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Sailors and TradersA Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples$

Alastair Couper

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780824832391

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824832391.001.0001

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Pacific Commercial Shipowners

Pacific Commercial Shipowners

Chapter Five Pacific Commercial Shipowners
Sailors and Traders

Alastair Couper

University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on the arrival of commercial trading and whaling ships in the Pacific Islands and the adoption of European commercial practices by paramount chiefs. The government-sponsored voyages to the Pacific in the eighteenth century were carried out by naval vessels led by commanders armed with specific instructions on behavior toward native peoples and required to report on the resource potential of island areas. This chapter considers how some ambitious chiefs in Polynesia became commercial shipowners, with particular emphasis on their first commercial ship-owning ventures in Tahiti. It also examines the transition from noncommercial to commercial forms of maritime trade by the Maori of Aotearoa in New Zealand, along with other indigenous commercial shipping ventures. It shows that commercial maritime trade enabled the Pacific people to establish connections with the vast world of commerce in Europe, North America, and China as well as the growing economy of New South Wales.

Keywords:   commercial trading, whaling ships, Pacific Islands, chiefs, Polynesia, commercial shipowners, maritime trade, Maori, Aotearoa, commerce

THE GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED voyages to the Pacific in the eighteenth century were motivated by European rivalry, scientific inquiry, and public appetite for the exotic. The expeditions were conducted by naval vessels whose commanders were given specific instructions on behavior toward native peoples and were required to report on the resource potential of island areas. They carried articles for use as gifts and as barter for victuals, but they did not carry goods of a commercial nature. Care had to be taken to ensure that firearms were not stolen, lost, or traded, although some were, and other items from the ship and belonging to the crew were bartered primarily for access to women. The periodic short bursts of violence between ship and shore were often due to misunderstandings, followed by retaliation and conciliation.

The subsequent encounters of island people with commercial shipping were different. The naval expeditions were followed by waves of privately owned trading and whaling vessels. They scoured the Pacific in search of whatever financial gains could be derived from sea and land resources. Not only did this change represent enormous increases in the quantity of ship arrivals, but it also heralded qualitative changes in the economic basis of societies and generated a class of Pacific chiefly entrepreneurs in shipping and trade.

The crews of the foreign commercial vessels comprised men from Britain, other parts of Europe, America, New South Wales, and occasionally Southeast Asia and China, and always with additions from the Pacific. The ships were commanded by independent, tough seamen who for long were beyond the reach of nation-state jurisdiction. These captains ruled on board according to “customs of the sea,” which had passed between ships over centuries. The only recourses that the ordinary seafarer had in the face of violations of recognized customary law were sullen, uncooperative behavior, physical retaliation, mutiny, and desertion.

The captains of the merchant ships, unlike their naval compatriots, (p.76) did not always resolutely pursue deserters. Some even drove seamen to desert and relinquish their wages, or discarded troublesome seamen and abandoned the sick and injured when and where they could. As a result, island societies received new seafaring and related skills as well as some unwelcome residents. These beachcombing populations were augmented by castaways from shipwrecks and, from the 1790s onward, by convicts escaping from the New South Wales colony. The latter were often carried to the islands by American whalers who held no liking for the British penal system. There were also convicts who with temporary permission from the authorities signed on to British ships at Port Jackson to make up a lack of crew numbers. They took the opportunity of “skinning out” in the islands and New Zealand. The Pacific was thereby soon crossed in every direction by commercial trading vessels and whalers. This left few islands untouched in the receipt of new goods, technology, and foreigners.

Ships that transported the convicts from Britain sought return cargoes. Those chartered by the British East India Company proceeded from New South Wales to China to load tea. Of six ship arrivals in the first fleet in 1788, two went on to Canton. The Charlotte under Captain Thomas Gilbert and the Scarborough under Captain John Marshall pioneered the Outer Eastern Passage to China. Sailing together northeastward to pick up the southeast trades, they called at Lord Howe and Norfolk islands and sighted Matthew Island to a longitude between Vanuatu and Fiji. From this position they proceeded northward, passing Anuta, and then through the variables and doldrums into the northeast trades (see map 2.1) and passages off Kiribati, the Marshalls, and the Carolines.1 Knowledge of currents (see map 2.2) was uncertain, and the existence of many reefs and small islands unknown. Captains Gilbert and Marshall gave their names to these groups of Micronesian islands, many of which they suddenly encountered. Navigation was dangerous, and some populations hostile.2 They and most subsequent mariners followed this route and engaged in a minimum trade with canoes offshore until the establishment of coconut oil commercial traders in the 1840s.3

Many other cargo ships, owned mainly by British investors, sought cargoes for China in the Pacific Islands. They sailed eastward from Port Jackson toward the North Cape of New Zealand, often calling there for victuals, and continued to about 150 degrees west, often under favorable westerlies. The ships then shaped a course northward for the Society Islands. The total passage from Australia to Matavai Bay in Tahiti could take seven weeks or more, depending on weather and any time spent in (p.77) New Zealand.4 Some British convict ships also proceeded to Matavai Bay after Port Jackson and loaded for China.5

Some other speculative traders out of Port Jackson were unassociated with the China trade. These were small vessels usually owned in part by the captains, doing a round of the islands. In addition more regular commercial services developed. Ships from New England in particular were by the 1780s carrying furs from the northwest coast of America to China, calling at the Hawaiian group for provisions and sometimes supplementary cargo. Regular shipping was likewise established between Port Jackson and Tahiti for salt pork and to New Zealand for kauri timber spars, flax, and foodstuffs.

In the bigger Polynesian groups of Tahiti, Hawai‘i, and Aotearoa the chiefly descendants of the great founding navigators admired these new oceangoing vessels. The Pacific island mariners recognized their advantages in having more freeboard and greater capacities for cargo and passengers. They appreciated the improved sails and the use of the rudder as superior to the steering oar. The disadvantages included deeper draughts unsuited to lagoon passes and submerged reefs. They also recognized the strengths and capacities of the rowed longboats and whaleboats carried by the foreign ships, despite their reduced speed compared with paddled indigenous craft. The chiefs in particular valued the facility to mount their new swivel guns on all of these crafts with strong gunwales.

Most masters of merchant ships appreciated that friendly relations with chiefs were essential to conduct trade. There were others who were cheats, racists, religious bigots, or drunks or had several of these traits. The resulting clash of cultures and personalities led to killings of island people and sailors. The attitude of “master under God” on board ship and the mana of chiefs underlay many of the conflicts. Pat Hohepa emphasizes the complex role of mana, with which chiefs were imbued: “Mana comes from the Gods, mana flows through the ancestors, mana flows from the sea and the land.”6 There is the mana of a warrior, mana that involves prestige, power, influence, authority, and many other attributes. The term could be ascribed to outstanding weapons or ships, as well as people.

The opportunities for misunderstanding and usurpation of status through words and actions between ship and shore were clearly considerable. Governor Philip Gidley King of New South Wales sensed this and was anxious to ensure a regular supply of provisions, as well as the development of wider markets for new products from the colony. He emphasized to captains: “At every other island some address and much circumspection (p.78) is necessary in having any communication with the natives, which the momentary error either of a native or a seaman might destroy.”7

For all the possible contradictions in values and acts of violence, commercial trade did emerge through trial and error. The emphasis shifted from tawdry trifles to a range of useful tools and on to guns and luxuries. The latter two were demanded and accumulated by the chiefly families, especially those in Tahiti and Hawai‘i who controlled good harbors. They were already designated kings by naval commanders and continued to be recognized as such by the merchant captains and missionaries, to their mutual advantages. This gave the chance for some ambitious chiefs in Polynesia to enter into the new system of commercial trade and to become shipowners. This brief initial attempt to keep command of their sea trade in a new era ultimately proved unsuccessful for several reasons, but it was an important stage in the economic history of the Pacific.

