Monday, September 27, 2010

The Friend: Shipwrecked Japanese in Hawaii Since 1814

Rev. Samuel Chenery Damon, publisher of The Friend and chaplain of the Seaman’s Bethel in Honolulu, published an accounting of shipwrecked Japanese who were returned to their homeland in the July 7, 1860 edition of his monthly news intelligencer.

The following is a transcript of that article. It provides insights into the treatment of Japanese who were shipwrecked in various locations around the Pacific Rim.

It is possible that stories of the kind treatment the Japanese received and chronicled by Rev. Damon influenced the decision to stop in Hawaii on the voyage from Japan to San Francisco. Likewise, the Kanrin Maru stopped for a few days in Honolulu Harbor on its journey back to Japan, so such accounts may also have had a bearing on the decision to come to Hawaii.

Shipwrecked Japanese Returned Home Since 1814.

A few days since, we heard the Hon. Mr. Borden, U.S. Commissioner, remark in conversation, that unquestionably the kindness which had been extended to shipwrecked Japanese seamen, was among the most powerful reasons which finally led to the opening of that country to foreigners and foreign commerce. This remark has reminded us of several notices, which we have from time to time published in our columns, and also led us to make some additional investigations upon the subject. We do not assert that the following instances are all which have occurred, wherein wrecked Japanese have been rescued and returned to their native land, but these are among the most remarkable which have occurred during this century:


The venerable Capt. Adams, formerly Pilot of Honolulu, and now residing at his farm in Kalihi, on Oahu, relates to us as follows:

“In the year 1814, I was sailing-master of the British brig Forrester, Capt. Pickett, cruising off Santa Barbara, California. We fell in with a Japanese junk, drifting at the mercy of the winds and waves. Although the wind was blowing a gale, I lowered and visited the junk. A sad sight was presented. Fourteen of the crew had died, and their bodies had been cast into the hold of the junk. Three alone survived, the captain, carpenter, and one man. These were removed to our vessel, and carefully nursed, and in a few days they were well. They were taken to Santa Barbara, and from thence to Kamtschatska, and as I understood, were sent home by the Russians.”


The following article, written by the Rev. J.S. Emerson, we copy from the July No. of the Hawaiian Spectator, published in 1838:

“They who dwell on the land know but little of the varied fortune of those who inhabit the seas; and equally unconscious are they who live under equitable and benevolent laws, of the inhumanity often manifested, under heathen governments, to persons whose only crime is that of being unfortunate.

“The individuals, a part of whose story I am about to relate, have suffered much from ignorance of navigation, much from the want of the necessities of life, and more still for – for what? For the crime of being shipwrecked on a foreign shore. A crime not known to those protected by equitable and righteous laws. The Japanese, it is well known, have been assiduous in their efforts to keep foreigners from their country ever since the expulsion of the Portuguese. And the more fully to secure their object, even their own subjects, who may wander to other and distant countries, have, as I am informed, been forbidden to return on penalty of death; probably lest they introduce discontent by telling what they may have seen abroad.

“The Japanese, of whom I am now to speak, made the shore of Oahu in a junk and anchored near the harbor of Waialua, on the last Sabbath in Dec. 1832. They cast anchor about mid-day and were soon visited by a canoe, as the position of the junk, being anchored near a reef of rocks, and other circumstances, indicated distress. Four individuals were found on board, all but one severely afflicted with the scurry; two of them incapable of walking, and a third nearly so. The fourth was in good health, and had the almost entire management of the vessel. This distressed company had been out at sea ten or eleven months, without water, except as they now and then obtained rain water from the deck of the vessel. Their containers for water were few, adapted to a voyage of not more than three weeks. The junk was bound from one of the southern islands of the Japanese group to Jeddo, laden with fish, when it encountered a typhoon and was driven out into the seas altogether unknown to those on board, and after wandering almost a year, made the island of Oahu.

“The original number on board the junk was nine; these were reduced by disease and death, induced probably by want of water and food, to four only.

“The junk remained at Waialua five or six days, when, under the direction of a Chinese, an attempt was made to take it to Honolulu; but after being at sea two days, nearly twice the time usually occupied in sailing round to Honolulu, it was cast away on Barber’s Point, on the evening of January 1st, 1833. It is stated that the vessel was becalmed and drifted on shore. The cargo, junk and all, were lost, except the crew, and very few articles of trifling value.

