The wreck of “El Dorado”

On the morning of Wednesday, June 11, 1913, the small American steam schooner “El Dorado” of the Sanders & Drinkwater shipping company had been sailing along the west coast of America for two months, not realizing that the Humboldt current had diverted the route of navigation to the west. Suddenly menacing black clouds approached and a strong wind that led the ship, loaded with Oregon pine wood, into the Pacific Ocean. The schooner was 2,700 miles off the coast of Chile, too far from its final destination that was Antofagasta, where the wood was to be exchanged for Chilean saltpeter, a fertilizer appreciated by the United States. Commanding was Captain N. P. Benson and officers Wilson and Johansen with eight young stevedores.

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For two days the storm did not stop, turning into a true hurricane, whipping the schooner like a toy in the burning sea. The mast is released by throwing it in the air like a feather in the wind. It dawns on Friday, the schooner begins to flood and the crew prepares to leave the ship in the lifeboat, avoiding colliding with the woods scattered in the sea. There was enough water in the boat and food for a few days. They were 560 miles from Pitcairn Island and 700 miles from Easter Island. Considering the west winds, it was less risky to sail towards Easter with the winds in favor. According to the captain they would arrive in nine to ten days. A stormy and rough sea prevailed, one of the oars broke and the strong wind blew the foam of the sea like whips on their faces. During the following days of navigation, uncertainty seized the young stevedores, all were tired and weak, some raved seeing green fields and trees, others saw ports and buildings. For two days the storm did not stop, turning into a true hurricane, whipping the schooner like a toy in the burning sea. The mast is released by throwing it in the air like a feather in the wind. It dawns on Friday, the schooner begins to flood and the crew prepares to leave the ship in the lifeboat, avoiding colliding with the woods scattered in the sea. There was enough water in the boat and food for a few days. They were 560 miles from Pitcairn Island and 700 miles from Easter Island. Considering the west winds, it was less risky to sail towards Easter with the winds in favor. According to the captain they would arrive in nine to ten days. A stormy and rough sea prevailed, one of the oars broke and the strong wind blew the foam of the sea like whips on their faces. During the following days of navigation, uncertainty seized the young stevedores, all were tired and weak, some raved seeing green fields and trees, others saw ports and buildings.
The sun rises on Sunday June 22 and they spot Easter Island for the first time. At ten o’clock in the morning the boat arrived in the eastern part of the Poike Peninsula, at a cliff site called Kikiri Roa by the islanders. When they disembarked, they still felt the movement of the sea in their bodies. Officers Wilson and Johansen climbed the steep cliff and went for help, meeting the native sheepdog Casimir Paoa Bornier, who took them on horseback to the town of Mataveri, to the house of the administrator of the sheep company “Williamson & Balfour ”, the Englishman Henry Percy Edmunds. Four other crew members were able to climb the cliff and reached the leprosarium sector where they were well received. The remaining five were finally rescued from the Poike and very well served by the island community of Hanga Roa. The native population of the time was around 250 people. The news of the wreck caused great commotion in the town and according to Edmunds, the wreck of El Dorado was the first one near Rapa Nui.

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After 103 days of stay and without landing a single ship in Rapa Nui, Captain Benson decides to enable the same ship of the wreck with the help of Edmunds and some natives to embark on a trip to Tahiti. Two of the dockers, Simoneur and Drinkwater, are encouraged to accompany you on the trip. Provisioned with a good amount of food and water they travel to the Island of Mangareva that was 1600 miles away. They successfully arrived at 16 days of navigation and managed to communicate with their families and the owners of the sunken schooner. The rest of the crew remains in Rapa Nui until December of the same year, when an English ship arrives in front of Hanga Roa and picks them up and heads to Sydney, Australia.
On Easter Island, two of the crew members of El Dorado left offspring according to what the natives remember. Mr. Wilson, first pilot, left a daughter born on May 7, 1914 of Mrs. Maria Reina Aifiti Tekena, daughter of King Atamu Tekena and future lady of the native Nicolás Pakomio Angata. She was baptized as Elena Atan Atan and nicknamed “Vahiroa”. Elena’s name was in honor of Wilson’s mother and at his request, Vahiroa married Alberto Hucke Make called “Papito” (1912-2001) with whom he had eleven children, the Hucke Atan brothers. Vahiroa died on March 27, 1962 following breast cancer, at the age of 48. On the other hand, Mr. Simoneur, a crew member of French origin, also left offspring with the native Micaela Tuki Kaituoe on July 14, 1914. His son Juan Tuki Tuki was nicknamed “Vata” in honor of the old Frenchman Vincent Pont, patriarch of the family Pont, who was his foster father. Juan Tuki Tuki married Laura “María Hau” Pakarati Atan and they had 15 children according to the book Te Mau Hatu O´Rapa Nui by Alberto Hotus. He died on June 19, 1997, leaving a large offspring.

Following the arrival of slave ships from Peru in 1862 and the Tahiti exodus of 300 people in 1871, the French anthropologist Alfonso Pinart recorded in 1877 the lowest demographic census in Rapanui history with only 111 souls. From the same year the new foundations of Rapanui families are born with an interesting miscegenation of various origins, retaining even some surnames such as Edmunds, Pont, Cardinali and Calderón and many others of Chilean blood. Like Elena Atan Atan and Juan Tuki Tuki, there are many children of foreigners and some Chilean sub-delegates, officials and political relegates who did not receive official recognition from their parents, but carry two maternal surnames. After El Dorado there have been as many shipwrecks whose crew remained for a long time in Rapa Nui before being rescued by increasing miscegenation in Rapa Nui.

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