“Ship traps” describes a phenomenon where northern and southern swells, strong channel currents, strong consistent trade winds and fringing reefs force unsuspecting vessels into areas of harm – resulting in concentrated shipwrecks.
The north shore of the Island of Lānaʻi, locally referred to as “Shipwreck Beach,” is the best example of this phenomenon. Here, the channel acts as a funnel, depositing material directly onto Shipwreck Beach.
Any vessel that broke its moorings at Lāhainā would end up there; sometimes ship owners intentionally abandoned worn-out vessels there by simply casting them adrift upwind from the treacherous shore. (Naval Historical Center)
The first reported wreck occurred in 1824 when a British vessel named the Alderman Wood ran into the reef there. It was said to be carrying a “cargo of liquors” and “became a total wreck.” (PCA, Nov. 16. 1905)
Well, maybe the liquor was lost, but the ship’s figurehead was saved …
“At first glance the figure-head presents a ludicrous picture, for upon the head has been nailed an old derby hat, entirely out of joint and time with the figure-head, which wears carved clothing of the kind prevailing in the latter part of the eighteenth century.”
“From between the wooden lips of this odd statue, once the proud monument of a time British ship’s prow, projects a cheap corn-cob pipe, placed there by a waterfront wag.”
“But a closer view shows that the figure-head must possess a history. No figure-head of this type has adorned a ship in the nineteenth century.”
“It belonged to century when the United States was young, when George Washington was the President, and the Hawaiian Islands little known, except that some years before Captain Cook had been slain on one of them.”
“The figurehead wears a long cape, caught over the breast with a buckle. Around the neck is a chain, hanging from this against the breast is what appears to be a large medal, but which really was the symbol of one of the highest offices in England – that of Lord Mayor of London.”
“Some time in the 20’s the British ship Alderman Wood was wrecked on the island of [Lanai]. The news was brought to Honolulu and James Robinson, father of Mark P Robinson, then head of the firm of James Robinson & Co, ship chandlers and carpenters went to Molokai to save what he could of the ship.”
“She was filled with beautiful mirrors, and was in those days reckoned a magnificent type of the merchant ships built by the British. The captain made a present of the figure-head to Mr. Robinson and he brought it to Honolulu.”
“When the new warehouse was built in the beginning of the ‘30’s, below what is now Queen street, Mr Robinson raised the figure-head up and placed it on the pulley beam as a pedestal, and there it has remained through all the vicissitudes of the elements for nearly three quarters of a century.”
“Often a workman is sent up on the building with putty, nails and pieces of wood to repair the figure-head.”
“The ship Alderman Wood was named after its owner, who was a London alderman in the latter part of the eighteenth century and Mark Robinson is of the opinion that he also became Lord Mayor of London.”
“The wooden statue evidently shows the owner in his mantle of office, either as alderman or Lord Mayor The old warehouse, too, has a history.”
“It is one of the oldest in Honolulu, and the loft was considered very large in the days when it was built and Honolulu was in its Infancy. It was a sail loft and used for general ship chandler work.”
“When Admiral Thomas, the British naval officer, restored the Hawaiian Kingdom its independence and flag in July, 1843, having been unlawfully deprived of both by the British some time previous …”
“… a grand ball was given to celebrate the event, and the sail loft of the Robinson warehouse was the place where the ball was given. It was grand affair, attended by the elite of the city, including royal personages.”
“The old figure-head was then in position. The doors immediately below the beam and figure-head … open out from this old time ball room, now used as a storage loft.” (PCA, Feb 8, 1903)
Thrum noted that in 1911 as a “Disappearing Landmark”, “The old Robinson warehouse with its seaward-end adornment of the figure-head of Alderman Wood, from an English ship of that name which was wrecked on the Island of Lanai in 1824 …”
“… and has, as it were, welcomed the incoming and sped the outgoing shipping of Honolulu ever since the erection of the building a few years later, has fallen in decay.”
“The appearance of our waterfront will seem unnatural to many frequenters of the port who will miss the old familiar figure and once prominent building.” (Thrum, 1912) It is not known where the figurehead is now.