“The men were taken to Honolulu, where they remained about eighteen months, and at length were forwarded by one of the residents, W. French, Esq., to Kamtschatka, from whence they hoped eventually to work their way by stealth into their own country and to their own families, approaching by way of the most northern islands of the group. The men were all married except one. Their success in getting back to their country and homes we have no means at present of learning.

Near the same time with the company above named, another crew of the Japanese were wrecked on the N.W. Coast of America, a part of whom, if I am not misinformed, were cut off by the Indians; three only escaped, and were brought to Honolulu, from whence they were forwarded to England, and thence to Canton, where they arrived in the year 1836, and, at the date of my information, Dec. 1st, they were with Mr. Gutzlaff. And by means of them he had obtained a considerable knowledge of the Japanese language. Mr. Gutzlaff’s intention then was to accompany them to their own native land, if possible, and attempt to cultivate some acquaintance with the people. His success of course was doubtful.”


In the Polynesian of Aug. 1, 1840, the Rev. D. Baldwin furnishes a long and interesting account of some Japanese taken from a junk, drifting in Lat. 30 N. and Long. 174 W., or about half way between Japan and the Sandwich Islands. These Japanese were picked up by Capt. Cathcart, of the James Loper. This account was furnished the Rev. Mr. Baldwin by Capt. Ray, of the Obed Mitchell, who was cruising in that vicinity. As the article in the Polynesian is so long, it will be quite impossible to copy it. The Polynesian of Oct. 17, 1840, contains another interesting article by the same gentleman, upon the Japanese numerals. From the same paper, we quote the following short editorial: -

“The Japanese who took passage in the Harlequin, remained at Kamtschatka, under the protection of the Governor, waiting an opportunity to return to their own native country. Capt. Dominis left Kamtschatka in the brig Joseph Peabody ten days before the Harlequin arrived, for this place, via Norfolk Sound and Mazatlan.”

1840, or Thereabouts

We are unable to learn the exact date when Capt. Whitfield of the John Howland brought to the Sandwich Islands the three Japanese whom he took from a small and uninhabited island lying to the S.W. of the Japan Islands. Our readers have been made fully acquainted with the subsequent career of one of these Japanese –See Friend of June, this year. (This is a reference to Nakahama Manjiro)


In the Friend of Feb. 2, 1846, will be found a deeply interesting communication, prepared by Dr. C.F. Winslow, respecting the visit of the whale-ship Manhattan, to Yeddo, commanded by Capt. Mercator Cooper, of Sag Harbor.

It was about the first of April, as Captain Cooper was proceeding towards the whaling regions of the northern ocean, that he passed in the neighborhood of St. Peters, a small island lying a few degrees to the S.E. of Niphon. It is comparatively barren and was supposed to be uninhabited; but being near it, Capt. C. thought he would explore the shore for turtle to afford his ship’s company some refreshment. While tracing the shore along he discovered a pinnace of curious construction which resembled somewhat those he had seen in the China seas. Turning his walks inland, he entered a valley, where he unexpectedly saw at some distance from him, several persons in uncouth dresses, who appeared alarmed at his intrusion and immediately fled to a more secluded part of the valley. He continued his walk and soon came to a hut, where were collected eleven men, whom he afterwards found to be Japanese. As he approached them they came forward and prostrated themselves to the earth before him, and remained on their faces for some time. They were much alarmed and expected to be destroyed; but Capt. C., with great kindness, reconciled them to his presence, and learned by signs that they had been shipwrecked on St. Peters for many months before. He took them to the shore, pointed to his vessel and informed them that he would take them to Jeddo if they would entrust themselves to his care. They consented with great joy; and abandoning everything on the island, embarked with him immediately for his ship.

Capt. Cooper determined to proceed at once to Jeddo, the capital of the Japanese Empire, notwithstanding its well known regulations prohibiting American and other foreign vessels to enter its waters. The Capt, had two great and laudable objects in view. The first was to restore the shipwrecked strangers to their homes. The other was to make a strong and favorable impression on the government in respect to the civilization of the United States, and its friendly disposition to the Emperor and people of Japan. How he succeeded in the latter object the sequel will show; and I will make but few remarks, either on the benevolence or coldness of Capt. C.s’ resolution, or its ultimate consequences touching the intercourse of the Japanese with other nations. The step decided on however, has led to some curious and interesting information, relative to this country, whose institutions, and the habits of whose people are but little known to the civilized world.


