The wreck of the Hojunmaru, 1833-34

Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River

Fort Vancouver and its gardens. The Columbia River is behind the fort.

In 2002 I was introduced to a story in Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s life that I had not heard before. This introduction came in the form of an email sent to my long-distance relative in Seattle, and forwarded by him to me.

“The reason for my writing is that I am helping to write a book on the first Japanese in America…” Mr. Gordon wrote. “Thus I am looking for information about A.C. Anderson and his family. The Japanese boy’s ship marooned on the Washington Coast in 1833. The Japanese boy may have met A.C. Anderson while a captive of the Makah tribe, or through Dr. John McLoughlin in [Fort] Vancouver. Specifically, I am looking for any mention of such a meeting between the boy and A. C. Anderson.

“Moreover,” his letter continued; “The Japanese boy carried many Japanese porcelain pieces that were bought by James Birnie and may have been handed down from generation to generation….”

This query began a very interesting bit of research — I began knowing nothing, and then stumbled on little stories which grew larger and ever more interesting. I found that while Alexander Caulfield Anderson never did meet the Japanese boys mentioned above, he did have a great deal to do with the preservation of their story. Unfortunately, no pieces of Japanese porcelain were preserved and handed down to other family members.

So, from The Pathfinder, I will quote a bit of the story and go on from there. “After spending the winter of 1833-34 at Fort Vancouver, Anderson once again boarded the brig Dryad, along with 40 other men, on May 1, 1834. At Fort George [Astoria], Chief Trader Peter Skene Ogden joined the party, and the ship continued its journey downstream to the river’s mouth. Once there, the captain found the breezes too light to carry the ship safely across the bar, and the Dryad anchored in Baker’s Bay.

“Sometime during the eight days of forced inactivity at Baker’s Bay, Queen Sally, a Cathlamet Native who lived near the mouth of the Columbia River, boarded the vessel and told the story of a shipwreck. Anderson wrote of this encounter:

In 1834, at Cape Disappointment, on our way to the northwest coast, Indians boarded our vessel and produced a map with some writing in Japanese characters, a string of the perforated copper coins of that country; and other convincing proofs of a shipwreck.

“The Hudson’s Bay gentlemen examined the drawing and admired the coins, but as they were unable to take any actions, Ogden sent the woman to Fort Vancouver with her message. McLoughlin dispatched Captain William H. McNeill to locate the site of the shipwreck, and the Lama eventually returned to Fort Vancouver with three Japanese sailors who had been enslaved by the Natives.”

So let’s look at some resources and see where the information for this story comes from. The first glimpse any fur trader had of the wreck appears in the Journal of Occurrences at Fort Nisqually: “January 1834: Wednesday 29th. Two men employed squaring wood for Bastions… An Indian arrived with the unpleasant intelligence that a vessel has been lately wrecked at Cape Flattery and that all hands perished except two men who are now with the Indians there.” On Friday, Jean Baptiste Ouvre “set off with an Indian for the purpose…” of finding out the truth of the story. One week later, “Late in the evening Ouvre returned and reported that the story about the shipwreck is a mere fabrication which he ascertained at the Chlallus village New Dungeness.”

But the story wasn’t a fabrication, and Captain William McNeill was able to rescue the boys and bring them to Nisqually, on his way to Forts Langley and Vancouver. Hence, in later Fort Nisqually journals, more mention is made of the Japanese boys:

“June [1834] Monday 9th… About 3 pm we heard a couple of Cannon shot, soon after I started in a canoe with six men, and went on board the Llama with the pleasure of taking Tea with McNeill who pointed out two Chinese he picked up from the Natives near Cape Flattery where a vessel of that Nation had been wrecked not long since. There is still one, amongst Indians inland, but a promise was made of getting the poor fellow on the Coast by the time the Llama gets there.” McNeill remained at Fort Nisqually for three days and then sailed for Fort Langley. On his return to Fort Vancouver he picked up the third sailor and brought all three down to Fort Vancouver.

