History of Breadfruit
Welcome to the History of Breadfruit!
We’ll start off with a series of articles by Michael Morrissey. Michael is a researcher, educator and writer from Jamaica, now living and publishing from his new home in Bali, Indonesia. Thanks Michael for sharing early copies of your work with Trees That Feed Foundation! Michael asks … DID YOU KNOW …
DID YOU KNOW … that Joseph Banks could purchase six breadfruit in Tahiti in 1769 for the price of a tiny glass bead?
In his diary entry of 18th April 1769 Banks wrote: “The Indians brought down so much provision of Cocoa nuts and bread fruit today that before night we were obligd to leave off buying and acquaint them by signs that we should not want any more for 2 days; every thing was bought for beads, a bead about as large as a pea purchasing 4 or 6 breadfruits and a like number of Cocoa nutts.”
Banks was a close friend of King George of England, promoted the idea of transported breadfruit from the Pacific to the Caribbean, and established Kew Gardens in London.
DID YOU KNOW. . . that Joseph Banks’s passion for breadfruit resulted in the untimely death of its first illustrator?
Sydney Parkinson, an extraordinarily talented 22-year-old botanical artist was hired by Banks as part of the British scientific expedition to Tahiti in 1768 in the naval ship Endeavour. Parkinson, a Quaker from Edinburgh, Scotland, recorded his horror at the wanton brutality of the Endeavour’s captain, James Cook, and his men, toward Tahitians.
On Tahiti for over three months in 1769, Parkinson made a host of botanical sketches but was prevented from painting by swarms of flies. He completed some of his drawings in full colour when at sea on route to New Zealand and Australia and made 94 exquisite drawings in the place which Banks christened “Botany Bay”, the name by which it’s known today. Banks made sure that breadfruit drawings were prioritised.
But Parkinson did not live to see Scotland again. On the return voyage, Cook was forced to put the Endeavour into Jakarta, Batavia Indonesia?, for major repairs, and it was there that Parkinson and many others of the crew contracted a fatal combination of malaria and dysentery. He succumbed several weeks later on January 26, 1771, at sea. Sydney’s brother, Stanfield Parkinson, published a volume of his work posthumously in 1773.
DID YOU KNOW. . .that the first Linnaean name for breadfruit was Sitodium altile Parkinson?
This name was published after the death of Sydney Parkinson by his brother, Stanfield Parkinson, in “Journal of a voyage to the South Seas in H.M.S. Endeavour” in a chapter entitled “Plants of use for food, Medicine & c. in Otaheite”. In his publication, Stanfield used the scientific names from Sydney’s journal. Sydney took the names in his journal from Solander’s manuscripts when on board HMS Endeavour and made the drawings of the natural objects under the direction of Banks and Solander. But in 1776, Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George, botanists on Cook’s second voyage (1772–1775), named the genus Artocarpus disregarding Parkinson’s name.
Fosberg in 1939 proposed the conservation of Artocarpus against Sitodium Parkinson, because of the continuous use of the former name since 1776, but he then proposed the new combination Artocarpus altilis (Parkinson) Fosberg, the name currently used. All of which is to say that in the botanical names for breadfruit, Sydney Parkinson, who died at sea surrounded by 1000 breadfruit suckers, is remembered two centuries later.
DID YOU KNOW. . . that there was not a single breadfruit tree in Jamaica in 1793? But by 1794 breadfruit trees were springing up in every single parish?
Jamaica’s plantocracy promised gold on delivery of enough healthy young plants to plant across the island’s main sugar estates. On arrival in Port Royal, the suckers transported by Captain Bligh were methodically shared to Jamaica’s three counties and from the county town to every parish – see the map for parishes of the time!
For example, the county of Cornwall, in the west of Jamaica, was allocated 82 breadfruit suckers. These were delivered by sea to the Custos of Westmoreland in Savana-la-Mar. The Custos shared these out to big plantations in the parishes of St. Elizabeth, Hanover, St. James and Trelawny, as well as his own parish of Westmoreland which was allocated 15 suckers. The plantation owners intended that breadfruit would feed enslaved Africans on their properties, mostly sugar producers. So valuable was each sucker that beneficiary plantations reported back on the health of individual trees.
Mr. Samuel Jeffries of Shrewsbury Estate in Westmoreland reported to the Custos that his breadfruit sucker was “strong and vigorous”. I wonder whether descendants of this sucker can be traced today near Roaring River, once part of Shrewsbury? Large numbers of suckers were kept aside for Jamaica’s two botanical gardens – to propagate more breadfruit suckers for later distribution.
DID YOU KNOW. . . that on that famous voyage to Jamaica, Captain Bligh stopped off at St. Vincent en route to Jamaica (even though his breadfruit suckers were already three years later than the delivery date agreed!)?
Yes! A botanical garden had been established near Kingstown in St. Vincent in 1765 – the first British one in the Americas. It was a military operation under the head of the British regiment based on the island. Its purpose was to nurture and distribute plants to islands the British were capturing throughout the West Indies, except for Jamaica.
When Bligh’s Providence docked off Kingstown in January 1794, the botanic garden was superintended by a Scottish plant enthusiast named Alexander Anderson. Bligh offloaded 559 plants from Tahiti, including 330 breadfruit suckers (although he kept back the best suckers for Jamaica!).
Mr. Anderson recorded: “Such a number of live plants were never before seen on board a single ship. On her arrival she was one of the most beautiful objects of the kind it is possible to conceive. Such a number of live plants of many different kinds brought from the remotest parts of the globe in such a state of preservation and carried through nearly all the climates of it was surprising to behold. Nor is it less surprising that the share of them allotted to the Garden have arrived to such perfection in so short a time in it. Some of the breadfruit plants began to produce fruit at the end of eighteen months from their arrival.”
