‘Mu nin to’ or ‘Bu nin to’ are the Japanese sounds for three Chinese ideographs which would be translated ‘no man island.’ A group of Islands later took the name Bonin Islands.
A Spanish explorer, Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, was reported to have discovered the islands in 1543; he had given the name Arzobispo to the islands.
Villalobos commanded an exploring expedition that sailed from Mexico some time in 1542 or 1543. After reaching the Philippines on August 26, 1543, he sent off a small ship, the San Juan, having a crew of eighteen or twenty men, to explore in a northerly direction.
Somewhere about the beginning of October they sighted some islands, which from the description were almost certainly some of the Bonin group. They did not land and shortly afterwards steered back for the Philippines, and the chief reason given is that their stock of water was not sufficient for them to proceed.
In about the year 1675 a Japanese vessel was driven by a storm to these islands which, though uninhabited, they found to be pleasant and fruitful and, in default of other name, described as Buninto.
But this is not the name by which they are commonly known in Japan, nor is the year 1675 the first in which there is record of them, for these same islands are claimed to have been discovered in 1592 by a certain Ogasawara Sadayori, a Japanese warrior under Hideyoshi.
The Islands were granted to him as a fief, so that they became known as the Islands of Ogasawara (the name the group keeps today.)
“This small but interesting, and from its situation, valuable group of islands, lies in latitude 27° north, longitude 146° east, within five hundred miles distance from the city of Yedo in Japan.”
“It appertains to Great Britain, having been discovered by an English whaling vessel in 1825, and formally taken possession of by Captain Beechey of HMS Blossom in 1827. There were no aboriginal inhabitants found on the islands nor any trace that such had existed.”
“Their aggregate extent does not exceed two hundred and fifty square miles; but their geographical position — so near Japan, that mysterious empire, of which the trade will one day be of immense value —“
“… gives them a peculiar importance and interest. The climate is excellent, the soil rich and productive, and there is an admirable harbour well fitted for the port of a commercial city.” (Alex Simpson, Acting Britich Consul for the Sandwich Island)
HMS Blossom, under command of Captain Beechey, was a sloop carrying fifteen guns and a complement all told of 122 men. She had been dispatched from England on May 19, 1825, with instructions to co-operate with Franklin and Parry’s Arctic Expeditions.
The Blossom anchored in a harbor on June 9, 1827, having first attempted to fetch the southernmost group; but finding wind and current against the ship and discovering in the nearest land an opening which appeared to give promise of a good harbor, Captain Beechey made for this and anchored in Port Lloyd, to which he gave this name out of regard to the then Bishop of Oxford.
Captain Beechey was much surprised to find here two Europeans who turned out to have been two of the crew of the English whaler William, which vessel had been wrecked in Port Lloyd some eight months previous to the Blossom’s arrival. The name of one of the men was Wittrein; that of the other is not given.
It appears that after the wreck of the vessel the crew set to work to build a small schooner in order to find their way to Manila, as the chances of their being picked off from Port Lloyd were somewhat remote.
To their surprise, however, a whale ship, the Timor, appeared, and took off the crew of the wrecked vessel with the exception of these two men.
Word of the Bonin Islands had reached Hawaii, and there were already one or two of the chance residents in Oahu who were entertaining the idea of going to these newly-discovered islands and trying their fortune there as colonists. Savory, on his recovery, threw himself warmly into the project.
Shortly after (1830,) colonists from Hawaiʻi made their way to Bonin. Nathaniel Savory, an American citizen – but none the less under English auspices – was one of the founders of the first colony, of which he subsequently became chief, on the Bonin Islands.
Savory had served in some capacity on an English merchantman which in the year 1829 put in at Honolulu. He lost a finger in his right hand during the firing of a cannon salute. Having to undergo surgical treatment, his vessel left him behind at the port of Oahu.
“They sailed accordingly in 1830, took with them some Sandwich Island natives as labourers, some live stock and seeds, and landing at Port Lloyd, hoisted an English flag which had been given them by Mr. Charlton.”
Savory had many acquaintances among the storekeepers in Honolulu, and many friends among the captains of whalers and small trading vessels to the South Seas. From all accounts, the islands were fruitful; fish and turtle abounded; the climate was warm and genial; and the prospects of opening out some lucrative trade seemed altogether promising.
Plans took shape, the scheme being furthered in every way by Mr. Richard Charlton, at that time British Consul in Honolulu; and a schooner was fitted out which eventually set sail in the month of May, 1830, with Savory, Aldin Chapin, John Millinchamp, Charles Johnson, and Matteo Mazarro; they arrived on June 26, 1830. (Cholmondeley, Tokyo Metropolitan University)
Owing to the circumstances under which the first colony had been established on the Bonins, the early settlers, whether British subjects or not, had always regarded themselves as coming ultimately under the jurisdiction of the British Consulate in Hawaii.
“The cliffs in many places round the harbour came so close to the beach as to leave no cultivatable ground between them and the sea; but where valleys occur they have all been turned to account, with the exception of one on the west side of the inner harbour, which has probably been left vacant as a careening and repairing place for vessels.” (Captain Collinson; Cholmondeley)
Materially, the colony was prospering, and opportunities of sale and barter were furnished when, not unfrequently, whalers and other vessels came to visit it.
After Savory established himself on the Bonin Islands, captains of whalers and trading vessels came along to see him; take news of him back to his family; become bearers of their letters to him; and it is with him that Savory’s store-keeper friends want to transact business.
“The little settlement has been visited by several whaling vessels since that period, and also by a vessel from the British China Squadron.”
“(Mazarro,) anxious to get additional settlers or labourers to join the infant colony, the whole population of which only numbers about twenty, came to the Sandwich Islands in the autumn of 1842 in an English whaling vessel.”
“He described the little settlement as flourishing, stated that he had hogs and goats in abundance, and a few cattle; that he grew Indian corn and many vegetables, and had all kinds of tropical fruits; that, in fact, he could supply fresh provisions and vegetables to forty vessels annually.” (Alex Simpson, Acting British Consul for the Sandwich Islands)
“The island was greatly developed by grains which Savory had sent from the United States, and everything was so blooming and prosperous …” (Boston Transcript, August 30, 1887; Daily Bulletin, October 31, 1887)
Commodore Perry re-opened the long closed doors of Japan in 1861. That year, Japan made the first attempt is made to recover her long lost hold on the islands.
Towards the end of the year 1861, a Japanese steamer was despatched to Port Lloyd from Yedo, as the city of Tokyo was originally called, having on board a commissioner, subordinate officers, and about a hundred Japanese colonists.
On Sunday, November 21, 1875, the Meiji Maru, a Japanese ship, captained by an Englishman or American of the name of Peters, left Yokohama at noon with four Commissioners on board — Tanabe Yaichi, Hayashi Masaki, Obana Sakusuke, and Nezu Seikichi. Her destination was the Bonin Islands – Japan took control of the Bonin Islands.
From the year 1876 until 1904 when, under the Revised Treaties foreigners secured the right of travel and residence in any part of the Japanese Empire, no new settlers other than Japanese could make their home on the Bonin Islands.
The two chief islands are no longer ‘Peel’ Island and ‘Bailey’ Island. As newer maps and charts supersede the old ones, the names given by Captain Beechey will gradually disappear and be forgotten. ‘Peel’ Island is now Chichijima, Father Island; its harbor Futami ; ‘Bailey’ Island is Hahajima, or Mother Island. (Lots of information here is from Cholmondeley.)
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