Saturday, May 24, 2014


Nathaniel Portlock was born in Norfolk, Virginia in about 1748.  At about the age of 24, he entered the Royal Navy as an able seaman on the St Albans.

On March 30, 1776, he served as master’s mate on Captain James Cook's third Pacific voyage aboard the Discovery (Cook’s last voyage, Cook was killed in Kealakekua Bay on February 14, 1779.) Portlock was transferred to the Resolution, also on the expedition, in August 1779.

In 1785, a group of London merchants formed the "King George's Sound Co" (also known as Richard Cadman Etches and Company,) for the purpose of carrying on the fur trade from the western coast of America to China, bringing home cargoes of tea from Canton for the East India Company.  They bought two boats; Portlock and George Dixon were selected to sail them.

That year, the two traveled to the North Pacific. Portlock commanded the 1785-1788 expedition from the ship King George, while Dixon captained the Queen Charlotte. The purpose of the expedition was to investigate the potential of the Alaskan fur trade and to resume Cook’s search for a Northwest Passage through the continent.

The pair left England on August 29, 1785, and took nearly a year to reach Alaska, rounding Cape Horn and touching at Hawaiʻi on the way.  During the course of their 3-year expedition, they made three trips to Hawaiʻi, first arriving off the coast of Kaʻū, May 24, 1786.

(At about the same time, La Perouse, with the two frigates, La Boussole and L'Astrolabe, touched at Honuaʻula, East Maui, May 28, 1786.)

While in the Islands, Portlock named Oʻahu’s prominent landmark "Point Rose" (Lēʻahi (Diamond Head)) in honor of the secretary of the British treasury.

A favorite anchorage on Oʻahu for Portlock was at Maunalua Bay, between Koko Point and Diamond Head (which Portlock named King George's Bay.)

Maunalua was thought to be well-populated in ancient times. Maunalua was known for its offshore fishing resources, a large fishpond, and sweet potato cultivation. Taro was farmed in wet areas, sweet potato was grown in the drier regions and a series of fishing villages lined the coast.  (McElroy)

In June 1786, Portlock remained four days, buying fresh water by the calabash full, at the rate of a sixpenny nail for a two-gallon calabash full, and in this way obtained over thirty tons of water. Kahekili, the King, who was then residing at Waikiki, sent Portlock and Dixon presents, but did not come on board.  (Thrum)

While anchored in Maunalua Bay, Portlock reported:
"Soon after our arrival, several canoes came off and brought a few cocoa-nuts and plantains, some sugar cane and sweet root; in return for which we gave them small pieces of iron and a few trinkets."

"The old man (a kahuna) informed me, that his (Kahekili's) residence was in a bay around the West point (Black Point), and importuned me very much to carry ships there, as that place, he said, afforded many fine hogs and vegetables.”

“Indeed, I had some reason to think that the inhabitants on that part of the island were more numerous than in King George's Bay (Maunalua Bay), as I observed most of the double canoes came round the West Point ..."

"I determined to keep my present situation, it being in many respects an eligible one; for we hitherto had been favored with a most refreshing sea breeze, which blows over the low land and vallies being in a high state of cultivation, and crowded with plantations of taro, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, &c., interspersed with a great number of cocoa-nut trees, which renders the prospect truly delightful."

Finally, Portlock and Dixon headed separately for Macao (near Canton, People’s Republic of China,) traded their furs and both ships sailed for England with cargoes of tea belonging to the East India Company.

About this time, September 17, 1788, the first American ships made their appearance in Nootka Sound (Columbia.) Fitted out in Boston in August 1787, for several years they were engaged in the fur trade between the Northwest Coast and China, touching at the Hawaiian Islands to replenish their stocks and water.

Returning to service in the navy, Portlock was appointed to command the brig Assistant, in which he accompanied Captain William Bligh in 1791 on his second attempt to transport bread-fruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies.  (Bligh’s first attempt to gather breadfruit trees from Tahiti and take them to Jamaica ended in mutiny (April 28, 1789) on the Bounty.)

When they returned, Portlock was promoted commander.  On September 28, 1799, he was advanced to captain, but does not appear to have had further employment at sea, perhaps owing to ill health. He died on September 12, 1817 in Greenwich Hospital.

In 1936, when landowner Bishop Estate planned a subdivision on its property at Maunalua Bay, estate Trustee Alfred Francis Judd named the subdivision after Portlock (who 150-years before, had anchored just off-shore.) (Clark)

The image shows surfing at Portlock, Maunalua Bay (in the early days.)  In addition, I have added others similar images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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