Anderson continued: “In two years and three months all the fifty plants reserved in the Garden produced a large crop. This will appear the more surprising as the half left here were the smallest and the most sickly-looking plants. The largest and most healthy in appearance went to Jamaica. In this division there appeared partiality.”
Eight varieties of breadfruit tree were received from Bligh. Suckers were distributed by Anderson to other places captured by the British across the West Indies and the Guianas, including Dominica and Trinidad.
DID YOU KNOW … that the breadfruit tree and Tahiti gave surfing to the world?
Joseph Banks joined Captain Cook’s expedition the Pacific and landed in Tahiti in 1769. Banks was interested in everything he saw, as well as his interest in breadfruit. Banks is the first known European to observe and record the ancient Tahitian sport of surf-riding.
With Cook, and Dr Solander, a Swedish botanist, Bank took an exploratory trip on 28th May 1769 to the west coast of the island, initially by small boat and then on foot, and camped overnight. This is what he recorded about his journey back to Matavai Bay the next day:
“In our return to the boat we saw the Indians amuse or exercise themselves in a manner truly surprising. It was in a place where the shore was not guarded by a reef as is usually the case, consequently a high surf fell upon the shore, a more dreadful one I have not often seen: no European boat could have landed in it and I think no European who had by any means got into could possibly have saved his life, as the shore was covered with pebbles and large stones. In the midst of these breakers 10 or 12 Indians were swimming who whenever a surf broke near them dived under it with infinite ease, rising up on the other side; but their chief amusement was carried on by the stern of an old canoe, with this before them they swam out as far as the outermost breach, then one or two would get into [on] it and opposing the blunt end to the breaking wave were hurried in with incredible swiftness”.
Banks continued: “Sometimes they were carried almost ashore but generally the wave broke over them before they were halfway, in which case the [they] dived and quickly rose on the other side with the canoe in their hands, which was towed [paddled] out again and the same method repeated. We stood admiring this very wonderful scene for full half an hour, in which time no one of the actors attempted to come ashore but all seemed most highly entertained with their strange diversion”.
Not one of these three well-travelled men had ever heard of nor seen surf riding before. While Bank called it “the stern of an old canoe”, it was a purpose-made surfboard cut from the trunk of a breadfruit tree. The wood of the breadfruit is light, flexible and strong, ideal for the purpose, and, of course, in good supply in Tahiti. It’s remarkable that this first-ever European record of surfing details four of the basic elements: the paddle-out, the take-off, the ride-in and the pull-out.
Those surfing that morning, oblivious to the European spectators, were sophisticated: the take-off at “the outermost breach” is probably on the green wave face and not merely in the white-water, maximizing the potential wave size and length of the ride. Banks’ phrase “with incredible swiftness” may indicate an element of riding transversely across the wave, the rider apparently travelling faster than the wave speed. When the wave “broke over them’ the ride was terminated (“the pull-out”) by the rider diving down and forcing the board under the water to emerge behind the wave and paddle back out. The board was called by Tahitians “papa-fa’ahe’e’ “, literally “board-for-surf-riding”.
Sydney Parkinson adds to the story in his own journal: “This tree, which yields the bread-fruit so often mentioned by the voyagers to the South-seas, may justly be stiled the Staff-of-life to these islanders; for from it they draw most of their support. This tree grows to between thirty and forty feet high, has large palmated leaves, of a deep grass-green on the upper-side, but paler on the under; …. of the wood they build canoes”. It was also the wood to make surfboards.
You might ask: How could they make surfboards without metal saws? Tahitians used their stone adzes to dub out boards from a section of the breadfruit tree trunk of required length, from five to 15 feet long (see illustration below of a long surfboard in 1819). The rough boards were “then rubbed down with rough coral to remove the adze marks and polished with stone rubbers, in the same way as canoe hulls were smoothed. They were stained a dark colour with the root of the ti plant (mole ki) or the juice of pounded kukui bark (hili). Sometimes the soot of the burned kukui nuts were used. Juice from banana buds and charcoal from burnt pandanus leaves are also used. When the stain was dry, a dressing of kukui nut oil was applied as a finishing process”.
DID YOU KNOW … that a recipe for breadfruit blancmange was recorded in 1771?
It was while Captain Cook was making his observation of Venus in Tahiti that his scientific illustrator, Sydney Parkinson (see Part 2) kept himself busy with many other observations – botanical, social, cultural. These included Tahitians’ use of the abundant fruit uru, which British visitors renamed bread-fruit.
Tahitians were observed preparing uru flour: first peeling and halving a mature fruit, next removing the core, and then slicing it finely. These very thin slices were dried on racks in the open sunshine for a couple of days until fully dehydrated. The heat reflected up from the black volcanic sand under a rack and accelerated the drying process. Dry slices were then ground into a fine white powder – uru flour.
Prior to the very recent visits of European explorers to Tahiti, tools of the island had been made of sharpened woods or stones. For this reason, Tahitians put a high value on metal objects introduced by Captain James Cook and other French and Spanish explorers. No doubt knives, hatchets, and other metal items would have made the business of making flour, as well as many other tasks, much easier.
Shortly before his death, Parkinson recorded this recipe for the Tahitian version of blancmange:
- Mix “a portion of flour made from bread-fruit with the water of a coconutt”.
- Drop two or three pre-heated black volcanic stones into the mixture.
- After removing the stones, “stir vigorously until a strong jelly formed”.
Sydney Parkinson noted: “We found it had an agreeable flavour, not unlike very good blancmange.”
He also noted in his observations in Tahiti that, “Cooking hot dishes was a laborious business requiring first the making of fire by rubbing one stick up and down a groove in another stick until the sawdust caught fire. The fire was built up over stones sunk in a shallow pit, the embers eventually being brushed away. Then was placed on the hot stones prepared hogs, fowl, fish or dog, the last being bred for food, and very nice too, most agreed.”
