Announcement of Palmyra's Discovery

Dublin Core


Announcement of Palmyra's Discovery


The Naval Chronicle was the original source for the announcement of Palmyra's discovery by Captain Cornelius Sowle, as described in this excerpt. There are 2 important things to note:

1. The spelling of the captain's name is Sowle, not Sawle, as most modern sources say, despite this excerpt being, by all accounts, the first mention of Palmyra in any formal publication.

2. Palmyra was technically first discovered by Captain Cook in 1798, but his memoirs describing the discovery were not published until after Captain Sowle's.


Captain Cornelius Sowle


Naval Chronicle


Royal Navy of the United Kingdom




Public Domain





Text Item Type Metadata


MR. EDITOR, I REQUEST you to insert in your Journal the following description of a newly discovered island in the South Sea, which was seen by Capt. Sowle, in the American Ship Palmyra, of Providence, Rhode Island, on the 10th of November, 1802. As the weather was fine, that day, at noon, he had an observation of the sun's altitude, by which the latitude is accurately ascertained ; and as he took his departure from Christmas Island, and had a gentle westerly wind, it is scarcely possible there can be an error in the longitude, even of two or three miles. This Island lies out of the track of most Navigators, who pass either from America to Asia, or from Asia to America ; and, till lately, English Whalers have been prohibited fishing in that quarter, which accounts for its not having been seen, before ; it is, however, probable, that there are several other Islands in the same direction. Capt. Sowle thinks he passed one the day before, as he saw many birds, and imagined he heard breakers ; but the weather being very hazy, he could not see either rocks or land. I am, Sir, Yours, &c. WILLIAM JACOB.

PALMYRA ISLAND is situated in lat. 5° 49' N. and in long. 162° 23' W. from London ; it is about three leagues in extent ; there are two lagoons on it ; in the westernmost of which is twenty fathom water, with a tine sandy bottom. It is very dangerous to approach the western part of the island, on account of the coral rocks which are just below the surface of the water, and extend to the distance of three or four leagues from the shore. The eastern part terminates in a steep reef of coral, over which the sea breaks with considerable force.

CORRECT RELATION OF SHIPWRECKS. On the north-west side there is good anchoring ground, about three quarters of a mile from the breakers, in eighteen fathom water, on a coral bottom. There are no inhabitants on the island ; nor was any fresh water found ; but cocoanuts of very large size are in great abundance ; and fish of various kinds, and in large shoals, surrounded the land. A great quantity of driftwood lay on the beach, which enabled those who landed to ascertain that the rise of the tide was about eighteen inches.

Original Format



Captain Cornelius Sowle, “Announcement of Palmyra's Discovery,” Palmyra Archive, accessed October 28, 2020,


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