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Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Yarns of a Kentucky Admiral

Hugh Rodman, USN

published by
The Bobbs-Merrill Company

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 7
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p94  Chapter VI
A Hawaiian Coronation and a few Fish Stories

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But to return to Honolulu; our stay there had been one continuous round of gaiety and entertainment. A more hospitable and pleasure-loving people than the Hawaiians would be hard to find on the face of the globe, and they were particularly so preceding and during the coronation of the king and queen.

The harbor was filled with foreign men-of‑war that had come for the occasion; and every one on shore, apparently, was entertaining. In the evenings the sounds of the guitar, mandolin and ukulele were heard on all sides; the hula was in conspicuous evidence; strangers were everywhere welcome.

The natives and many of the visitors attending functions were garlanded with leis — a wreath of fragrant flowers worn around the neck by both sexes on gala occasions. In the squares and the palace grounds bands were playing, and in the lobbies and bars of the leading hotels there was scarcely standing room for those who were there on pleasure bent.

In addition to the king, his ministers and staff, there was a further array of uniforms of Hawaiian and foreign officials, which, combined with the colorful dress of the natives, the abundance of tropical blossoms, the soft trade breezes, and the genial, easy, hospitable manner of the people, made it seem more like paradise than a simple native kingdom in the middle of the Pacific.

 p95  In fact, the Hawaiian Islands are justly entitled to be called the "Paradise of the Pacific," a title which has been much in evidence of late.

Honolulu has always been full of life, and visitors receive now, as they did then, a cordial invitation to share in its attractive pleasures.

But, "What about morals?" so many people ask. As far as I know, things are no different there than they are in any other part of the world. There are as many cultivated, refined, charming people in proportion to the gayer ones as in any city on the mainland. It is true that in the earlier days some of the native conventions differed from ours, as they did in the South Seas even in later days, and all of ours were neither adopted nor necessarily observed by the natives as a whole.

Not Father but Friend The following incident may illustrate their point of view.

A law was passed that all marriages, deaths and births should be officially registered, the object being to get a census of the native population through the past decades. And it is interesting to note that most of the natives can name their forebears for many, many generations, even to fifty or sixty, in some of the South Sea groups. I am under the impression that rank was transmitted more through the female line than the male.

Shortly after the passage of the registration act, the registrar in discussing it with me said that a very comely young wahini, or woman, came into the office with an infant in her arms to register its birth in accordance with the law. Question after question concerning her ancestors and relations was asked, and several pages were filled with her replies. As he  p96 started a new page, the registrar asked if the child were a boy or a girl, its name, date of birth, district, and so on. And once more turning the page, he asked, "Who was the child's father?"

"Oh," she said, "it had no father."

"What? How do you mean?"

"Just friend," she naively replied.

Kalakaua himself was a fine specimen of manhood, well educated, took himself seriously, and was every inch a king, yet most democratic in his ways and in his kindly familiarity with friends and acquaintances.

On one occasion, in the public market, he was discussing with our doctor the fact that the Hawaiians ate fish raw, and to demonstrate it, took a small one and swallowed it.

"Fine," said the doctor. "And now, your Majesty, if you would drink a quart of water, you would have a royal aquarium."

Helping Crown the King The native Hawaiians are improvident; they spend money lavishly and entertain continually; they are inclined to revert to the days before the advent of civilization, and follow their old customs of feasting and dancing. No matter what may be the dignity of their office, they still love simplicity.

This is well illustrated in the case of the king, who, while he had a pretentious stone palace in a square which had been tastefully ornamented with a great variety of blooming trees, plants and flowers, preferred to live in a bungalow that had been erected in one corner of the palace grounds. Here every one seemed welcome. In the evenings the grounds were full of visitors, there were from ten to twenty groups of natives, who had come from the outlying islands for the coronation, dancing the hula, and music, laughter  p97 and gaiety predominated. Introductions were not always necessary, and many a chance acquaintance ripened into a treasured friendship.

