Nautical period: 1839-1499

Updated: 9 March 2015

The "Nautical" period is named for the period when Europeans first recognised the coconut's importance to wooden sailing ships (from uncontaminated drinking water to caulking leaks) until the 19th century iron steamships (that didn't need caulking and could distil their own fresh water) thus ensuring its world wide distribution and confusing those who ask "did it float or was it carried?".

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Voyage of the Beagle - The three volume narrative of the Beagle voyage "Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle" was published. This was the "three author" edition by Capt. Philip King, Capt. Robert FitzRoy, and Charles Darwin. Darwin's narrative of the Beagle voyage was published separately and given the title - "Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle."


Procter & Gamble - on April 12, 1837, William Procter and James Gamble form partnership to make and sell soap and candles

Crisco History

Cocos mamillaris Blanco, Fl. Filip.: 722 (1837) is an unplaced name [Cocos mamillaris Blanco, Fl. Filip.: 722 (1837). Govaerts, R. (1999). World Checklist of Seed Plants. 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. Continental Publishing, Deurne; Govaerts, R. & Dransfield, J. (2003). World Checklist of Palms. 1. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew


Cocos-Keeling Islands - "APRIL 1, 1836. We arrived in view of the Keeling or Cocos Islands, situated in the Indian Ocean . . . the main vegetable production is the cocoa-nut. The whole prosperity of the place depends on this tree; the only exports being oil from the nut, and the nuts themselves. . . Even a huge land-crab is furnished by nature with the means to open and feed on this most useful production".

Darwin, C. (1839) Voyage of the Beagle.

April Fool? - He was told that the coconut crab, Birgus latro, could climb coconut palms, cut off the nuts and return to the ground to peel, crack and eat them? Was it an April Fool joke on Darwin that he passed on the readers of his journal?

Harries, H.C. (1983) The coconut palm, the robber crab and Charles Darwin: April Fool or a curious case of instinct? Principes 27, 131-137.

For the general benefit in our West Indian and African colonies - English oil-mills being now used, and the demand for Coco-nut oil having greatly increased since its employment in the manufacture of a very superior sort of candle and soap, it is to be anticipated, from the improvement in the quality of the Coco-nut oil for table use, by its being rendered free from smoke, that its importation will be in an equal ratio, and consequently too much attention and encouragement cannot be given to a more extensive cultivation of the invaluable Coco-nut Palm throughout our West Indian and African colonies.

Bennett (1836) The coco-nut palm, its uses and cultivation (which also contains a drawing showing the shape of a King coconut fruit and reference to its bright orange colour).


Tahiti - "After walking under a burning sun, I do not know anything more delicious than the milk of a young cocoa-nut"

Darwin, C. (1839) Voyage of the Beagle.


Natural and economical history – This 30 page account was written by the Deputy-Inspector General of Army Hospitals, and published in Edinburgh at the very moment coconut started to become the most important vegetable oil on international markets – a position it held for more than a century (~132 years). It is probably the best source of information about coconut palm before copra came on the scene in the 1860s. One example, from the importance of detecting adulteration of valuable material with a cheaper substitute:

Marshall, H (1832) Contribution to a natural and economical history of the cocoa-nut tree [a revised version dated 1836 is on-line at . . . ].

Darwin on the Cape Verde Islands – did he know that coconuts had only been growing there since 1499 – a little less than 330 years?

Darwin, C. (1839) Voyage of the Beagle


Very fine specimens of Coco-nut Oil Soap manufactured in England, have been exhibited in Ceylon, to the admiration of Europeans as well as natives; and it may be anticipated that, at no very distant period, the use of Coco-nut oil will become so much extended at home by the manufacture of candles* from it, which both for utility and beauty may successfully rival wax and spermaceti, as to increase the demand for it to an unprecedented extent . . . Government, fully aware of the importance of this branch of commerce, introduced a steam-engine in 1815, by which larger quantities of the oil, and of a superior quality, is obtained.

* It has been recently ascertained that success has attended the experiment, and that a patent has been granted, under which candles of a superior quality are now manufactured at an advance of nearly one penny per pound beyond the price of tallow candles.

Anon (1831) A treatise on the coco-nut tree, and the many valuable properties possessed by that splendid palm, ascertained by personal observation / By a fellow of the Linnæan & Horticultural societies, many years resident in the island of Ceylon. With an interesting traditional account of its original discovery by a prince of the interior of that island (and see Bennett (1836) "The coco-nut tree, its uses and cultivation").

Robber crab at Bora bora.

Tyerman, D. & Bennet, G. (1831) Journal of voyages and travels Vol. II, pp32-34.


Cocos plumosa Lodd. ex Loudon, Hort. Brit.: 381 (1830) is a synonym for Syagrus comosa (Mart.) Mart. in A.D.d'Orbigny, Voy. Amér. Mér. 7(3): 134 (1847).


Cordage - "Burkhardt says that ships coming from the East Indies to Djidda have cordage made from the cocoa-nut tree."

Anon (1829) A Description and History of Vegetable Substances Used in the Arts and in Domestic Economy. Timber Trees: Fruits. pp 393-6. The Library of Entertaining Knowledge. London, Charles Knight.

Soames's patent cocoa-nut oil - To John Soames, Jun. [Soap Maker] , of Wheeler Street, Spitalfields, Middlesex, a patent for "a new preparation or manufacture of a certain material produced from vegetable substance, and the application thereof to the purposes of affording light and other uses," was granted on the 2nd of November 1829, and the specification was enrollled on the 2nd March, 1830.
The object of this patent is to secure the sole privilege of separating from each other, by a certain process, the fluid and the concrete oily matter which exist together in the article of commerce called cocoa-nut oil, or butter of coconut, with the view of applying the fluid portion for burning in lamps chiefly, and the concrete in the manufacture of candles, as well as to those other uses to which solid fatty matter is applicable. Heretofore we believe the cocoa-nut oil has chiefly been of very limited utility, owing to its requiring artificial heat to render the mass fluid. Lamps have, however, been constructed to liquefy this oil, in order to render it available for illumination, and two ingenious contrivances of this kind are described in the earlier numbers of this work.
The patentee's process consists in first expressing the fluid from the mass in the following manner :— the oil is put into strong linen-bags 2 feet long, 6 inches wide, and 1½ inch thick; these are covered with thick sackcloths made for the purpose, and are laid flat upon the horizontal bed of a hydrostatic press, leaving a small vacant space between the bags. Pressure is then given to them, and continued until the oil ceases to flow, and is only given out by drops slowly. This oil being received into a cistern, is allowed to stand a little time to deposit its impurities, after which it is drawn off clear, and preserved for the purposes above mentioned.
The solid portion being taken out of the bags in the press, is now to be purified from the other vegetable principles with which it usually combined, such as fibre, mucilage, &c. For this purpose it is put into a covered boiler of “ tinned copper," which is immersed in a water-bath to prevent the liability of an excess of heat; there is then added to it two parts (or two per cent.) by weight of sulphuric acid of 1.8 specific gravity diluted with six parts of water. Boiling then coagulates and precipitates the foreign matters, which may be separated by skimming, straining, or filtering, while warm in the fluid state, and by allowing them to settle in the cold state. The substance thus obtained is of a firm consistence, and forms a valuable material in the making of candles.
The patentee has judiciously limited his claim to the application of his process to cocoa-nut oil, for we know of no other concrete oil in which the same process had not been previously employed.

The Register of Arts, and Journal of Patent Inventions, ed. L. Herbert 1830 Vol 4-5 pp 263-4.


The whitest of all artificial flames - The subsequent discovery, that the whitest of all artificial flames is produced in the combustion of gas from the Cocoa-nut Oil, induced the Society to offer a gold medal for the importation of a certain quantity of it from any British colony. The Gold Ceres Medal was this session presented to M. LAURENT BARBÉ, of the Mauritius, for preparing, and importing Seventy-six Tons of Cocoa-nut Oil. A sample of the oil has been placed in the Society's repository . . . The THANKS of the Society were voted this session to Mr. HUXHAM, of Travancore, for the following communication respecting hic method of preventing Leakage in Casks of Cocoa-nut Oil . . . very serious losses having been experienced for a series of years . . .20-30 or 40-50 percent.

Transactions of the Society of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce 1826, vol 44

Cocos botryophora Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 118 (1826) is a synonym for Syagrus botryophora (Mart.) Mart. in A.D.d'Orbigny, Voy. Amér. Mér. 7(3): 133 (1847). Homotypic synonyms are Syagrus botryophora (Mart.) Mart. in A.D.d'Orbigny, Voy. Amér. Mér. 7(3): 133 (1847) and Calappa botryophora (Mart.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891).

Cocos campestris Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 121 (1826) is a synonym for Syagrus flexuosa (Mart.) Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 466 (1916). An homotypic synonym is Calappa campestris (Mart.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891).

Cocos capitata Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 114 (1826) is a synonym for Butia capitata (Mart.) Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 504 (1916). Homotypic synonyms are Calappa capitata (Mart.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891), Butia capitata (Mart.) Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 504 (1916) and Syagrus capitata (Mart.) Glassman, Fieldiana, Bot. 32: 143 (1970).

Cocos comosa Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 121 (1826) is a synonym for Syagrus comosa (Mart.) Mart. in A.D.d'Orbigny, Voy. Amér. Mér. 7(3): 134 (1847). Homotypic synonyms are Syagrus comosa (Mart.) Mart. in A.D.d'Orbigny, Voy. Amér. Mér. 7(3): 134 (1847) and Calappa comosa (Mart.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891).

