Tuesday, March 27, 2018


The next time I look out at Hagåtña Bay, I'll remember that a New Zealand ship struck its reef and sank there.

In 1856, the barque Invincible, under the command of a Captain Brier (some accounts say Brice), left New Zealand and was heading for Manila. But before leaving, Brier agreed with the captain of another ship, the Vixen, to meet at Guam and then the two of them sail together for Manila.

Brier first spotted Rota on January 5, then sailed down the western coast of Guam, looking for whatever sign he could find of a port or the Vixen. He then spotted Hagåtña and a ship at bay there. Brier wondered if this ship was the Vixen. He also supposed it was the famous Apra Harbor he had heard about Guam, but it seemed too small and too constricted to be the big, wide harbor he had heard of.

Brier later said the strong current and winds more or less forced him to take the narrow channel that passed through the bay's reef. towards the basin where the schooner he had seen earlier was at rest. A strong current pushed the Invincible onto the reef, but within half an hour, Brier got the ship off the rocks and into the basin. The schooner he had seen was not the Vixen but rather the Spanish schooner Secreto.

Then came aboard the island's official pilot, John Anderson, who was responsible for greeting every arriving ship and supervising its anchoring in Guam's waters. Anderson told Brier he was in the wrong harbor. Brier asked Anderson why hadn't he come aboard sooner, while the ship was still outside the reef. Anderson gave no answer.

When ashore, Brier says he was told by island residents that they had been urging Anderson to go out sooner, and were willing to go out themselves to help guide the ship, but the law of the land forbade anyone doing so before the pilot. Brier's next step was to wait until the waters were calmer and try to get the Invincible past the reef back onto the high seas without incident.

In the meantime, circumstances tried Brier's patience. Anderson took sick, and the other interpreter available left much to be desired. The Spanish Governor, Pablo Pérez, spoke no English and Brier spoke no Spanish. Other men considered skilled in piloting ships were brought into discussions. One suggested one plan, another proposed a different plan altogether, resulting in a stalemate. Most were agreed that they had to wait for Anderson to recuperate and handle the job.

Finally, after several days, the morning dawned a clear, calm day. The plan was to have seven boats accompany the ship past the reef, to guide it away from dangerous rocks. But only four boats appeared. Still, they headed out. Unfortunately, the ship hit the reef on one side. The boats guiding the ship got into trouble; the ropes they used to pull the ship in one direction got tangled on the rocks. Then the current and the wind picked up, pushing the ship in this or that direction. The ship was now damaged and it seemed would be lost. Just then, the pilot Anderson in his boat and a second boat, the two best boats in Brier's opinion, came out to help. Brier said that had Anderson and these two boats done that from the beginning, the ship probably would have made it past the reef safely.

Seeing that the ship would more than likely be lost, Brier now focused on saving his cargo and things of value from the ship. But he could get no help from Governor Pérez, who was more interested in making money off of Brier's troubles. Brier was finally able to get physical help from island residents, some of them European settlers, by agreeing to pay them for their services. After all these hurdles, Brier was successful in saving much from the damaged ship.

Brier still had to contend with Governor Pérez who presented all kinds of financial difficulties. But, in order to get off the island, Brier paid Pérez what he wanted. The sale of the salvaged goods of the ship at auction raised the money. Brier and the crew members left Guam on other ships.

In some newspapers, someone got the blame for all this and it wasn't the ship's Captain Brier. Instead, the island's official pilot, John Anderson, was blamed by these newspapers for not doing what he could for the ship. Even the American honorary consul on Guam at the time wrote to that effect. This John Anderson was almost certainly the same John Anderson who had settled on Guam in 1819 and started a family with his Chamorro wife, Josefa de la Cruz. We don't know Anderson's side of the story.

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