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Mehetia

Osnaburg Island
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Longitude Min 148 03 W Latitude Min 17 52 S
Mehetia is the easternmost island in the Society group. It lies 110 kilometres east of the Taiarapu peninsula of Tahiti.

Details
A young and active volcanic island, Mehetia rises to a height of 435 metres. It can be seen in clear weather from a distance of up to 95 kilometres.

Mehetia is just over 11 kilometres in diameter and 2.3 square kilometres in area. The northern side of the island is steep, while the southern side slopes more gently. The richest areas of vegetation are to be found on the island’s eastern side.

Mehetia has dangerous reefs off its the eastern and south-western shores. Historically, the only safe landing for large sailing vessels was on the southeastern side of the island, but mariners still had to avoid numerous submerged rocks.

The chiefs of the Taiarapu peninsula on Tahiti claimed title to Mehetia. The Bounty Mutineer James Morrison writes that during his time among Maohi, the chief of Taiarapu constantly sent canoes there carrying iron and other European goods. These were exchanged for pearls and pearl-shell originating in the Tuamotu archipelago, as well as cloth, pigs and a range of carved wooden artefacts.

Douglas Oliver suggests that before Europeans came there was possibly 'a basic inequality in the exchange because of Me’etia’s political subordination, and hence obligation to render "tribute" (Oliver, 1974: 214).' However, he also suggests that the trade in artefacts noted by Morrison point to Mehetia possibly being the site of specialised wood carving (1974: 856).

The first Europeans to meet the inhabitants of Mehetia were the men aboard H.M.S. Dolphin, commanded by Samuel Wallis, in June 1767 (see the South Seas edition of Hawkesworth’s Voyages in the Southern Hemisphere, vol. 1, pp. 340-1).

A wash drawing of Osnaburg Island by Samuel Wallis is now in the National Library of Australia (see the gallery to this entry).

In the British Library there are two wash drawings of Mehetia by Sydney Parkinson and three pencil and wash drawings by Alexander Buchan. There is also a pencil and wash drawing of the island by Parkinson in the Public Record Office (London). See David, 1988: 104-6.

Wallis named the island Osnaburg in honour of the second son of George III, Frederick Augustus (1763-1827), who held the title of Bishop of Osnaburg (Osnabruck) in the German electorate of Hanover. Between 1714 and 1837 English Kings were members of the electorate’s ruling dynasty and became Elector of Hanover on ascending the throne of Great Britain and Ireland.

The bishopric of Osnabruck was founded by Charlemagne in 800 AD, and came to be incorporated into the archbishopric of Cologne. By the terms of the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 the bishopric was alternatively held by a Roman Catholic and a Protestant bishop. By the 1760s, however, it had become a largely ceremonial title bestowed on senior members of the Hanoverian dynasty.

The expedition headed by Louis-Antoine de Bougainville sighted Mehetia on 2 April 1768. He called it Le Boudoir, presumably because from the sea its shape was reminiscent of the sponge finger biscuit called by that name. He also named the island’s volcanic peak after his ship, the frigate La Boudeuse.

 
Related Entries for Mehetia
Places: Windward Islands, Îles du Vent
Top of Page
Online SourcesPublished Sources
  • Hawkesworth, John, An account of the voyages undertaken by the order of His present Majesty, for making discoveries in the southern hemisphere, and successively performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook, in the Dolphin, the Swallow, and the Endeavour : drawn up from the journals which were kept by the several commanders and from the papers of Joseph Banks, Esq. Derived from the 1773 London edition, printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell. National Library of Australian call number: FERG 7243., South Seas, 2004, http://southseas.nla.gov.au/index_voyaging.html. [ Details ]
  • James Morrison, Account of the Island of Tahiti & of the Customs of the Island, 1792. Derived from the Golden Cockerel Press edition of Morrison's Journal published in London in 1935, edited by Owen Rutter., South Seas, 2004, http://southseas.nla.gov.au/index_indigenous.html. [ Details ]

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Created: 21 February 2002
Modified: 17 April 2004

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000141

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