Cocos coronata Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 115 (1826) is a synonym for Syagrus coronata (Mart.) Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 466 (1916). Homotypic synonyms are Calappa coronata (Mart.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891) and Syagrus coronata (Mart.) Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 466 (1916).

Cocos flexuosa Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 120 (1826) is a synonym for Syagrus flexuosa (Mart.) Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 466 (1916). Homotypic synonyms are Calappa flexuosa (Mart.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891) and Syagrus flexuosa (Mart.) Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 466 (1916).

Cocos mikaniana Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 128 (1826) is a synonym for Syagrus pseudococos (Raddi) Glassman, Fieldiana, Bot. 32: 233 (1970). Homotypic synonyms are Syagrus mikaniana (Mart.) Mart. in A.D.d'Orbigny, Voy. Amér. Mér. 7(3): 133 (1847) and Calappa mikaniana (Mart.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891).

Cocos oleracea Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 117 (1826) is a synonym for Syagrus oleracea (Mart.) Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 467 (1916). Homotypic synonyms are Calappa oleracea (Mart.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891) and Syagrus oleracea (Mart.) Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 467 (1916).

Cocos schizophylla Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 119 (1826) is a synonym for Syagrus schizophylla (Mart.) Glassman, Fieldiana, Bot. 31: 386 (1968). Homotypic synonyms are Calappa schizophylla (Mart.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891), Arikury schizophylla (Mart.) Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 445 (1916); Arikuryroba schizophylla (Mart.) L.H.Bailey, Gentes Herb. 2: 196 (1930) and Syagrus schizophylla (Mart.) Glassman, Fieldiana, Bot. 31: 386 (1968).


Patent on the manufacture of candles - "Michel Eugene Chevreul (1786-1889) was set to working on soap in 1809. In 1813 he treated soap with hydrochloric acid and produced stearic, palmitic and oleic fatty acids . . . In 1825 along with Gay-Lussac, took out a patent on the manufacture of candles from these fatty acids. In our own days, when candles are little more than curiosities, the importance of the Chevreul-Gay-Lussac advance is very easy to miss. However, the fatty acid candles were harder than the old tallow candles, gave a brighter light, looked better, needed less care while burning, and didn't smell as bad. To the men of the mid-nineteenth century, the improvement was a major one and the next year Chevreul was elected to the Academy of Sciences".

Asimov, I. (1964) Biographical Encyclopedia of Science & Technology. p269.

Cocos-Keeling Islands - Were “first inhabited in 1825 by, Capt. Le Cour, of the brig Mauritius, the fact having been recorded on the cocoa-nut trees, on which the names of himself, crew, and vessel are cut.”

The average elevation of these islands at high water is not more than two feet, but they are easily dicernable from the deck of an East Indiaman at a distance of six leagues, in consequence of the number of cocoa-nut trees, which sometimes reach the height of seventy or eighty feet.”

Large quantities of pumice-stone have been found on all the islands. This, it is probable, may have been washed hither from the volcanoes in the Java sea, as seed and plants from Sumatra and Java have been driven up by the surf on the windward side of the islands. Among them have been found the Kimiri, native of Sumatra and the peninsula of Malacca; the Cocoa-nut of Balci [Bali], known by its shape and size; the Dadass [Erythrina variegata Coral Tree or Dapdap (Phi)], which is planted by the Malays with the pepper-vine, the latter entwining round its trunk, and supporting itself by the prickles on its stem; the soap-tree; the castor-oil plant; trunks of the sago palm; and various kinds of seeds unknown to the Malays settled on the islands.”

Holman (xxxx) A Voyage Round the World – volume IV


One of the earliest modern European texts to describe coconuts is by Leschenault de la Tour naturalist to the French King [Louis XVIII (1814-1824) or Charles X (1824-1830)]. Click here to see a transcript.

Leschenault de la Tour (1824) Sur le cocotier et sur ses produits, principalement sur ce qui est relatif a l'extraction de l'huile. Memoires du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle. T.II, pp. 232-238.


Martius, C.F.P. von (1823-50) Historia Naturalis Palmarum. 3, Munich.


Cocos romanzoffiana Cham., Choris Voy. Pittor. (Chili): 5, t. 6 (1822) is a synonym for Syagrus romanzoffiana (Cham.) Glassman, Fieldiana, Bot. 31: 382 (1968). Homotypic synonyms are Calappa romanzoffiana (Cham.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891), Arecastrum romanzofianum (Cham.) Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 455 (1916) and Syagrus romanzoffiana (Cham.) Glassman, Fieldiana, Bot. 31: 382 (1968).


Australia - During King's third voyage in the Mermaid in 1820, the botanist Allan Cunningham noted ". . . I landed on Cook's Lizard Island (where a whaler's button and several cocoanuts - one quite sound and perfect - were found on the beach) . . ." (Lee 1925) quoted by Dowe & Smith, 2002.

Cocos aricui Wied-Neuw., Reise Bras. 1: 272 (1820), nom. Inval is a synonym for Syagrus schizophylla (Mart.) Glassman, Fieldiana, Bot. 31: 386 (1968).

Cocos nolaia-assu Wied-Neuw., Reise Bras. 1: 271 (1820) is an unplaced name. Govaerts, R. (1999). World Checklist of Seed Plants. 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. Continental Publishing, Deurne; Govaerts, R. & Dransfield, J. (2003). World Checklist of Palms. 1. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


Malaya - After the establishment of the East India Company's trading base in Singapore in 1819, coconut planting began on the south-east coast of Malaya but did not extend much until after 1837.

Child, 1974


Australia - In 1818, King recorded a recently opened coconut on a beach on the east coast, assuming that Aborigines had opened and consumed the flesh (Lee 1925).

King (1828)
Lee 1925
Dowe & Smith, 2002


Brownian motion - In 1818, Robert Brown proposed that the coconut palm originated on the islands and equatorial beaches of Asia. A famous explorer and naturalist, he earned the title of the first botanist of Britain. His studies were extensively based on microscopical observations. He was the first to describe the plant cell nucleus and the universal phenomenon of random molecular collisions, which he had observed while studying pollen grains and which came to be known as "Brownian motion".

Chiovenda 1921-3 Webbia 5, 199-294 & 359-449.


Cocos crispa Kunth in F.W.H.von Humboldt, A.J.A.Bonpland & C.S.Kunth, Nov. Gen. Sp. 1: 302 (1817) is a synonym for Gastrococos crispa (Kunth) H.E.Moore, Principes 11: 121 (1968). Homotypic synonyms are Astrocaryum crispum (Kunth) M.Gómez, Noc. Bot. Sist.: 50 (1893), Acrocomia crispa (Kunth) C.F.Baker ex Becc., Pomona Coll. J. Econ. Bot. 2: 364 (1912) and Gastrococos crispa (Kunth) H.E.Moore, Principes 11: 121 (1968).


Cocos ventricosa Arruda in H.Koster, Trav. Brazil: 485 (1816) is an unplaced name. Govaerts, R. (1999). World Checklist of Seed Plants. 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. Continental Publishing, Deurne; Govaerts, R. & Dransfield, J. (2003). World Checklist of Palms. 1. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


Coir or "kaer" - M. Le Goux de Faix wrote "It is well known that the fibrous covering of the cocoa-nut is converted into good ropes, which are useful in navigation, and for various purposes on shore. Cables for anchors made of this substance are much better than those made of hemp. They are exceedingly elastic, stretch without straining the vessel, and scarcely ever break; inappreciable advantages, which are not possessed by those of hemp. They are also lighter, and never rot, in consequence of their being soaked with sea water . . . To all these advantages must be added, that ropes made of kaer* float like wood, they are much easier managed, and run better in the pulleys during nautical manoeuvres".

*The Hindoo name for the fibrous covering

Oil "fit only for . . . lamps" - "The oil of the nut is extracted by pressure; it is fit only for being burnt in lamps . . . it gives a clear bright flame without exhaling any odour or smoke. It is employed by rich people and in the houses of the Europeans in preference to any other kind".

Cure for sores - "In addition to the former known uses of this valuable tree, a very respectable gentleman of this island has lately discovered that the outside shining surface, both of the nut and the branch, scraped off in fine powder, and applied to old and foul ulcers, will cleanse and heal them rapidly. The efficacy of this simple application was fully proved by the cure of two bad sores occasioned by the bite of a negro's teeth".

John Lunan (1814) Hortus Jamaicensis Vol I 1814. pp 206-210.


Soap, candles and margarine - Michel Eugene Chevreul elucidated the true nature of soap (xxxx). He isolated, and named, stearic and oleic acids, and called palmitic acid "margarine" (this name was later given to impure tripalmitin and impure oleopalmitin was called oleomargerine.); ; discovered the composition of stearin (a white substance found in the solid parts of most animal and vegetable fats) and olein, the liquid part of any fat, and isolated. This work led to important improvements in the processes of candle-manufacture.

L Mouries lodged a patent for margarine in 1869 after working on cow's milk and beef tallow. So rapidly did the margarine industry expand that towards the turn of the 19th century it was realised that an acute shortage of solid fats would have to be faced. there was an enormous increase in the export of American oleo-oil (the liquid fraction of tallow) to Europe. An alternative was the incorporation of coconut oil which had first been made possible in 1887 when Loder developed a suitable refining method to remove the sharp, unpleasant taste (sic) from this oil (see Schwitzer). At first this refined coconut oil found an outlet only in the confectionery industry, but when, around the turn of the century, margarine production came into its own the product found a ready market. In France Rocca, Tassey & de Roux built the largest coconut oil refinerey of that time in 1885. Meanwhile two French chemists, Sabaier & Senderens discovered catalytic hydrogenation which patent was first used in England in 1906. Hydrogenation meant that any fat could be used.

van Stuyvenberg, J.H. (1969) margarine: an economic, social and scientific history.

