Tuesday, September 9, 2014

CHAMORRO DIVERS & AN ENGLISH OPERA SINGER



In 1866, a German ship, the Libelle, left San Francisco, California intending to journey to Hong Kong. Guam was not even remotely part of their travel plans.

But the ship encountered a storm on the high seas and hit a coral reef at Wake Island in the dark hours of March 4. The ship was unable to proceed. Three weeks were spent on Wake, salvaging what they could from the Libelle.  Fresh water was not to be found on Wake, and, while sea birds were a good supply of protein, their salvaged food stock was bound to run out. That's when Guam flashed in the mind of German captain Tobias. On two row boats, they would be able to transport the 30 crew members and passengers to safety on Spanish-held Guam. On Guam, there'd be no risk of being killed (and eaten) by islanders, as did in fact happen on rare occurrences in the Pacific.

And what passengers they were! An English opera troupe on a world tour, with their star, Anna Bishop, plus her husband and New York diamond merchant named Martin Schultz. Charles Lascelles, a pianist, as well. A diplomat for the Hawaiian Government, Eugene Van Reed, and a Japanese diplomat (one Kisaburo) were also hitching a ride on the Libelle, hoping to get to Japan.


Anna Bishop
British Opera Star stranded on Guam in 1866

Before leaving Wake, it was said that Tobias had left behind a considerable fortune worth around $150,000, consisting of coins, precious stones and mercury (called quicksilver in old reports) in individual flasks. These were goods picked up in San Francisco and entrusted to him for transport to the Far East.

The boat taking Bishop and the others in her party made it safely to Guam in about 2 weeks, arriving on April 8. But the second boat containing Captain Tobias and much of his crew capsized and those men were presumed dead.

Marianas Governor Francisco Moscoso y Lara received the survivors with hospitality, even sending out search parties for Captain Tobias, finding no trace. The search party was lead by the boat owner, George H. Johnston, a British subject but married to the Governor's daughter. The motive was not entirely altruistic. According to the laws of the day, Johnston could keep a third of the remnants of the Libelle, including the treasure, if found, and the Spanish Government in the Marianas the remaining two-thirds.

While the Spanish were looking into the fate of Captain Tobias and his lost treasure, the survivors could not leave Guam, except for the two diplomats who left Guam for Hong Kong after a few weeks. When Johnston returned with no news of Tobias but, with some of the valuable goods he managed to recover, the survivors were allowed to sail on to Manila on June 25th on Johnston's ship.
According to Father Ibáñez's chronicle, Johnston came back with more than 100,000 pesos in coin and silver bars

One can only imagine what Anna Bishop and the others did on Guam for those almost three months. To undergo a shipwreck and lose much of your possessions, to spend three weeks on a somewhat desolate atoll and then almost two weeks on the ocean sailing for Guam, one wonders what kind of emotional state they were in. Perhaps they were glad to be on a larger island with some comforts, with the small goings on of Spanish colonial life. Bishop, and Charles Lascelles, a pianist, did put on a few concerts while on Guam.  Lascelles was the first to play the organ on Guam (at the church?) and taught others to play it well, according to Ibáñez. Though Protestant, imagine renowned world opera star Anna Bishop, who had sung for kings and princes in Europe, singing a motet in the Hagåtña Church!  We do know that Bishop wrote from Guam to a friend in San Francisco telling him of their misfortune but also miraculous survival.

CHAMORRO DIVERS?

Johnston had not grabbed all what remained of the lost treasures of the Libelle, and news traveled fast. Soon, interested parties from both directions (Hawaii and China) were setting out for Wake to hunt for Captain Tobias' hidden treasure.

According to one report by a Hawaii paper, the First Mate of the Libelle, who made it successfully to Guam on the one boat, returned to Wake in search of the treasure.* He was well-equipped with weapons and brought with him a group of "expert divers from Guam." At Wake, he met Thomas Foster of Hawaii with his own crew of Hawaiian divers. Both of them unwilling to cede to the other, they agreed to split what they found fifty fifty. Foster returned to Hawaii, and the First Mate of the Libelle went to Hong Kong. To this day, not all of the alleged treasure on Wake has been found.

Now the question is, assuming the news report is true : who were these "expert divers from Guam?" Well, who lived on Guam at the time, who would have had a background in diving? I doubt the few Spaniards on Guam would fit that description, but who knows? Were they Chamorros? Perhaps a few Filipinos resident on Guam? Carolinians, also residing on Guam?

When the search was over, the First Mate went from Wake to Hong Kong, according to the newspaper. That means the "expert divers" from Guam also went to Hong Kong. From there, they may have found their way back to Guam. Or maybe not.

* The Hawaiian Gazette, January 21, 1890

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