Hot stones were essential – without metal, Tahitians had no pots to put on a fire!
DID YOU KNOW … that in 1771, Sydney Parkinson was the first European to describe various uses of the breadfruit tree? He called it The Staff of Life for Tahitians
His list was recorded in his journal, from first-hand observations in Tahit. His journal was published posthumously two years later by his brother. The journal includes Sydney’s illustration of a breadfruit tree, drawn at the same time, with notations in his own hand.
Sydney Parkinson refers to making a paste, eaten when the fresh fruit is not in season, using the leaves to wrap fish to roast in an oven, building canoes, making utensils and cloth. He did not mention drums, although he recorded seeing and hearing these in Tahitian ceremonies. Today as then, Tahitian make drums of the trunks and branches of their breadfruit trees. You can listen to them here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXp-IvdrNSY&t=39s
Here is a compilation of other ways the breadfruit tree has been used in Asia and the Pacific:
- Leaves are fed to cattle and goats in India
- Horses eat the bark of young trees = so new plantings must be protected from them
- Its latex is used as birdlime on the tips of posts to catch birds. Hawaiians plucked the feathers of birds so caught for their ceremonial cloaks. Then the gummy substance was removed from the birds’ feet and they are released.
- Latex boiled with coconut oil is used for caulking boats and – mixed with coloured earth is used to paint canoes and boats.
- Dried branches are used as firewood across the Pacific.
- The wood of the tree is strong, elastic and termite-proof, so used for construction and furniture-making.
- Statues, bowls and other objects are carved from felled trees.
- In Tahiti, because of its lightness and abundance, the wood is used to make canoes and surfboards
- Fibre from the inner bark is highly durable is fashioned into cloth
- Its inner bark makes strong rope – as harnesses for water buffalo and other animals
- Its large flexible leaves wrap food for cooking in earthen ovens
- The male flower spike is blended with the fibre of the paper mulberry is used to make elegant loincloths.
- The dried male flower is slowly burned to repel mosquitoes and other insects.
All parts of a breadfruit tree have been used medicinally in the Pacific and the Caribbean, especially its latex, leaves and inner bark:
- Latex is massaged into the skin to treat sprains
- Diluted latex is taken internally to overcome diarrhoea and stomach ache
- The sap of crushed leaves is used to lower blood pressure, relieve asthma, treats sore eyes, and ear infections
- Powder made of toasted leaves is applied to skin ailments and fungal infections and used as a remedy for enlarged spleen
- Toasted flowers are rubbed on the gums around an aching tooth
- Yellowing leaves are brewed into tea to reduce high blood pressure and relieve asthma
- The bark is used to treat headaches.
So, it’s not only a tasty and nutritious food!
DID YOU KNOW … that key purposes of Cook’s mission of 1769, including identifying beneficial plants such as breadfruit, were TOP SECRET, even from the Captain himself?
When James Cook captained the HMS Endeavour out of port in 1769, he was in the dark about the non-astrological purposes of this voyage. The British Government provided secret instructions. The Admiralty required that the seal not be broken until the voyage was underway and the Endeavour was on the high seas.
The secret instructions were wide-ranging in terms of exploration, mapping, collection, and colonisation. Part of the original instruction illustrates this.
In respect of botanical exploration, Cook was ordered Cook thus:
“SECRET: By the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain & ca., Additional Instructions for Lt James Cook, Appointed to Command His Majesty’s Bark the Endeavour
“You are also carefully to observe the Nature of the Soil, and the Products thereof; the Beasts and Fowls that inhabit or frequent it, the Fishes that are to be found in the Rivers or upon the Coast and in what Plenty and in Case you find any Mines, Minerals, or valuable Stones you are to bring home Specimens of each, as also such Specimens of the Seeds of the Trees, Fruits and Grains as you may be able to collect, and Transmit them to our Secretary that We may cause proper Examination and Experiments to be made of them.
“You are likewise to observe the Genius, Temper, Disposition and Number of the Natives, if there be any and endeavour by all proper means to cultivate a Friendship and Alliance with them, making them presents of such Trifles as they may Value inviting them to Traffick.
“Given under our hands the 30 of July 1768, Ed Hawke, Piercy Brett, C Spencer. By Command of their Lordships. [SIGNED] Php Stephens”
Cultivating friendship with natives was important, in the event that Britain wanted to gather further specimens, as, in the case of breadfruit suckers, was to happen in Tahiti ten years later.
However, the Admiralty also instructed: “… taking Care however not to suffer yourself to be surprized by them, but to be always upon your guard against any Accidents”.
Cook was given authority to kill those “natives” who interfered with his mission. And he did.
DID YOU KNOW … that breadfruit made an appearance in a spectacle of a pantomime in London’s West End in 1785?
This was a few years before Bligh’s cargo of breadfruit suckers arrived in the West Indies.
The English word bread-fruit had been coined a century earlier by the world traveller/buccaneer William Dampier (see story number 11), but the term came into more common parlance through Cook’s voyages and Bank’s interest.
Captain Cook agreed that Mr. Banks bring o’Mai on board one of his two brigs to travel back from Tahiti to London in 1773.
o’Mai was to be an “ethnographic specimen”, the first Pacific islander in town – and a very charming and able young man he proved to be! o’Mai was treated like royalty, including by King George III, and the monied gentry.
o’Mai returned to Tahiti in 1776 on Cook’s final voyage on HMS Endeavour. But his star quality lived on and so the pantomime OMAI opened at the Theatre Royal in Convent Garden in 1785 to packed houses and good reviews. The production ran for over 50 performances.
There is a scene where o’Mai is on route back to Tahiti, and, in pantomime tradition, is being lulled into a trance by the enchantress Oberea. The memory of breadfruit is one of the images that Obera uses to cast o’Mai under her spell.
