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Young Folks' Library: Wonders of Earth, Sea and Sky

The Total Solar Eclipse Of 1883
(From The Atlantic Monthly, May, 1890.)
In 1883 calculations showed that a solar eclipse of unusually long duration (5 minutes, 20
seconds) would occur in the South Pacific Ocean. The track of the eclipse lay south of the
equator, but north of Tahiti. There were in fact only two dots of coral islands on the
charts in the line of totality, Caroline Island, and one hundred and fifty miles west Flint
Island (longitude 150 west, latitude 10 south). Almost nothing was known of either of
these minute points. The station of the party under my charge (sent out by the United
States government under the direction of the National Academy of Sciences) was to be
Caroline Islands.
nations, to find some information, however
scanty, about the spot which was to be our home for nearly a month. All that was known
was that this island had formerly been occupied as a guano station. There was a landing
After the personnel of the party had been decided on, there were the preparations for its
subsistence to be looked out for. How to feed seventeen men for twenty-one days?
Fortunately the provisions that we took, and the fresh fish caught for us by the natives,
just sufficed to carry us through with comfort and with health.
In March of 1883 we sailed from New York, and about the same time a French
expedition left Europe bound for the same spot. From New York to Panama, from
Panama to Lima, were our first steps. Here we joined the United States steamship
Hartford, Admiral Farragut's flagship, and the next day set sail for our destined port,—if
a coral reef surrounded by a raging surf can be called a port. About the same time a party
of French observers under Monsieur Janssen, of the Paris Academy of Sciences, left
Panama in the Eclaireur.
It was an ocean race of four thousand miles due [pg 263] west. The station Caroline Islands was
supposed to be more desirable than Flint Island. Admiral Wilkes's expedition had lain off
the latter several days without being able to land on account of the tremendous surf, so
that it was eminently desirable to "beat the Frenchman," as the sailors put it. With this
end in view our party had secured (through a member of the National Academy in
Washington) the verbal promise of the proper official of the Navy Department that the
Hartford's orders should read "to burn coal as necessary." The last obstacle to success
was thus removed. We were all prepared, and now the ship would take us speedily to our
Imagine our feelings the next day after leaving Callao, when the commanding officer of
the Hartford opened his sealed orders. They read (dated Washington, in February), "To
arrive at Caroline Islands (in April) with full coal-bunkers!"
Every inch of that island (seven miles long, a mile or so broad) is familiar now; but it is
almost ludicrous to recollect with what anxiety we pored over the hydrographic charts
and sailing instructions of the various [pg