Recent work that I have been involved with in the Portlock area on O‘ahu, reminded me of the namesake for the place, explorer and fur trader Nathaniel Portlock.
Nathaniel Portlock was born in about 1748 in Norfolk, Virginia, where his grandfather had emigrated, probably from the English south-west, around 1685. Nathaniel’s father died in 1752, leaving his wife Rebecca (formerly Ballard, who had previously been a widow with a daughter from a previous marriage).
Nathaniel’s father’s will left his property, and stay and board, to “my Daughter in Law Nancey Ballard a Negro … said children [Paul and Nathaniel] [and] their mother”.
After Portlock’s father’s death, his mother Rebecca quickly remarried a third time to a Richard Scott, who became guardian to her three surviving Portlock children and had others with her.
At about the age of 24, Nathaniel Portlock entered the British Royal Navy and was one of the loyal colonists of America, known as the “American Loyalists;” he later left that country on the close of the War of Independence.
(It is not clear what relationship a certain John Portlock had with Nathaniel; but John was born in 1765 in Shenandoah Co., Virginia and in 1781 volunteered to serve in the Virginia Regiment and fought and was “slightly wounded’ in the American Revolutionary War. It is an interesting situation if they are related.)
On March 30, 1776, he served as master’s mate on Captain James Cook’s third Pacific voyage aboard the Discovery. Portlock was transferred to the Resolution, also on the expedition, in August 1779.
Cook’s third and final voyage (1776-1779) of discovery was an attempt to locate a North-West Passage, an ice-free sea route which linked the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Cook commanded the Resolution while Charles Clerke commanded Discovery. (State Library, New South Wales)
“Cook had chosen his subordinates well or had been lucky. The officers of the third voyage were a remarkably intelligent group of men.” (Captain Cook Society)
“All the great remaining voyages of the eighteenth century drew on Cook’s officers. Bligh, Portlock, Vancouver, Colnett, Riou, and Hergest all got their commands and served with great distinction. These men then passed on their skills to a second generation of men such as Flinders and Broughton.” (Mackay, Captain Cook Society)
Nathaniel Portlock and George Dixon, observed the commercial benefits that the development of the fur trade in the region could bring. In 1785, a group of London merchants formed the “King George’s Sound Co” (also known as Richard Cadman Etches and Company).
They proposed to carrying on the fur trade from the western coast of America to China, bringing home cargoes of tea from Canton for the East India Company. They bought two boats; Portlock and Dixon were selected to sail them (Dixon also previously sailed with Cook to Hawai‘i) and they set off on an expedition to North America to establish a foothold for fur trappers.
Portlock commanded the 1785-1788 expedition from the ship King George, while Dixon captained the Queen Charlotte. The purpose of the expedition was to investigate the potential of the Alaskan fur trade and to resume Cook’s search for a Northwest Passage through the continent.
The pair left England on August 29, 1785, and took nearly a year to reach Alaska, rounding Cape Horn and touching at Hawaiʻi on the way, first arriving off the coast of Kaʻū, May 24, 1786.
These were the first English ships to reach Hawai‘i following Captain Cook’s first arrival there in 1778. During the course of their 3-year expedition, they made three trips to Hawaiʻi.
A favorite anchorage on Oʻahu for Portlock was at Maunalua Bay (which Portlock named King George’s Bay). He named the Waikiki area (Diamond Head to Honolulu) Queen Charlotte’s Bay.
The East point of the Maunalua Bay (Koko Head) Portlock named Point Dick, “in honour of Sir John Dick, the first patron of this voyage,”) and the West point (Diamond Head) that Portlock named “Point Rose, after George Rose Esq. secretary of the treasury, the second worthy patron of our undertaking.” (Portlock)
Portlock also mentioned what is probably Kuapā Pond that he described as, “a little salt water river that has a communication with King George’s Bay.”
Portlock wrote about the early challenges of getting fresh drinking water in the region as they “found that we could not water at this place without an infinite deal of trouble …”
“… besides the danger of losing our casks, getting the boats dashed to pieces against the rocks, and the inconvenience of carrying our casks so far amongst a multitude of Indians, which would make it necessary to have an armed force on shore.”
“Towards evening the surgeon returned on board with the convalescents, and informed me, that the inhabitants had behaved in a very quiet inoffensive manner, though they were rather incommoded by the multitudes which curiosity brought about them.”
“By this time all our water from the ground tier was got to hand, and the cables coiled down. The inhabitants now brought us water in such plenty, that by noon on the 4th all our empty casks were filled”.
He noted, “As good water in any quantity may be procured at this island with the greatest facility for small nails and buttons, it undoubtedly must be the safest and most expeditious method any person can adopt who may chance to touch here, to barter for their water in the manner we did.” (Portlock)
“No chiefs of consequence paid us a visit as yet: the inferior chiefs indeed came on board without any scruple, and some of them slept with us every night. Amongst rest I had a daily visit from an old priest, who always brought by way of present, a small pig, and a branch of the cocoa-nut·tree.” (Portlock)
Maunalua was thought to be well-populated in ancient times. Maunalua was known for its offshore fishing resources, a large fishpond, and sweet potato cultivation. Taro was farmed in wet areas, sweet potato was grown in the drier regions and a series of fishing villages lined the coast. (McElroy) Part of that area now carries the Portlock name.