A reviewer wrote in the Morning Chronical in 1786 that OMAI “was a spectacle abounding with such a variety of uncommonly beautiful scenery never before seen from the stage of a theatre; nor was there ever, considered altogether, a more rich treat for the lovers of musick”. Original drums and other instruments from Cook’s voyages were played and Tahitian music informed the score. You can find the entire original pantomime script at http://southseas.nla.gov.au/journals/omai/019.html
DID YOU KNOW … how breadfruit acquired its English name?
William Dampier, who sampled breadfruit in Guam in 1686, is credited for giving the fruit its English name.
William Dampier was the first Englishman to explore parts of what is today Australia, and the first European to circumnavigate the world three times. He has also been described as Australia’s first natural historian, as well as one of the most important British explorers of the period between Sir Walter Raleigh and Captain James Cook.
Dampier’s description of the fruit, in his 1697 account, replete with similes, announced its status as bread substitute. This is how it is described it in his journal:
“The Bread-fruit (as we call it) grows on a large Tree, as big and high as our largest Apple trees. It hath a spreading head full of branches, and dark leaves. The fruit grows on the boughs like Apples: it is as big as a Penny Loaf when Wheat is at 5 shillings the Bushel. It is of a round shape, and hath a thick tough rind. When the fruit is ripe it is yellow and soft; and the taste is sweet and pleasant. The Natives of this Island use it for bread: they gather it when full grown, while it is green and hard; then they bake it in an Oven, which scorcheth the rind and makes it black: but they scrape off the outside”.
Breadfruit has a host of other names. Here are the most common, internationally and locally
DID YOU KNOW … that the Popes of the Catholic Church provided Captain Bligh with the moral authority to commandeer over 2000 breadfruit suckers from the Tahitians?
Both Bligh and Cook steered British naval vessels into Tahitian waters and fired cannons and muskets at the inhabitants to ensure cooperation in the breadfruit missions. Tahitians, armed only with stones and spears of bamboo, were cowered and forced to cooperate. Several were killed in cold blood to ensure the message was clear.
Cook demonstrated British power to keep the islanders in line by burning down villages, destroying canoes, taking chiefs hostage at musket point, and humiliating them in front of their own people. This was a military operation, funded and managed by the War Office in London, approved by the King and British Treasury.
How come, you might ask? Were these British explorers and officers not Christian? Indeed, they were! And their violence was justified under the “Doctrine of Christian Discovery”. This doctrine, based on a series of papal decrees beginning with that of Pope Nicholas V in 1455, permitted and encouraged ‘Christian’ explorers to claim ownership of ‘non-Christian’ lands.
Christians were called upon to: “invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all … pagans … [and] the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods … held and possessed by them.
Through perceiving lands owned by ‘non-Christians’ as nobody’s land or Terra Nullius, the Doctrine gave the Christian kingdoms of Europe permission to claim others’ lands with the blessing of the Church. When the Roman Church lost authority in Britain in the English Reformation, the State assumed the doctrine, and the policy of land and property capture continued unabated.
The Doctrine of Discovery emerged out of an era when non-Christian peoples were not considered to be human. As Henry Wheaton stated in his Elements of International Law (1846 3rd edition), “the heathen nations of the other [non-Christian] quarters of the globe were the lawful spoil and prey of their civilized conquerors.”
Jamaica and the Caribbean earned their breadfruit at the expense of Tahitian blood.
Let us give the breadfruit tree nuff respect!
DID YOU KNOW … that Bligh’s voyage was not limited to breadfruit? Every Jamaican misses their Otaheite apple when away from home – the apple from Tahiti!
It’s called Pomerac in Trinidad, Pomarosa in Puerto Rico, Mountain Apple in Guyana. Its listed as ayyah in Bligh’s end of mission report (see below). The Tahitian name is spelt ’Ahi’ya. To every Jamaican it’s the Otaheite apple.
The two tables are from Bligh’s voyage report and lists all the plants collected by his crew during his second and successful voyage (1791-93).
The ship’s gardeners, with the help of local expertise, gathered hundreds of plants in Tahiti – but also in Timor (the eastern part, in present day Indonesia) and St Helena, en route to St Vincent and Jamaica.
If you look at Bligh’s account of how the Providence’s plant stock was distributed, you will see that he off-loaded 38 ayyah plants in St Vincent for the eastern Caribbean and shared out 41 ayyah plants among Jamaica’s three counties.
The same applied to nanka, which Jamaicans renamed jackfruit, which was also shared around the islands along with the breadfruit suckers.
You should note that, in Jamaica, the lion’s share of plants from the Pacific were landed at Port Morant, in the south east of the island, to stock what was then the recently-established royal botanical garden at Bath.
DID YOU KNOW … that there is a link between the scientific name for ackee and the transportation of breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies?
The military expedition to introduce Trees That Feed from the Pacific and the East Indies to the West Indies had botanical side purposes – gathering any other worthwhile plant, such as the ’Ahi’ya (Otaheite apple, see previous story).
But Captain Bligh was also charged to bring plants to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in London, a pet project of King George and Sir Joseph Banks. You can see below, extracted from Bligh’s “end of project report” to the Admiralty, that his two ships carried a good number of specimens to London in 1793.
Plants delivered to Kew included specimens collected in Tahiti, Timor, St. Helena, St Vincent and Jamaica.
The specimens from Jamaica were collected from the eastern, central and western counties by doctors and others charged by the Governor (these gentlemen are credited for their efforts by Bligh in his report).
One of the specimens taken from Jamaica to Kew was the ackee tree. This species had been introduced to Jamaica by Africans who had been enslaved in the west and central parts of Africa and transported to Jamaica. Its Jamaican name ackee was derived from its West African Akan name akye fufo.
