Home ° 2017

South Pacific

° Funafuti ° Nanumanga ° Nanumea


French Polynesia is a collection of 118 islands covering a vast area of the southeastern Pacific Ocean.

Divided among five archipelagoes: the volcanic Society Islands, also called the islands under the wind (in the west) and the wind islands (in the east), with the well known island of Tahiti, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands, and the coral Tubuai Islands (Austral Islands). Also included are American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Niue, Pitcairn (famous for the Mutiny on the British ship HMS Bounty), Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

According to the evidence of linguists, the language of Tuvalu goes back about 2,000 years. The traditional stories and genealogies, however, mostly go back only about 300 years. It seems, therefore, that the story we have today came to us not from the earlier ancestors but from later arrivals in Tuvalu.

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

South Pacific Islands.

The first European Explorer to make contact with Tuvalu was Alvaro de Mendana y Neyra, a Spanish explorer. He sailed westward across the Pacific in 1567-8 to discover, explore and name a substantial part of the eastern half of the Solomon Islands. On January 16, 1568 Mendana, with his ship Capitana, sighted his first island, which turned out to be Nui, and named it the Isle of Jesus. Mendana himself reported on Nui “ . . .we found it so small it was not more than six leagues in circumference. The island was very full of trees like palms; towards the north it had a reef . . . ” Although islanders ventured out to the ship no contact was made with them. Gallego, the Chief Pilot, merely recorded that they were “naked and mulattoes” and Sarmiento, the captain of Magellan's flagship, observed that the island "had a large fishery".

A quarter of a century later Mendana made a second exploration of the Pacific. On August 29, 1595 the atoll of Niulakita was discovered and named La Solitaria. Once again no contact was made and Mendana sailed off in search of the Solomons where on Santa Cruz, he died in October 1595.

Such was the first and only European contact with Tuvalu for almost two centuries. The atolls were ignored until 1781 when the Spanish trader Don Francisco Maurelle was forced well south of the Equator by unfavourable winds on a routine journey from Manila to Mexico.

Trade Winds: South Pacific. 1767

Jakob van der Schley, Bellin, Roman

With inadequate provisions (since cockroaches ate most of the stores) he was forced as far south as the Tongan archipelago. Sailing north, on May 5, 1781 he discovered an island which he called Isla del Cocal, the atoll of Nanumanga. Maurelle set sail northwestwards, sighting Nanumea, which he named San Augustin, but passing no closer than six leagues. Once again Tuvaluan atolls had been discovered by accident, and once again they provoked little or no interest in their discoverers.

Captain Arent de Peyster, an American, is given credit for the rediscovery of Tuvalu. He was in command of the British brigantine Rebecca, who in May 1819 discovered a group of fourteen islets which appeared to be inhabited. The first atoll was discovered when theRebecca was only three times her length from the shore. The atoll was Funafuti and de Peyster called it Ellice's Group after Edward Ellice, the Member of Parliament for Coventry and the owner of the Rebecca's cargo. Ellice was also a London merchant, a financier of wide imperialist interests and a leading figure in the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada. The next morning de Peyster sighted Nukufetau, which he called de Peyster's Group. Eventually, the name Ellice was applied to all nine islands by the English hydrographer A. G. Findlay.

Outward Bound Whaler.

William Bradford (1823-1892).

Outward Bound Whaler. William Bradford.

In the next decade more traders and whalers briefly visited Tuvalu, especially after the discovery of the Central Pacific whaling grounds in 1818. Captain George Barrett in the Nantucket whaler Independence II, was the first to sight Nukulaelae, and rediscovered Niulakita on November 6, 1821. Four years later, 1825, Obed Starbuck in the whaler Loper,sighted Niutao and Vaitupu, and Captain Eeg of the Dutch ship Pollux sights Nui again, more than 250 years after Mendana's first voyage

By the middle of the nineteenth century Tuvaluans had obviously become quite familiar with the unfortunate medical impact of the arrival of increasing numbers of Europeans, so that in 1853 when Captain Pease of the Planter became one of the first Europeans to visit the atoll of Nanumea he was washed and various propitious ceremonies were carried out before he was allowed to step ashore.

February 28, 1873, Alton Telegraph, Alton, Illinois

The Archipelagos of the Pacific

The Islands of the Pacific Oceans are divided into Archipelagoes; the principal are the Fiji Islands, a group comprising 154 islands some 64 of which are inhabited.

The Golden Age of Maritime Maps. Catherine Hofmann, Helene Richard, Emmanuelle Vagon.

The natives are for the most part sunk in the lowest depths of cannibalism, although a small proportion have been Christianized through the efforts of the Wesleyan missionaries. The natives, however, suffer so many falls from grace that it is doubtful whether any of them are really reclaimed.

The productions of these islands are chiefly "Beche de Mer" and sandal wood, although cotton plantations have been started by capitalists from Australia and New Zealand.

The Ellice and Gilbert Archipelagoes also lie south of the equator, and together, number some 200 islands and some 60,000 inhabitants, who are also cannibals for the most part.

North of the equator we find the Marshall group, and the Sandwich Islands. Cannibalism in these islands is almost extinct, although there is great need of improvement in the morals of the inhabitants, as they are very licentious and are also addicted to stealing anything that they can lay their hands upon.

Tuvalu's waters were frequented by American whalers in the 1800's. Seamen occasionally deserted and settled ashore, while some of the more adventurous islanders became crewmen. Some Europeans beachcombers become traders and agents for firms in Australia, Germany and the US, and organized the export of coconut oil or copra.

During the 1860s slave traders, or "blackbirders", carried off about 400 islanders, mainly from Funafuti and Nukulaelae, to work in Peru. None of them ever returned. Others were later recruited for plantations in Fiji, Samoa and Hawaii.

Christianity was introduced in 1861 when some adherents of the London Missionary Society from Manihiki in the Cook Islands accidently drift to Nukulaelae in a canoe. In May 1865 the Reverend A. W. Murray of the LMS visited Tuvalu from Samoa and installed Samoan pastors on the various islands.

The German Company of Godeffroy and Son of Hamburg were first island traders in Tuvalu. As the locals were not very enthusiastic about copra-making, they devised the system of establishing agents, many of whom were American and British beachcombers, at likely points in the islands to trade European goods supplied by Godeffroy to the natives for coconuts which they dried.

Jack O'Brien was of Australian-Irish descent and came to Funafuti in the 1850's. Jack O'Brien was the first white man in Funafuti and the Ellice Group, preceding the other white traders by some thirty odd years. He married Salai, the daughter of the then King of Funafuti and became the matriarch of an extensive Tuvaluan family. The O'Brien name is synonymous with Funafuti with the extended family evident in many countries throughout the world.

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.