First Commercial Ship-Owning Ventures by Polynesians

The entry into ship owning in Tahiti, Hawai‘i, and Aotearoa represents the first large-scale participation in a significant sector of the capitalist global trading system by island people. Among other aspects, it was an attempt to bypass the foreigners in a maritime activity within which islanders were supremely experienced.


When Captain Wallis arrived at Matavai Bay in 1767, he assumed that the formidable woman Purea was queen. When Cook came in 1769, he also had the European predilection toward identifying a single ruler. He met with the Otou (Tu), who ascended to the chieftainship of the north-west of the island of Tahiti, in which lies Matavai Bay. According to H. E. Maude, “Cook seems to have been the originator of the myth of Tu’s kingship.”8 Tu was accorded favors, gifts, and guns by all subsequent arrivals and from 1790 was acknowledged as King Pomare I.

Pomare was able to extend his territories. He recruited European sailors as mercenaries, including several Bounty mutineers during 1789–1791, and in 1792 the crew of the whaler Matilda wrecked in the Tuamotus, and the crew of the Norfolk grounded at Matavai Bay in 1802. In addition numerous ship deserters and many convicts who escaped from Botany Bay were available.9 The relative political stability of Tahiti under Pomare I, the apparent abundance of foodstuffs, and the general friendliness of the people came to the attention of Governor King of New South (p.79) Wales. He studied Cook’s account of the islands and received reports from missionaries who arrived in Tahiti during 1797, as well as from whalers calling at Sydney. The penal colony required regular provisions, and following a trial shipment, Governor King dispatched HMS Porpoise in 1801 to obtain salt pork under a formal contract with Pomare I.10 The king imposed taboos on the consumption of pork by the common people and tried to concentrate all trade through royal channels.

In a short time Pomare I emerged as an astute business entrepreneur who recognized the forces of supply and demand in establishing exchange values. His son Otoo (Tu), under the complicated system of inheritance in Tahiti, ascended to power before Pomare died in 1803.11 Pomare II was less efficient, but more ruthlessly dedicated to the nascent new economic order based on foreign trade. The journal of Captain John Turnbull of the brig Margaret provides accounts of the commercial milieu of the time.12 The journal gives an understanding of the complexities of the trade and the hazards involved. It thereby shows the difficulties that the chiefly entrepreneurs faced when they entered the established shipping business, despite their strengths from the control of island resources and labor.

The voyage of the Margaret over the year 1802–1803 was, in brief, from Port Jackson to King Island in the Bass Strait to land a gang of sealers. From there the ship went to Norfolk Island for victuals that were unobtainable at Port Jackson. The seafarers arrived at Matavai Bay, Tahiti, on 23 December 1802. At this anchorage Turnbull spoke with Lieutenant William Scott of HMS Porpoise, who was on his second voyage for salt pork. He learned then of the internecine war raging in the group. On his first voyage in 1801, Scott had carried many iron tools and clothing, plus a few “old arms.” In 1802 there were major changes in the types of goods carried for trade; he delivered a formidable array of muskets, pistols, ammunition, bayonets, and even military jackets,13 reflecting something of the support that Governor King was giving to Pomare. When Turnbull started to trade his general cargo, which included domestic items and axes, he was ridiculed. It was made clear to him that hogs could be obtained only in exchange for armaments.

With few results after four weeks, the Margaret sailed for other islands in the group. At Ulitea (Ra‘iatea) Island three of the Botany Bay convicts who had been allowed to sign on at Port Jackson deserted, along with an apprentice, the cooper, two seamen, and two Tahitians he had acquired. This group conspired with a deserter from the ship Venus and with a local chief to take the Margaret. They cut the anchor hawser and nearly grounded the vessel. Only after a running battle did the Margaret escape. (p.80) Everywhere Turnbull went, he found the recurring demand for guns. There was also the need to provide gifts to chiefs before any trade negotiations could commence. This he blamed on the previous naval vessels and commented wryly, “However well this might suit ships on astronomical pursuits, or voyages of discovery, it by no means corresponded with our commercial views.”14 He diverted requests for gifts to his tough armorer, who soon earned the accolade “ahow tata” (very bad fellow). Turnbull was a little more successful trading for a few hogs in smaller, more remote islands, and somewhere six Tahitians were added to the crew in place of the deserters. The ship then sailed on 21 January 1803 for the Sandwich Islands to load salt for Tahiti, where it was in demand for curing pork.

Turnbull found the terms of trade equally unfavorable for foreigners in Hawai‘i. He blamed American fur traders on their way to China who were willing to pay highly for victuals. Some of the new Tahitian seamen jumped ship, as did his carpenter, attracted by opportunities ashore. Turnbull also encountered the monopoly on salt enforced by the royal family (discussed below in the section “Hawai‘i”). On arrival of the ship at Oahu, a chief representing the king of Hawai‘i boarded, and no cargo work commenced until goods were assessed and terms of trade established. Turnbull described how an old man dealt with him privately. When he was discovered by the inspector general, he “nearly expired with fright.”15 Turnbull managed to intervene on his behalf.

The cargo was loaded, and the ship sailed for Tahiti. During the southern voyage, Turnbull explored only a few of the seventy-seven scattered islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago and made the first European contact with Makemo Island. This was very hazardous navigationally and precarious in terms of contacts with the local people, some of whom were regarded as brigands.16 Turnbull observed a chief wearing a pearl-oyster shell ornament, which signified valuable lagoon resources. He also noted a Pomare double-hulled vessel six months out of Tahiti, collecting tribute around the islands.17

On arrival at Tahiti it was agreed that Captain John Buyers take the Margaret to the Windward Islands (Tuamotus) and trade for hogs and possibly pearls and shells. Turnbull meanwhile was engaged in salting. He also enlisted several seafaring deserters and ex-convicts, along with the experienced beachcomber Peter the Swede and took boats around the coast to trade for hogs. On returning to Matavai Bay, he found that the Margaret was overdue. The captain and crew of eighteen were eventually sighted at sea on a makeshift punt. After their rescue a common enough (p.81) tale unfolded of the ship’s running on a reef and then being plundered of fittings, cargo, and armaments by local people. Having lost the carpenter in Hawai‘i, they built a somewhat precarious punt of planks from the wreck of the Margaret to sail for Tahiti. The crew on arrival joined the forces of Pomare.

Wars led by chiefs against the despotism of the Pomares increased in Tahiti. In 1808 Pomare was forced to evacuate Matavai Bay with his forces and take refuge on Mooréa Island. The chiefs who now occupied Matavai Bay rashly raided the ship Venus from Port Jackson to obtain cannons. Unlike Pomare, they failed to appreciate that, in order to continue trading with the New South Wales colony, they had to guarantee the safety of vessels. Pomare reiterated such a guarantee from his base in Mooréa. This appeared in the Sydney Gazette of 5 May 1810, after the ship Mercury arrived from Mooréa.18 Pomare also made the judicious decision to embrace Christianity in 1812 and obtain the support of the missions. The latter were not only engaged in religious conversions but also traded armaments for food at this time. Captain Thomas Hanson of the mission ship Active even exchanged two cannons for 126 hogs.19

With various levels of support ashore and afloat, Pomare in 1815 regained Matavai Bay and acquired other territories, including the Tuamotu Islands and Austral Islands, with their valuable resources. In 1817 he started a joint shipbuilding venture with the London Missionary Society. By 1819 their first ship, the Haweis (73 tons), is recorded as unloading salt pork and coconut oil at Port Jackson.20 It had a Tahitian crew under the command of Captain John Nicholson, and by then was totally owned by Pomare. In 1820 Pomare sent his agent Captain Samuel Henry, who was born in Tahiti, to Port Jackson to purchase other ships in return for hogs and sandalwood.21 The latter commodity had until then been shipped by European traders from the Fiji group but was now depleted in these islands. Pomare knew of the stands of sandalwood in his Austral Island domain, which had been found by the notorious Captain Michael Fodger in 1813 (see chapter 7).22

