Volume 74 1965 > Volume 74, No. 4 > The coconut oil trade of the Gilbert Islands, by H. E. Maude, p 396 - 437
THE COCONUT OIL TRADE OF THE GILBERT ISLANDS
Though the importance of the trader in the study of cultural change in the Pacific Islands has long been recognized, serious research into the history of trade has as yet barely begun. In part this may be due to the partiality shown by historians for the political sphere, but the main reason would seem to lie in the dearth or inaccessibility of the primary source material. 1
In marked contrast to the orderly series of government records which, thanks to modern photographic processes, are now available to the most isolated worker, the trading historian has to seek his material by laboriously thumbing through the shipping pages of contemporary newspapers for a chance sentence bearing on his theme, and then piece it together with other snippets gleaned from a hundred mission, naval and commercial reports, the observations of the occasional traveller, a news paragraph on some marine disaster, or the often garbled accounts of month-old events in the remote island world. If one is lucky one may discover a few surviving ships' log-books, unhappily concerned for the most part with wind and weather.- 397
Almost nothing is tailored to one's purpose. Rather, most source materials were written for quite other ends by people often intemperate in their bias, for the trader had few friends; he wrote no apologia himself and unfortunately even his correspondence, journals, and accounts, with the conspicuous exceptions of the Towns Papers and the Jardine, Matheson Papers, have failed to survive.
The following paper, therefore, is in the nature of a case study aimed at discovering whether the source materials for trading history in fact exist and can be recovered. 2 The coconut oil trade was chosen as the principal commercial activity in the Pacific Islands up to its supersession by copra in the 1870s, and the only one common to virtually the whole region.
Some measure of the difficulties encountered in assembling the factual information for this paper may be gauged from its having been started in 1959 and carried on intermittently ever since. One of the partners in the enterprise, the indefatigable but unassuming doyen of Pacific research workers, Ida Leeson, died before its completion. Modest to a fault in her assessment of her own contribution, she always strenuously resisted any suggestion that her name should appear as joint author; alas that she can resist no longer.
1. PRELUDE TO COMMERCE
If we except two chance and soon forgotten sightings by the Spanish, and Byron's call at Nikunau in 1765, the Gilbert Islands remained unknown to the western world until the development of a new sea route—the “Outer Passage”—pioneered by two of the First Fleet en route from Port Jackson to Canton to secure return cargoes for England. In less than 40 years, before the advent of the whalers who began to arrive in the area from approximately 1820 onwards, ships on this Australia-China run, together with a French man-of-war and a stray trans-Pacific fur trader, found all but two of the islands in the group. The other two were seen in 1826, thus ending the era of discovery. 3
Trade, or any other, contacts with the Gilbertese during this period were few, for the islanders possessed little of value to the visitors and in turn were ignorant of the nature of European goods. Byron tried unsuccessfully to obtain coconuts, Gilbert in 1788 exchanged a mirror, a bottle and a few nails for some necklaces; and Cary in 1804 bartered hoop iron for “beads” (again presumably shell necklaces) and later, when the people understood that they were preferred, for coconuts. That is all; though the demand for iron may (but not necessarily) indicate some previous contact with Europeans.
Although British or American whalers were operating in both the Eastern and Western Pacific by 1790, they kept to the on-shore grounds by the coasts of South America and Australia and it was not until 1819 that- 398
they first reached Honolulu. From that base they began to range far and wide over the Pacific in their search for the sperm whale, most valuable of all the species, and within a few months had discovered both the prolific Japan grounds and the “on-the-line” grounds straddling the equator.
