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South Pacific

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Tuamotu Archipelago

The archipelago comprises 75 atolls, one raised coral atoll (Makatea), and innumerable coral reefs, roughly dispersed northwest-southeast as a double chain for more than 900 miles.

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

South Pacific Islands. 1891.

Volcanic in origin, the islands are part of a vast submerged mountain chain, probably a southeasterly extension of the Cook Island.

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.

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

Iron, February 28, 1890, London, United Kingdom

Trade Lists from 1889.

July 23, 1903 Marion Sentinel, Marion, Iowa, USA

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 currently in New Zealand that France intends to transfer its possessions in the eastern Pacific to the United States. 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 Tuamotu islands, where the recent disastrous tidal wave occurred; the Leeward islands, comprising Raiatea, Tahaa, Huahine and Borabora; the Tubual and Raivavae groups, the island cf 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.

August 9, 1903, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Fierce Seas Devastate Tuamoto Group
It Is Feared That a Repetition of the Qreat Disaster of Last January Has Occurred in the Tuamotu Group. Details of the Catastrophe

PAPEETE. Tahiti. July 23, via San Francisco, Aug. B. (Correspondence of the Associated Press.)

It would seem that the ninety islands, known variously as the Low Archipelago or Tuamotu group, are destined to be reclaimed by the Pacific ocean.

Tuamotu Archipelago. French Polynesia. 1885

Tuamotu Archipelago.

Last January they were swept by a flood composed of high waves from the ocean and the lesser ones from the enclosed lagoons, and. In consequence, nearly six hundred of the inhabitants were drowned and property to the value of $500,000 was destroyed. And now, six months later, fierce gales from the southwest and southeast have again caused great surging crests to sweep over some of the islands. So far, only four persons are believed to have perished, but the fear is great that when all the islands are heard from there may be a distressing list of fatalities.

The steamer Excelsior suffered much damage during the series of gales while she was on her trip from Tahiti to the Marquesas group.

Three of the Tuamotu Islands were under water to such an extent that the inhabitants had to climb cocoanut trees for safety. Houses and stores, copra and, finally, the cocoanut trees were destroyed, while the inhabitants had a close call to death. It Is thought that most of the Islands In the group were visited by the storm.

March 4, 1906, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Most Destructive Storm Ever Experienced
Damage In Society and Tuamotu Estimated Over a Million Dollars.
Consulate and Federal Buildings Destroyed

By Associated Press. SAN FRANCISCO, March 3.

The most destructive cyclone ever experienced in the Society and Tuamotu islands occurred on February 7 and 8. The damage in Tahiti is estimated at $1,000,000 and presumably a similar amount of property was destroyed on the Tuamotu islands.

Bay of Papeete.

Bay of Papeete.

The city of Papeete was inundated and about seventy-five buildings destroyed, including the American consulate and the French government building. The shipping in the harbor of Papeete escaped injury owing to the direction of the wind, but fears are entertained for vessels which were cruising near the Tuamotu islands.

It is feared that there may have been heavy loss of life in the lagoons of the Tuamotu islands, though the death of the guardian of the quarantine station at Papeete is the only fatality yet reported.

Schooner Submerged

The schooner Papeete was submerged for an hour near Anna, Tuamotu. Her captain, Philip Michaelli estimated that the waves were sixty-fve feet high. It was impossible to see twenty feet away at 3 o'clock in the daytime and the sailors had to be lashed to the vessel.

M. Marcadi, a French resident at Faharana, Tuamotu islands, abandoned that place in a small cutter after all the government buildings, dwelling houses and Catholic church were swept away. Many of the natives climbed coconut trees while others put out to sea in small boats.

The schooner Ina, which was anchored In the lagoon at Makemo, successfully rode out the storm. Makemo was badly washed. Many narrow escapes from drowning have been reported. Bridges and roads were badly damaged on the island of Tahiti. Bread fruit, cocoanut, banana and plantain trees were blown down in great numbers, which will result in hardship to the natives and materially effect commerce during tho next two years. The French gunboat Zelee has gone to the Tuamotu islands with supplies of food and fresh water. The British consul has appealed to his government for aid for 500 British subjects.

Americans Sustaln Losses

Americans have sustained heavy losses and probably there will be a few instances of utter destitution. The Americans are hopeful of securing help from the United States. Money and not food is required.

An American named Seefeldt, living near that community, had to take to an adjacent swamp which soon became inundate and he was compelled to battle against the waves during many hours. Further east on the beach road houses were swept away for about a half mile. At Teunoa the family of Herman Menell had a thrilling experience. Their fine residence, probably worth $15,000, was badly damaged by strong waves, which compelled the family to flee for their lives to a native house.

Frequently the water was up to their necks and they were obliged to cling to trees for safety and support. While, before the storm, there was a frontage of 160 yards to the sea, the waves cut off the lawn so that the water now is within ten yards of the veranda. The damage to the house amounts to $5000. Other fine homes were badly damaged.

Velocity of 120 Miles an Hour

The cyclone reached the velocity of 120 miles an hour. It struck the islands about midnight on February 7 and continued until about 4 o'clock on the next afternoon. The island of Anaa, Tuamotu group, is believed to have been the center of the storm.

Papeete, 1882.
A Street in Papeete
from "Tahiti," published 1882, London
Colonel Stuart Wortley.

At Papeete, about 7 o'clock on the evening of Feb. 7, the sea began to break heavily over the reef; the waves in the harbor washed over the quay, There was no perceptible wind. Toward 10 o'clock people dwelling in the vicinity of the water front were compelled to abandon their homes, securing as a rule only a small portion of their belongings.

The merchants and clerks went to the stores and warehouses only to discover that it was quite impossible to save goods in the lower floors. An hour later high seas broke, completely demolishing the government slip and buildings, besides causing great damage to the cdal sheds. The guardian of the arsenal, Teffer Adams, an expert swimmer, was in the water for many hours and assisted in warning and rescuing many persons.

Village Swept Away

The village of Tarona near the arsenal was completely swept away. It consisted of the mission buildings and homes of native converts of the reorganized Latter Day Saints' mission, formerly under the direction of Thomas F. Burton of California. The mission house and many other houses were carried off to a distance of many hundreds of yards and demolished. About 8 o'clock in the morning the American consulate, the oldest structure in Papeete, having been built about 1836, collapsed. In the absence of the American consul, his mother, Mrs. Doty, supervised the removal of the archives, aided by several missionaries.

Mrs. Doty was in serious jeopardy several times in the waves. The records were temporarily stored at the Latter Day Saints' mission house. Mr. Doty's family also accepted their hospitality. Beyond the American consulate several government buildings, including the treasury and storehouses, sustained great damage. Deputy Mayor of Papeete M. Longamayino lost not only his own house but six others. M. Poroe lost many of his buildings.

All the dwelling-houses near the protestant church were wrecked. The British consulate was slightly damaged. Captain Bemali has also abandoned his home with his family on account of the rush of the water. Another American, Edward Fritch, was washed out. The substitute guardian at the quar- antine station at Motauta island, Papeete harbor, was waving a lantern for many hours during the night as he and his wife clung to the tops of cocoanut trees In the midst of waves that dashed thirty feet high over the island. On shore H. Andre, the chief pilot, called on Commander Hurbln of the gunboat Zelee to let him have a boat and crew for the rescue of the man and woman at the quarantine station. Commander Hurbin explained that he deemed it his duty to decline to send his men in what appeared a forlorn hope expedition, but promised to let M. Andre have a boat without a crew. Pilot Andre requisitioned four prisoners at the local jail and with them proceeded to Zelee.

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

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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.

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