Rabaul Jewel of the Pacific

The first known Europeans to sight New Guinea were probably the Portuguese and Spanish navigators sailing in the South Pacific in the early part of the 16th century. In 1526–1527 the Portuguese explorer Jorge de Menezes accidentally came upon the principal island and is credited with naming it "Papua", after a Malay word for the frizzled quality of Melanesian people's hair. The Spaniard Yñigo Ortiz de Retez applied the term "New Guinea" to the island in 1545 because of a perceived resemblance between the islands' inhabitants and those found on the African Guinea coast. Although European navigators visited the islands and explored their coastlines thereafter, European researchers knew little of the inhabitants until the 1870s, when Russian anthropologist Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai made a number of expeditions to New Guinea, spending several years living among native tribes, and described their way of life in a comprehensive treatise.

Europe's growing desire for coconut oil, Godeffroy's of Hamburg, the largest trading firm in the Pacific, began trading for copra in the New Guinea Islands. In 1884, the German Empire formally took possession of the northeast quarter of the island and put its administration in the hands of a chartered trading company formed for the purpose, the German New Guinea Company. In the charter granted to this company by the German Imperial Government in May 1885, it was given the power to exercise sovereign rights over the territory and other "unoccupied" lands in the name of the government, and the ability to "negotiate" directly with the native inhabitants. Relationships with foreign powers were retained as the preserve of the German government. The Neu Guinea Kompanie paid for the local governmental institutions directly, in return for the concessions which had been awarded to it. In 1899, the German imperial government assumed direct control of the territory, thereafter known as German New Guinea. New Guinea was basically a business venture. Thousands of local workers were hired as cheap labor on cocoa and copra plantations. In 1899, the German government took control of the colony from the New Guinea company of Berlin. Education was in the hands of missionaries.

