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.

What do you know about your ancestor’s village?

Grace Oates was my mother’s father’s mother’s mother’s mother. She was baptised in the parish church of St Keverne, Cornwall in 1833 to Thomas and Elizabeth Oates. She married Henry Pascoe, a man that I believe was her first cousin for reasons I won’t go into now, and they had one daughter, Elizabeth Grace Pascoe, in 1856.

By 1861 Grace and her daughter were living alone in St Keverne and her husband had migrated to the Colony of Victoria, never to return. In 1865 Grace migrated to the Colony of New South Wales with her daughter Bessie and her widowed mother Elizabeth to join her brothers in the Millthorpe area. She claimed her husband was in Victoria to the Immigration Board, so at least she knew where he’d gone.

Grace had no more children but she did eventually remarry, becoming a midwife to the people around Millthorpe and Blayney. She died in Her ex-husband Henry also remarried and had a few children, who, to my knowledge, never knew of their half-sister in New South Wales.

It’s good to have the name of the village where she came from, but unless I look into it it’s just a name that means little.

Firstly, it’s good to know exactly where it is. Google Maps can show you exactly:

Google Maps St Keverne

Satellite View shows me even more:

Google Maps St Keverne satellite view

From there I can go on a virtual tour of St Keverne, floating down the streets to the church, past the shops and the pub, and perhaps find the houses where Grace and her family lived during the censuses.

There’s more to find on the internet though.

GENUKI lists resources for the whole of the UK. The page for St Keverne is quite comprehensive, with descriptions, cemeteries, church histories, locations of censuses, church registers, civil registration district, court records, photographs, directories, land, manors, and much more.

St Keverne has an Online Parish Clerk, and their website has databases of parish registers, censuses, and links to Sunday School registers and much more.

The St Keverne Local History Society has a lot of family history and local history resources from parish register indexes to accounts of shipwrecks.

A general Google search for St Keverne shows many, many images of the place, both contemporary and historical.

St Keverne images

 There is no substitute, though, for a contemporary account of the place. …

ST KEVERNE. Time and the ocean and some fostering star, says William Watson, have made us what we are. Time and the ocean have made St Keverne what it is, a grim and tragic spot in a green land which we may truly call the Garden of Cornwall.

The description goes on for nearly two pages. The Manacles off the coast were a menace to sailors coming into Falmouth Harbour, and the grimness appears to apply to the large number of shipwrecks and drowned sailors buried in the churchyard.

Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of England, published in 1848, is another such resource. The entry for St Keverne is less atmospheric but more factual:

KEVERNE, ST., a parish, in the union of Helston, W. division of the hundred of Kerrier and of the county of Cornwall, 11 miles (S. by E.) from Helston; containing 2469 inhabitants. This parish, forming part of the wide district of Meneage, and comprising by measurement 10,158 acres, whereof 2002 are common or waste, is situated on the shore of the English Channel, by which it is bounded on the east and south. It contains three fishing coves, called respectively Coverack, Porthalloe, and Porthonstock, at the first of which is a good pier, affording shelter to small vessels from the rough winds and stormy seas frequent on this part of the coast. In these coves the pilchard-fishery is carried on to a considerable extent, and several boats are also otherwise employed. A yellow clay found here, is much esteemed for fine castings in silver, brass, and lead. Fairs for cattle are held on March 5th, June 19th, October 2nd, and the first Tuesday after Twelfth-day. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king’s books at £18. 11. 5½., and in the patronage of Mrs. Griffith; impropriators, the landowners: the tithes have been commuted for £512. The church has a handsome tower surmounted by a spire, and contains many monuments, among which is one to the memory of Major George Cavendish, Capt. Dunkenfield, and sixty-one men of a regiment, who, returning with dispatches in a transport from Spain, were shipwrecked, and perished off Coverack Cove, on the 22nd December, 1809. There are places of worship for Baptists, Bryanites, and Wesleyans. Charles Incledon, the celebrated singer, was born in the parish.

You can find  online here.

When I first researched Grace few of these resources were available to me and none of them online. It’s worth going back to the ancestors you think you know well and searching for their villages again.

My grandfather’s World War II service

My mother had always said that her father didn’t serve in either of the world wars. The stories I remember were that he was too young in the First World War and too old in the Second World War, and that he was a farmer and needed at home to grow food. He was born in late December 1900, and was a farmer and grazier all his life, so I accepted these stories without question.

There was also a story about how he had to go to help search for the Japanese that broke out of the camp at Cowra during World War II. I don’t know if he ever found any; probably not or it would have been more of a story.

Yesterday I was searching the NameSearch at the National Archives of Australia website for others of the same surname and there he was:

NAA NameSearch

My grandfather is the last one. As you can see by the lack of an icon in the “Digitised item” column, it hasn’t been digitised yet. If it had been I would be able to see, and download, the images of each page in the file straight away. I can pay $16.50 to have it digitised early, before its ‘turn’, or $25 to have it digitised and colour photocopies sent to me.

I’ve paid the $16.50, and now I wait. It may take up to 90 days for a file which is “Not yet examined”, but I can’t imagine there will be anything in there that would cause it to be restricted once it has been examined.

If only I’d searched earlier! Why didn’t I? I think because I accepted what my mother told me. I don’t always believe what people tell me, but parents are different. Of course, my mother also told me that the Easons came from Wales and I have proven that they came from County Tyrone in what is now Northern Ireland. Talking about her own father is different, I guess.

So the lesson for today is – If there’s an index, search it! What have you got to lose?

This post was first published as If there’s an index, check it! on my blog NSW GenealogyI am trying to keep all my family posts in one place.