In 1821 Captain George Barrett, in the Independence II, pioneered the Kingsmill section “on-the-line” which, to quote Beale, lay “off any part of these islands, but more particularly off the south-west parts of Roach's Island [Tamana], distant from the land thirty or forty miles; and off the south-west portion of Byron's Island [Nikunau]”. 4 Other whalers followed closely in what became known as “country whaling” and trade contacts soon commenced; in 1827, for example, we find the same - 399 Independence II, now in command of Captain William Plaskett, bartering with the natives of Nonouti. 5
These initial contacts were of a very restricted character, since apart from a few coconuts or chickens, curios and shells, and occasionally a pandanus mat, women were the sole products of these arid coral islands of any value to the visitors, payment being made in hoop iron “which they were very Eager for”, nails, and whales' teeth, with beads and mirrors and similar trinkets. 6 The Gilbertese women, however, who were noted for their beauty, were early in demand: at Tabiteuea, for example, “their young girls were offered to be disposed of, by their fathers and brothers, alongside the ship, openly, and without concealment; and to drive a bargain for them, was one of their principal objects of their visits to the ship”. 7 Most stayed on board only while the vessel was off the island, but occasionally captains like Leasonby, of the London whaler Offley, took them on a cruise, and did not always bother to return them to their home islands. 8
With such limited inducement many captains were loth to approach the islands at all, not only owing to their being badly charted but because from time immemorial the Gilbertese had been acustomed to regard all strangers, whether they came by canoe or by ship, as fair prey, and at least in the central islands would invariably cut off, plunder, and if provoked kill, any vessel's crew that incautiously or through mischance got into their hands. Nonouti had a particularly sinister reputation in this respect, as witness the attacks or attempted attacks on the crews of the Columbia (1846), Triton (1848), Flying Fox (1850) and Charles W. Morgan (1851). 9
In any case the degree of European contact with the various Gilbert Islands varied widely, the controlling factors being partly the reputation of the particular island but principally the nature of the anchorage and its proximity to inhabited areas. Butaritari became the most frequented for the entrance into its lagoon was easy to negotiate and once inside a ship could refit at ease; and as we shall see there were other attractive features. Reef islands, and in particular Nikunau, were popular, for even where the anchorage was poor vessels could at least stand off and on close to a village. But owing to their geographical configuration, Onotoa, South Tabiteuea and Maiana were seldom visited, and Tarawa apparently not at all; even as late at the early 1840s. 10- 400
The most important economic result of the whaling visits was to transform the islanders into tobacco addicts, and thus to provide them with a general medium of exchange which soon superseded hoop iron and has not in turn entirely yielded to money even today. “In the use of tobacco”, Captain Hudson said in 1841, “they are truly disgusting, for they eat it and swallow it, with a zest and pleasure indescribable. Their whole mind seems to be bent upon obtaining this luxury, and consequently it will command their most valuable articles.” 11 All trading transactions, if not simple barter, were conducted in terms of heads of plug tobacco, and as Commander Blake found in the neighbouring Carolines, “the only purpose to which they would apply a dollar or any other coin was to make a hole in it and fasten it round their necks”. 12
The gradual processes of cultural change, still hardly apparent by the mid-1830s, were carried forward a further stage by an incidental consequence of the whaling visits: the landing of beachcombers, and their involuntary counterparts the castaways.
From almost the earliest days of western commercial contact Ponape (or Ascension Island) in the Caroline Group was the acknowledged beachcombing centre of Micronesia, with a floating European population of over 30 by 1839, a number of them being from whaling vessels wrecked in the Gilberts. 13 Nauru was the second centre, with 13 Europeans in 1837, for the most part escaped convicts. 14
Living conditions on these islands were incomparably better than in the Gilberts, where the beachcomber was compelled to live on an almost unvarying diet of coconuts and fish among a people whose behaviour must have seemed at best unpredictable. Nevertheless, despite the unfavourable reputation of the Gilberts among whalemen, from time to time some member of a ship's crew would be found willing (or sufficiently desperate) to desert there, while others were marooned by their captains either because their conduct was unsatisfactory or merely to save the wages which would otherwise be due to them at the end of the voyage. In addition whalers were notoriously prone to aid the escape of convicts from New South Wales and these were sometimes landed, to take their chance, on the first island touched at. As one would expect, seamen wrecked in the Group (and there were many), when not killed or held to ransom for tobacco like the crew of the Columbia, would usually try to make off in the ship's boats for other, and more salubrious, parts; but a few of them too remained behind, either voluntarily or perforce. 15
In 1835 there were said to be three European beachcombers living on Butaritari, a Hawaiian on Tabiteuea, and no doubt a few on other - 401 islands. 16 By 1841 there were at least 16 whites in the Gilberts; 17 and from then on they increased rapidly to a total of perhaps 50 in the 1860s.
The average beachcomber, particularly during the early period of contact, was distinguishable from the natives with whom he lived only by his colour, and possibly a pair of trousers; his very safety depended on his owning nothing and conforming to local customs. Nevertheless he paved the way for the trader by habituating the islanders to the presence of Europeans, and more directly by circulating any goods which he managed to bring ashore, or could obtain for his services as pilot or interpreter to visiting ships. When the first beachcombers and castaways landed no-one knew how they should be received or treated: in 1834 Wood on Butaritari was carried about on men's shoulders for months, and a year later Venables, on landing at South Tabiteuea, occasioned “utter amazement” and had to submit to a minute personal examination while the people “rubbed me down on all parts of my body”. 18 A decade later the first resident traders were at least recognized by the Gilbertese as human beings like themselves who, however much they might conform to the practices of their hosts, had in fact very different customs and values of their own. 19
Bêche-de-mer and Tortoise-shell
Coconut oil, and later copra, have been almost the sole exports from the Gilbert Islands for so many decades that it is hard today to envisage the possibility of trade existing at all except in exchange for one or the other commodity, still less of any merchant vessel paying a visit to the Group to obtain any other cargo.
