Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Missing Vessel in the Pacific Ocean, 1846


Newsclipping from The New Bedford Mercury, New Bedford, Massachusetts, Friday, May 21, 1847, Volume XL, page 3. 


"MISSING VESSEL - On the 5th of August last, the Brig Wm. Neilson, of this port, Capt. Weston, sailed from Honolulu, Sandwich Islands, for Manilla and Canton, since which nothing has been heard of her, although there are dates from Manilla to Feb. 11.  As this run is usually made in about 30 days, it is feared that she foundered in a typhoon, and all on board perished.  The dates from the Sandwich Islands are to Dec. 26, and if she had been lost at any point between the two places, it is altogether improbabable that accounts should not have been received from her at one or the other.

The Hon. Geo. Brown of Beverly, late US Commissioner to the Sandwich Islands, was a passenger, with his son.  Capt. John Dominis, formerly a highly repectable shipmaster of this city, but more recently a merchant of Honolulu, was also a passenger.

When the Wm. Neilson sailed from this port, Nov 5, 1845, her roll of equipage contained the names of the following persons, who, it is believed, were all in her at the time she left Honolulu; they were mostly young and enterprizing New England men: Church Weston, of Duxbury, master; Ovander M. Hammett, of Chilmark, 1st officer; Joseph M. Bryant, of Nobleboro', Me, 2d do.; Amherst Peterson, of Marshfield; Seth F. Peterson, of do; David J. Mann, of Hanover, Walter S. Tribou, of do; Joseph Gilbert, of Salem; John Pitts, of Bell Haven (supposed a foreigner) seamen; Alfred Dorsey, of Baltimore, colored man, cook; Moses H. Ganges, of Philadelphia, colored boy, steward.

The Wm. Neilson was a fine clipper brig, built, we believe, in Baltimore.  She had some cargo on board, and a considerable amount of specie belonging to the owners of the vessel and others.  There is insurance in this city for $8000 on the vessel, $2000 on freight money, and $17,850 on cargo, specie, &c, amounting in all to $27,850. - [Boston Daily Advertiser]"  

Captain John Dominis

Who was Captain John Dominis?  According to the world famous genealogist Donald Lines Jacobus, he was an Italian who married a woman from Boston (and Jacobus could not find her ancestry). I'm happy to say that I have solved this mystery that Jacobus could not. [See The American Genealogist, New Haven, CT: D.L. Jacobus, Volume 32 (1956), page 70.]

John Dominis was probably born in Trieste, in what is now Slovenia.  On 5 October 1824 he married my 5th great aunt, Mary Lambert Jones, in Boston. Mary was the daughter of  Owen Jones (about 1768 - 1850) and Elizabeth Lambert ( about 1775 - 1834).  Mary had 7 siblings, including Catherine Plummer Jones (abt 1799 - 1828), my 4x great grandmother.  Mary was born on 3 August 1803 in Boston, and died 25 April 1889 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her father Owen Jones, was born in Wales, and was the son of a Boston customs collector, another Owen Jones (1735 - 1798). Elizabeth Lambert's ancestry is still a mystery to me. 

Captain John Dominis first appears in Boston records on 1 February 1823 when he declared his intention to become a US citizen at the US District Court. This record states "that he came from said Trieste to Boston AD 1819 ".  On 19 May 1825 he applied for his citizenship in Boston, and there was a statement signed by Josiah Marshall and Daniel C. Bacon "that the said John Dominis has resided with the US five years at least and within the State of Massachusetts during the five years last past except being absent occasionally on voyages at sea; and during the time he behaved as a man of good moral charcter, attached to the principles of the constitution of the US and well diposed to the good order and happenings of the same." 

John Dominis also obtained a Seaman's Protection Certificate that was issued in Boston on 28 October 1825.  This record lists him as being 28 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, and of dark complexion.  It states that he was from Trieste, Italy, and was a naturalized US citizen. 

Professor Samuel Eliot Morison, who wrote about maritime history including the Mayflower, wrote about Captain John Dominis, who became the master of the ship Owhyhee owned by Josiah Marshall of Boston. The Owhyee (the old spelling for Hawaii) explored the Pacific northwest, the Columbia River, and Willamette Valley.   Dominis also was the master of the brig Bolivar, the Nye, and the Joseph Peabody, which sailed to the Sandwich Islands from New York City in 1839.  

Captain John Dominis brought his wife, Mary, and his little son, John Owen Dominis, from Boston to live in Hawaii aboard the Joseph Peabody in 1839.  He left two small daughters at a boarding school in Schenectady, New York.  The captain and his wife began to build an impressive house in Honolulu. Mary sent to Boston for the windows, doors, and other parts for her new home.  Her brother in law, Enoch Snelling, designed the front entrance to this house. 

In 1846 Captain John Dominis set sail again for China to buy furniture for his new mansion in Honolulu.  He was never heard from again, and there were many newspaper accounts, like the one above, presuming he was lost at sea.  Mary was forced to take in boarders in her new house, to keep up the appearances of her status in society.  One of these boarders, Anthony Ten Eyck, consul to the United States, nicknamed her house "Washington Place" because it was similar to George Washington's mansion at Mount Vernon.  Many of these boarders were Americans and some foreign consuls. 

In 1862  John Owen Dominis married Lydia Kamakaeha Paki, the future Queen Liliuokalani. The married couple lived in Washington Place.  Mary Dominis died in 1889.  After the Queen was desposed in the illegal takeover of Hawaii, she spent her retirement years at Washington Place.  This home served as the governor's mansion for the governor of Hawaii for many years, and is now a museum. 


For the truly curious:

Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen, Liliuokalani, by Liliuokalani (Queen of Hawaii), 1898, Lee and Shepard of Boston, reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2007. 

My very first blog post on July 27, 2009:    https://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2009/07/hawaii-boston-connection-to-royal.html  

I have written many blog posts about Washington Place.  You can scroll through these stories by clicking at this link:   https://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/search?q=washington+place   


To cite/link to this blog post: Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Missing Vessel in the Pacific Ocean, 1846", Nutfield Genealogy, posted July 9, 2024, ( https://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2024/07/missing-vessel-in-pacific-ocean-1846.html: accessed [access date]). 


  1. How interesting! Very cool connection to the history of Hawaii.

  2. An amazing story! Congrats on cracking the case.