On December 6th, 1931, two boats containing twenty nine men and
youths left Pitcairn on the seventy five mile trip to Oeno Island
to collect beche-de-mer (sea grub) on behalf of two representatives
of a New Zealand company who were residing temporarily on Pitcairn.
Limited supplies of food were carried, and they intended to be home
Trip to Oeno Island from Pitcairn
by Pitcairner Roy Palmer Clark (1893 - 1980)
Reprinted in Guide to Pitcairn, originally published in Pitcairn Miscellany. Used by permission of author.
Three earlier departures had been cancelled because of unsuitable
weather; Oeno is a low lying atoll, difficult to see even in fine
weather, and only under the most favourable conditions will the
boats set sail for this island.
The weather turned fair and several of the remaining men and boys
decided to take a third boat to Oeno for a pleasure trip. This party
of six left on December 13th, planning to meet up with the first
group for a few days relaxation before the three boats made
their way homeward.
To those of us remaining on Pitcairn, the likelihood of sighting
the boats at the expected time diminished as headwinds continued
to blow steadily. Christmas came, then New Year, and another week
passed. We began to feel anxious about our friends and loved ones
for by this time their provisions would be low and they would be
forced to live on a diet of fish and sea birds.
Two weeks overdue. Small groups of people would gather and talk
- of Oeno, the missing boats, storms, accidents, starvation. Prayers
were made without ceasing.
Three weeks passed and fear gripped the hearts of those who waited.
Hope began to die and men and women moved around slowly as if in
a daze. Dulled eyes scanned the horizon as the wind dropped but
continued to blow dead ahead.
As the fourth week of waiting commenced, a cry was heard, Sail
ho! Can it be? Yes it is it is! The boats had been sighted.
But how many? Two. Which two? Where is the other boat? What has
become of it? Despair took hold of every heart again.
A few men hurried to the Landing, collecting food and water as
they went. A boat was launched and all haste was made to meet the
boats as soon as possible.
As we came alongside the first, the sight that met our eyes is
almost beyond description. Haggard and worn bodies, with starvation
written on every face, were trying to row the boat to land. Some
were faint with hunger and unable to move. We gave them food and
water before acquiescing to their demand that we go to the other
boat where, they said, the crew were in even worse condition.
I shall never forget the sight. As we drew near, one could tell
by the lift of the oars that it was only will power that moved the
arms. Some had already given up; stength was gone. Eyes had a vacant
stare, cheeks were sunken and bone protruded. Pale as death, with
boils erupting from starved flesh, they struggled on. One or two
more days in similar conditions must surely have meant death for
We guided the two boats into Bounty Bay and helped the men ashore.
Some staggered about, the, with assistance, made their way slowly
homewards. Others were carried up from the Landing place. Rest and
good food brought life back to starving bodies. All, by Gods
Here is the story as I pieced it together from accounts given
to me by several men.
The first two boats arrived safely at Oeno, but by the time they
were joined by the third boat they were almost out of food. Even
the supplementary supplies carried on this boat did not last long
among so many. Food was rationed; two bananas, or fei, a day. Of
course there were plenty of fish and birds but a continued diet
of these became nauseating.
During their fifth week on the island the wind became almost fair
and the decision was made to sail for Pitcairn, some smoked fish
and a few biscuits their only remaining food.
Large seas broke over one of the boats as it went through the
passage in the reef surrounding the island. The crew battled on
but a larger sea eventually swamped the boat. Fortunately, it was
loaded with timber, otherwise some of the crew would have drowned.
One man dived for two others as they were going down; somehow he
managed to tie them to some driftwood. Each man had to shift for
himself, clinging to whatever he could find for support.
With the assistance of the other crews, the swamped boat was dragged
outside the breakers where it was bailed out. Almost everything
loose had been washed away. Men in the other boats shared their
clothes with the soaked crew. Later in the day, the three boats
set course for home, the swamped boat being towed because it had
lost its sail.
After twelve hours of fair winds a sudden change developed and
the wind blew harder. The very demon was in it, the
men recounted. The boat under tow had to be abandoned and for four
days the two remaining boats battled wind and sea. The fury of the
gale equaled any the men had previously experienced. Rationed to
two biscuits a day, wet to the skin, and bailing all the time the
men fought on.
When the struggle became too great the boats turned and ran for
Oeno again. In spite of doubt that they would find the tiny atoll,
find it they did. Exhausted men collapsed on the sand. Only fish
and birds to eat and some too faint to even look for these.
On the third day, the wind came fair enough to head for Pitcairn.
These starving men and boys plucked up courage and again set sail
for home. A wind change the next day forced them to lower sail,
take up their oars and pull for the shore. And it was in this condition
we found them. . . .
[Oeno] [Roy Palmer Clark]