In order to obtain sufficient resources to expand in commercial shipping, Pomare required everyone under his rule, “including the lame and sick,” to bring him a hog, or else “they would be banished from the land and go upon the reef.”23 The first of the ships purchased on this basis was the Governor Macquarie (136 tons), followed by the Queen Charlotte (110 tons) and the Minerva (about 80 tons). All of these, along with the Haweis, are recorded as trading to Sydney.24 These ships collected (p.82) cargoes of hogs and pearls throughout most of the Society Islands and Tuamotus, and sandalwood from the Austral Islands and later from the Marquesas.25

People were coerced under the Pomare dynasty to produce cargoes throughout their domains by resident officials and some complying missionaries and by threats of bombardments from Pomare’s ships. When the Queen Charlotte called at the Austral Islands in July 1822, the Tahitian governor announced to the chiefs and people: “I have to say to you, give more hogs, fowls, yams, food and tioo (preserved sour bread-fruit), not a little, a great deal, in abundance and carry it down to the boat for the ship.”26 A rival missionary tried to get the Austral Island people to become shareholders in a vessel to compete with the ships of Pomare, which were, he said, “sent hither to strip them of all they possess without recompense.”27 Nothing apparently came of this venture, but the Reverend John Williams did help the independent-minded Leeward Islands chiefs obtain the Endeavour (25 tons) in defiance of Pomare. This ship is recorded as arriving in Sydney during 1825.28

The Pomare family had continued to enforce monopolies and trade after Pomare II died in 1821. In an attempt to raise finance, Queen Pomare (then acting for her brother, the boy king Pomare III, who died in 1827) ordered the seizure of foreign ships trading for pearl or pearl shells without paying a royal license. The Chain Islanders (Ana‘a), who were regular buccaneers, accordingly took the chance to capture the English brig Dragon and stripped her of “every moveable thing.” Pressures were also put on other vassal islands. In 1825 the Pomare ship Minerva is said to have bombarded Rapa Island in a demand for more sandalwood.29

Sandalwood and pearls were by 1825 becoming exhausted, and New South Wales was more self-sufficient in foodstuffs. The debts to foreigners now soared. Only coconut oil, introduced sugarcane, and a few other crops were producing cash. Expensive imports continued, although with peace fewer armaments were required. On the other hand, a wider demand for clothing existed with the insistence by missions that every-one became decently clad. This aspect added to the general ill health of the common people from introduced diseases.30 For all these reasons it is unlikely that any of the Tahitian-owned ships ever made reasonable profits. By the midcentury there also were greater numbers of competing, privately owned, newly built ships trading from Australia.31 These eventually put an end to what was by then an old, badly managed and maintained Tahitian royal foreign-going fleet. Having been supported almost entirely by the sale of natural resources that were now depleted, the fleet collapsed (p.83) in a morass of debts. Local small craft crewed by Tahitians, and several owned by the Pomares, continued to operate between the islands of the group. Increasingly the overseas import and export channels fell into the hands of foreign merchant companies, many of whose agents were former beachcombers and their part-island progeny.


The processes in the development of commercial shipping by the chieftains of Hawai‘i were in several ways similar to those in Tahiti. Commercial activities started soon after Cook’s report on his third voyage was circulated in 1784. The report described the Sandwich Islands and the resources of the northwest coast of America. In 1786 there were seven British ships on that coast, two of which were commanded by men who had sailed with Cook.32 The British ships on speculative voyages were disadvantaged by the official trading monopolies of the East India Company and the South Pacific Company. The Americans had been free of all such impediments since the end of the War of Independence in 1783. Ships from Boston in particular became the main traders in furs for sale in China and called at the Hawaiian group for victuals.

The chief on the island of Hawai‘i was in control of Kealakekua Bay (Path of the God), which became the most important calling place for foreign vessels from the end of the eighteenth century. He acquired the title of Kamehameha I, and with this came wealth, armaments, and new ships for warfare and trade. The first European-type vessel came into his possession in 1789 as a result of conflict between a pioneer American fur trader and Hawaiians.33

The ship Eleanor under Captain Simon Metcalf was a well-armed scow engaged in the northwest America–China fur trade. In 1789 Metcalf was sailing around the islands, seeking provisions and any profitable items of cargo that could be picked up. While the ship lay off the village of Kohala on Hawai‘i, a minor disagreement arose with the regional chief Kameeiamoku, and Metcalf had the chief flogged aboard the Eleanor. He then sailed to trade along the leeward coast of Maui. Here again he ran into trouble and lost a boat. In reprisal for the theft, Metcalf lured small craft from the village of Olowalu close alongside, ostensibly to trade, and then blasted them to pieces with cannon shot. About one hundred people were killed.34

Soon after the killing at Olowalu, the small schooner Fair American arrived at Kohala. She was owned by Metcalf and commanded by his son. In revenge for the flogging, the people of Kohala killed the crew of the Fair (p.84) American, with the exception of the mate Isaac Davis, who was spared to assist in grounding the vessel to facilitate salvage. When Metcalf returned to Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawai‘i, the Eleanor was arrested by Kamehameha and the bosun John Young held ashore. Sensing more problems, Metcalf slipped out of the bay, leaving Young behind. Young and Davis then joined the forces of Kamehameha. They operated the cannons of the refloated Fair American and were valuable additions to his navy and commercial ventures. Thomas notes, “Boatswain John Young and mate Isaac Davis were treated with great kindness, made chiefs, and given valuable lands. They became useful aids to Kamehameha and their skill in gunnery helped him win many battles.”35

In the early 1790s, in addition to Davis and Young, several other foreign seafarers were living ashore. These included Ridder, the carpenter’s mate off the whaler Columbia. They set to work building a vessel of European design. When the British warship HMS Discovery under George Vancouver called in 1792, he allocated his carpenters to help complete the ship. This was a political and goodwill gesture to the king from the British monarch. The vessel was named Britannia and came into use as a warship. Vancouver refused a request for armaments, saying they were taboo by King George, but he did promise to send Kamehameha another ship. Meanwhile Vancouver supplied Kamehameha with new canvas sails for the large royal double-hulled traditional vessel.36

With a shipbuilding industry established, a second European vessel, the Tamana (40 tons), was soon under construction, and conversions were made to traditional craft.37 By 1806 more than ninety sailors, tradesmen, and ex-convicts were living ashore on Oahu alone where Kamehameha had a court. Honolulu, with its sheltered bay (as the name indicates), was by then the main port for interisland and foreign cargo vessels and whalers. Other places receiving foreign ships came under royal-related chiefs. They enforced the royal trading monopolies as described by Captain Turnbull, who noted that the king “was a master for any European in any bargaining and knew well his weights and measures.” Turnbull saw some twenty vessels owned by the king in 1803. These ranged from 25 to 50 tons, “some copper bottomed.” He also observed that the people were held in “abject submission.”38 Another English mariner, Archibald Campbell, who was the chief sailmaker to the king, reported thirty sloops and schooners of about 40 tons built in Hawai‘i in 1809,39 and his associate shipwright Boyle was then supervising the building of other vessels.

