Home ° 2017

Marquesas Islands

° Gambier Islands ° Society Islands (Leeward and Windward)  ° Marquesas Islands ° Navigator Islands (Samoa) ° Tuamotu Archipelago ° Tubuai Islands

International Harbors

The islands are, for the most part, high and craggy, with jagged peaks rising in places to some 4,000 feet (1,200 metres).

The largest (77 square miles [200 square km]) and most populated island of the southeastern group is Hiva Oa, the burial place of the French artist Paul Gauguin and the Belgian singer Jacques Brel; the group also includes Fatu Hiva and Tahuata, each about 23 square miles (60 square km) in area, and the uninhabited Motane and Fatu Huku. The northwestern group comprises Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Eiao, and Hatutu.

Russian Encounters in the South Pacific. Elena Govor, Author.

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.

The Marquesas are the most remote, rugged and inaccessible island group in Polynesia. The islands are geologically young, volcanic upwellings with no protective rings of coral reef to interrupt the endless waves breaking on the shores. Razor-sharp peaks separate each island into a series of isolated valleys where exotic birds nest. (Image: 1843. Body Art, Nuku Hiva Island.)

The Marquesas are believed to have been inhabited as early as 340 BCE. The southeastern islands were sighted in 1595 by the Spanish explorer lvaro de Menda a de Neira, who named them for his patron, the marqu s de Mendoza, viceroy of Peru. Capt.

James Cook visited Fatu Huku in 1774.

By the end of March, the ship was in their reported latitude, 9 degrees 30' S. Cook altered course and began to run down his longitude to the west. The first island -- or rather the large rock Fatu Haku -- was sighted on April 6 by the sixteen year old midshipman Alexander Hood, and called Hood's Island by the captain; then another, as the weather turned squally for the first time on the run. Next morning there were a third and a fourth, and Cook knew he had found what he was in search of.

In 1791 the American sea captain Joseph Ingraham sighted the northwestern group and named them Washington Islands. The whole group, annexed by the French in 1842, now forms an administrative subdivision of French Polynesia, with headquarters at Hakapehi (Tai-o-hae) on Nuku Hiva. Because the islands lack coastal plains and coral reefs, habitation is largely restricted to the narrow valleys where streams run down from the mountains.

In 1886, Gauguin began his lifelong migration between regions of French Polynesia and Paris often surviving on little or no money. Disappointed with Impressionism and influenced by folk art and Japanese prints, Gauguin evolved towards Cloisonnism and then Synthetism and Primitavism. Gauguin is considered to be the first artist to achieve broad success using the Primitive technique. Paul Gauguin lived on the island of Hiva Oa for the last two years of his life. The painting above is of "Two Women on the Beach."

Gauguin’s paintings significantly influenced Modern art movements and artists including Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Fauvism, Cubism, and Orphism. Gauguin also created two- and three-dimensional sculptures and functional objects ranging from portrait busts and architectural reliefs to objects such as vases, knife handles, and wine casks. He was also an influential supporter of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.

Gauguin died on May 8, 1903 and remains buried at Calvary Cemetery, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia.

April 25, 1869, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, USA

The King of the Cannibal Islands His Arrival in New York
Singular Story of "Cannibal Jack" Thirty Years Among the Man-Eaters.

From the New York Tribune, March 30th.

Never did the most extravagant fancy conceive a wilder or more adventurous career than that of a sailor who arrived in irons last week at this port, and has since been lodging in a Cherry-street boarding house as quietly although he had never exercised despotic power over thousands of bloodthirsty cannibals.

This singular personage is a brown-bearded man of medium size, dark complexion, retiring manner and a most perplexing accent. Any one would pronounce him a foreigner, but no two would agree as to his nationality. He has never permitted himself to be tattooed, but bears his credentials in the shape of a round hole in his forehead, made by the point of a javelin, which he struck up with his club in time to prevent its piercing his breast. Despite his ominous title of "Cannibal Jack," he asserts that he has never tasted human flesh, although his savage Marquesas subjects feast upon it every week with the utmost relish! "Is it possible? And whom do they eat!" "Oh, prisoners of war mostly, and any strangers they can catch." "And, I say, "continues the questioner, with a slight shiver, "How do they cook them?" "Bake them! Take them just as you would a pig, clean them and stuff them with sweet-scented leaves and hot stones. Then they lay hot stones on the ground for an oven, cover them with leaves, put the bodies on these, then more leaves and hot stones, and finally a layer of earth to keep in the heat and the steam from the green leaves." "And can't you stop it?" "Not a bit! I can save white men, but not natives."

Natives of the Marquesas Islands.

Owing to his knowledge of their many dialects, and his familiarity with their customs, he is either obeyed or feared in many differont island groups, but the special seat of his power is on Oitahu, one of the Marquesas Islands. There a white man, named Butcher, was chief when Jack first landed, and there Butcher's skull is still preserved. There Jack reigns in naked and native dignity, with his tappa girdle and his feather head-dress. There he has fourteen wives in one house, besides many more on other islands. There he makes laws for two thousand islanders, and plans raids upon the Typee savages of Dominica, another of the Marquesas Islands, with whose natives he is ceaselessly at war. There are his double war canoes, made of boards sewed together with cocoanut sennet, and propelled 14 miles an hour by 300 rowers, who not only keep stroke to theo sound of a war song, but vary the exercise every few moments by flinging their paddles in the air and catching them as they fall with military precision.

