Excerpt from Rovings in the Pacific

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Excerpt from Rovings in the Pacific


Edward Lucett was a merchant based out of Tahiti. He published logs of his travels throughout the Pacific, including a landing at Palmyra in 1848, aboard the Fairy, to look for the wreck a ship rumored to be on the atoll.

He found nothing, but did offer this detailed description of Palmyra and its plant and animal life. Lucett was a colorful character, in the classic vein of American sailors from the time. He claimed Herman Melville (of Moby Dick fame) once tried to stab him in a Tahitian prison, after a mutiny on an Australian whaler.


Edward Lucett




Public Domain

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July 21st -
Palmyra Island was in sight this morning, but in consequence of a calm, it was late in the afternoon before we effected a landing. We spent the two following days in search of the vessel reported to have been cast away here, but no signs of it exist, nor does the island appear to have ever before been visited by the foot of man. It is, without exception, the most singular formation I have seen. We landed on the east side, the vessel having suddenly shoaled her water when about two miles from the breakers observed upon the land. We hove to in six fathoms; bottom white sand and coral. A ridge of breakers extends half a mile from the south-east point of the island, and a similar one runs off the north-east point, which help to form a concave crescent, within which the water was placid; but the island itself elicited our astonishment. We landed without diffi­culty on a flat contained between the two curving points of breakers, which had on it barely sufficient depth of water for us to track the boat a quarter of a mile, when we reached an islet, with its luxuriant foliage growing apparently from the very surface of the water; and we then discovered that Palmyra Island is more properly an archipelago of islets. A rocky flat, from six to eight miles in circumference, is covered, with water from ankle to knee-deep, save where it is studded with islets placed indiscrimi­nately. The islets rise only a few feet above the level of the water, and are composed of grey crystal rock, with a super-surface of rich black mould, yielding a rank growth of grass, vines, and trees common to the tropics, the cocoanut and pandanus being amongst them. Some of the islets appear exclusively appropriated to the cocoanut tree ; on others, a strong parasitical vine, with broad deep green leaves, has overrun the pandanus and other trees, and enshrouded them in its own peculiar livery; and when at a distance, it is hard to persuade yourself you are not surveying the ruins of buildings.

On one of the eastern islets a remarkable tree stood distinct from the others like an obelisk. So regu­larly had the outline been formed from the base to the summit, by the close investiture of the smoothly overlapping leaves of the vine, that we believed it to be a monument raised by the wrecked people, until by landing we convinced ourselves to the contrary. Birds and fish alike were unscared at the presence of man; and, fairly or unfairly, I pursued one fish in the shoal water till I run him aground. Sharks were numerous, and so voracious that they attacked both the boat and the steering oar as we were pulling ashore. Birds were innumerable: and it being the season of incubation, I never witnessed such a scene in my life. You could not move your foot without crushing eggs; and the cries of the birds as they arose just above your head, and darkened the air, were deafening, and more peculiar than any combination of sounds I ever listened to. Green water extends off the south side of the island between two and three miles, and a distinct line of breakers runs from the south-west point about three quarters of a mile. A vessel might anchor in the bight on the south by west side, but she would have to warp into a berth, as sunken patches of rock lie scattered about with very little water on them : they were observed from aloft, but the sea was so smooth and still that they were unnoticed from the deck. On the west and north sides, the appearance is more that of one of the Paumutu Isles; the surf breaks on a strip of white sand, above which springs the green foliage. That we might have nothing to reproach ourselves with, we sent out thirteen volunteers to scour the island in search of any vestige of the wreck; they returned next day to the vessel, having seen no sign of man or his works. They reported occasional chasms of deep water on the shoal flat, and brought us off two green turtle; and by the tracks they con­ceived the latter were numerous. From a series of observations, we made the island to be in latitude 5° 51' N., longitude 162° 10' W .; the chart places it 20' further to the westward.

Original Format



Edward Lucett, “Excerpt from Rovings in the Pacific,” Palmyra Archive, accessed October 28, 2020, http://palmyraarchive.org/items/show/34.


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