At last came the night of the coronation, when King Kalakaua, after having placed his own crown on his head, turned and crowned Queen Kapiolani, and then adjourned to the throne-room to receive the invited guests. It must be admitted that, as usual, drinks of various kinds were very much in evidence and free to all — so much so in fact that not a few showed signs of over-indulgence.

Just prior to mounting the throne, the king said to me, "Rodman, I wish you to do me a favor."

"Certainly, your Majesty":

"Then," he said, "if you will have the kindness to remove Lieutenant Y––––– and Ensign X––––– from the throne, it will be appreciated."

It was not difficult to comply in the case of the former who had reached the happy state of oblivion and was peacefully slumbering on one of the steps, particularly as he was rather small in stature. But when it came to the other officer, I had a more difficult undertaking. He was rather husky, reasonably strong, and in that happy state where he freely admitted that he had come all the way from the States to help crown the king, and felt that it would be a gross neglect of duty on his part to lie down on his job and leave his post of duty (?) without being regularly relieved.

Eventually, however, I effectively disposed of the pair by getting them outside and gently dropping them over the rail of the lanai (veranda) into the shrubbery. Thereafter the royal couple had the throne to themselves, and the reception proceeded with due decorum.

 p98  "I Know Most of the Other Officers" One of the above-mentioned officers later visited the wheel-of‑chance and in the subsequent course of events was charged by the proprietor of the place with creating a disturbance and damaging some of the furniture. This was reported to the admiral, who ordered a general court-martial.

Now, some of the captains and commanders who expected to find themselves members of the court, went to the admiral and tried to persuade him to administer disciplinary measures without ordering the court, saying that this would avoid publicity, scandal and disgrace not only to the accused but to the naval service at large.

The admiral, however, was obdurate, and the court was ordered. In a naval court the judge advocate in general corresponds in his functions to the prosecuting attorney in civil proceedings.

The proprietor of the "joint" where our friend had distinguished himself was called as the first witness. After having been placed under oath by the judge advocate, he was asked his name and place of business.

The witness replied, "Mr. A. B. Blanc, 41144 Ewalei Street."

The next question, "Do you recognize the accused?"

"Which one is that?" asked the witness.

Pointing to the young officer, the judge advocate replied, "That officer sitting there."

Looking intently at the accused, as if trying to recall his face, the witness answered, "No, I haven't the pleasure of his acquaintance but," and his gaze wandered around the table, "I know most of the other officers here."

 p99  Maybe after all certain members of the court had ulterior reasons for not wishing the young officer to be tried.

As to the other officer who had been removed from the throne, he had continued his celebration, and was later arrested and lodged in jail, charged with having tried to arrest a policeman. One of his shipmates rushed on board, evidently in the hope of enlisting assistance to get him freed. In the course of his efforts some one said, "Why didn't you bail him out?"

"Bail him out be damned," he said, "I didn't have any stomach-pump."

Nothing could have been more wonderful to a young officer in those days than shore leave; it was a never-ending source of joy.

His Royal Highness When the king made one of his numerous visits to the plantations and country houses in the island, he would almost invariably invite some of us to accompany him. He had been invited to spend several days at Waimanalo, a large sugar plantation on another side of the island, and had included me among his guests. On the dock the Royal Hawaiian Band, composed entirely of natives, and a guard under arms, awaited his Majesty's arrival. As he approached, all stood at attention, the guard presented arms and the band played the national anthem.

Once the king was on board, we promptly got under way, stood out of the harbor, through the lines of waiting men-of‑war, all full-dressed with lines of bunting, rainbow fashion, from bows to stern, over the mastheads. Their officers and crew stood at attention, the yards were manned by the crews standing erect on them, and the band of each ship, in turn, played the Hawaiian national air, while the ship fired a  p100 royal salute of twenty‑one guns as the king steamed past.

