Sunday, 23 October 2011

Bligh and Two Tahitian Visitors, 1792

Thomas Gosse (1765-1844) Transplanting of the breadfruit trees from Otaheite.

Gosse issued his hand-coloured mezzotint in 1796 to celebrate the safe return of Bligh's second and successful breadfruit voyage on the Providence and Assistant.  Bligh is depicted overseeing the loading of plants.  National Library of Australia

Despite the total failure of Bligh’s first breadfruit voyage, which was ended by the Bounty mutiny of 28th April 1789, on his return to England in March 1790 interest still remained in breadfruit as a source of sustenance for the slaves in Britain’s Caribbean Colonies.  As a consequence of the Mutiny in October 1789 Bligh faced a Court Martial, which took place on HMS Royal William at Spithead, and was completely exonerated.

“This court finds that the seizure of His Majesty’s Armed Vessel Bounty was an act of mutiny by Fletcher Christian and others of her crew, and that her Captain Lieutenant William Bligh is, in the opinion of this court, to be exonerated of all blame on this occasion.  Indeed in the matter of his command of the Bounty’s open launch we commend Lieutenant Bligh for his courage and exemplary seamanship.”

Bligh was thus able to continue his career and, due once again to the efforts of Sir Joseph Banks, in March 1791 the King authorised a second breadfruit expedition and the appointment of Bligh to command it.  Gavin Kennedy in his 1978 biography of Bligh writes:

“This time a great deal more notice was taken of Bligh’s views as to what the expedition required.  He had lamented at length to his superiors the inadequate provision of the Bounty expedition, in particular the smallness of the armed vessel, the absence of a party of marines, the thinness of the command structure, the quality of the men sent with him as petty officers, and the delay in the sailing instructions.”

On August 3rd the newly built West Indiaman Providence accompanied by the brig Assistant left Spithead and sailing via the Cape and Tasmania anchored at Matavai Bay, Tahiti, on April 9th 1792.  This was Bligh’s third visit and he was gloomy about the influence of visitors to the Island.  “Paradise was degenerating into an island slum”, he wrote.
George Tobin, Wash Drawing. View in Matavai Bay 1792. Providence and Assistant.
Tobin was third Lieutenant on Providence.
There were several men on the expedition who had sailed before with Bligh.  Commanding Assistant was Nathaniel Portlock who was Master’s Mate on Discovery and, following Cook’s death in February 1779, crossed to Resolution to serve under Bligh.  When Bligh became ill shortly after the expedition left England, Portlock transferred to Providence as second in command and on his Commander's recovery returned to Assistant.

On board Providence were John Smith, Bligh’s servant on Bounty, and Lawrence Lebogue, Bounty’s sailmaker who had both survived the Mutiny and the open boat voyage to Timor to return to England.  Lebogue in fact had also sailed with Bligh in the West Indies prior to the Bounty voyage.  One man who wanted to return to Tahiti was William Peckover.  He had sailed on all three of Cook’s voyages and on Bounty, knew Tahiti well, and was reported to have been fairly fluent in the language.  He was to be disappointed.  On 17th July 1791 Bligh wrote to Joseph Banks:

“Should Peckover my late gunner ever trouble you to render him further services I shall esteem it a favour if you will tell him I informed you he was a vicious and worthless fellow.  He applied to me to render him service & wanted to be appointed Gunner of the Providence but as I had determined never to suffer an officer who was with me in the Bounty to sail with again, it was for that cause I did not apply for him.”

Also sailing With Bligh was the young Matthew Flinders who would later become one of the most successful navigators and cartographers of his age.  Bligh entrusted him with chartmaking, astronomical observations and the care of the precious and incredibly important timekeepers.  It was on Providence that Flinders first saw Australia and throughout his career encouraged the use of that name for the continent, which had previously been known as New Holland.  Bligh mentored Flinders just as fifteen years earlier he had been mentored by Cook.

As Bligh was arriving at Tahiti the ten surviving captured Bounty mutineers who had chosen not to sail to Pitcairn with Fletcher Christian but stayed behind on Tahiti, were embarking at Cape Town on HMS Gorgon for transport to England, for trial, and for three of them death by hanging from the yard arms of HMS Brunswick at Spithead on the 29th October 1792.  Gorgon was returning from the Third Fleet voyage to New South Wales to where she had carried six months provisions for the 900 people in the starving colony and thirty convicts.