But although the first trial shipment of coconut oil from the Society Islands was made in 1818, it took many years before it became of commercial importance in the Pacific. Meanwhile, as part of their trade revival following the war of 1812, American trading vessels began to comb the islands for saleable products. 20 The risky but profitable sandalwood trade of Fiji and the Marquesas was all but dead, but acceptable profits were to be made from pearl-shell, bêche-de-mer, tortoise-shell, and even such bizarre articles for the Chinese market as edible birds' nests and coral moss.
While the larger firms, such as N. L. Rogers and Brothers of Salem, operated in the main groups, smaller craft, often owned by the captain - 402 himself, called at the more out-of-the-way islands for such pickings as they could get.
It seems probable that several of these free-ranging traders visited the Gilberts during the 1830s, but almost certainly the only person to specialize in the local trade was Captain Trainer, an Englishman by birth, who combined speculative voyages along the western coast of North and South America with periodical excursions to the islands—anywhere, in fact, where he could hope for a saleable cargo.
Trainer made several voyages to the Gilbert Islands over a number of years, and fortunately an excellent account of one of them was made by a whaling surgeon, Dr. John Coulter, who travelled as a passenger on board the 200 ton brigantine Hound during the year 1835. 21The Hound, which carried a crew of 16, was owned and operated by Trainer himself, and left San Francisco with the intention of cruising among the islands for tortoise-shell, bêche-de-mer, sandalwood, dye-woods, and other tropical commodities, returning via Tahiti where he had arranged to ship a cargo of arrowroot and pearl-shell.
In the absence of commercially significant deposits of pearl-shell in the Gilberts two local products only were regarded as of any commercial value: bêche-de-mer and tortoise-shell. Furthermore, as the former was of inferior quality and the latter obtainable only in limited quantities they were worth collecting only by small sailing craft with low operating expenses; even though bêche-de-mer was then fetching $32 a quintal (of 100 lbs.) in Manila and tortoise-shell $14 a lb. in the States. 22
Trading operations on the Hound were well organised. The vessel was armed with four small carronades, a long brass nine-pounder and small arms for the crew; and boarding nets were turned up on arrival at each island, with a special watch set to prevent any unauthorised person coming on board. Trading hours were strictly from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during which period a flag was flown from the mast-head as an indication to the natives ashore. At such times, “although great numbers of natives were round the vessel, some through curiosity, others to trade, and the noise was great, as the nettings were raised only on one side at the gangway, all was conducted on board in a very orderly manner”. 23
Constant watch had to be kept against a surprise attack, particularly when the vessel was on the eve of departure and the Gilbertese had exhausted more legitimate means of obtaining the trade goods which appeared to be stored in such enormous quantities on board. On the 1835 voyage, despite all precautions, one of the crew was killed by the natives of Utiroa village, on Tabiteuea, while collecting firewood; and a subsequent assault on the ship was repelled with some difficulty. (Six years later the same villagers killed a sailor on the Wilkes Expedition.)
The Hound called at Tabiteuea, Abemama, Kuria, Butaritari, and Little Makin, and possibly some of the other islands in the group, fourteen out of the sixteen being apparently known to the captain. It is clear from - 403 Coulter's narrative that the Gilbertese were already accustomed to such trading visits, for they had accumulated stocks of both bêche-de-mer and tortoise-shell (then more accurately called turtle-shell), which they exchanged for tobacco, hoop-iron, clay pipes and various “trifling articles of small value”. 24 At Abemama a regular bêche-de-mer station was already in operation, with sheds for curing and drying built on the edge of the reef.
Commerce, even though limited in its extent and primitive in its organization, had clearly come to stay; all that was now needed was some local product that would justify its further extension and development.
Whaling captains and the coconut oil trade
On islands with no minerals and no economic plants other than the coconut, pandanus, and a calladium called babai, the quest for such a product must have seemed hopeless to the occasional itinerant trading captain of the 1830s. But by the early 1840s new techniques had been perfected for using coconut oil in the manufacture of soap and candles, leading to an increased demand and higher prices for what had hitherto been considered a minor and often almost unsaleable commodity. 25 The possibilities of the oil trade then began to attract attention, not only in the Eastern Pacific where the Hort brothers and John Brander commenced operations based on Tahiti, but also in Sydney, the logical base for trade with the western islands.
In the remote groups of the Central Pacific, however, the trade was first developed, as a profitable side-line, by a few enterprising captains in the rapidly increasing whaling fleet, and small quantities of coconut oil and other island produce were listed with the sperm and black oil brought by them to Sydney. 26 Killing whales was, of course, the serious business, but the incidental calls at near-by islands while engaged in “country whaling” could now be a means of gaining additional profits for the owners as well as refreshment for the crew.
Trading methods were simple. The first call at an island was normally merely for the purpose of making arrangements to purchase any oil made at a stated rate (usually expressed in terms of tobacco), while the ship engaged in whaling in the vicinity. After a fortnight or so the vessel returned and the oil was either brought out by canoe in ibu (coconut-shell bottles), or else, if the captain felt that he could trust the islanders, purchased ashore.