But as soon as the ceremonies were completed and we were well out to sea, the king seated himself in the midst of his guests and asked us also to be seated, after which his very first expression was, "Well, gentlemen, the sun is over the fore-yard," which is generally known as the usual nautical way of proposing a drink. But if my memory serves me right, owing to the excessive motion of the small steamer in the heavy trade sea, not a great many of the guests were able to accept his Majesty's invitation.

It is needless to attempt to recount the incidents which occurred on this or other visits; they were all one continuous whirl of feasting, dancing, gaiety and pleasure, with lavish hospitality and no cares on earth. I could have put in forty-eight hours a day, and more too, had it been possible.

A telephone had just been installed, connecting with Honolulu; it was quite novel, but not always in good working condition and it was sometimes difficult to get a connection. One day while I was in the office of the manager of Waimanalo, a Chinaman came in who stated in pidgin-English that he would like to communicate with Sing High, or some such Chinaman in Honolulu. After the connection had been made, he was asked his message, which the manager attempted to transmit in English — no luck. The sender of the message was then asked if his friend could speak Hawaiian, to which he replied in the affirmative, whereupon the manager repeated the message in that language, with no better result.

Then, turning to the Chinaman, the manager said, "He doesn't seem to understand either English or  p101 Hawaiian, so you will have to talk to him in Chinese." "What," said the Chinaman, evidently very much surprised, "that thing he speakee English — he speakee Kanaka — he speakee Chinese too? He b'long heap plenty savvy, that thing."

A Royal Pilgrimage On a later date it was my good fortune to visit the Island of Hawaii, the largest of the group, on which is situated the active volcano of Kilauea. I joined a pilgrimage of some of the royal family from Hilo, where the ship was anchored and accompanied them on the trip to the volcano and return.

Owing to the roughness of the road, or rather, right-of‑way, for compared with a modern one it could scarcely be called a road, all of the party were mounted on horseback, and by starting early and using relays of horses, we made the thirty‑odd-mile trip in one day. If my memory serves me right, Princess Ruth, one of the party, weighed over three hundred pounds and looked all the bigger when mounted on the hurricane-deck of a small pony. Relays for the princess were, of necessity, quite frequent.

It developed that there was a double reason for the royal pilgrimage — they went not only to view the wonderful spectacle of the crater during its exceptionally great and prolonged activities, but they proposed at the request of the natives to intercede to stop one of the numerous lava streams which was approaching and threatening Hilo.

Several days were spent at Kilauea, and offerings were made to Pele, the goddess of Helemaumau. On our return the queen beheaded a white chicken and with the proper invocation tossed it into the molten lava at the end of the stream that was threatening Hilo — and the flow stopped!! Chicken or no chicken, invocation  p102 to the gods or no invocation, the fact remains that the molten lava advanced no farther and Hilo was saved. There was no doubt in the minds of the natives as to how this was effected.

"The Girl I Left Behind Me" Later, while we were lying in Honolulu, the princess died and our blue-jackets and marines escorted the body up the Nuuanu Valley to the royal mausoleum, where it was interred. The king and royal family, high officials, native and foreign, including many dignitaries, were in attendance. Upon the conclusion of the obsequies the king said to our marine officer:

"Mr. X–––––, let me congratulate you on your splendid band, especially its rendition of Chopin's Funeral March. I presume that you will play more spirited and appropriate airs on your return march."

"Yes, your Majesty," said Lieutenant X–––––," The Girl I Left Behind Me would be most fitting."

Locked Out for the Night While Hawaiians are quiet and by nature inoffensive, they will, when under the influence of liquor, sometimes commit offenses which necessitate incarceration in the local jails. This they take as a matter of course; they are very tractable, make little or no attempt to escape, accept the inevitable sentence stoically and rarely protest.

On one occasion the Hilo jail became much overcrowded, so permission was granted to leave the jail during the day, but with the understanding that each prisoner so released must return before nightfall. Soon the prisoners began to straggle; some failed to return on time, yet had no intention of escaping. In order to put an end to the straggling, the following notice was posted on the jail door:

 p103  Notice

Hereafter when any prisoner has failed to return by 6 P.M., he will be locked out for the night!!

In addition to the main group centering around Oahu, on which Honolulu is located, the Hawaiian Islands extend through a series of small islands, reefs and atolls to Midway Island, about one thousand two hundred miles west-northwest of Honolulu. The Trans-Pacific cable from San Francisco to Shanghai, China, has offices and relay stations at Honolulu, Midway, Guam and Manila.

Many years after my first visit to Hawaii, while stationed in Honolulu in command of a small steamer, orders were received to proceed to Midway and lend a helping hand to the cable authorities who were landing the shore ends there. Incidentally my orders authorized me to visit some of the other outlying islands, all of which, with one exception, were uninhabited and very little known. This and several subsequent trips on various duties were a continuous source of interest and pleasure.

Sea Bird Rookeries Most of these islands are vast rookeries where countless thousands of sea birds come to lay their eggs and rear their young. At times the eggs were so numerous and covered such a large area that it was necessary to step carefully to avoid crushing them.

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While the eggs were not palatable, some of them were fit to eat. When collecting them for food, we would select in the evening a space fifty feet square, clear off all the eggs and mark it so that it might be distinguished. Next morning we would collect from fifty to a hundred eggs with the assurance that they were fresh and had been laid overnight.

 p104  With the exception of Laysan Island, where they seem to have been indigenous, and on Midway, where they had been introduced by the cable company, there were few, if any, land birds, the sea birds constituting almost the entire population.

They have little or no fear of human beings, particularly when incubating, at which time it is easy to pick them up in one's hands. As a matter of fact, the feather collectors took advantage of this to pluck the choice feathers of certain birds at that time without doing further injury to them.

All the birds deposited their eggs on or in the bare sand, with the exception of the frigate bird or man-of‑war hawk, which made a very meager, rough structure of small twigs on the top of some low bushes for its nest. A beautiful snow-white tern, with black eyes, was most ingenious in placing its eggs in depressions, no matter how slight, on logs and timbers that had drifted on the islands, and in guarding them when the wind was blowing.

Several species burrowed in the sand, and it was a curious sight to see a little sand geyser here and there, and then all at once a full-grown bird emerge and fly away. The birds spent most of the day at sea searching for food, and from their rate of speed and long absences, must have covered many, many hundreds of miles on these daily journeys, leaving the sun and the warm sand to do the incubating until their return.

By marking some of the birds and their eggs, we found that each bird invariably selected its own egg on its return, and after a lot of chatter would tuck it away under its feathers and keep it warm until the next day's sun relieved it and it could again seek food.

After the young were hatched, particularly in the  p105 case of the frigate-birds, the parent birds would stand hour after hour during the heat of the day with their wings spread at full length to protect their all but naked offspring from the scorching heat of the sun.

While none of these old sea birds was fit to eat, many of the young ones were palatable and were as fat as butter-balls. Even though their food had been fishy, they were not so at all. As far as we could judge, practically all of the various species which feed at sea, predigest their food and regurgitate the contents of their crops or stomachs into the throats of their young.

On one occasion a party was sent on shore late in the afternoon to make some tidal observations during the night, and was specially cautioned to carry a lamp. The lamp was carried, but oil was forgotten. In picking up some of the young albatross it was noticed that they vomited the contents of their stomachs, which was composed of partly predigested fish and oil. So a dozen of the young birds were made to surrender their dinners in a bucket, the accumulated mess was strained and enough oil obtained to keep the lamp going throughout the night.​a

Wingless Birds and Others Not the least interesting of the birds on Midway were the wingless ones, which have no vestige of wings whatever and depend entirely upon their legs for locomotion. They belong to the rail family and, of course, feed on the island. How did they get there? No satisfactory explanation has ever been offered as far as I am aware. They are dark brown in color, smaller than a robin, and can run like a quail; and when frightened sometimes take refuge by disappearing completely in holes in the sand. It was owing to this characteristic that we first mistook them for rats, and this habit prevented  p106 us from catching any when we chased them. Finally we obtained a seine and spread it between the bushes. Then we succeeded in driving a dozen or so of them into the net and capturing them.

