According to his story (first published 1836) O'Connell was a crewman on the ship John Bull, which was wrecked in the 1820s. He and a few fellow crewmen then sailed in an open boat, landing after four days (and 800 miles/1300km!) on Ponape island in the Pacific (now the main island and capital of the Federated States of Micronesia), where they were captured by the local people. He was adopted by a chief, married the chief's daughter, became completely acculturated, eventually became a chief himself, before being rescued or escaping.
His narrative of his 11 years there is the first reliable account of the island, its people, history and language, and he was the first European to visit the ancient megalithic ruins on the offshore island of Nan Madol. After returning to the west O'Connell made a living by exhibiting his extensive Ponapan tattoos in sideshows. Although there is some doubt about how O'Connell got to Ponape originally, there is no doubt about the tattoos or the extent of his knowledge of the island.
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