Standing on a superb natural harbour, ringed by green hills, and filled with brilliant tropical flowering trees and shrubs, Rabaul was known as one of the most beautiful towns in the Pacific for most of the twentieth century. Even now, with so much destroyed by volcanic action, beauty remains. Yet Rabaul has always been a town on shaky ground. Within living memory shorelines have altered, land levels have risen and fallen and a fresh mountain has arisen to transform sea into dry land and join an island to the mainland. Hardly a suitable location for a town, one would say! Beneath the Pacific Ocean a plate of the earth's crust is pushing south westwards against the plate which carries the Australian continent, subjecting the islands of the New Guinea region to enormous pressures. Rabaul stands on this line of pressure at a point where three lesser plates press against the Pacific Plate and against one another. As the plates grind together, buckling and slippage in the rocks below the earth's surface produce continual earth tremors and, periodically, massive earthquakes followed by tsunamis. Weaknesses and fractures along the lines of plate movement provide outlets for the fiery heat raging beneath Earth's fragile crust, producing Rabaul's volcanoes as part of the Ring of Fire around the Pacific. Geological evidence shows that volcanic activity created a great mountain 3,000 metres high and ten kilometres wide at its base in the area where Blanche Bay and its inner harbours now lie. Blockage of vents by cooling lava caused tremendous explosions, rivalling the notorious eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. These destroyed the mountain, letting in the sea to form the harbours, but left the remnant of its base as the rim of a great caldera around them. Fresh eruptions created lesser volcanic peaks and craters around the rim: Kabiu (The Mother), Tovanumbatir (The North Daughter), Turagunan (The South Daughter), Tavurvur (Matupit Crater), Rabalanakaia (literally The Heart of the Volcano) and Kalamanagunan (Vulcan Crater). Some of these have been dormant for centuries, but the last three are still active. The first European witness of volcanic activity at Rabaul was William Dampier in 1700. Sailing into the southern end of St George’s Channel (which he mapped as a deep bay), Dampier observed “a large cloud of smoke” to the north. In 1878 a massive eruption was observed by traders and missionaries who had established themselves in the area. Tavurvur erupted, and on the opposite side of the harbour an underwater explosion caused an island to emerge, mainly flat except for a low crater. The Tolai called it Rakaia (The Volcano), and Europeans named it Vulcan. The two islets in the harbour, Dawapia (The Beehives) sank lower, causing a fishing village to be abandoned. The waters of the harbour boiled and dead fish and turtles were washed ashore. With this evidence of destructive forces lurking close to the surface, why was a town built there? The need for a sheltered anchorage for shipping drew Edouard Hernsheim and other traders to settle on Matupit Island in the 1880s, using the waters between the island and Tavurvur as a harbour. But it was Albert Hahl, the Governor of German New Guinea, who formed a more ambitious plan to create a port and with it a new capital for the colony. Hahl must have known of the eruptions of 1878, but chose to disregard them because of the fine sheltered harbour. The Imperial Government of Germany did not accept the suggestion. Having just moved the colonial capital from Friederich Wilhelmshaven (Madang) to Herbertshohe (Kokopo), they were not going to spend money on a new port and town. But Herbertshohe had no harbour, and Hahl was determined. He persuaded the Norddeutscher Lloyd Shipping Company to build a deep water jetty on Simpson Harbour at its own expense, then used government funds meant for buildings at Herbertshohe to build a town at the new port instead, clearing away the mangrove swamp which lined the foreshore and gave the place its Tolai name Rabaul, The Mangroves. By 1910 Rabaul was ready to be the colony’s new capital, having come into existence without Imperial Government intention or sanction. Volcanic eruptions since then caused massive damage in 1937, ongoing discomfort in 1941-43, and massive damage again in 1994 and a continuing threat since. Orders to abandon the town after the 1937 eruption were not carried out; although removal of the capital began in 1941 but was interrupted by war. Removal of the town to Kokopo was ordered in 1946, but again not carried out. Rabaul residents developed a strong bond with the town, and clung on stubbornly in spite of volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. Improvised housing sprang up: shacks of tarpaper on timber frames, store buildings of “black iron”, and even homes of bush timber and kunai grass. Wharves were improvised from wrecked shipping, and the port of Rabaul got into full swing. Finally it was decided the town should stay. In July 1971 two massive earthquakes, twelve days apart, rocked the town and its environs, each causing damage and followed by a tsunami. From the Vulcanological Observatory on the hill above the town came warnings that another volcanic eruption was likely. Evacuation plans were drawn up and emergency procedures trialled; but time went by and the level of alertness slackened. So when the big eruption of September 1994 came, it caught people by surprise. At least two-thirds of buildings were destroyed or so badly damaged that they were demolished. Kokopo was declared the commercial and administrative centre for the province. There was hopeful talk of rebuilding parts of Rabaul, but continued emissions of volcanic dust from Tavurvur have put an end to that. Yet the town continues to live, on a smaller scale, and the port still operates as the shipping centre for East New Britain and the surrounding region. The surrounding hills are still green, and flowers still bloom, including the frangipani, which was adopted as the symbol of hope and regrowth after the 1937 eruption. The town on shaky ground, after its unauthorised start and all that Nature and human disorders have thrown at it, still endures!

(extract from REV NEVILLE THRELFALL book 'Mangroves, Coconuts and Frangipani )

The Explorers

There are many, it seems to lay claim (or have said to lay claim) to the discovery of Rabaul, situated on the Island of New Britain. It is recorded that William Dampier, 1651–1715 sailing in the H M S Roebuck that on March 24, 1700 they entered a strait at the easternmost part of New Guinea that no voyager had previously noted; to the east was more land. Dampier had discovered new territory, which he called Nova Britannia, or New Britain. Others have also lay claim to the discovery of this Island, The Dutch Explorer Jakob Le Maire, and sighted New Britain in 1616, who believed it was part of a landmass including New Guinea and New Ireland. His theory was disproved (1699–1700) by the Englishman William Dampier. Jorge de Meneses is credited with the European discovery of Papua New Guinea. Well there is so little proof that he actually discovered the island of New Britain. Inigo Ortiz de Retes, the Spanish explorer, visited the island in 1546.He names the Island New Guinea because of a uncanny resemblance between the islands' inhabitants and those found on the African Guinea coast. The first Europeans to sight TPNG were most likely the Portuguese, Dutch or the Spanish navigators sailing in the Pacific in the early 16th century. The principal island, being Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya or Dutch New Guinea was discovered around 1526-27 by Don Jorge de Meneses. Although European navigators visited and explored the Papua New Guinea islands for the next 170 years, there was no European settlement in or around the Islands little is known of the Papua New Guinea inhabitants until the late 19th century.