You may be surprised to learn, then, that the scientific name for ackee does not honour African, nor Jamaica where the specimens were potted! Instead, ackee was given the scientific name Blighia sapida, after Captain Bligh. It was under his command that the first specimen of ackee was delivered to Kew Gardens from Jamaica!
One would have thought it would have been named after a place in Africa, rather than after the man who contributed to the slavery enterprise! Should Jamaica’s Reparations Committee demand a change of scientific name?
Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica and is considered one of the country’s culinary delicacies. It often finds a place on a plate with roasted breadfruit.
Ackee’s place has a place in Jamaican folklore with Linstead Market. This song tells the touching tale of a higgler lamenting her poor sales and fretting about the disappointment of her pickney awaiting her return home with supper. I like this explanation:
Here are the opening lyrics:
Mi carry mi ackee go a Linstead Market
Not a quattie-worth sell
Mi Carry me ackee go a Linstead Market
Not a quattie-worth sell
Lawd, what night, not a bite
What a Saturday night
Lawd, what a night not a bite
What a Saturday night.
Everybody come feel up, feel up
Not a quattie-worth sell
Everybody come feel up, feel up
Not a quattie-worth sell
DID YOU KNOW … that the quest to transfer the breadfruit tree from the Pacific to British-held islands of the Caribbean resulted in new technologies for large-scale trans-oceanic plant transfer?
CONCEPT: plant up West Indian islands with breadfruit; reduce cost of keeping enslaved African labour alive and productive; keep sugar plantations profitable; maintain and increase the wealth of the British moneyed class and British Cities
PROBLEM: the varieties of breadfruit deemed through botanical expeditions to be a suitable replacement for wheat bread are not cultivated from seed, but from suckers. Seeds could be relatively easily moved trans-oceanically, as they were. But enough suckers to satisfy the needs of thousands of plantations across many islands in the Caribbean, and many months journey, away? Surely impossible?
SOLUTION: Convert a sailing vessel into a plant nursey, and care for each plant individually, as if each sucker was the child of royalty. Carry 2000 living plants in one go. Invest a million pounds in the project (in 2019 terms). Invent a means to carry suckers securely. Draw up guidelines on management of this valuable cargo.
FINANCING: It has been calculated that the loss of the Bounty (through Mutiny) was around £1,000, 000 at current value. If the exercise had to be repeated (which it was), then the investment would have been at least £2,000,000. As only 1000 suckers of the two shipments were landed, each successfully landed sucker would have cost the British treasury £2000! A very large per plant cost! No wonder we learned through my earlier posts that the beneficiaries of individual breadfruit plants in the west of Jamaica (as elsewhere) had to report to the Governor on the health, promise and productivity of plants delivered. No matter the cost, the absentee West Indian planters in London had the scheme approved!
INNOVATION: What technologies were needed? First, how to secure live plants across more than 20,000 miles of ocean in sailing vessels? Second, how to refit a naval fighting brig to transport such a valuable and delicate cargo? Thirdly, what new rules would be needed to supersede standard naval procedures to ensure project success?
The following is extracted from the paper “Rule Britannia: Britain, Breadfruit, and the Birth of Transoceanic Plant Transportation” by Annabel Tudor and published in 2011. It explains the technologies developed. Joseph Banks, London-based adviser for the project, who had travelled to Tahiti with James Cook provided detailed guidance.
Annabel explains: Banks created detailed drawings and instructions for the tubs that were to hold the plants. The containers had to be deep enough to hold the seedlings securely and protect them from accidental damage. Holes had to be punched in the bottoms for drainage. The containers
would be attached to the deck and lashed to each other to prevent them from tipping over. (Bligh went further and punched holes in the deck). Consideration for the specimens took first priority.
The captain and crew would have “to give up the best part of [the ship’s] accommodations” to house the breadfruit. Banks also noted that even the slightest bit of seawater, a “small sprinkling” or the “salt-dew,” would kill the plants “if not immediately washed off with fresh water.” He also indicated that captain’s great cabin should be turned over to the gardeners to house the seedlings.
The great cabin typically included a bank of windows along the stern, port, and starboard sides of the ship. There the plants could receive fresh air and some sunlight. Also, the great cabin being closer to the main deck of the ship made it easier for the crew to move the plant containers on deck during good weather. Since the entire cargo was plant material stored in the great cabin, there would be plenty of room elsewhere in the hold for water casks.
The ship was to appoint gardeners who would have free and ready access to all of the water in order to care for the plants and wash them frequently to remove salt residue. Additionally, the crew would be directed by the gardeners to move these heavy pots on deck for fresh air and sunlight whenever deemed it necessary.
The great cabin was also furnished with a wood stove. If the weather was cold, the gardeners and their assistants had to keep a fire burning to approximate tropical temperatures – a dangerous proposition on a sea-tossed wooden ship!
His Majesty’s Armed Vessel Bounty was therefore converted to a specialised cargo ship and military functions and traditions were overruled by the civilian advisor in London!
Joseph Bank’s instructions were very specific to ensure any animals on board did not interfere with the precious breadfruit plants “No Dogs, Cats, Monkies, Parrots, Goats or indeed any animals whatever must be allowed on board, except Hogs & Fowls for the Company’s use; & they must be carefully confined to their Coops.” As animals would eat the plants or soil the plant bedding, killing the seedlings, Banks also commanded: “Every precaution must be taken to prevent or destroy Rats as often as convenient.” Arsenic was to be used to kill rats and roaches, and “the Crew must not complain if some of them who may die in the ceiling make an unpleasant smell.”
DID YOU KNOW … that the political philosophy of the country with the world’s 4th largest population, Indonesia, was conceived under a breadfruit tree?
