Whipporwill Cruise to Line Islands was Fascinating Exploit

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Whipporwill Cruise to Line Islands was Fascinating Exploit


This long and thorough article chronicles the Whippoorwill expedition of 1923, which took a group of scientists across the Line Islands to study local plant and animal life, as well as speak with local populations (of the few which had inhabitants).

Palmyra was the final stop, and while the visit there was mostly uneventful, it marked an important step in securing Palmyra as a modern ecological marvel. The article includes a series of very rare photographs as well, including one of the only known images of Judge Cooper's "house" on Home Island.


Lorin Tarr Gill




Honolulu Advertiser




Fair Use





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Put Ashore at Palmyra

At 10 o’clock on the morning of August 20 the Whipoorwill dropped anchor off Palmyra.

It seems that, when the navy vessel put into Fanning for the second time, Dr. Wilson had been called in consultation with the doctor at the cable station in regard to the illness of Mrs. A.C. Moginie, a resident of Auckland, New Zealand, and the wife of a cable operator at the island. Though nothing definite had been decided, the navy boat had been in constant wireless communication with the cable station and, on the way from Washing to Palmyra, it was decided that the scientific party should be put ashore at the latter place while the vessel returned to Fanning to take aboard the patient for Honolulu.

After disembarking the party on Home Island and leaving over 100 gallons of drinking water, six days’ provisions, a tent and full camp gear which was landed by means of a motor launch, a whaleboat and a skiff, the Whipoorwill again returned to the cable station.

Home Island is still the property of Judge Cooper of Honolulu although the other islands have been purchased by E. Fullard-Leo. There was no occasion to make camp, as the party put up at Cooper’s house.

“Palmyra had been undisturbed since Mr. Thurston and I visited it in 1922,” Dranga announced. “I know this because many marks which I had placed there were exactly as I had left them.”

As far as vegetation is concerned, Palmyra is of about the same luxuriance as Fanning.

Th various islets - there are about 50 in the atoll - differ considerably along that line. Some are covered by coconut groves, and others by the giant heliotrope. One is densely overgrown by the morning glory which covers the ground as well as the tallest trees and gives the effect of garden arbors and hedges.

Encounters Land Crabs

During the two days that the men awaited the return of the Whipoorwill many observations and collections, not undertaken during previous expeditions, were made. Many of the islets were visited with the aid of a small skiff.

“There are more birds than ever on Palmyra,” said Dranga, “and the coconut crabs are still flourishing. I ran into a number as I was walking around barefooted one evening.”

“Yes, coconut crabs were plentiful,” Christophersen agreed, “that is, before we came.”

A coconut tree which, sooner or later would have crushed the house on Home Island was removed, the brush cleared away, and water-jars were arranged to catch rain from the roof. Everything, in face was left shipshape for future visitors.

The Whipoorwill arrived again at Palmyra and picked up the party on August 23, at noon.

The invalid and her twelve-months’ old daughter were doing well and, when the navy boat docked at Honolulu at 9 o’clock on the evening of the twenty-seventh, Dr. Edmondson announced that the expedition had been a conspicuous success.

“The Line Islands,” he said, “who emerging forms which may be considered an intermediate type. They show the influence of the southern Pacific, yet many are Hawaiian.

“While we were obliged to collect our specimens in a hurried manner we had a definite object in view and knew about what we wanted before we began to work. Their real value will be determined later.

“Christmas and Washington were found to be the most fruitful and Jarvis, the least,” he said, “but we cannon always judge the value of the specimens by their amount.

“The real research work will take a long time,” Edmondson concluded, “but it is certain that every collection we made will give us a clearer insight into the distribution of plant and marine forms in the Pacific and will aid, ultimately, in the solution of the problem of the origin and migrations of the Polynesians."

Original Format



Lorin Tarr Gill, “Whipporwill Cruise to Line Islands was Fascinating Exploit,” Palmyra Archive, accessed August 12, 2020, http://www.palmyraarchive.org/items/show/186.