Of course there are wingless birds elsewhere, such as the kiwi of New Zealand, and a species akin to those on Midway, which were formerly found on the Island of Hawaii. The auk family has small rudimentary wings, but does not use them for flying.

There are two specimens of the tropic, or boatswain bird, as it is sometimes called, in Hawaiian waters, which anatomically, in life, habit and appearance when in flight, are so nearly identical that it is hard to detect any difference. On closer inspection, though, one notices some slight differences in marking. The most noticeable difference is in the color of the two long, spiked tail-feathers, which in one species are a deep red, and in the other, black. It is a singular difference in habit that those with the red tail-feathers invariably nest on the ground, in the sand and are numerous on Midway Island, while those with the black tail-feathers nest in the high lava cliffs and peaks on the Island of Hawaii. Not being a naturalist, I have never been able to fathom the reason for this, nor have I found any one who could offer a satisfactory explanation as to why a difference in the color of tail-feathers should be any reason for such different nesting conditions.

Some of the migratory birds stop at Midway for food and a short rest, but never make a permanent stay. The golden plover, after breeding in Alaska or other far northern countries, returns to the larger islands of the Hawaiian group, where it finds ample food in the cultivated fields and open pastureland.  p107 The shortest possible distance to the mainland is over two thousand miles, so that those which return by way of Midway alight temporarily, then complete their journey by easy stages, stopping here and there on the intervening reefs and islands.

Returning to Honolulu on one occasion, our course followed their general line of flight, against a strong trade wind which they had to buck. Repeatedly they would hover in the air close to the ship, seeming to question the advisability of alighting for a rest. At such times, by warning until they were about the right distance off the weather bow, we were successful in dropping some on deck with a shotgun and thus adding a very toothsome article to our menu.

Slaughtered for their Plumage On our first visit to Midway before the cable was laid, we found a small Japanese schooner at anchor, the crew engaged in killing the birds wholesale for their feathers, which presumably were ultimately to be used for decorating women's hats. Surely no right-feeling woman could ever seek to adorn her person with feathers obtained by the cruel barbarous methods practised by these people. They not only slaughtered birds indiscriminately, no matter whether the young were left to starve in the blazing sun or not, but they chopped off the wings of many of the old birds while still alive and then case them adrift and allowed them to become fly‑blown and die a lingering death from starvation and exposure.

Although no definite authority had been officially conferred upon us to do so, I immediately ordered them to discontinue their operations, and to leave the islands, giving them forty-eight hours to make preparations for their homeward journey.

The captain demurred and questioned my authority.  p108 Instead of answering him directly, I informed him that he had violated our laws under a number of heads, such as failure to enter his ship at a customs-house, failure to obtain pratique, working foreigners on American soil in violation of the alien contract law, et cetera. I added that in consequence, since he doubted my authority, if at the end of twenty-four hours, instead of the previous allowance of forty-eight, he had not departed, he would be towed to Honolulu, one thousand two hundred miles farther still from Japan, where formal charges would be preferred against him. And then there happened just what I had hoped and might have anticipated — during the night he surreptitiously got under way and put out for home.