The payments for equipment, skilled labor, and the purchase of vessels were in money derived from sandalwood, which was exported from (p.85) several of the islands by foreign and Hawaiian vessels from the 1800s. Sandalwood came to a peak in value in 1815, when Fijian supplies were worked out. The royal control of sandalwood included directing labor for cutting, hauling, and preparing the timber. Often the wood was obtained in remote and rough inland areas. The common people were burdened and exhausted by the work, and food gardens and fishing neglected. K. R. Howe notes that within two years of the sandalwood trade’s operation the king had at least six ships to add to his already impressive fleet.40

Payments for ships were made by excavating a pit equal to the cargo volume of the ship to be purchased and filling it twice over with sandal-wood. One of the largest ships to be bought was the Lily Byrd (175 tons). The American register of 1808 records that “worms had nearly destroyed her sheathing” and “her keel and sternpost were almost reduced to honey-combs.”41 After extensive repairs she traded to China with sandalwood. The brig Forester, purchased in 1816 and renamed Kaahumanu after a favorite wife of the king, also entered the China trade.42 Other vessels did likewise, including the Neo in 1817. This ship was in a sorry state and was bought at an exorbitant price. In 1821 the Neo was carrying salt to Kamchatka and returning with furs. Another vessel paid for by sandal-wood in 1817, the Kalanimoku, was abandoned as rotten in 1821.43

It was difficult for the Hawaiian-owned ships to enter the profitable northwest American fur trade. The American captains knew the business well and formed a ring, agreeing on terms of trade with the coastal Indian tribes. They also carried parts of each other’s shipments so that one vessel could run back to Hawai‘i with a full load and yet others load up for China in Hawai‘i with their joint furs and sandalwood. These always carried some members of the crew who were owners of the cargo, to look after their interests. The Yankee captains had personal vested interests in these voyages, as they obtained shares of the proceeds. They were also allowed cargo space and some trading rights on their own account. Unlike the ordinary sailors, they, and more so several Boston families, became wealthy.44

By contrast the captains from Australia and Britain who commanded Hawaiian-owned ships were out of the oligopoly circle of the Yankee Nor’westmen. They often had to carry Hawaiian supercargoes on board to monitor cargo negotiations, while the captains mainly navigated and, with their European officers, ran the ship. These masters had little formal pecuniary interest in the cargo but probably managed to trade informally on their own account. There appear to have been only three Hawaiian-owned ships regularly on the very profitable northwest coast–China fur (p.86) trade in the period 1800–1832. Those recorded were the Kamolilani and the Tamaolani in 1828 and the Victoria in 1832.45

The journal of Stephen Reynolds provides a picture of the life of the sailor and the commercial procedures in the Northwest-Hawai‘i-China run.46 Hawaiian sailors were often employed on these American ships and were encouraged to do this by Kamehameha in order to obtain experience and knowledge. Reynolds gives indications of the numbers of Hawaiian sailors and the hardships they experienced due to weather, and he also provides insights into seafarer relations with Hawaiians at ports of call in the period 1810–1813.47 He was then a foremast hand on the brig New Hazard (281 tons) of Salem. The ship was owned jointly by five businessmen of Salem and four of Boston, a typical risk-spreading venture. The captain, mates, supercargo, and sailors were, on leaving Boston, all New Englanders, although the steward and cook were typically Afro-Americans. At the age of twenty-eight, Reynolds was one of the oldest on board.

The New Hazard loaded cargo in Boston to trade for victuals in Hawai‘i and furs on the northwest coast. This included muskets, gunpowder, shot, clothing, India cottons, hardware, iron, paints, tobacco, sugar, molasses, and rice. They sailed on 9 October 1810 and arrived in Hawai‘i on 26 February 1811. During this sea passage of over four and a half months, they sighted distant high land only once. The long, boring voyage was punctuated by crew illness and regular floggings—especially of the Afro-American cook and steward. A week before the ship’s arrival in Hawai‘i, the mate raised the morale with the order to clean the ship “for the reception of the Owyhee lasses.”48

A Hawaiian pilot boarded with his wife, and on 26 February the ship anchored in Kealakekua Bay. To the relief of the crew, two canoe loads of girls, coconuts, plantains, and potatoes arrived. John Young also boarded and stayed with them. After the goods were stored, the girls went ashore and the ship sailed on 3 March. At Oahu the ship took on more fresh water and live hogs and signed on six Hawaiian sailors. On 8 March a much refreshed New Hazard sailed for the northwest coast.

After twenty-six days Vancouver Island was sighted, and trading started offshore with Indian canoes in the vicinity of Queen Charlotte Sound. By this period the valuable sea otter had been depleted, and beaver and other furs were obtained from inland. Several American ships were working the coast and exchanging muskets, molasses, rice, and bread for furs. Captains also picked up fish oil and skins from some tribes and traded these with others along the coast. They also bought and sold slaves, possibly on (p.87) their own account. Reynolds notes that the captain on 17 June “bought two slaves this morning,” on 20 June “sold one slave for five skins, one for three,” on 25 June “sold a little girl slave for five skins,” and on 1 August “bought four slaves.”49

The American ships often met and exchanged news. The captains agreed among themselves on the quantity of commodities they should give per pelt to the Indians. They also passed information on navigational hazards and hostile conditions. On 21 May they were told that the third mate and a Hawaiian seaman from the Lydia were killed when they went ashore for water. This account, written on board the Hamilton, reads: “Received a volley of musquit balls from Sum natives consealed in the woods. Whitch unfortunately kill the islander ded on the spot and shot Mr Fox through the boddy.”50 On 15 July they received news that the ship Tonquin had been “taken” near Noodka. The ship at some stage exploded (possibly ignited by the captain), and about a hundred Indians and most of the mixed crew, including many of the twenty-four kanakas (Hawaiians), were killed, as were others on shore.51

Weather was yet another difficulty. Even in April and May it was cold, and the ship experienced snow, rain, and fog. Reynolds reports that five kanakas were sick. Trading went on until 8 September 1811, when the ship set sail for Hawai‘i. The New Hazard arrived at Toahy (Kawaihae Bay) on 28 September and met with other American ships. On Sunday, 29 September, Reynolds notes, “Not much work done this afternoon being girls on board.” The ship then proceeded to Oahu, where the time was spent repairing the vessel, unloading the skins, smoking the holds (against rats), and loading. On 15 October the New Hazard sailed again for the northwest coast. The crew now included at least four Hawaiian seamen. By this period the fur trade ships tended to ply the northwest coast in winter, whereas previously they had overwintered in Hawai‘i. The New Hazard moved from place to place under ice and snow between November 1811 and September 1812.

There were about fourteen ships on the coast by midsummer 1812. The New Hazard loaded pelts from the Lydia to deliver to Hawai‘i, where it arrived in October. The New Hazard then topped up with sandalwood, mainly at Honolulu, along with other American ships and the king’s vessel Lily Byrd. The latter was not in a seaworthy condition for the voyage to China with sandalwood. The carpenter of the New Hazard was therefore detached to repair the Lily Byrd. The New Hazard also loaded skins brought from the Northwest by the American schooners Albatross and Isabella. On 13 November the New Hazard sailed for China.

(p.88) On 19 December the ship arrived at Macao and then went on to Whampoa. Other vessels did likewise. They had tried, as was the practice for safety reasons, to make the ocean passage together. Reynolds notes that the Lily Byrd was then aground, presumably again under repair. The New Hazard loaded cargo of tea, nankeens, and chinaware, a cargo that was valued at $300,000 in Boston, and returned to Hawai‘i on 30 June 1813 for victuals and crew changes.52 They were there for the Fourth of July celebrations, when guns were fired from the American ships. King Kamehameha, Young, and others dined on board with several captains. The king was given presents, including “two bedsteads, nankeens, shoes, hats, and bread.” These no doubt were added to the vast store of such things as clothes, silks, footwear, furniture, clocks, music boxes, and musical instruments, all decaying in the royal storehouses.53

Kamehameha died in 1819 at the age of about sixty-six. His fleet of foreign-going ships probably never made adequate profits, even though most of the capital and operating costs had been derived from the extraction of natural resources, with free Hawaiian labor ashore. Most of the voyages to China by his ships were ruinous, at least partly due to the unscrupulous agents and merchants in Canton, lack of care, recurring repairs and delays, and related payments of high port dues. His son Liholiho (Kamehameha II) faced increasing debts, as resources from land and sea, used for financing these ventures, had appreciably decreased.

