David Whippy

Life among the warring tribes of the Fiji Islands during the early days of European settlement was precarious. White settlers in the first few decades tended to do so involuntarily, and most of these ‘beachcombers’ did not survive.  A few, however, made themselves useful to the Fijian chiefs and prospered.

David WhippyDavid Whippy is the most well-known and influential of these early settlers. He was a younger son of a whaling family of Nantucket, Massachusetts.[1] He arrived in Fiji in January 1825 aboard the brig Calder with Captain Peter Dillon, who took what little sandalwood he could find and left Whippy on the island of Bau to organise a shipment of turtle shell and beche-de-mer. Dillon did not return for thirteen years.[2]

Whippy could have escaped Fiji on another ship, but he decided to stay. He became a favourite of the Vunivalu of Bau, and later settled with the Levuka people on Ovalau Island, north of Bau. The European settlement of Levuka was founded with the approval of the chief, the Tui Levuka, and other Europeans settled. Whippy became ‘the principal man in the European settlement’, and was appointed vice-consul for the United States by Commodore Wilkes in 1840.[3] Deeds and other official papers kept in his house were lost whenever his house was burned down in the ongoing conflict between the coastal Levuka people and the Lovoni people in the hills.[4]

Boats were an enormously important part of the economy of Fiji for Europeans and natives alike, as they are today. They were the only means of getting around and transporting goods for trade and men in war. Whippy started a boat-building company known as ‘Whippy, Simpson and Cusick’ with William Simpson and William Cusick (or Cusack). William Simpson was a ship’s carpenter from Poplar who arrived in Fiji in 1829 and settled in Levuka, working as a carpenter and pilot and translator for visiting ships.[5]William Cusick, or Cusack, was an Irish blacksmith who later married Whippy’s daughter Lydia.[6]

Whippy fathered eleven known children by at least four women, the last of whom he married in a Christian ceremony. A number of his children were baptised, all at once, on 2nd and 3rd October 1843, as were those of other settlers.[7]

The white community was expelled from Levuka twice during Whippy’s lifetime; once in August 1844, when Cakobau gave them three days to leave after one of the Europeans, Charlie Pickering from New South Wales, got involved in one of Cakobau’s wars; and again in 1858 when Whippy’s son Samuel eloped with the daughter of a chief of Batiki, earning Cakobau’s anger. They took up residence on Wakaya Island, where Whippy’s old friend and business partner William Simpson died on 24th May 1862.[8]

Whippy bought land around this time at Wainunu on Vanua Levu from the Tui Wainunu for 5 kegs powder, 5 muskets, 3 ½ pigs of lead, 3 dozen axes, 40 canisters and one barrel of gunpowder, 34 knives, 500 balls, 10,200 yards of cloth and 10 iron pots, valued at $398.[9] The Wakaya community dispersed in 1862, with many of the Whippy families settling at Wainunu. Whippy died on 27th October 1871 at his residence at Vakabuta in Wainunu at the age of 69 years and 8 months and was buried in the ‘Old People’s Cemetery’.[10]

An obituary appeared in the Fiji Times: [11]

The oldest settler, a man who for his good qualities was held in high esteem by both the natives and residents of Fiji, has passed from amongst us. Death has taken away Mr. David Whippy, who died at his residence Wainunu, in the seventieth year of his age.

Whippy now has hundreds of descendants in Fiji, and Australia and around the world, all of whom are proud to be descended from him.[12]

Wainunu River


[1] Elder D.J. Joseph, ‘Whippy Genealogy’, FHL Film 1817446, Item 7; Obituary of David Whippy, Fiji Times, 8 Nov 1871, p.3, col.2; S.W. Ritova (President), Descendants of David Whippy Reunion Souvenir Programme, privately published by Descendants of David Whippy Reunion Organising Committee, Suva, 1993, p. 3, photocopy held by the author

[2] W.S. Cary, Wrecked on the Feejees, Fairfield, Washington, 1998, pp. 35-6, 67; J.W. Davidson, ‘Peter Dillon,’ in Pacific Island Portraits, J.W. Davidson and D. Scarr, (ed.), Canberra, 1970), p.15. This is the same Captain Dillon who witnessed the death of Charlie Savage in 1813.

