Monthly Archives: September 2009

Wind vs. Coal Power in Pacific Shipping

From Sailors and Traders: A Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples, by Alastair Couper (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 141-142:

The companies secure within colonial territories made more capital investments in land, stores, and shipping. A major item was the shift from wind power to coal in propulsion and from wood to iron in ship construction. In many ways sail was still more suited to Pacific conditions. Distances were great—some 6,500 miles from San Francisco to Sydney. By then more information was available on favorable winds and currents for passage planning under sail, where calms had always been of more concern than storms. The early steamships, carrying around 1,500 tons of cargo, were disadvantaged, as they burned about thirty-five tons of coal per day to give a speed of seven knots. This meant coaling stations were required across the Pacific, including Honolulu (2,100 miles from San Francisco), Suva (2,800 miles from Honolulu), and to reach Sydney, another 1,700 miles away. Coal was expensive whereas wind was free. Bunkers took up cargo space and added weight, as did the engines, which required spares, skilled engineers, and technical maintenance. Coal in turn had to be brought to bunkering ports by other ships and stockpiled. By the 1870s there were bigger steamships with more efficient engines, requiring a coal consumption of fourteen tons per day at nine knots. Sail then focused internationally on low-value bulk but continued on some Pacific routes.

In the island trades the strategies adopted by several companies were to continue using sail for the long-haul supply ships from main ports, ultimately with auxiliary engines, and steam vessels for trading permanently around the islands, for a time with auxiliary sail. The advantages of steam and diesel propulsion in the islands included improved schedules, greater maneuverability in reef areas, ability to work clear from a lee shore, and the facility to leave lagoons regardless of wind direction. On Chong [Trading Company] employed the barque Loongana for the 2,500-mile passage from Sydney to the north Gilberts, and steam vessels such as the St. George for trading around the islands. It was such a successful division that when the Loongana was lost, she was replaced by the sailing ship Alexa, until she too was lost in 1924.


Leave a comment

Filed under economics, energy, Pacific, travel

Pacific Annexations, 1840-1906

From Sailors and Traders: A Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples, by Alastair Couper (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 140-141:

The managers of the major merchant companies based at the main entrepôts in the [Pacific] islands were often ex-sailors. Several acted as consuls for their governments and supported the companies in many ways, including evoking gunboat diplomacy. A prime example is John Bates Thurston. He served at sea in the island trades, was wrecked at Rotuma in 1865, became British consul in Fiji in 1867, was highly influential in the negotiations for the ceding of Fiji to Britain in 1874, and became governor of Fiji in 1887. The companies, the new settlers, and their sympathetic consuls pressed for annexations. The French were the first to act [but Waitangi was 1840—J.] and took Tahiti, the Marquesas, and the Tuamotus as French protectorates in 1842 and New Caledonia in 1853. These were declared colonies in 1880, and the Australs and Wallis and Futuna in 1887.

The British annexed Fiji in 1874 and established protectorates over southeast New Guinea in 1884, Gilbert and Ellice in 1892, most of the Solomons soon after, and Ocean Island in 1900. They agreed that New Zealand would exercise authority over the Kermadecs in 1887, the Tokelaus in 1889, and the Cooks and Niue in 1901. The Dutch took western New Guinea in 1848. Germany annexed northeast New Guinea in 1885, along with the Bismarck Archipelago and the northwest Solomons; took possession of most of the Carolines in 1885; and ultimately purchased Yap and other islands in the Carolines and Marianas from Spain in 1899. The Germans also acquired the Marshall Islands in 1884 and took over Nauru in 1888. Chile obtained Easter Island in 1888.

America, after its disastrous Civil War, had not recovered a significant merchant fleet and showed little inclination for acquiring Pacific territory. American guano companies had already secured legislation in 1856–1860 that allowed claims over some small Pacific islands, and the US government went on to secure others, including Baker, Jarvis, Johnson, Midway, Palmyra, and Wake. In 1893 the influential American maritime geostrategist Alfred Mahan wrote that it was “imperative to take possession, when it can be righteously done, of such maritime positions as can contribute to secure command.” In 1898, Hawai‘i was annexed (US citizenships were granted in 1900), as was eastern Samoa with Pago Pago as a main naval coaling station, while Guam was captured from Spain by the US Navy in 1898.