Bligh’s stay at Tahiti was less problematic, and shorter, than his previous visit and by 16th July he was able to write in his log:  “Employed bringing the remainder of the Plants on board and various duties in completing for Sea, which kept us at Work the whole day without intermission.  By Night the Ship was truly well fitted and stowed.  Besides the Cabbin I appropriated the Quarter Deck abaft the Mizen Mast and other places to the use of the Plants, which enabled me to take 756 Plants more than could be expected – a Vast advantage.  The plants amounting to 2,126 Bread Fruit, 859 other Plants & 36 Curiosity Plants.”
Providence and Assistant finally departed on 20th July.  On Providence were some of the crew of the Third Fleet convict ship, turned whaler, Matilda, wrecked in February off Mururoa en route to Peru twenty-nine survivors of which had eventually returned to Tahiti.  Providence took thirteen, Assistant two and one convict stowaway and five others stayed on Tahiti.  The second mate and two sailors had sailed from Tahiti on 31st March in one of Matilda's whaleboats, never to be heard of again and the same day the Matilda’s Captain, Matthew Weatherhead, two men and two boys left on the brig Jenny.
Also on board Providence were two Tahitians, Mydiddee and Pappo.  A Tahitian chief, Tynah, had asked to make the journey himself but Bligh offered to take his servant instead.  This Man's name is Mydiddee, he is a fine Active Person about 22 Years of Age at most, and is considered above the common run of Men in all the exercises of this Country.  He exceeds most of them in quickness of apprehension, which is the first excellence next to their natural good disposition that we could chuse a Man for.  He is a Servant, and therefore a more eligible person for the purpose of learning than if he had been a Chief, admitting his intellects equal.  The School is common to all in this Country.  There is no knowledge to be gained in the History of the Country but by tradition, and the only education being the Company of the Chiefs and old People of distinction; wherever nature has planted good sense and a quick conception, the Individual whether Chief or Towtow,(servant) becomes informed and well educated.  Such a Towtow is more likely to benefit his Country than a Chief who would be only led into Idleness and Dissipation as soon as he arrived in Europe, as was the Case with Omai.”  Providence log 9th July 1792.
Tynah was not alone in wishing to leave Tahiti: “Many of the Natives are desirous of going with us, and have asked their Friends to shut them up in their Chests, and in Casks.”  Providence log 14th July.

It was only after sailing that one successful stowaway, Pappo, was found, Bligh writing in his log for 19th July: “To my astonishment I found a Man (who had always been with the Botanists in collecting and taking care of the Plants) secreted between Decks.  The Gale was too strong for me to beat back and land him, without much loss of time, when every moment is of the greatest consequence to me, and I had not a heart to make him jump over board.  While I was debating in my mind what was best to be done, the Botanists told me he had been a valuable Man to them, & would be of great use if I kept him.  As this was an act of the Man's own, I conceived he might be useful to our Friends in Jamaica in attending the Plants, about which he knew a great deal; and as he was an active fellow & a Towtow, I knew the People on Shore would be satisfied with the loss of him expecting to benefit by it in the end.  I thought it no worth delaying a moments time to land him, which might have delayed me another day, & therefore directed that he should be under the care of the Botanists to look after the Plants.”

Bligh’s astonishment must have come as a surprise to Matthew Flinders who had written in his log of 14th to 16th June: “One of the Men who used to attend the Botanists in their Excursions, and whom they named Jacketts is to go with us, and a Towtow of Adea's called Midedde the Captain intends taking to England and make him learn some Handicraft that when he returns he may be of some Service to his Country – Jacketts or Pappo as his Oteheitean Name is, will most probably be left at Jamaica with the Plants, with whichever of the Botanists stay, and it is intended that one of them should”

According to James Wiles, Providence’s principal botanist, Pappo had met Bligh during Bounty’s visit four years previously and “distinguished himself by his activity in supplying them with provisions and curiosities.”  When Fletcher Christian returned to Tahiti after the Mutiny Pappo accompanied him to Tubuai but when Christian returned for the last time prior to sailing to Pitcairn, Pappo remained on Tahiti.

Mydiddee and Pappo were not, of course, the first Tahitians to leave the Island with explorers.  The first Tahitian, Ahutoro or Aotourou, to visit Europe was taken on board the Boudeuse by Bougainville during his 1766 to 1769 circumnavigation.  Quick to acquire some French the young Ahutoro was able to tell Bougainville of Wallis' visit several months before.  Bougainville agreed to take him to visit France and soon found him a valuable source of information and a useful interpreter.  After eleven months in Paris Ahutoro set out to return to Tahiti but died of smallpox off Madagascar on 4th November 1771.

Arriving in July 1774 on Adventure, which had until the previous October, accompanied Cook’s Resolution on his second voyage was the first Pacific Islander to reach British shores and who became widely known as Omai.  In his early twenties, within days of arriving he was presented to the King and Queen at Kew and was lionised by Polite Society.  In the two years he stayed in Britain he met the "best people", dined at the Royal Society and botanised with Joseph Banks. He returned to Tahiti on Cook's third Voyage.
Not all Islanders survived the journey.  On Cook’s first voyage Joseph Banks decided to take back to Europe "a curiosity” of this newly discovered society.  Unfortunately his choice, the priest Tupaia, predeceased by his servant Taiata, died of disease contracted at Batavia, along with numerous members of Endeavour's crew.  Banks’ Journal July 12th 1769 reads: “The Captn refuses to take him on his own account......I therefore have resolvd to take him.  Thank heaven I have a sufficiency and I do not know why I may not keep him as a curiosity, as well as some of my neighbours do lions and tygers.....”  In fact Tupaia was a not only a priest but a warrior, navigator and artist and Banks admitted that "What makes him more than anything else desirable is his experience in the navigation of these people and knowledge of the islands in these seas" Tupaia more than fulfilled expectations and in the eighteen months before he died he acted as guide, interpreter and mediator.
Passing through the Torres Strait from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean Bligh arrived at Coupang and was delighted to meet the new Governor who, as the previous Governor’s assistant had been such a help to him when he had arrived in 1789 in the Bounty’s boat.  Through well-charted seas via the Cape of Good Hope on December 17th in thirteen fathoms of water half a mile from shore at Jamestown, Providence, dropped anchor with her cargo of breadfruit, the Matilda survivors and two Tahitians with Assistant in company.

