In 1806 the English privateer Port au Prince anchored in the South Pacific kingdom of Tonga, seeking food and help. Instead, they were attacked by the Tongans. Half the crew was massacred and thrown to the sharks; the rest were enslaved. Fifteen-year-old William Mariner was adopted into the family of Finau 'ulukalala, the powerful and charismatic king of the islands. Mariner spent four years in Tonga, participating in Finau's wars, managing a plantation, and learning all he could of the language, customs, history, and politics of the Tongan people. After he returned to England in 1810, he met Dr. John Martin, who took down his story and published his remarkable tale. This edition is a reprint of both volumes of the complete and unabridged text of the Third Edition of the book, published in Edinburgh in 1827. Illustrated.
In 1797 the London Missionary Society dispatched a group of missionaries to the most remote islands of the South Seas. Thirty men, six with their wives and children, boarded the ship Duff, Captain James Wilson, and undertook the long and hazardous journey to the far side of the world. They distributed the missionaries to Tahiti, Hiva Oa, and Tonga, where few white men had preceded them. Living among the natives, in constant fear of their lives, these people endured terrible hardships. The missions were not successful – three of the brethren were killed in a Tongan civil war, and the others were taken off by other ships.
Undaunted, the LMS sent the Duff out a second time in 1799 under Captain Robson, with thirty missionaries, ten of their wives, and seven children. This voyage was even more ill-fated, for off the coast of Brazil the Duff was captured by a French privateer and passengers and crew were taken prisoner. In Buenos Aires they purchased their ship and freedom and set out again, only to be taken by a Portuguese fleet. After terrible deprivations and several naval battles, they were landed in Lisbon after more than four months at sea.
A great adventure, a sociological study, and a good read, this account is one of the first descriptions of the Polynesian culture before it was forever changed by European contact. 334 pages, illustrated and annotated.
The author was a young English bricklayer named George Vason, sometimes spelled Veeson or Vaison, born in 1772. He was a very devout man and at the age of 24 determined to go to the South Seas to become a missionary. The London Missionary Society (LMS) was then fitting out the ship Duff to take a group of thirty missionaries to be distributed among the various islands. With no other preparation than an absolute faith in the right of their venture and a willingness to suffer any privations or death to bring the word of God to the heathens, they set off into a part of the world at that time still but little known. The enterprise did not end well, resulting in the deaths of three of the missionaries and the abandonment of their missions. Vason himself, who went to the nation of Tonga, suffered to his mind the worst fate of all – he abandoned his mission and his faith and lived among the people of Tonga as one of them. He had himself tattooed, took a native wife, and managed his own plantation. To our modern sensibility he appears to be the only one of his brethren to come to any understanding of the Polynesian culture in which he found himself. But in his eyes, and those of his companions, he had lost his way and abandoned his own culture. When he returned to England he was in an agony of shame at his weakness. He published his book anonymously in 1810 as a warning to other prospective missionaries, lest they make the same mistakes. At some later date his name became public, and you can see it has been written in on the facsimile title page. 146 pages, annotated.
Richard Cleveland (1773-1860) was a Massachusetts sailor, shipowner, and trader, who sailed many times around the world and helped to establish a number of important early trading industries. From international politics to storms at sea to South American revolutions, his accounts of his voyages and the people and places he encountered is fascinating reading for anyone interested in this important period in American maritime history. 416 pages, illustrated and annotated.
Around 1815, a man named James Smith took the steam ferry across the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. His attention was drawn to a fiddler who was entertaining the poorer steerage passengers. The musician was a strong-looking young man with the weathered look of an experienced seaman, but his legs ended in dirty rags, for he had no feet. Something about him — perhaps his music, his demeanor, his injuries, or some chance words — caught Smith’s interest, and the two struck up a conversation. The young man’s name was Archibald Campbell, and he had quite a tale to tell — two shipwrecks, a nightmare of survival in the frozen islands of the North Pacific, and the loss of both feet to frostbite. He had found his way to Hawai’i, where he was shown much kindness by the great Kamehameha, the King of Hawai’i. Later he worked as a butcher in Rio de Janeiro, before finally returning to his native Scotland, destitute, crippled, and unable to find work.
When the short journey was over the tale was far from done, and Smith, surely on a momentary impulse, invited Campbell to come to his home and tell his story in full. He was so moved by the unfortunate seaman’s tale and sad present situation that he decided to record Campbell’s astonishing adventure and publish a book, with the proceeds to go entirely to Campbell. This is that book. Though we know nothing of Campbell’s later life, it is to be hoped that his sufferings were eased by Smith’s kindness. 120 pages, annotated.
The South Pacific has always fascinated me – the original culture so distinctively different from any other, the attractive, romantic islands and their people; and the hair-raising adventures of the first European contacts. While pursuing my research for other writing projects, I have encountered many rare and all-but-forgotten books lying sequestered on the shelves of closed stacks in a few libraries specializing in Pacificana. Many captains - and a few sailors - wrote books about their travels. Stories of castaways or enslaved Christians were immensely popular, as were travelogues of exotic lands. But the books are dusty and unread. They are all long out of print, some for centuries, and a researcher or collector must pay handsomely to acquire one.
A handful of these books are now available as quality affordable paperbacks.