The coconut oil trade was immensely popular with the Gilbertese from its commencement, for it enabled them to obtain some of the coveted possessions of their European visitors without any real change in their traditional way of life. They had been accustomed to making quantities - 404 of the oil for their own use—culinary and toilet—and, as will be seen from the following contemporary account of the production of oil for a visiting whaler, no material modification was necessary to normal island productive techniques:
“This oil is made by taking the nut after it is fully ripe and scraping the meat out of the shell with a piece of iron hoop or plane bitt. As the meat is about half an inch thick and hard they are able to scrape it up fine in getting it out, this is laid in the sun for several days then tied up in the fibrous sheath that covers the cocoanut leaf near the tree, then pressed by means of a lever and the oil running through this strainer is caught in a scallop shell which will hold several gallons. This oil when pure and clean is remarkably clear and transparent, being almost as colorless as water.” 27
The Gilbertese, in other words, simply made more oil than before and bartered the surplus, in marked contrast to the requirements of the always unpopular bêche-de-mer trade, which necessitated drastic changes in work routines as well as the learning of new technical processes.
Captains, too, found the trade a convenient one, since they could continue whaling operations while the oil was being made ashore, and later store it in the ordinary casks carried for the whale oil. This is probably the reason why, in the Gilbert Islands at least, itinerant trading vessels such as the Hound found it increasingly hard to compete: for the whalers were not only on the spot, but experts in the coopering and storage of oil.
Pre-eminent among the early whaler-traders in the Gilberts was Captain Ichabod Handy of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, master and principal owner of the barque Belle, who commenced oil trading at Abaiang in 1849. 28
Well known and respected in both Honolulu and Sydney, Captain Handy learnt to speak Gilbertese and maintained excellent personal relations with the islanders. Though he visited most of the group at one time or another, the bulk of his trade was concentrated at Abaiang, where we have a picture of him in operation, written by a passenger in the Belle:
“While we were on the island we saw the Captain buying oil, it was measured in a bucket that measured three and a half gallons, for this full he paid one and a quarter pounds of poor tobacco, which cost thirteen cents a lb. making seventeen cents for three and a half gallons of oil for which he will get three dollars and a half.” 29
The trade was clearly worthwhile when oil fetching a dollar a gallon could be obtained for about 5 cents' worth of trade goods; and Handy admitted that he could afford to give 50 cents a gallon for the oil and still make a good net return on the deal. 30- 405
But Captain Handy was not the first whaling captain to trade for oil in the Gilberts. Indeed, Butaritari tradition suggests that the earliest whaling trader appeared soon after the departure of the Wilkes Exploring Expedition in 1841. Her Captain was called by the natives Kabunare: “He it was who brought tobacco to Butaritari. This he traded for coconut oil”. The visit is particularly remembered as it caused a new edict called Totomataniwi by which the then High Chief, Te Itimaroroa, prescribed that he was to have the first smoke from all tobacco acquired by barter. “This was all right,” says a Gilbertese writer, “when the people of the King's village came singly to his house. But a crowd of people from far away villages arrived with their tobacco one day and the King smoked so much that he was violently sick and fainted, whereupon he abolished the custom”. 31
Later, as the trade developed, local native agents were appointed (preferably the principal chief, where there was one) to collect oil on a commission basis, and iron pots, some of which could still be seen on Butaritari in 1933, were landed to serve as temporary storage vats. 32 But by this time the whaling captain was himself being squeezed out of the trade by a new and more efficient competitor: the resident trader.
2. RICHARD RANDELL AND PARTNERS
Richard Randell and George Durant: Resident Traders
The first resident traders to commence operations on any of the Central Pacific Islands were Richard Randell and George Durant, who set up their trading establishment on Butaritari. It has not been possible to discover the name of the ship in which they arrived, but Randell's advent has been chronicled by the local historian quoted above in these words:
“From one visiting vessel a man whom the people called Koa Koa, and who informed them that he came from Parramatta, was left ashore at the small island of Tikurere in the Butaritari lagoon and here opened a trading store. For copra he traded such things as rifles and ammunition, food, cannons, whisky, gin and rum. There was, thereafter, much drunkenness and fighting and many people were killed. The cannons, some of which were quite big, were used for making a noise and frightening people.” 33- 406
From other records we know that the two traders landed together, in March, 1864; 34 the fact that only Randell's name was remembered on Butaritari is hardly surprising, since Durant soon left the island to set up a branch establishment on Little Makin, whereas Randell remained for a quarter of a century to become the most renowned trader in Gilbertese history. 35
Butaritari was the obvious choice for any trading headquarters; not only were the inhabitants “a remarkably soft and gentle race”, in contrast to the Gilbertese on some of the southern islands, but there was a stable government and consequent security of property, the only lagoon then generally used by ocean-going vessels, and a low population density which enabled a large percentage of the coconut crop to be used for making oil for export. Tikurere, furthermore, is a tiny islet on the western reef, remote from the centres of population, where property and person could be protected from thieves and the ill-disposed.