Bligh informed Governor Brooke of his orders “to give into his care 10 breadfruit plants, and one of every kind (of which I had five), as would secure to the island a lasting supply of this valuable fruit which our most gracious King had ordered to be planted there”.  Mydiddee and Pappo, “were delighted with what they saw here, as Colonel Brooke showed them kind attention, had them to stay at his house, and gave them each a suit of red clothes.  . We are very much obliged to this Gentleman for his polite and kind attention.  St. Helena has derived great benefit under his Government, his improvements are remarkable, but not yet completed.”  In turn they demonstrated the use of Sago, Bligh writing that “The Peeah (Sago) was the only plant that required a particular description.  I therefore took our Otahetian friends to the Governor's House where they made a pudding of the prepared part of its root, some of which I had brought from Otahitee.”  The Governor was more appreciative of Bligh’s efforts than some others, Bligh writing: “Among the St. Helena people in general there was not that satisfaction expressed at receiving the Plants I expected.  They did not consider our visit to them was to render an essential good to the Island....”
Mydiddee, in particular, seems to have enjoyed the delights of Jamestown.  James Tobin, third lieutenant on Providence, wrote in his journal:  “Both the Otahyteans were frequently on shore and highly delighted with the buildings and fortifications, but the military band at the relief of Guard, afforded them more gratification than anything they had yet seen.  The mistaken hospitality of someone was the means of Mideedee getting much intoxicated, of which he was so much ashamed as for several weeks to be continually expressing his sorrow at it.
Flinders wrote:  December 18th:  Captain Bligh & several of the Officers, with the two Otaheiteans on shore in their Native dress, much pleased with the Band and our European military Parade; particularly with the little Drummers, which they laughed heartily at.

James Wiles' letter to Sir Joseph Banks from St. Helena informing him of the successful arrival of the breadfruit Plants.
The 27th December to a thirteen gun salute from the Battery on Ladder Hill, Providence sailed for the West Indies leaving behind Gunners Mate Thomas Mathers, “a stout and able man supposed to have been enticed away by the Towns People”.  Flinders opined that “being in an embarrassed situation in England he preferred staying here”

Arriving at St Vincent on January 23rd 1793 they received a civic welcome and left about 500 plants in the care of the botanical gardens.  Tobin wrote that: “The small pox was prevailing in the Island, which induced Captain Bligh to have Baubo (Pappo) and Mideedee inoculated.  The confidence they placed in him quieted any apprehensions they otherwise might have entertained, yet could they not well reconcile the idea of voluntarily inflicting disease, when told that it was commonly practiced.  They received the infection favourably, but afterwards at Jamaica suffered much from illness; indeed Mideedee's health and cheerfulness had been on the decline a long while, nor can it be said that he ever enjoyed the former except for three or four months from his first becoming our shipmate.”
Sailing on to Jamaica to deposit the remainder of the plants, on 10th February Bligh wrote: “A Committee during the Afternoon determined on dividing the Plants among the Counties, & to have two general deposits, one at East Garden, & the other at Bath.  They agreed with Mr. James Wiles one of our Gardeners to pay him 200 pounds Sterling a Year to remain at Bath, & promised to give such things as were necessary to his Board and Dwelling.  Bobbo (Pappo) our Otaheite Friend had no fixed sum allowed him, he was however to live with Mr. Wiles & to be found in everything until further provision could be made.”  However both Pappo and Mydiddee were sick, Bligh writing on 3rd March:
“Being returned from Bath, & the residence of the Gardener James Wiles & the Otaheitean Bobbo fixed on; I had to borrow a Kitterreen [carriage] to carry the latter to Bath, for both him and his Companion (poor fellows,) were but barely fit to remove out of the House.  He was a little low spirited when he took his leave of me and cried, "I am sorry to part from you, he said, but as I agreed, I will remain here with Wild (sic) to take care of the Plants"  With his Companion he felt no pain at parting; the farewell was like that for an hour.  Bobbo is a very chearfull Man, and I am confident will be happy and well taken care of. I really think he will be the means of the Breadfruit being brought early into use, & on that account his life is valuable to Jamaica. Mydiddee was sent on Board extremely ill, and I likewise embarked in a bad state of health.

