Australian convict pirates in Japan: evidence of 1830 voyage unearthed
theguardian.com -- May 31
An amateur historian has unearthed compelling evidence that the first Australian maritime foray into Japanese waters was by convict pirates on an audacious escape from Tasmania almost two centuries ago.

Fresh translations of samurai accounts of a "barbarian" ship in 1830 give startling corroboration to a story modern scholars had long dismissed as convict fantasy: that a ragtag crew of criminals encountered a forbidden Japan at the height of its feudal isolation.

The brig Cyprus was hijacked by convicts bound from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour in 1829, in a mutiny that took them all the way to China.

Its maverick skipper was William Swallow, a onetime British cargo ship apprentice and naval conscript in the Napoleonic wars, who in a piracy trial in London the following year told of a samurai cannonball in Japan knocking a telescope from his hand.

Swallow's fellow mutineers, two of whom were the last men hanged for piracy in Britain, backed his account of having been to Japan.

Western researchers, citing the lack of any Japanese record of the Cyprus, had since ruled the convicts' story a fabrication.

But that conclusion has been shattered by Nick Russell, a Japan-based English teacher and history buff, in a remarkable piece of sleuthing that has won the endorsement of Australian diplomatic officials and Japanese and Australian archival experts.

Russell, after almost three years of puzzling over an obscure but meticulous record of an early samurai encounter with western interlopers, finally joined the dots with the Cyprus through a speculative Google search last month.

The British expatriate all but solved what was for the Japanese a 187-year mystery, while likely uncovering vivid new detail of an epic chapter of colonial Australian history.

"If you'd said I was going to go hunt and find a new pirate ship, I'd have gone, 'you're crazy'," Russell told Guardian Australia. "I just stumbled on it. Boom. There it was on the screen in front of me.

"I immediately knew and as soon as I started checking, everything just fitted so perfectly."

The ship anchored on 16 January 1830 off the town of Mugi, on Shikoku island, where Makita Hamaguchi, a samurai sent disguised as a fisherman to check the ship for weapons, noted an "unbearable stench in the vicinity of the ship".

It was Hamaguchi's watercolour sketch of an unnamed ship with a British flag that first intrigued Russell when he saw it on the website of the Tokushima prefectural archive in 2014.

With the help of a local volunteer manuscript reading group, Russell has since worked at translating written accounts of the ship's arrival by Hamaguchi and another samurai, Hirota, now held by the Tokushima prefectural archive. Hamaguchi's is called Illustrated Account of the Arrival of a Foreign Ship, while Hirota's is A Foreign Ship Arrives Off Mugi Cove.

Russell first thought it may be a whaling ship, but the manuscript readers were skeptical. Having learned mutinies were common among whalers, Russell last month Googled the words "mutiny 1829".

This stumbling upon a link between a samurai record and the story of the Cyprus was the research equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, according to Warwick Hirst, the former curator of manuscripts at the State Library of New South Wales.

News source: theguardian.com
Dec 17
A ski resort opened in western Japan's Hyogo Prefecture on Saturday, with its operator and the local government saying it is the country's first new facility to be opened to skiers and snowboarders in 14 years. (Japan Today)
Dec 17
A 27-year-old man was arrested Saturday on suspicion of kidnapping a 14-year-old girl in Fukui Prefecture and taking her to his home in Aichi Prefecture, police said. (Japan Today)
Dec 17
The operator of Japan’s only “baby hatch” said Saturday that the nation should allow women to give birth anonymously at hospitals in cases of unwanted pregnancy, while ensuring the children’s right to learn their mother’s identity after they grow up. (Japan Times)
Dec 16
A funeral home set to open soon in Japan plans to provide the country's first-ever drive-through service. (NHK)
Dec 16
Japan's Coast Guard has released video footage of North Korean boats illegally fishing in Japan's exclusive economic zone. (NHK)
Dec 16
The Japanese government is planning to revise steps that local governments should take to protect residents in case of armed attack. The move is in response to North Korea's continued development of ballistic missiles. (NHK)
Dec 16
At the opening of his trial on Friday, an 18-year-old boy admitted to stabbing a woman to death before dumping her body in Ryugasaki City last year, reports Jiji Press (tokyoreporter.com)
Dec 16
Police said Friday that two glass windows and a glass door on train cars on the JR Musashino Line were shattered by stones thrown through them on Wednesday and Thursday nights. (Japan Today)
Dec 16
The latest Tankan survey by the Bank of Japan shows the country's labor shortage is the worst that it has been in over a quarter of a century. (NHK)
Dec 16
The Japanese government has decided to add more entities to its sanctions list for North Korea, which is continuing its nuclear and missile development. (NHK)