Robert Browne Incident

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The Robert Browne was an American ship taken over by the coolies it was carrying to California, and steered to Miyako Island.

Some time after the ship left Amoy on 1852/int.2/1 (on the Japanese calendar), some number of the 410 Chinese coolies on board mutinied; as the ship approached Miyako (one of the southern islands in the Ryukyu Islands chain), the Chinese, now in control of the ship, steered it towards the beach. The Ryûkyû Kingdom had a long tradition of aiding castaways and the like, and welcomed the ship. Several hundred coolies, along with some members of the crew, disembarked, and told the Miyakoans that the ship had been damaged and needed repair. However, in the meantime, members of the crew remaining on the ship overpowered their captors and regained control of the ship; it was not in fact damaged, and they set sail, abandoning the hundreds of people who had gone onto the island.

The people of Miyako were left to feed and care for these hundreds of castaways, a task which proved a heavy burden for the small island. Two weeks later, the USS Saratoga, HMS Riley, and HMS Contest appeared on the horizon. They pulled into port, and American and British troops seized as many of the coolies as they could find, though many escaped and fled elsewhere on the island. The warships departed with only 70 captives.

Shuri (i.e. the royal government of Ryûkyû) had been informed about the incident, as had Chinese officials in Fujian province. The incident is of significance because of Shuri's considerable concern about Western intervention in the islands' affairs. It was feared that American or British troops might return, land on Miyako, and severely disrupt local goings-on in their efforts to find the mutineers.

The incident came to a resolution when two ships departed Miyako on 1853/6/1 carrying 280 of the escaped Chinese.


  • Kerr, George. Okinawa: The History of an Island People. Revised Edition. Tuttle Publishing, 2000. pp295-296.