Pappo didn’t survive long on Jamaica. The Postscript to the Kingston Jamaica Royal Gazette October 26th to November 2nd 1793 reported the death of Pappo.  “On Sunday last, the 27th ult, died at Bath, in St Thomas in the East, Pappo, the Otaheitean who was left on this island to assist in cultivating the Bread Fruit and other Otaheite plants.”  James Wiles commenting in print that “He was an exceeding good natured harmless creature, had no ambition, learnt very little English and appeared to be about 34 years old.”  Faint praise indeed for someone who abandoned the relative security of his island home to sail half way round the world.

Wiles remained in Jamaica, being appointed Island Botanist in 1803 and acquired two small coffee estates.  In 1823 he made his only return visit to England but, having been absent 32 years, he found "men and things so much changed - for the better no doubt", but he wrote, "that I am but a foreigner here". He died in Jamaica on 9th October 1851, aged 83.
Held in port by the outbreak of war with France, it wasn’t until 15th June that Providence and Assistant were able to set sail for England and the two ships arrived home on 7th August 1793 with a cargo of 1,283 plants from the West Indies for Kew Gardens.  Mydiddee’s time in England, however, was to be even shorter than Pappo’s had been on Jamaica, Bligh recording his decline and death;
9th August.  Our Otaheite Friend became so ill I was obliged to send him to Lodgings & Sick Quarters at Deptford.
4th September.  Our Otaheite Friend died at Deptford.  On Thursday I sent a surgeon from Town to see him opened.  His Lungs were found decayed.
6th September.  The Commissioners attended and payed the Ship off, and in the Evening our Otaheite Friend was buried in Deptford New Church Yard in the Parish of St. Pauls. I shall ever remember him with esteem & regard.
Tobin’s journal noted Mydiddee’s death and his revulsion at the gibbets on the Thames.
“The ship being cleared of stores and provisions was this day put out of commission. And, as has been before mentioned, poor Mideedee also this day struck his pendant.  One of the last objects which called forth the feelings of this gentle islander was the number of our countrymen suspended on gibbets in chains on the banks of the Thames as we sailed by.  His soul sickened and revolted at so sad a spectacle, nor perhaps, did he ever so much wish to be again among his countrymen, where such sights are unknown, as at the moment these victims to civilized law first caught his eye.”
The Annual Register for 1793 also recorded his passing:
September 4.  Yesterday died, at his lodgings at Deptford, a native of Otaheite, who was lately brought over by Captain Bligh, in the Providence frigate.  He was subject to pulmonary affections, had been frequently ill during the voyage and twice recovered from imminent death, by the unremitting attentions of his friends, who were ever ready to contribute whatever had a tendency to promote his health and comfort, particularly his patron captain Bligh.  This unfortunate young man was seized, shortly after his arrival, with intestine complaints, and became much better, when a violent recurrence of his symptoms on Friday morning tended to accelerate his dissolution: his native suavity of manners had endeared him to all who knew him, and his death is sincerely lamented by every individual engaged in the expedition.

Bligh arranged Mydiddee’s funeral and for a headstone but the latter was never done until 2nd August 1998 when the memorial stone below was placed in St Paul's Churchyard Deptford and dedicated by the bishop of Polynesia Jabeb Bryce.  Instrumental in giving this fitting tribute to this young and adventurous Tahitian were Father Peter Fellows and Timothy Waters, a member of the Pitcairn Island Study Group.
The epitaph was written by Edward Harwood, Surgeon on Providence
Positive to the last, Bligh’s last entry in his log reads: This Voyage has terminated with success, without accident, or a moments separation of the two Ships. It gives the first & only satisfactory account of the pass between New Guinea & New Holland, if I except some Vague accounts of Tores in 1606. Other interesting Discoveries will be found in it.
Gavin Kennedy’s assessment of the voyage was not so positive.  “By the time of his return Bligh was out of favour both with the public and with the Admiralty.  The trial of the mutineers (which had taken place during his expedition), and the subsequent spreading of rumour and gossip by the Heywood and Christian families, had tarnished his reputation.  Even his success in transplanting the breadfruit was regarded by the scientific world as a triumph for Sir Joseph Banks, who had sponsored the expedition, rather than for Bligh.  The honour went to the botanists, not to the crew of the ship.”

Postscript:  Even as Bligh was on his Bounty voyage in 1787 the French were ahead of the British in recognising the value of breadfruit as a food supplement especially for the climate of their Caribbean possessions and for the hundreds of thousands of captive mouths they had to feed there.  On July 15th 1788 aboard the slave ship Alexandre a botanical shipment arrived from the Ile-de-France (Mauritius) gardens accompanied by a government botanist.  The shipment included pepper plants, cinnamon tress, mango trees mangosteen fruit and a few breadfruit trees from Tahiti.  Kept in the ship’s hold, nearly all the plants died before arriving at Saint Domingue (Haiti).  But seventeen different types of tree and plant and sixteen different types of seed did survive including the breadfruit tree.

