The Mana Expedition & World War One
In Commonwealth countries around the world last week, two minutes of silence were held on Tuesday, November 11th, at 11am to mark the day when World War I ended in 1918. Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day honours and remembers those who lost their lives in the defence of Europe during the Great War, 1914-1918.
World War I began only a few months after the Mana Expedition arrived on Rapa Nui and with the only reliable form of communication at the time being newspapers and letters, which had to arrive via ship from the mainland of Chile, news of the break out of war took time to reach the isolated Rapa Nui. In fact, it took Mana 41 days to reach the island from Chile (on the return leg of a trip taken to return a team member, Lt. Ritchie, who was ‘on loan’ from the Navy), and it wasn’t until August 1914 that news of the assassination of the Archduke and Duchess of Austria reached the Routledges. World War I had broken out on July 28th.
But then, on Monday October 12th, 1914 – the impact of the War finally reached Rapa Nui – and ships began to appear on the horizon. Katherine and the team had just started excavating statues on the slopes of Rano Raraku but work halted when the islanders who had been employed by the expedition rapidly departed to see who, or what was arriving. The ships were German, and in total numbered twelve (a number of them being warships) but, as Katherine noted, “They kept entire silence on the European situation.”
The German ships were under the command of Admiral Von Spee, who had chosen Rapa Nui as the meeting place for his Far-East and Pacific fleet, which included the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, the Nürnberg, Leipzig and the Dresden. Von Spee ‘s directive: return to Germany and engage in battle whenever possible to cause damage to the Allies along the way. Von Spee knew that he undoubtedly would cross paths with the Royal Navy, whose battleships were a class above his outdated ships.
As an interesting side note, a few months prior to the arrival of the German warships, a Chilean warship the Baquedano had visited Rapa Nui – bringing supplies and people to work on the island. One such person included a German to work for the company, planting tobacco (Williamson & Balfour were the company who at the time held land rights to the island). Writing in her book – “The Mystery of Easter Island” Katherine duly notes, “The fact that the presence of this last (the German) coincided with the declaration of the war, and the subsequent use of the island by his nation as a naval base, gave rise later to a good deal of comment; it is certain that but little effort was made to grow tobacco.”
But in fact it was the German tobacco grower who finally extracted news from the warship that World War I had indeed started, and that Europe was divided. Von Spee it seems was keeping a low profile, and neither he, nor any of his crew disembarked (seemingly previous landings in Tahiti had ended disastrously). This proved unpopular with islanders who had been hoping for an opportunity to trade with the Germans and gather new supplies.
Katherine’s immediate concern was obviously with the work of the expedition. The excavations that had started at Rano Raraku were hastily covered up, just incase the ‘intelligent Germans’ might photograph the excavations being carried out. However the opportunity to send post with the German ships did not pass Katherine by, and even the ship’s doctor was called upon at one point.
The German ships left Rapa Nui just six days later, quietly, on a Sunday evening. The very next Monday morning Katherine read through German newspapers left by the ships and tried to piece together events in Europe. It seems that Katherine felt greatly concerned about the break up of the ‘British Empire’ – but all the expedition could do, whilst waiting for the return of the Mana, was to carry on working:
“It was intensely strange to go back to digging out statues, when morning, noon and night our hearts were over the seas; but that was “our job,” there was at least no daily and hourly waiting for news, and in the peace of a plain duty and the absolute silence of the sea around us there was a certain kind of rest.”
And there was rest for a few weeks on the island but within six weeks another ship arrived. A Chilean ship with an English captain – who brought updates on the war and also letters from the captain of the Mana, Mr. Gillam, was now detained in the more southern Chilean port of Talcahuano.
The safety of the Mana now became a major concern for Katherine and her husband, William ‘Scoresby’ Routledge. Scoresby decided to leave Rapa Nui on the Chilean ship in an attempt to join up with the Mana, their very little British boat in Talcahuano. Navigating the Pacific was no longer a place where the only concerns where weather patterns and oceanic rollers – German boats were roving. The Chilean ship departed on December 5th 1914 after a brief five-day visit and suddenly Katherine was left alone on the island with Percy Edmunds (Manager under Williamson & Balfour) Bailey (the ship’s cook) and the Rapa Nui people closest to her – mostly those employed to work for the expedition.
