Oral traditions claim that the Marshallese knew of Wake Atoll prior to contact with European navigators. The Marshallese name for the atoll was Eneen-Kio or Ane-en Kio, “Island of the kio flower.”
The atoll was a source of feathers and plumes of seabirds. Prized were the wing bones of albatross, from which tattooing chisels could be made. In addition, the rare kio flower grew on the atoll.
Bringing these items to the home atolls implied that the navigators had been able to complete the feat of finding the atoll using traditional navigation skills of stars, wave patterns and other ocean markers. (Spennemann)
Today, it is more commonly referred to as ‘Wake Island’ or ‘Wake Atoll’ (rediscovery of Wake and its naming is usually credited to Captain William Wake of the British trading schooner Prince William Henry, enroute from Port Jackson, Australia to Canton in China in 1792.) (NPS)
Wake Island, to the west of Honolulu, Hawaii, is the northernmost atoll in the Marshall Islands geological ridge and perhaps the oldest living atoll in the world.
Though it was substantially modified by the United States to create a military base before and after World War II, its major habitats are the three low coral islands consisting of shells, coral skeletons, and sand, supporting atoll vegetation adapted to arid climate. (FWS)
On the evening of March 5, 1866 under the leadership of captain Anton Tobias, Bremer Bark Libelle (Dragonfly,) bound for Hong Kong from San Francisco having last stopped in Honolulu, shipwrecked on Wake Island, one of the most remote, uninhabited atolls of the Central Pacific.
On board 16 passengers, men, women and children; also on board was a cargo valued at $300,000, including silver coins and quicksilver. (Quicksilver is otherwise known as mercury, the only metallic element that is liquid at standard conditions for temperature and pressure.)
Passengers included some famous people: Anna Bishop, one of the most famous singers and adventurous women of the time; Eugene Van Reed Miller, an American diplomat and pioneering the development of the Asian markets; Yabe Kisaboro, a Japanese officer. (Drechsler)
They were stranded on the atoll for approximately three weeks. On the futile search for drinking water, the fear of the impending end comes on. Should we really trust a tiny lifeboat and the attempt to reach the 1,300-nautical miles distant Marianas Islands? (Drechsler)
On March 27, twenty-two people crammed themselves about Libelle’s twenty-two foot longboat, piloted by Tobias’ first mate. The captain took four sailors and three Chinese on a twenty-foot gig. (Urwin)
The first mate and passengers travelled 1,300-miles and made it to Guam in 18-days. The Captains boat was never hear from again.
Salvage crews faced a similar fate as the Libelle.
“The wrecking party of the second expedition to Wake’s Island, returned by the British brig Clio last month. They sailed from Honolulu last September, in the schooner Moi Wahine, and landed on Wake’s Island, after a pleasant passage down of a month.”
“Capt English, Mr Thos Foster and nine Hawaiian divers’ were landed, with a part of their stores, and apparatus for distilling water.”
“The next day, towards night, the wind shifting, the schooner took her anchor and put out to sea, to avoid a lee shore. The vessel was never seen again afterwards.”
“The wind on the third day veered suddenly to the westward, and blew a living gale. On the Island its force was terrific, trees on ihe windward side were torn up, and carried quite across the lagoon and branches strewed the whole island. Captain Zenas Bent, the mate Mr. White, and seven Hawaiian seamen perished with the schooner.”
“The weather at Wake’s Island during the five months that the party were there, with the exception of the typhoon Thursday was pleasant and fair.”
“The lagoon abounds with fish, and from the middle of February, the birds made their appearance, and there was plenty of eggs. On these natural resources of the Island the wreckers managed to live without serious Inconvenience, while by distillation they procured as much water as they required.”
“Though it lies in the track of the China bound vessels, it is incorrectly laid down, and therefore they give it a wide berth, especially when passed on the windward side.”
“During the four months, only one vessel was communicated with – a brig that touched within two weeks after the party landed, and before they had given up hope for the return of their schooner. Several sail were seen at intervals, but they passed on without noticing the island, or the signals on the shore.”
“At length the Clio appeared, bound thither for wrecking purposes, not being aware that the Honolulu party were there. Near the Island the Clio spoke a bark, which was probably the vessel which had agreed, when leaving Honolulu for China, to touch at the Island and report upon the fate of the party, for whose safety, on account of long absence, serious fears were entertained here.”
“The Clio was chartered for Honolulu, and taking on board the party, the quicksilver and other material of the wrecked Libelle, arrived after a pleasant run of thirty days.” (Hawaiian Gazette, May 27, 1868)
“Two hundred and forty-six flasks of quicksilver, a quantity of copper, chains, anchors, &e, have been secured, which will repay the adventurers well for their enterprise.”
“The brig went there for the same purpose as the schooner, and was chartered by Mr Foster to bring the wrecked goods to this port.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, May 2, 1868)
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