This note was posted to coincide with Indonesia’s National Day, on the 74th anniversary of the Proclamation of Independence.
Sukarno’s anti-colonialism was feared by the Dutch authorities in the 1930s, as they tried to hold on to what they had named the Dutch East Indies. They exiled Sukarno and his family without trial – far from the heart of growing nationalism in Java – to Ende, a town on the island of Flores.
However, the break from political activism gave Sukarno time to think about what an independent Indonesia could look like, with 15,000 islands and a multiplicity of religions, ethnicities and languages.
And it was in the shade of a breadfruit tree, near his small dwelling, gazing out to the Flores Sea, that Soekarno created the concept Pancasila. This philosophy was later enshrined in Indonesia’s 1945 constitution to bind together all peoples and places under the Indonesian flag. Today, the site of that breadfruit tree and the bench beneath it, where Sukarno meditated, is a venerated spot.
Comprising two ancient Javanese words originally derived from Sanskrit: pañca (five) and sīla (principles), Pancasila combined “inter-related and inseparable” principles:
- Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa – Belief in the One Supreme God
- Kemanusiaan Yang Adil dan Beradab – A Just and Civilized Humanity
- Persatuan Indonesia – The Unity of Indonesia
- Kerakyatan Yang Dipimpin oleh Hikmat Kebijaksanaan, Dalam Permusyawaratan Perwakilan – Democracy led by the inherent wisdom of consensus arising from deliberation among popular representatives
- Keadilan Sosial Bagi Seluruh Rakyat Indonesia – Social Justice for all the people of Indonesia
Indonesia’s National Motto became “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” – We are Many, but we are One (a forerunner of Jamaica’s motto!)
Just a decade later, Soekarno proclaimed the independence of the new nation on 17th August 1945.
He went on the lead the creation of the first association of non-aligned nations, along with other anti-colonialists such as Emperor Hailie Selassie of Ethiopia.
When Soekarno revisited this place of exile in 1955, he found that the same breadfruit tree, under which he had spent hours sitting and thinking, was still standing.
He declared: Di kota ini kutemukan lima butur mutiara, di bawah pohon sukun ini pula kurenungkan nilai-nilai luhur Pancasila.
In English: In this town I discovered five pearls – I ruminated the high values of Pancasila – under this very breadfruit tree!
DID YOU KNOW … that when Banks and Bligh planned the two great breadfruit missions, they were both fully aware of the threat to ships, lives and cargos of by Atlantic hurricanes?
The map shows the hurricanes of 1780, one ravaging western Jamaica before heading north to destroy the Bahamian islands. And we have first-hand description published in 1787 by a scientific observer, Dr Benjamin Moseley, who spent twelve years in Jamaica and visited other islands of the West Indies.
Had the mutineers not changed the course of the Bounty on April 28, 1789, the vessel would have arrived in the Caribbean during the hurricane season. Might this have been a reason for the mutiny? Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutiny, had twice previously sailed with Bligh to the Jamaica, so would have known the risks.
Here is what Moseley wrote of hurricanes in his treatise on tropical diseases:
“Hurricanes generally set in from the North, or North-west, from the great rarefaction of the air within the tropic of Cancer, by the sun’s northern declination at this season of the year: from which an influx of dense air rushes in from the polar regions, and the great western continent (the earth being susceptible of much greater degrees of cold and heat than the ocean, which is preserved in a more uniform temperature, from being incapable, like all transparent bodies, of deriving heat from solar light), and great conflict is raised; the wind varying from every point of the compass, with furious blasts, until an equilibrium is restored, and nature composed, by the eastern winds regaining their course.
The ruin and desolation accompanying an hurricane cannot be described. Like fire, its resistless force consumes everything in its track, in the most terrible and rapid manner. It is generally preceded by an awful stillness of the elements, and a closeness, and mistiness, in the atmosphere, which makes the sun appear red, and the stars larger.
But a dreadful reverse succeeding. The sky is suddenly over-cast, and wild. The sea rises at once from a profound calm into mountains. The wind rages and roars like the noise of a canon. The rain real descends in deluges. A dismal obscurity envelopes the earth with darkness. The superior regions appear rent, with lightning and thunder. The earth often does, and always seems to, tremble.
Terror and consternation distract all nature. Birds are carried from the woods into the ocean; and those, whose element is the sea, seek for refuge on the land. The frightened animals in the fields assemble together, and one almost suffocated by the impetuosity of the wind, in searching for shelter; which, when found, serves only for their destruction.
The roofs of houses are carried to vast distances from their walls, which are beat to the ground, burying their inhabitants under them. Large trees are torn up by the roots, and huge branches slivered off, and driven through the air in every direction, with immense velocity. Every tree and shrub, that withstands the shock, is stripped of its boughs and foliage. Plants and grass are laid flat on the earth. Luxuriant spring is changed in a moment to dreary winter.
This direful tragedy ended, when it happens in a town, the devastation is surveyed with accumulated horror. The harbour is covered with wrecks of boats and vessels: and the shore has not a vestige of its former state remaining. Mounds of rubbish and rafters, in one place; heaps of earth, and trunks of trees, in another; deep gullies from torrents of water; and the dead and dying bodies of men, women, and children, half buried and scattered about, where streets but a few hours before were, present the miserable survivors with a shocking conclusion of a spectacle, generally followed by famine; and when accompanied with an earthquake, by mortal diseases.
Such were the hurricanes, that left melancholy traces in many of the West Indian islands, in the month of October 1780: and particularly in Jamaica; where, on the third of that month, the west end of the island was laid waste. Vast districts of finely cultivated land were made a desert, and several villages destroyed”.
Does this sound familiar? What happened in the Bahamas in 2019 has been happening throughout recorded history? The devastation of 1780 was part of the motivation for the breadfruit scheme – to address the hunger that followed.
