A Chronology of the Bonin Islands


Sebastian DOBSON (Old Japan, London)


October 1543.  Off the coast of the Bonin Islands Captain Villalobos, commanding the Spanish galleon San Juan, sights a group of islands after sailing north-east of the Philippines, but does not land for lack of fresh water.[1]

June 1639.  A Dutch expedition consisting of the vessels Engel and Graft commanded by Mathijs Hendriksz Quast sails from Batavia in search of the legendary islands of Rica de Oro and Rica de Plata.  Although it fails to finds its objective, it succeeds in charting the Bonin Islands and part of the Japanese coast.

1670.  Hahajima.  A Japanese trading vessel carrying oranges on the regular coastal route between Arita and Edo, is blown out to sea by a storm and is adrift for 72 days before coming ashore on an uninhabited island, well supplied with fresh water and food.  The surviving crew members repair the vessel and spend 52 days recuperating and exploring the islands, and then set a course for the mainland.  They reach Shimoda in June of that year and report on the islands to the authorities.[2]

1675.  Tokyo.  The Bakufu organises an expedition to explore the uninhabited islands discovered five years before.  In contradiction to its policy of national seclusion, it outfits a vessel specifically designed for seafaring modelled on the Chinese trading vessels that regularly come to Nagasaki, and appoints a Nagasaki shipowner, Shimaya Ichizaemon, to command the Fukkokuju-maru.  Shimaya successfully surveys the islands and brings back various specimens.[3]

1727.  London.  News of the Japanese discovery of the Bonin Islands is first reported in the West by Engelbert Kaempfer in his work History of Japan.

1727.  Tokyo.  In the course of preparing an exploratory voyage to the Bonin Islands, the Bakufu receives a petition from a masterless samurai called Ogasawara Kunaisadato claiming that the islands were first discovered in 1593 by his putative ancestor Ogasawara Sadayori and submitting as proof an anonymous manuscript entitled eDescription of uninhabited islands to the south westf (Tatsumi mujinto ki).  Ogasawarafs claim is initially undisputed, but seven years later is shown to be fraudulent, and in 1735, he is subjected to the sixth, and most severe, level of banishment.  Ironically, in future international disputes, Ogasawarafs imposture provides useful support for the Japanese claim of prior discovery and his name is later given to the islands.[4]

12 September 1824.  Hahajima.  Captain Coffin, an American commanding the British whaler Transit, discovers the southern islands of the Bonin Group.  The two largest he names Fisherfs Island and Kiddfs Island for his employers, Fisher, Kidd and Fisher, of Bristol, although in time the group becomes better known as the Coffin Islands.[5]

9 June 1827.  Chichijima.  HMS Blossom, commanded by Captain Beechey, lands at the main harbour of Chichijima, which he names Port Lloyd.  The British conduct a survey of the islands, and Captain Beechey takes formal possession of them for Great Britain, leaving a copper plaque announcing his claim nailed to a tree.  Chichijima he names Peel Island, Ototojima Stapleton Island and Anijima Buckland Island.  Hahajima and its surrounding islands are named the Bailey Islands.[6]

26 June 1830.  Chichijima.  The schooner Washington lands a mixed group of 25 settlers from Hawaii on Peel Island (Chichijima), who had been fitted out by Richard Charlton, the British consul in Honolulu.  The group consists of two Americans, Nathaniel Savory and Aldin Chapin, one British subject, John Millinchamp, one Dane, Charles Johnson, Matteo Mazarro of Genoa and twenty Kanakas, of which 13 are female.[7]

26 January 1831.  Canton.  In a letter to the Court of Directors in London, the East India Companyfs select committee in Canton recommends that in order to epromote by every means an extended sale of British Manufacturesf in the Far East, the Company acquire ean Independent Island, free from Chinese power and interferencef.  Unaware that the islands are already inhabited, it concludes that ethe Bonin Islandsc suggest themselves as best adapted for this purpose.f[8]

1832.  London.  One T. Horton James publishes a pamphlet in which he recommends that the British government settle Hawaii and the Bonin Islands, eon the plan of a proprietary governmentf with a view to initiating trade with ethe Great Empire of Japanf.[9]

22 July 1833.  Chichijima.  Savory records the return of Millinchamp to the island on the whaler Harriet and notes that he elanded 14 men against the wish of the settlersf.  [10] This is probably an error for the vessel Cadmus, which arrived at Port Lloyd exactly a month later, and discharged a group of fifteen sailors, eamong whom there were several daring characters, who put the settlers at defiancef.  Eight of the sailors attempt to sail for the Southern Island, but are drowned when their boat sinks.[11]

10 April 1834.  London.  One Francis Stavers writes to the Colonial Office requesting official support for the development of a colony on the Bonin Islands under British protection.  The Colonial Secretary responds that he cannot ehold out to the parties who may settle on the Islandsc any promises of protection, inasmuch as they would be placed beyond reach of ordinary assistance.f[12]

22 August 1834.  Chichijima.  Nathaniel Savory records that Millinchamp and one Ben J.  esailed for Londonf on the American vessel Volunteer bound for Canton with a cargo of sandalwood.  A correspondent on that same vessel later reports in the Canton journal The Chinese Repository that 26 Europeans, eexclusive of the Sandwich islandersf, are now resident on the islands.

