Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Venus in Tahiti: 16 December 1918 – 2 January 1919

Venus in Tahiti: 16 December 1918 – 2 January 1919

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 27, 2014

(Previous installment)

Mon. Dec. 16, 1918

Sighted Tahiti about 9: am. About 7: pm we came sailing into the pass at Papeete and happily anticipating a good bath, supper & the priviledge to lying out straight in a nice clean dry bed (the first time in 4 1/2 months) when the pilot boat came out & put us under quarantine, informing us that the Spanish influenza was raging in Papeete, about 3000 people having already died with in [it] on Tahiti Moorea Raiatea & Maktea. In Papeete alone about 25% of the population were gone, as many as 180 having died in one day. It was indeed strange to see the effect that the news of the plague had on the different passengers on board. The Chinese all huddled close to-gether in a dark corner of the boat like a lot of frightened whipped dogs. The natives were terror stricken but showed how much they really are of the blood of Israel, for they all kept saying repeatedly, “Tei te Atua” “Tei te Atua.” “It is God’s will.” Two white men of [on] board, Mr. Drollett & Davis (who had been at Hickueru the past four months with fast girls, while the wives and children were at Papeete) became enraged at the news, pacing the deck, cursing God & even to say that there was no God, who would allow such afflictions upon man kind. I can’t just tell how we felt at the news, but we retired to a secluded spot behind the galley way and there offered up our hearts in humble prayer, putting our trust in him and dedicating ourselves to his care. It was a forbid[d]ing scene that greeted our gaze the next morning after a sleep[l]ess night. Papeete was deserted with no signs of life on the streets excepting the improvised red cross truck racing to & from the hospital, and the “death truck” conveying dead bodies to the cemetery, from where we could see the thick smoke rising up from the cremating ovens where the bodies of the dead were being burned. A ship was high and dry on the reef, its entire crew having died at sea & it was left to the mercy of the waves. Besides our vessel there were several others under quarantine in the harbor.

Tues. Dec. 17, 1918

We Ern & I obtained a special permit to land, and towards evening we were set afloat in the bay on a rowboat & the pilot came out to meet us & towed us to land where we were given anticeptic masks to cover our faces.

There were many other white persons aboard the different vessels under quarantine in the bay, who all thought we were insane for landing, and as we were set afloat in that small boat the[y] called out a faint “Good luck to you, you are more courageous than we.” But we knew that it was our place ashore with our Elders and Saints, and as we were engaged in God’s work and had dedicated ourselves into his keeping we had no fear whatever.

On landing we learned that five of our Elders had had a slight attacks of the influenza but were all entirely well now, two of them however having escaped it entirely. Our saints had also fared well, only a very few of the[m] being victims of its ravages.

Rua and Timatangi, Teua a Tahiri, Malua a Toae, Popoti a Toma, Mapea [?], Taivi, Pani Vahine at Moorea and a few others from Tubuai having passed away. When the disease first broke out the French officials were so terrified that they locked themselves up in their houses and let it run rampant & hadn’t the British & American population taken matters in hand, the entire population would have undoubtedly been wiped out. People were dying every where, the dead & decaying bodies being found on the streets in the fields & in the houses, many of them which had to be burned with the dead in them. Two hospitals were established by them where the afflicted were taken & cared for free of charge. Trucks were pressed into service to carry the sick to the hospitals & the dead to the cemetery where the bodies were cremated. And the city was divided off into sections and American & British residents appointed to take charge of it and care for the sick. Our Elders have certainly have acquitted themselves with credit by their fearless & untiring work. Some are night nurses in the hospitals, while others are given districts to care for, where they have been going from house to house, night and day, dispersing medicine, scrubbing out the filthy polluted houses of the helplessly sick, cooking food & feeding it to the patients, careing for orphaned babes and children, bathing the patients, carrying out the dead, digging graves, making coffins, hauling dead to the cemetery ect, etc, etc. They say the sights & scenes they have seen & the things they have had to do could hardly be believed if told they were so terrible.

Many of their patients say that if they are only permitted to live they will join the church, for they know the Elders are the true servants of God. Houses are standing empty on every side where entire families have been taken by the disease. We fortunately haven’t had many of our people die and have been able to save them all being hurled into the furnace, & had them properly buried, the Elders themselves making their coffins, digging their graves & hauling them to the cemetery. We indeed are grateful to God, that so few of them have been taken & that our Elders through his grace have been able to prove themselves such angels of mercy. We recognize the hand of the Lord it in [in it], for they have broken down much prejudice & we feel that it has been the means of opening up the way & preparing the hearts of the people for our future work. Mrs. Ellis the wife of the Reorganite President was one of the victims of the disease.