Rescuing the Shipwrecked Prior to leaving Honolulu for Midway, we arranged for our mail to be brought by one of the trans-Pacific steamers which would later sail for Yokohama and whose course would carry it near Midway. On her arrival a week or ten days later, I was informed that her captain had an urgent message for me. I boarded his steamer and he told me that he had sighted some shipwrecked people sixty miles to the eastward, on Pearl and Hermes Reef. He said they had signaled to him with a black banner on a pole to attract his attention, and that many of them seemed to be pretty far gone, as none was standing; all seemed to be completely prostrated, and stretched out full length on the sand. Owing to the size of his vessel, the dangerous uncharted reefs, the short distance to Midway and my presence there in a small, powerful steamer, he thought it would be easier for me to undertake the rescue, and he requested me to do so at once.

With an apparently serious demeanor and looking him squarely in the eye, I positively refused. No one  p109 could have shown greater surprise or contempt than he did. But before he could open his batteries on me, or raise his safety-valve to ease the pressure, I informed him that I, too, had seen the same signal of distress and the same emaciated human beings while passing there a week before. As a strong trade wind was blowing, with the resultant heavy sea, we speeded up, and realizing that no time was to be lost, ran to leeward of the island and worked our way as close inshore as discretion would permit, since the charts were all but valueless.

In the meantime boats had been manned and made ready for lowering; hot coffee, food, clothing, first aid and medicines were in readiness, so that not a minute would be lost. I directed everything possible to be done to expedite the relief party and urged a speedy return. The boats raced toward the beach and nothing more remained for me but to curb my restlessness and await results.

While the absence of the boats was far shorter than I had anticipated, the return trip was made in an exceptionally leisurely and unconcerned manner, and from this and from the countenances of the crew it was evident that they had made no rescue from the surmised jaws of death.

Somewhat crestfallen, the officer in charge of the relief expedition informed me that the black pennant flying from the pole was a man-of‑war hawk sunning himself with wings fully extended and having more or less trouble to keep his balance on account of the wind. The pole was an old oar that some one must have erected, and had apparently been selected as a desirable site for a sun‑bath.

The shipwrecked crew in the last stages of emaciation  p110 were some twenty‑odd seals that seemed to have selected the island for a summer resort, but promptly and vigorously took to the water on the approach of the rescue party, demonstrating that they had no desire whatever to be rescued. In fact, he said, if he had had a gun, it would have been a real pleasure, first, to have shot up the signal of distress before it sailed away so majestically and unconcernedly, and then to have murdered every one of the pitifully emaciated, helpless mariners as well.

Midway Island is about one thousand seven hundred miles north of the equator in mid‑Pacific, near the steamer route between Honolulu and Yokohama. It is an atoll, surrounded by a barrier-reef some fifteen or twenty miles in circumstance, broken here and there by passages which lead inside. This encloses a series of reefs and lagoons, in the midst of which are the two main, permanently dry islands, both low and sandy, their highest point being a sand-dune forty feet in height.

There is an impression in my mind that the scene of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Wreckers is laid here and that the old wreck of the bark Wandering Minstrel, which sank in the lagoon near the site of the present cable station, gave him some of his inspiration. At any rate the wreck is still there, and our men salvaged a quantity of material from her.

Midway Island a Veritable Park The cable station is on one of the islands, and at the time when it was established, there was little or no vegetation on the island other than a few scrubby bushes, and a few blades of coarse grass here and there, all very sparsely scattered.

The strong winds caused the sands to drift, often covering the scant vegetation, so that Midway was all  p111 but a desert. Yet it was exceptionally rich in guano as a fertilizer, and needed only some means to import suitable trees and plants and give them a good start, to make it fertile.

This was eventually accomplished by importing and planting a spreading, rapidly-growing ground plant, which covered and held the sand. Later a thin layer of top‑soil was brought from the main islands and the grass, trees, flowers and vegetables, all carefully selected and artistically arranged, were planted. To‑day it not only produces vegetables and fruits for the home table, but is a veritable park in the middle of the Pacific, golf course and all, where formerly the landscape consisted of sand-dunes and flocks of sea birds.

A few song birds were all introduced from the mainland and have greatly multiplied. Their singing can be heard all over the wooded part of the island, around the dwellings of the cable employees.

