“The long looked for missionary ship was a thing of life and beauty, adorned with nearly her full complement of snow-white sails, and sitting so daintily upon the water.”
“’Beautiful,’ we exclaimed. ‘Nani,’ said our ninety native passengers, ‘nani loa,’ – ‘very beautiful!’ and so she was. With unmingled admiration we scanned her elegant proportions, her neatly turned stem, her graceful prow, her modest but significant figurehead, her perfect lines, her tall and beautiful tapering masts.” (Bond; Baker)
Many proudly proclaimed, “I owned shares in a ‘Morning Star.’”
Let’s look back …
In less than 30-years after the first missionaries landed in Hawai‘i, as the missionary spirit grew in the Hawaiian churches, the Hawaiian Missionary Society was formed.
This led the missionary fathers to the idea of exploring the islands to the west for the purpose of new mission work in Micronesia in partnership with the American Board.
In 1853, a mission south to the Marquesas Islands had been started. In carrying it on, it had been necessary to charter small and uncomfortable vessels at high prices to take out missionaries with their supplies and to send mail and delegates annually to encourage and look after them.
In Micronesia such a long time elapsed before the first mail arrived after the mission was established, that a missionary’s mother had been dead 2-years before he received the sad news.
At another station, where food was scarce and the variety limited, a missionary came so near starving that when a vessel arrived with supplies, he was so weak that he had to be carried on board the vessel and carefully nursed back to health.
Titus Coan proposed that the ABCFM ask children on the continent to take ten cent shares of joint ownership in such a missionary vessel, to be called ‘Day Star;’ his proposal of such to folks in Boston was approved, but with one change, the name to be ‘Morning Star.’
It was the first of five ‘Morning Stars.’
Those ‘Morning Stars’ were on missions to the South Pacific. The task of those men was outlined in Honolulu in 1870 at the Hawaiian Evangelical Association, where it was said, “Not with powder and balls and swords and cannons, but with the loving word of God and with His spirit do we go forth to conquer the islands for Christ.” (Nimitz; Baker)
On her first voyage to Micronesia (leaving Honolulu August 7, 1857) she had sailed about 10,000-miles, and her practical value for the work had been all that was expected. It was said that the little vessel had already performed a service that would warrant the whole expense of building her. (Baker)
By 1865, she had finally become so worn that they decided to sell her and build another vessel. In 1866 children were again asked to take stock in a new vessel. Enough was raised to build a new ship.
Like the first, the second ‘Morning Star’ was a hermaphrodite brig (square-rigged foremast and fore-and-aft mainmast.) She was built at East Boston, launched September 22, 1866; sailed from Boston under Captain Hiram Bingham, Jr, on November 13, 1866 and reached Honolulu March 15, 1867.
“Two thousand Hawaiian Sunday-school children marched to the wharf to see ‘their ship’; for three or four thousand out of one hundred and fifty thousand of her stockholders were Hawaiians.” (Bingham)
“It was on March 28, 1867, that the Star began her missionary work in the Pacific, still sailing under command of Captain Bingham. The plan for her yearly trip is to go from Honolulu first to the Gilbert Islands, although they are the southernmost group, lying directly under the equator.”
“This is in order to take advantage of prevailing winds and currents. Then she sails northwest nearly a thousand miles to Ponape, taking the other mission islands on the way.” (Bingham)
After only three years of service, unfortunately one evening the ‘Morning Star’ left Kusaie for Honolulu, but drifted dangerously near the island. Boats were lowered to tow, but she had to be anchored and held, when a severe squall struck her.
She tried to sail out of danger, but failed and struck the rocky reef in a heavy surf. The missionaries and all on board, with some of their possessions, were saved in a boat; the ‘Morning Star’ was wrecked. After waiting a month, the missionaries reached Honolulu on February 8, 1870, in a chance vessel which came along.
The children were called upon, and, again, responded and with insurance, a third ‘Morning Star’ (of similar design to the second ‘Morning Star’) was started. “(I)n the summer of 1871, a third ‘Morning Star’ dawned on the waiting isles.” (Bingham)
For the 10th annual trip, the captain noted, “The whole distance sailed during the voyage is 15,783 miles. Number of passengers carried, 243. The number of islands sighted is 48, at 27 of which we stopped one or more times.”
“We entered 16 lagoons, anchored 43 times, and spent 147 hours standing off and on. We laid at anchor 79 days, and boated 568 miles. We had 1,546 miles of adverse currents, and 989 hours of calm.” (Bray; Missionary Herald)
Unfortunately, on February 22, 1884, the third ‘Morning Star’ was wrecked on Kusaie, about 6-miles from where the second ‘Morning Star’ was lost.
Already planned for replacement, a fundraising campaign was already underway for a fourth ‘Morning Star’. As with the others, it was successful and the Board felt justified in building at once, and the contract was made at Bath, Maine. Thus they began to build the same month that the third ‘Morning Star’ was wrecked.
The fourth ‘Morning Star,’ was a barkentine (foremast only being square-rigged, main and mizzenmasts fore-and-aft rigs but carrying no topsails so far as pictures show). She had a hollow iron mainmast for a smokestack, for auxiliary steam-power for use in calms and strong currents and in entering lagoons.
She had comfortable cabins, staterooms, etc., between the main-deck and a hurricane-deck, and three water-tight compartments below, the center compartment having the engine boilers and coal-bunkers. Upon the substantial hurricane-deck all the working of the ship was done, and it provided a promenade of nearly a hundred feet.
She sailed on her first missionary voyage to Micronesia on May 2, 1885, and reached one of the Gilbert Islands in just three weeks. However, on January 26, 1886:
“… late in the afternoon, we ran upon a small coral reef in Ponape lagoon, where we remained upwards of forty hours. I need not say we heartily rejoiced when we were afloat again, damaged only by a small leakage.” (Wetmore; Baker)
The fourth ‘Morning Star’ “served long and well until 1900,” when she was sold for the ‘carrying trade’ between San Francisco and Cape Nome, Alaska. There was a break until 1904, when it was decided to build a fifth ‘Morning Star’.
This fifth and last ‘Morning Star’ (a steamer,) after being inspected at Boston by many shareholders, was dedicated and farewell services held on board on June 4, 1904.
Dr Hiram Bingham (II,) who had sailed to Micronesia on the first ‘Morning Star’ in 1856, and whose father, Hiram Bingham, Sr, had then been present and prayed at the time of departure, was present and offered the prayer of dedication.
However, it became cost prohibitive to maintain the ship and a decision was made in 1905 to sell her. Thus ended a half century of missionary ‘Morning Stars,’ 1856 to 1905. (Lots of information and images here are from Baker and Bingham.)