Narrative of the US Exploring Expedition 1845 – Charles Wilkes USN

In 1838 a special squadron of the United States Navy was ordered into the Pacific Ocean to chart hazards and gather scientific knowledge. After an expedition of four years Charles Wilkes, commander of the squadron,  compiled a narrative of the voyage from the journals of his officers and scientists. The narrative was published in five volumes in 1845. In 1985 the Fiji Museum published a reprint of the third volume.

In Volume 3 the Expedition leaves New Zealand and spends the first chapter in Tonga (‘Tongataboo’). The remainder of the book is spent in Fiji (‘Feejee’), from May to August 1840, until the last chapter where it heads for Honalulu. “Drawn not only from the experiences and observations of the Expedition’s officers and scientific corps, but also from those of the beachcombing Fiji whites who served as local pilots, of veteran Yankee beche-de-mer and tortoise-shell trading captains, and of pioneering Methodist missionaries, the book does far more than simply outline the work and adventures of the Expedition in these islands, drawing a vividly detailed, quite unparalleled picture of life in pre-Christian Fiji.” (from the back cover of the 1985 reprint)

The book has a detailed Contents section, as many of these old books do, but no index. Google Books has scanned all five volumes and searching can be done there. It is easy to search for the names of people, although Fijian names are likely to be spelled differently.

David Whippy, an ancestor of mine, is mentioned many times, in descriptions, as the teller of stories and provider of information, and as a participant in the action. Wilkes describes his meeting both Whippy and Tui Levuka on page 47:

Whippy - first meeting p47It is important to read some of the descriptions of Fijian people and customs with some tolerance for the narrow attitudes of these early explorers.

Here is another example, on pages 330 and 331, following a discussion of the diseases and ailments suffered by native Fijians:

Whippy page 330

Whippy page 331

Another example is Paddy Connel, who walked into Wilkes’ tent one day and told him his life story (on page 67):

He was a short, wrinkled old man, but appeared to possess great vigour and activity. He had a beard that reached to his middle, but little hair, of a reddish gray colour, on his head. He gave me no time for inquiry,  but at once addressed me in broad Irish, with a rich Milesian brogue…

The story then continues for nearly two pages so I won’t repeat it here. Even though Wilkes suspected that a lot of it wasn’t true there is probably enough for a descendant to go on to search for Paddy further.

The book is worth reading in its own right, even if specific names cannot be found. Wilkes describes the customs, food, illnesses, and culture of the Fijian people he came across at a time when the Wesleyan missionaries had only just started to have any influence. He also describes his own dealings with the various chiefs and the white settlers he encountered, some of whom he or his officers employed as pilots.

The book also contains sketches and drawings of people and places.

Muthuata Feejee

The version on Google Books appears to have fewer of the excellent drawings than the Fiji Museum version I have at home, but there may have been other versions in Google Books that I missed.

Registers of Seamen’s Services at The National Archives

The National Archives in England has records of the Royal Navy. The Registers of Seamen’s Services (ADM 188) includes 7 men were stated they were born in Fiji.

The names are:

Oliver Rupert Griffiths, 1900

Nikola Qumivutia, 1900

Frank Clay, 1889

William Hamilton Matthews, 1888

James Lele, 1857

Joseph Hicks, 1856

William Thompson, 1841

Copies of the records can be downloaded for £3.50 each.