The 1780 Atlantic hurricane season produced four high category storms that were extraordinarily destructive, one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricane seasons in recorded history with over 28,000 deaths. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Hurricane_of_1780
I transcribed the above quotation from “A treatise on tropical diseases: on military operations; and on the climate of the West-Indies” By Benjamin Moseley, M.D. Physician To Chelsea Hospital, Member Of The College Of Physicians Of London, Of The University Of Leyden, Of The American Philosophical Society at Philadelphia, &c. &c. Published in London, 1787.
DID YOU KNOW … that not all of the breadfruit and other fruit trees delivered to St Vincent and Jamaica in 1793 came from Tahiti? We in the Caribbean have present-day Indonesia to thank too for our Trees That Feed!
The concept of an “Indonesia” had not at the time been imagined and envisioned, but the west part of the island of Timor, where the Dutch had built a fort at the time, now part of Indonesia, contributed to the wide variety of plants delivered by Captain Bligh to the West Indies.
I should explain. For his second Breadfruit Voyage, Bligh created space on his “floating nursery” for 1,156 pots and tubs for breadfruit plants, the raison d’etre for his voyages. Some pots held one breadfruit plant, others two, and tubs could hold several.
Bligh, ever ambitious, logged a higher estimate of the number of plants on board than his “botanist gardeners” – to impress his superiors, both Admiralty and Banks. Bligh initially counted 2,126 breadfruit plants in pots and tubs on board the Providence when the vessel was readying to set sail from Tahiti. On sailing, however, Bligh agreed that the number was 1, 650.
By the time “His Majesty’s Fighting Ship” Providence reached the port of Kupang, in Timor, many pots of breadfruit plants had been lost. Bligh commanded his two on-board “Gardeners” to refill the pots with breadfruit (if it could be found) or other plants while his vessels lay at anchor.
Bligh wrote in his journal: “I found our friend Mr. Wangon was very glad to see us”. [Note: Wangon of VOC, the Dutch East India Company, was in Kupang in 1789 when Bligh arrived following the mutiny of his crew]. Bligh continues: “He was now Governor and had it in his power to oblige me by expediting our business”.
Bligh then records: “I can assign no reason, but the loss of our breadfruit at this time amounted to 224 pots. The botanists have been diligently employed to make up with what can be got here and with natives to assist have collected 92 pots of the best plants of this place. The plants taken up here are Mangoes, Jambelang Jambos, Balumbeng, Chermailah, Karambola, Lemon More-sang, Cosambee, Cattahpas, Bread-fruit, Seereeboah, Penang or Beetle Nut, Dangreedah trees with which they perfume, Bughnah, and Kanangah”.
While the botanists managed to gather a lot of plants, they were only able to find a handful of breadfruit. Instead they gathered other fruit trees, particularly mango, guava, rose apple and nanka (jackfruit), and introduced these to the Caribbean through the botanical gardens established by the colonial authorities at Kingstown, St Vincent, and Bath, Jamaica.
When they set sail from Kupang to the Caribbean, the number of breadfruit plants numbered 1,281. By the time the Providence reached St Vincent, only 678 breadfruit plants had survived in good condition, and another six were considered “sickly”. The other 500 were lost on the long voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.
The surviving breadfruit plants and other fruit trees from Timor, were shared roughly equally by the two main West Indian beneficiaries. As well as over 300 breadfruit plants, both islands received another 200 fruit trees each, these mostly from Timor.
Let us in the Caribbean, therefore, be grateful to the island of Timor in modern day Indonesia, as well as Tahiti, when we are enjoying many of our fruits.
For some of the data above, I acknowledge with thanks Andrew David’s article “Bligh’s Successful Breadfruit Voyage”, published in the RSA Journal, Vol. 141, No. 5444 (November 1993), pp. 821-824, by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41376303.
DID YOU KNOW … that many lives were lost in the breadfruit project of 1769 to 1793?
The Death List could run to over one hundred! From Joseph Bank’s inspection of Tahiti’s breadfruit trees in 1769 to the time when breadfruit suckers were landed in St Vincent and Jamaica in 1793, many Tahitians were killed by British naval vessels, and equally many British seamen involved in the project lost their lives to disease, drowning, violence, and the hangman’s noose!
British attacks on Tahitians began even before breadfruit was all the rage. When HMS Dolphin dropped anchor in Matavai Bay on 23 June 1767, the Tahitians sent out canoes in defence of their territorial waters. Under the order of Captain Samuel Wallis, the Dolphin responded to the Tahitians in canoes armed with stones, with cannon fire. The scene was illustrated in 1773.
The Captain’s log recorded for 24th June 1767: “At six o’clock the next morning, we began to warp the ship up the harbor, and soon after, a great number of canoes came upon her stern. By eight o’clock, the number of canoes was greatly increased, and those that came last were double, of a very large size, with twelve or fifteen stout men in each. I observed, with some concern, that they appeared to be furnished rather for war than trade, having very little on board except round pebble stones. There was a universal shout from all the canoes, which at once moved towards the ship, and a shower of stones poured into her on every side.
When the [Dolphin’s] great guns began to fire, there were not less than three hundred canoes about the ship, having on board at least two thousand men; many thousands were also upon the shore … Among the canoes that were coming toward the bow, there was one which appeared to have some Chief aboard, as it was by signals made from her, that the others had been called together: it happened that a shot, fired from the guns forward, hit this canoe so full as to cut it asunder”.
After the Tahitians dispersed, with many dead, Wallis then sent his men on shore and chopped eighty highly of these valuable canoes in half.
