Captain William J Weisbarth

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Captain William J Weisbarth


Palmyra has had its share of visiting captains over the years, many of them with stories told in books, magazines, newspapers, and other histories. Captain William J Weisbarth, lived a life of adventure and local renown, but despite deserving of a place in all the traditional annals, his name is never mentioned outside of the occasional newspaper article from his day.

His first documented visit to Palmyra was in 1904, though its very likely he had at least visited there before. Few personal details of his life are known and documented. In his youth he worked aboard various ships, but spent most of his career as a captain running salvage jobs, hauling scrap material and sometimes whole boats, from various wrecks.

He married a Gilbertese woman (after likely spending a good time on and around the Gilbert Islands) named Teoti, had a family with her, and when they grew older, sailed back to her home island, where they lived only a few years before his death around 1916.

One story tells of him burying gold he'd collected over his life near his final home on "Butaritorio" (likely Butaritari) in the Gilbert Islands, but it seems little more than a legend.

He was most well known in the Hawaiian and Polynesian Islands as Captain of the Lavinia, and for his entrepreneurial spirit. Despite a number of failed enterprises, he never lost hope, and pursued the dream on one big score his whole career. In 1904, he filled his ship to the brim with Coconuts harvested from Palmyra, only to have them all burnt on his return trip to Honolulu, as they were infested with "lepidopterous larvae".

Several months before that trip, he had sailed for Lisianski Island, hoping to find a fortune in bird skins left by Japanese sailors. Unfortunately, when they arrived there was nothing left but the empty huts of the recently departed sailors.

He tried on the same trip to bring a Coconut Crab into port, but the local authorities deemed it, "a destructive animal", and it was killed by fumigation, then interned at the Bishop Museum.


Various Newspaper Articles


1904 to 1917


Public Domain



Collection Items

Weisbarth is Planning a Palmyra Expedition
Detailed description of plans Captain William Weisbarth was making to sail for Palmyra and try to strike it rich on coconuts. His plans involved taking along a small crew, and sailing all the way to San Francisco with his spoils. It makes several…

Many Cocoanuts were Condemned
Describes return journey of Lavinia and how its cargo of coconuts was infested with "Lepidopterous larvae", and so the whole lot had to be burned. Also includes reference to a Coconut Crab brought back, that had to be killed by fumigation, but was…

Weisbarth Away for Populous Gilberts
Describes the retirement plans of Captain Weisbarth and his wife, and their brief stop on Palmyra along the way to the Gilbert Islands, his wife's home.

Newspaper Article: Weisbarth Party Finds its Haven
Article reports of Captain William Weisbarth and his family reaching their destination in the GIlberts, where he planned to retire. Weisbarth was well known, and this article makes clear there were regular inquiries on the result of their trip.

Account of Captain Weisbarth
Brief account of the death of Captain Weisbarth and his final journey to his wife's home in the Gilbert Island's where he retired.

Weisbarth's Crab is Lost
A colorful account of the Weisbarth incident, wherein an entire shipment of coconuts from Palmyra had to be burned because of a Lepidopterous infection. You can read more about that in other articles in the archive.

In this case, the article…

Friends Wave and Whistles Salute as Voyagers Sail
This article describes the scene as Captain Weisbarth and his crew set sail for Tapiteauea, where his wife and several of the other passengers were born. This article is especially unique, because of its photograph showing Mrs. Weisbarth, who is…
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