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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

The Alfred Agate Collection: The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842

1840

After he completed the required survey work at Rewa, Hudson decided to lure Vendovi onto his ship with some other dignitaries, including his brother the king, by offering presents. When Vendovi did not appear, Hudson regretfully informed the king and his suite that they would not be allowed to return to shore until Vendovi was produced. After overcoming some initial alarm, the king agreed, saying that Vendovi terrorized his people as well as white men. Another of the king's brothers and another chief, great rivals of Vendovi, offered to make the trip to Rewa, and the next day they returned with him. Hudson placed Vendovi in chains pending his return to the United States for trial. In spite of their professed need to be rid of him, the king and others wept bitterly in taking leave of Vendovi. Wilkes took it as another of many incongruities of Fijian behavior.

Word of Vendovi's capture reached Wilkes and the town of Levuka within hours. Already, Connell warned him, some islanders were planning to kidnap him to force an exchange of prisoners. Wilkes began carrying pistols and kept armed guards and his faithful dog Sydney nearby.

The surveys continued rapidly. Wilkes method for accomplishing them was to send the various ships out for about ten days at a time with a list of tasks that would take longer than the allotted time. When they reported back to the squadron, he noted what remained undone and re-sent ships out for the remaining items. This way, he felt satisfied that no time was spent in idleness.

When dealing with "savages," Wilkes generally believed that minor crimes committed by them should be ignored, but significant offenses should be punished in accordance with local custom, so that the guilty could fully understand the gravity of their wrongs. As the expedition finished its surveys in the Fijis, he felt compelled to take action twice. First, on 12 July a survey crew lost its boat to an attack of islanders of Vanua Levu. The loss of the boat would seriously hamper surveying, so Wilkes immediately called together a party of men from his and Captain Hudson's ships and rowed more than 60 miles in the evening to the site of the theft. On Wilkes' appearance the next morning, the islanders abandoned the boat, but its contents were gone. In retaliation, Wilkes ordered Hudson to burn the thieves' village. He then again demanded return of the boat's contents and some items were returned. Having thus demonstrated the power of his anger, Wilkes released two hostage chiefs from nearby friendly towns and sent them off with valuable presents, demonstrating the power of his friendship. Word of the incident spread rapidly through the islands.

Valley of Voona
Alfred T. Agate
Engraving
98-89-F

 

 

Valley of Voona
Alfred T. Agate
Engraving
98-89-G

 


The second incidence of retaliation took place two weeks later. The survey of the Fiji Islands was nearing completion when Wilkes sent Vincennes and Peacock to Muthuata Island on the north side of Vanua Levu under the command of Captain Hudson, while he took Flying Fish and Porpoise to the western islands of the group. Then, on 24 July, the thing Wilkes dreaded most happened. Islanders killed Lieutenant Joseph Underwood and Midshipman Wilkes Henry as they negotiated for food on the island of Malolo, off the western end of Viti Levu. Their comrades rescued their bodies and brought them to where Flying Fish and Porpoise awaited their rendezvous. Wilkes Henry was Charles Wilkes' nephew, the only child of his sister, and the loss shattered him. He wept openly and it was some days before he could again fully concentrate on his duties. The next day the men were buried on a nearby small deserted island in graves that remained unmarked to prevent the bodies being dug up and eaten. Alfred Agate read the burial service. The day after, a group of sixty crewmen burned the towns of Sualib and Arro and destroyed all the crops and huts between them. A search of Sualib produced some personal property from Underwood and Henry. On the 27 a small group of chiefs led by a woman came asking for peace, but in keeping with Fiji custom, Wilkes rejected it and demanded that all islanders appear before him. When they came, the commander agreed to peace on condition that they bring provisions to Porpoise on the next day, which they did. In his later accounts of the voyage, Wilkes blamed Lieutenant James Alden, commander of the party with not taking proper precautions and even for pursuing the trade, which Wilkes believed was unnecessary.

Attack on Sualib, Malolo Island
Alfred T. Agate
Ink wash and pencil
98-89-GO

 


Their present work completed, Porpoise and Flying Fish joined the other ships at Mathauata and related the sad news. Wilkes then dispatched the squadron on various final tasks, after the completion of which they all rejoined at the same place. Wilkes then made assignments for the next leg of the voyage, which would end with a rendezvous at Honolulu in the Sandwich Islands. The squadron departed the Fiji Islands on 11 August.

The stop in the Hawaiian, or Sandwich, Islands was a welcome one. The islands had a far more advanced civilization, in western terms, than the other Pacific islands, and had more experience in welcoming foreign ships, though foreign customs, habits, and diseases were taking their toll on the morals and health of the local population. They had been united under a monarch for twenty years, and within days of the squadron's arrival, the king's government completed instituting a constitution. A colony of British, French, and American settlers centered on Honolulu, but there were missionary outposts throughout the archipelago.

King Kamehamea III had left instructions with his officials that he should be sent for at Maui as soon as the expedition arrived. He arrived at Oahu on 29 September and made a formal welcome. Three days later the king informally sent for Wilkes and the two spent three hours discussing the history and political affairs of the islands, of which both Great Britain and France were seeking domination. The king also assisted the expedition's scientific mission by allowing the use of his palace at Honolulu as the site for the temporary observatory, instrument repair shops, and workrooms for the calculation and drawing of charts. He also sent word to his officials on the other islands to provide assistance to the explorers.

Scene at Oahu
Alfred T. Agate
Ink
98-89-FY

 

 

View in Honolulu
Alfred T. Agate
Ink
98-89-FY

 


The ships underwent repairs immediately upon arrival, and Wilkes allowed the officers and scientifics to take quarters ashore in order to give them better access to their assigned tasks. The officers assisted with the preparing the charts while the scientifics assembled many of their findings and collections to that date and sent them back to the United States. They also began exploring Oahu. Flying Fish was soon ready, so Wilkes sent it off with the scientifics on board to survey the other islands. Alfred Agate accompanied a two week excursion to Kauai where he teamed with James Dana to observe geology, land formations, and "scenery." Sites visited included Waimea and Hanapepe. Agate then remained at Honolulu while some of the scientists visited the island of Hawaii.

Hanapepe Valley
Alfred T. Agate
Ink wash
98-89-GH

 

 

 

 

Pali, Oahu
Alfred T. Agate
Ink wash
98-89-AL

 


On Flying Fish's return from island of Hawaii, Wilkes issued orders for it and Peacock to survey islands in the western end of the Pacific whaling grounds. Additional orders sent them back to Samoa to correct some of the surveys made by Porpoise, which Wilkes considered incomplete. He also gave Captain Hudson a list of hostile acts and "rascals" that he wanted him to investigate and, if necessary, punish. First among these was an order to make another attempt to capture Chief Opotuno at Savaii Island, Samoa. Again, Wilkes assigned more tasks than could possibly accomplished in the allotted time. Hudson was to bring the ships to meet the others at the Columbia River no later than 1 May 1840. As members of the ship's complement, the scientifics assigned to these ships, which included Alfred Agate, also accompanied the excursion. They left Hawaii on 2 December.

Crater of Moku-A-Weo-Weo, Mauna Loa
Alfred T. Agate
Engraving with inked changes
98-89-CN

 

 

 

Crater of Moku-A-Weo-Weo, Mauna Loa
Alfred T. Agate
Ink wash
98-89-GW

 

 

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27 March 2004