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Tribulations of Captain Brown
Captain Charles Wetherby Gelett
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.)
Brown and the Lava Flow of 1868
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.
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.
the ground would give a sudden jerk, upsetting furniture.
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.
Brown and the Lord
Brown was a very profane man, and when the house fell down,
he said to his wife, “The Lord can’t get it any
move back into the house.” Before he could reach the
ruins of his house, however, there was another and still
shock, which scrambled the ruins, and turned the cook stove,
which they had moved out into the yard, bottom side up.
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.
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.
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.
Destroyed by the Lava
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
animal disappeared there would be a puff of smoke, and while
he yet watched, the last animal in sight disappeared.
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.
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.
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.
Lava Flow to Flood
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.
to some of their descendants, James Parker saved Edith
Brown from the flood and later married her.]