Jr. : Hawaii, 1798
Ebenezer, Jr. Extract
form [!] The diary of Ebenezer Townsend, Jr.,. supercargo of the sealing ship
"Neptune" on her voyage to the South Pacific and Canton.
Arranged and indexed for the Hawaiian Historical Society by
Introduction Ebenezer Townsend Jr., of New Haven,
observed surf-riding in Hawaii in August 1798; possibly the first
account from Waikiki, the first by a merchant, the first
by an American, and the first use of the term surf-board..
son of the ship's owner,
Townsend Jr. sailed as the super-cargo aboard the Neptune, the
three year voyage reaping a fortune for the owner,
investors and the crew. Leaving New Haven with no
cargo, the Neptune harvested 80,000 seal skins
from islands off the
coast of Chile which were then sold in Canton.
After loading a cargo of
Chinese tea, silks and nankeens, luxury goods for the America market,
she returned home, via
In the rush by to replicate Neptune's success,
the South Pacific seal was exterminated by 1817.
Anchoring about two miles off Waikiki, on landing Townsend observed both
sexes were expert divers and
swimmers, on one occasion reporting one woman swimming from the beach to the Neptune. In landing in a heavy
surf they were
expert body-surfers, going
in on the top of the third roller, the heaviest, with a quick velocity and
carried well up the beach.
Remarkably, Townsend was already familiar with this
technique, it was exactly as I have seen the negroes
at Turks Island, in the West Indies. Surf-riding on the Turks islands, north of Haiti in the south-east Bahamas, was first reported by Philippe Aubin in 1756
At Waikiki, the swimmers sometimes make use of
surf-boards, which are about their own length
and floats them lighter. By implication,Townsend
observed the surfers of
Waikiki riding prone.
First published in
the Papers of the New Haven Historical Society, Volume VI,
Reprinted in 1921 by the Hawaiian Historical Society
(Number 4), in a limited edition of 500 copies.
voyage of the "NEPTUNE" around the World in 1796-99.
The Diary which follows this introductory notice I had the
pleasure of reading before the (New Haven) Historical
Society in 1888.
Mr. Ebenezer Townsend, the principal owner of the "NEPTUNE"
and the projector of the voyage, was at the time one of the
most - possibly the most - extensive ship owner in New
His vessels sailed to many of the great shipping ports of
the world, and a large fortune had resulted from his
commercial adventures. Mr. Townsend fitted out the
"Netune" for a sealing voyage under the command of Daniel
Greene, a veteran shipmaster, strict disciplinarian and an
The Ship's Company consisted of 45 young and sturdy
She carried an armament of 20 twelve-pound
guns and was called a fast sailing ship.
The "Neptune" was 350 tons burden, and was built in
this city (New Haven) at the Olive Street Ship Yard.
Page 2 From this port (New Haven)
the "Neptune" sail'd for the Seal Islands in the South
Pacific (Massafuero, Massatierra, etc.), and after killing
and salting down 80,000 seals proceeded to Canton, where the
skins were sold at a price which gave the ship a gross
freight of $280,000.
A cargo of tea, silks, nankeens, and China ware was loaded,
and the "Neptune" came home to New Haven after an absence of
about three years.
THOMAS R. TROWBRIDGE, JR.
24th August 1798
Early in the morning we were close in with Wahoo (Oahu), off
Diamond Hill (Diamond Head), when the canoes began to visit
us. We steered along NW by W until Diamond Hill (Diamond
Head) on Whitreter Bluff (Waikiki Bluff) bore S 72° E per
compass, when we anchored in ten fathoms, sandy bottom with
small shells and scattered coral rock.
We anchored rather far out.
In the afternoon I went onshore with Mr. Davis when he gave
orders for our supply early in the morning, we laying about
a half miles from the landing.
They being so expert swimmers, we frequently
would heave a nail overboard, when they dive and scarce
ever fail getting it, although they would some times have
to go several fathoms.
The girls dove as well as the boys.
In landing in a heavy surf they manage exactly as I have seen the
negroes at Turks Island, in the West Indies.
The third roller, or sea, is the heaviest; they would go
in on the top of it with a quick velocity, which would
carry them well up the beach.
They would land with the utmost ease where you or I would
They sometimes make use of surf-boards.
The surf-board is about their own length and floats
A woman came off to swim all around us at Wahoo (Oahu),
when we were two miles off; she probably was in the water
four or five hours
Ebenezer, Jr. Extract form [!] The diary of
Ebenezer Townsend, Jr.,. supercargo of the sealing
on her voyage to the South Pacific and Canton.
Arranged and indexed for the Hawaiian Historical
Society by Bruce Cartwright.