Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Lost in the Pacific. (VIII)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error.

Getting lost in the Pacific is the current thread. People, aircraft, ships and unintentional castaways were often getting lost. But could Islands become lost as well. Back in the 1930's long before the era of global positioning and earth mapping by satellites. There were people pouring over old sailing and whaling log books and other such records. These people were convinced that there were other mysterious and isolated islands like the Galapagos Islands to be discovered. Harold Gatty thought correctly that many of the larger islands had been discovered more than once. In the main due to poor navigational longitudinal positioning.

Queensland Times
15th August 1935
Harold Gatty's Hobby is that there are islands in the Pacific to be discovered or rediscovered. Harold Gatty, whose job is navigation in the air, but whose hobby is the early history of the Pacific and the development of navigation, does not know. But he would like to have a look for one or two, says the Sydney Sun. Thus, away to the eastward of Honolulu, between the Hawaiian group and the coast of California, there is a problem to be solved. Mr Gatty has found that between 1850 and 1866, 60 separate reports were made by whalers of the sighting of an island in this region, which lies away from the lanes of modern steamship travel. There was also the sighting of a whale in this region by Captain Lawnless, of the Union Company. There are other reports of islands in this part of the sea, which go back in one case to the voyage of Juan Gaetano in 1542. A search was made for this supposed island some years ago, but it was anything but thorough. 

On the other hand, there is little hope of sighting any of 82 islands which a very up-to-date American map shows in the North Pacific. They are imaginary islands. Some are reminders of the days when navigators could come fairly close to their latitude, but made wild guesses at the longitude. So you get a row of islands set down as the results of supposed discoveries in different longitudes by successive navigators, who really saw the same island. Others, no doubt, stand for cloud banks or mirages sighted by some old seafarer and reported as Islands. Dream islands are not confined to any one ocean. The whalers, of course, were the pioneers of a great part of the Pacific. Unlike trading vessels, they went, as that excellent work, the Pacific Pilot, put it, "wherever their vessels could float and a whale could swim."

Mr Gatty has given a good deal of attention to the records of American whalers in the Pacific, preserved at New Bedford, Salem, and other New England ports. Sydney and Hobart Town were great whaling ports in their day, but records are very 'scarce, particularly as far as Sydney goes. The history of the compass has always interested Mr. Gatty. While he admits that the compass was used in China from very early age for a long time for astrological purposes or to guide caravans, rather than for sea voyage. He believes that the mariner's compass was invented independently in the Mediterranean world. The name magnet suggests Magnetes, in Asia Minor. However, a knowledge of Chinese methods has its practical uses. Not long ago Mr Gatty had the task of designing the compass methods used in American flying. The aerial compasses all had the needle swinging between two parallel wires. 

Mr Gatty recalled the fact that Chinese compasses, going back two thousand years or more; had but one wire. It was easier to sight the needle with one wire than two. Mr. Gatty therefore went back to the ancient Chinese method and decided to have one wire in all the American aerial compasses. Careful study of original sources often shows that an error which has once been perpetrated goes on being repeated. Thus the discovery of the Kingman Reef, near Palmyra Island, has been assigned to Captain Kingman. Yet it is clear from an examination of the narrative which Edmund Fanning gives of the voyage of the Betsy in 1798, that Fanning (who gave his name to Fanning Island) discovered the reef much earlier. Fanning talks of a narrow escape from a reef and it has been hastily assumed that the reef was Palmyra Island. Fanning's original narrative shows that the reef was quite distinct from the island and was Kingman Reef, which is at a considerable distance from Palmyra.

The archaeology of the Pacific and the problems set by the many strange ruins and remains scattered over the Pacific Islands have also a fascination for Mr Gatty. He has gathered all that he could find bearing on tile carved rocks and other evidences of human handwork found on Maldon Island, a barren islet which has no coconuts and little or no water. There seems indeed nothing on which to live except fish. Much work has been done on Maldon and elsewhere in the Pacific by the scientists of the Bishop Museum, Honolulu. Mr Gatty brought with him on his visit to Australia the bulletins published by the Bishop Museum on the archaeological and other problems of the Pacific. It may be hoped, by the way, that, when the British Association meets In Australia in 1939 or 1940, scientists from the Bishop Museum will be invited to visit Australia and to join in discussions of Pacific archaeology. Their help would be valuable in working out proposals for research in the Pacific in which, it may be expected. Australia will take a leading part. Perhaps Mr Gatty will be back by then, for he hopes to return to Australia before very long. He has a great deal of material bearing on his hobby to be found in the Mitchell Library and elsewhere in Australia.

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