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Monday, January 31, 2022

Tongan volcanic eruption may have triggered Mutiny on the Bounty.


Bounty mutiny, Chris Mayger

Captain William Bligh, Fletcher Christian.  Bounty. Names indelibly connected with the most famous mutiny in history. Which could have been brought to a head by an ongoing volcanic eruption in Tonga.

The Bounty had arrived in Tahiti on October 24, 1788, her mission to collect saplings of breadfruit trees. The atmosphere on board was strained before they arrived, and when the ship sailed from the idyllic island five months later, the morale was even worse. Several of the men had formed attachments with Tahitian maidens. Tahitians had stolen pieces of vital equipment, but instead of punishing them, Bligh had punished the seamen for not preventing the thefts. 

The day the anchor was weighed was stormy, with black clouds and threatening rain and gales, not a good augury for the voyage back to England.  Then, fatally, the ship made a call at the Tongan island of Nomuka, where Bligh had been before, with Captain James Cook. It had been a provisioning landcall that had not gone well.  Cook’s temper had been so inflamed by the constant thieving that he had had a chief flogged, and then, humiliatingly, had exchanged him for a pig.

It had happened more than a decade before, but memories are long.  The inhabitants were hostile, and much of the aggression was taken out on Christian, who had been sent ashore with a party of seamen to collect fresh water.  He and his gang ran away when attacked, leaving an adze and an axe behind, which Bligh thought the act of a “cowardly rascal.”

And that night, while tempers were hot, a volcano on the nearby island of Tofua flared up in the darkness, accompanied by a stench of sulphur, and a constant ominous rumbling. “As we near'd Toofoa we observed Vast Col-lums of smoke & flame Issuing from the Volcano which appear'd to be a very large one," wrote James Morrison, one of the seamen. Other mariners have recorded the vicious headaches caused by volcanic smoke.  But, despite the general bad temper, there was no sign of mutiny. The ship’s log recorded pleasant weather. “Everything very quiet on board,” it reads.

At four in the morning, the situation exploded. Bligh was forcibly hauled out of bed by Fletcher Christian and three co-conspirators. “On the 28th April at day light in the morning Christian having the morning watch,” the captain wrote to his wife. “He with several others came into my Cabbin while I was a Sleep, and seizing me, holding naked Bayonets at my Breast, tied my Hands behind my back, and threatned instant destruction if I uttered a word.”

Bligh, with 19 companions, was set adrift in the ship’s launch. With the loss of only one man (to native attack at Tofua), he made it to Timor, stumbling ashore on June 12, 1789. The 5,098-kilometre open-boat journey is recognized now as one of the most outstanding feats of navigation in the history of the sea.

The mutineers sailed back to Tahiti, where some stayed to be recaptured and put on trial, while others formed a settlement at Pitcairn, where Christian was most probably murdered.

The question is why the mutiny ever happened. Theories abound.  “I have been used like a Dog all the voyage,” said Christian. Bligh blamed the charms of the “handsome, mild and cheerful women of Tahiti.”  But it seems very possible that simmering tempers on board the ship were inflamed to violence by the stench, the strange flickering, and the ominous rumblings of the erupting volcano on Tofua.

Sunday, January 23, 2022



Nomuka Island after the eruption.  Aerial photograph taken from a New Zealand air force plane.

Diary of a Disaster: from the Guardian

The week that Tonga went silent.

I have visited Tonga several times, and have always been impressed and amazed by the industry of the women.  In Vava'u, a woman is recreating old forest and old arts.  Women are behind the burgeoning vanilla industry.  In the capital, Nuku'alofa, women are running a wonderful crafts initiative, with its fascinating shop.

Tonga -- like many Pacific islands -- is vulnerable to climatic events. While it is famous for whale watching, it is also prone to hurricanes and volcanic eruptions.  But the latest eruption was more devastating than most.

In the late afternoon on January 15, four explosions rocked the entire archipelago, the air stank of sulphur, and the sky rained stones.  The smell of sulphur was not new, as the volcano at the twin island of  Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai - which lies just 65km from Nuku’alofa - had been simmering for some time.  But the explosions heralded a very different situation. So powerful that the impact was recorded 2,000 km away, in New Zealand, they triggered a tsunami that hit Tonga that was estimated as 15 metres high. 

Ash and stones rained from the sky, which had turned utterly black.  "Pray for Tonga," wrote a journalist.

The prayer was heard in New Zealand, where there is a large Tongan population, but no one could get in touch with family, because all internet connection was lost.  Later, it was found that the undersea cables that linked the islands with the outer world were broken.  A plane was sent, but it was impossible to land, as the runway was smothered in debris.  It turned around, but not before disturbing aerial photographs had been taken.  There were places where the devastation was major.