November 1835.  London.  The Board of Trade receives a petition from Millinchamp and Mazarro, asking for the recognition and protection of the settlement by the British government.  After consulting the Admiralty, the Board produces a statement to the effect that no action can be taken since ethe Island of Bonin is beyond the Limits to which British Cruizers ordinarily gof.  The reply is not sent since an address for Millinchamp and Mazarro can not be found.

1835.  Nathaniel Savory records that during the 31-month period from 1 January 1833 to 1 July 1835, 24 vessels have visited Port Lloyd, all but two of which were whalers.[13]

15 July 1836.  Chichijima.  The American warships USS Peacock and Enterprise arrive at Port Lloyd.  Within a few days, the settlers agree to a written code, the main points of which are that eall disputes shall be decided by the majority; that, henceforward, no individual shall instruct or assist any vessel in taking turtle, nor shall any one, in future, sell turtle, or feed his hogs upon it; no one shall maltreat the slaves or servants of another, or endeavour to seduce any woman from her lord; nor shall any one encourage men to desert from ships arriving at this island; but, on the contrary, use every effort to apprehend and return every deserter to his vessel.f Of the 14 settlers who sign and swear to the agreement, only three can write their own names, and Mazarro, the nominal governor, is not among them.  Ruschenberger notes that the population does not exceed 40, and that among the 19 women, einfanticide and infidelity, which they are at no pains to conceal from their husbands, are common.f[14]

1837.  London.  George Tradescant Lay, who had originally accompanied Beechey on HMS Blossom as a naturalist, and has since worked in China as an agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society, publishes an open letter to ethe British Publicf dated 27 November 1836 in which he urges that the occupation of the Bonin Islands ewould give the English nation such a respectability in the eyes of all aroundf, and fulsomely concludes that ethis spot might, under the blessing of the Almighty, be the focus from whence the influences of religion, science, and the sentiments of political freedom, would emanate in an ever-flowing tide.f[15]

2 August 1837.  Chichijima.  HMS Raleigh, commanded by Commander Michael Quin, arrives at Port Lloyd, discharging Millinchamp, and stays there for nine days.  Quin later makes a report on the settlement, stating the population to be 42, consisting of 25 original settlers, 11 later arrivals and 6 children born on the island.  He also recommends the appointment of a vice-consul to safeguard ethe present infant state of the settlementf, but his suggestion is not adopted.[16]

27 September 1838.  Chichijima.  One Francis Silva testifies that Matteo Mazarro attempted to inveigle him into murdering Nathaniel Savory, claiming that eif he would get Chapin and Savory out of the way he would give everything he possessed in the world.f[17]

20 December 1838.  Chichijima.  HMS Larne, commanded by Commander P. J. Blake, anchors at Port Lloyd.

6 February 1840.  Chichijima.  The Chukichi-maru, a Japanese vessel blown out to sea over a month ago while travelling down the north-eastern coast of Japan, lands on Peel Island.  The six crew members are taken care of by the islanders and stay for two months, before returning to Japan on 9 April.  They report to the authorities on what they have seen, describing the islanders as kindly, estimating their total number to be around thirty, and listing around fifty words from their vocabulary.  This news of a foreign settlement on territory assumed to be part of Japan makes surprisingly little impact on the Bakufu.[18]

1842.  Honolulu.  Mazarro returns to Hawaii and reports on the progress of the settlement to the British Consul.  During the same year, Millinchamp moves to Guam, where he stays until his death in 1897.

1844.  Honolulu.  Baker in a report based on his own visit to the Bonin Islands some 18 months before, and on more recent observations provided by Charles Johnson, states that the population in 1843 consisted of 42 persons, eand it is singular that of all the Children, born upon the Island during the whole 13 years [of the settlement] only two are girls.f[19]

1846.  Nagasaki.  The manager of the Dutch trading station at Deshima reports to the Governor of Nagasaki that foreign settlers have established a colony on the Bonin Islands.  The Bakufu takes no action.[20]

