On June 9, 1837, the 428-ton London whaler Gledstanes (built in Leith, Scotland 1827), under the command of Captain John R. Browne, ran aground in heavy surf at 11:30 PM on the eastern reef of Kure Atoll. The ship had been running south by east under single-reefed topsails. Three boats were launched, and captain and crew stood off to sea from the wreck until daylight. Some sources report that two sailors were mistakenly left on board the first night, only to be recovered the following day, intoxicated from liquor in the ship’s stores. The following morning, the spare hands were landed on Ocean Island, and upon returning to the wreck from the lagoon-side, two sailors swam through the surf to the vessel and cut away the foremast, making a bridge across the reef. Others were then able to board and salvage some of the provisions: 16-18 casks of flour, one cask of salt pork, and a few casks of oily water.
The next day the ship began to break apart from the heavy surf on the exposed eastern reef. Once established ashore, the castaways constructed a 38-foot vessel from salvaged materials. Whale spades were fashioned into axes and adzes for this work, and lances provided augers and chisels. The compass provided parts for the bellows, constructed on the island by the blacksmiths. The boat, named Deliverance, was caulked with lime and seal oil, in a manner similar to the chunam caulking used in East Asia. Deliverance put to sea for the main Hawaiian Islands on October 12, with Captain Browne, the chief mate, and eight men (including two Hawaiian sailors). They were resupplied at sea by the American ship Timoleon. Twenty-three castaways remained on the island for more than four months until rescue arrived, finally returning to Honolulu aboard the vessel True Blue on February 6, 1838. (Additional information courtesy Rhys Richards of New Zealand.)
During the 2008 maritime heritage survey, divers finally located a scatter of iron ballast lying within a crevice. Moving towards the surge zone of the reef crest, anchors and cannon and other artifacts soon came into view, including a telltale trypota whaling ship had been found.
The Gledstanes is the only whaler known lost on the atoll’s eastern side, and her position on the reef corresponds to other 19th-century reports. The 40-50 bars of iron ballast (90 X 15 cm) and heavy chain (links 20 X 12 cm) in the deeper ravines indicate that the ship may have run hard onto the higher coral ridges and opened a substantial portion of her lower hull. (We find similar iron ballast on both the Pearl and Hermes sites, British whalers from 1822.)
The anchors, three large iron wooden-stock anchors (length 322 cm), and smaller kedge anchor (250 cm), lie some 80 meters closer to the reef crest, showing where the vessel eventually became permanently lodged. The four anchors are in close proximity to each other…stored at the time and not deployed, typical for a ship running aground unexpectedly. The flukes of these anchors, unlike the straight designs of the circa 1800 anchors found on the Pearl and Hermes sites, begin to show a gentle curve…something prevalent in many styles later in the 19th century.
Heavy iron pieces, encrusted into the coralline substrate, may be the try works knees from the brick structure on deck used to render whale blubber into oil. A portion of a trypot revealing bricks and part of the copper pan or sheathing lies under a deep overhang. One small cannon (length 110 cm) is also visible, as well as at least one cannonball (caliber 10 cm); early whalers in the Pacific sailed armed. None of these artifacts seem inconsistent with what we would expect to find on a whaling vessel from the early 19th century. However, most of the ship has, obviously, disintegrated. Only the heaviest artifacts have survived the years of exposure to the full force of the North Pacific. Many of the smaller pieces have been swept away, and all of the organic material is gone.
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