The source for these following letters is Fort Vancouver Correspondence, B.223/b/10, fos. 13-20, HBCA. On the 28th May 1834, John McLoughlin wrote to the Governor and Committee: “Last winter the Indians informed us that a vessel had been touched somewhere about Cape Flattery, and I sent a party along the coast to recover the crew from the natives but our people could not reach the place and a few days ago I received through the Indians a letter written in Chinese characters and I have written to the captains of our vessels to do their utmost to recover those unfortunate men from the Indians. I am informed that only three of them are alive and that forty of them are either dead of sickness or have been drowned. The Indians say the vessel was loaded with China wares.”

On the 23rd, McLoughlin write to William Kittson, who I presume was in charge of Fort Nisqually at that time: “If Captain McNeil fails in recovering the Chinese from the Indians you will do your utmost to accomplish the humane object.” In July he addressed McNeill: “I am happy to find that you have been so successful in procuring the poor Chinese whom it seems the natives were much inclined to keep in slavery.” On November 15th, 1834, McLoughlin gave written instructions to Captain Darby of the brig Eagle, sailing for London: “The three Japanese you will take to England and I request you will have the goodness to see that they are as comfortable and as well taken care of as their situation will admit. They are supplied with clothing &c sufficient to take them to England but if they should be in want of any little necessary article you will please supply it on the Hudson’s Bay Company’s account.”

In his report to the Governor and Committee on November 18, 1834, McLoughlin reported that “A Japanese junk was wrecked last winter in the vicinity of Cape Flattery and out of the crew of fourteen [?] men only three were saved and [rescued] from the Indians by Captain McNeill on his voyage this summer to Fort Langley… The Japanese entrusted the letter (W) to the natives and it was forwarded from tribe to tribe till it came to us. I also send a piece of carved wood with Chinese characters on it, and if I understand the Japanese correctly it is the name of the vessel, that she was from Yahongau and bound to Yidda, the capital of Japan with a cargo of rice nankins and porcelain ware. They were first driven from their course by a typhoon and subsequently a sea unshipped their rudder or broke their rudder irons when the vessel became unmanageable, and that they were about a year from the date they left their home when they were wrecked at which time they had plenty of rice and water yet on board but that a sickness had broke out among the men which carried off all except these three. A little after the vessel grounded and before the natives could get any thing worth while out of her a storm arose and broke her up.”

I have previously told you that Alexander Caulfield Anderson was with Peter Skene Ogden when Queen Sally came aboard their ship and showed the fur traders the collection of papers and coins that she carried south, toward Fort Vancouver. According to Anderson’s various writings, all of a much later date, this is what he witnessed at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1834:

From “Notes on the Indian Tribes of British North America, and the Northwest Coast,” Historical Magazine, March 1863: “All the tribes of this portion of the Pacific Coast I look upon as originating from the islands of the West — from Japan, the Kuriles and elsewhere. Nor is it unsupported hypothesis alone that leads me to this conclusion: within the limited period of my own experience on this coast, I have learnt the possibility of a fortuitous immigration, such as we may be justified in assuming to have led to the gradual peopling of the continent in the earlier ages. For instance, in 1834, at Cape Disappointment, on our way to the northwest coast, Indians boarded our vessel and produced a map with some writing in Japanese characters; a string of the perforated copper coins of that country; and other convincing proofs of a shipwreck. Rumours of this had been heard before, and after this corroboration, the company dispatched a vessel to the point indicated. It was south of Cape Flattery (at Queen-ha-ilth, I believe.) Three survivors of the crew were ransomed from the natives, afterwards sent to England, and thence to Japan. In as far as could be understood by us, they were bound from some port in the Japanese Island of Yesi, to another port in the Island of Niphon. Losing their reckoning in a typhoon, they drifted for many months, at the mercy of wind and wave, until at length stranded at the point of shipwreck. The crew had originally consisted of forty, of whom the great portion had perished at sea during the transit; three only surviving to reach the shore….”