1848.  Chichijima.  Matteo Mazarro dies.

21 September 1849.  Chichijima.  The vessels Maid of Australia and St.  Andrewfs return to Peel Island for repairs after experiencing bad weather.  Once the repairs are done, the crews of both vessels start plundering the inhabitants for supplies and provisions, taking eall they could get hold off - and what they did not want they broke and destroyedf.  Savory suffers particularly, losing his livestock, clothes, medicine and savings of around $2,000.  At the same time, the French whaler Nil arrives at Port Lloyd, and nine of her crew desert to join the miscreants.  Captain Barker of the St.  Andrewfs provides them with firearms to prevent their recapture, and the Nil leaves without them.  Both vessels stay until 9 January of the following year, taking with them Savoryfs wife and a daughter of Joachim Gonzales (eJohn Bravof).[21] The women are later recovered at Honolulu, but declare that they left the island of their own accord.[22]

4 August 1850.  Chichijima.  The brigantine Vanguard, having stayed at Port Lloyd for sixteen days, resumes her voyage for Stewart Island.  However, Richards, her captain, sends a boat back to shore during the night and abducts one of the female islanders.  eWe understand their intention was to get two more females and carry them to Stewart Isle, where they were to be disposed of to the Chiefs for Beche de la Mar [sea slugs], as females are in great demand there.f[23]

21 April 1851.  Chichijima.  HMS Enterprise, commanded by Captain Richard Collinson, arrives at Port Lloyd, and weighs anchor for seven days.  Collinson later notes that the population stands at 48, including eten females belonging to Oahu, one female belonging to Guam; two female children of three and five years old, besides eighteen natives of Oahu that have run away from ships, and will leave the islands again [at] the first opportunity.f[24] He also notes that since the settlement began, 26 children have been born, of which 12 died.[25]

1851.  Hahajima.  A group of five inhabitants of Peel Island move to Bailey Island and establish a settlement there.[26]

June 1853.  Chichijima.  Commodore Perryfs squadron visits the Bonins en route for Japan.  The population of the islands now stands at 31, consisting of ethree or four nativec Americans, about the same number [of] Englishmen, one a Portuguese, and the remainder Sandwich Islanders and children born on the island.f[27] Convinced of their strategic value, Perry buys a plot of land from Savory for development as a coaling station, which he christens Pleasant Bay.  Perry subsequently seeks to impress upon the United States government the need to occupy the islands.  News of this purchase prompts the British government to reaffirm its claim.  Perry expresses doubts on the subject, but concludes that the question of sovereignty is of little importance so long as the islands remain open to all as a refuge for shipping.  The British government agrees.[28]

16 February 1861.  Tokyo.  The Bakufu informs the envoys of the foreign powers that it intends to proceed with the development of the Bonin Islands.

3 January 1862.  Tokyo.  The Kanrin-maru, carrying a group of 92 Japanese officials headed by Mizuno Tadanori, sets sail on a survey of the Bonin Islands, where it arrives two weeks later.  Mizuno informs the inhabitants of the Bakufufs claim to the islands, and a group headed by Obana Sakunosuke remains behind to establish the foundations for the administration of the new territory.

1862.  Tokyo.  The Bakufu despatches three vessels to the islands with supplies and 38 Japanese settlers, informing representatives of the foreign powers of the resettlement.

May 1863.  Tokyo.  Due to internal difficulties in Japan, the Bakufu recalls its settlers and officials from the Bonin Islands and cancels the settlement plan.  A dispute breaks out with the British government concerning the sovereignty of the islands.

1872.  A tidal wave strikes the islands, causing severe damage.  Savory loses the diary of events he had been keeping since the establishment of the settlement, though some papers are recovered, including a list of ships which visited the island.[29]

1873.  The recently established government in Japan hardens its attitude towards the question of sovereignty.  In April of that year, a special paper concerning the settlement of the islands and the development of the whale fishery there is presented to the Shoin.

10 April 1874.  Chichijima.  Nathaniel Savory dies.

24 November 1875.  Chichijima.  The Meiji Maru arrives at Port Lloyd, followed two days later by HMS Curlew.  Russell Robertson, a passenger on the latter, later reports to the Asiatic Society of Japan that the population of the Bonin Islands now stands at 69, eof whom sixty-six reside on Peel Island, and three on the Bailey or Coffin group, of these thirty-seven are males and thirty-two females, and out of the whole number about twenty are children whose ages vary from one to fifteen.f He further notes that of the 66 inhabitants of Peel Island, 35 were born there; that, apart from the Englishman Thomas Webb, eno one on the Islands can read or writef; and that, according to a long term resident, e11 men have met with violent deathsf over the past 25 years.[30]

17 October 1876.  Tokyo.  The Japanese Government formally annexes the Bonin Islands.

1878.  Following the arrival of Japanese settlers, the population of the islands stands at 213; within the next ten years, it increases almost seven-fold to 1,400, and by the end of the century reaches 5,550.

