“The ‘Wandering Minstrel’ was purchased in Hong Kong … Sailors believe in lucky and unlucky ships. I never did – but I do now. She ruined her builders; everyone that owned her, regretted it; … From the time of sailing, Friday, October the 13th, 1887, we had nothing but gales, a typhoon and ill luck ….” (Walker)
So starts the story of Captain Frederick Dunbar Walker, born in Dublin, Ireland, December 3, 1838, and his family – their misadventures aboard the ‘Wandering Minstrel’ and life in Honolulu.
“The Wandering Minstrel, a 500-ton bark, left Hong Kong on September 3, 1887, on a shark fishing expedition. It was Captain Walker’s intention to be gone a year and a half. The first port touched at was Honolulu”. (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, August 15, 1900)
“(S)he sailed from Honolulu, December 10th, 1887, on a fishing cruise, with a crew of 24 hands and 4 passengers, arrived at French Frigate Shoals on the 18th December, left same place December 27th, arrived at Midway Island, and anchored in Welles’ Harbour, Jan. 9th, 1888.”
“On February 2nd a strong wind and sea sprung up, so that she was unable to get out, and on the following day became a total loss.” (Board of Trade Wreck Report for ‘Wandering Minstrel,’ 1889)
“During their enforced sojourn on this forsaken place the Walkers existed entirely on bird’s egg, fish and a shark and a turtle which they were fortunate to capture … Sometimes the party were a week without food…”
“On the Island was found a man named Jorgensen, a Dane, who was one of the crew of the ship named the General Siegel, which had been wrecked on the Island some time before.”
“Jorgensen had murdered the captain and a man of the ‘General Siegel,’ and after the killing the crew had deserted him, having previously destroyed another boat and gone in the remaining boat to the Marshall Islands six months before the Wandering Minstrel went to pieces on the reef.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, August 15, 1900)
“About three months after the wreck six of the crew took the best boat we had at nighttime, and went to Green Island, and from thence the following day started for the open sea. A heavy gale set in that night, and there is no doubt all perished, as no tidings were ever heard of them.”
“Our life was one continual hunt for food. Six men left for Green Island and lived there and were never sick, though the water was a dirty greenish color, owing to decayed vegetable matter. Several of us on Sand Island, however, were ill with scurvy. Three died.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, October 24, 1909)
“The castaways were at last rescued by the schooner Norma, from Yokohama, engaged in shark fishing. The captain of the Norma had been told by friends of the Walkers in Yokohama to keep a sharp lookout for them, and he called at Midway Island in pursuance of what he admitted to be forlorn hope.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, August 15, 1900)
“Of the twenty-nine souls wrecked, six were drowned by the upsetting of a boat, one was murdered, three succumbed to the ravages of beri-beri, two died of starvation, one died on the way home and was buried at sea, and only sixteen of the original complement came back alive to Honolulu”.
“(A)mong that number are the five members of the Walker family, whose survival is all the more wonderful on account of their being the least fitting to stand the hardships endured. (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, August 15, 1900)
Walker’s three sons “have grown up with the town as enterprising and useful citizens, while he himself had been active to the last in various commercial and industrial projects.” (Honolulu Star Bulletin, November 20, 1916)
The sons are, “Frederick GE Walker (a photographer,) Henry E Walker of the Walker rice mill, and Charles D Walker who is engaged in the boat-building business here.” (Hawaiian Gazette, November 21, 1916)
The experience obviously didn’t deter the brothers from going to sea. They raced boats; Charles, “recently returned from Japan, where he had gone to challenge Japanese yachtsmen to compete for a Hawaiian cup … stating that he will race a Hawaiian-built boat in Japanese waters on certain conditions.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 13, 1904)
Son Henry showed, “The milling of rice is not confined to the Chinese, as is the cultural phase of the industry. One of the largest and most modern of the rice mills is conducted by Mr HE Walker in Honolulu.” (Hawaiʻi Experiment Station, 1906)
The three boys also left a lasting legacy to their mother, Elizabeth. Down the short Mission Lane, just below Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Museum, in the shadow of Kawaiahaʻo Church, is the ‘Elizabeth Building.) (It’s still there.)
The brothers lived on the top two floors and maintained a carriage shop on the street level. The older brick building next door (‘Mews’) served as their place of business, which included carriage and boat shops. (“Mews” is a British slang term for stables.) (Burlingame)
Another family legacy lives on … “Captain Walker once related the story to Mr Strong, a son-in-law of Robert Louis Stevenson, and it is shrewdly suspected in certain quarters that the diverting tale of “The Wrecker” is based on none other than the experiences of the survivors of the Wandering Minstrel.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, August 15, 1900)
Walker liked life in the Islands. “Homeward bound – for Honolulu – beautiful Honolulu, justly called the ‘Paradise of the Pacific.’ I am unable to state how many residents there are who came as visitors, either on business or pleasure, and remained permanently.”
“Many, like myself, are sea waifs, rescued from shipwreck, brought here and declined to move on, but commenced life anew, and are now well satisfied with their decision.” (Walker) Walker became a naturalized citizen on September 21, 1906.
The image shows Frederick Dunbar Walker. In addition, I have added others similar images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.