Despite mounting debts the new king went on to purchase more ships. His first acquisition, at enormous cost, was the luxury yacht Cleopatra’s Barge (191 tons), bought from the American millionaire shipowner George Crowninshield Jr. Renamed Haaheo O Hawaii (Pride of Hawai‘i), the ship cruised around the Hawaiian group with the royal family and leading chiefs until 1825, when it was wrecked. It was reported that the ship at this time was “manned by a drunken, dissipated, irresponsible crew from the captain down to the cabin boy.”54 About the same time, the ship Prince Regent, which Vancouver had promised as a gift, was also wrecked after less than one year in service.55 To add to the problems of the royal family, news was received in 1825 that the king and queen had died of measles on a visit to England during 1824. They were there to elicit British political support and in the process incurred considerable expenditure.

The family, now with a boy king (Kamehameha III), faced numerous creditors, and with sandalwood and pearls exhausted, a bold maritime venture was conceived to solve these financial problems. Governor Boki of Oahu and Chief Manui‘a of Hawai‘i were to sail for Erromango in Vanuatu and acquire the still plentiful sandalwood of that region for carrying to (p.89) China on Hawaiian ships. Chief Boki was in effect to occupy Erromango as ruler in a Hawaiian attempt at colonization.56 They sailed on 2 December 1829. Boki was in charge of the royal warship Kamehameha, with a complement of 300 people, including 10 foreigners, Hawaiian sailors, soldiers, servants, women, and some other Polynesians. His navigators were Blakesly (a watchmaker) and Cox (a silversmith), possibly neither being qualified in navigation or experienced in seamanship. Manui‘a was in charge of the Becket, with 179 people. His navigator was more sensibly a former mate of a whaler.57

Other merchants were also seeking Erromango sandalwood in 1829–1830 with Pacific Island labor. The Sofia carried more that 100 Tongans to the island in 1829. On a second voyage in January 1830 the Sofia recruited 200 Rotumans for Erromango. The Snapper in turn delivered another 113 Tongans for sandalwood extraction.58 The Kamehameha never arrived in Erromango, and no trace was ever found of the ship. The Becket stayed there for six weeks, but Erromangoans were alarmed at the arrival of four European-type ships with 600 or so Polynesians, and there was much hostility, malaria, and many deaths. The Becket returned to Honolulu on 30 August 1830 with only a few Hawaiians and foreigners left alive.

The ownership of foreign-going vessels by the royal family finally ended in the mid-nineteenth century. Foreign companies and institutions had, since the early part of the century, made ingress into trade, shipping, and regulatory provisions. These moves were clearly connected. Caroline Ralston describes how American sandalwood dealers “engineered the appointment of their employee John Coffin Jones as the first agent of the United States for commerce and seamen.”59 Not only did Jones promote sandalwood interests, but, to support the flagging sale of armaments, he also spread concerns over the possible recurrence of civil wars.60 Richard Charlton, as an employee of a British commercial firm, was appointed as the first British government representative in Hawai‘i and likewise served national commercial interests. Similarly, various American and British justices of the peace and other quasi officials acted simultaneously in commercial positions and could control the information on trade and shipping opportunities.

The last foreign-going vessel independently owned by the Hawaiian royal family was the schooner Kamehameha III (116 tons), which sailed to California in 1848. However, the French Navy commandeered the ship in response to a complaint by its consul in Honolulu regarding unfair treatment of French business interests by the Hawaiian authorities. The (p.90) French took the ship to Tahiti, where the Pomares had already been coerced into becoming a protectorate of France. The Kamehameha III was never returned to Hawaiian ownership.61 The royal ownership of vessels, along with ships of numerous chiefs in the 1850s, was confined to the interisland trades and a few whalers. Increasingly these became commercially privately owned, including a few owned by island communities. Government income from maritime activities was now virtually confined to pilotage and port dues.


The transition from noncommercial to commercial forms of maritime trade by the Maori of Aotearoa emerged from a socioeconomic environment somewhat different from that prevailing in the rest of Polynesia at the time of contact. There was less social rigidity in control by chiefs in Maori society, and individuals and families became willing entrants to various sectors of the commercial system.62

Maori ways of living varied within a diversity of physical environments over the nine hundred miles or so from north to south. Land transport was often difficult, and people in all of the coastal areas had seacraft. The largest were the elaborately carved war vessels (waka taua) under ownership of communities (hapu) and tribal leaders, and most families owned small vessels (waka tiwai) used by the whanau (kin) as a form of personal property.63 Distant ocean voyages had long since declined by the time of European contact, but there were strong attachments to the sea and very skilled shipbuilders. Folk memories and tribal names recalled the great migratory voyages. There was pride in these and in the physical prowess of warriors, as well as deeply held mores involving status, mana, and taboos.

The period of commercial relations between 1800 and the 1860s was fraught with conflict between ship and shore due to violations of Maori status, and the application by the Maori of the principles of ihi (fearlessness) and utu (revenge). Imported arms likewise increased the extent and intensity of territorial conflicts between Maori tribes. But it was also a period of technological changes in Maori seagoing and the consolidation of Maori control over virtually all seaborne trade along the coast, as well as to some overseas destinations.

Maori seafarers readily assessed that their magnificent war canoes, propelled at considerable speeds by hundreds of strong paddlers, were not suitable for carrying cargo and passengers, especially in rough weather. (p.91) The technical revolution involved the introduction of cloth lugsails—in place of the triangular sails of local fiber—to the bigger wakas. Maori carpenters adapted some of the kauri paddled craft to rowing by fitting oarlocks to their strong gunwales, thereby reducing manning and providing more room for cargo. The whale boats and longboats carried by foreign ships were copied, and more purchased, as were numbers of cutters, ketches, and schooners. A. Murray Bathgate and Clifford Hawkins consider that these advances in Maori-owned shipping contributed significantly to the great increase, spread, and diversity of Maori agriculture by facilitating marketing.64 The Maori not only supplied provisions to fleets of foreign whalers and trading vessels but also supported virtually all of the thousands of Europeans who began arriving in New Zealand.

As elsewhere in Polynesia the process of technical change was assisted by the assimilation of foreign sailors who deserted ships, especially in the Bay of Islands, or were shipwrecked on other parts of the coast. This happened early. While loading spars for China at Hauraki in 1799, Thomas Taylor and three shipmates left the Hunter and lived with the Maori as commercial agents.65

The New South Wales colonial authorities recognized New Zealand as a considerable source of foodstuffs, timber, flax, sealskins, and whale oil, as well as a market for future exports and settlements. Governor King sent presents to chiefs, and several were invited to Sydney to further these near-colonial intrusions. However, many captains and crews who constituted the main European presence in New Zealand showed little respect for the Maori in their own tribal homelands, and even less so on board ships. In 1807, for example, Captain John Glen of the Parramatta (102 tons), owned by Hullets and Company of Sydney, got into some difficulties near the Bay of Islands. He obtained assistance and supplies of fish and potatoes from the local Maori. After it was indicated that some reciprocity would be expected, Glen had the Maori party thrown overboard. The Parramatta subsequently grounded in a storm, and all on board were killed in retaliation.66 There were many such incidences of injuries to Maori people and assaults on the mana of chiefs, which were usually followed by revenge. This also resulted in the cessation of foreign trade in parts of the New Zealand coast when news of what was depicted as Maori savagery and cannibalism was circulated.

The most widely reported of these conflicts and utu was that of the massacre on the Boyd (500 tons). In brief, the Boyd was under Captain John Thompson and had transported convicts from England in 1809. The (p.92) Boyd then loaded sealskins and whale oil in Sydney and was proceeding to Whangaroa to top up with kauri spars. Serving on board, after experiencing a long and financially unsuccessful trip on a British sealer, was Tara (signed on as George). He was the son of Te Puki, a chief of Whangaroa, and was taking the opportunity of returning home.