1882.  The original inhabitants of the islands are given Japanese nationality.

1944.  As Japanfs strategic position in the Pacific War deteriorates, the civilian population of the islands (6,886) is evacuated to the mainland.

September 1945.  Chichijima.  General Tachibana Toshio, commander of Japanese forces in the Bonins, surrenders to the Americans.  The islands are subsequently administered by the United States Navy.

October 1946.  Around 130 islanders descended from the original settlers are allowed to return to Chichijima.

26 June 1968.  The islands are restored to Japanese control.

[1] L.B. Cholmondeley: The History of the Bonin Islands from the Year 1827 to the Year 1876 and of Nathaniel Savory, One of the Original Settlers to which is added a short supplement dealing with the Islands after their Occupation by the Japanese.  London: Constable & Co. Ltd., 1915, pp.7-8.

[2] Tanaka Hiroyuki: Bakumatsu no Ogasawara.  Tokyo: Chuko Shinsho, 1997, pp.2-7.

[3] Tanaka, pp.7-9.

[4] Tanaka, pp.9-15.

[5] Canton to Court of Directors, 26 January 1831, quoted in a report on the China trade prepared by the East India Company, Foreign Office, General Correspondence, China, FO17/2, Public Record Office, Kew.

[6] Chomondeley, pp.9-13.

[7] The actual number of the original settlers is difficult to determine. Baker to Wyllie, 18 October 1844, Foreign Office, Embassy & Consular Archives, China, FO228/153, Public Record Office, Kew, gives 20, while Chomondley, pp.17-18, writes that the group consisted of 30. Captain Quin, in the report of his visit of August 1837, provides probably the most detailed breakdown of the islandfs population during the first seven years of the settlement, and lists the number of original settlers as 25. Quin report, 9 August 1837, enclosed in Elliot to Foreign Office, 4 September 1837, FO17/21.

[8] Canton to Court of Directors, 26 January 1831, FO19/2.

[9] T. Horton James: The Sandwich and Bonin Islands. A Letter to a Noble Lord on the Importance of Settling the Sandwich and Bonin Islands, in the North Pacific Ocean, on the plan of a proprietary government; together with Hints on the probability in that case of introducing British Manufactures into the Great Empire of Japan.  London: W. Tew, 1832.

[10] [Nathaniel Savory]: eList of Shipping which entered and sailed from Port William, St. Georgefs, Bonin Islands from 1 Jan. 1833 to 1 July 1835f, in Appendix to E.W. Clement: eMito Samurai and British Sailors in 1824f, Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Volume 33, 1905, p.190.

[11] [Anon.]: eThe Bonin Islands: their situation, productions, &c., as noticed by the Japanese in 1675 and subsequently; by Captain Beechey in 1827; more recently by a correspondent of the London Metropolitan; and in August, 1834, by Mr. ------,f The Chinese Repository, Vol. III, March 1835, p.515.

[12] Francis Stavers to Colonial Office, 10 April 1834; Colonial Office to Stavers, 16 April 1834, FO228/153.

[13] [Nathaniel Savory]: eList of Shippingcf, p.190.

[14] Ruschenberger: Voyage Around the World, Volume 2, p.442.

[15] G. Tradescant Lay: Trade with China. A Letter Addressed to the British Public on some of the Advantages that would Result from an Occupation of the Bonin Islands.  London: Royston & Brown, 1837.

[16] Quin report, 9 August 1837, enclosed in Elliot to Foreign Office, 4 September 1837, FO17/21.

[17] Cholmondeley, pp.35-36.

[18] Tanaka, pp.70-74.

[19] Baker to Wyllie, 18 October 1844, FO223/153.

[20] Tanaka, pp.74-76.

[21] Captain R.C. Collinson, eThe Bonin Islands in 1851f, The Nautical Magazine, March 1852, p.137. S. Wells Williams: eA Journal of the Perry Expedition to Japanf, Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Volume 37, 1910, p.29.

[22] Bayard Taylor, p.394.

[23] Collinson, Ibid, p.137.

[24] Collinson, Ibid, p.137.

[25] Cholmondeley, pp. 25-26.

[26] Williams, p.34. According to Collinson, who received his information from Chapin, there were five men and two women living on Bailey Island in 1851. Chomondeley, p.30.

[27] Francis L. Hawks: Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan performed in the Years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the Command of Commodore M.C. Perry, United States Navy, (Abridged Edition), New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1856, p.223. On the other hand, Dr. Williams, who accompanied Perry, reckoned that the population stood at 39. Williams, p.31.

[28] W.G. Beasley: Great Britain and the Opening of Japan, 1834-1858.  London: Luzac & Co., 1951, p.96.

[29] Comments by the Reverend A.F. King following Clementfs lecture, p.191.

[30] Russell Robertson: eThe Bonin Islandsf, Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Volume IV, 1876, pp.128; 131; 133; 139.