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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Edward Belcher

Edward Belcher

1836 to 1842

H.M.S. Sulphur under the command of Captain Beechey, with her consort, the Starling under Lieutenant Kellett, were commissioned by the Admiralty to fix certain reported shoals and survey the west coast of America from Valparaiso to latitude 60° 30′ N. The ships sailed from Plymouth on December 24, 1835. After rounding the Horn and reaching Valparaiso on June 9, 1836, Captain Beechey had to be invalided home. Lieutenant Kellett took command of the Sulphur and continued work along the Peruvian coast and northward to Panama, where he was to await instructions. He reached Panama on January 29, 1837.

Meanwhile, Captain Sir Edward Belcher, who had served under Beechey in the voyage of the Blossom in 1825-1828, was appointed to take command of the expedition. He left England on November 30, 1836, for the West Indies and, after surmounting various difficulties, crossed the Isthmus of Panama and assumed command of the Sulphur. After continuing the survey along the coast, he sailed for the Hawaiian Islands where he arrived on July 7, 1837. At Honolulu, trouble had arisen over seizure by the Hawaiian Government of the British brigantine Clementine for refusing to return two Catholic missionaries to California, from whence she had brought them. At this juncture Du Petit-Thouars arrived on the French frigate Venus. Both British and French commanders evidently blamed the American missionary Hiram Bingham for attempting to forcibly prevent competition. However, the matter was peaceably settled when the Catholic missionaries were allowed to remain.

After more than a month, Belcher sailed north to continue his survey of the American west coast. The survey continued for the rest of 1837 and the whole of 1838. On May 29, 1839, Belcher returned to the Hawaiian Islands. He sailed from Kauai on June 16 for the Columbia River, then worked south along the coast and crossed to the Marquesas, where he arrived on January 20, 1840. After ten days, Belcher sailed south to the Tuamotus to conduct page 100boring operations on Hao, where he arrived on February 5. He reached a depth of 45 feet, at which point the lateral pressure of the coralline sand filled in the bore. Belcher left Hao on March 28 and called at Anaa, where he bought fourteen large hogs for twenty-eight yards of duck cloth. On April 5 he anchored at Papeete, where he found thirteen American whaling ships at anchor. In sailing south, he passed Mauke and landed at Rarotonga on April 14. It was at Rarotonga that Belcher bought what he termed the fancy Mangaian axe handles, so it is evident that these carved artifacts for trade were made as early as 1840. From Rarotonga, Belcher sailed to Vavau, then continued west through Fiji and Melanesia to the East Indies. He proceeded to Macao where the Sulphur formed part of the British fleet which attacked Canton. The year 1841 was spent in the East.

Finally, the Sulphur reached England via the Cape of Good Hope and anchored at Spithead July 19, 1842. She was paid off at Woolwich on August 2, after being away nearly seven years, and the officers and crew were given extra pay and allowances.