Schwitzer, M.K. (1956) Margarine and other food fats p 65.


A botanical materia medica - Nux indica is a fruyte ca. in primo, wiþ temperament [Ch.(2): temprynge] of siccite, whos oile conforteþ neruez; Nux indica, note of Ynde, is also a fruyte, hotte in þe firste degre, wiþ temprynge of dryenesse.

Jonathan Stokes (1812)

Cocos arenaria M.Gómez, Mem. Acad. Real Sci. Lisboa 3(Mem.): 61 (1812) is a synonym for Allagoptera arenaria (M.Gómez) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 726 (1891). Homotypic synonyms are Allagoptera arenaria (M.Gómez) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 726 (1891) and Diplothemium arenarium (M.Gómez) Vasc. & Franco, Portugaliae Act. Biol., Sér. B, Sist. 2: 412 (1948). Vasc. & Franco, Portugaliae Act. Biol., Sér. B, Sist. 2: 412 (1948).


Sumatra - The Coconut-tree, kālapa, nīor (cocos nucifera), may be esteemed the next important object of cultivation from the uses to which its produce is applied; although by the natives of Sumatra it is not converted to such a variety of purposes as in the Maldives and those countries where nature has been less bountiful in other gifts. Its value consists principally in the kernel of the nut, the consumption of which is very great, being an essential ingredient in the generality of their dishes. From this also, but in a state of more maturity, is procured the oil in common use near the sea-coast, both for anointing the hair, in cookery, and for burning in lamps . . . A liquor, commonly known in India by the name of toddy, is extracted from this as well as from other trees of the palm-kind. Whilst quite fresh it is sweet and pleasant to the taste, and is called nīra. After four and twenty hours it acidulates, ferments, and becomes intoxicating, in which state it is called tūak. Being distilled with molasses and other ingredients it yields the spirit called arrack. In addition to these but of trifling importance are the cabbage or succulent pith at the head of the tree, which however can be obtained only when it is cut down, and the fibres of the leaves, of which the natives form their brooms. The stem is never used for building nor any carpenter's purposes in a country where fine timber so much abounds. The fibrous substance of the husk is not there manufactured into cordage, as in the west of India where it is known by the name of coir . . . The shell of the nut is but little employed as a domestic utensil, the lower class of people preferring the bamboo and the labu (cucurbita lagenaria) and the better sort being possessed of coarse chinaware. If the filaments surrounding the stem are anywhere manufactured into cloth, as has been asserted, it must be in countries that do not produce cotton . . .

This tree in all its species, stages, fructification, and appropriate uses has been so elaborately and justly described by many writers, especially the celebrated Rumphius in his Herbarium Amboinense, and Van Rheede in his Hortus Malabaricus, that to attempt it here would be an unnecessary repetition, and I shall only add a few local observations on its growth. Every dusun is surrounded with a number of fruit-bearing trees, and especially the coconut where the soil and temperature will allow them to grow, and, near the bazaars or sea-port towns, where the concourse of inhabitants is in general much greater than in the country, there are always large plantations of them to supply the extraordinary demand. The tree thrives best in a low, sandy soil, near the sea, where it will produce fruit in four or five years; whilst in the clayey ground it seldom bears in less than seven to ten years. As you recede from the coast the growth is proportionably slower, owing to the greater degree of cold among the hills; and it must attain there nearly its full height before it is productive, whereas in the plains a child can generally reach its first fruit from the ground. Here, said a countryman at Laye, if I plant a coconut or durian tree I may expect to reap the fruit of it; but in Labun (an inland district) I should only plant for my great-grandchildren. . . . All the small low islands which lie off the western coast are skirted near the sea-beach so thickly with coconut-trees that their branches touch each other, whilst the interior parts, though not on a higher level, are entirely free from them. This beyond a doubt is occasioned by the accidental floating of the nuts to the shore, where they are planted by the hand of nature, shoot up, and bear fruit; which, falling when it arrives at maturity, causes a successive reproduction. Where uninhabited, as is the case with Pulo Mēgo, one of the southernmost, the nuts become a prey to the rats and squirrels unless when occasionally disturbed by the crews of vessels which go thither to collect cargoes for market on the mainland. In the same manner, as we are told by Flacourt(a), they have been thrown upon a coast of Madagascar and are not there indigenous; as I have been also assured by a native. Yet it appears that the natives call it voaniou, which is precisely the name by which it is familiarly known in Sumatra, being būah-nīor; and v  being uniformly substituted for b, and f  for p, in the numerous Malayan words occurring in the language of the former island. On the other hand the singular production to which the appellation of sea-coconut (kalāpa lāut) has been given, and which is known to be the fruit of a species of borassus growing in one of the Séchelles Island(b,) not far from Madagascar, are sometimes floated as far as the Malayan coasts, where they are supposed to be natives of the ocean and were held in high veneration for their miraculous effects in medicine until, about the year 1772, a large cargo of them was brought to Bencoolen by a French vessel, when their character soon fell with their price. 
(a)Histoire de l'isle Madagascar p. 127.
(b) See a particular description of the sea-coconut with plates in the Voyage à la Nouvelle Guinée par Sonnerat p. 3. 

Marsden, 1811


Cocos chilensis (Molina) Molina, Sag. Stor. Nat. Chili, English(2) 1: 146, 292 (1809) is a synonym for Jubaea chilensis (Molina) Baill., Hist. Pl. 13: 397 (1895). Homotypic synonym are Palma chilensis (*) Molina, Geogr. Nat. Hist. Chile: 124 (1808), Molinaea micrococos Bertero, Merc. Chil. 13: 606 (1829), Micrococos chilensis (Molina) Phil., Bot. Zeitung (Berlin) 17: 362 (1859) and Jubaea chilensis (Molina) Baill., Hist. Pl. 13: 397 (1895).
[* Basionym/Replaced Synonym]


Humboldt, A. de. (1799-1804). Viajes a las Regiones Equinocciales del Nuevo Continente. Tomo II: 364 p.


Honduras – By 1800 the early coconut concentrations along the north coast of Honduras had become important for coconut trade. In 1803, 12,000 tons of coconuts were exported to the United States from Trujillo, and the island of Bonaca had exported 6,000 tons (Coggeshall, 1858; Douglas, 1869; Rubio, 1975). Meanwhile the islands of Guanaja and Utila and the mainland ports of Omoa, Balfate and Tela had become secondary centers where merchants could obtain cargoes of coconut for export (Roberts, 1827).

Dixon, C.V. 1985 Coconuts and man on the north coast of Honduras

Wreck-reef Bank - "The cocoa-nut is capable of resisting the light sprays of the sea which frequently passes over these banks, and it is to be regretted that we have none to plant upon them. A cluster of these majestic and useful palms would have been an excellent beacon to warn mariners of their danger; and in the case where darkness might render them unavailing in this respect, their fruit would at least afford some salutary nourishment to the shipwrecked seamen. The navigator who should distribute ten thousand cocoa-nuts amongst the numerous sandbanks of the Great Ocean and Indian Sea, would be entitled the gratitude of all maritime nations, and of every friend to humanity. . . .”

From Flinders journal, mid-October 1803, written near Wreck Reef, Torres Strait, north east Australia.

Flinders, M (1814) A voyage to Terra Australis.


Captain J Colnett describes “a sandy beach where cocoa trees appear in greater number than I have seen in any other place”. The island appeared in a map in the book to be not far off the west coast of Panama.

A Voyage to the South Atlantic and round Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean, . . . 1798.

Admiral John Splinter Stavorinus: “The masting generally used in the country-ships, are pohoon-masts, chiefly from the Malabar coast; but for the cordage what is worth any thing, must come from Europe; their coir-ropes being, for either running or standing rigging, more harsh and untractable than what is produced from hemp. Coir-cables, however are very serviceable, and have their excellencies, as we have before seen, in opposition to the European cables; they last much the longer in salt water, fresh being apt to rot them. Their anchors are mostly European, our iron being much better and better worked. With sails, they are very well suppplied by the country-manufacture of cotton into a sailcloth called dungaree, which, though not so strong or lasting as canvas, Hollands duck, or vitry, is, whilst in use, more pliant, and less apt to split than they are. . . .” page 22.

Coir, or the stringy coat of the cocoa-nut, is equally exported in considerable quantities; it is partly, however, brought hither from the Maldive islands, and is used for making of cordage ,with which both European and country ships and vessels are provided.“ page 222.

cocoa-nuts, at the rate of a hundred for a dollar, if picked, or one hundred and thirty, if taken promiscuously;” page 346

Voyages to the East-Indies; by the late John Splinter Stavorinus, Esq. Rear Admiral in the service of the States-General. Translated from the original Dutch, by Samuel Hull Wilcocke, London, 1798


Cocos fusiformis Sw., Fl. Ind. Occid. 1: 616 (1797) is a synonym for Acrocomia aculeata (Jacq.) Lodd. ex Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 3: 286 (1845). An homotypic synonym is Acrocomia fusiformis (Sw.) Sweet, Hort. Brit.: 432 (1826).


Plants on the coast of Coromandel Roxburgh, W. (1795-1798). cor1 t73 Cocos nucifera (Willdenow (Car. Lud.) Tractatus de Achilleis et Tanaceto 8vo. Haloe Magd. 1789.