Those taken at Fua’amotu International Airport showed a group of people with shovels and wheelbarrows clearing the runway, to make it safe for planes to land.

The first aid shipments left for Tonga from New Zealand, amid fears that relief efforts could bring a “tsunami of Covid” to the Covid-free nation and more images begin to emerge of the damage.

Some contact was restored and Pacific social media filled with relieved tweets and posts from people who have finally been able to make contact with loved ones.

“I can finally get some good rest after hearing both my parents’ voices this evening,” tweeted Sera Lenora Lala.

“Thanks for all the messages. Can’t get through them all. Limited network,” tweeted Ana Tupou Panuve, a senior economist with the National Reserve Bank of Tonga. “Country in recovery mode. ‘Ofa atu (love you).'

And that is the spirit of the Tongan people

Saturday, January 15, 2022

The latest Butler Point Whaling Museum newsletter


 To those are wondering, Butler Point Whaling Museum is a small museum in the Far North of New Zealand, where there is plenty of very old whaling history.


Butler Point Whaling Museum, 1840s Historic House and Gardens

I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”

(Herman Melville, Moby Dick 1851)

            Kohitātea Kōrero

     Newsletter: January 2022

Kia ora koutou


Te reo for January is Kohitātea, when Antares appears in the sky, and “the ground laughs”, referring to the cracks that begin to appear in the ground – an apt description of the slightly dessicated ground at Butler Point this month.


New Zealand is on holiday and the newsletter has been too!

We hope you are enjoying your Summer holidays and this perfect beach weather. A glorious sign of the festive season in  the photo captured below  - pohutukawa stamens

happily decorating the driveway to the Whaling Museum.


‘Alien alert’ Poecilopachys

Australasia is a bizarre-looking

resident in the garden, found

snoozing during the day on our

citrus trees. Commonly known as the two-spined spider, it is a

nocturnal Australian orb-weaving spider resident in NZ since the 1970s.

Looking like a couple of sweet corn cobs, the

image is in fact of the fruit of the multi-talented


In the garden wilted leaves and parched flowers

welcome every opportunity of watering to maintain some

degree of integrity despite the incessant hot temperatures upon them. Thankfully the trees continue to create a cool subtropical oasis of soothing green and we have plenty of cicadas cheering us on. During all those months of

lockdown when no one was looking, the garden was of course a riotous tumble of luscious growth. 


She Captains by Joan Druett

We have spent the last few weeks immersed in Joan Druett’s marvellous books on maritime history. We have been reading She Captains, and thought we would share with you a taster of one of her stories of women sailors:


During the Civil War from 1861-5 women took advantage of the fact that sailors were in short supply and whaling

captains were desperate for crew. Georgiana Leonard signed on to the whaling ship America as George Weldon. It was her vicious temper that led to her discovery. She was stripped for flogging after she pulled a knife on an officer who hit her with an oar when she took a rest from rowing during a whale-chase. She was allowed to stay on board, simply trading jobs with the cabin boy.


Women were known to have been warrior sea captains 2,500 years ago.  Women pirates plagued the Thames, women dressed as men to join the Navy, and just like

Georgiana Leonard mentioned above, it was not so

uncommon to find women disguised as men working on American whaling ships………


More to follow in February – (Pepuere).


Hei konā mai 

Goodbye for now


The team at Butler Point


Saturday, January 8, 2022



Prolific writer of historical novels set at sea, Antoine Vanner (pictured with a friend above), kindly agreed to allow me to feature his famous tips to writers  as a guest post.  All of them are well worth considering and following.

“My five tips for writing historical fiction”

 1. Don’t start unless you know your chosen period intimately – politics, values, ideologies, personalities, main events etc. etc. It’s the sort of background one builds up over years and keeps adding to via new publications. (And don’t ever, ever rely on TV documentaries!). 95% of this knowledge will never show up directly in one’s writing but it furnishes the environment in which one can imagine the plot playing out and the characters acting.

 2. Your plot is paramount and must keep readers asking (a) what happened next? and (b) do I care what happens to these characters? Work and rework the plot and then rework it again, before starting writing. Block out the plot in bullet points and then divide them into chapters. Then do it all again. You can modify as you write, and as opportunities present themselves, but it’s hopeless to start without a Mark I Plot and Plan.

 3. Use timelines when plotting – fictional action in parallel with actual historic events. It’s also useful to make timelines for main characters to ensure their stories link. Use maps – not only real ones, but hand-drawn ones to help visualise the action – anything from an entire country down to a village. Consider distances and times of travel – especially when seasonal changes can impact on journeys. Drawing maps also raised possibilities – e.g. there’s a stream and a bridge in the village. What could the impact be of a flood, and the bridge being destroyed at a critical moment? At sea, what about monsoon, hurricane and typhon series?