Log Books of the Providence Voyage, and much, much more, are available on line at the most comprehesive Bligh and Bounty related site on the internet which does exactly what it says with "The original source documents all in one place". A  fantastic work of scholarship and coding.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Byron, Wallis, Carteret and Philatelic Licence

John Byron by Joshua Reynolds, 1759, National Maritime Museum Greenwich

Byron and Dolphin June 1764 to May 1766
On the 21st June 1764 Commodore John Byron sailed HMS Dolphin from the Downs, sent by the British Admiralty, who had been persuaded by George III, to search for the great southern continent, believed to lie in the South Pacific.  With Dolphin were HMS Tamar captained by Patrick Mouat and the supply ship Florida.
Byron was accompanied on Dolphin by midshipman Charles Clerke later to sail on all three of Cook’s voyages and, following Cook’s death in 1779, took over command of Resolution.  Also sailing with Byron was master's mate John Gore who would sail on Dolphin’s second circumnavigation and on Cook’s first and third voyages.  When Clerke died (on his thirty-eighth birthday) from tuberculosis en route to Kamchatka in August 1779 Gore commanded the Resolution and Discovery expedition back to England.  Starting out on the Tamar before being promoted to First Lieutenant on the Dolphin was Philip Carteret, of whom more later.
Late 1764 and early 1765 were spent surveying Patagonia, the Straits of Magellan and the Falkland Islands., from where Florida returned to England with a message recommending that the islands be colonised.  This was nearly the cause of war between Great Britain and Spain, both countries having armed fleets ready to contest the sovereignty of the barren islands.
Byron had previously been in the area as a midshipman on HMS Wager, part of George Anson’s ill-fated 1740 to1744 expedition.  In May 1741 Wager was wrecked on the coast of Patagonia and it wasn’t until February 1746 that he was able to return to England.
Getting through the Straits of Magellan and into the Pacific took six frustrating weeks and by the time the ships came to what is now French Polynesia, the crew were suffering quite badly from scurvy, and this had a major influence on the conduct of the voyage through the Pacific.  They were desperate to restock with fresh supplies, in particular coconuts and fresh vegetables for the sick.  However, the local inhabitants opposed any landings with shows of arms, and coupled with the difficulty of anchoring near to the coral atolls, prompted Byron to name the first of them the Islands of Disappointment.  The ships went on to the Cook Islands, the Gilbert Islands and the Marianas, before heading back to Britain via the Philippines, Batavia, the Cape of Good Hope and St. Helena, which they passed on Sunday March 16th 1766 without stopping.

On April 1st after sustaining damage to her rudder, Tamar was diverted to Antigua to be fitted with a new one.  One of Byron's last official acts before entering port was to confiscate the journals kept by his crew members, a matter of routine on Navy voyages that was intended to guard against security leaks and guarantee that only the official, government-sanctioned version of the voyage would reach the public. Dolphin reached the Downs on the 9th May, Tamar a month later, the journey having taken just over 22 months which at the time was the fastest ever circumnavigation of the globe, but the discoveries made were very limited and the Admiralty made rapid plans to send the Dolphin back to the Pacific.

Samuel Wallis by Henry Stubble, ca 1785, National Library of Australia

Wallis and Dolphin August 1766 to May 1768
Losing no time, on the 19th August the Admiralty recalled Captain Samuel Wallis to active service and gave him sailing orders to take HMS Dolphin back to the Pacific for a second expedition.  Accompanying him was HMS Swallow under the command of Philip Carteret, (who had only been back in England three months), and the store-ship Prince Frederick.  Wallis kept his orders secret from Carteret until they were three weeks out at sea. Carteret thought that the fleet was going to re-provision the settlement at Port Egmont in the Falkland Islands but the real objective of the fleet was to sail for Magellan Straits where the Prince Frederick would head back to the Falklands and the Dolphin and the Swallow were to sail west for further exploration in the Pacific.  After struggling through the Magellan Straits for 115 days, they reached the Pacific Ocean where on 11th April 1767 the Swallow, in no fit state to undertake the journey in the first place, was separated from the Dolphin.  On 23rd June Dolphin arrived at Tahiti and Wallis sent Tobias Furneaux, the second lieutenant, ashore to claim it for England naming it King George Island.  Furneaux would return to Tahiti in 1773 as Captain of Adventure accompanying Resolution on Cook's second voyage.
Wallis and his crew had communication and cultural difficulties and sailed from Tahiti on 27th July after having refitted the Dolphin and loaded up with water and fresh food.  They sailed to the islands to the west of Samoa that now bear his name, to Tinian and on to Batavia where Wallis lost forty men to smallpox and most of his crew were unfit for duty on the crossing of the Indian Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope. 

 The Dolphin had to spend a month in South Africa so that the crew could recover their health. On the 17th March 1768 Dolphin arrived at Jamestown but left at noon the following day.
“At six o’ clock in the evening of Wednesday the 16th we saw the Island of St. Helena, at the distance of about four leagues and at one the next morning brought to.  At break of day we made sail for the island and at nine anchored in the bay.  The fort saluted us with thirteen guns and we returned the same number.  We found riding here the Northumberland Indiaman, Captain Milford, who saluted us with eleven guns and we returned nine.  We got out all the boats as soon as possible and sent the empty casks to be filled with water; at the same time several of the people were employed to gather purslain (purslane) which grows here in great plenty.  About two o’ clock I went on shore myself and was saluted by the fort with thirteen guns, which I returned. The Governor and the principal gentlemen of the island did me the honour to meet me at the water-side, and having conducted me to the fort, told me, that it was expected that I should make it my home during my stay.  By noon the next day our water was completed and the ship was made ready for sea; soon after she was unmoored to take advantage of the first breeze, and at five in the afternoon I returned on board.  Upon my leaving the shore I was saluted with thirteen guns, and soon after upon getting under way I was saluted with thirteen more, both of which I returned; the Northumberland Indiaman then saluted me with thirteen guns, so did the Ollery, which arrived her the evening before I made sail, and I returned the compliment with the same number.”