Pacific Ocean - To the honorable court of directors of the United East India Company, this chart of the western part of the Pacific Ocean comprised between the latitudes of 18 South and 17 North, from 146 to 176 of East longitude, and exhibiting the track of the Walpole from the S.W. Cape of New Holland to the Isle of Tinian: is respectfully dedicated by their most obedient humble servt.

Thos. Butler, Commander of the Walpole.


India - Roxburgh encouraged the planting of coconuts (in the Calcutta region) about 1793 to mitigate endemic famine.

Roxburgh, W. (1795-1798) Plants on the coast of Coromandel. cor1 t73 Cocos nucifera (Willdenow (Car. Lud.) Tractatus de Achilleis et Tanaceto 8vo. Haloe Magd. 1789.


Tahiti to the West Indies - Bligh's second, and successful, voyage from Tahiti to the West Indies carried many exotic plants. The most notable of these was the breadfruit. Of the coconut seed carried on the voyage, twelve germinated: four seedlings were left at St. Vincent and four at Jamaica (Powell). And the Herbarium Archive of the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew has a unique hand-written record from 1793 that lists two coconut plants brought from Tahiti by Captain Bligh.

Powell, 1973


Cocos maldivica J.F.Gmel., Syst. Nat.: 569 (1791) is a homotypic synonym for Lodoicea maldivica (J.F.Gmel.) Pers. ex H.Wendl. in Kerchove de Denterghem, Palmiers: 250 (1878).


Seychelles - It was as long ago as 1790, when Louis Jean-Baptiste Philogene de Malavois (1748-1827) was the commandant, that the commercial importance of coconuts began to be exploited. Small quantities of oil were made for local consumption. Coconuts grew abundantly on the coastal plateaux of many of the Seychelles islands. . . . By [1880], the landowners, who were mostly descendants of the French Settlers, had established vast coconut estates on their properties. These were to become the economic mainstay of the colony for almost a century. . . . Between 1915 and 1919, a little over 85 million nuts were converted into coprah for export market. Almost overnight, coprah had become the gold of the Indian Ocean!

The Agricultural History of the Seychelles

Cocos nypa Lour., Fl. Cochinch.: 567 (1790) is a synonym for Nypa fruticans Wurmb, Verh. Batav. Genootsch. Kunsten 1: 349 (1779).


Mutiny on the BountyIn1788 and 1789, during the first, but unsuccessful, voyage to collect breadfruit, Bligh and his crew bought coconuts in Tahiti "at the rate of 20 for a nail" (Rutter). Lieutenant William Bligh's coconut cup from the voyage in the ship's boat from Tofoa to Timor, Tuesday 28 April 1789 - Sunday 14 June 1789; signed and dated 'W Bligh April 1789' (the initials and date incised), inscribed around the outer rim 'The Cup I eat my miserable allowance of', was sold for £71,700 at Christies on 26 September 2002.

Rutter, O. (1936) The true story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. London: Newnes. n.d. Author's note dated Feb. 17, 1936. p 65.


West Indies - Bamber Gascoigne, Receiver General of Customs at Bridgetown, Barbados, asking that the situation be changed whereby coconuts exported from British islands are subject to duty, while those imported from foreign possessions are not, 1788 Dec 20.

UK Public Record Office (West Indies: Customs) T 1/664/246-251.

Cocos acicularis Sw., Prodr.: 58 (1788) is a synonym for Bactris guineensis (L.) H.E.Moore, Gentes Herb. 9: 251 (1963).

Cocos lapidea Gaertn., Fruct. Sem. Pl. 1: 16 (1788) is an unplaced name. Govaerts, R. (1999). World Checklist of Seed Plants. 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. Continental Publishing, Deurne; Govaerts, R. & Dransfield, J. (2003). World Checklist of Palms. 1. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


Imports - Quantity of coconuts imported annually. 1782 Xmas-1785 Xmas. Date of Return: 1786 Apr.4.

UK Public Record Office T 64/276B/418


Cocos butyracea Mutis ex L.f., Suppl. Pl.: 454 (1782) is a synonym for Attalea butyracea (Mutis ex L.f.) Wess.Boer, Pittieria 17: 312 (1988). Homotypic synonyms are Scheelea butyracea (Mutis ex L.f.) H.Karst. ex H.Wendl. in Kerchove de Denterghem, Palmiers: 256 (1878) and Attalea butyracea (Mutis ex L.f.) Wess.Boer, Pittieria 17: 312 (1988).


Forster, J.R. (1778) Observations made during a voyage round the world. G. Robinson, London.


Christmas Island - was discovered on Christmas Eve 1777 by Captain Cook. At that time the island was uninhabited though Cook mentioned that there were a number of coconut trees on the island, which [he thought] might have indicated earlier occupation by man. A very characteristic long-fruited form is found on Christmas Island (Friend).

Friend, (1975)


Sonnerat, F. (1776) Voyage a la Nouvelle Guinee. Paris, 206pp.


Yemen - "The Coconut, Cocos nucifera L. Narjãl, was cultivated at Mukhã [Mocha] according to Forsskal, but it is not there today and was perhaps washed away in the storms that destroyed most of the Mukhã date palms earlier this century" (Wood).

Forsskal, P. (1775) Flora Aegyptiaco-Arabica

Wood, J. R. I (1997) A Handbook of the Yemen Flora. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens.


New Hebrides - Captain Cook, a keen observer, noted in his journal during his visit to south Malakula: “To judge of the Country from the little we saw of it it must be Fertile, but I believe their fruits are not so good as at the Society and Friendly Isles, their Cocoa nutts I am certain are not”, and the following month at Port Resolution: “The bread fruit, Cocoa nutts and Plantains are neither so plenty nor so good as at Otaheite” (cited by Weightman, 1989).


Captain James Cook - "In the PM we saw several large smooks on the main, some people, canoes and as we thought Cocoa-nutt trees upon one of the islands, and as a few of these nutts would have been acceptable to us at this time I sent Lieut. Hicks a shore with whom went Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander to see what was to be got they returned on board having met with nothing worth observing, the trees we saw were a small kind of Cabbage Palm…."

Similarly, Joseph Banks (Beaglehole) also wrote of this same event:

' appearance very much like cocoanut trees tempted us to hoist out a boat....where we found our supposed cocoanut trees to be no more than bad cabbage trees...'.

Incidentally, the location of these accounts was the Palm Islands, just north of Townsville, and 'the bad cabbage tree', Livistona drudei (Dowe & Smith).

Beaglehole 1955

Cook, J. (1771). A journal of a voyage round the world in His Majesty's Ship Endeavour, in the years 1768, 1769, 1770 and 1771. Becket and P. A. De Hondt, London.

Dowe & Smith, 2002, J.L. (in press) A brief history of coconuts in Australia. Palms.


Australia - James Cook aboard 'Endeavour' near Lizard Island (. . . ) in 1770 recorded that 'on these islands but in sever (sic) places on the Sea Beach . . . we found Bamboos, Cocoa-Nutts, the Seeds of Plants, and Pummick Stone which were not the produce of the Country from all the discoveries we have been able to make on it. It is reasonable to suppose that they are the produce of some Country lying to the Eastward and brought here by the easterly Trade winds'.

Beaglehole, 1955

Banks described coconuts as part of the flotsam that he found on the banks of the Endeavour River:

[1 July 1770]: "....our second lieutenant found the husk of a cocoa nut full of barnacles cast up on the beach; probably it had come from some island to windward, from Terra del Espirito Santo possibly as we are now in its latitude...."

[5 July]: "….walked along a sandy beach open to the trade wind. Here I found innumerable fruits many of plants I had not seen in this countrey, among them were some Cocoa nuts that had been open'd (as Tupia told us) by a kind of crab called by the Dutch Beurs Krabbe (Cancer latro) that feeds upon them …all these fruits were encrusted with sea productions and many of them covered with Barnacles".

Beaglehole, J.C. ed (1962). The Endeavour journal of Joseph Banks 1768-1771. Angus & Robertson, Sydney

Dowe, JL & Smith, LT (2002) A Brief History of the Coconut Palm in Australia. Palms 45(2)


Philippines - the Spanish Royal Edict issued in 1768 decreeing that each Filipino adult plant an area of at least 200 sq.ft. to coconut trees


Tahiti - On 18 June 1767 the sailors saw a mountain covered with cloud and supposing it to be the Southern Continent, discovered instead the island of Tahiti. The most extensive British account of the discovery is provided by George Robinson, master of the Dolphin, who wrote: ". . . The country hade the most Beautiful appearance its posabel to Imagin, from the shore side one two and three miles Back there is a fine Leavel country that appears to be all laid out in plantations, and the regular built Houses seems to be without number, all allong the Coast, they appeared lyke long Farmers Barns and seemd to be all very neatly thatched, with Great Numbers of Coca Nut Trees and several oyr trees that we could not know the name of all allong the shore . . ."

Warner (ed.) 1955 An Account of the Discovery of Tahiti from the Journal of George Robinson Master of H.M.S. Dolphin

Cocos guineensis L., Mant. Pl. 1: 137 (1767) is a synonym for Bactris guineensis (L.) H.E.Moore, Gentes Herb. 9: 251 (1963). An homotypic synonym is Bactris guineensis (L.) H.E.Moore, Gentes Herb. 9: 251 (1963).