Nevertheless, it must have needed considerable courage and enterprise to settle on “this verge of the known world”, as a visitor described it, thousands of miles from the nearest outpost of civilization and among a people generally considered by Europeans to be unpredictable and treacherous savages, even though Randell purported to live “under the protection of the English flag, which waves over his roof”. 36 It is possible that he had read the report of the Wilkes Exploring Expedition (published in London the previous year), in which the Butaritari people were given a favourable character; but more probably he had already visited the island on one of the Australian whalers and sized up the local situation for himself.
The first few years appear to have been a period of modest development during which Randell, in particular, succeeded in gaining the confidence of the High Chief Te Itimaroroa and the islanders and achieving a remarkable fluency in the Gilbertese language. “They have been sailors probably”, says Dr. Luther Gulick, speaking of the partners, “and tho'men of some force of character, and intelligent for their grade, do not make pretentions to much refinement. . . . Mr. Randell has a more active mind than Mr. Durant, & he is the most skilled in the native tongue.” 37 The fact that there is no indication of either imports from, or exports to, Sydney for four years after their arrival suggests that they were men who, short of capital resources, operated on a small scale collecting coconut oil for sale to visiting whaler-traders in return for tobacco - 407 and muskets. 38 Without capital they could not operate, or even charter, trading vessels, and thus rise above the level of the petty island retail trader.
Charles Smith: Financier
Not all the ships engaged in “country whaling” were American, by any means; a surprising number of them were from England, and others, such as the Pocklington and Minerva, were Australian owned and based on Sydney.
Among this last group was the Woodlark, from 1843 commanded by Captain Charles Smith, and the evidence suggests that she first called at Butaritari about October, 1849, and that on her next voyage she took a direct shipment of 40 barrels of coconut oil and 1 cwt. Of tortoise-shell from there to Sydney, where she arrived on November 26, 1850. 39
Randell himself left Butaritari early in 1850 in Handy's barque the Belle, and arrived in Australia on March 31. The Belle also carried 200 barrels of coconut oil, the first direct shipment to be made, and although Handy was a part-time trader himself it seems probable that at least some of it was freighted for Randell.
There can be little doubt that the purpose of Randell's visit was to secure financial backing and make shipping arrangements. This difficult task, at least for an unknown island trader, was happily solved by his entering into partnership with Charles Smith, for the latter was well connected with the mercantile business world through his association with Fotheringham, a founder of the Marine Insurance Company, and with the important firm of Flower, Salting and Company, which had just appointed him the manager of their whaling fieet. 40
The financial details of the partnership are not known but it seems to have been a more or less informal arrangement by which Smith provided the shipping, purchased the trade goods and sold the oil either on the Sydney or London market. Randell, on the other hand, retained entire control over the Gilbert Islands end of the business, including the organization and management of the trade at headquarters and on the outer islands, and the recruitment, employment, and posting of staff and oil agents throughout the Group.
Two schooners, the Chieftain (77 tons) and Supply (127 tons), were immediately assigned to the Gilberts trade, Randell returning to Butari - 408 tari in the former in August, 1851, while Smith followed on board the latter a couple of months later. 41
Hugh Fairclough: Shipping Manager
When Charles Smith took the Supply to the Gilberts in 1851 one conjectures that he was not only interested in testing the capabilities of his new schooner but also those of his new chief officer, Hugh Fairclough. At all events, after a brief visit to Abemama, Maiana, and Tarawa, he exchanged commands at Butaritari with Robert Strachan of the Chieftain and left immediately for Sydney. 42
Although Smith was to visit the islands three years later as a passenger in the brig Phantom, his varied and increasing business interests prevented him from sailing again as a captain. What came to be known as Smith's Wharf was purchased at Miller's Point and remained the discharging and refitting centre for his own ships and others chartered for the Gilbert Islands trade. Until 1863 this was also Smith's business headquarters as a shipowner and general merchant.
With Randell managing the island trading side of the undertaking and Smith the Sydney end, what was clearly needed was a reliable master mariner who could act as captain of the main supply and trading vessel and generally supervise the firm's shipping. After his voyage as mate of the Supply Hugh Fairclough was appointed captain and showed such ability and integrity that he was made shipping manager and, acquiring a financial interest in the business, became the third and final partner, the concern being thereupon known as Smith, Randell and Fairclough.
Between 1851 and 1866 Fairclough made more than 20 round voyages between Australia and the Gilbert Islands and at one time or another commanded all the firm's main supply vessels, including the Supply, Phantom, Star, Alice, Almeda, Freak, and Tyra. Unlike Randell, he was never a resident trader, but he acquired a knowledge of the Gilbertese and their language, and the intricacies of island trading, second only to Randell himself; and was thus able to act as supercargo and business agent as well as captain. 43
The Butaritari trading station in 1852
Development was now rapid: the trading station had been removed from the isolated islet of Tikurere to a convenient centre by the mainland village of Ukiangang, a mile north of the southern point of the atoll and some 3 miles from the High Chief's headquarters at Taritari.