St Helena, Jamestown, Dolphin Postal Stone 1645
The postal stone outside the Castle in Jamestown refers to a much earlier ship.  Dolphin finally reached England on the 18th May 1768 after a twenty-one month circumnavigation becoming the first ship to sail twice around the world.  It was presumed by Wallis that the Swallow had been lost; it was reported as such when they reached Britain and James Cook believed this to be the case when he left Plymouth for Tahiti in the Endeavour with Joseph Banks in August of that year. 
Why Tahiti?  Dr Nevil Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal and fellow of the Royal Society, had calculated that the best possible vantage point south of the equator to observe the 1769 Transit of Venus was between the Marquesas Islands and Tonga.  The preferred site within this large area had not yet been determined when Wallis returned to England having “discovered” Tahiti, located almost at the centre of the area identified by Maskelyne.  Tahiti’s longitude had been established by the Dolphin’s purser, John Harrison, (not the John Harrison of Longitude fame) using Maskelyne’s astronomical tables to perform the mathematically complicated but effective method of calculating lunar distances.  Thus it was that the Royal Society informed the Admiralty that Tahiti was its desired site for the Pacific observation of the transit, and Cook set sail accompanied by John Gore who knew more about the Pacific than anyone else on the ship and three other Dolphin seamen, Molyneaux, Pickersgill and Wilkinson.

Philip Carteret
Carteret and Swallow April 1767 to March 1769
But Swallow was not lost, just abandoned and Carteret felt bitter and angry about having been left with a slug of a ship and an inadequate crew.  He sailed for Juan Fernandez Island intending to refit but it was occupied by Spanish colonists and he was forced to sail to the island of Mas Afuera where there was no safe anchorage and they had trouble getting water.  (Mas Afuera is one of a group of islands about 600km from the coast of Chile and, since they are mainly known for having been the home to the sailor Alexander Selkirk for four years, which may have inspired the novel Robinson Crusoe, have been renamed Alejandro Selkirk Island, Santa Clara Island and Robinson Crusoe Island).  They left on the 31st May with only half a supply of food and water and sailed north in order to pick up the trade winds to get them across the Pacific.
Sailing west just south of the tropics Carteret describes in his log the discovery for which this expedition is best remembered:

“We continued our course westward till the evening of Thursday the 2nd of July, when we discovered land to the northward of us.  Upon approaching it the next day, it appeared like a great rock rising out of the sea.  It was not more than five miles in circumference, and seemed to be uninhabited.  It was however covered with trees, and we saw a small stream of fresh water running down one side of it.  I would have landed upon it, but the surf, which at this season broke upon it with great violence, rendered it impossible.  I got soundings on the west side of it, at somewhat less than a mile from shore, in twenty five fathoms, with a bottom of coral and sand, and it is probable that in fine summer weather, landing here may not only be practicable, but very easy.  We saw a great number of sea birds hovering about it, at somewhat less than a mile from the shore, and the sea here seemed to have fish.  It lies in latitude 25°, 2′ south, longitude 133°, 21′ west, and about a thousand leagues to the westward of the continent of America.  It is so high that we saw it at the distance of more than fifteen leagues; and it having been discovered by a young gentleman, son to Major Pitcairn of the marines, who was unfortunately lost in the Aurora, we called it PITCAIRN'S ISLAND."
Carteret, sailing without a chronometer was unable to precisely determine longitude so his recorded position of 133.21 W placed Pitcairn over 200 miles from its true position of 130.06 W.  That twenty-three years later Pitcairn was able to provide a refuge for the mutineers from HMS Bounty, not finally being discovered until 1808 is undoubtedly due in part to the fact that nobody in the Royal Navy knew precisely where the island was.  The error was also compounded in the first edition of Hawkesworth where the latitude in the text disagreed with the map position by an additional 350 miles.  Following the Mutiny on April 28th 1789 Fletcher Christian not only took over Bligh's cabin but his library.  Thus the mutineers of the Bounty were able to seek Pitcairn Island as their refuge in January 1790 because they had on board Hawkesworth's volumes and read therein the report of Carteret's discovery in 1767.  That they found the island despite the errors is remarkable but of such errors are legends born.
Carteret turned north and sailed west of the Society Islands and east of Samoa.  At about 10 00 S 167.00 W Dolphin veered to the west, looking for the Solomon Islands. He found Santa Cruz, but had to sail away without all the supplies they needed.  Leaving New Ireland on 9th September 1767 they made for Mindanao in the southern Philippines where the natives fired guns to signal them not to land so Carteret moved on and sailed between Sulawesi and Borneo to Batavia where the Swallow was repaired and re-provisioned for the voyage home.  Carteret could not wait to get away from Batavia because of the sickness and left on 15th September with many of his crew sick with malaria or dysentery.  The Swallow took two months to cross the Indian Ocean to Cape Town.  Leaving in the new year of 1769, from the 20th to 24th January they were at St Helena some ten months after Wallis. 

