The wreck of the Libelle and other early European Visitors to Wake Island, Central Pacific
by Dirk H.R. Spennemann
Another Shiowreck

Four years after the wreckage of the Libelle another vessel, the British China tea clipper Dashing Wave, commanded by Captain Vandervord, ran aground on the reef, again in the middle of the night. When the vessel began to break up, the captain and twelve crew took to the longboat. The evacuation appears to have been rather chaotic: while the captain secured a chart and nautical instruments, he left a compass behind. The crew loaded a case of colonial wine, a bag and a half of bread, as well as two buckets, but no drinking water.

With a makeshift sail made from blankets and suspended on an oar, they slowly sailed and drifted westward. For the first five days without rain, the crew survived on a bottle of `Cawarra' (Coonawarra?) a day.

After 30 days the boat reached Kosrae, where they were met by a canoe taking provisions from one island to another. Captain Vandervord apparently tried to trade so that he could sail on. As the Kosraean in the canoe declined, they had to put in to Kosrae, where they were very hospitably received. After the boat had been fitted out with the support of King George with a mast and sails and provisions, Captain Vandervord and some of the crew set sail for Kiribati, but after running into a storm had to return to Kosrae. Eventually they were picked up by a British trader which took them to Fiji. [66]

US Annexation

Following the Spanish-American war the U.S.A., having acquired overseas Pacific territory in the form of Guam and the Philippines, found themselves in the dire need of reliable communications between the mainland and its new trans-Pacific possessions. [67] Wake Island, suitably located in the centre of the northern equatorial Pacific, was seen as the ideal spot for a submarine cable relay station. [68] Thus, Wake was several times claimed for the U.S.A., when several vessels going to or returning from the Philippines stopped and raised the American flag. [69] General F.V.Green, commanding the 2nd Detachment of the Philippine Expedition Force annexed it from the S.S.China on July 4th, 1898. [70] In the same month Wake was again annexed by the U.S., this time by General Merritt from the U.S. Army Transport Thomas. [71] Apparently again in 1898 the U.S. Revenue cutter McCullogh landed a few men on Wake using the channel between Wilkes and Wake for a launch. [72] In none of these cases had the annexation been authorised by the U.S. President or the U.S. Congress. [73]

Formal annexation occurred on January 17th, 1899, [74] when the U.S. flag was hoisted by crew from the gunboat U.S.S. Bennington, commanded by Commander Edward D.Taussig. [75] The vessel had been sent by the U.S. President to Guam to attend the administration of the newly acquired possession there, [76] and had been ordered to stop over at Wake to formally annex that island for the U.S.A. [77] A flagstaff was erected, a flag nailed to the mast and a brass plate with an inscription nailed to the base of the flagstaff. The position of the flag staff (19o17'50" North, 166o31' East) was determined and the landing party and transport vessel left, apparently on the same day. [78]

E.Taussig conducted a survey and saw some evidence of wreckage on the eastern reef of Wake Island, namely an anchor and a lower mast. [79] These remains are likely to have belonged to the wreck of the Libelle, which had gone ashore at that part of the shore. During Taussig's investigation of the islands no evidence of human habitation was encountered on the western or eastern part of the atoll.

The annexation of Wake by the USA marks the beginning of the modern history of Wake and ship visits to Wake increased manifold, culminating in the 1935 development of the Pan American Airways flying boat station.

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Bibliographic citation for this document

Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (2000). The wreck of the Libelle and other early European Visitors to Wake Island, Central Pacific.

Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.

(c) Dirk H.R. Spennemann 1992-2000
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