Katherine’s strength was again tested on December 23rd, when another German ship approached Rapa Nui, the Prinz Eitel Friedrich. As the ship rested offshore, reports came to Katherine that the Mana was also approaching. This startling news sent Katherine and Bailey reeling:
“The immediate question, supposing that it was indeed the Mana, was how could she be stopped walking straight into the jaws of the enemy. Bailey saddled in haste, and rode up to the top of the headland to try to warn her not to proceed. I armed myself with a towel and coat to make a two-flag signal, which denotes urgency, and fled down to the rocks on the coast below, selecting a point from which it was possible to command the furthest view, without being noticed from the cruiser. It was a very forlorn hope, that it might be possible to attract the yacht’s attention before she was seen by the enemy, but it was obviously out of the question to continue, under a tree, copying notes while Mana might be at the moment meeting with a watery grave.”
Katherine’s concerns were based on the issue of the wartime capture of private property at sea. But after a while Katherine was able to breathe a sigh of relief as the alarm turned out to be false – and she realised that the Mana must still safely be in Talcahuano.
But once again, Katherine’s hopes of protecting the Mana from the German war effort were dashed when the Prinz Eitel Friedrich proceeded to out-stay the twenty fours hours they were permitted in a neutral port. Katherine felt frustrated by this breach of code, and wrote a letter to Chilean Governmental representative on the island at the time (a school teacher) – but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. The Prinz Eitel carried on under it’s own prerogative and a few days later, in full view of the island, retrieved and then destroyed a French barque it had captured, the Jean. It also came to light that the ship was holding on board the crew of an English sailing-ship, the Kildalton, which she had also captured and sunk. The Prinz Eitel then promptly deposited the captured French and English crews on shore (48 people plus the boats’ stores), turned tail, and left on Dec 31st. The only glimmer of hope was that the Mana, as a ‘scientific’ expedition ship might be protected under the Hague Convention upheld at the time.
The beginning of 1915 was a tense but productive time for Katherine on Rapa Nui. To a degree the island’s physical separation allowed Katherine to dive into her work, yet the mental strain was ever-present. Katherine knew the Mana would be returning as soon as possible, but the risk of crossing paths with either Von Spee’s fleet or the Prinz Eitel was worrying.
In a bizarre twist of events the Mana was delayed in Talcahuano until February 20th 1915. Scoresby had become seriously ill with a bout of dysentery during his return trip to Valparaiso on the Chilean ship and once on dry land was hospitalised for a number of weeks. Scoresby’s main worry of correctly insuring the Mana didn’t take place until he fully recovered. In the mean time Von Spee’s final ship, the Dresden was still at large. The delay of Mana luckily enabled her to miss the path of the Dresden, which was motoring towards the Juan Fernandez Islands. But the Juan Fernandez Islands were the final resting place for the Dresden since the British ship HMS Glasgow was waiting, and halted her war efforts for good. In the mean time, the Mana sailed on innocently towards Rapa Nui.
“March 5th was a joyful day, when the yacht at length turned up all safe and sound.” Katherine Routledge, “The Mystery of Easter Island”.
The war took hold of Europe but interestingly, rather than sail directly back to England the expedition continued on into the Pacific (with a research directive to visit other cultures) stopping at Pit Cairn Island, Tahiti and Hawaii and then on to San Francisco. As a Quaker Katherine would have upheld the pacifist views in keeping with her religion, yet without being able to contribute directly to the war, Katherine continued to put all her energy into the ‘British’ expedition – and seeing it through to its end was her utmost priority. The Mana kept sailing on and passed through the newly opened Panama Canal out into the Atlantic. At this point however Katherine was no longer onboard, having left the boat in San Francisco to return to England via a more secure steamer. Scoresby did stay with the vessel and after a brief visit to Jamaica, Bermuda and the Azores, the Mana eventually reached British waters in June 1916. The final stretch across the Atlantic had been the last big effort for the little boat, especially with German submarine activity, but the Mana sailed safely into Southampton on June 25th 1916.
The war did leave a mark on the expedition. Once the Mana and the crew were settled back in England, the ship’s captain Mr. Gillam – who was possibly the true hero of the whole expedition (but that’s another story) – signed up with the Royal Navy. Gillam tragically lost his life in April 1918 whilst working as a volunteer, capturing submarine vessels. Katherine was shaken, “The loss to his country is great; to us it is very real and personal.” Charles Jeffery, a crewman on the Mana for the whole duration of the expedition also sadly lost his life on a minesweeper. The impact and commitment of these two men to the expedition, and to the war, must always be remembered.
Katherine and William threw themselves whole-heartedly into the reporting of, and writing up of the expedition’s work amidst war stricken England. It took a number of years for the notes, figures, maps and drawings of the expedition to be formatted for publishing but in 1919 ‘The Mystery of Easter Island’ was first published, having survived the impact of high dramas and war, and is still being read to this day – one hundred years later.