 4. In addition to your background knowledge, research the speciality information relevant to the current plot and don’t get drawn in further than needed. This applies especially to “hardware” such as ships, armaments, medical concerns, victualling, fuel demands etc.

 5. Have short CVs [resumés] for all secondary and some tertiary characters. You may not use all the information directly but it will help when visualising how they would behave.


You can follow Antoine Vanner and his interestingly complicated hero, Dawlish, here.

I recommend the series for its pace, authenticity, characters, and excitement. 

Thursday, January 6, 2022



Sometimes (well, quite often) Amazon makes me furious.

Island of the Lost has been a bestseller in various categories since the first publication in 2007.

It has 2919 ratings. With an average of 4.5 stars.

So why would the site put a savagely critical review in the "top review" rating?

This is how it reads:

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States on June 27, 2020
Verified Purchase
This book is mainly about killing baby seals. He spends a tremendous amount of time detailing how they lured parents away from baby seals then clubbed their brains out. He writes extensively about the tactics they used to get the parents away from the babies who hid and cried in bushes. Then they went around clubbing the babies in the head. I realize they had to eat seals to survive but the author seems to enjoy writing about it. Clubbing seals is seriously half the book.
49 people found this helpful

For a start, I am not a "he".  And the book is not about killing baby seals.  It is about two ships that wrecked on an uninhabited island in the sub-Antarctic in 1864.
It is a comparison of the fates of the two crews.
The island is wracked with icy gales twelve months of the year.  The only edible plants that grow there are a kind of mega-herb, which is hard to cook, and difficult to eat. The island is also a breeding platform for sea lions, in the season.  It is where sea lions go to mate, give birth, and then in due course head off for other grounds. Apart from very oily and tough shags, there is nothing else to eat.
Sea lions. Shags. Tough and fibrous herbs.
"Erin" is unhappy that the two sets of castaways killed sea lions for food.  She (or he) mentions "baby" sea lions.  According to the castaways' diaries, they tasted like lamb.  I wonder how often "Erin" has eaten lamb?
These shipwrecked crews struggled to survive for months on end.  Obviously, they killed sea lions to keep themselves alive.  Their journals and memoirs record this.  But they also record building huts for shelter, the way they got along with their fellow castaways, their daily routine, exploring the island, desperate efforts to signal help.  Food was terrifyingly scarce..  In one case, the survivors cannibalized one of their dead shipmates.  Is this preferable to eating sea lion meat?
The Hooker's (or New Zealand) sea lion is now a protected species.  The island is a protected site, and one needs New Zealand Department of Conservation permission to land on it.  But, back in the day, it was very different.
I make this plain with a history of sealing in the early days, describing the terrible result of the sealer's greed.
Evidently "Erin" did not read the book at all.  His or her review should never have been published.  Looking up his or her name, s/he has a history of complaining about every purchase from Amazon.  She or he uses the review facility as a kind of complaint desk.
To balance this out, here is a review that reaped many, many more "helpful" checks.

Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on November 11, 2016
I am an engineer and in a position to appreciate how hard the tasks accomplished by these shipwrecked men were. Especially impressive was Raynal, the Frenchman from the Grafton. I am not sure I could even duplicate his bird cage, much less his concrete chimney or his handmade nails or his new boat made out of the old shipwreck. I read in the epilogue that original account published of the Grafton shipwreck by the survivors ignited a craze at the time to steer away from technology and get back to first principles like gardening, and shipmaking. I feel the same way today.

I have read several of these 19th century adventure books, like Ernest Shackelton's polar voyage and George De Long's experience on the USS Jeanette wreck. This ranks right up there among the best of these.

It contrasts the experience of two sets of castaways on the same deserted island in the Southern Ocean south of Australia. The island is forbidding in the extreme with terrible year-round weather, high craggy cliffs, low wind-twisted trees and scrub brush, and a pestilence of biting black flies and blue-bottle flies.

The first set of shipwreck survivors provides the Shackelton example of both moral and physical leadership leading to a 100% survival rate for all the castaways of the Grafton. The second set of castaways resembles the "Lord of the Flies". The second set of castaways from the Invercauld has about a 10% survival rate and experience a wide range of the worst in human behavior.

My impression is that both sets of castaways carried this great and horrible experience with them for the rest of their lives. The Grafton castaways learns timeless lessons about leadership and courage, while the Invercauld crew learns fear and loathing and recrimination that likely haunted them for the rest of their lives.
125 people found this helpful

But one must ask why Amazon does this?  Surely it doesn't help sales.

No wonder, perhaps, that Ingram is selling three times the number of my books that Amazon is.