Marshall Islands History Sources No. 22
Brig Vision at Jaluit Atoll (1876)

by James Lyle Young


Introduction
(by Dirk H.R. Spennemann)

Accounts of the first impressions of visitors are always revealing, both as to the attitude of the visitor and as to the people visited. The diaries and logbooks of many traders and whalers contain very detailed entries the first time a new location is visited, only to become very laconic on the next occasion. The diary of the trader James Lyle Young is no different in that regard.

Brig Vision at Jaluit Atoll (1876)
(by James Lyle Young)

Jaluij [Jaluit] atoll, better known as Bonham Islands, is a large irregularly shaped cluster of small islets encircling a lagoon of perhaps 100 miles in circumference. It appears to be less fertile than any of the others which we have visited, and to have a smaller number of inhabitants but its barren appearance is probably due to some extent to the severe gale of wind experienced here in November 1875 (this gale did not blow with nearly such violence in any other part of the Marshall Group as at Jaluij [Jaluit] ).

The inhabitants number about 600 and we the most civilized people we have yet seen in the Group, nearly all wearing clothes. The Rev. D. Kapoli, a Hawaiian missionary lives on Jebur [Jabwor] islet, close to Capelle's houses.

This island is the great meeting place for the chiefs of the islands to the northward and westward and those of Ebon and Namorik islands. There are two head chiefs of the Ralik, or western, chain of the Marshall Islands namely Kabua, (or Lebon) and Lorak, but they are both absent at Ebon island, which is the head mission station of the American missionaries.

The South Eastern end of atoll has the longest amount of land of any part of the atoll, that is the land in that part is more continuous and less cut up by stretches of bare reef, than that of the Northern and Eastern sides. The S.W. end has the name of Jaluit , from which the whole atoll takes its denomination, this strange to say is the case at all the islands in the Group that we have visited, and in all of them the preponderance of land is on the South and West sides, while the North sides have islets more or less scattered. This peculiarity may be owing to the strong N.E. trade wind which prevents to some extend the accumulation of soil on the weather side of the atolls, but I doubt whether there is not some as yet unexplained cause for this remarkable formation of these islands.

Passages There are two or three large passages on the North side of Jaluit lagoon, but the ones most in use are one on the S.E. side of atoll, at Jebur [Jabwor] islet, and one on the S.W. side 8 miles W.S.W. from the first.

The passage on S.E., or E.S.E., side of atoll is bounded on the south by Jebur [Jabwor] islet, Capelles station, and is a little difficult for a stranger to find as from seaward the reefs appear to break quite across between Jebur [Jabwor] and the small islet forming N. side of passage, but it is a good enough entrance with a fair wind, it being some 200 to 300 yrds. in width, deep water, course in W. by S., strong tide rips in mouth of passage with ebb tide, and fresh breeze setting in from E. In going in keeps fair (in the middle between Jebur [Jabwor] islet on the South side of passage, and a small islet (very small) which forms the N. side of passage. There appears to be a passage to the northward of this small islet but there is in reality more it being a sort of blind creek, beware of taking the passage in calm weather and also of getting set on to the aforesaid small islet on north side of passage, on this islet the "Alfred" brig Captain Garter; was lost coming in some 2 years ago, I believe through carelessness. The anchorage is half a mile to the Westward of passage, opposite Capelle and Co's Station which is on the north side of Jebur [Jabwor] islet and not visible from the sea outside lagoon.

The passage on the S.W. side of atoll is 8 miles W.S.W. of Jebur [Jabwor] and is used by vessels leaving the lagoon in preference to attempting the Jebur [Jabwor] passage against the wind. It is about 3/4of a mile in length and 200 yards wide, with a sharp turn the course going out of lagoon is for the first part of passage about W. then on reaching the elbow, or turn, alter course at once to S.S.W. on which you course you go clear out to sea. S.S.W. being the course out for the last part of passage, it would not be advisable to attempt it with the wind anything to S. or S.E. and even at S.E. it would be shy enough. A smart fore and aft vessel could beat into this passage with the tide in her favour.

The positions of Jaluit atoll are as follow:
Jebur [Jabwor] islet, Capelle's station Lat 5°54N. Long. 169°43 E.
N.Point of atoll (Morning Star ) Lat 6°22 N. Long. 169°22 E.
S.Point of atoll (    "             "     ) Lat 5°47 N. Long. 169°36 E.

Source: James Lyle Young, Private Journal, 6 January 1875 - 31 December 1877. Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, Microfilm no 21. Entry for 9 July 1876.


[History Sources ToC]


CONTACT:
Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.
e-mail: dspennemann@csu.edu.au


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