The Pacific was now effectively divided between several colonial powers mainly by agreements. In the final carve-up, it was confirmed that Western Samoa was a German colony separated from American Samoa in the east. In turn Germany agreed to relinquish claims for Tonga. As a result, in the closing days Tonga appeared to survive as the only independent Polynesian kingdom, although not quite. It was declared a British protectorate in 1900, and in 1905 it was decreed mandatory for the king of Tonga to take advice from the British consul on all matters of importance. Finally, in 1906 New Hebrides was divided as a condominium between Britain and France.

I’m not sure why Couper omits the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, which made British subjects of the Maori. Maybe he considered both New Zealand and Australia to be colonial powers by the 1840s, even though both were earlier annexed by another colonial power. (Like the Americas, of course.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, Fiji, France, Germany, Hawai'i, Micronesia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Polynesia, Spain, U.S.

Tok Pisin with Isuzu Lu: Ol Skulmanki

Isuzu Lu: Ol Skulmanki

Isuzu Lu: Ol Skulmanki

Lu: “Ol skulmanki i amamas nogut tru bilong wanem sikul i pinis nau … na ol papamama i amamas long mi kisim ol i go bek long ples … Ol i save dispela ka i no bagarap long dispela rot … Oyes, ol i save Isuzu em i gutpela ka tru …”

Lou: “The schoolkids are awfully happy because school is over now … and the parents are happy for me to bring them back to the village … They know this car won’t break down on this road … Oh yes, they know Isuzu is a very good car …”

This is a scan from a faded old photocopy of a cartoon ad by Bob Browne for New Guinea Motors in the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, 1976. I’ve got a lot more, but I’ll have to limit my scanning to just a sample because I see that the author/illustrator has published a collection of these cartoons. I just bought the last copy of Isuzu Lu Book 5 available on

Leave a comment

Filed under education, language, Papua New Guinea

Tok Pisin with Isuzu Lu: Hey, Poro!

Isuzu Lu: Hey, Poro

Isuzu Lu: Hey, Poro

Lu: “Hey, Poro … Mobeta yu baim wanpela Isuzu Utility … Ol i strongpela moa … inap long karim ol kain kain kago long baksait … Yu traim, laka!?!”

Lou: “Hey, Friend … You’d do better to buy an Isuzu Utility … They’re very strong … enough to carry all kinds of cargo in back … Try it, okay!?!”

This is a scan from a faded old photocopy of a cartoon ad by Bob Browne for New Guinea Motors in the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, 1976. I’ve got a lot more, but I’ll have to limit my scanning to just a sample because I see that the author/illustrator has published a collection of these cartoons. I just bought the last copy of Isuzu Lu Book 5 available on

Leave a comment

Filed under economics, language, Papua New Guinea

Ukraine’s Sure Got Talent in Sand Animation

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Ukraine

Preference for Pacific Island Seafarers

From Sailors and Traders: A Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples, by Alastair Couper (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 102-103, 106:

As a result of continued shortages of crew, British and American ships frequently sailed shorthanded for the Pacific. The trips involved passages that were four to five months long, via the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. American ships sometimes picked up a few sailors in the Atlantic Islands but generally shipowners were not unhappy with depleted crews, which reduced labor costs during these unproductive legs of voyages. Not so for the disgruntled seafarers whose lives were endangered from shortages of experienced shipmates in bad weather and when beating around Cape Horn against strong headwinds.

Arrival in the trading and whaling areas of the Pacific entailed supplementing the crew, all the more necessary because ships would lose many of the original crew during the three to four years the men were employed in the Pacific. Most losses were due to desertion….

