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Coffin (whaling family)

Coffin (whaling family)

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The Coffin family were a group of whaler
Whaling
Whaling is the hunting of whales mainly for meat and oil. Its earliest forms date to at least 3000 BC. Various coastal communities have long histories of sustenance whaling and harvesting beached whales...

s operating out of Nantucket, Massachusetts
Nantucket, Massachusetts
Nantucket is an island south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the United States. Together with the small islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, it constitutes the town of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and the coterminous Nantucket County, which are consolidated. Part of the town is designated the Nantucket...

 from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Some members of the family gained wider exposure due to their discovery of various islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Family history


Tristram Coffin, born in 1609 in Plymouth
Plymouth
Plymouth is a city and unitary authority area on the coast of Devon, England, about south-west of London. It is built between the mouths of the rivers Plym to the east and Tamar to the west, where they join Plymouth Sound...

, England, left Brixton, Devonshire, England, for America in 1642, first settling in Newbury, Massachusetts
Newbury, Massachusetts
Newbury is a town in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 6,666 at the 2010 census. Newbury includes the villages of Old Town , Plum Island and Byfield, home of The Governor's Academy , a private preparatory school.- History :Newbury Plantation was settled and incorporated...

, then moving to Nantucket. The Coffin family, along with other Nantucket families, including the Gardners
Gardner (whaling family)
The Gardner family were a group of whalers operating out of Nantucket, Massachusetts from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Some members of the family gained wider exposure due to their discovery of various islands in the Pacific Ocean. By marriage, they were related to the Coffins,...

 and the Starbucks
Starbuck (whaling family)
The Starbuck family were a group of whalers operating out of Nantucket, Massachusetts from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Some members of the family gained wider exposure due to their discovery of various islands in the Pacific Ocean....

, began whaling seriously in the 1690s in local waters, and by 1715 the family owned three whalers and a trade vessel. In 1763, six men of the Coffin family were captains of ships sailing out of Nantucket, and travelling as far as South America and Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

.

James Coffin


On 31 May 1823, the British ship Transit arrived in Batavia
Jakarta
Jakarta is the capital and largest city of Indonesia. Officially known as the Special Capital Territory of Jakarta, it is located on the northwest coast of Java, has an area of , and a population of 9,580,000. Jakarta is the country's economic, cultural and political centre...

, on the island of Java
Java
Java is an island of Indonesia. With a population of 135 million , it is the world's most populous island, and one of the most densely populated regions in the world. It is home to 60% of Indonesia's population. The Indonesian capital city, Jakarta, is in west Java...

, having lost its master, Capt Alexander, to a whale near Christmas Island
Christmas Island
The Territory of Christmas Island is a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean. It is located northwest of the Western Australian city of Perth, south of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, and ENE of the Cocos Islands....

. James Coffin was on Java at the time and was appointed as captain.

Later that year, while working in the central Pacific, James is said to have discovered
Enderbury Island
Enderbury Island
Enderbury Island is a small, uninhabited atoll 63 km ESE of Kanton Island in the Pacific Ocean at . It is about 1 mile wide and 3 miles long, with a reef stretching out 60–200 metres...

 in the Phoenix group
Phoenix Islands
The Phoenix Islands are a group of eight atolls and two submerged coral reefs, lying in the central Pacific Ocean east of the Gilbert Islands and west of the Line Islands. They are a part of the Republic of Kiribati. During the late 1930s they became the site of the last attempted colonial...

, naming it "Enderby's Island" after the London whaling house. However, when he described his own discoveries of the Bonins to Arrowsmith and other geographers, he did not mention Enderbury.

Joshua Coffin


Some records suggest that Joshua, while captaining the whaler Ganges
Ganges (whaler)
The Ganges was a whaleship from Nantucket, Massachusetts operating in the Pacific Ocean during the mid-nineteenth century. It was probably the vessel reported to have found Gardner Island in the Phoenix group...