Quite a pretentious establishment had grown up here by the middle of 1852, when it was visited by a prospecting party of missionaries from - 409 Hawaii. These had been expecting to find wild cannibals, and were astonished to discover instead the Union Jack flying over a busy trading station with 14 European employees and facilities for the watering, provisioning and repair of visiting ships, as well as store houses for the growing entrepôt trade. 44 Dr. L. H. Gulick gives a graphic description of the scene, so typical of a hundred trading fences in the islands up to World War II that it seems hard to believe that he was writing over a century ago:
“About 2 rods from the land-and-sea line we entered the yard of Messrs. Durant and Randell's premises. Just without the yard, a vessel of some 50 tons was on the stock, being enlarged and repaired for island commerce, no insignificant token of the business between the islands, and of their rising activities.
“Within the yard were two long buildings, 200 ft. Each, placed so as to meet in a right angle. They were thatched with pandanus leaves, and the principal timber was pandanus. The cord was cocoanut fibre. . . . One of these houses was less neatly furnished than the other and was occupied with barrels of oil and various items of lumber etc among which was a large whale-boat for sale. The remaining building was used as a dwelling house; in one end of which Mr. Randell himself resides, while the other portion is occupied by several foreigners in Mr. Randell's employ. We were now just upon the edge of the cocoanut groves. The yard itself was filled with the trees, and the house to some extent shaded by their long leaves. . . . The surrounding wall . . . Consisted of coral stones.” 45
Expansion to the southern islands
To the isolated band of Europeans on Butaritari and Little Makin the Gilbertese living on the fourteen islands to the south bore an unenviable reputation, and Randell himself at first described them as fierce and treacherous, in marked contrast to the people of Butaritari, though he changed his views in later years when he came to know them better. Nevertheless Randell was determined to expand his trading operations throughout the Group and by the time of Gulick's visit had apparently already visited every island, presumably on the Chieftain's trip the previous year. His European traders (then termed oil agents) on the outer islands were James McCarthy and Benjamin Graham on Abaiang, and John Walch and John Desman on Tarawa; while in May, 1852, “Tommy” was landed to commence trading on Maiana and George Adams and Henry Green on Tabiteuea. 46
Left on the beach to fend for themselves with nothing except a supply of empty casks and a case of tobacco to buy the oil to fill them with (as well as their own food and shelter), their life must have been hard in the extreme. It was also precarious, but probably no more so than in the - 410 1860s or even later, for one has to remember that by introducing firearms and alcohol the trader was himself largely to blame for the insecurity of life for which the Gilberts became noted, and that in the late 1840s and early 1850s the demoralization which these imports caused had hardly commenced. In any case Randell's earliest traders, who were essentially seamen by profession, appear to have been left only for a few months before being relieved by others and brought back to headquarters or employed an one of his schooners.
Where sailors had deserted from visiting whalers and set up as beachcombers ashore they were usually glad to act as agents for coconut oil in return for a commission in kind, though as a general rule they made unsatisfactory traders; and from time to time their numbers were increased by castaways from ships wrecked on the low and badly charted reefs. At Abemama, for example, Walter Holliwell, the son of a Sydney tailor, was discharged from the Australian whaler Genii at his own request as early as June, 1848; and he was soon joined there by others, including part of the crew of the Flying Fox, wrecked on Nonouti in September, 1850. 47
The foreign community on Abemama then numbered nine, including two Hawaiians, and they, together with their counterparts on Nonouti, were engaged by Randell to act as local agents. The itinerant whaler-traders followed the same practice and in December, 1850, Captain Terry of the American whaler Herald left with them “a considerable quantity of tobacco, with which to purchase cocoanut-oil, and about eleven tons of casks, in which to put the oil”. Shortly afterwards, however, the European residents made such a nuisance of themselves that when Captain Terry returned for his oil in February, 1851, he found that they had all been killed on the order of the High Chief Baiteke, who thereafter kept the entire trade, including that of his tributory islands of Kuria and Aranuka, in his own hands. 48
Retail trading ashore was still on a simple barter basis—oil for plug tobacco—and conducted on the lines already described. There were no trade stores except on Butaritari and Little Makin, and even these were meagrely stocked. Thus Gulick wrote that on the latter island:
“We were surprised to find so few useful articles introduced among the people in exchange for the hundreds of barrels of oil the foreigners have exported. Gunpowder, muskets & tobacco with a few knives seem to be all they have brought for trade. Neither cloths nor knives in any number or quantity whatsoever are to be found among them.” 49
But he also noted the significant fact that on the two more sophisticated northern islands the value of tobacco was already depreciating, and that a knife would now purchase more than several heads of tobacco.