The cautionary note on the recruitment of Samoans as sailors reflected the persistent bad reputation of those islands, arising from the massacre of the boat’s crew of La Perouse in 1787. [I believe La Pérouse was the name of the commander, not the name of his vessel.—J.] Whalers by the 1820s were likewise returning with stories of treachery and savagery experienced in parts of Melanesia and Micronesia. Such tales led to more misgivings regarding taking crew from several of these islands. The situation was different in Tahiti and Hawai‘i, where local seamen were encouraged by chiefs to serve and showed reliability even in difficult Arctic voyaging. Several Hawaiians are recorded to have been on that coast in 1788 under Captain John Meares. The New Hazard increased her crew from twenty-four to thirty-three in 1811 for voyages to the northwest coast, additions that were simply designated as “kanakas” in logbooks and journals. The ill-fated Tonquin had a Hawaiian crew of twenty-four when it was destroyed possibly by the captain after Indians boarded on the coast, and the fur trading ship Beaver took on ten “kanakas” in 1812, together with an experienced island sailor, bosun Tom. American whalers subsequently obtained most of their crews in Hawai‘i and Tahiti and also periodically at the Marquesas, the Carolines, and New Zealand….

Captains clearly preferred Pacific seafarers, who were used to compliance toward chiefs and thus unlikely to give captains trouble by demanding seafaring customary rights on board. The islanders were useful too as interpreters and understood the Pacific ways of trade. As sailors they were skillful at handling loaded boats through heavy surf when ships had to stand off and on. On whalers they acquired reputations as good harpooners and for boldness in closing on a whale. The keen eyesight of island sailors earned them the tobacco bonuses for spotting whales, and this, along with reading the signs of the sea for sudden squalls and reefs, made them invaluable as masthead lookouts.

Swimming and diving proved other important assets. Turnbull was impressed when, on approaching Hawai‘i, he encountered people a mile offshore supported only by “a thin feather-edge slice of wood.” He refers also to Hawaiians diving from topgallant yards and swimming under the ship. This skill of deep diving was employed on pearling and bêche-de-mer ships, as well as for making underwater hull repairs and clearing fouled cables. The extent to which island men and women were at home in the sea is further alluded to in dramatic rescues. Copping describes how, when the Harriet of Sydney was totally lost near Te Puna in April 1840, “the crew would have been lost also if it had not been for the Maori women on board the ship swimming them ashore.” He relates also that when his own whaleboat broached to, and he was knocked overboard and trapped under the boat, a shark “lay hold” of his shoulder, but “my harpooner a Maori jumped overboard after me.” Similarly when James Bagley fell from the topgallant crosstrees, a Hawaiian seaman, John Mowhee, dived after him and told Bagley to hold on to his shoulder until they were rescued.

For the shipowners a more compelling reason for employing Pacific seafarers was their lower costs in wages and victualing. The whaleship owner F. Parbury, who gave evidence at the British House of Lords Select Committee on the Navigation Laws, readily attested to this and expressed preferences for New Zealand (Maori) crews.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, economics, Hawai'i, labor, Pacific, Polynesia, travel, U.S.

Wordcatcher Tales: Paying the Crimp

From Sailors and Traders: A Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples, by Alastair Couper (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), p. 105:

At these growing Pacific port towns, beachcombers established themselves as crimps and arranged girls and ships for sailors of all nationalities. Richard Copping walked off the whaler Endeavour in April 1840 at the Bay of Islands along with several other sailors and three harpooners, as “she was leaking badly.” They sought other berths through the agency of a notorious lodging house in the Bay:

Of all the orgies imaginable it was here. There were nearly 100 men, mainly deserters from different ships, drinking, singing and dancing, and fighting. The captains used to come ashore and get their men but dare not touch one. So when a ship wanted hands, two or three captains would come ashore and be hail fellow well met, call for a quantity of their detestable grog, get them nearly all drunk; and at night kidnapped as many as they wanted.

Sailors would waken outward bound and in debt to the captain, who had paid the crimp. They would need to purchase more clothing, tobacco, and drinks from the captain’s slop chest at inflated prices against future earnings:

The next I remember I woke in the morn,
On a three skys’l yarder bound south round Cape Horn,
With an ol’ suit of oilskins, an’ two pair o’ sox,
An’ a bloomin’ big head, an’ a dose of the pox.

Leave a comment

Filed under labor, language, migration, Pacific, slavery