He gives more information in: The Dominion of the West; a Brief Description of the Province of British Columbia, its Climate and Resources [Victoria: Richard Wolfenden, 1872], and repeats the same information in his “Guide to the Province of British Columbia” — “For in 1834, in consequence of Indian rumours which had reached the Columbia River during the preceding winter, a vessel was dispatched from Fort Vancouver to Queen-ha-ilth, south of Cape Flattery, to enquire into the circumstances of a reported wreck. Captain McNeill, the Commander, on arriving there, found the remnants of a Japanese junk, and purchased from the natives a quantity of pottery and other articles that had formed portions of her cargo. He likewise brought away three Japanese, the survivors of a crew originally consisting, as we understood, of forty; the rest having perished at sea of hunger. It appeared that, having been dismasted in a typhoon and lost their reckoning, the junk had drifted for many months until at length stranded….” Interestingly, Queen-ha-ilth is on some modern maps as Destruction Island.

In addition to these resources, there is a more important one that is a little more difficult to find. This is Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s “Historical notes on the commerce of the Columbia River, 1824 to 1848,” in the Beinecke Library, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn. The collection consists of a somewhat inaccurate article labeled “Pioneer Ships, History of Early Commerce on the Columbia River,” author unknown to me — and Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s written response to that article.

In the article itself the author writes about William H. McNeill and others: “In March 1833, a Japanese junk was cast away fifteen miles south of Cape Flattery. Out of seventeen, three survived the wreck, to be made captive by the Makah Indians. Dr. McLoughlin, hearing of the captivity of the wrecked Japanese, sent overland to Nisqually, and thence down the Sound, Thomas McKay, to redeem them. Of this trip and its hero, Dr. W.F. Tolmie writes: “Dr. McLoughlin had sent the renowned ‘Tom McKay’ to Puget Sound to endeavour to reach Cape Flattery by canoe, with the view of bringing about the liberation of the Japanese. Tom got no further than the Sinahomish camp, Nigwadsooch [Scadjett Head], and idled away time there as it was suspected. On being cross-questioned by the late ‘hyass Doctor,’ as to the cause of his failure, all he could say, that is remembered, was: ‘It blowed, sir, it blowed — my God! How it did blow!”… After Tom Mckay had returned from his unsuccessful mission, the Llama, Capt McNeil [sic], was sent to Neah Bay to redeem the Japanese captives. In June 1834, [McNeill] was at Fort Nisqually with two of them rescued, the third being in the interior. McNeil [sic] returned to Cape Flattery, received the third, proceeded to Fort Vancouver, and in October the three were sent to London, educated in the English language and sent to their native country.”

In Anderson’s handwritten letter, not necessarily included with this article, is his response to the above statements:

“From notes in my possession, supplemented by memory, I may state, regarding the Japanese Junk, as under — vague memory had reached Ft. Vancouver during the winter 1833/34 of the wreck of a ship upon the coast at some indefinite point between Gray’s Harbour and Cape Flattery. Mr. Thomas McKay was dispatched in canoe via Baker’s Bay and the portage to Shoalwater Bay, with orders to follow the Coast and endeavour to ascertain correct tidings, if not to afford relief. The severe storms prevalent in the early spring prevented his accomplishing the object of his mission; and he returned, having penetrated, as I understand, no further than Gray’s Harbour (Chehalis) — and bringing little intelligence beyond what had already [been] received through the Indians.

“It was not until May that direct confirmation was received. Mr. [Peter Skene] Ogden was then on his way, accompanied by myself, to establish a fort on the Stikine River (1834), and our vessel, the Dryad, was anchored in Baker’s Bay. Sally, the widow of Old Chenanium, boarded the vessel on her way from Shoalwater Bay to Chinook Point, bringing with her a number of articles, including perforated copper coins and a rude chart drawn in Chinese or Japanese paper, with writing in their common character, which at once proved to us the fact of the wreck and indicated the probable nationality. Mr. Ogden forwarded the articles to Vancouver, and Captain McNeill was afterwards sent with the Llama — affecting the release of the surviving as stated in the notice. Captn. McNeill afterwards told me that the Indians were averse from giving up the men (3 in number); that he then seized one or two of the Chiefs as hostages, after which the survivors of the crew were brought on board the Llama and ransomed by him. He afterwards bought from the Indians a large quantity of crockery-ware saved from the wreck, which was subsequently sold in the sale-shop at Vancouver…”

