Island to the north was because they were standing on it! Had they climbed to the summit of their island on a clear day they would undoubtly seen St Paul Island to the south. Unfortunately, the summit, Mont de la Dives, 881 m., is often in cloud. The National Library of Australia has a collection of charts:
1781 Amsterdam Island, St. Poulo From a Dutch manuscript.[7]
1793 Island of St Paul's or Amsterdam If not sure of the name, call it by both![8]
1874 Amsterdam Island Plan also shows position relative to St. Paul Island.[9]


Visit the stories of Robinson's other castaways:
Castaways 1; Major Lockyer's ...complete set of pirates
Castaways 2; Certain Black Women, Natives of Van Diemen's Land


Sources

  1. Mauritius Gazette, No. 72, Saturday, 19 August 1826, Govt. Notices (part 2), p. 3.
  2. The Quarterly Oriental Magazine, Review and Register, Vol VIII, No. XVI (December 1827).
  3. Hobart Town Courier, 12/4/1828, p. 4 (Trove)
  4. Hobart Town Gazette, 3/2/1827, p. 2 (Trove).
  5. Hobart Town Courier, 19/4/1828, p 3 (Trove)
  6. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 16/4/1828, p. 4 (Trove); 12/2/1829, p. 3 (Trove); The Sun newspaper was published in London between 1 October 1792 —15 April 1876.
  7. National Library of Australia. Views of the island called Amsterdam: in the Pocock 5th July 1763 ; Island St Poulo / from a Dutch MS supposed by William Vlaming. Created/Published [London] : Published according to Act of Parliament by A. Dalrymple, June 1st. 1781.
  8. National Library of Australia. Island of St Paul's or Amsterdam in the Indian Ocean lat. 38° 42' S, long 76° 54' E /c as surveyed and measured by Captain Parish Feb. 7 1793.
  9. National Library of Australia. Amsterdam Island (uninhabited): from the running surveys of d'Entrecasteaux, 1792, and Navg. Lieutt. H. Hosken, R.N., under the orders of Commodore J. G. Goodenough, R.N.; H.M.S. Pearl, 1873. Landing place, Lat. 37.49'.0"S - Long. 77.33'0)EHMS Pearl, 1873 / engraved by Davies & Company. Created/Published: London. Published at the Admiralty 19th March 1874 under the Superintendence of Captain F.J. Evans, Hydrographer, sold by J.D. Potter, Agent for the sale of the Admiralty Charts, 31 Poultry & 11 King Street Tower Hill, 1874.




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