Island News

The hunt for the Glide

Written By : KELERA SERELINI. Many come to Fiji for its sandy beaches. Some come to experience being surrounded by swaying palm trees and serene blue waters. However, a family
11 Dec 2010 12:00

image Written By : KELERA SERELINI. Many come to Fiji for its sandy beaches. Some come to experience being surrounded by swaying palm trees and serene blue waters.
However, a family did something people may describe as “extraordinarily fulfilling”.
And that was to relive the experience of their great-grandfather, Joseph Morse, from Manchester, England, who was shipwrecked in Fiji waters in the 1800s.
An abandoned anchor was all that was left of “The Glide” but the chance to experience their great-grandfather’s ordeal was more than what Fiji was all about for Beth Mattson and Robert LaMont.
Stories were told that Mr Morse and his colleagues were rescued by the people of Galoa and Kubulau, Bua.
With only a book written by Mary Wallis “Life in the Feejees- five years among the cannibals’-to guide them, the two travelled to unveil a historical shipwreck commonly known and written as the “Wreck of the Glide”
“As my brother Robert and I were growing up, we heard the story of our ancestor, great grandfather Morse who was shipwrecked with the cannibals in Fiji,” Ms Mattson said.
There are two books that were also written about this experience – The Wreck of the Glide by James Oliver and Wrecked Among Cannibals in the Fiji’s by William Endicott published in 1923 by the Marine Society of Salem.
After reading the books, the two decided to leave their homes in England and travel to Fiji to relive their great grandfather’s experience.
“It is very interesting,” Ms Mattson said.
“Everything is taken by the neighbouring tribes, even some of the clothes they are wearing.
“But the chief takes them to his village and after consulting with the priest it is decided not to eat them and to have them as guests instead.
“Robert sent along his notes.
“He mentions that Joseph Morse (Grandmother Hansen’s grandfather and father of Fremont Morse, her dad) is related to Samuel Morse of Morse code fame.”

The glide was a 306-tonne ship made in Salem. The ship was owned by Joseph Peaboy and Samuel Tucker.
The ship was loading beche-de mer to be offloaded in Manila.
The ship had made 13 voyages to the Mediterranean, South America, India and the East Indies before its fateful voyage here.
After a trip of 142 days “the Glide” arrived in Nairai, Lomaiviti, for fresh provisions.
After one successful beach-de-mer load was delivered to Manila, she returned to Fiji for another load.
On March 21, 1831 a cyclone raged for several days.
On the morning of March 22, the ship was wrecked on the reef not far from the coast – the location was specially called by the villagers at that time – Naevuevu.
The location of the wreck was described as “in a channel between a small island the North end of Fiji where the ship drifted 7-8 miles a long the coast.”

When the siblings landed in Savusavu, they were excited to be finally where the story all began – Vanua Levu – and where they received the exciting news that was bound to make their trip a success.
“As we came into land at Savusavu Airport we saw yachts at sea and in the harbor,” Ms Mattson said in her diary entries.
“The pilot made a steep but smooth landing into the airstrip and turned the plane just before the end of the strip beyond which was the sea.
“The Savusavu airport is at the seaward end of a narrow valley and the plane had to descend steeply from the crest of the ridge staying just about the trees as he followed the valley down to the sea level runway.
“We were greeted by Tania, from our boat charter.
“She told us she had exciting news! First, they have found the village where the Glide was wrecked.
“Second, the chief of the village there is the great grandson of the chief who rescued the Glide sailors.
“Third, a member of our crew is the great grandson of David Whippy, who was a sailor who jumped ship and became a chief of one of the tribes that is mentioned in the Glide books.
“Very exciting indeed!”
Stories were related about how the crew had a Fijian chief on board whom they named Santa Beeta (his real name is Mamati)
He had taken the crew to his village located on Galoa Island.
“We are now headed to Galoa Island where there is a fresh water spring that runs all year around,” Ms Mattson mentioned in her diary entry.
It is mentioned in the book, “Wreck of the Glide” that it was a stopping point for the ship.
“All along here you can see small coral reefs that would have been a hazard to the large sailing ships.
“As we travel up the coast we see strips of mangrove “islands” where the mangroves have been swept from the islands out to sea and planted themselves on the coral reef sands, slowly building into new islands.
“When we get to the place where the wharf is it is too shallow for our boat, so we rode over two at a time in our dingy.
“The ladies we met on shore gave us some good information about the pronunciation of some of the names.
“They also shared that an older lady who lived a bit west of here was very the daughter of a chief and may know some local history.
“Her name is Adi Senimili and she lives opposite the island of Macuata.
In the village, the team was greeted by the village headman Mika Malau, who later shared with them stories about the historical wreck.
“They remembered stories about the fact that the ships brought black rocks in their holds which they dump here,” Ms Mattson said.
“They had seen them for themselves and thought that was such a funny thing to do.
“The rocks were probably ballast put on when ever the holds were empty to be replaced in Fiji with cargo. “
In their search, Ms Mattson and Mr LaMont took time to learn about the history of the surrounding villages and those that could have known about their great- grandfather’s fateful day.
They met Charlie Huston, his wife and Adi Sainimili Dyer.
“We sat and talked about the land here, Ms Mattson said.
“She didn’t know many stories about the old times, but her husband (Charlie Huston) did.
“She did know that the foundations of the old buildings were still on the beach and we walked through the palms to the beach to seem them.
“The village ruins were in a coconut grove.
“An earth mound for a very large bure could be easily made out.
“The stones were a different type and squared off, clearly brought together by man.
“It is so exciting to have finally found it, the spot where great, great – grandfather Morse lived for a time in 1831
“It had to be the bure where Joseph Morse stayed.
“Grandmother Huston remembered when the community still lived around the site, but as the land was subdivided, everyone went to live on their own freeholds. We went to the family graveyard.
“Most of the graves were no longer marked, but one went back to the late 1800s and was for an English ancestor.
“We took pictures of the family and she had a wonderful chart on the wall of the local area.
“It showed clearly how many reefs there were and how treacherous it would have been in Joseph Morse’s time.”
“White-skinned people made us see God,” were Ms Dyer’s comments when she greeted the visitors.
“She told us that this area was one of the last places in Fiji to have cannibals,” Ms Mattson said.
“Her husband’s ancestor, Jacob Steiner had seven wives from different villages.”
On August 20 the two visitors set out to sea where the remains of the Glide were.
“The tide was out so we could walk in through the coral and blue/purple starfish,” Mattson described their journey to the wreck.
An anchor was the only remains the two saw.
“We went through the mangroves to the beach and found a huge perfect clam shell to welcome us.
“We hiked through the mangroves and then the jungle past it to get a feel for what Joseph Morse would have done.
“Then we walked around the island in the tidal pools to get to the point where the chief was buried.
“We reached a place near the point and stood in the shade of the mangroves.
“We held hands and Robert said a prayer which offered thanks to God for allowing us to come to this place and for the chief for protecting our ancestor.
“As I look out at the coast of Vanua Levu, I think of how brave those men were who came here. Our little boat has sounding equipment, and electronic charts.
“In the 1800s they had men high in the riggings looking out for danger.
“We have agile engines that can turn easily; they had sailing ships that must go at the winds whim.
“Our anchor problems were nothing to the fear that would it would have produced back then. Even today we will go back to retrieve a lost anchor. I can really understand why the sailors in the 1800s went back after theirs.
“In the books they talk about how they went in search of their anchors even after they were rescued. It was a long way to buy another.
“We continued to where we left the anchor and they tried for an hour or so to bring it up, but it was truly stuck so finally it was abandoned and the sunset shortly after.”


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