The Cathlamet woman, Sally, was known by the fur traders as Queen Sally, and so I referred to her in that manner in my book. The crockery-ware mentioned here is an important story in itself, and I will speak of it on a later occasion. Right now we will continue following Anderson’s remarks, in his response to the newspaper article labelled “Pioneer Ships…”

“I think Dr. Tolmie has confused Mr. McKay’s visit to the Skatchet, as connected with the Japanese wreck, with another occasion — probably connected with the murder of McKenzie in 1828. I was at Vancouver (after my return from the coast in the Cadboro) when McKay returned from his fruitless attempt to reach the [Japanese] wreck before referred to, and I never heard any imputation cast upon the good faith of his proceedings on that occasion… [McKay] was a zealous and daring officer; and not likely to be deterred by trivial difficulties or to advance a questionable excuse to cover an obvious failure to fulfill his orders.”

There is a very interesting connection with this story that no one has mentioned — the man who was probably in charge at Fort Langley at this time was Archibald McDonald, father of the famous Ranald McDonald, who as an adult “shipwrecked” himself on the Japanese coast. It is known that Ranald McDonald was a student at the Fort Vancouver school at the same time these Japanese boys were there — it is not known if he was at Fort Langley when the two sailors were shown off to his father.

There was a movie made of this story — a Japanese film, entirely in the Japanese language but with subtitles in English for at least part of the movie. Johnny Cash played Dr. John McLoughlin (if you can imagine that!) The movie is titled “Kairei.” It was filmed in the 1980’s so may not longer available for purchase. Its ISBN was 4-264-02095-6 (Life Entertainment, World Wide Pictures). The part that takes place in North America is a lot of fun to watch, though historically inaccurate! The first link I had for the movie no longer works, and I could not find it on this second link, which does work at the moment:

See also: Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, NCRI Report, see page 6: (Google “John McLoughlin and Johnny Cash” if this link does not work):

Otokichi was one of the three sailors shipwrecked, the other two were named Kyuchi and Iwakichi. Bruce McIntyre Watson has a great deal of information on what happened to these boys and men after they left England, in his three volume Lives Lived West of the Divide: A Biographical Dictionary of Fur Traders Working West of the Rockies, 1793-1858. For more information, see: 

“Notes on the Indian Tribes of British North America, and the Northwest Coast,” Historical Magazine, March 1863:

This should keep you busy for a while. If you want to contact the Japanese researchers directly on this story, then go to their website, at

Copyright Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2014. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “The wreck of the Hojunmaru, 1833-34

  1. Chris Green

    These shipwrecked mariners were called by some ‘the three Ichis’, because their names all ended with -ichi.
    After their shipwreck at Cape Flattery, the mariners on board were attacked by the Makah people from near there, and the three survivors were captured, then two of them were traded into slavery for some other tribe, and one kept by the Makah.

    The HBCo people heard about it and tried to make an overland expedition to save the mariners, but crossing through the Olympic peninsula in the early 1830s was just near impossible. The steamboat was sent the next year to retrieve the. After the captain threatened to destroy the Makah village with his cannon, the Makah rounded up the three Ichis and handed them over to the fur traders. They were then transported to Fort Vancouver, and spent some time in the ‘hospital’ there. Everntualy, they were put on board an HBCo ship bound for the UK, and sent onwards to Singapore or some place.
    “The three survivors were Iwakichi, 29; Kyukichi, 16; and Otokichi, then 15”

    The Japanese weren’t allowed to re-enter Japan in that era, so lived out their days in Singapore. One of them became a Christian of some denomination and spread the religion in his region.

