Before you could yell, "Hoist the mains'l" the next guano hunter was sailing southward then another, then another. The steward was obviously doing good business.
By early 1844 the bobbing fleet of guano hunters had swelled to around 100. By this time hundreds of men were camping ashore under flapping canvas. Claims were staked. Tempers flared.
Then a black southeaster hammered the fleet, causing collisions and forcing vessels to run for open sea. When the gale died down and the ships beat their way back to Ichaboe, it was under new management. An Irish deserter from the Royal Navy named Ryan had convinced the temporarily marooned guano diggers to elect him president and had declared Ichaboe a republic. He demanded 45 pounds from each ship for use of the landing stage.
All hell broke loose, aided by some smuggled liquor. No master or mate was allowed on the island; any officer attempting to land was pelted with dead penguins and threatened at knifepoint.
Then a well-provisioned intruder into Bedlam Britannia arrived, the American schooner Emmeline. Its master negotiated a deal with Ryan provisions for guano and its crew began digging. The British were hopping mad. War was declared against the new republic.
Up to 2,000 men fought with picks and spades. The dead were hastily buried in the guano, unearthed by remorseless diggers, and buried again in someone else's claim.