We also received the belated news upon landing that our beloved President and Prophet Jos. F. Smith had passed away Nov. 19, 1918

We also received a check for $1500 from the first presidency to finish paying for the Hickueru meetinghouse.

Wed. Dec. 18, 1918

The Elders dug the grave, made the coffin and buried Teinetangi who had passed away during the night at the American hospital.

Thurs. Dec. 19, 1918

Today her husband Rua followed her & was cared for by the Elders. Rua & his wife have been missionaries for many years past on the island of Tubuai

Fri. Dec. 20, 1918

Plague seems to be abating, fewer deaths reported to day. Wrote letters home. Washday.

Sat. Dec 21, 1918

Felt quite an earth quake. Shook things from off my closet shelf. Also another shock during the night which lasted fully 30 seconds. House trembled and windows rattled so that it woke us all us [up]. The Elders say that they had felt shocks almost daily since the 20th of Nov.

Sun. Dec. 22, 1918

Held priesthood meeting for the Elders at 9:30 am and as public meetings are all closed on account of the influenza, we held a short sacrament service for our saints over to Toaes house & down to Terais. Reretaoa Katupu, Tearo and some native children who had been left orphans by the influenza came in for an hour or so. Was much grieved to learn that our neighbor Mrs. David Stewart has passed away the previous Sunday leaving her husband & seven small children. All day long hosts of people passed on their way to the cemetery carrying bouquetts of flowers for the new graves of their dead

Mon. Dec 23, 1918

Marama called to see me. She had also been very ill with the influenza & lost many of her relatives. Have had slight quakes every night shortly after midnight. Felt three shocks last night.

Tues. Dec. 24, 1918

Paloona left for America. Mr. Winikia New Zealand Maori, who is assistant manager for Donell & Co here at Papeete, and who is also an English army officer, came in to spend the evening in Gospel conversation. He has been studying Mormonism for some months past and have read most of our books on church doctrine & says that he is fully convinced that Mormonism is true and is very anxious that we baptize his wife, although he doesn’t feel that he is quite ready for baptism himself yet. When he left he took Scientific Aspects of Mormonism & Key to Theology to read on Christmas Day. He is a very intelligent & well educated gentleman.

Wed. Dec 25, 1918

The 4th Christmas that we have spent away from home. No presents were exchanged. Spent the day quietly at home and I prepared Xmas dinner consisting of cream potatoe soup, roast suckling pig & dressing, potatoes & gravy, creamed peas, cabbage slaw, strawberry ice cream & chocolate cake. In the evening we made another freezer of chocolate ice cream & sent part of it over to Teuira & Mohima, also part of our roast pig to them and to Teraima.

Thur. Dec. 26, 1918

Rendered nearly a gallon of lard from the fat of our pig. Mr. Winiki came in again to spend the evening, was so interested that he remained until 12.30.

Fri. Dec 27, 1918

Felt several earth tremors during the day.

Sat. Dec. 28, 1918

Ern was taken ill and remained in bed all day & took all precaution in case it s[h]ould be the Spanish Influenza.

Sun. Dec. 29, 1918

No public meetings were held on account of the Influenza. Held sacrament services over at Mohis & down to Terais. Ern remained in bed. Mr. Winiki called and brought his little daughter Eugenie who was born when he was in the trenches at the front.

Mon. Dec. 30, 1918

Wash day: Wrote mother by the Tiorgigu. Sophie and David Stuart, whose mother had died with the influenza, came in for the afternoon.

Tues. Dec. 31, 1918

Ern is up and able to be around. I was oblidged to remain in my room with a swollen foot that had been bothering me for several days. Ern poltised it with a bread and milk poultice.

Wed. Jan 1, 1919

New Years Day. Hobbled about preparing dinner with a cane, wearing one of Erns shoes. Mrs. Falco sent me a nice piece of cake. In the evening we made a freezer of ice-cream. Had roast turkey & chicken for dinner. Felt several tremors during the day.

Thurs. Jan 2, 1918 [1919]

The Elders commenced scraping and painting the mission house, church, cook house etc; Called to see Mrs Falco, the first time I have been out since returning from the islands. She was busy sewing, preparing to leave by the next boat for America.

(To be continued)



  1. This entry mentions the family of David Stewart/Stuart whose wife has died with the flu. Keep an eye on that family in future installments.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 27, 2014 @ 7:42 am

  2. Wow. Speechless.

    Comment by Amy T — April 27, 2014 @ 11:38 am

  3. Thanks for sharing this Ardis. What a remarkable experience. It is a good reminder why we take new strains of the bird or other such flu seriously.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — April 27, 2014 @ 2:19 pm

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