Abel Tasman's Observations, 1643.

1643, Log which reads as follows:

"12th April, 1643:Able Tasman calculated his position as 3o 45' S, 167o 1' E. on the 12Aprial 1643 this would be approximately where the yellow point on the map is.

(And I say approximately!!!!)

When according to his log Dated, 12th April, 1643:- [Three glasses being finished[1] in the day watch we were jolted by such a violent earthquake that not one of our people however deeply asleep remained in his hammock but everybody came running up on deck astonished with the thought that the ship had struck on a rock. It was just as if the keel tore over coral rock but having cast the lead we found no bottom. Afterwards we still had several times some aftershocks of an earthquake but none as powerful as the first. The weather was calm but shortly thereafter there came heavy rain and variable wind; then all was quiet. We did our best to steer as much to the south east as was practicable. About three hours into the afternoon the wind turned to the west with a soft breeze. At noon we calculated our position as 3o 45' S, 167o 1' E. We held our course south-south east and sailed six miles. Our course was then due south east when we saw a small, round, low islet south by west from us four and a half to five miles distance. During the night heavy rain fell with variable weather.[1]This method of keeping 'approximate' time, was by means of a half-hour glass (similar to an egg-timer), the bell being struck every time the glass was turned. Half-hour glasses were in use in the Royal Navy until after 1850 and at this period it was common to hear time being expressed in glasses, e.g. "We should finish the job in about three glasses", meaning one-and-a-half hours. Looking at the longitude & latitude of Rabaul this brings Able Tasman on a close proximity to the entrance to Simpson Harbour

(Location Rabaul )

Latitude: 03° 35.0'S Longitude: 152° 10.36'E

A Chart Of Captain Carteret's Discoveries at New Britain with part of Captain Cook's Passage through Endeavour Straights, & Captain Dampier's Tract & Discoveries in 1699, & 1700, at New Guinea and New Britain.

The Roebuck voyage 1699-1700

Dampier’s discovery of a strait separating New Guinea from the island he named New Britain has colonial significance, according to the note on the map: “Since it lessens the Difficulties of settling a Colony in this part of the World that might probably be attended with great Advantages, as well with respect to ye profits drawn from the Plantations as from the Commerce of the neighbouring countries.” New Guinea, however, is the “least known to Europe of any of the Eastern Countries

Having been provided with his replacement ship too late in the season to take his preferred route via Cape Horn, Dampier departed England on 14 January 1699 for the Cape of Good Hope. Trouble, centring on acrimony between Dampier and his first Lieutenant George Fisher RN divided the ship. They were apparently ‘behaving equally as boors without a spark of dignity or self-respect… alternately drinking together, back biting one another to their confidants, and breaking into personal buse and even fisticuffs in presence of the crew’.[7] An inevitable state of indiscipline ensued, and en route Fisher was caned by Dampier, clapped in irons and confined to his quarters. The crew were divided on the matter and, concerned at the possibility of mutiny, Dampier had Fisher sent ashore and imprisoned for a time at Bahia in Brazil, before he made his way home. At the Cape of Good Hope Dampier found that the variation there anomalous, stating in his journal 'These things, I confess, did puzzle me—indeed were most shocking to me'. Admiral W.H. Smyth, a recognise authority on the subject, subsequently made the comment that, ‘though the local magnetic attraction in ships had fallen under the notice of seamen, he [Dampier] was among the first to lead the way to its investigation, since the facts that ‘stumbled’ him at the Cape of Good Hope, respecting the variations of the compass, excited the mind of Flinders, his ardent admirer, to study the anomaly.’[8] ***William Dampier departed Timor on the 12th of December 1699 They sailed from Babao, along the island Timor, the Roebuck turned Sail to the north-west Cape of New Guinea (Irian Jaya) in the vicinity of what is now known as Selat Dampier, then sailed an easterly route along the coast of New Guinea around the northern part of Nova Britannia naming said land mass Nova Britannia or as it is known today (New Britain) . Dampier also named the straits between Long Island Umbar Island and new Britain Dampier Strait was subsequently he named after himself.