If the sea birds were our predominating interest on our earlier visits, the fish ran them a close second, for they were in the greatest abundance and variety both in the open sea and in the lagoons. Anywhere on the seaward edge of the reef there was no limit to the quantity that could be taken on a hook and line, in never-ending variety of species, size and color. Many of them were delicious eating and there were no poisonous ones so far as we knew, as are so often found in the South Pacific.

Trolling in deep water was more exciting, but somewhat risky in case the boat became disabled, for unless it was seen at once from the ship and a rescue party sent, the boat would rapidly drift to leeward owing to the constant winds and the current and might never be found.

 p112  Outside, the fish would take almost any lure, no matter how crude, and seemed to vie with one another as to which should grab it first. We simply didn't dare to use the small six‑inch brass towing propeller on our patent log — it would be bitten off about as fast as we put it overboard.

It may seem incredible, but it is the truth nevertheless, that the fish actually disabled our small motorboat on two occasions by biting or striking at the small, bright, rapidly revolving brass propeller.

They were so voracious that often when a small fish had been hooked, a large one would grab it before it could be hauled clear of the water, and make away with the fish, hook, sinker and the whole works.

It should be remembered, however, that we were among the first, if not the very first, who had fished in these localities at Midway. Fish are not unlike game, which, when it sees man for the first time, has but little fear of him and only gets wise after being hunted when it learns that man is an enemy. Moreover these fish had never previously seen any artificial lures, had never experienced any pain or injury from them, and were not educated to avoid them as some of the "old‑timers" seem to be, in many of the much-fished areas more accessible to civilization.

Speaking of the voracity of fish — while I was surveying at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay one May, when the bluefish were on their northern migration, it was not uncommon to have them grab a two‑pound lead at the end of a sounding-line, and try to make off with it. The fish that attempted it probably did not weigh over ten pounds, judging by those that were taken. At the end of a day's work the lead was materially roughened by the imprint of their teeth and  p113 and had to be hammered smooth for the following day's work.

Later, I was surveying in Alaskan waters, using a fourteen-pound lead in depths up to one hundred fathoms, and time and again the lead would be swallowed by a giant halibut which was unable to disgorge it. There was nothing to do but pull him to the surface and shake him clear. Frequently five or six other big halibut would follow him to the surface, just as chickens or gulls chase one that has captured a morsel.

And if this yarn be not stiff enough — while anchored in an Alaskan bay and fishing over the side with a crude lead lure molded on board ship, I caught a full-grown hair seal through the lip. The seal had bitten at the lure under water. I did not dream that a seal was anywhere near the vicinity, and when I pulled it to the surface and saw its shape and its big, soft, frightened eyes, the suddenness of the apparition made me feel as if I had caught a mermaid at last. Incidentally, this event was officially recorded in the ship's log.

Fishing in Midway Interior Pools But to return to Midway — probably the most interesting feature of our fishing there was in the interior pools that are to be found in the reef-flat. These are connected with the sea through small under-surface channels and openings in the porous coral reef, through which fish up to ten or fifteen pounds weight could find their way, but which excluded sharks and other large fish.

These pools, irregular in shape, some of them big enough to float a large seagoing schooner, were from twelve to eighteen feet deep, the bottoms covered with snow-white sand and the water clear as crystal.

Secure from their sea enemies, the fish would collect here in myriads; it constituted a natural aquarium  p114 that could never be rivaled by the hand of man. It is a singular characteristic of many fish that they take fright easily and scamper away when a man is walking on the land in their immediate vicinity. Yet let him quietly slip into the water and dive among them, they show but little fear and soon become accustomed to it.

Taking advantage of this, one of the members of the crew, a native Hawaiian, and I, would often arm ourselves with short improvised spears, dive into the pool and impale fish, from those of finger's breadth in size up to the very largest. This came within an ace of proving disastrous on my first day sport for, not realizing what the consequences might be, I secured the spear to my wrist with a loop. I struck a big fellow, without disabling him, and he suddenly left for parts unknown dragging me with him. I was fortunate in getting loose before I was filled with water.