It is utterly impossible to give within a column any just idea of the wild life of this white chief of Oitahu. On one occasion he and a Typee King of Dominica were rival suitors for a young princess. Jack, finding his suit likely to fail, ran off with the girl, who was only about twelve years old, but was caught, bound, and turned adrift in a canoe. Regaining the shore he climbed a hill, saw a native coming up the other side with a musket and another man's leg over his shoulder, and hastily scrambled up a tree. The savage laid down his ugly burdun under the same tree, and went after a coconut. Jack slipped down, got the gun and pointed it at the native, who fled for dear life from the white man who was drowned the day before. In trying to pass the towns of his enemies, in order to reach a part of the island friendly to him, he stumbled into a "taboo ground," or cemetery, a place full of skulls which were walking around and nodding to each other in the most extraordinary manner, and examination showed that each skull was tenanted by a young crab of the kind called oo-oo by the natives. This little chapter in his life ended with setting fire to a village, by which means he decoyed the warriors out of a fort which guarded the only pass leading to the friendly territory, and then made his escape directly through tho deserted fortress.

Jack is evidently of a Christian turn of mind, does not swear, and takes pleasure in attending divine service. Nevertheless, he does not like missionaries, will not allow them on his island, and declares that Father Damon, at Honolulu, and Mr. Brown, on one of the Navigator Islands, are the only ones who have done the natives any real good. He charges the others with covetousness, inhumanity and other nameless villainies.

Fourteen years ago a Boston traveller, who helped found the first newspaper in the Sandwich Islands, offered Jack $700 if he would return with him to Boston and relate his story in detail, in order that a book might be made of it. Jack declined, but now, as he wishes to make a little money, he is quite ready to accept such a proposition. He intends to go to New Bedford in a few days to visit certain whaling captains of his acquaintance whom he expects to find there, and hopes to get funds enough to buy some tools, ammunition, and "old newspapers with stories in them," to take back with him; for next November will doubtless find him far on his way to his island kingdom, as he declares he would not spend a winter in this cold climate for half the city of New York!"

"Cannibal Jack" or the "Walking Geography," or "Jerry Daly," as he is variously called, possesses a marvellous memory, and careful inquiry into his history shows that about thirty-five years ago there lived in Rochester a tough little chap, who was the youngest son in an American family of four boys and four girls. Born in a small village in that vicinity, he made his home, upon the death of his parents, with an elder sister, who resided in that city. This excellent young woman sent him to school, and switched him so faithfully when he played truant, as he often did, that he ran away at the tender age of nine years, and succeeded in making his way across York State to Mystic, on Long Island Sound. Here, in his zeal to see the strange sights of a seaport town, he boarded a ship which was just on the point of sailing for Havre, and was carried off before he could regain the shore.

He made himself as useful as he could, and on arriving in the French port immediately ran away again, lest the Captain, who had learned his story, should send him back to Rochester. Getting on a Seine steamer, he made two or three trips between Havre and Rouen; but one day, in emptying the hot water out of a "dog-basket," he unluckily pitched a lot of plates and spoons overboard, whereupon the wrathy steward kicked the poor little fellow so soundly with his wooden shoos that he was glad to scamper ashore. Then the mate of a Scotch schoonor took pity on him, and he tried to repay the mate's kindness by helping to hoist the schooner's anchor out of the way of the tide, which rushes up the Seine furiously. By some mishap it slipped, and its whole weight dragged a rope through his hands so swiftly as to actually rasp the flesh from the bones. The Captain was highly vexed, and drove him on shore again; but the mate anil crew sided with the little chap, who had held to the rope so pluckily they left the schooner in a body, and the Captain had no small trouble in getting them back again.

In the meanwhile the young adventurer got his hurts dressed, fell into the hands of a good natured old Frenchman, who took excellent care of him, and at last shipped on a Swedish ship for a cruise in the Baltic Sea. Near Dantzic he ran away again because the mate threatened to beat him for doling out too much coffee to the men. For two days he lived on green wheat, and tried to catch storks. The second night he crept cautiously on board, and was just slipping into his berth when the Captain called him into the cabin, perched him up on the transom lockers with nothing on but his shirt, lectured him roundly on the folly of running away, and finally shut him up in the empty hold till noon the next day.

After visiting other ports, he sailed in a Russian brig to the North of England. Thence he went in a swift-sailing "fruiter" upon a Mediterranean cruise, then back to England again; from there to St. Johns to New York. In New York he shipped as steerage boy on the whaler Shepherdess for the Sandwich Islands. From Honolulu he went in another whaler to the Sea of Okhotsk, thence to Kodiak and New Zealand, and then to the Marquesas Islands. Here he found the man Butcher, with whom he soon became intimate, and from that time, for many years, his life was mainly spent with the savages of the Marquesas, Society, Friendly and Navigator islands, amongst whom he gained an ascendancy that fairly entitles him to the high-sounding appellation of the "King of the Cannibal Islands."

