250 years later


BY September this year, New Hanover and New Ireland will hit the 250th year of their naming in 1767 by English circumnavigator Admiral Philip Carteret. Today, these two islands continue their existence as the New Guinea Islands Region. New Ireland is home to 23 linguistic cultural groups most of which are Austronesian cultures with the exception of one.
Whether there will be a celebration to remind the inhabitants of their past is not known. However, the people of New Hanover living in Port Moresby declared last year that the 12th of September each year will be their cultural day to mark that Saturday long ago when Admiral Philip Carteret gave their island of Lovongai the English name New Hanover .
Jim Ridges, an avid New Ireland historian, is in Britain for medical reasons and keeps asking if anything will be done. His question seems to be falling on deaf ears as the folks back home don’t seem to be too keen to celebrate. In the meantime, by way of reflecting on that past, we feature in particular the New Ireland and New Hanover leg of that voyage, by using information from the log book Carteret kept. The leg of the trip takes him from today’s Lambom Island past the Duke of York Islands, past the Simpson Bay and Watom Island and then up today’s west coast of New Ireland and finishing off with the Tingwon Islands to the far west of New Hanover Island.
On August 28, 1767, Carteret anchored in a bay near a little island about 3 leagues (about 17km) to the NW of Cape St George. Carteret had a crew who was very sick with scurvy, needing fresh food, had to repair a bad leak in the hull, and clean the ship’s bottom of the accumulated growth. The same afternoon the ship’s cutter went fishing, unsuccessfully, and cut down some coconut trees nearby, getting 150 nuts and the ‘cabbage’, or heart of the palm tree, to eat
Each of the crew got a coconut and the rest were kept for the sick people; who had them at the surgeons discretion. Next day, such was the weakness of the sick crew, 30 very ill of the scurvy, and the rest were but weakly, that they could not raise the anchor quickly enough to prevent the drift inshore, and it hooked again, and couldn’t be released.
They were loath to cut the rope as it would be lost, and anyway, the old rope was needed to re-make into small cordage; so short were they of supplies.
Next day it was successfully raised, and they anchored in a small bay, English Cove, about 3 miles (about 5km) away, where they took on wood, water, shingle ballast and took more coconuts.
On the 31st, the boat was sent to cut down the seven remaining coconut trees on Lambom Island, for the heart, and everyone else had to lighten the ship, preparatory to heeling, cleaning, finding and repairing the leak.
The sheathing of the hull was found to be much decayed, ‘& the bottom much eaten by the worms.’
As the carpenter was one of the few men able to work, he did his best, and the bottom was painted with ‘hot pitch & tar boiled together’.
The ‘Scorbutick people’ went on shore every day, but with a guard, as although no people had yet been seen, fires had been seen ashore on the night they approached the anchorage.
In the evening of 1st September the boat returned from Lamassa Island, ‘a fine little harbour’, with 300 coconuts and many ‘cabbage’ tops of the trees, reporting that there were 3-400 coconut trees, and huts but no inhabitants. Carteret realised the people would be annoyed and probably seek revenge for the cut-down trees, so ‘everybody keep well on their guard, for fear of surprise.’
On the 7th September 1767, the Swallow sailed from English Cove, the first real port of call since the Strait of Magellan. Before sailing, Carteret took ‘possession of it, lands, islands, bays, ports and harbours here abouts in the name of his Majesty King George the 3rd, King of Great Britain and Successors.’
Before leaving, they nailed a board to a high tree, with lead sheeting, giving all this information, and ship and captain’s name. In the 11 days there, no native was seen.
In the afternoon the Swallow anchored in ‘a fine little harbour about 4 leagues (22km) WNW from it [English Cove]’. This was Lamassa Island, or Coconut Island as Carteret called it, in view of the large number of trees there.
The nuts and ‘cabbage’ were badly needed by the large number of sick crew, including Carteret himself. He was conscious of the wrong he was doing, ‘but you must cut down a tree for each cabbage which makes a great destruction of these useful trees’.
For the health of his crew, Carteret would have liked to stay longer at this harbour, which he called Carteret Harbour, but he sailed on the 9th, having stocked up with 1000 coconuts and some ‘cabbage’, fearing the slow, old Swallow would not make Batavia before the onset of the NW monsoon; ‘it was evident we had time enough of this season to have gone about twice that distance, as certainly any other ship would easily have done with the winds and weather we had, but the event showed that notwithstanding all this dispatch and precaution it was not sufficient for the Swallow’.

  • Be sure to follow Weekender next Friday for the second part of this article.

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