Guiana - According to Small (1929), Jean Baptiste Christophe Fusée Aublet, who landed at Cayenne in 1762 and left in 1764, stated that the coconut was introduced to Guiana by missionaries.

Small, J.K. (1929) The Coconut Palm - Cocos nucifera. J. NY Bot. Gdn. 30 (355) 153-161 and (356)194-203.


Cocos aculeata Jacq., Select. Stirp. Amer. Hist.: 278 (1763) is a synonym for Acrocomia aculeata (Jacq.) Lodd. ex Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 3: 286 (1845). Homotypic synonyms are Acrocomia sclerocarpa Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 66 (1824) and Acrocomia aculeata (Jacq.) Lodd. ex Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 3: 286 (1845).

Cocos amara Jacq., Select. Stirp. Amer. Hist.: 277 (1763) is a synonym for Syagrus amara (Jacq.) Mart. in A.D.d'Orbigny, Voy. Amér. Mér. 7(3): 132 (1847). Homotypic synonyms are Syagrus amara (Jacq.) Mart. in A.D.d'Orbigny, Voy. Amér. Mér. 7(3): 132 (1847), Rhyticocos amara (Jacq.) Becc., Malpighia 1: 353 (1886) and Calappa amara (Jacq.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891).


Johnson's Dictionary - confuses coconut with chocolate:

COCOA n.s. (cacaotal, Span. and therefore more properly written cacao)

A species of palm-tree, cultivated in most of the inhabited parts of the East and West Indies; but thought a native of the Maldives. It is one of the most useful trees to the inhabitants of America [sic]. The bark of the nut is made into cordage, and the shell into drinking bowls. The kernel of the nut affords them a wholesome food, and the milk contained in the shell a cooling liquor. The leaves of the trees are used for thatching their houses, and are also wrought into baskets, and most other things that are made of osiers in Europe. Miller.

The cacao or chocolate nut is a fruit of an oblong figure, much resembling a large olive in size and shape . . . Within the cavity of this fruit are lodged the cocoa nuts, usually about thirty in number. This tree flowers twice or three times in the year, and ripens as many series of fruits. Hill's History of the Mat. Medica.

Samuel Johnson (1755) Dictionary of the English Language, London.

Hill [17xx] History of the Materia Medica

Philip Miller (1731) Gardeners' Dictionary


Linnaeus - Species plantarum.

Cocos nucifera L., Sp. Pl.: 1188 (1753) is an accepted name. Govaerts, R. (1999). World Checklist of Seed Plants. 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. Continental Publishing, Deurne; Govaerts, R. & Dransfield, J. (2003). World Checklist of Palms. 1. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Homotypic Synonyms: Palma cocos Mill., Gard. Dict. ed. 8: 2 (1768), nom. Illeg.; Calappa nucifera (L.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 982 (1891). Heterotypic Synonyms: Cocos indica Royle, Ill. Bot. Himal. Mts.: 395 (1840); Cocos nana Griff., Not. Pl. Asiat. 3: 166 (1851); Cocos nucifera var. synphyllica Becc., Agric. Colon. 10: 586 (1916).


Coconut sugar bowl - attributed to: Thomas Hammersley, 1727 – 1781: this is on view at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Buhler & Hood, American Silver in the Yale University Art Gallery, 1970, vol. 2, p. 114, no. 679.


A voyage to Georgia – did the colonists try to plant coconuts or cacao? (see 1733)

Francis Moore (1744) A Voyage to Georgia begun in the year 1735.

Peros Banhos Atoll - five of the islands were apparently already covered in coconuts when an expedition led by Captain Lazare Picault visited in 1744.
Jeffery, 2014 citing Wiehe, 1939.


Dutch treat - “The Amsterdam spice shop Jacob Hooy & Co., opens at Kloveniersburgwal 10-12. The Hooy family will run it for more than 200 years, selling the ingredients for rijsttafel - rice accompanied by . . . Indonesian side dishes . . . (with coconut)”.

Trager, J (1996) The Food Chronology: a food lover's compendium of events and anecdotes, from prehistory to the present, p157


Derivation of the word cocos - There have been a number of botanical authorities who have considered that the name was derived from a word of Arabic or Turkish source. Probably the first was Rumphius (1741), who published in Holland, information that he had gathered, when living in Amboin before 1670, about the tropical plants in Indonesia. He suggested that the word cocos might derive from the Arabic forms of Nux indica, either Gauzoz-Indi or Geuzoz-Indi corrupted as Jausi-Alindi or Jansi-Alindi or from Turkish as Cocx-Indi, with roots in Hebrew Egoz or Gauz and Greek kokkos. Bartlett (1926), Merrill (1946) and Reyne (1948) were in agreement.

Rumphius, G.E. (1741) Herbarium amboinense Vol 1, Amsterdam.

Bartlett, H.H. (1926) Sumatran plants collected in Asahan and Karoland, with notes on their vernacular names. Papers Michigan Acad. Science, Arts & Letters. 6, 15-17.

Merrill, E.H.D. (1946) On the significance of certain oriental plant names in relation to introduced species. Chronica Botanica 10, 295-315.

Reyne, A. (1948) De cocos-palm. In: De Landbouw in de indischen Archipel eds C.J.J. van Hall and C. van de Koppel, Vol 2A, 249 & 453-458, Amsterdam.


Sri Lanka - In 1740 the Dutch governor of Ceylon, van Imhoff, encouraged coconut planting (Birk, citing Ferguson). In 1742 "they planted by forced labour the waste along the sea coast with cocoanuts, so that now [1909] along the south-west for a hundred miles there runs a stately and unbroken grove of palm trees" (Pollard).

Birk, M. (1913) Kopra-produktion und Kopra-Handel. Probleme der Weltwirtschaft 15. [Copra production and copra trade. Problems of the world economy].
Ferguson, J (1898) All about the Coconut Palm.
Pollard, A.F. (1909) The British Empire : its past, its present and its future.


Georgia, USA - “In the spring of 1733, General James Oglethorpe laid out the famous Trustee Garden at Savannah” (Neely) “There is near the town, to the east, a garden belonging to the Trustees, consisting of ten acres; the situation is delightful, one half of it is upon the top of the hill, the foot of which the river Savannah washes, and from it you see the woody islands in the sea . . . At the bottom of the hill, well sheltered from the north wind and in the warmest part of the garden, there was a collection of West India plants and trees, some coffee, some cocoa-nuts, cotton, Palma-christi, and several West Indian physical plants, some sent up by Mr. Evelyn, a public-spirited merchant at Charlestown, and some by Dr. Houstoun, from the Spanish West Indies, where he was sent at the expense of a collection raised by that curious physician, Sir Hans Sloan, for to collect and send them to Georgia, where the climate was capable of making a garden which might contain all kinds of plants . . .” (Moore)

Francis Moore (1744) A Voyage to Georgia begun in the year 1735

Neely, L.P. (1951) In: Pioneer American Gardening


Critica botanica - . . . Should coconuts chance to come into my hands, it would be as if fried Birds of Paradise flew into my throat when I opened my mouth.”

Linnaeus, cited by Endersby, Rational Order exhibition, Mackay Museum, University of Sydney 2007.


Gardeners' Dictionary - A species of palm-tree, cultivated in most of the inhabited parts of the East and West Indies; but thought a native of the Maldives. It is one of the most useful trees to the inhabitants of America [sic]. The bark of the nut is made into cordage, and the shell into drinking bowls. The kernel of the nut affords them a wholesome food, and the milk contained in the shell a cooling liquor. The leaves of the trees are used for thatching their houses, and are also wrought into baskets, and most other things that are made of osiers in Europe.

Philip Miller Gardeners' Dictionary (1731)


Honduras – Nathaniel Uring, having been shipwrecked, walked the Honduras coast from Cabo de Gracias a Dios to Cabo Camarón and encountered only one coconut palm. Remarking on how curious it was to find a coconut palm close to the water's edge yet far from human settlements, Uring eventually concluded the palm was a “drift coconut”, a phenomenon that he had observed in the Pacific Ocean (A history of the voyages and travels of Capt. Nathaniel Uring, 1726 ).

Dixon, C.V. 1985 Coconuts and man on the north coast of Honduras


Hispaniola - Cocoa nuts imported into Bilboa, in the year 1720. . . said to have been brought from -and the growth and production of - the island of Hispaniola alias Spanish Island, in the dominions of Phillip the Fifth, King of Spain. UK Public Record Office 10 Anne E 134/12 Geo1/Hil 24


Coconut cups were used as plain, unmounted goblets throughout the Georgian period [1714-1830] and Pinto suggested that coconuts influenced the design of drinking vessels in all materials. He had not seen English drinking vessels of earlier date than the first known coconut ones which followed the same form, yet later that form became common in wood, metal and glass.

Pinto, 1950

Nürnbergischen Hesperidum, Continuation der Volume 2: Das dritte Capital; Der Coccus-Nüsse tragende Palm-Baum pp 228-231

Volkamer, Johann Christoph (1714).


On coconut pearls - "calapites", "mesticaa calappa"

Rumphius, G. E. (1705) D'Amboinsche Rariteitkamer. Book III, ch 48:

Coconut Tree Chocolate House - Lease of a messuage and garden plot in Pall Mall; St. Martin in the Fields, co. Middx., (next to the Coconut Tree Chocolate House) . . . 4 Sept 1705

UK Public Record Office


Camell, G.J. (1704) Descriptiones fruticum et arborum Luzonis. J. Roy. Hist. Plant. Trans 3, 43-44.


