Journal of Admiral Arthur Mostyn Field

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Journal of Admiral Arthur Mostyn Field


From 1886 to 1889, Arthur Mostyn Field was captain of the HMS Penguin, conducting extensive surveys of South Pacific islands on behalf of the British Government. This excerpt from his journal details the work he and his crew did while on Palmyra in May of 1889.

The goal of the survey was to determine Palmyra's value as a telegraph station, which Mostyn remarks as being unlikely to come to fruition. The entry is very candid and informal, as it was written for his wife, making it easy to understand. The handwriting, however, makes it very difficult to read, and we relied on the services of professional transcribers to create a readable version of the text.

As such, there have been minor edits to the text to increase its readability. In some cases a word may have been unintentionally omitted or included that was not in the original text.


Sir Arthur Mostyn Field




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Landing here is something shocking. For nearly a mile the boat is twisting & turning about to avoid Coral reefs separated by deep water but so close together that a skiff can hardly get room to go between them. It is about a 2-hour job to land! Yesterday I had a long day on shore, sight & magnetism work, and each evening I have been so utterly done up that I have had to go to bed at once after dinner. But it was only Thursday evening that I had a real threatening of a headache. I can’t stand this reef work & observing in a hot sun as I used to, that is quite evident. I am giving myself a holiday on board tomorrow to review all my observations but I shall have 2 or 3 more hard days this week. The triangulation of the plan of the anchorage was done the first day & already a day’s sounding has been got in. So I am very well pleased on the whole.

Does this sketch convey anything to you I wonder; it shews approximately on scale of ½ inch to the mile what we are doing. The Δ’s indicate the theodolite Stations, and A B is the base I measure along the reef. We are anchored off the west end of the island. It is really a mass of small islets as you will see standing on a reef with 3 lagoons. The whole of its western end and the anchorage is being drawn on a large-scale plan & that is now well in hand. The eastern part is utterly useless being quite inaccessible & the orders are to sketch it. But it is so broken up it is very difficult to sketch it with any degree of accuracy & the lagoon being so inaccessible makes it much harder to do & entails an amount of bother quite inadequate to the results.

I have not yet decided what to do with it. Shoal water is reported to extend off to east end of the reef & I suppose something must be done to that. I shall probably have to take the ship there, but I grudge the time & labour. My report on this island as a telegraph station will be very discouraging. A pier over a mile long would have to be built for landing stores & landing a shore end of a cable over such an uneven bottom would be very trying on its cable I should imagine. The anchorage however is good & extensive & fairly smooth water.

Monday, May 24th

The 4-inch plan of the anchorage was in full swing, with all the staff on it. Tuesday I landed early, taking gear for the night. Pasco & I took the triangulations of the lagoon in hand & polished it off between us that day, I taking the south side & he the north side. Then in the evening I got stars for latitude which occupied me till 11 o’clock.

Next day I started Pasco off with the ‘points’ of the lagoon to do the coastline of all the island whilst I went on board to see how things had been getting on in my absence. It was Friday before I landed again, when I had a day at magnetism work at the observatory, where we have had a tent pitched & another tent for the tide party not far from it. Saturday Waugh & I were observing the sun for times on shore. Pasco had completed the island of the lagoon & the 4 inch business was finished that day, much to my joy.

Monday, the steamboat sounded off the island, including the east end, off which extends a very nasty bank with occasional breakers off it & I weighed in the ship to sound to the Southward & Westward. In the evening everything was finished & we got the boat up ready for an early start in the morning for the Kingman, then entered upon the 5th stage of our voyage.

For you will observe that the work divides itself naturally into stages:

(1) Voyage to Fiji
(2) Fiji to Sydney Island
(3) Sydney Island to Palmyra
(4) Palmyra
(5) Kingman & other banks
(6) Fanning Island
(7) Fanning to Honolulu

Each step being about a fortnight duration, more or less.


Sir Arthur Mostyn Field, “Journal of Admiral Arthur Mostyn Field,” Palmyra Archive, accessed October 28, 2020,


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