, sighted and named Gardner Island
Nikumaroro
Nikumaroro, or Gardner Island, is part of the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati, in the western Pacific Ocean. It is a remote, elongated, triangular coral atoll with profuse vegetation and a large central marine lagoon. Nikumaroro is approximately 6 km long by less than 2 km wide...

 in the Phoenix Group
Phoenix Islands
The Phoenix Islands are a group of eight atolls and two submerged coral reefs, lying in the central Pacific Ocean east of the Gilbert Islands and west of the Line Islands. They are a part of the Republic of Kiribati. During the late 1930s they became the site of the last attempted colonial...

 in 1825, probably naming it after U.S. Congressman Gideon Gardner
Gideon Gardner
Gideon Gardner was a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts.Born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Gardner received a limited schooling.Gardner was a successful ship master, and later became a shipowner....

, the owner of the Ganges.

Alternative sources claim the island was sighted by whaler Joshua Gardner, also reported to have captained the Ganges in 1825.

Reuben Coffin


Interestingly, some sources report that in 1823 a "Reuben Coffin" was captain of an American whaler named Transit, out of Nantucket, and was responsible for the discovery of the Bonin Islands. Anchoring unchallenged off Haha Jima, he claimed the islands for the United States, naming them "Coffin Islands".

Various "Captain Coffins"

  • A "Captain Coffin", master and part-owner of the Thule, Nantucket, after 27 months at sea, struck the "Booby Shoals" on Bellona Reefs, near the Chesterfield Islands
    Chesterfield Islands
    Chesterfield Islands is a french archipelago of New Caledonia located in the Coral Sea, 550 km northwest of Grande Terre the main island of New Caledonia. Chesterfield Islands are a 120 km long and 70 km broad structure composed with 11 islets and many reefs...

     on 10 September 1844, and was wrecked; the ship was carrying 1050 barrels of sperm oil. Two boats, manned by 16 men, managed to reach Moreton Bay
    Moreton Bay
    Moreton Bay is a bay on the eastern coast of Australia 45 km from Brisbane, Queensland. It is one of Queensland's most important coastal resources...

    , Queensland
    Queensland
    Queensland is a state of Australia, occupying the north-eastern section of the mainland continent. It is bordered by the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales to the west, south-west and south respectively. To the east, Queensland is bordered by the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean...

    , on 20 September, but a third boat was lost. Losing most of their possessions in the wreck, the sailors were replenished by Brisbane
    Brisbane
    Brisbane is the capital and most populous city in the Australian state of Queensland and the third most populous city in Australia. Brisbane's metropolitan area has a population of over 2 million, and the South East Queensland urban conurbation, centred around Brisbane, encompasses a population of...

     residents. Shipping lists show that Coffin, Mr W Thompson and 13 crew members took passage from Moreton Bay on the steamer Sovereign, departing 4 October, and arriving in Port Jackson
    Port Jackson
    Port Jackson, containing Sydney Harbour, is the natural harbour of Sydney, Australia. It is known for its beauty, and in particular, as the location of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge...

     on 8 October. Capt Coffin left Port Jackson on 17th aboard the schooner Vanguard, bound for New Zealand.
  • After Englishman Robert Hunter discovered the original "siamese twins
    Conjoined twins
    Conjoined twins are identical twins whose bodies are joined in utero. A rare phenomenon, the occurrence is estimated to range from 1 in 50,000 births to 1 in 100,000 births, with a somewhat higher incidence in Southwest Asia and Africa. Approximately half are stillborn, and a smaller fraction of...

    " Chang and Eng
    Chang and Eng Bunker
    Chang and Eng Bunker were the conjoined twin brothers whose condition and birthplace became the basis for the term "Siamese twins".-Life:...

     in Siam in 1824, he sent them to America in 1829 in the care of "Captain Coffin", who became close enough to them to receive letters from their manager James Hale.
  • Records tell of a "Captain Coffin", whose leg was badly injured in a whaling accident. with no surgeon on board, Coffin ordered his mate to cut off the leg with a knife, threatening to shoot him if he did not obey. He held the pistol pointing at the mate throughout the operation.

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