As no journals or diaries covering the firm's activities have apparently survived, possibly the best way of gaining an insight into the operation of - 411 the all-important shipping service is by examining the actual ships' logbooks, of which no less than six have been discovered. 50
From these and other sources we find that Smith's ships varied in tonnage from the 61-ton Ida and 77-ton Chieftain to the 245-ton Freak and 276-ton Tyra, the smaller craft being schooner rigged and the larger brigs. The majority were between 120- and 160-tons, like the 127-ton Supply, which carried a complement of 10: master, 1st and 2nd mates, cook, four able seamen and two ordinary seamen.
Outward bound, a typical course would sight Lord Howe, Norfolk and Hunter Islands, passing to the westward of Fiji and thence almost due north to the Gilberts between the longitudes of 174° and 176° E, eventually reaching one of the central islands. The endeavour, of course, was to make as much easting as possible before striking the equatorial current and constant trades, and it is interesting to find much the same route followed by the pioneers Gilbert and Marshall in 1788 as well as by the last sailing ship to leave Sydney for Butaritari, the Alexa, in 1929.
On the return voyage a direct SW course could be taken, passing to the east of the Santa Cruz Group and the Chesterfield Reef and making a landfall somewhere about Cape Moreton in Queensland.
An alternative route sometimes followed on both the outward and homeward runs passed to the east of New Caledonia and through the New Hebrides, usually sighting Tanna and Erromanga. Passages of under 30 days on either run were considered good.
In the earlier years with which we are dealing the cargo from Sydney consisted almost entirely of kegs and boxes of plug tobacco, in sticks (or heads), an occasional case of hardware, empty oil casks or shooks for casks, and some provisions (beef, flour and biscuits) and spirits (usually rum and geneva) for the traders. The only export from the Gilberts of any consequence was coconut oil, though small quantities of bêche-demer, tortoise-shell and coir were shipped from time to time, more or less as a sideline.
All ships reported at Butaritari headquarters and then spent several months (sometimes over a year) trading among the islands, though for several years Tabiteuea was their southern limit. Firewood, water, special charts and any extra trade goods required were taken on here, together with Randell or his deputy to act as supercargo, a cooper, relief traders and any additional seamen required. A varying number of interisland visits were then made from Butaritari as base, those carried out by the Supply between April 28 and July 16, 1852, being as follows: (1) Tarawa — Maiana; (2) Abemama — Nonouti — Tabiteuea — Abemama — Maiana — Tarawa; (3) Abaiang — Tarawa — Maiana — Tarawa; (4) Little Makin; (5) Tarawa — Maiana — Little Makin; and (6) Maiana. The routine at the various islands was almost identical, - 412 consisting of the landing of relief traders, trade and empty casks, and the embarking of time-expired traders and oil in casks (at Tarawa and Abaiang these were rafted to the ship). On this tour, for example, 252 casks of oil were collected, with 100 gallons bought direct from the natives at Abemama. 51
3. RANDELL'S PUBLIC RELATIONS
Randell and the Gilbertese
Although the integrity and financial talents of Charles Smith, one of Sydney's most respected businessmen, were undoubtedly a major factor in the success of the partnership, to the Gilbertese, as to the Europeans living in the islands, there were only Randell's ships, Randell's stations, and Randell's traders. Probably no European, with the exception of the second Resident Commissioner, Telfer Campbell, has possessed more influence throughout the Group, or affected to a greater extent its historical development.
Randell's ability was conceded even by his business rivals—“. . . There is no fear that he can be made a fool of here with the natives”, warned Towns's agent Eury in 1868 52—and indeed without the character and intelligence which Gulick recognized in him he could scarcely have obtained land and erected buildings in a group of islands where none but a few beachcombers had lived before; nor could he have devised mutually acceptable procedures for trading transactions and the employment and training of labour; nor, above all, could he have succeeded in inspiring confidence and respect among a people who had only the most confused conception of any way of life different from their own.
This remarkable achievement, furthermore, was accomplished not by force of arms or intimidation, and only once, at the commencement of his career, do we find him attempting what might be described as sharp practice. 53 Randell was, in fact, quiet-poken, temperate in his habits and, as will be seen, essentially devout: the antithesis of our stereotypes of the island trader. In this no doubt lay some part of the key to his success; but in the main it may be attributed to a knowledge of the language and customs of the Gilbertese and, coupled with this, a genuine interest in and sympathy with their problems and aspirations. As he told the missionary Bingham, he was “desirous of doing good to those from whom he has acquired his property”. 54
Notwithstanding Randell's assertion that it took “three years for a person to learn the common phrases of the language”, he was a fluent speaker of Gilbertese within a few years of his arrival, in constant requisition by mission and other visitors. In 1855 the Rev. P. J. Gulick reported:
“It seemed providential that [at Abaiang] we met Capt. Randell, an Englishman, several years engaged in the cocoanut oil trade, here and in - 413 islands adjacent; and having great influence it is thought throughout the group. As he was the only respectable person we heard of, acquainted with the language of this people, we feared we should lose time in looking for him that our desires might be distinctly presented to the chiefs”. 55
A decade later an employee describes him as speaking Gilbertese “almost like a native” and in fact he was in his latter years completely bilingual. 56
Unfortunately nothing written by Randell himself appears to have survived the passage of time but the missionary literature contains many references to information provided by him on the customs, beliefs, political systems, and material culture of the Gilbertese, and these shrewd and (to judge from comparative data) accurate comments reveal a person genuinely and sympathetically interested in the native life around him.
