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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Frederick W. Buechey

Frederick W. Buechey

1825 to 1828

The voyage of H.M.S. Blossom, under Captain Frederick W. Beechey, was ordered by the British Admiralty as a relief expedition to Bering Strait to await the separate expeditions of Captains Parry and Franklin who had set out in 1824 to search for a northwest passage to the Pacific. Beechey was also instructed to explore such parts of the Pacific as were within reach on his way to Tahiti before sailing for Bering Strait, his rendezvous being Kotzebue Sound not later than July 10, 1826.

The Blossom weighed from Spithead on May 19, 1825, rounded Cape Horn, and reached Easter Island on November 16. Beechey continued west and, after sighting Ducie and Henderson (Elizabeth) Islands, landed at Pitcairn and heard the story of the mutiny on the Bounty from John Adams, last of the mutineers. He sailed past Oeno and Crescent (Timoe) Islands and, on December 29, anchored in the lagoon in the midst of the Mangareva (Gambier) Islands. Though Wilson had discovered the group in 1797, only scanty observations were made as his ship sailed past. Beechey was the first European to page 93land, and his account of the natives is up to the high standard set by Captain James Cook.

Beechey sailed from the Mangareva Islands on January 13, 1826, to check up on islands in the Tuamotus. His northward course took him to Lord Hood Island (South Marutea), Clermont Tonnerre (Reao), and Serle (Pukarua). He then turned southwest and checked Whitsunday (Pinaki), Queen Charlottes (Nukutavake), Cook's Lagoon Island (Vahitahi), Thrumb-Cap (Akiaki), and Egmont (Vairaatea). From Egmont, he sailed south to pick up Carysfort (Tureia), but being to the west, he made his first discovery on January 26. It was Vanavana, which he named Barrow Island in compliment to the Secretary of the Admiralty. He picked up Carysfort and then sailed south in search of the Matilda Rocks and Osnaburgh Island (Mururoa) of Carteret. He sighted land on January 29, and two anchors were seen on the reef. At daylight next day, another small island was observed to the south. The island (Fangataufa) was mapped and named Cockburn Island in compliment to Sir George Cockburn, one of the Lords of the Admiralty. An examination of the first island was made. Wreckage in addition to the two anchors previously seen led to the conclusion that they were the remains of the whaler Matilda, which had been wrecked on a reef in the southern waters in 1792. As the position of the island differed so greatly from that given by Carteret, a search was made both east and west on the same latitude without result. Beechey therefore concluded that the island was the Osnaburgh of Carteret and that the Matilda Rocks coincided with it. Both Osnaburgh and Cockburn were uninhabited.

Beechey then checked up on Bligh's Lagoon Island (Tematangi) and sailed north where he made his third discovery, Ahunui, which he named Byam Martin Island, after Sir Thomas Byam Martin, the Comptroller of the Navy. At Ahunui he found a party of natives who had been driven to the east while sailing from Anaa to Tahiti. After great suffering, they had landed at Barrow Island; and the signs of previous habitation which had been observed by Beechey were due to them. They had accumulated dried fish, pandanus flour, and water for their journey home and had made the first stage by reaching Ahunui. Beechey took on board a native named Tuwarri with his wife and child and sailed by Gloucester (Paraoa) to reach Bow Island (Hao). At Hao, an extraordinary meeting took place between Tuwarri and his brother, who was with a party from his home island of Anaa (Chain) diving for pearl shell for a ship named the Dart belonging to the Australian Pearl Company. The Dart was anchored in the Hao lagoon, and from a member of the crew who understood Tahitian, Beechey learned the story of Tuwarri's enforced voyage to the east. Three double canoes had set out from Anaa to Tahiti to pay their respects to the young king, Pomare. On the way a hurricane struck them and drove them to the east. When it subsided Tuwarri's canoe again sailed west, page 94 Fleet at Otaheite, Drawn by William Hodges, Artist With Cook on his Second Voyage. page 95 but a second hurricane drove it east until, at length, the crew managed to land on Barrow Island. Taking into consideration that they were two days on their way, Beechey estimated that they must have been driven east not much less than 600 miles.

After leaving Hao, Beechey encountered Hikueru, which he named Melville Island in honor of the first Lord of the Admiralty, and Haraiki, which he named Croker Island, in compliment to the right honorable secretary. However, Hikueru had been discovered by Boenechea on November 1, 1774, and named San Juan by him. Haraiki was discovered by Boenechea on October 31, 1772, and named San Quintin. The names Melville and Croker persist on the maps, and Beechey's patrons have thus received second class honors.

Beechey reached Meetia and Tahiti on March 15, 1826, sailing after more than a month for the Hawaiian Islands. He arrived off Molokai on May 19. After some days at Honolulu, he sailed north for Kamchatka, where he anchored at Petropavlovsk, or the old port of St. Peter, and St. Paul, on June 28. Here he received dispatches announcing the return of Captain Parry to England. On July 5 he sailed to keep the rendezvous with Captain Franklin. He entered Kotzebue Sound on July 22 and remained there, surveying and searching until the middle of October. Giving up hope of news of Franklin, he sailed south along the American coast to Monterey Bay. He then sailed for Hawaii, which he reached on January 25, 1827. After refreshing, he sailed to Macao, worked north on the Asiatic side, and again entered Kotzebue Sound, on August 18, 1827. Still obtaining no news of Franklin, he sailed south in October, touching at various ports in Peru and Chile; passed the meridian of Cape Horn on June 30, 1828; and finally arrived in England, where the crew were paid off at Woolwich on October 12, 1828. The voyage had lasted three and one-half years and the ship had sailed 73,000 miles.