During the voyage Tara was falsely accused of stealing spoons (which the cook had inadvertently dumped over the side). For this Thompson had Tara flogged. When the Boyd arrived in Whangaroa, Tara showed his lacerated back to the people. In reprisal Maori warriors boarded the Boyd, and seventy of the crew and passengers were massacred on the ship and ashore. Only two women, a child, and the cabin boy who had befriended Tara during the trip were spared.67

The British ship City of Edinburgh, under Captain Simeon Pattison, was at Kororareka when news was received of the massacre. The chief of that place accused his rival, Te Pahi (not Te Puki, the possible culprit), of instigating the attack. Te Pahi was much favored in trade with the foreigners and had visited Sydney. Based on this false information, Captain Pattison brought together crews from six vessels and destroyed Te Pahi’s village, wounding him and killing sixty of his people. The Reverend Samuel Marsden later vindicated Te Pahi.68 However, trade was severely affected overall, and fewer ships called at the Bay of Islands for several successive years. These and other conflicts moved Governor Lachlan Macquarie to issue a general order in December 1813:

Whereas many, and it is to be feared just, complaints have been lately made of the conduct of divers[e] masters of colonial and British ships, and of their crews, towards the natives of New Zealand, of Otaheite, and of the other islands in the south Pacific ocean: And whereas several ships, their masters and crews, have lately fallen a sacrifice to the indiscriminate revenge of the natives of the said islands, exasperated by such conduct … master of the said vessel, and the officers and crew of such vessel, shall each and every of them, peaceably and properly demean themselves, and be of their good behaviour towards the natives of New Zealand, or of such of the islands in the South Seas as the said vessel may touch at in the course of this her voyage.69

The order laid down conditions to be met, with a penalty of 1,000 pounds for noncompliance.

The problems in enforcing any of these orders were absence of authority and lack of reliable evidence to refute the shipmasters’ accounts. Violence (p.93) and fraud continued to be perpetrated on the Maori. A case that resonated throughout New Zealand and New South Wales was that of Captain James Kelly of the Sophia out of Hobart. There are mixed versions of the events. According to Kelly, the ship was engaged on a search for seals and called at Otago to barter iron for potatoes. An attack on a boat’s crew was seemingly encouraged by a Tahitian beachcomber from the brig Matilda, which had been attacked in 1813. Two of the Sophia’s crew were killed in the attack, and Kelly was wounded. The boat was then forced to pull off, leaving a third sailor on the beach. Kelly describes the plaintive cry of Wioree—“Captain Kelly for God’s sake don’t leave me”—before he was “cut limb from limb and carried away.” Another attack occurred when a Maori war canoe tried to come alongside the ship but was repulsed. Several of the Maori, including the chief, were killed in this encounter.

The next day (24 December 1817), Kelly thought from the noise on the beach that the Maori were going to attack in numbers to board the Sophia. He would have known that his merchant seamen would be no match for Maori warriors in hand-to-hand fighting on board once the first volley of muskets had been discharged. He decided therefore to launch a preemptive strike ashore to destroy their navy. The sailors cleared the beach with gunfire and then destroyed forty-two canoes. To press home his punitive measure, Kelly burned the settlement:

This town consisted of about 600 fine houses, and perhaps a finer town never was seen in any part of New Zealand … and in about four hours [it was] laid in a heap of ashes. … On the 27th of December, 1817, at daylight, we weighed our anchor and left Port Otago, and sailed to Chatham Island. … [H]undreds of natives came down on the shore to see us off; we fired a volley of musketry towards them.70

For decades after the Sophia left the coast, the people of Otago watched for the ship or any other vessel they thought belonged to Kelly. Several ships avoided the area, although seventeen years after the destruction of the settlement the Mary & Elizabeth was attacked in the belief that she was owned by Kelly.71

The balance of power in armaments between ship and shore became more equalized with the trade in muskets and cannon. This also enabled old insults and defeats to be revenged by one Maori tribe against another, with lethal results. As this arms race built up, it took over much of the maritime trading for kauri and flax. Pat Hohepa refers to the “one-ton (p.94) rule,” whereby one ton of dressed flax would purchase two muskets, and another ton would give sufficient powder and shot. He observes, “Carrying muskets and pistols became as natural as carrying traditional weapons of wood and stone.”72 Hohepa estimates that the number of Maori who died as a result of the “musket wars” between 1820 and 1835 was around eighty thousand.73

Another profitable trade related to warfare was the export of tattooed human heads. Reverend Marsden raised this issue with Governor Ralph Darling on 18 April 1831. Writing after killings in the Bay of Islands, Marsden gave the example of Captain Brind of the ship Prince of Denmark: “The heads of chiefs have been brought to Port Jackson by the Europeans for sale. When the chief who is with me went on board the Prince of Denmark he saw 14 heads of chiefs upon the table in the cabin. … The chief knew the heads; they were his friends; when he retired he said, ‘Farewell my people, farewell my people.’”74 Marsden went on to call for a naval vessel to go to New Zealand and check the conduct of masters and crews. The New South Wales authorities acted swiftly, at least on paper, to this appeal. On 25 April 1831 Marsden reported, “The Governor has issued a General Order prohibiting the importation of the heads of the New Zealanders into N. S. Wales.”75 It is satisfactorily noted by Harry Morton that “William Tucker a sealer involved in trading Maori heads to Sydney was killed by the Otago people along with two other sealers.”76

As various conflicts subsided, thousands of settlers from New South Wales and England increased, as did the demands for Maori-produced food and raw materials. The Maori in turn built and purchased additional vessels, the latter, from New South Wales, rather old and in poor condition. These ships transported more cargoes of potatoes, maize, and live-stock to the growing pakeha (non-Maori) settlements. Already as early as 1829, however, there was pakeha competition in shipbuilding in New Zealand. Thomas Raine, with British subjects employed, was building bigger craft at Hokianga in the northwest of the north island.77 His first vessel, the Enterprise, was wrecked under the difficult navigational conditions of the New Zealand coast. Many Maori vessels of European design also went the way of the Enterprise, through failure of the expensive and unfamiliar imported material for rigging and steering gear.78

Despite financial and technical difficulties, Maori control of vessels for coastal and trans-Tasman travel was clearly valued, not only for support of the whanau and a facility to market their produce, but also as a bastion of Maori freedom and independence.79 It had been agreed by the New South Wales authorities in 1834 that New Zealand vessels would (p.95) have free entry into Australian ports. Maori chiefs also established a shipbuilding yard at Hokianga and achieved a shipping register, and their vessels flew a flag as a symbol of an independent Maori identity. The chiefs followed this in 1835 with a “Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand.”80 The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi rendered this faint ambition void, although there was continuity of Maori-owned shipping for another two decades.

It is possible from records to appreciate the large number of merchant ships owned by the Maori. According to the list held at the Wellington Maritime Museum there were by the 1850s some 177 Maori-owned vessels. Ownership was divided between 69 named chiefs and 108 named places.81 An 1853 report shows 180 Maori-owned ships, including 37 schooners and ketches in Auckland alone, all built in New Zealand. Also trading to Auckland in 1852 were 1,792 canoes, “which landed 6235 male and 2542 female travellers as well as a great variety of foods and livestock.”82 Most of these Maori-owned vessels operating coastwise were crewed by whanau. Neil Atkinson notes that “the divisions of profits were determined by traditional tribal practices rather than European maritime custom.”83

By the 1860s what had been flourishing Maori shipping enterprises virtually disappeared. The alienation of Maori land, the related wars of resistance, growth in agricultural production by the pakeha, and greater self-sufficiency in New South Wales all reduced the supply of and demand for Maori produce. The valuable timber resources of New Zealand in turn attracted capital and shipwrights from overseas in the establishment of major shipyards. The new ships, owned by commercial enterprises, were bigger and better rigged than the aging Maori craft. The scow in particular was a sturdy, flat-bottomed 150-ton ship designed for the difficult conditions of the New Zealand coast. New Zealand shipyards built many other types of wooden vessels for European companies and for some communities over most of the South Sea islands.84 Maori maritime trade and related activities were reduced to mainly wage-earning carpenters ashore and sailors on foreign-owned ships.

