Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pumice and Pumice Rafts

Pumice collected from beach on Norfolk Island (May 2017)

Having recently visited Norfolk Island (located in the S. Pacific midway between Australia and New Zealand) I was struck by the amount of pumice on the beaches and was told it came from an underwater volcano off New Zealand.
It probably relates to a major undersea volcano, the previously little-known Havre Seamount in the Kermadec Islands of New Zealand, which erupted in 2012.
A raft of pumice floating on the sea 
The huge volume of molten rock, produced by the eruption, resulted in a large area of floating pumice known as a PUMICE RAFT. This originally covered a surface of 400 square kilometres (150 square miles). 
The raft divided by a boat sailing through 
The thickness of the raft may have been as great as 3.5mt (11ft) but reduced to around 0.5mt (1ft 8in) within a month. It soon spread to a continuous float of between 7,500 and 10,000 sq. miles (19,000 and 26,000km2) and within three month dispersed to an area of more than twice the size of New Zealand. 
Beach at Norfolk Island dotted with pumice
Reports followed of pumice being found of the beaches of Tasmania and eastern Australia.
Dr Carey University of Tasmania) said pumice rafts were believed to have been a primary means for the transport of sedentary marine species between continents in prehistoric times.
Huge raft see from space
Photos of the PUMICE RAFT taken after a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific give an indication of its immense size both from water level and from space.
(Courtesy of the USGS and Smithsonian Institute).

Friday, June 23, 2017

On writing nautical fiction and reflecting on the Bards of the genre.

While it would be impossible for a writer to duplicate the literary genius that flowed from the pens of CS Forester and Patrick O’Brian, authors continually aim to emulate the works of the Masters.
Sadly Forester and O’Brian are long gone which begs the following questions:
How long can the adventures of Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey hold their own?
Have these fictional hero’s reached their use-by date?
Are they being consumed by the smoke and fire - not of sea battles and cannon fire - but fire-breathing monsters, vampires, and aliens from outer space?
As such, are today’s young readers really entranced by the romance of the sea and the magic of the world of wooden ships?
Can the combined efforts of a crew of new writers, keep the genre afloat?
Or is the popularity of the genre dying in parallel with its ageing readership?
Time will tell, but, no doubt, the classic novels will grace bookshelves and libraries for many years to come providing budding authors with the bench mark to aim for.
Such is the challenge confronting writers of nautical fiction.

Pics courtesy of Wikipedia
Admiralty Orders

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Melanesians graves on Norfolk Island.

This tiny graveyard on Norfolk Island indicates another aspect of the island’s history. It is unrelated to British convicts or first settlers or even the many descendants of the Mutiny on the Bounty from Pitcairn Island.
The cemetery, tucked away at the side of St Barnabas Chapel, houses the graves of members of the Melanesian Mission* and its people who lived on Norfolk in the late 1800s. The Melanesian Mission commenced operating in 1866, ten years after the Pitcairn community were re-settled there.
St Barnabas Chapel, built from local rough hewn stone was dedicated in 1880 to the late Bishop of Melanesia. Apart from the church, the mission comprised a boarding school, a printery and a farm.
Today, worshippers meet regularly for Sunday services here at All Saints, Church of England on Norfolk Island.
Inside, lights streams through the five stained glass windows including the beautiful rose window of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. 
Both the floor and font are marble and the ends of the wooden pews are decorated with mother-of-pearl inlays and shells hand-carved by the Solomon Islanders.
With no sign of ageing, the chapel is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the South Pacific.
While the Melanesian Mission closed in 1927, the church and its graveyard appear unaffected by the passage of time.*

*Note: A valuable comment has been added in the comments below regarding the relocation of many of the graves in latter years.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What links the survivors of the whale ship ESSEX to the mutineers of Bligh’s BOUNTY?

On reading, “The Pitcairners” by R.B Nicolson (1965)* I discovered a connection between the wreck of the whale ship “Essex” (inspiration for Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”) and the mutineers from HMS BOUNTY. These must surely be two of the greatest true-life adventure/survival stories ever.