    All this is detailed in various books about Ranald Macdonald, Archie McDonald’s son. He was in school at the Red River settlement, and heard about the Japanese from some fur traders passing through. And perhaps by letter as well. From that information, he got the notion to travel to Japan to visit the place. For some reason he believed the Japanese and his native (Chinook) ancestors were closely related.
    It was fairly well known then that the Japanese executed anyone who tried to enter Japan, and even those who, like the three Ichis, left Japan and tried to return.
    The only foreigner allowed to be in Japan was a sole Dutch East India company trader, who was restricted to an island in the bay at Nagasaki.
    So it was wither a brave decision, or a foolish one, but by 1848, Rannie did indeed land in Japan. And was quickly imprisoned, also in Nagasaki. Fortunately for him two things worked in his favour: the Japanese had put a moratorium on executing incomers: this grew out of a slow realization the dutch merchant was not quite presenting a view of the changes going on in the world outside Japan, and there were other players on the scene besides the Dutch. The British and Americans among them, and a vast fleet of whaling ships had moved into the sea of Japan. The Japanese government wanted to know what was going on. The Japanese also revere scholars, and Rannie showed up with a library of over 40 books (more than some schools had even in the 1950s… So in the end, they allowed him to teach a cadre of 14 language scholars who had been trying to learn Englsh from Dutch English dictionaries… Rannie also taught some French as well, since he knew that language because it was the working language of the Columbia region.

    So he is accurately described as the first ESL teacher in Japan. 1848. He would probably have stayed longer, but the Japanese had also imprisoned 16 US mariners (whalers, iirc), and an American warship showed up to demand their release: the Japanese included Ranald in that release.

    While teaching the translators English, he also took the opportunity to introduce sciences, math, and the principles of democracy to the samurai translators. When he was handed over to the US Navy warship, he made a ‘statement’ which was later read into the US Congressional record.
    About 5 years later, Commodore Perry showed up and at least two of Ranald’s students acted as translators. also manipulated the discussions and I am convinced Perry had read Ranald’s statement and followed some of the advice presented in that document.
    As well, the translators could have subtly manipulated the negotiations and modified the outcome. In the 5 year period between 1848 an 1854, it is also highly probable the translators spread a lot of ideas around, a passing on of knowledge and ideas which would soon have a profound effect on history.
    The Chief Translator was Moriyama Einosuke, a ‘two-sword samurai’ (as were the other scholars):
    The outcome was a treaty allowing the US and perhaps others to enter into Japanese ports to do business. The Japanese Tokugawa Shogunate military government didn’t survive much past that: a new more ‘democratic’ gov’t, the Meiji, was installed by 1862, and the Emperor given some of his authority back.

    Also, one of Ranald students later set up the first modern newspapers in Japan, and English language one at that.
    This info is all detailed in several books, one by, and several, about Ranald Macdonald.

    Interestingly, a similar adventure by a Japnese youth occurred at the same time, but in the opposite direction:

    Another shipwrecked and marooned Japanese sailer was captured and enslaved by the Haida at about this time. John McLaughlin heard about this and bought this mariner from the Haida, to gain him freedom. I’m not sure who he was or what happened to him… The Japanese junk that was wreck on Haida Gwai was visible for several years, and is documented in the logs and journals of the captain of the SS Beaver.

    Sources of info: most of the books listed in the Ranald Macdonald wiki entry… the ones I could obtain in the 1990s, along with publications sent me by the Friends of Macdonald Society.

    Ranald Macdonald is featured in one chapter in middle school English Language text book used by every student of that language in Japan. Also, Ranald has become something of a Patron Saint for ESL teachers, especially those who teach in Japan… Okay, ‘Patron Saint’ might be a bit of an exaggeration… but not by much. 🙂

    He has also been made a character in at least one Japanese novel, and one titled The City Of Yes, by a writer from Edmonton.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Thank you — you know quite a bit about the story. Some of these new sources may be quite interesting to the authors in process of writing this entire story though, so I will forward it to them.

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