Paddy Connel and his three sons

Wainunu RiverPaddy Connel, by his own admission, was “so much in the habit of lying that he hardly now knew when he told the truth…”. He claimed to Commodore Wilkes in 1843 that he had fathered 48 children and was trying for an even 50, thus assuring his fame.

In researching my own family in Fiji I came across a ‘three brothers’ story. My g-g-grandmother was Lavenia O’Connor, and the stories are that her father was William O’Connor, or Connor. One story I’d seen on the internet when I first started researching my family was that this William had changed his name from Patrick (or Paddy) Connel.

I contacted an O’Connor descendant who said that there were three brothers – Charles, William and Philip, who all arrived from New South Wales, which was then still a penal colony. She didn’t think that my Lavenia was part of this family because she was not included on the chart that she had, which included mostly sons. I suspect this chart was for land inheritance purposes rather than genealogy, as many of the family branches ended with words about there being no land entitlement. Land is very important in Fiji.

My research into Land Claims Commission reports has given me other ideas. When Fiji was ceded to Britain in 1874 one of the first things the new British government did was to ensure that all the whites claiming to own land actually did so, and the reports of the Commission are available at the National Archives of Fiji. Charlie Connor owned the most land of the Connors, in Kadavu, and some of his brothers settled there with him, including a fourth one, James. In one of the reports he mentions his father by name: Patrick.

I have concluded that there were more than three brothers, and they were born in Fiji to Paddy Connel. The Fijian language ends every word with a vowel, and names were changed to suit so they would have left the L off the end of the name and spelled it ‘Kono’, as it is spelled in some of the birth and death registrations.

Incidently, Lavenia married Samuel Whippy, the eldest legitimate son of David Whippy, a native of Nantucket. Commodore Wilkes found him very useful and trustworthy, and made him Acting American Consul (I may have that title wrong, I’m working from memory). David Whippy looked after a lot of the children of white settlers who lost their fathers, including my own Riley ancestor, I suspect. He may have looked out for the children of Paddy Connel as well.

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.

A visit to Fiji in 1832

nautical_diary 300x200On the 15th May 1831 the barque Peru from Salem, Massachussetts arrived in the Fiji Islands to look for beche-de-mer, turtle shell, and other trade goods. The Captain, John H. Eagleston, wrote a log which is now in the Essex Institute Library in Salem.

Much of the log contains details of little interest to a historian. The entries for most days begin with a description of the weather and the strength and direction of the breeze. The process and results of the collection, preparation and loading of cargo are also described in detail.

Occasionally, though, Captain Eagleston described local events. Here’s one:

November 1832, Friday 2nd Lowered boat & went on shore, found people all well but nothing to do, no fish coming in. The officer informed me that when the natives returned from the fight they brought up one man & one old woman which they had taken & killed. The next day after they returned the woman was cut up & cooked alongside of the trade house. The man was cooked at the kings house. They kept them 3 days probably to make them tender for eating they cut them up with bamboo sticks. I saw some of their bones scattered round the Beche de mer house.

The log has been microfilmed as part of the collection of the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies of the Australian National University in Canberra. The microfilms are available at the Mitchell Library in Sydney, which is where I have been investigating them.

I have been slowly transcribing this log over the last few weeks, and when it’s done I’ll start on another one.