Marshall Islands History Sources No. 21
Brig Vision at Majuro Atoll (1876)

by James Lyle Young

(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.

James Lyle Young was a @@@@

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

Majuro Atoll or Arrowsmith Islands is of an oblong elliptical shape, about 25 miles in length from E.S.E to W.N.W and about 6 miles wide on an average, narrowing up towards the E.S.E and to 2 miles in width. Its position is: S.E. and of atoll latitude 7 deg. 5' N. longitude 171 deg. 24' E. Nest point of atoll latitude 7 deg. 15' N. longitude 171 deg. 00' E.

The whole of the South side of atoll is an unbroken strip of land, the East and North East sides are composed of small islets separated by narrow patches of reef bare at low water while the N.W. portion has only 4 or 5 islets separated by wide stretches of reef and some deep water channels.

There are 4 passages all on the North side the most Eastern being the best. It is situated about 10 miles from the S.E. end of atoll and the other passages are between it and the N.W. point. This passage (the most Eastern) is in fact the only one that should be used by vessels, as it is amply sufficient for any vessel, and the Lagoon is comparatively clear of shoals from it up towards the East end of the atoll, while the West end of Lagoon abounds with shoals, many of them with just enough water on them to render them difficult to discern if the weather be overcast. This passage is about one mile in width, the course through is about South, there are some shoals in the passage with 3 1/2 fathoms least water but there are deep water channels between them and they can be easily avoided. It is best to keep as close as possible to the islet forming the Eastern boundary of passage as possible whether going in and out as a reff off from the West side of passage about 2 miles into Lagoon and with light winds and heavy swell a vessel might get sit on to it did she approach it too nearly, it being always remembered that there are very strong tidal currents in all these atoll passages. It would be particularly necessary in beating out of passage (should the wind even be northerly enough to compel to do so), to keep close to the East side of passage. Karolain (Caroline), is the name of the islet forming it.

From the passage up to East and of Lagoon is pretty clear of shoals a vessel can stretch well over to the South side of atoll, should it be necessary to anchor bottom in 20 to 25 fathoms can be obtained under any of the islets near the passage (I do not think from soundings that we took that the greatest depth in centre of Lagoon exceeds 35 fathoms). Anywhere up towards E. end, good anchorage can be obtained in 15 to 20 fathoms sand under any of the chain of islets forming N. E. side of atoll. At Anil there is good sheltered anchorage in 15 fathoms 200 to 300 yards off shore.

The population numbers about 1000, they are ruled by two Chiefs Kaibuke and Jebirik, as before stated (page 25). They are much more uncivilised in appearance than the natives of Mille, but resemble them in everything but manners and dress for these fellows wear but little foreign clothing.

They appear indolent and do not work up half the coconuts which is fine island produces. The Mission has as yet obtained but little influence over these people, there are only 4 church members on the island. Children run about naked and the people are as uncivilised as a Fijian mountaineer.

There are a number of large canoes here, some of which belong to Arno, and to Aurh Island 60 miles to the northward.

There are four white men residing on Majuro, viz-
Henry Burlingame an American, trading for Capelle & Co. on west end and Charles Ingolls an American trading for Capelle & Co. on East and (he is now however absent at Jaluit (Bonham Islands) - Reed an Englishman trading for Capt. Hernsheim, on E. end, Phillip Southwick American living among the natives at W. end.

Source: James Lyle Young, Private Journal, 6 January 1875 - 31 December 1877. Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, Microfilm no 21. Entry for 18 June 1876.

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

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