Other Indigenous Commercial Shipping Ventures

Maritime commerce spread gradually and unevenly to all the Pacific islands beyond the three main groups of Polynesia, and few other places attempted to enter the business to any significant extent during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Tonga would have been expected to do (p.96) so, considering the skills and knowledge of Tongan seamen in voyaging to distant groups and collecting tribute. However, from the late eighteenth century the preoccupations of the chieftains of Tongatapu, Ha‘apai, and Va‘vau were in waging wars and the acquisition of armaments from foreign vessels for this purpose. In 1802 the schooner Duke of Portland was attacked in Tongatapu, and all the crew killed.85 In 1806 the Port au Prince was destroyed at Ha‘apai. Many of the sailors were killed, but William Mariner and others were spared and later took part in a successful attack with Ha‘apai warriors on Tongatapu, using cannon from the Port au Prince.86

Samoa likewise had a precontact history of voyaging, including links with Kiribati. The massacre of the boat’s crew of La Perouse in 1787 gave the place a reputation for savagery.87 Nevertheless, civil wars in the nineteenth century did attract ships trading in armaments. The newly designated consuls of Britain and America promoted this by retailing muskets, powder, and shot to both sides. Ralston notes, “Had they refused to sell the instruments of war it is doubtful if any fighting would have taken place.”88 As a result of wars, commercial trading in Samoa was minimal.

In Melanesia the chieftain system in many places covered, at best, loose federations and alliances and was less conducive to operating commercial vessels on a large scale. Only in Fiji did unified rule extend over a wide region under King Cakobau I. He seemed still dedicated to traditional vessels but during the 1840s was seeking a schooner for prestige, and the Tongan Ma‘afu, controlling the Lau Islands, already ran one, possibly for the same reason.89 Erskine notes that in Fiji in the 1840s “one or two of the more civilised chiefs already possess small single decked craft.”90

In Micronesia, Caroline Islands’ sailors were engaged in carrying commercial cargo on traditional craft,91 but unlikely on a profitable freightcharging basis. Later in the nineteenth century Marshall Islands chiefs “owned their own small schooners or brigs sailed by foreign captains.”92 These captains were often former sailors who had been beachcombers and then settled as traders on various islands. In Kiribati, “King” Tem Binoka (whose father, Tem Baiteki, as the ruler of Abemama and other islands had killed off all the European traders in 1851)93 bought the schooner Coronet (95 tons). He employed the Coronet in interisland trade and made voyages as far as New Zealand. Relying on successive European supercargoes and captains to run the ship, he described each of three: “He cheat a litty, he cheat plenty, and I think he cheat too much,” expressing no doubt the views of other aspiring island shipowners who adopted this (p.97) system of management. It is said that for the first two classes Tem Binoka had perfect tolerance.94

Conclusion: First Taste of Commerce

The period of 1800 to the 1860s brought most of the main islands of Polynesia and several elsewhere to the edge of the capitalist system. This was carried to them by commercial ships, thereby linking the Pacific people with the vast world of commerce in Europe, North America, and China and the growing economy of New South Wales. The new system was, as far as it could be understood, embraced by Polynesian chieftains. It was primarily exploitative in the sense that production became geared to the dictates of remote, unseen markets with their institutions of finance, brokerage, law, and insurance. New wants were stimulated—some useful, some merely leading to hoarding and conspicuous consumption, and others dangerously feeding destructive arms races between communities.

The capitalist-related trading economy was based on ethics quite different from those of most Pacific societies. Much of indigenous trade was guided by kinship, life-crisis ceremonies, and locational specializations, which enabled trade to take place widely as a form of insurance against physical disasters. There were competitive exchanges, but these also were seen as inverted in comparison with Western modes. In effect, prestige in Pacific society was generally accorded to chiefs and others from the ability to distribute rather than accumulate forms of wealth. Meanness and hoarding were a social stigma. In the traditional society, chiefs did possess wealth, but even in the less socially rigid Aotearoa communities the chief was still, as Firth puts it, “a kind of channel through which wealth flowed, concentrating it only to pour it out freely again.”95 The facility for the chiefly concentration of resources and labor from time to time enabled major social and strategic requirements to be met in the interest of the community as a whole.

The introduced new economic system did not overwhelm all the mores of traditional lifestyles. New commodities were incorporated into indigenous channels of trade, as was cash. Indigenous trade likewise flowed between places, carried along by commercial trading vessels (see chapter 10). However, the principles of the commercial trading system, based on buying cheap and selling dear, and the accumulation of personal wealth for the prestige and power it gave were soon adopted by the now deeply entrenched kingships of Tahiti and Hawai‘i. This change was detrimental (p.98) to customary leadership obligations, redistribution, and the health and well-being of the common people.

The royal entrepreneurs who entered the commercial system found that, to begin with, they had decided advantages. They could control all of the resources demanded, and soon learned the power of monopoly. They were able to drive hard bargains with buyers, as Captain Turnbull found to his cost in Tahiti and Hawai‘i. They also had power over producers through the traditional right of concentrating labor for social purposes. This they now utilized in the interests of production for the market. The new labor regime meant continuous work and therefore the neglect of subsistence food cultivation and fishing. Further, the right to declare taboos was now exercised to prevent the consumption of pigs and other tradable foodstuffs. These abuses of customary rights and obligations led to the impoverishment of many communities nutritionally and culturally.

The market-driven ethos also brought about environmental degradation. Pacific societies in the early centuries no doubt destroyed elements of the natural environment they inherited, but by the time of contact they were basically conservationists. Those in the coral islands had little choice; they were bounded by finite ecosystems.

For the mass of ordinary people in Tahiti and Hawai‘i there were few positive returns from hard labor and the rapacious attitudes to natural resources. Nor did the chiefs benefit in the long run from their partial adoption of the capitalist ethos. They failed to follow the necessary economic component of the system that required investing accumulated profits in the maintenance and renewal of vessels and other infrastructure. They tended to squander many returns. Maori owners were somewhat different; their primary motives in shipping and trade seem to have been to support families through the traditional redistributional mediums and to enhance community pride in their boats. But this may have led to contradictions within a plural society of being unable to save for investment while meeting traditional social pressures to carry people and distribute returns in the community. This left them exposed to the competition of profit-maximizing incomers.

From an inventory and examination of Hawaiian-owned ships, Peter Mills nevertheless cautions against undervaluing the contributions of these locally owned vessels and enterprises in the power struggles between indigenous and Western elements. He points out the indirect contributions of new related employment skills and technology.96 One of the most lasting effects from this was the creation of a working class at sea and (p.99) ashore. There was also an element to these maritime changes that went beyond the pressures of a new economy of capital and labor. Firth and Davidson in their seminal 1942 work said of the Pacific people in this period of change: “To them the ship was among the most remarkable of the material changes which Europeans had introduced into the life of the Pacific. They threw themselves into the task of building and handling these vessels with the same enthusiasm with which their fathers had perfected their knowledge of canoes.”97 (p.100)


(1.) H. E. Maude, “Post-Spanish Discoveries in the Central Pacific,” Journal of the Polynesian Society 70, no. 1 (1961).

(2.) H. E. Maude and Ida Leeson, “The Coconut Oil Trade of the Gilbert Islands,” Journal of the Polynesian Society 74 (1965): 399. The authors note that “Nanouti had a particularly sinister reputation.”

(3.) Ibid., 405–406.

(4.) J. S. Cumpston, Shipping Arrivals and Departures, Sydney, 1788–1825, 2 vols. (Canberra: Campbell, 1964).

(5.) Ibid., 1788, Lady Penrhyn.

(7.) H. E. Maude, “The Tahitian Pork Trade 1800–1830,” Journal de la Société des Océanistes (Paris) 15 (1959): 55.

(8.) Ibid., 74.

(11.) Turnbull, in Voyage round the World, 1:13, notes Otoo’s addiction to liquor when he was king.