Subsequently, the Tahitians, on-shore or in-canoe, continues to try defending their island, but an antique arsenal of stones and sticks. They were killed by the muskets and four-pounder cannons of HMS Endeavour and HMS Resolution under the command of Captain James Cook. The cannon in the picture is one of those on HMS Endeavour which Cook commanded fired to quell Tahitian opposition, resistance, or merely Cook’s “exasperation at [the Chief’s] behaviour” (in his own words).
Cook recorded various instances of the deliberate killing of Tahitian islanders in his journal entries, such as that of April 15th, 1769, when Tahitians had dared to challenge his “right” to commandeer the island and its wherewithal. The Scottish Quaker botanical illustrator on that voyage, Sydney Parkinson, witnessed what happened and recorded in his own journal: “What a pity that such brutality should be exercised by civilised people upon unarmed ignorant Indians”. Cook’s violent, murderous behaviour continued until 1779 when he was resisted in Hawaii by warriors, defending the island of Kealakekua from British attack, and killed him in a skirmish on shore.
Sydney Parkinson himself (the first-known illustrator of the breadfruit, see earlier story) and many of his shipmates died on the journey back to London on the breadfruit-exploration voyage of 1768-1771.
Parkinson died en route from Batavia to the Cape of Good Hope in January 1771 of malaria and dysentery. We are fortunate that this breadfruit and numerous other illustrations survived and were published. Parkinson was not alone! Another 38 of the crew died from landing of the Endurance in Batavia and its arriving in London. In addition, two Tahitian passengers were the first of all to die, even before the Endeavour set sail from Java.
On HMS Providence, Captain Bligh lists deaths of some of the crew from “dysentery contracted at Coupang”. And there was also Thomas Lickman, one of the Marines, recorded by Bligh “a poor worn-out creature” who had died “through catching cold through the improper use of arrack”.
Other sailors drowned after falling overboard, through accident, liquor or suicide. This was, for example, the fate of Henry Smith, one of William Bligh’s crew, who fell overboard the Providence when the ship was anchored off St Vincent in 1792 after the long journey from Tahiti.
Neither must we forget the deaths of able seamen of the Bounty. Fourteen were arrested by the naval ship HMS Pandora sent to Tahiti hunt down mutineers. They were locked in a cage. When the Pandora hit a reef, ten of the prisoners drowned in their cage; four escaped when the cage was unlocked.
Of these four, all condemned as guilty of mutiny, three were hanged from the yardarm of HMS Brunswick, anchored in Portsmouth. All protested their innocence; the trial is viewed as prejudiced. The execution of these three seamen in 1792 safeguarded Bligh’s reputation sufficiently and permitted him to command of his second, successful, breadfruit voyage.
When we in the Caribbean are next enjoying the scent of roasting breadfruit, we must remember the many who lost lives and their loved ones to the breadfruit project of the late 18th century!
DID YOU KNOW … that it was a Tahitian who ensured safe transit of breadfruit suckers to St Vincent and Jamaica in 1793?
It is quite remarkable that a Tahitian who the British called Pappo or Jacket assisted Bligh’s men to select and pot the 1500 breadfruit suckers and then stowed away on Bligh’s ship HMS Endurance to take care of them.
On discovery, Bligh decided to cast Pappo overboard to the sharks, but one of the British botanist/gardiners convinced the Captain to keep him on boarrd.
Without Pappo’s expertise and dedication, the suckers may not have reached the West Indies alive.
Certainly Pappo must have been the first Tahitian to live in Jamaica. He lived at the Bath botanical garden, in the parish of St Thomas.
Even more remarkably, an account of the life, and death, of Pappo, was published in the Jamaican newspaper The Royal Gazette in November 1793. This issue of Jamaica’s weekly newspaper is available online in the digital collection of the State Library of New South Wales, an item of the collection: Sir Joseph Banks’ Papers. It would have been highly unusual item as the subject of the obituary was not of the European Plantocracy and the main business of the Gazette was advertising for the capture and return of runaway enslaved Africans!
The account was written by the botanist/gardiner James Wilkes, one of the crew on Captain William Bligh’s Providence. Wilkes, on arrival in Jamaica a few months earlier, had been assigned to remain, posted to the government botanical gardens at Bath, in parish of St Thomas in the East. His role was to ensure survival and propagation of the breadfruit plants, transported at huge expense from Tahiti.
We transcribed this obituary in full – this ad not been done before. Our note at the end of the transcription provides further information. You can downloard at https://www.academia.edu/…/On_Pappo_the_Tahitian_who_arrive…
Please do read it in full.
Here is a snipit.
The obituary is headlined DEATH OF PAPPO.
“On Sunday last, the 27th ult, died at Bath, in St. Thomas in the East, Pappo, the Otaheitean who was left on this island, to assist in cultivating the Bread-Fruit and other Otaheite plants”.
“Pappo was a leader in the royal army, and performed wonders, himself killing three men. Peace being established by the mediation of Capt. Bligh, Pappo was soon known to all the officers and ship’s company by his Jacket, which at this time was pretty much worn; he was also remarkably active in bringing bread-fruit plants to the tent, and so strongly was he attached to us that, on the ship’s leaving the island, he secreted himself below, and next morning, when she was a good distance off shore, made his appearance on deck”
Michael Morrissey is an honorary professor of The University of the West Indies, where he earned postgraduate degrees and taught for nearly 30 years. For the last 25 years, he has been providing analytical services in many countries across Asia, Africa and the Caribbean in the field of primary and secondary education development. He is author of many geography and social studies textbooks for Caribbean schools.
Michael first came across breadfruit when he migrated from England to Jamaica in 1968 and was instantly addicted to the wafting aroma of the fruit roasting on an open fire in the parish of St Ann, his first Jamaican home. When he moved to Indonesia in 2006, he focused research interest on Indies/West Indies linkages. This series of DID YOU KNOW? pieces, written specifically for the Trees That Feed Foundation, are a by-product of this continuing research from which a book will, one day, be published.