In the old days in Hawaii it was a common practise to spear fish under water, for the natives, like the South Sea Islanders, are as much at home in the water as on land.

It was in these pools that we procured for our table unlimited numbers of crayfish, inappropriately called lobsters. So far as I am aware, there are no lobsters in the North Pacific — on the American side at least — in spite of the repeated attempts of our Fish Commission to plant them there.

All that was necessary was to anchor a large bait that they could not move, rig a bright light over it and spear the crayfish when they came to feed. And many a fish we killed with a high-powered service rifle, when they came to feed in the shallow water on the reef — not necessarily by hitting our target, for it  p115 the shot fell within a couple of feet of them the concussion would stun them and we could capture them before they revived. Firing into the midst of a shoal of fish at an acute angle to prevent ricochet will ordinarily stun quite a number, even to a depth of four or five feet.

The seaward edge of the reef from which we fished was steep and dropped from the surface into about twenty feet of water. After catching a few fish, we would chop them into pieces for chumming — there is, we would toss the small pieces into the sea to attract other fish, and the response would be all but instantaneous from the smaller ones, which in turn would attract larger ones, and sharks as well.

Tolling a Shark Ashore On one occasion when a fairly heavy swell was running, sometimes reaching my middle as I stood on the reef, my interest became centered in attracting as near to us as possible a small, seven-foot hammer-head shark by chucking small bits of fish to him, shortening the distance until he took a fair-sized fish from my hand. This suggested to me the idea of tolling him ashore on one of the swells by following the same tactics and tossing a morsel at the psychological moment. After a number of attempts the experiment actually succeeded for, as the sea receded, he was left high, if not dry, in a depression in the reef.

It would have been far wiser to have rested on my laurels then and there. But as I had on heavy hobnailed shoes I thought perhaps I might crush his head by landing on it with my feet and two hundred pounds behind them, so I made the jump. Apparently it did little or no damage to the shark, which promptly wended its way to sea on the next swell. But unfortunately for me my feet slipped — I landed on the  p116 coral in a sitting posture and because of the poisonous punctures received I found no pleasure in a sitting position for some days afterward.

The larger inhabited islands of the Hawaiian group were fringed with artificial fish-ponds, made by damming the shallower inlets with walls of lava rock. An entrance was left which could be opened or closed at will. In the old days the natives would man a fleet of canoes, go well out to sea, form a cordon and by threshing the surface and making deep booming sounds by striking the water with concave wooden disks, drive the fish into the openings and thus restock their ponds.

Sometimes large sharks would be thus impounded. This would give occasion for a most extraordinary tournament, which would be sure to follow under fixed rules of procedure, and for which prizes would be offered. The competitors would draw lots as to the sequence in which they would tackle the shark single-handed, without weapons of any kind, and attempt to land it. As each would become exhausted, the next would follow so that the shark was kept continually on the go and the defensive, until some one succeeded.

Their principal method of attack was to negotiate a position alongside where they could slip their fingers into the shark's gills, which consist of a series of rounded holes, and thus attempt to exhaust him by interfering with his breathing. At the same time they maneuvered to work him toward shore into shallow water where the shark has less control of himself, and finally to land him, to the satisfaction of the appointed umpires.

Thayer's Note:

a I'm reminded of the night many years ago when as a young man who had no electricity in the apartment — due to a fight with the electric company which I eventually won — I lost a key in an almost windowless pitch-black bathroom, and just couldn't find it by feeling around. What to do? The solution eventually presented itself: my much-loved cat Moonrise, her fur rubbed vigorously the wrong way, produced just enough light for me to find it. (She got a treat and some special loving after that, yes.)

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Page updated: 22 Dec 17