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South Pacific

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Tubai Islands

French Polynesia is a collection of 118 islands covering a vast area of the southeastern Pacific Ocean and divided into five scattered archipelagos: Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Tuamotu Archipelago, Gambier Islands, and the Tubuai Islands. The capital is Papeete, Tahiti (Society Islands). The larger islands are volcanic with fertile soil and dense vegetation. The more numerous coral islands are low lying. The climate is tropical. Missionaries arrived in Tahiti at the end of the 18th century, and in the 1840s France began establishing protectorates. In 1880 82, France annexed the islands and they became part of its colony of Oceania.

Also included are American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Niue, Pitcairn (famous for the Mutiny on the British ship HMS Bounty), Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

South Pacific Islands: Fiji, Viti Levu, Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Chatham Solomons. 1891.

Volcanic in origin, the islands are part of a vast submerged mountain chain, probably a southeasterly extension of the Cook Islands (New Zealand). Scattered over an area some 800 miles (1,300 km) long, they comprise five inhabited islands Raivavae (6 square miles [16 square km]), Rapa (15 square miles [39 square km]), Rimatara, (3 square miles [8 square km]), Rurutu (11 square miles [29 square km]), and Tubuai (18 square miles [47 square km]) as well as the tiny, uninhabited Marotiri Islands at the southern end of the chain, and Maria Atoll in the north. The Tubuai Islands had long been settled by Polynesian peoples by the time of European contact. Four of the islands were sighted by Capt. James Cook Rimatara and Rurutu in 1769 and Raivavae and Tubuai eight years later.

In 1791 George Vancouver sighted the southernmost inhabited island, Rapa, the broken rim of a former volcano curved around the harbour of Ahurei Bay. The whole group was brought under French control between 1880 and 1889.

Astrolabe and Zelee.
The Astrolabe and Zelee Visiting Nuku Hiva Island
French Marquesas Islands, Louis Le Breton.

Le Breton studied medicine and took part in Dumont d'Urville's second voyage aboard the Astrolabe. After the official illustrator of the expedition died, Le Breton replaced him.

J. S. C. Dumont d'Urville

In 1836 Emperor Louis Philippe of France wanted France to play a part in the exploration of the Southern Seas. The voyage of the Astrolabe was, arguably, France’s last and greatest scientific voyage of discovery by sail. Under the skilful leadership of Captain Jules Sebastien Csar Dumont d’Urville (image left), the Astrolabe and the Zelee would discover and claim Adalie land in Antarctica, amass a vast collection of botanical and zoological specimens, and advise the French government against attempting to create a colony at Akaroa in New Zealand.

Astrolabe and Zeelee Stranded.

Captain Dumont d'Urville was born in Normandy, France on 23 May 1790. He made his first voyage to the Pacific as second-in-command to Duperrey in the Coquille in 1822-25, and returned in command of the Astrolabe (the Coquille renamed) in 1826-29.

His third and final voyage to the Pacific was with two ships, the Astrolabe and the Zelee, from 1837 to 1840. Charles Jacquinot captained the Zelee.

The islands form an administrative subdivision of French Polynesia. The local capital is Mataura, on Tubuai.

Other major settlements include Amaru on Raivavae, Ahurei on Rapa, and Moerai on Rurutu. The inhabitants are predominantly Protestant. Polynesian traditions are unusually well preserved in the Tubuais because of the comparative isolation of the islands.

The British Ship John Law -- Piracy

The British ship John Law, Capt. Percival, bound from Valparaiso to San Francisco, with a valuable cargo oil board, sprang a leak, in latitude 10 deg. South, causing her to make 3,200 strokes per hour. Whilst in this dilemma the American whaling bark D. M. Hall, Captain Pratt, was spoken by the John Law, and Captain Percival, anxious to do the best for the safety of his vessel, offered a very large remuneration to Captain Pratt to remain by the ship during night. This was refused by Pratt, who proposed to take all hands off the ship if Captain Percival would abandon his vessel, which of course was not consented to.

The bark then left the ship, and, soon after, the crew mutinied. The bark on being signalled returned, when Capt. Pratt received the captain and crew on board, and placed part of his own crew on the John Law, giving her in charge to Capt. Crosby, a passenger on the bark.

Capt. Pratt now having charge of both vessels, stood off for the Marquesas Islands, and on reaching there he hauled the two vessels alongside, opened the hatches of the John Law, and commenced transferring the most valuable part of the cargo to his own vessel, allowing the sailors at the same time free access to the liquor, and suffering them to commit all kinds of depredations. After loading the bark with the ship's cargo, Captain Pratt compelled Captain Percival to assign over to him the entire cargo as a compensation for his services, and the authorities refused to interfere to protect Captain Percival or place him in possession of his ship.

The two vessels then proceeded to Tahiti, where Capt. Percival laid his case before the American Consul and French authorities. Capt. Pratt was arrested as also the disorderly crew, and Capt. Percival placed in command of his ship. An action of piracy has been brought against Pratt.

July 23, 1903, Marion Sentinel, Marion, Iowa

Rumor That France Intends to Transfer
Its Possessions to American Republic.

London, July 20 A dispatch from Wellington, N. Z. calls attention to a rumor emanating from the French colony at Papeete, Island of Tahiti, which is current in New Zealand that France intends to transfer its possessions in the eastern Pacific to the United States.

Contes Barbares or Babaric Tales.
Dutch Artist Jacob Meyer de Haan in Polynesia. 1902. Paul Gauguin.

The Paris correspondent of the Daily Mail says nothing is known of the rumor at the French war and colonial offices. The French possessions in the eastern Pacific consist of the Society islands, the most important of which are Tahiti and Moorea; the Tuametu islands, where the recent disastrous tidal wave occurred; the Leeward islands, comprising Raiatea, Tahaa, Huahine and Berabora; the Tubual and Raivavae groups, the island of Rapa, the Gambler islands; Rurutu and Rimatara islands, and the Marquesas islands. Their total area 13 about 1,520 square miles and their population about 29,000.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California.

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