Descendants of
 Captain Robert Brown
                            1809 – 1894



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The Tribulations of Captain Brown
By Captain Charles Wetherby Gelett

(Captain Gelett was a retired sea captain who commanded the mission ship Morning Star, which frequented the Hawaiian Islands. The following excerpt was taken from his autobiography, A Life on the Ocean.)

Captain Brown and the Lava Flow of 1868

I will here recount a story of the Hawaiian earthquake of 1868, that was as remarkable as any that came to my notice. On the south slope of Mauna Loa lived Captain Brown and his family – wife and several children. He had one of the finest ranches on the Island. He had built a large and handsome stone house and had well-kept and luxuriant grounds, and from every appearance was pleasantly located for the balance of his life. But he had not calculated that he was living over a boiling volcano, that was more than likely to seek a vant hole some day.

The earthquake tremors continued several days. During those days at times when the human body could not feel the seismic waves, water in a goblet was constantly agitated.

At intervals the ground would give a sudden jerk, upsetting furniture.

Captain Brown and family, fearing their house might fall down, moved out in the yard; and it was well they did, because shortly after they had vacated the house, an earthquake with more jerk than any preceding ones, threw out of the house wall the under stones, causing the whole structure to collapse.

Captain Brown and the Lord

Captain Brown was a very profane man, and when the house fell down, he said to his wife, “The Lord can’t get it any lower, let’s move back into the house.” Before he could reach the ruins of his house, however, there was another and still sharper shock, which scrambled the ruins, and turned the cook stove, which they had moved out into the yard, bottom side up.

The old captain said: “The Lord has done his utmost now.” But hardly had they righted the stove when there was a flash of light that nearly blinded them, and they could hear and feel the surging of the lava under their feet.

With all possible speed Captain Brown and his family fled to a hill not far distant, and gaining its top and looking back, they saw a stream of livid lava pouring from a rent in the ground not many rods above the spot where their beautiful house stood only a few hours before.

They were in a place of safety, if there was any safety for them, and with uncontrollable fascination they watched the red river pour down the hill, and over the ruins of their home, over their beautiful ground, and on down towards the sea.

Cattle Destroyed by the Lava

Captain Brown afterwards told me that the next day, making his way back to his ranch, he saw a total of several hundreds of cattle scattered about on little hills that were surrounded by the lava. the lava kept rising higher and higher, and one by one the poor cattle were crowded off into the firey liquid.

As each animal disappeared there would be a puff of smoke, and while he yet watched, the last animal in sight disappeared.

As short time before the earthquake, a daughter of the Brown family died, and was buried on the ranch. Saying no child of his should rest in such a grave, the old Captain, with the help of a couple of laborers, set to work to uncover the grave and to remove the body to a regular cemetery.

At the time of the earthquake Captain Brown had a pet horse staked out in front of the yard. He supposed as a matter of course that this horse had perished with the other stock. So what was his surprise, more than a month after the catastrophe, to find the horse grazing up in the hills. The animal still had a piece of rope around his neck, but his coat of hair was nearly all burned off.

The lava had poured from a new fissure in the slope of Mauna Loa, nearly three miles long, and ten miles from the ocean. It spread over the entire distance to the ocean, and extended the shore line an eighth of a mile out into the sea.

From Lava Flow to Flood

Captain Brown, heaping maledictions upon the islands, removed his family to Washington Territory, and settled upon a ranch there. I met one of his daughters in San Francisco years afterwards, and from her, and from other sources, I learned that during a river freshet, Captain Brown’s house was swept away, and one of his daughters only escaped drowning by the heroic efforts of a young man, who afterwards married the girl whose life he had saved.

[According to some of their descendants, James Parker saved Edith Brown from the flood and later married her.]

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