Hawai‘i’s whaling era began in 1819 when two New England ships became the first whaling ships to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands. At that time, whale products were in high demand; whale oil was used for heating, lamps and in industrial machinery; whale bone was used in corsets, skirt hoops, umbrellas and buggy whips.
Formerly whales were principally taken in the North Seas, the largest were generally found around Greenland, some of them measuring ninety feet in length. (Lay & Hussey, 1824)
However, rich whaling waters were discovered near Japan and soon hundreds of ships headed for the area. The central location of the Hawaiian Islands between America and Japan brought many whaling ships to the Islands. Whalers needed food and the islands supplied this need from its fertile fields.
So plentiful were the whales, and taken with such facility, that the ships employed were not sufficient to carry home the oil and bone, and other ships were often sent to bring home the surplus quantity. (Lay & Hussey, 1824)
Among the early whalers it was customary to have six boats to a ship and six men to a boat, besides the harpooner. What at that time was considered an improved method in killing whales consisted in hurling the harpoon. (Lay & Hussey, 1824)
The ropes attached to the harpoon used to be about 1,200 feet long and in some cases all the lines for the six boats were fastened together and ran out by one whale, the animal descending in nearly a perpendicular line from the surface. (Lay & Hussey, 1824)
Initially, it was customary to bring only the blubber, and instead of boiling the oil out and putting it into casks on board, the fat of the whale was cut up into suitable pieces, pressed hard in tubs carried out for the purpose, and in this situation was the return cargo received at home. (Lay & Hussey, 1824)
One such whaler, the ship “Globe” of Nantucket, sailed out of Edgartown, Massachusetts, on December 20, 1822, on a whaling voyage around Cape Horn.
With a complement of 21 men under the command of Captain Thomas Worth, she set sail on a whaling expedition to the Pacific. After finding success in the “off Japan” whaling grounds the Globe arrived in Honolulu for provisioning.
There, “six men ran away in the Sandwich Islands, and one was discharged.” Captain Worth took on seven new crew, four of whom were Silas Payne, John Oliver, William Humphries and Joseph Thomas.
After two years out on that whaling voyage, on the night of January 25, 1824, four of the crew, mutinied near Fanning Island, 900 miles south of the Hawaiian Islands.
Samuel B Comstock, a 22-year-old harpooner, was the instigator of the mutiny. Sometime prior to the mutiny, he had major quarrels with Captain Worth.
After murdering the captain and first mate, who were both asleep at the time of the assault, the mutineers proceeded to attack the second and third mates, who were in the cabin. Then they took the ship into Badu Island (Mulgrave Island, north of Queensland, Australia.)
On February 14, the mutineers took the Globe to Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands. A few of the mutineers started to suspect Comstock intended to destroy the Globe and kill the rest of crew.
Within days of settling on Mili Atoll, Comstock was murdered by his fellow mutineers.
In an atmosphere of distrust existing between the mutineers, Payne and Oliver made an error in judgment of sending Gilbert Smith to secure the Globe.
Smith and 5 other crew (not part of the mutiny) seized the Globe and escaped (included in this group was George Comstock, Sam’s younger brother,) eventually arriving at Valparaiso, Chile, where they were brought into custody by the American consul. The Globe was fitted out and returned to Nantucket, arriving in November 1824.
Back on the Atoll, repeated injuries to the natives on the part of Silas Payne (the second in command of the mutineers at the time of the outbreak, and the murderer of his associate conspirator, Comstock,) so incensed them that one after another of the crew were slain (one of the mutineers, William Humphries, was hung by the others.)
Out of ten castaways on Mili Atoll, only Cyrus M Hussey and William Lay survived. Half-prisoners and half-adoptees of the natives these two survived for twenty-two months; they were rescued on November 21, 1825 by US schooner Dolphin, commanded by Lieutenant John Percival.
(You may recall that besides bringing the mutineers to justice, Percival (aka “Mad Jack” Percival) had been sent to the Pacific to enforce the settlement of debts owed by Hawaiʻi’s ruling chiefs to American sandalwood dealers. He caused an incident after his arrival there on January 16, 1826, the chiefs had not only forbidden the women to swim out to the ships, but had restricted the sale of alcohol – it became known as the Battle of Honolulu.)
Click HERE for a link to the Battle of Honolulu story.
The image shows the title page of a book, based on the journals of Lay and Hussey (information here is from their accounts, as well as from the Congressional Serial Set, 1876 and Heffernan’s Mutiny on the Globe: The Fatal Voyage of Samuel Comstock.)
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