Following closely behind Carteret, passing St. Helena on 29th January, was Bougainville in the Boudeuse returning to France from his own 1766 to 1769 circumnavigation. 

 Bougainville had received news of Carteret at Batavia and at the Cape and reaching the (then) uninhabited Ascension on the 4th February he read a note left in a bottle informing him that the Swallow had departed on 1st February.  After collecting turtles, as Carteret had done, on the 19th February Swallow was sighted and Bougainville offered Carteret assistance, which was politely declined.  Bougainville described Swallow as being in poor condition and wondered how it had sailed so far and how miserable it must have been on the ship.  In any event Carteret finally arrived back in England on 20th March.
Which brings us to the philatelic licence of Swallow and Dolphin together at St Helena.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

St. Matthew Island and two St. Helenas

1519, St. Helena, Atlas Nautique du Monde, Biblioteheque National de France
The genesis of this post was the page in the Maps and Views section of Barry Weaver’s St Helena Virtual Library and Archive illustrated by a part of Jansson’s 1646 map “Mar di Æthiopia Vulgo Oceanus Æthiopicus which describes the appearance, on early maps, of the mythical islands of New St. Helena and St. Matthew.  It can be accessed here: 

As he suggests: “the mislocation of islands was inevitable given the large navigational errors common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but once added to sea charts such islands proved extremely resilient, even in spite of a lack of any further evidence to support their existence.”

1547,Vallard Atlas, St. Matthew and St. Helena, South Orientation
Click on images to enlarge

1554, Gastaldi, St. Matthew and St. Helena, South Orientation

1570, Ortelius, St. Matthew

1596, Linschoten, St. Matthew and St. Helena

In 1656 Peter Mundy refers to St Matthew Island when writing about Ascension:
Soe now againe concerning the Ascention birds allsoe, thatt can neither fly nor swymme.  The iland beeing aboutt 300 leagues from the coast of Guinnea and 160 leagues from the iland of St Matheo, the nearest land to it, the question is, how they shold bee generated, whither created there from the beginning, or thatt the earth produceth them of its owne accord, as mice, serpentts, flies, wormes, etts, insects, or whither the nature of the earth and climate have alltred the shape and nature of some other foule into this, I leave it to the learned to dispute of.

By 1634, in addition to St. Matthew, a second St. Helena started to appear on Maps and Charts.

1634, Guerard, Carte Universelle Hydrographique, Biblioteque National de France

1664, Du Val, I Ste Helene la nouvelle

1689, Coronelli

Though admitting that the New Isle of St Helena was thought by many to be legendary, St. Matthew is described as having a small lake of good fresh water and that it was discovered in 1526.

1706, Schenck

1717, Nicholas de Fer

1722, Nicholas de Fer
De Fer repeats the same information about St. Matthew as the 1689 Coronelli map

On his second voyage Cook sailed on “Resolution” from St. Helena on the 21st May 1775.  On the 31st May he left Ascension and “steered to the northward with a fine gale at S. E. by E.”  “I had a great desire to visit the island of St. Matthew, to settle its situation; but as I found the wind would not let me fetch it, I steered for the island of Fernando de Noronha, on the coast of Brazil in order to determine its longitude, as I could not find this had yet been done.  Carrying on board Kendall’s KI chronometer "Resolution" was the first survey ship to carry such an instrument and had St Matthew existed would have been charted with some accuracy.

Purdy's 1814 "Tables of the observed positions of the principal points and places on the coasts of the Atlantic, Ethiopic and Indian Oceans" casts doubt on the existence of St. Matthew:

"We are told, by several historic geographers, that St. Matthew is an island discovered by the Portuguese, in the year 1516, by whom it was afterwards planted; and that vessels frequently stop here some days to take in refreshments.  Guthrie says (Edition of 1783) the Portuguese " planted and kept possession of it for some time; but afterwards deserted it.  This island now remains uninhabited, having little to invite other nations to settle there, except a small lake of fresh water."

"We think it not improbable that this island, like the Land of Bus, in the Northern Ocean, may have entirely disappeared.  Archihald Dalzel, Governor of Cape Coast Castle, sought for it, without success, in 1799 and 1802, and it appears almost certain, from his routes, between 1 and 2 degrees South, longitude, 3 to 10° W. that it does not exist within this space.  "Mr. Dalzel has made many enquiries among the Portuguese about this island, without meeting with any person who pretended to have seen it, except one, who gave him a rough draught of it, which was laughed at by the other Brasilians, who said he must have been deceived by a cloud."