Volcanic Activity

The next reference to volcanic activity in this area occurs in Captain William Dampier's account of his voyage, where the log book note of the

March the 25th 1700 in the evening we came within 3 leagues of this burning hill, being at the same time 2 leagues from the main. I found a good channel to pass between them, and kept nearer the main than the island. At 7 in the evening I sounded, and had 52 fathom fine sand and oaze. I stood to the northward to get clear of this strait, having but little wind and fair weather. The island all night vomited fire and smoke very amazingly; and at every belch we heard a dreadful noise like thunder, and saw a flame of fire after it, the most terrifying that ever I saw. The intervals between its belches were about half a minute, some more, others less: neither were these pulses or eruptions alike; for some were but faint convulsions in comparison of the more vigorous; yet even the weakest vented a great deal of fire; but the largest made a roaring noise, and sent up a large flame 20 or 30 yards high; and then might be seen a great stream of fire running down to the foot of the island, even to the shore. From the furrows made by this descending fire we could in the daytime see great smokes arise, which probably were made by the sulphurous matter thrown out of the funnel at the top which, tumbling down to the bottom and there lying in a heap, burned till either consumed or extinguished; and as long as it burned and kept its heat so long the smoke ascended from it; which we perceived to increase or decrease, according to the quantity of matter discharged from the funnel. But the next night, being shot to the westward of the burning island, and the funnel of it lying on the south side, we could not discern the fire there as we did the smoke in the day when we were to the southward of it. This volcano lies in the latitude of 5 degrees 33 minutes south, and meridian distance from Cape St. George 332 miles west.


Through South Pacific Islands

Rabaul (continued). We took trips around Rabaul, to Matupi Island, and up in the hills, and saw various missions amongst the natives, and also more evidences, of Japanese preparations for defence, and the results of bombing them. On Matupi Island guarding the approach' to Rabaul, you can see guns peeping out of their hiding places and around about are big craters where bombs had fallen, showing how difficult it is to wipe them out without a direct hit. Around the island wrecks are, rusting in the water near the shore. This place was strongly defended and bombed. Around about Rabaul one trip around the south side of Rabaul Harbour was very interesting. We went down the coast about 40 miles, to a river, I think called the Warango River, which stopped us. We wanted to see what the road to Put Put Mission Station was like. It was about 7 miles away. This river is a wide shallow one, subject to sudden floods from the heavy rains in the hills, and I was told is infested with alligators. Bridging it would .be a difficult proposition, and no vehicle can cross it, so i is crossed by a canoe. They say the canoe is usually on the opposite side, and you have to take your clothes off and swim across, chancing the alligators. Fortunately it was on our side of the river. I was interested in this question of transport, as two children became very sick at Put Put and almost died before they could be brought to Rabaul for medical treatment. In case of an epidemic the position would be desperate. So the local missionary group voted that a boat be built in Sydney, 35 feet long, estimated cost £4,000, and a 40 horse-power Diesel engine, available in Sydney, cost about £1,000, be installed The bringing of the ship to .Rabaul would cost about £500; total cost about £5,500. Workboats at Rabaul. Towards the close of the War, Ford and General Motors built a number of workboats for the Government. Many of these were never used, and were sold later. They are fine, boats, strongly built, mostly of Oregon, well ribbed, with copper covered bottoms. They are 40 feet long, 12 ft. 3 ins. beam, and 5 feet from deck to water at the bow: Captain Duncan, the Harbour Master at Rabaul, uses one for his work about Rabaul and up and down the coast he recommended them to me as the ideal thing the mission needed. Carpenter Ltd. had bought seven of them for use on their plantations. As their plantations were not being worked, they are lying at anchor and had not been used. I saw the manager, and was offered one for the mission for £750. This has since been bought. The damp tropical climate of Rabaul, possibly made worse by the volcanic gases, is very destructive to timber, so the upper deck has much decay and dry rot in the years there since 1945, since being built, and will need to be re placed; estimated cost £250. This is being done at the mission, and the engine sent from Sydney for a few pounds freight is being excellent boat right on the spot with a saving of £3,500.

