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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Lord Edward Russell

Lord Edward Russell

1836 to 1837

Except for a brief notice in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, no published details of the voyage of the H.M.S. Actaeon under the command of Lord Edward Russell were available to me. It is evident that the Actaeon was in Tahiti in 1836, for on her voyage from that island to Pitcairn she encountered a group of uncharted islands in the Tuamotus on January 3, 1837. Captain Russell named the islands the Actaeon Group after his ship, but their discovery is generally credited to Captain Thomas Ebrill of the Tahitian trading ship Amphitrite (1833). While at Tahiti, Mr. Biddlecombe, master of the Actaeon, received some information from Captain Ebrill regarding islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago which were not on the charts, and it is probable that this group of four islands was included. However, only three low, wooded islands were seen and charted by Biddlecombe. These Russell named Bedford, Minto, and Melbourne. From west to east the four islands are: Tenararo, Vahanga, Tenarunga, and Matureivavao. Biddlecombe's chart gives the middle island as the largest, whereas Maturei-vavao, the most easterly and southerly, is the largest. It is possible that the two middle islands, Vahanga and Tenarunga, were seen as one overlapping stretch of land. Hence, the most westerly, which was named Bedford, would correspond to Tenararo; the two middle Ones, to Minto; and the remaining island of Maturei-vavao, to Melbourne. Melbourne is given on modern maps as the alternate name of Maturei-vavao, Minto as Tenarunga. The Actaeon sailed on to Pitcairn, and the brief notice in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society ends there.