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Give Us Our Daily Breadfruit: Bread Substitution in the Pacific in the Eighteenth Century

From: Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture
Volume 35, 2006
pp. 53-75 | 10.1353/sec.2010.0046

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Give Us Our Daily Breadfruit:
Bread Substitution in the Pacific in the Eighteenth Century
Vanessa Smith

Vanessa Smith is an ARC Queen Elizabeth II Fellow in the School of English, Art History, Film and Media at the University of Sydney. She is the author of Literary Culture and the Pacific: Nineteenth-Century Textual Encounters (1998) and co-editor of Exploration and Exchange: A South Seas Anthology 1680–1900 (2000) and Islands in History and Representation (2003). She is currently writing a book on friendship and cross-cultural encounter in the long eighteenth century.


1. Uru is the Tahitian word for the tree named by Parkinson Artocarpus altilis, and known as ulu in Hawaii and Samoa, kuru in the Cook Islands, and mei in the Marquesas, Tonga, and Gambier Islands. Diane Ragone, "Ethnobotany of Breadfruit in Polynesia" in Islands, Plants, and Polynesians: an Introduction to Polynesian Ethnobotany: 203-220, Paul Alan Cox and Sandra Anne Banack, eds. (Portland, Oregon: Dioscorides Press, 1991), 203-4.

2. James Burney, A Chronological History of the Voyages and Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean Part II from the year 1579, to the year 1620 (London, 1806; reprint Amsterdam: N. Israel, 1967), 146. The analogies used to describe the fruit in the Spanish account are primarily fructuous: "it grows to the size of a boy's head; when ripe, it is of a light green colour; but of a strong green before it is ripe: the outside or rind is streaked crossways like the pine apple; the form is not entirely round, but becomes narrow towards the end; the stalk runs to the middle of the fruit, where there is a kind of web: it has neither stone nor kernel, nor is any part unprofitable except the rind which is thin: it has but little moisture; it is eaten many ways, and by the natives is called white food: it is well tasted, wholesome, and nutritious; the leaves are large, and indented in the manner of those of the West India Papaw tree." Burney, Chronological History, 145-146. Burney refers to this description of the breadfruit, taken from Figueroa's 1613 Hechos de D. Garcia. Marq: de Cánete (Madrid 1613), as "the earliest description which can with certainty be attributed to the Bread fruit." It was probably compiled from the papers of the Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, who took command of the voyage after Mendana's death. [End Page 71]

3. William Dampier, A new Voyage round the World (London: James Knapton, 1697), 296-7.

4. [Richard Walter and Benjamin Robins], A Voyage round the World in the years MDCCXL, I, II, III, IV by George Anson, Glyndwr Williams, ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), 281.

5. [John Philips], A Voyage to the South-Seas And to many other Parts of the World Performed from the Month of September in the Year 1740, to June 1744, by Commodore Anson, In his Majesty's Ship the Centurion, Having under His Command The Gloucester, Pearl, Severn, Wager, Trial, and two Store-Ships. By an Officer of the Fleet. (London: A Merryman, 1744), 142, 145-6.

6. [Walter and Robins], Voyage round the World, 284.

7. Pascoe Thomas, A True and Impartial Journal of a Voyage to the South-Seas, and Round the globe, In His Majesty's Ship the Centurion, Under the Command of Commodore George Anson (London: S. Birt, J. Newbery, J. Collyer, 1775), 167-168.

8. I have adapted this term from Jonathan Lamb's engrossing discussion of "scorbutic nostalgia," and in particular the exaggerated sensory appreciation shown by those afflicted with scurvy, including members of Anson's expedition. Jonathan Lamb, Preserving the Self in the South Seas 1680-1840 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 114-131.

9. [John Harris], Navigantium atque itinerantium bibliotheca; Or, A complete collection of voyages and travels, John Campbell, ed. (London: Printed for T. Woodward, A. Ward, S. Birt, D. Browne, T. Longman, R. Hett, C. Hitch, H. Whitridge, S. Austen, J. Hodges, J. Robinson, B. Dod, T. Harris, J. Hinton, and J. Rivington, 1744-48), 351. I am grateful to Glyn Williams for directing me towards this source. It is...