It did, however, still appear on the 1828 German map below.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Great Wood Wall

Line of The Wall from Flagstaff

The Great Wood Wall around Middlepoint, crossing Bilberry Field Gut and rising towards Bottom Woods is all that remains of the stone wall built by the East India Company in an attempt to protect its own future wood supplies in The Great Wood from destruction from “browsing by goats and rooting by swine”.  Built in the period 1723 – 1727, mainly by Governor John Smith only about 150 acres were completely enclosed, the scheme was ultimately unsuccessful, none of the original trees remain and only around 800 metres of the original wall.

The best exposition of the "devastation of the native vegetation and the ecological despoilaton" of St. Helena, The Wall and The Vanishing Great Wood can be found in Ashmole and Ashmole, St Helena and Ascension Island: a natural history.  Published by Nelson in 2000.

Looking North towards Flagstaff

Janisch’s Extracts from the St Helena Records describes, year after year, the frustration and impotence of successive Governors to prevent the over-exploitation and ultimately the destruction of the natural assets of St. Helena.

Rising from Bilberry Field Gut towards Bottom Woods

Both Beatson’s 1816 “Tracts relative to the Island of St. Helena and JC Melliss’ 1875 “Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island” describe in detail, to quote Ashmole “the inexorable progress of the tragedy of the commons, the remorseless destruction of a potentially sustainable resource by a number of independent exploiters following their own self-interest even though the result in the long run is a disaster for everyone.

Looking South-East across Bilberry Field Gut

Alfred Russel Wallace in “Island Life” published in1880 summarised the effects on St. Helena by European occupation. When first discovered, in the year 1501, St. Helena was densely covered with luxuriant forest vegetation, the trees overhanging the seaward precipices and covering every part of the surface with an evergreen mantle.  This indigenous vegetation has been almost wholly destroyed; and although an immense number of foreign plants have been introduced, and have more or less completely established themselves, yet the general aspect of the island is now so barren and forbidding that some persons find it difficult to believe that it was once all green and fertile.  The cause of the change is, however, very easily explained.  The rich soil formed by decomposed volcanic rock and vegetable deposits could only be retained on the steep slopes so long as it was protected by the vegetation to which it in great part owed its origin.  When this was destroyed, the heavy tropical rains soon washed away the soil, and left a vast expanse of bare rock or sterile clay.  This irreparable destruction was caused in the first place by goats, which were introduced by the Portuguese in 1513, and increased so rapidly that in 1588, they existed in thousands.  These animals are the greatest of all foes to trees, because they eat off the young seedlings, and thus prevent the natural restoration of the forest.  They were, however, aided by the reckless waste of man.  The East India Company took possession of the island in 1651, and about the year 1700 it began to be seen that the forests were fast diminishing, and required some protection.  Two of the native trees, redwood and ebony, were good for tanning, and to save trouble the bark was wastefully stripped from the trunks only, the remainder being left to rot; while in 1709 a large quantity of the rapidly disappearing ebony was used to burn lime for building fortifications.  By the records quoted in Mr. Melliss' interesting volume on St. Helena it is evident that the evil consequences of allowing the trees to be destroyed were clearly foreseen, as the following passages show: "We find the place called the Great Wood in a flourishing condition, full of young trees, where the hoggs (of which there is a great abundance) do not come to root them up.  But the Great Wood is miserably lessened and destroyed within our memories, and is not near the circuit and length it was.  But we believe it does not contain now less than fifteen hundred acres of fine woodland and good ground, but no springs of water but what is salt or brackish, which we take to be the reason that that part was not inhabited when the people first chose out their settlements and made plantations; but if wells could be sunk, which the governor says he will attempt when we have more hands, we should then think it the most pleasant and healthiest part of the island. But as to healthiness, we don't think it will hold so if the wood that keeps the land warm were destroyed, for then the rains, which are violent here, would carry away the upper soil, and it being a clay marl underneath would produce but little; as it is, we think in case it were enclosed it might be greatly improved" ... "When once this wood is gone the island will soon be ruined" ... "We viewed the wood's end which joins the Honourable Company's plantation called the Hutts, but the wood is so destroyed that the beginning of the Great Wood is now a whole mile beyond that place, and all the soil between being washed away, that distance is now entirely barren."  In 1709 the governor reported to the Court of Directors of the East India Company that the timber was rapidly disappearing, and that the goats should be destroyed for the preservation of the ebony wood, and because the island was suffering from droughts.  The reply was, "The goats are not to be destroyed, being more valuable than ebony." Thus, through the gross ignorance of those in power, the last opportunity of preserving the peculiar vegetation of St. Helena, and preventing the island from becoming the comparatively rocky desert it now is, was allowed to pass away. Even in a mere pecuniary point of view the error was a fatal one, for in the next century (in 1810) another governor reports the total destruction of the great forests by the goats, and that in consequence the cost of importing fuel for government use was £2,729. 7s. 8d. for a single year.

Looking South

Drainage Detail
Looking North into Bilberry Field Gut

Looking South towards Bottom Woods

Rising towards Bottom Woods

Photographs taken in May 2010.