Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Sailor and the Princess

      One finds the most extraordinary stories in old newspapers. I spotted an article in the August 4, 1834 Hampshire Telegraph about the captain of an American whaling ship the Erie who had married a princess. The captain was from Newport on the Isle of Wight, hence the interest from the Telegraph, but they seem to have gotten the name of the kingdom wrong. They identified her as being from Hawaii which they spelled 'Gwyhee'.
     Always looking for confirmation of extraordinary stories, I went searching for other sources to confirm this event. When distance is involved, newspapers are not reliable. I found a French book on curiosities called Le Livre des Singularités by G.P Philomneste, published in 1841 . He too found the story interesting enough to relate on page 43. Philomneste stated that Captain Charles Spooner of the Erie married Kingatara-Oruruth, the daughter of a chief in Tahiti,  in 1834. There were some racist and snide comments about the bride's tribal markings. The bride, who was a skilled swimmer, celebrated the marriage with a demonstration of her skills for the guests. He ended the story by commenting he did not know how the marriage worked out since the maritime annals were silent on the subject.
     On page 150, Whaling by Charles Boardman Hawes, published in 1924, also describes the marriage. Hawes stated that the wedding took place in 1843 but this was a typo since news of the marriage clearly appears in the Telegraph in 1834. He states that the marriage took place at Otahete in the Society Islands, which Tahiti was a part of. He repeated the humorous and racist comments the editor of the Philadelphia newspaper saw fit to print adding that the princess was 16 years of age and a giant at 6'6" in height. Nobody masticates sugar cane. Using that term applied to a human is clearly making her less evolved. The article goes on to say that the Erie left its captain in New Zealand and took on a new commander Captain A.W. Dennis but the fate of Spooner and his bride were unknown.
      A more recently published book(1976): Islands and Empires: Western Impact on the Pacific and East Asia by Ernest Stanley Dodge also described the marriage. I do not have a copy of the book so I cannot read what Dodge had to say about it but the Telegraph did have something to say about the fate of the marriage. Two weeks after the marriage had been reported in the Telegraph, there had been an update. Miss Cingatara Oruruth had gone into the water to amuse her husband with an exhibition of her extraordinary feats of swimming when she was attacked by a large shark. The unfortunate princess was cut in two by the shark that had seized her in its jaws. The story was a reprint from the Bristol Gazette so it is difficult to say if in fact the poor girl died but surely, if there had been a Captain Spooner, he would have returned to England or whaling upon her death and there would have been some kind of confirmation that the story was true. 

4 comments:

Kristin Dietrich said...

Interesting! The editors of the paper just reiterated the prevailing view--that if you weren't white or a European, you were a dirty savage and therefore less "human". It was their way of justifying their slaughter and inhumane treatment of other peoples.

The Red Witch said...

Yeah and I really dislike the snide way they referred to her pride in her athletic ability as if that made her less evolved or refined.

Anachronist said...

A very interesting post, thank you!
I suppose in those times it was shocking for the Europeans that a gril dared to be not only an outstanding athlete but also proud of her skills, never hesitating to show them off in public.After all, real ladies never swam *snigger*.
I also find the story about her death suspicious - such a juicy morsel of news would have been confirmed elsewhere. I think somebody made it up in order to show that a 'savage' princess who swam so well was an unnatural being who deserved a horrifying death.

The Red Witch said...

an yet the 1976 book also mentioned she had been killed by a shark. University of Minnesota Press so I assume he did he research.