Malabar - Hendrik Adrian van Reede tot Drakensstein (1678-1703) was Governor of the Dutch possessions in Malabar (now in Kerala state). He gathered information on the plants of this area and published an illustrated account under the name "Hortus Malabaricus." This twelve volume work is, incidentally, the first work in which the Malayalam script appeared in print (M.K. Janarthanam)


Camellus, G.J. (1701) Descriptiones fruticum & arborum Luzonis ( in Joannis Raii Historia Plantarum, tomus III, Londini, 1704). .


Dampier W. (1697) A new voyage around the world. London, Hakluyt Society, 1927


Caribbean - Coconut was considered to be ubiquitous in the dry (sic) and sandy parts of Caribbean islands such as Jamaica

Sloane, H. (1696) Catalogus plantarum quae in insula Jamaica sponte proveniunt. pp. 132-134. London.

Philippines - an edict issued in 1696 proscribing the number of coconut trees to be planted by the different existing social classes


Spanish Cavalry - "Even as late as the year 1692, the palm-tree was sufficiently rare upon the Guinea coast for sailors to make a landmark of a solitary grove of coco-nuts growing in their ragged, rakish way near the African town and three adjacent European forts at Accra. Colloquially they referred to these coconuts as 'the Spanish cavalry'".

Pope-Hennessy, J. (1998) Sins of the Fathers: a study of the Atlantic Slave Traders 1441-1807 Barnes & Noble.


Cape Verde Islands - a source of refreshment for outward bound fleets.

Dampier W. (1697) A new voyage around the world. London, Hakluyt Society, 1927


Wafer visited Cocos I (Costa Rica) in 1685.

Our Men being tolerably well recover'd, we stood away to the Southward, and came to the land Cocos in 5 Deg. 15 Min. N. Lat. 'Tis so called from its Coco-Nuts, wherewith 'tis plentifully stor'd. 'Tis but a small island, yet a very pleasant one, For the Middle of the Island is a steep Hill, surrounded all about with a Plain, declining to the Sea. This Plain, and particularly the Valley where you go ashore, is thick set with Coco-nut Trees which flourish here very finely, it being a rich and fruitful Soil. They grow also on the Skirts of the hilly Ground in the Middle of the Isle, and scattering in Spots upon the Sides of it, very pleasantly.
. . .
Nor did we spare the Coco-nuts, eating what we would, and drinking the Milk, and carrying several Hundreds of them on board. Some or other of our Men went ashore every Day : And one Day among the rest, being minded to make themselves very merry, they went ashore and cut down a great many Coco-trees ; from which they gather'd the Fruit, and drew about 20 Gallons of the Milk. Then they all sat down and drank Healths to the King, and Queen, &c. They drank an excessive Quantity; yet it did not end in Drunkeness: But however, that sort of Liquor had so chilled and be-numb'd their Nerves, that they could neither go nor stand: Nor could they return on board the Ship, without the Help of those who had not been Partakers in the Frolick : Nor did they recover it after 4 or 5 Days Time.

[Note: These bucaneers were probably suffering from hyperkalemia (see Hakimian et al, 2014) "Death by coconut."]

Wafer L (1699) A new voyage & description of the isthmus of America (ed GP Winship 1903) pp 191-195 (link)

Dampier W (1729) Voyage to New-Holland, &c. In the Year 1699. Vol. III. London. Printed for James and John Knapton, at the Crown in St. Paul's Church-Yard MDCCXXIX. pp. 379-381 (link)


Voyage Round the World - Cowley - In [month] 1684 Cowley “sailed to Sharp's Island, alias Gorgona . . . 3 deg15 min N Long 305 deg” but made no mention of coconut.

Then sailed to Guana [Guam] “ … in the Ladrones at 13 deg N and Long 150 deg” arriving on the “14th March 1685; 7646 miles from Gorgona.” Cowley recorded that “The next Day, being Sunday, we sailed … [round the island] … the Natives had burnt their Houses and ran away by the light of them. However, we felled some Cocoa Nut Trees, and brought a hundred or two on board to refresh our Men, who were exceeding weak.”

He noted that the island was visited by “two ships a year from the south part of Mexico and eight from Manilha [sic]” (note he did not say New Spain but did he mean Acapulco or even Panama?)

“ … we sent any on shoar [sic] for Water or Cocoa-nuts …”

“ … a French Jesuit being the Messenger; who taught us to make Milk of the Coco-Nuts, by scraping of them, and putting Water to them, and then squeezing them; which will cause them to look like Milk, and receive a very pleasant taste.”

The Month of March had quite spun out, before we had made an end of watering our Ship, and supplied our selves with Cocoa-Nuts and Other Necessaries.”

Captain Sharp's Journal of his Expedition written by himself -


A Catalogue & Description of the Natural and Artificial Rareties belonging to the Royal Society and Preserved at Gresham College.

Grew, N(ehemia) (1681) Musaeum Regalis Societalis Chapter 4 pp 197-200.


Draakenstein, H. van R. (1678-1703) Hortus Malabaricus


Cape Verde Islands - by the middle of the next century Ligon learnt they were important on Santiago: ". . . sugar sweetmeats and coconuts were their greatest trade . . ."

Ligon, R. (1673) A true and exact history of the island of Barbados. London, Frank Cass, 1970.


Royal treat - in 1672, the Dauphin wanted to eat a coconut, so his private tutor got one through overseas correspondents, but it took so many months to come that it arrived in an awful state; coconut was well-known at that time in Europe but quite impossible to find.

Muller, A. (1998)


Alzina - an agricultural observer who resided in the Visayas for over 33 years in the seventeenth century wrote “There are very big ones [coconuts] which would measure more than one azumbre” (2 litres).

On the palms which are called Cocos and their great usefulness. 1668. Translator L.B. Uichanco (1931) Philippine Agriculturalist 20: 435-446.


MadagascarLe Cocos que l'on nomme ici Voaniou, n'est pas ici en grande abondance. Les habitans de cette terre content une histoire sur la nomination de Voaniou. Ils disent que cet arbre autrefois n'estoit point connu ici: mais que par cas fortuit la mer ayant jetté sur le sable un de ces fruits, qui ayant pris racine dans le sable au bout de vingt ou trente ans, crût en un bel arbre qui estoit agreable à voir. Et qu'un jour le Roi du pays où la mer avoit jette ce fruits, s'estoit endormy sous cet arbre, qu'en dormant un de ces fruits estant meur, luy estoit tombé sur la teste, et l'avoit tué, si bien que ses sujets le pensans resueiller, le trouverent mort, ce fruit estant aupres de luy, qui estoit nouvellament tombé de cét arbre. Ils se demanderent aussitost l'un à l'autre en disans qui est-ce qui l'a frappé, et apres avoir bien parlé entr'eux, se prirent à dire Voantou, c'est à dire il a este blese de cecy: car Voa signifie blessé, ny signifie de, et tou signifie cecy, et ainsi nommerent ce fruit Voaniou, et l'arbre Niou. Il y a quelque apparence de verité en cette histoire: car de temps en temps on trouve sur le bord dela mer quelques fruits de Cocos; lors qu'il a fait un grand vent d'Est-Nordest, et crois que ces fruits peuvent estre poussez de quelques Isles, qui sont sous la ligne Equinoctialle:car à Mascareigne, il n'y en a point qu'un qui apris racine depuis quatre ou cinq ans, à ce que les François qui y ont demeuré, m'ont rapporteé.

[Google translation (uncorrected). The so-called Cocos Voaniou here, is not here in great abundance. The inhabitants of this earth happy a story about the appointment of Voaniou. They say that this tree uptight estoit known point here but if by chance the sea on the sand having thrown one of those fruits that have taken root in the sand after twenty or thirty years, grew into a beautiful tree which estoit nice to see. And one day the King of the country where the sea had thrown the fruit is estoit endormy under that tree, sleeping only one of these fruits Estant meur, estoit dropped him on his head, and had killed if although his subjects pensans resueiller, found him dead, fruit Estant near him, which estoit nouvellament fell from the tree. They wondered aussitost one to another disans who is it that struck, and after having spoken well between them, took each Voantou to say, that is, he este Blese of cecy: because Voa means hurt ny means of, and tou cecy means, and so named the fruit Voaniou, and Niou tree. There is some appearance of truth in this story, for occasionally found on the seaside dela few Cocos fruits; when he did a great wind from East-Nordest, and believe that these fruits can push some Estre Isles, which are under the Equinoctialle online: because at Mascareigne, there is none that which APRIS root for four or five years, that François who dwelt there have reported me.]

Flacourt, Histoire de la grande isle Madagascar, p. 127.


Honduras – The islands of Roatán and Utila were noted for their abundance of coconut palms (Charles de Rochefort: The history of the Caribby-Islands)

Dixon, C.V. 1985 Coconuts and man on the north coast of Honduras.


Tribute - In Kaili a large proportion of the coconut oil produced was paid as tribute to the king of Makassar. According to the Spanish friar Navarrete, this tribute amounted to 90,000 pecks. A peck equals approximately nine litres.

Heersink, 2000 Dependence on green gold.


East India Company - On October 10 the Blessing was dispatched to Rajapur, Goa and Bhatkal, with orders to buy at the last-named place pepper, or failing that, arrack, coir and cowries . . .

EIF Vol. 8 ; 173-174 The President and Council at Surat to the President and Council at Bantam, December 1647 (O.C. 1963).


Coconut exotic in Brazil - William Piso, who landed at Recife in 1637 returned to Holland in 1644, After describing the native palms of Brazil, he continued his list of palms with the coconut, which he expressly declares to be exotic.