JAPANESE JUNK PICKED UP. On the 21st of April last, the Bremen whaleship Otaheite, Capt. Witung, in lat. 35 N., lon. 156 E., fell in with a Japanese junk, which had lost her rudder, and had been driven off the coast in a gale, in November, 1846, and had been drifting about for five months. He took off her crew – 9 men- and took out of her 12,000 lbs. beeswax, some iron, copper, tools, molasses, sugar, rouge, &c. Her lading was chiefly writing paper –the crew reduced to one-quarter of rice, and were then without water. She was of about 80 tons, belonged to Osako and was bound to the north. They had seen one whaleship which steered for them and then went off without speaking. Capt. Weitung kept them with him four weeks, and then put them on board a junk in the Straits of Matsmai. –Polynesian, Oct. 17, and Friend, Dec. 2, 1847.

For an interesting account of the visit of the whaleship Inez, Capt. Jackson, to the Japan Island, see Friend of Dec. 2, 1847, or Polynesian about that date; see also Friend of May, 1848, for an account of Americans shipwrecked in Japan.


This year, Capt. Jennings, commanding American bark Auckland, fell in somewhere in the North Pacific with a Japanese junk, from which he took fifteen or more of the crew, and conveyed them to San Francisco. The citizens of that city paid them very distinguished honors. Most of the company subsequently went to China, and some of them, we believe, were taken to Japan by the Perry Expedition. One of the company, Mr. Heko, was taken up by Senator Gwin, and accompanied him to Washington. He received a good education, and enjoyed very distinguished favors. He returned to Japan in 1859, a passenger on board the surveying schooner Fenimore Cooper, Capt. Brooke, and is now engaged in mercantile pursuits at Kanagawa, near Yeddo. He still retains his American citizenship. He visited Honolulu on his return to Japan.

Another of this company picked up by the Auckland, went from San Francisco to Hongkong, where he joined the “Perry Expedition,” re-visited Japan, but proceeded with the Expedition to the United States. His name was Samuel Sentharo. He was educated at Hamilton, N.Y., under the charge of the Rev. Mr. Goble, and returned to Japan with that gentleman, who is now a missionary at Kanagawa. It was our privilege to receive a letter by this Japanese, in the English language, and dated Kanagawa, April 24, 1860.

We copy the following from the Friend of October 15, 1850:

ANOTHER JUNK. –On the 22d of April, in lat. 45 N., long. 155 E., the Henry Kneeland, Clark, master, fell in which a Japanese junk, having thirteen persons on board. The vessel left Yeddo for Kuno, three or four days sail, but was driven to sea, and had been sixty-six days drifting at the mercy of wind and waves, dismasted and rudderless. For forty days their water had been out, and they subsisted on snow-water. Their food consisted most of the time of refuse fish. The junk had no cargo on board. Capt. Clark took the crew on board the Henry Kneeland. The commander and two of the crew of the junk came passengers to Honolulu on board the H.K. Two of the crew are on board the Marengo; six were taken to Petropaulski, and were taken charge by the Russian authorities, and two came passengers by the Nimrod.

See also Friend, Nov. 1, 1850.

JAPANESE ARRIVED. – Captain West, of the Isaac Howland, informs us that on the 15th of April in lat. 31 N., and long. 150 E., about 300 miles N.N.E. of Guam, he fell in with a Japanese junk. It was small and destitute of cargo. Only four persons were found on board. It did not appear that any had died. They had evidently been a long time without much food, being very much emaciated. Their only remaining food was a little oil. As near as could be ascertained, the vessel had been out of her reckoning forty-nine days. At the time of the discovery, the tiller was lashed, and the ship’s company appeared to have given themselves up to die. Capt. West took them on board his vessel, judiciously administered nourishing food, and they soon recovered their health and spirits. Having taken from the vessel a few spars, Capt. W. set her on fire. It is not yet determined what will be done with them. Two of them Capt. W. would be glad to take to America, and if some vessel about to cruise in the vicinity of the Japan islands, will take the other two, it will be a good and satisfactory arrangement. –Friend, Nov. 2, 1852.

We are unable to learn what subsequently became of these Japanese.

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