What Happened to Robert Pond?

Shipwrecked in Vanuatu

I was doing some research for a historical project when I found Robert Pond. Only briefly because he disappeared from view as quickly as he had appeared. He was mentioned in a newspaper article from March 1848, in The Shipping Gazette and Sydney General Trade List, which left me with many unanswered questions. The only description was that he was about 6 years old and had accompanied a Captain Jones of the British Sovereign from Twofold Bay.

Ben Boyd 1801 – 1851 and Twofold Bay

Boydtown is on Twofold Bay, just south of Eden. Twofold Bay is on the Tasman Sea and positioned on the most direct route to Auckland. The ancient and beautiful Twofold Bay, home to the Thaua people for tens of thousand of years, was where Ben Boyd chose to build his town, which he hoped would rival Sydney.

Ben Boyd had grazing property’s off the coast of Boydtown in the Monaro region and first used Aboriginal Slaves to work his land. He then turned to enslaving men from the South Pacific Islands. He kidnapped them from what is today know as Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Many of those men died of starvation and deprivation trying to escape. This was in 1947, 14 years after Slavery had been abolished in the UK.

When things started going bad financially for Boyd he left for the Californian gold fields. Then in 1951, he was murdered in the Solomon Islands attempting to return to Australia. He had been to the Solomon Islands before and the crew from his ship got into conflict with the Solomon Islanders. Ben Boyd could not be found and they sent out search parties for him. Searchers killed 25 people in their initial search for Boyd and then whole villages were destroyed at a place now known at Wanderer Bay. They found his skull displayed in one of the villages, so he got to pay for his crimes at least.

Boyd was a tall, good looking and apparently extremely charismatic and there were obviously people in Australia caught up in the romantic notion of the adventurous, entrepreneurial Scottish gentleman. In 1971, the Robert Askin government established the Ben Boyd National Park.

Robert Pond 1842 – ?

Ben Boyd owned a significant fleet of whaling ships. When ships weren’t engaged in whaling they were encouraged to go “black birding” or harvesting sandal wood. These two activities happened around the same area of the Pacific so there was a certain illegal synchronicity about the two activities. In some cases the harvesting of sandalwood was not possible without the use of men kidnapped from the south sea isles.

Sandalwood removal must have been a source of some hostility from the inhabitants of places like Vanuatu, because slave labour was used to harvest the trees. They must have made a god awful mess and sandalwood does not regrow. The whole tree, root and all has to be removed to extract the fragrance. I can imagine the inhabitants of these islands, did not think very highly of the marauding shipping crews visiting their shores for their ill gotten gain.

The British Sovereign was off the coast of Sandwich Island, (known today at Efate)on the 22nd April when it hit a reef and sunk. The crew including a young boy who had accompanied Captain Jones from Twofold Bay, escaped by rowing boat to the island. A day later they were approached by the inhabitants and Captain Jones was the first killed, the boy being spirited away by one of the older men. Everyone else except the boy and John Jones a crew member escaped with their life.

Captain Nixon of the Clarkstone, came across John Jones who had been looked after by friendly islanders and had heard the story of Robert Pond still living with the inhabitants of the island. Captain Nixon with their help was able to rescue the boy who was very ill, suffering from the “intermittent fever” which was probably malaria.

And that’s it, I can find no more information. And I consider myself a good researcher. I was able to find a Robert Pond born in NSW in 1842 to a William Pond and Jane Kennedy. That would have made him about 5 years old at the time the British Sovereign sunk. So it well could be the Robert Pond. But I have been unable to find more answers. I don’t know if he survived. I don’t know why he was in the company of a Captain Jones onboard the British Sovereign. Whether he was cabin boy or companion. Slave or passenger. Why he had no parents.

But I will continue to look. I have learnt a lot about the sort of place Australia was at this time.

Twofold Bay today

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: