Fiji Times: David Whippy

David Whippy’s long journey home

Sera Whippy
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fiji Times

DAVID Whippy was one of a kind. From befriending the chiefs of Fiji at a time when cannibalism, tribal wars were rife to building a shipwright firm, there is no doubt this American led a very exciting and dangerous life.

Son of a sea captain to whom he was named after and Keziah Bunker, David was bound to an apprenticeship for seven years to learn a trade, in Nantucket.

In 1917 at the age of 16, he made his first voyage with captain Russell and after three months he left with his brother, Joseph Bunker Whippy on a whaling ship, Francis.

David may have been mischievous by nature and the playful type, he would be severely reprimanded especially since he was related to the captain, Timothy Master and his brother was the first mate. Masters was David’s brother-in-law.

Whilst in Peruvian waters, David escaped by stealing a boat to avoid further punishment and disappeared into the night never to again see his brother and the ship. It was in mid-December when word came from England to his brother that David had left on the brig Calder which was captained by Peter Dillon who became famous as the discoverer of the fate of the lost French explorer, La Perouse.

Most of the following information was gleaned from a book called Gone native: In Polynesia, by Ian Christopher Campbell.

Now Mr Whippy and Dillon made their way to Fiji in search of sandalwood and beech-de-mer. David was left in Fiji by Dillon who was supposed to have made his way back after a couple of months to pick David and his newly acquired riches. You must realise sandalwood at that time was very expensive and they were going to sell their products in China where they would have made a fortune, however, things didn’t go according to plan.

Dillon ran into some problem and he was only able to make it back to Fiji after 13 years, plus that his untimely discovery of the French explorer made him quite a famous man and all thoughts of Mr Whippy went out the window. Mr Whippy, however, was stuck on this island paradise with lots of trouble. Unlike most men who were left on shore by their captains, Mr Whippy must have been well-behaved, sensible, responsible and intelligent. These may have been factors that got him through the unpredictable and unstable times.

Given time, Mr Whippy became proficient in Fijian and was passed up through the hierarchy until he reached the chief of Bau. He became well liked by the chiefs and in this way his reputation grew.

In one episode, Mr Whippy joined a fighting party during a war that had been declared by a neighbouring village and led it. He took shelter behind a stump, singled out the rival chief warrior and shot him in the head. As soon as the chief fell, the enemy fled through the woods. This was while he was still in Bua.

By 1828, he had become a resident of Levuka and he founded one of Fiji’s first business firms called the Whippy, Simpsons and Keswick Shipbuilding firm.

The Whippys and Simpsons still live in Fiji and are now a very closely related family due to inter-marriages.

Mr Whippy met up with another man from Nantucket, William Cary whom he befriended. Cary had been shipwrecked in April 1825 on the island of Votua and was the sole surviving member after the rest of the crew had been subsequently massacred. He too held a similar personality to that of Mr Whippy and was being passed through the chiefly hierarchy until he finally made his way to Bau where he met up with Mr Whippy.

At that time Mr Whippy was in Levuka which was under the rulership of Bau. They were old play mates back in Nantucket. They both participated in warfare with the natives and this was not by their own choice, however, they did not part-take in the traditional practise of cannibalism. This practice was voraciously practiced in Fiji more than in any other country in the Pacific. Only briefly did some beachcombers encounter it in Tonga and in the Marquesas.

Mr Whippy began doing business dealings and assisting with ships and so on and eventually he became involved in the Fijian political affairs. He then grew in importance in Fiji and he was very well known especially with the number of ships that came to Fiji. They would either meet him or had heard of him and they would talk of his helpfulness, his knowledge of Fiji affairs and his influence over the Fijians.

He was instrumental with saving lives and ships from Fijian depredation on several occasions.

And during the Rewa and Bauan war for power, Mr Whippy played a fundamental role in Fijian politics. Since he was liked and trusted by many chiefs, he became ambassador for them and so was given the title, “Mata ki Bau”.

In Levuka, Mr Whippy was trusted with all land transactions and deeds. He would enjoy the patronage of the Tui Levuka for 20 years until the chief met his demise on the Levuka Beach front.

He met the first of his three wives in Bau, Tulia of Namara, remembered as a tall woman with strongly marked features. Later, there was a woman from Koro, Eunice who bore him two sons, Thomas and Daniel and then there was Tokasa who was the daughter of the Tui Levuka whom he married in the Methodist Church and had five children.

Tulia of Namara was the mother of his eldest son also named David.

Now, Mr Whippy’s influence was growing but he had begun to live less like a Fijian. He gathered around him a group of Whites and at Levuka where he formed a community that developed an ethos of its own, living in proximity with the Fijians and conforming to Fijian expectations but essentially working out their own way of life.

Boat building took over for him after he formed his new and improved firm for ship building. In 1846 Mr Whippy was appointed the honorary vice-consul from 1846-1856. His appointment was made on the instructions of the President of the United States through the secretary of state, Charles Wilkes. Wilkes was the commander of the United States Exploring Expedition which visited Fiji in 1839. There is more and more that can be said of this man’s adventures and conquests. But to sum it all up, Mr Whippy played a vital role for the natives and also for the foreigners who came in.

Presently, the Whippys are one of Fiji’s largest part-European families, if not the largest. Two weeks ago, Whippys were present at the resting place of David Whippy at the Nakabuta Estate in Wainunu, Bua.

The President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau was the chief guest at the unveiling of David Whippy’s plaque.

He was also a significant figure at the ceremony because he is a descendant of Ratu Seru Cakobau who was a close personal friend of Mr Whippy. Although their relationship grew sour in the end, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau was very happy to be among family members of the legendary Mr Whippy.

He too had forged relationships with many Whippys through his years and greatly enjoyed himself while on the estate.

“There isn’t enough done to fully commemorate and give this great man the credit that he deserves,” said Ratu Epeli. He also challenged the family to publish a book specifically on the adventures and dealings of Mr Whippy. So far there is no published work that is on him and this is what the President wants changed. Chairman of the David Whippy’s Ancestor committee, Daniel Whippy said the family was already underway with the production of such a published work.

The unveiling ceremony had started off as a dream between the late Stanley Ritova and his cousins.

The dream passed on to his children and nephews and nieces who in turn made the dream a reality.

Ritova had also started off a book but he had only gone half way through it.

“You know journalists they are always busy with a new assignment and it took him quite some time to try and complete it. Now we will have to try and look for another author to complete it for us as we hope to complete the book as soon as possible,” said Daniel Whippy.

The President challenged the family to construct a similar plague in Levuka because that was where most of his greatest conquests were made.

The Whippys have a lot on their hands but they have taken the challenge and will see the deed through.

So stay alert for the new and upcoming works of Mr Whippy, it is bound to amaze and capture you from the first page to the last.


About Dulcie Stewart

#TeamFiji based in Brisbane. Artist/blogger/family historian.
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