(12.) Turnbull appears to have been supercargo on this voyage of 1802–1803. He was part owner of the ship with Captain John Buyers and would also have invested in the cargo.

(15.) Ibid., 2:16–17.

(16.) Ibid., 2:94; Niel Gunson, “Pomare II of Tahiti and Polynesian Imperialism,” Journal of Pacific History, 4 (1969): 78.

(18.) Turnbull described the ship as being absent for two months at the “Mottos,” which were part of the Tuamotus. Ibid., 2:180.

(19.) A. T. Yarwood, Samuel Marsden: The Great Survivor (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1977), 193.

(20.) Sydney Gazette, June 1819.

(22.) Gunson, “Pomare II,” 75–77. In some documents the name “Michael Fodger” is given as “Michael Folger”; for consistency, “Fodger” is used here.

(23.) Ibid., 69–70.

(25.) Sandalwood from Marquesas is recorded at Port Jackson from the Queen Charlotte in 1815, but the product was exhausted by about 1817.

(28.) The arrival of Endeavour with salt pork is mentioned in the Sydney Gazette, June 1825.

(30.) Missionary insistence that people should wear decent clothing was prevalent on all islands, and this policy probably contributed to ailments, including tuberculosis, from dampness and sunshine deprivation.

(31.) Maude, in “Tahitian Pork Trade,” records that there were twenty-one Australian-built, privately owned ships trading to the islands at this time.

(32.) James R. Gibson, Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999), 23.

(34.) Ibid., 12.

(35.) O. H. K. Spate, Paradise Found and Lost (London: Routledge, 1988), 372. Records show that Metcalf was soon afterward killed by Indian tribes on the American northwest coast.

(36.) (p.221) K. R. Howe, Where the Waves Fall (Melbourne: Allen and Unwin, 1984), 157.

(39.) Ibid., 2:60.

(41.) Stephen W. Reynolds, Voyage of the New Hazard 1810–1813, ed. F.W. Howay (Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1970), 111n314.

(43.) Ibid., 14.

(45.) Ibid., appendix tables.

(47.) In ibid., Reynolds covers relationships between sailors and Hawaiian girls and the arrangements made to keep this activity on board.

(48.) Ibid., 5.

(49.) Ibid. Regarding slave trading on the coast, editor F. W. Howay points out that slavery was still an institution at that time in the southern states of the Union.

(50.) Ibid., 25n68.

(51.) The circumstances are somewhat obscure as conveyed by Reynolds, ibid. The manuscript “Log of the Hamilton” (25 July 1811; held in the Essex Institute, Salem, MA) does not apparently provide all the details either of this tragic event.

(52.) Reynolds, Voyage of the New Hazard, 143. The date of 1 July was taboo, and “no person allowed to go on the water.”

(53.) The Fourth of July was celebrated on 5 July, according to Reynolds’ journal, as the date had not been adjusted at 180°.

(55.) The Prince Regent is recorded in Sydney as sailing in the company of the Mermaid for the Sandwich Islands on 16 October 1821 (Sydney Gazette).

(56.) Various aspects of the Erromango catastrophe are covered by Shineberg, They Came for Sandalwood. See also Gunson, “Pomare II,” 18; and Spate, Paradise Found and Lost, 284.

(59.) Caroline Ralston, Grass Huts and Warehouses: Pacific Beach Communities of the Nineteenth Century (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1978), 104.

(60.) Ibid., 108.

(63.) Raymond Firth, Economics of the New Zealand Maori (Wellington, New Zealand: R. E. Owen Government Printer, 1929), 284, 304, 351.

(64.) A. Murray Bathgate, “Maori River and Ocean Going Craft,” Journal of the Polynesian Society 3, no. 78 (1969); Clifford W. Hawkins, “The Waka in Trade and Transport,” Marine News 49, no. 1 (2000): 12–14.

(66.) Ibid., 368.

(67.) Nicholas, Voyage to New Zealand, 71–74. See also Richard A. Cruise, Journal of a Ten Months’ Residence in New Zealand (London: Longman, 1832; facsimile, Christchurch, New Zealand: Capper Press, 1974), 74–77; and Peter Dillon, Narrative and Successful Result of a Voyage in the South Seas (London: Hurst Chance, 1829), 1:216–224.

(68.) Marsden in 1814 warned of the great cruelties toward the Europeans, particularly in the case of the Boyd. A young Tahitian who was married to the daughter of a Maori chief replied by asserting that the Europeans were the first aggressors and detailing other offenses. See “Rev. S. Marsden’s Account of His First Visit to New Zealand,” December 1814, in McNab, Historical Records, 350.

(69.) Government and General Order, 1 December 1813, in McNab, Historical Records, 316–317.

(70.) Quoted in H. D. Skinner, “Murdering, Beach Collecting and Excavating: 1850–1950,” Journal of the Polynesian Society 68 (1959).

(71.) Ibid. An account of the archeological sites at which these incidents occurred is at the Otago Museum, Dunedin, New Zealand; and for information of the related fate of the Mary & Elizabeth, see Susan Chamberlain, “The Hobart Whaling Industry 1830 to 1900” (PhD thesis, La Trobe University, Victoria, 1982), 133.

(74.) Samuel Marsden, “Communication with Governor Darling 18 April 1831,” in McNab, Historical Records, 716.

(75.) Samuel Marsden, response by Governor Darling, 25 April 1831, in ibid., 717.

(76.) Harry Morton, The Whale’s Wake (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1982), 84, 135.

(77.) Thomas Raine to Sir George Murray, Sydney, 3 January 1829, in McNab, Historical Records, 716.

(78.) Losses were high due to navigation on treacherous lee shores, as well as the poor state of these acquired vessels and rigging, but there are few details of their losses.

(p.223) (79.) Similarly, N. Morarjee, in N. G. Jog, ed., Narattam Morarjee: Architect of Modern Indian Shipping (Bombay: Scindia Steam Navigation Co., 1977), notes that the introduction of Indian-owned shipping is seen as part of the independence movement in India.

(80.) Donald Denoon and Philippa Mein-Smith, with Marivic Wyndham, A History of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific (Edinburgh: Black-well, 2000), 108. See also Raewyn Dalziel, “Southern Islands: New Zealand and Polynesia,” in The Oxford History of the British Empire, vol. 3, The Nineteenth Century, ed. Andrew Porter, 567–577 (Oxford: University Press, 1999), 577.

(81.) Records of Maori-owned vessels, circa 1850, Wellington Maritime Museum.

(83.) Neil Atkinson, Crew Culture: New Zealand Seafarers under Sail and Steam (Wellington, New Zealand: Te Papa Press, 2001).

(84.) Clifford W. Hawkins, “The Passage of Sail: European Sailing Ship Building in the South West Pacific,” Great Circle 5, no. 1 (1983): 90–97.

(85.) The lives of two women were spared: a black woman who was still in Tonga when Mariner was there, and a European named Elza Mosey (or Moray) became a wife of Teukava, a chief from Kolovai. She escaped to Australia on the ship Union in 1804 after that ship was nearly taken. Later she returned to her Tongan family on the ship Favourite. Wood, History and Geography of Tonga, 34; and H. E. Maude, “Beachcombers and Castaways,” Journal of the Polynesian Society 73, no. 3 (1964): 260.

(89.) J. W. Davidson and Deryck Scarr, eds., Pacific Island Portraits (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1970), 95.

(92.) Ibid., 224.

(93.) H. E. Maude and Edwin Doran, “The Precedence of Tarawa Atoll,” Annals of American Geographers 56 (1966): 269–289.

(94.) R. L. Stevenson, In the South Seas (London: Chatto and Windus, 1920), 275.

(96.) Peter R. Mills, “Neo in Oceania,” Journal of Pacific History 135 (2003): 53–67.

(97.) Naval Intelligence Division, Geographical Handbook, vol. 1, Pacific Islands, edited by Raymond Firth and J. W. Davidson “for British Admiralty” (Royal Navy, 1942), 276.