Having cast Captain Bligh adrift in a small boat, Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers sailed 7,800 miles** in search of an island to live on. Pitcairn’s Island was where they settled (1790), married their Tahitian wives and raised their families. By 1800, after the murders of all the other mutineers, and Ned Young’s death from asthma, only Alexander Smith (known as John Adams) remained. Then, from 1806 onward, a new generation of islanders was born (from the sons and daughters of the original mutineers). By the early 1820s there were 40 descendants of the seamen and their Polynesian wives.

At the same time, the new British colony of New South Wales was facing famine and starvation.  Having sailed from London to Sydney as master of the SURRY (310 ton merchantman), Captain Thomas Raine decided to assist the situation by sailing to Valparaiso, Chile, by picking up a cargo of wheat for the young colony. On departing Sydney, he was given a consignment of books and seeds to deliver to the islanders on Pitcairn.
After arriving in Valparaiso and loading the wheat, Captain Raine was ready to head back to Sydney (March 1821) when he encountered Captain George Pollard and one of his crewmen who had survived the wreck of the Nantucket whale ship ESSEX.

“From Captain Pollard himself, Raine heard how the ESSEX has been wrecked by a whale ‘about 80 or 90 feet long’” – how, with seven of his crew, he had happened upon Ducie Island where he had left three of his men. Sailing east, Pollard then described how he and the other survivor had eaten their other three companions to keep themselves alive***.
Once back aboard SURRY, Captain Raine, heading for Pitcairn’s Island, decided to detour and pick up the three men from Ducie Island, if they were still alive but, on searching, he could find no trace of them. However, on 8 April, Elizabeth Island was sighted and three men were seen on the beach. There were indeed the survivors from the ESSEX left behind by Captain Pollard.
Three days later, after rescuing the survivors, the SURRY arrived at Pitcairn’s Island. With no natural harbour and a sea running, the visitors were met by a man named Quintal (son of Matthew Quintal) who swam out to meet them and direct them safely to the beach. Once on shore, the British party were greeted and feasted while the Captain delivered the books and seeds be was carrying.
During the visit, John Adams related the facts of the BOUNTY mutiny to the ship’s doctor claiming it was caused when “the crew became infatuated with the females and disgusted with Bligh’s tyranny”.
In 1856, the descendants of the Bounty Mutineers were re-settled on Norfolk Island. Their names can be seen on the stones in the graveyard.
On 12 April 1821, Captain Raine of the SURRY sailed from Pitcairn with the three whalemen from the wreck of the ESSEX aboard her. Of the three men, one made his way to London while the other two returned to the United States.
The encounter is described by Nicholson in a few short paragraphs but the fact two of the greatest real-life survival and adventure stories had a connection, I find quite remarkable.

Note: The wreck of the whale ship “Essex” out of Nantucket – stove by a massive white whale – was the true story that inspired Herman Melville’s classic tale: MOBY DICK. It was recently released as a feature movie “The Heart of the Sea”.
While Melville’s story is pure fiction, the movie “The Heart of the Sea” endeavours to portray the truth and, towards the end, reveals three survivors left on what was thought to be Ducie Island. The name of the ship and the captain who picked them up is omitted. That ship was the SURRY captained by Captain Raine.
It would also appear from Nicolson’s account, that is was Captain Pollard, and not Owen Chase (as credited in the movie), who arranged for the three whalemen to be picked up.

* “The Pitcainers” by R.B. Nicolson (first published 1965) is now available on Amazon in paperback.
**H.E. Maude in 1958 wrote that after 9 months aboard BOUNTY: “Christian and his followers…had criss-crossed the Pacific three times…sailing over 7,800 miles from the day they left Bligh and Tofua.” 
While Bligh's navigation was a remarkable achievement, it is evident, Fletcher Christian was also a skilled seamen.
*** Thanks to Chris Double for this interesting snippet: "And one of the crew of the Essex, Owen Coffin, was a descendant of the same Coffin family as Philip Cook Coffin that ended up shipwrecked on the Acadia and the origin of the Coffin surname on Pitcairn. Owen was unfortunately eaten when the Essex survivors ran out of food"