- Two-Way Traffic
The eighteenth-century Pacific was where British imperialism staked its better reputation. Voyaging was posited as knowledge gathering, not territory [End Page 611] grabbing; settlement was said to be motivated by a desire to improve the lives of islanders, not those of aspirational missionaries and traders. Postcolonial scholarship has, in hindsight, found such claims difficult to swallow. But the Pacific has also become the focus of attempts to re-envision the two-sidedness, partiality and informality of that vexed project "discovery." Greg Dening, John Gascoigne, and Harriet Guest, three major figures in Pacific studies, here offer outstanding new volumes that are also to some degree revisitings of their own particular contributions to the field.
Greg Dening's sudden passing early last year left his co-edition of William Pascoe Crook's An Account of the Marquesas Islands 1797–1799 with the status of his final book. It was one he had been uncertain would ever make it into print. In his 2004 history of the Marquesas Islands, Beach Crossings, he envisaged that the transcription his research assistant Margaret Chambers had made of Crook's account would end up in a file in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, and he referred somewhat mysteriously to circumstances that had prevented its publication. Its release at last in both English and French editions from the Tahitian press Haere Po has many advantages over the Mitchell Library file, although it remains almost as difficult to track down. It is a collaboratively authored work, drawing on the ethnographic and linguistic skills of Hervé-Marie Le Cleac'h, until very recently bishop of the Marquesas; on the knowledge of Crook's biographer, Douglas Peacocke; on all the (limited) additional material on Crook's mission; and on a judicious selection of the eighteenth-century Marquesan context and early London Missionary Society activity. Its multivocality makes a fine match with Crook's Account, which has for some time now been acknowledged as the work of three authors: Crook himself; Timautete, a high-ranking Marquesan who was abducted and taken to England by the captain of the ship on which Crook had returned from his own brief spell in the Marquesas; and the Reverend Samuel Greatheed, London Missionary Society founder and gifted philologist, who seems to have been responsible for synthesizing the work of the missionary and Marquesan informants. Although Dening's hand is light on this edition, it nonetheless reflects his unique gift as a historian, unobtrusively demonstrating that the most acute critical perception is not incommensurate with the deepest appreciation of his subjects' human circumstances.
Crook's experience and the manuscript it produced were unique not merely because he was the first missionary to document his experiences in two quite socially and linguistically distinct areas of the Marquesas Islands (Tahuata in the southeastern group and Nukuhiva in the northwestern) but also because he was—unlike any other missionary sent out by the London Missionary Society on the first voyage of the Duff—left to work alone. The Duff had landed two missionaries intended for the Marquesas on Tahuata on 5 June 1797. Crook was twenty-two years old, originally from Dartmouth in Devonshire, and had previously been a manservant. He was to be accompanied by a senior convert, recently ordained, John Harris. But once the Duff had anchored at Vaitahu Bay and the missionaries had begun negotiating a residency with the local chief Tainai, it was found that Harris "disapproved of every thing, and judged the scene before him a solemn one; and, in short, seemed entirely to have lost his firmness and ardour" (41–2). He returned with the ship to join a large missionary cohort at Tahiti.
Crook's own time at Tahuata quickly became fraught. He endured a famine, witnessed cannibalism, and "adopted a...