[3] Derrick, op. cit., pp.67,92.

[4] J. Young, Adventurous Spirits, Australian migrant society in pre-cession Fiji, St. Lucia, QLD, 1984, p. 59.

[5] Certified Copy of the Will of William Simpson, 1860, photocopy held by the author; FRGO, Fiji General Deaths, Death of Eliza Sophia Brown, 1901/140; Young, Adventurous Spirits, pp. 58, 391; Cyclopedia of Fiji 1906, Suva, 1984, p.75. Fijian birth, marriage and death registrations are divided into three series – Fijian, Indian and General. The series must always be given to avoid confusion.

[6] Young, Adventurous Spirits, p.58; Cyclopedia of Fiji 1906, p.75; J.E. Erskine, Journal of a Cruise among the Islands of the Western Pacific, London, 1853, p.173; NAF, Wesleyan-Methodist Church of Fiji: Fiji Wesleyan Register of Baptisms, entry no. 1037. The Wesleyan Register of Baptisms also contains marriages; the heading has been crossed out on the pages containing marriages.

[7] NAF, Wesleyan-Methodist Church of Fiji: ‘Wesleyan Methodist Register of Baptisms 1836-1925’.

[8] Young, Adventurous Spirits, p.65-66; Derrick, A History of Fiji, p.94; Last Will and Testament of William Simpson 7 June 1860, handwritten note on bottom of copy of will.

[9] NAF, Land Claims Commission: Report 588 on lands at Wainunu known as Yadali claimed by Heirs of David Whippy senior, David Whippy junior, and William Simpson.

[10] Obituary of David Whippy, Fiji Times, 8 Nov 1871, p.3; Stanley Brown, Men From Under The Sky, Rutland, Vermont, 1973, p.119.

[11] Obituary of David Whippy, Fiji Times, 8 Nov 1871, p.3.

[12] Organising Committee of the David Whippy Reunion, ‘Souvenir Programme’, 1993. The programme lists over 500 descendants with whom direct contact had been made for the reunion.

Comments

  1. says

    Carole, Keziah Bunker of Nantucket is my 4th cousin, 5 generations removed. Keziah Butler is named for her maternal grandmother, Keziah Folger, Keziah Folger’s great grandparents are Peter Folger and Mary Morrill, my 8x great grandparents. I descend from Peter Folger’s daughter Bethshua Folger and you descend from the son named Eleazar Folger (1648 – 1716). Another sister, Abiah Folger married Josiah Franklin of Boston and was the mother of the famous Benjamin Franklin. Were you aware of this lineage?

  2. Carole says

    Hi Heather, thanks for admitting to being my cousin! I knew about the Bunkers and Folgers and so on, and in checking my family tree site at http://caroleriley.id.au/familyTree/ I’ve realised I haven’t updated it for two years, so I’ll get onto that now. I didn’t know about Benjamin Franklin though!

  3. Sharn White says

    What a wonderful piece of research Carole, and a fascinating story! Is the land paid for with gunpowder still in the family?

  4. Carole says

    Thanks Sharn! The land is still in the family – each descendant of the children mentioned in David’s detailed will owns a narrow slice, including my Dad and his sisters through their mother Julia Whippy. The photo at the end, showing the mouth of the Wainunu River, was taken on a trip through the land in 2008. I should have mentioned that in the post!

  5. Maiana Theodoridis says

    Hi Carole,

    I have come across some posts made by you last year 2013 and I am hoping you can help connect some missing pieces. My mother (born Mary Ann Virginia Wilder) is a direct descendant of David Whippy she was born in Fiji her mother Mariah Whippy, Maternal grandparents were Emma Watkin & Oliver Whippy (Great? grandson of David Whippy) sorry my information is a bit fragmented. My mother (her father Martin Wilder married Mariah Whippy) has lost records that she has compiled over the years – now retired to Central Coast NSW. I would appreciate any information you could provide. Kind Regards, Maiana Theodoridis – yes I married a Greek boy 32 years ago and would also like to share some of my heritage with my 2 boys.

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