Two years ago his longing to revisit his native land became so intense that he shipped in the only craft he could find, a German brig, for Hamburg, reached there a year ago last Christmas, went thence to Liverpool, lost all his money, sailed for San Francisco to fill his pockets and escape the unendurable cold, and in July last shipped to New York as a common sailor on board the Volunteer. The Captain was mean and tyrannical, and when the Volunteer landed at Mazatlan to take in her cargo of logwood he drove the mate ashore, took in a hundred days provisions of the most miserable character, and started on a six months' voyage.

Astrolabe and Zelee.

The three principal officers were mere striplings, ignorant of navigation. The boatswain in particular was a highly supercilious youth, And one day the Captain ordered "Cannibal Jack" to do some little duty that this boatswain had shirked. "Jack" did not understand at first, and the order was angrily repeated, when he instantly obeyed. "Look out, Jack," whispered one of his mates, "the Captain will be afoul of you directly."

"He'd better be afoul of some of these gentlemen that are too proud to do their duty," responded Jack. For this independent remark, the Captain ordered him in irons. Jack demurred, the irate Captain begun to beat him with his lists. Jack resisted, the carpenter (the stoutest man in the ship) flew to the Captain's aid. Jack drew his knife, the mate, with revolver in hand, appeared on the scene, and Jack consented to be ironed with double handcuffs.

This was in February, and for over five weeks be was confined in a place about three feet high, with nothing but the bare wet deck to sleep on, and a ropes-end or piece of sail for a pillow. Only once was he allowed to come on deck, and on the arrival of the Volunteer at New York he was taken on shore, brought before a United States Commissioner the next day on a charge of mutiny, and released under $500 bail. Curiously enough, a man whom Jack met in San Francisco last summer, has since come to New York by the overland route, and established himself as a keeper of a sailors' boarding house. This man and Jack recognized each other, and the "King of the Cannibal Islands" is at this moment the guest of his ex-California acquaintance in Cherry street. Still more curiously, the mate who was put ashore at Mazatlan is also in New York, intent on suing the Captain for damages. And, most curious of all, in the next boarding house stops an ancient mariner who saw Jack in the Bay of Naples more than thirty years ago, and distinctly remembers the little American boy on board the "fruiter!"

Astrolabe and Zelee stranded in the Austral Ocean. February 1838.

There Astrolabe and Zeelee stranded in the Austral Ocean. February 1838. is no doubt that Jack is technically guilty of the State Prison offence of mutiny, but it is pretty certain that the affair will be peaceably compromised, and that no one will appear against him next week, Tuesday, the day set for his examination. It would be hard for the Captain to find witnesses amongst the crew, who are all down on him for his general meanness, and especially for taking them to sea with such a short allowance of miserable food that they had to beg provisions from passing vessels, during the latter part of the voyage, to keep themselves from starving! Even the carpenter has penitently offered Jack money as amends for his own share in the affray, and no one can doubt that in equity, if not in law, five weeks' incarceration in a prison scarcely more than half as high as himself is punishment enough for his offence.

Thursday, December 8, 1921, Wellsboro Gazette, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, USA

Only One Master of Art Left In Marquessa, Says Traveler.

There is only one "'tahuva" (master tattooer) left in the Marquesas islands, where a generation ago they were the most numerous and skillful of all the artisans, says Dr. Ralph Linton, assistant in archeology at the Bishop museum, Honolulu, who has returned after ten months of investigation and research in the South seas.

Of all the things he saw while in the Marquesas, the marvelous tattooing displayed by the natives was one of the most interesting.

The men were formerly tattooed all over the body, even inside the nostrils and on the scalp, and the hair was shaved off in patches to reveal the artistic work.

March 15, 1923, Wellsboro Gazette, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, USA

Marquesans Are Trace Back to India
by Hawaiian Scientist After Investigation

Honolulu, Hawaii. The flora of the Marquesas Islands prove that the Polynesian race came out of southeastern Asia to its present habitations in the islands of the Pacific, in the opinion of Forrest Brown, botanist of the Bishop museum, who has just returned from 17 months of investigation in the Marquesas in connection with the museum's effort to establish the origin of the Polynesians.

The presence in the Marquesas of the sweet potato and the papaia led Professor Brown to the theory that the Marquesas visited Aemrica, as these plants probably had been obtained in semi-tropical Central America. The food plants most common to the Marquesas came, however, from southeastern Asia, probably by way of Malay, Java and India.

Professor Brown said that the original Polynesians probably had inhabited the coasts of southeastern Asia and had been forced to seek new homes in the Paciifc by the pressure of tribes and clans from the interior which drove them literally into the ocean. They took their food plants with tem when the migrated, he said. He is not ready to express an opinion as to the route or routes taken by the Polynesians during their migrations, which finally landed them in Hawaii.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

Kindly Kindly Donate.


DALevy @


Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

Please inform us if you link from your site. Please do NOT link from your site unless your site specifically relates to immigration in the 1800s, family history, maritime history, international seaports, and/or California history.