A private journal kept by an officer on the maiden voyage of the U. S. Frigate Columbia, the first American navy warship to circumnavigate the world. The Columbia, a 50-gun ship, was built in the Washington Navy Yard between 1825 and 1836. She began her first cruise from Hampton Roads 5 May 1838 under the command of Commodore George C. Read, and was accompanied by the the 34-gun frigate, U. S. S. John Adams. The Columbia was scuttled and burned by Union troops at the Norfolk navy yard on 21 April 1861 to avoid capture by Confederate troops.
This volume covers the second half of the voyage, and was kept by one of the officers on board, most likely a lieutenant (probably George A. Magruder who describes himself as accompanying the commodore on official visits). The journal begins off Bashee Passage near Formosa (Taiwan) on 16 August 1839 and concludes in Boston Bay on 15 June 1840. The ship called at Kauai and Oahu, and Tahiti in the Pacific, Valparaiso, Callao and Lima in South America, and after rounding Cape Horn, it stopped at Rio de Janeiro for thirteen days before proceeding home on a direct course to Boston. On entering the North Pacific, the Columbia and its companion ship, the U.S. S. John Adams, encountered heavy weather. The John Adams lost nine sails and Columbia's rigging was "much chafed."
The weather didn't rage alone. The officer has nothing kind to say of Commodore Read, who apparently has a short temper and is prone to raging tantrums. He is known on board as the "Royal Tiger," complaining of light headwinds which "render him not more amiable than generally." In the course of the voyage, the commodore dressed down the surgeon, "a most excellent man [who] was quite indignant. but we have all [become] used to his monstrosities, that I for one would be surprised at no outrage he committed, anything but tricing up midshipmen. which class of officers, he steers as clear of as if there were danger in their contact and they are decidedly better off and worse disciplined in consequence than any set of Reefers I have ever met with." The officer frequently refers to Read as "the old creature" or "the old man." Toward the end of the voyage (16 May 1840), the commodore relieved the acting master of the helm on a trumped-up charge. The officer questions Read's competence to navigate the vessel: "I was afraid we will meet with some error in our navigation, simple as it is. I do not like to trust to our present navigator. However if he don't run us ashore we should be thankful." Read restored the acting master to his command on 27 May, as he really was incapable of navigating the vessel and probably fearful of repercussions upon returning home. "It will be a glorious day when we all get rid of this creature." One of the lieutenants left the Columbia in Rio de Janeiro to join the Decatur. The officer envies his shipmate's decision, but it puts a strain on the remaining officers, reducing them to three watches and little sleep. A ship as large as the Columbia was manned by eight lieutenants, whose names are listed in a letter they published in support of the American Protestant Mission before leaving Oahu. They are: George A. Magruder, Andrew H. Foot, John W. Turk, Thomas Turner, James L. Palmer, Edward R. Thomson, August H. Killig, and George B. Minor.
By mid-September, the sick list grew ominiously long. On 13 September, 96 men were listed as ill, and six had died in the past two months. A week later brought two more dead. Dysentery, "bilious fever," and scurvy—which the officer correctly attributes to the poor diet of the seamen—are the cause. The officers had not hitherto been affected. Fortunately, by early October the Columbia reached the Sandwich Islands.
A most riveting, at times condescending, and humorous account of the Columbia's visit to Hawaii. The ship arrived at Oahu on the ninth of October and hailed Waikiki on the tenth "but a pilot coming off persuaded us to bear up and come to anchor off the harbour of Honolulu." The officer went ashore with the commodore to call upon the American consul and the acting governor ("a tolerably well looking mulatto in his shirt sleeves"). Then they paid their respects to the King Kamehameha III (here called Kauikeaouli), whom the junior officer describes as a young man of 26. The king received the officers "in a burlesque regal state." Heredity, the officer observes, descends through the female line. He relates the anecdote about the late king Liho-Liho's visit to England. When questioned about this peculiarity, the king wisely replied that every man was sure who his mother was, which could not be applied in relation to the other parent. King Kamehameha III has three nephews and one niece. His half-sister, Kinau, was the kuhina nui, whom the officer describes in less than flattering terms. The king, while he could speak and understand English, employed a private secretary (a missionary, probably Gerrit Judd) who also acted as interpreter.
Dinner party on board the Columbia with the royal family. The officer disparages Kinau as "a great coarse vulgar looking creature weighing 250 pounds and nearly six feet high . . . the Comdr had to play the gallant and parraded [sic] this great animal about the ship on his arm till dinner was announced . .. so soon as her appetite was satiated, she very quietly got up retired to the aft cabin threw herself full length on the sofa and in sight of the whole dinner party was soon rapt in the arms of Murphy." He is generally uncomplementary of native women: "The Indian girls in the country are very obliging but I'm sorry to say pretty girls are rare. They all have generally flat noses and thick lips in face the whole race seem infinitely more like our own mulatto servants than free born Indians."
A taste of Hawaiian cuisine: "I was induced to take a little of poor Ponto." The king reciprocated the commodore's hospitality by inviting him and his officers to a luau. Meat and fish were cooked on hot stones in pits. "Taro the great vegetable not unlike a yam . . . answered for the purpose of bread and Poe a disgusting paste formed from it and allowed to ferment. This stuff was handed about in calabashes and disgusting to my taste but enjoyed exceedingly by his Majesty who for my entertainment, would dip his forefinger in the mess give it 2 or 3 dextrous twirls and carry it with great rapidity to his mouth. and after sucking his finger clean would repeat the operation."
The great specialty of the feast was baked dog, "2 or 3 . . . being spread before us. I was induced to take a little of poor Ponto and found him to be in taste [a] mixture of the pig, and sheep not equal to either separately. The dogs are bred purposefully for the table, and fed exclusively on vegetables." Of the foodstuffs available, the officer remarks that the markets seldom offer beef or mutton, but vegetables, turkeys and other foul, pigs and fish are plentiful.
He hotly resents British influence over the Hawaiians, even though most of the foreigners residing in the archipelago are American. " England regards these people as her protegés and will when desirable take possession. They have given them a flag which is an Union Jack with stripes of blue, white, red, alternating in the field." The flag had been designed by King Kamehameha I. The stripes represent the eight principal islands while the canton is emblazoned with the Union Jack to honor Hawaii's friendship with Great Britain. A British admiral did force the cession of the throne in the spring of 1840, but the Great Britain rescinded the cession and formally recognized the sovereignty of the Hawaiian government in November 1840.
The officer's records favorable impressions of Tahiti, from the physical beauty of the natives, their adoption of western dress and religion, to the tastiness of baked breadfruit. The ship then proceeds to South America and thence for home.
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