Historical Landing

Places at Rabaul. Returning from Put Put we had a look at the village of Kokopo, which many think will be the future capital, and saw interesting historical spots. There is a stone near Kokopo, commemorating the first, landing of the Australians on 11th September, 1914. Further along there is a white memorial stone with nothing carved on it. This was pointed out to me as the spot where the Australians behind barb wire resisted the Japanese landing. I did not see any trace of barb wire or other obstruction, but on the edge of the bush there was a depression which might have been the remnants of a trench. The stories about the Japanese landings are very varied and contradictory. I tried to check them locally, even visiting the small public library at Rabaul, which is opened an hour or two daily. The lady librarian did not know of any book or paper there on the subject, so after looking around and finding nothing, I spent my time there' looking at some magazines with beautiful views of Melbourne.

History of Rabaul.

The Germans being late in the field in grabbing colonies, seized several areas towards the end of last century, including what we now know as the Man dated Territories, of which Rabaul was made the capital. They apparently developed it well, as there still, remain some large wharves, neglected and decaying, which they built. We first came in contact with Rabaul in the 1914-18 War. On .18th August, 1914 - just after the outbreak of war, Australia entered an expeditionary force. It was "trained" for tropical war fare for" ten days on an island off the Queensland coast. On 11th September they landed at Kokopo, a village near Rabaul, and after a bush skirmish in which two men were killed, they destroyed the German radio station and re embarked: The transport then steamed up to Rabaul wharf and discharged the expeditionary force, which chased the tougher. German settlers in to the hills, rounded up the rest, and told them to behave themselves and sent- them back to work their plantations. At the peace treaty, the islands south of the equator were turned over to Australia to administer as' a Mandate. These include the islands we have visited so far, Bougainville, New Britain and New Ireland, as well as part of New Guinea, and also the islands to the North and west 'we will visit later.' The islands north of the Equator (Caroline and Marshall Islands) were handed over to Japan. She .used them for one of her jumping-off places. Climate of Rabaul and New Guinea. It is rather interesting to read what the expeditionary force thought about the climate. I walked the 1 mile to the shopping centre at Rabaul on two or three occasions. The great mango avenue was cut down by “the Japanese, only -stumps remain, and there was no shade. I found this strenuous, so mostly waited to go in the Jeep.

S. S. McKenzie, in "Official History of Australia in Great War," vol. X,states: "Two facts have been clearly demonstrated during the military occupation of German New Guinea - that the country is one for men between 25 and 40 years of age, and that the insidious climate fastens relentlessly on any physical weakness. Only seasoned men of robust bodily fitness could be depended on to endure the rigors of even a few days of marching and fighting in these latitudes, where the moist heat hangs like an oppressive curtain and makes strenuous exertion for more than a few hours in tolerable to a white man." So these regions were only slightly settled or developed by Australians. This was ' the position when World War II broke out with Germany, and Japan became gradually more threatening. Our Shield against Japan, what lay between us and Japan - just our green armour? New Guinea has acted as a shield to Australia - with its impassable mountain ranges, its heavy rainfall, and jungle low lands and swamps unhealthy with malaria. This barrier has never been crossed by invasion. So between us and Japan lay our "Green Armour" - New Guinea - much of it, at the outbreak of war, completely unknown, and other' islands and hundreds of miles of sea