Introduction Davis, William M.
(William Morris), 1815-1891.
served on the whaler Chelsea; departing New London in
November 1834, she returned with a catch of 1800 sperm whales.
The crew made two landfalls in the Hawaiian Islands, the first
at Honolulu in January 1836.
1836, the Chelsea anchored
in Kealakeakua Bay, famously depicted in John Webber's:A View of KaraKakooa, in
Owyhee, 1778, and
James Cook's last port-of-call.
Davis had high praise for the Hawaiians' peaceful disposition,
also wonderfully manifest in the ten Kanakas of our
crew. In a detailed report,
he was very impressed by their diving skills and judged
that all over fifteen months were able to swim.
Most significantly, at a point of rocks on which a
magnificent surf was breaking, Davis found a large number
of the natives enjoying themselves on the surf-board; riding,with head inclined, on the crest of a foaming wave, with
the speed of a bird.
At the end of the ride, they would disappear
beneath the surface and, diving to allow the incoming rollers to pass over them, regain the outside of the
breakers, pushing their board with them: Here they would mount the board again, to career once
more over the frightful course; and thus they played by
the hour, far happier than beaux and belles in the
ballroom. The wilder the surf, the more intense their
enjoyment of it. The surf-board seemed about five feet long, and a
foot wide, turned up a little in front It was placed length-wise under the breast as they
rode on the crest of the wave. Page 303
It was not until the afternoon of the 23d that we dropped
anchor in Kealakeakua Bay, the scene of Cook's death.
After furling sail, and getting the decks cleared of
rigging, the trading Kanakas were allowed to come on board,
with fruits, shells, tapa cloth, etc., which were offered in
exchange for articles of iron.
March 24 
Starboard watch had liberty on shore.
We were particularly charmed by a large company of small
children, who were playing, naked as when born, on a
shelving beach of sand, on which the gentle swell was
breaking in miniature surf.
The little brown beauties were from six months to six years
All were fearlessly playing in the water, at depths
proportioned to their years; dabbling as naturally as young
ducks, the elder having a watchful eye on the younger ones.
With great glee this guardian would roll a sprawling,
choking youngster upon the sand, and by patting his shining
back, enable him to cough and sneeze out the effect of a
I judged that all over fifteen months were able to swim, and
take such care of themselves as was necessary in this
shallow water. Those younger were making fair efforts in the
same accomplishment under the encouragement and direct
ion of their elder playmates.
A very noticeable feature in the merry group, was the
absence of all loud, discordant cries, angry exclamations,
and evidences of a quarrelsome disposition.
I am told that such is very rare; and it rarely happens that
the hand of one is raised in anger against an- other.
The same peaceful disposition was wonderfully manifest in
the ten Kanakas of our crew.
In the three months they have been on board, there has
certainly not been a quarrel among them; nor can I recall a
harsh word between the poor heathen.
But of us white and black Christians the same can not be
The happy mothers of our little savages were swimming in the
deep water of the bay, and diving for shell-fish, each
having a long gourd anchored in her vicinity,-into which she
might drop such shells as she secured.
We laid ourselves upon the lava ledges which overhung the
beautiful scene, and the swimmers observing us, they with
great shouting and splashing attracted our attention.
A friendly competition then arose, in the exhibition of
their skill as divers.
A black-haired, black-eyed mermaid, more beautiful than the
syrens of old, I'll be sworn, stood erect in the bright
water, and clapping a pair of pretty hands gracefully over
her head, with musical cries strove to secure our special
Then, turning and undulating as a wave, her twinkling feet
for a moment shot in the air, and the vision disappeared
long enough to cause us to hold our breath in sympathy.
Arising at length, the pretty head, with long black locks
all afloat, was again turned in our direction to see that we
recognized her; and with clapping hands we cheered her and
the other competitors.
To show that their efforts were not in vain, they would
exhibit the shells brought up, and, swimming to the gourds,
When rested, we were attracted by the shouts of natives, and
we sauntered to a point of rocks on which a magnificent surf
Here we witnessed an exhibition of skill in swimming, in
striking contrast with that of the women we had just left,
and one perhaps to be witnessed nowhere else.
Here we found a large number of the natives enjoying
themselves on the surf-board.
It was a new sight to us to see men and women playing in a
surf such as we would scarcely expect the natives of the
water to live in, such as it is questionable whether the
seal and the otter could have contended against; and it was
with some terror that we watched them riding, with head
inclined, on the crest of a foaming wave, with the speed of
They came shooting forward, almost on to the terrible rocks,
against which a preceding wave had broken in a deafening
roar; but just as they seemed fated to strike the deadly
barrier, just as they were on the very boiling suds of foam,
the happy, shouting performers would disappear beneath the
surface; a moment more, and they would be seen buffeting the
incoming roller, and diving to allow it to pass over them,
bearing on its crests some of their playmates, and soon
again they regained the outside of the breakers, pushing
their board with them.
Here they would mount the board again, to career once more
over the frightful course; and thus they played by the hour,
far happier than beaux and belles in the ballroom.
The wilder the surf, the more intense their enjoyment of it.
The surf-board seemed about five feet long, and a foot wide,
turned up a little in front. It was placed length-wise under
the breast as they rode on the crest of the wave.
Davis, William M.: Nimrod of
the sea; or, The American Whaleman.
Harper & Brothers, New York,1874.