Small, J.K. (1929) The Coconut Palm - Cocos nucifera. J. NY Bot. Gdn. 30 (355) 153-161 and (356)194-203.


West Indies - Raymond Breton, a Dominican missionary who wrote French-Carib dictionaries and grammars,


Philippines - an edict issued by Governor General H. de Corcuera in 1642 ordered each native to plant 200 coconut trees primarily for satisfying the galleon trade requirements (for drinking) and its husks for "caulk[ing] their galleons . . ." and "making ships' rigging,"


Honduras – Ávila y Lugo reported coconuts on the Bay Island, Guanaja.

Dixon, C.V. 1985 Coconuts and man on the north coast of Honduras


Palma nucem ferens (nut bearing palms): I. Palma Indica coccifera angulosa (Indian palm bearing angular shells)

Does this imply angularity of the fruits - i.e wild type / Niu kafa type?

Bauhin, C. (1623) Pinax. Page 508 (the reference by Linnaeus to page 502 is presumably an earlier edition).


Francois Pyrard de Laval - A most particular description of the admirable tree that bears the Indian nut, called Cocos, and alone produces all commodities and things necessary for the life of man.

The Voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas and Brazil


Honduras – Antonio Vásquez de Espinosa reported that a few coconuts were growing at the port of Trujillo.

Dixon, C.V. 1985 Coconuts and man on the north coast of Honduras.


Espiritu Santo (Big Bay) - Vanuatu

Their fruits are large, and they have many cocoa-nuts, so that they were not understood to put much store by them. But from these palms they make wine, vinegar, honey, and whey to give to the sick. They eat the small palms raw and cooked. The cocoa-nuts, when green, serve as cardos and for cream. Ripe, they are nourishment as food and drink by land and sea. When old, they yield oil for lighting, and a curative balsam. The shells are good for cups and bottles. The fibres furnish tow for caulking a ship; and to make cables, ropes, and ordinary string, the best for an arquebus. Of the leaves they make [268] sails for their canoes, and fine mats, with which they cover their houses, built with trunks of the trees, which are straight and high. From the wood they get planks, also lances and other weapons, and many things for ordinary use, all very durable. From the grease they get the galagala, used instead of tar. In fine, it is a tree without necessity for cultivation, and bearing all the year round.

The voyages of Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, 1595 to 1606. Translated and edited by Sir Clements Markham (1904), Hakluyt Society 1940.


Treasure from the East - Queen Elizabeth I had encouraged her maverick naval captains to appropriate Spanish ships laden with treasure from the East whenever possible. One such vessel, the Madre de Dios, captured in 1592, was filled with, among other things: "elephants teeth, porcellan vessels of China, coconuts, ebenwood as black as jet, bedstead of the same cloth of the rinds of trees very strange".

Gleeson, J. 1998 The Arcanum. Warner Books Inc., New York.


The Drake Manuscript -- Titled Histoire Naturelle des Indes when it was bound in the eighteenth century, it gives a picture of daily life at the time of Drake's many visits to the region. Although Drake's connection to the manuscript is uncertain, he is mentioned on more than one occasion by the authors.

Folios 10v–11r Fruit growing on a tree like a nut. After removal of the first shell two eyes and a mouth like those of a fish appear containing very good nourishment white in color. There also is within the shell an exquisite liquid for quenching the thirst of persons having a fever


The ubiquitous coconut and its refreshing milk (sic): "this is so abundant that after drinking the contents of one nut, you scarcely feel the need of another". Father Thomas Stevens (1549-1619)

Santapau, H. (1958) The coconut Cocos nucifera Linn: observations of the first English Jesuit priest in India. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 55, 188-9


Mayo, Cape Verde Islands - Amongst other things we found here a kind of fruit called cocos, which because it is not commonly known with us in England, I thought good to make some description of it. The tree beareth no leaves nor branches, but at the very top the fruit groweth in clusters, hard at the top of the stem of the tree, as big every several fruit as a man's head; but having taken off the uttermost bark, which you shall find to be very full of strings or sinews, as I may term them, you shall come to a hard shell, which may hold in quantity of liquor a pint commonly, or some a quart, and some less. Within that shell, of the thickness of half-an-inch good, you shall have a kind of hard substance and very white, no less good and sweet than almonds; within that again, a certain clear liquor, which being drunk, you shall not only find it very delicate and sweet, but most comfortable and cordial.

After we had satisfied ourselves with some of these fruits, we marched further into the island . . .

The Famous Voyage of Sir Francis Drake into the South Sea, and there hence about the whole Globe of the Earth, begun in the year of our Lord 1577 by Francis Pretty, One of Drake's Gentlemen at arms.

Voyages and travels : ancient and modern, with introductions, notes and illustrations. New York : P. F. Collier and Son, [c1910] The Harvard Classics, ed. by C. W. Elliot [vol. XXXIII].


Francisco Hernandez – sent on a mission to Mexico in 1575, speaks of the coconut as growing on the west coast of tropical Mexico; and instead of enumerating its uses in Mexico he speaks of its various applications in the Philippines.

Small, J.K. (1929) The Coconut Palm - Cocos nucifera. J. NY Bot. Gdn. 30 (355) 153-161 and (356)194-203.


The source of American Pacific coast coconuts - The possibility that coconuts were present on the Pacific coast of pre-Colombian America has yet to be confirmed, but the recent genetic data makes this unlikely by showing that there is little or no possibility that the Pacific coast coconuts could have come from islands in the Pacific, either by floating or in Polynesian canoes. An alternative proposal for a small founder introduction directly from the Philippines to Panama at a remarkably early date – some 2250 years ago – is also difficult to validate. In contrast, a small founder introduction to Mexico in 1565, or soon afterwards, by the Manila-Acapulco route followed by coastwise dissemination south as far as Peru is consistent with established historical records. Urdaneta and Arellano sailed from La Navidad in New Spain (Mexico) in 1564 for the Philippines. They returned independently, leaving from Cebu in 1565 without making any intermediate landfalls, by sailing between 36 and 42°N to avoid the north-east Trade Winds and take advantage of higher-latitude westerly winds. A report by Arellano of cooking oil freezing is strong circumstantial evidence for the presence of coconut oil, but it was previously disregarded as an exaggeration by Europeans not familiar with the remarkable property of liquid coconut oil to become a whitish, crystalline solid at temperatures below 25°C. The average overnight air temperature at 40°N in the Pacific, even in mid-summer, is cool enough for coconut oil to solidify. If coconuts were carried, then the early germination of the San Ramon type, often sprouting at the time of harvesting and exceeding 75% in 105 days, would mean that both Arellano in August or Urdaneta in October could have had plantable seedlings on arrival. By 1580 skilled Filipino workers, also brought by the Manila-Acapulco galleons, were already tapping flowering palms for tuba (toddy). Indeed, fermenting toddy to produce wine would account for the quick expansion of coconut cultivation in Mexico.

Harries, 2012

In contrast, Alvaro de Mendaña de Nehra, sailed from Peru in November 1567 and reached the Solomon Islands. He left the Solomons in May 1568, planning to return to Peru but reached Colima instead, in December 1568. There were also no landfalls but, after seven months they were so short of food and water that few if any coconuts would have remained. There was no further contact with the Solomon Islands for 200 years.

What is more, when Mendaña set out again from Peru in 1595 he reached the New Hebrides (Vanuata) where he died. The expedition did not return directly to America. Instead it first went to the Philippines under Pedro Fernandez de Quirós before returning to Acapulco (and followed Urdaneta's route).

By 1642 more coconuts were being planted in the Philippines just to supply the galleon fleets.

Arellano; Urdaneta; Mendaña; Quiros


Brazil - the first sugar factory in the Bahia region of Brazil was built in 1549 (Deerr) and the common name for coconut in Brazil today is `cocos da Bahia'. A date of 1553 has been specifically stated for the introduction of coconut to Bahia (Gomes) and de Soares writing before 1587, also specifies Bahia and gives Cape Verde as source (Bruman).

Deerr, N. (1948-50) History of sugar. London, Chapman & Hall, 636 pp.

Gomes, P. (1957) Enriqueca com um coqueiral. Sao Paulo, Comphania Melhoramentos.

Bruman, H.J. 1944. Some observations on the early history of the coconut in the New World. Acta americana 2: 220-243.


Coconuts from unknown regions -"Some people believe that the germs of these trees were brought by the waves from unknown regions".

Martyr d'Anghiera, P. circa 1552 De orbe novo. p182. Trans. F.A. MacNutt, 1912. The Knickebocker Press, NY

No coconuts in Peru - Pedro de Cieza de León, who was in Peru between 1534 and 1552 ". . . described a palm, the nuts of which, when pounded in water, yielded a fat of the consistency of butter under ordinary temepratures, but liquifying when slightly heated. These he called Cocos butyracea. In an incorrect English translation it was stated that milk flowed from this nut when broken and it was subsequently inferred that Cieza de León was speaking of Cocos nucifera. Specimens of oil-yielding nuts from this region . . . belong . . . to a genus closely allied to Attalea."

Small, J.K. (1929) The Coconut Palm - Cocos nucifera. J. NY Bot. Gdn. 30 (355) 153-161 and (356)194-203.


Sao Tome - The same letter that spoke of coconuts in Santiago (Ramusio) mentioned sugar production in Sao Tome. It also stated that coconuts had been brought there: ". . . Vi anno condotto dalla costa dell'Etiopia l'albero della palma, che fa il frutto che essi chiamano cocco e qui in Italia chiamano noci d'India . . ." At that time Ethiopia was any part of Africa beyond Arab influence. Sailing ships returning from the India Ocean avoided the contrary winds and currents of the Bight of Benin, so that the coconuts brought to Sao Tome could only have come from the African coast at Cape Verde. This is consistent with an ordinance passed by King Manuel that allowed traders going to Sao Tome to take on provisions at Beziguiche (Blake). The Portuguese base there was the island of Palma (the significance of this name in the present context must not be taken too literally since a number of towns, islands and promontories have so been named). The island was purchased by the Dutch in 1617, captured by the French in 1677 and occupied occasionally by the British. Now known as Goree island it has become part of the important entrepôt of Dakar. This sequence of events has afforded an opportunity for coconuts to be taken to Dutch, French and British possessions in Africa and America from a source that was not directly controlled by the Portuguese (Harries).

Ramusio, G.B. (1550) Navigationi et viaggi. Venice.

Harries, H.C. 1977 The Cape Verde region (1499-1549): the key to coconut culture in the Western Hemisphere? Turrialba 27, 227-231.

Blake, J.W. (1937) European beginnings in West Africa. Westport, Conn. Greenwood Press, 212pp.

Cape Verde Islands - A letter, written by an unnamed Portuguese pilot, translated into Italian and published in 1550 describes gardens of oranges, lemons, pomegranates and figs each side of the Ribeiro Grande river on Santiago. This letter also makes the first mention of coconuts growing there: "... e d'alcuni anni in qua vi piantano le palme che fanno li cocchi, cioe noci d'India..."

Ramusio, G.B. (1550) Navigationi et viaggi. Venice.

Puerto Rico - The association between sugar, coconuts and irrigation is clearly shown in the reference to the introduction of coconut to Puerto Rico by Diego Lorenzo, canon of Cape Verde, about 1549.

Bruman, H.J. 1944. Some observations on the early history of the coconut in the New World. Acta americana 2: 220-243.

Cocos Island - appeared for the first time on a French map of the Americas by cartographer Nicolas Desliens, in 1542, labeled as Ysle de Coques or Seed Island (Anon, 1920) [aka "Shell Island"]. In fact another palm, Euterpe precatoria var. longevaginata, was mistaken for the coconut (Cook, 1940). Despite its name, there are relatively few coconut palms today and they are found in small isolated pockets of beach and at Iglesias Bay (Trusty et al).

Anon (1920) Malpelo, Cocos and Easter Islands. H.M.S.O. London 1920 Handbooks prepared under the direction of the historical section of the foreign office. Nos 141 and 142.
Cook, OF (1940) An endemic palm on Cocos Island near Panama mistaken for the coconut palm. Science 91, 140-142.
Trusty, JL, Kesler, HC & Delgado, GH (2006) Vascular Flora of Isla del Coco, Costa Rica. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 57 (7) 247-355.


Oviedo y Valdes - “In 1492 Columbus thought he had reached Asia and found coconuts, but he had misidentified the Royal palm (Roystonia spp). Some 30 years later, palms also thought to be coconuts were reported on the Pacific coast of Panama by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, who was appointed as one of the official historians of the Indies (Spanish American colonies) in 1523. . . . Part of his “General and Natural History of the Indies” was published in 1535, but the whole General History was only published in 1851-1855 . . . Although Oviedo was not a naturalist, his “Natural History” is considered an important reference about the natural resources of the Americas. Throughout he makes clear that only part of the information was obtained personally, and part was obtained by interviews and correspondence . . . Before and during the period that Oviedo was active as historian, information was flowing into the Iberian Peninsula at a great rate, as Spanish and Portuguese explorers visited new parts of the New and Old Worlds. It is important to remember that they did not explore the same areas because of the Treaty of Tordesillas, [1494] which effectively divided the non-European world between Spain and Portugal. . . . as Patiño (1963, 2002) emphasizes, Oviedo and others of the period used information from Asia and the Americas in their reports without specifying the origin of each detail, a common occurrence before modern citation methods were developed. What has not previously been well recognized is that no Spanish explorers or historians had ever seen growing and fruiting coconut palms because the Treaty of Tordesillas prevented them from sailing to Asia . . . [until 1580 when . . . Portugal was ruled by Philip II of Spain.] . . . The new genetic evidence is quite clear that modern coconut varieties from the Pacific coast of Panama are closely related to known modern Philippine varieties, as previously shown by morphometric analysis. There is, however, no archaeological, ethnobotanical or linguistic evidence that supports a pre-Columbian origin of these Pacific coast Panama Talls. A re-analysis of the historical record strongly suggests that early explorers made honest mistakes in identification. Hence, the most parsimonious explanation is that the Panama coconuts were introduced after Spanish conquest.”

Clement et al, 2013 Coconuts in America.

Patiño (1963, 2002)


Ferdinand Magellan's Voyage Round the World, 1519-1522 - Fernando de Magelhaes . . . set sail for another island very near to this island, which is in ten degrees, and they gave it the name of the island of Good Signs, because they found some gold in it. Whilst they were thus anchored at this island, there came to them two paraos, and brought them fowls and cocoa nuts.

Magellan was killed in 1521 on the island of Cebu in the Philippines.

. . . they again passed between the islands and the great island of Borneo . . .Whilst making the aforesaid course the wind shifted to northeast, and they stood out to sea, and they saw a sail coming, and the ships anchored, and the boats went to it and took it; it was a small junk and carried nothing but cocoa-nuts

Thatcher, O.J. ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. V: 9th to 16th Centuries, pp. 41-57.Modern History Sourcebook:

"Two of these trees can maintain a family of ten - The Italian navigator, Antonio Pigafetta, author of the famous "Magellan's Voyage around the World", accurately described the uses of the coconut palm in the Pacific Islands (but see the differences between the two translations).

Pigafetta, Antonio, Primo viaggio intorno al globo terraqueo

Stanley, HEJ (1874)  The first Voyage round the World, by Magellan. Translated from the accounts of Pigafetta, and other contemporary writers. Haklyut Society pp. 72-73,
Robertson JA (1906) Magellan's Voyage Around the World by Antonio Pigafetta. Volume 1: Text (original) pages 100 & 102; translation 101& 103; notes on pages 249-250.


Most excellent - "When the nut begins to grow, water begins to be produced within; and when the nut has arrived at perfection, it is full of water, so that there are some nuts which will contain four and five goblets of water, which water is a most excellent thing to drink . . ."

Ludovico de Varthema, 1510


The Voyage and Acts of Dom Francisco [Almeida], 1505 - On Tuesday, 22 July, they entered the harbour of Kilwa at noon, with a total of eight ships. Immediately on their arrival the Grand-Captain, Dom Francisco d'Almeida, sent Bona Ajuta Veneziano to summon the king. He excused himself from coming, but sent the Grand-Captain gifts instead; They were five goats, a small cow and a large number of coconuts and other fruit.

There are many boats as large as a caravel of fifty tons and other smaller ones. The large ones lie aground on the shore and are dragged down to the sea when the people wish to sail them. They are built without nails: the planks are sewn together with rope made from knotted coir from the coconut palm. The same kind of rope is used for the rudder. The boats are caulked with black pitch made from crude incense and resin. They sail from here to Sofala, 255 leagues away.

The palms here do not produce dates but from some of them wine and vinegar are obtained. These come from the palm trees which do not produce coconuts. The coconuts are the size of large melons, and from the fibres inside the shell all kinds of rope are made. Inside the shell is a fruit the size of a large pineapple. It contains half a pint of milk which is very pleasant to drink. When the milk has been drunk the nut is broken and eaten; the kernel tastes like a walnut which is not fully ripe. They dry it and it yields a large quantity of oil.

Source: E. Axelson, "South East Africa," 1940; pp. 231-238. Quoted in G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville, The East African Coast: Selected Documents (London: Rex Collings, 1974), pp. 105-112. Modern History Sourcebook: Hans Mayr

The voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India - "In conclusion, it is the most perfect tree that is found, to our knowledge" - The Account of Priest Joseph, circa 1505.

Greenlee, W.B. (1938) London, Hakluyt Society.


Everything they need - On the return of Pedro Alvares Cabral from Brazil and India King Manuel of Portugal wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain describing the voyage and paying particular attention to the nautical uses of the coconut "... and other letters written on leaves of trees which resemble palms, on which they ordinarily write. And from these trees and their fruit are made the following things: sugar, honey oil, wine, water, vinegar charcoal and cord age for ships, and for everything else, and matting of which they make some sails for ships and it serves them for everything they need. And the aforesaid fruit, in addition to what is thus made of it, is their chief food, particularly at sea".

Greenlee W.B. (1938) The voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India. London, Hakluyt Society
McClymont J.R. (1914) Pedraluarez Cabral . . . and his voyage to America and India (


Vasco da Gama - the account of Vasco da Gama's voyage makes it clear that they found coconuts before they reached India, when they were near Malindi on the east coast of Africa: "The palm of this land yields a fruit as large as a melon; its kernel within is eaten and tastes like a mixture of gelanga [?] and hazelnut" (translated by Furtado, 1964).

Vasco de Gama stopped at the Cape Verde islands on his return from India and East Africa. This was the earliest time that coconuts could reach the Atlantic Ocean

Harries, H.C. 1977 The Cape Verde region (1499-1549): the key to coconut culture in the Western Hemisphere? Turrialba 27, 227-231.

Ancient period - 125 MYBP - 1498