Pierson and Bingham relied very substantially on his advice on matters Gilbertese, while the Micronesian authority Luther Gulick obtained much of the material for his early essay on the Gilbertese from Randell who, whether reporting on recent changes in the custom of keeping the dead above ground, the importance of babai in the local diet, or the correct method of making kamaimai, was always a competent observer. 57 In particular, his knowledge of Gilbertese tradition—for example, that the ancestors of the Abemama chiefly family came 14 generations ago from Samoa, or that the northern Butaritari reef was once dry land—could only have been obtained by one in intimate contact with the islanders. 58
Unlike his precursors the beachcombers, Randell was not a transculturite, to use the anthropological term, in so much as he never left the white community or identified himself with the Gilbertese, but rather an intercultural mediator who could see their difficulties and champion their cause. We have the assurance of Mahlmann that he never hesitated to condemn the wrongs done to them by unscrupulous traders and recruiters, “who had not only robbed them at times of their produce, but had also taken away many of their young men and women by force”. Mahlmann adds that “judging from only one of the many horrible stories that Captain Randell told me about the barbarous treatment which these islanders had received in former years, it is surprising that thereafter they did not murder every white man who landed on their shores”. 59
Randell's early life on Butaritari, a seemingly successful blend of two cultures, is well shown in his domestic establishment, for although he lived in European style in the most pretentious house in the islands it was shared (in the 1850s) by no less than four Gilbertese wives, attended by a retinue of female domestic servants who, one of the mission delegation remarked, “were very attentive in supplying our wants,—as far as they - 414 could with cocoanuts, and sap and cocoanut syrup”. 60 The missionaries appeared mildly shocked with the whole set-up and particularly with the fact that, while a few members of his household boasted cotton skirts, nobody wore anything above the waist and the majority contented themselves with the native dress—Robert Louis Stevenson's “perilous, hairbreadth ridi”. 61 In this incongruous garb the good-natured girls, anxious to please their guests, entertained them with music: first with a native bino (a sitting dance) and then by turning the crank of a large hand organ. 62 Only women were present since, for security reasons, no Gilbertese male was permitted on the premises.
With the coming of the missionaries in 1857, and probably in deference to their views, Randell's ménage was progressively Europeanized. In February 1860 he was formally married by Bingham to Nei Ngangota, a relative of the High Chief of Butaritari; 63 and thereafter the official Mrs. Randell not only dressed like a European but accompanied her husband on several voyages and for a time lived in Sydney, where their two daughters were educated, together with a son and daughter by an earlier wife (or wives).
It is hardly surprising that Randell maintained a special affection for the people of Butaritari and Little Makin, who he maintained were superior to all other Gilbertese; yet better acquaintance with the southern islanders led him to hold that they were “much the cleverest and best natured”. 64 In general, however, he appears to have liked them all and he was adamant to the end in the view that, regardless of the island, whenever one heard of a European being molested it was either his own fault or a reprisal for the misdeeds of some other white. 65
In return the Gilbertese, from Makin to Arorae, treated Randell with a respect and affection which few other Europeans have possessed. To them he was the first white man to be accounted, and treated with the deference due to, one of their own unimane: the elders who led the Gilbertese communities. Perhaps their ultimate accolade, which again few other Europeans have received, was to be called not by his European name but by the Gilbertese name Teng Koakoa (the sharp one). 66
From the start of the new venture, the greatest problem facing Randell was how to guarantee the personal safety of his traders on islands where few of the beachcombers who had lived ashore before them had remained long and were in any case customarily stripped of their possessions on arrival. 67 Since the goods of even the poorest trader were far more desirable than anything a beachcomber was likely to possess, it was no small achievement on Randell's part to have succeeded in persuading the Gilbertese that both the trader and his trade must be inviolate.- 415
His greatest success was on Butaritari, where there had fortunately been a strong centralized government from the time of the High Chief Teauoki (c. 1750) and a population uniformly friendly to Europeans since the arrival of Robert Wood in 1834. Randell soon gained the confidence of the High Chief Te Itimaroroa and his son Kaiea I, who succeeded him in July 1852 as a boy of 14. In return he gave his full support to the reigning family and acted as interpreter in their dealings with other Europeans; while the fact that he kept several chests of arms and ammunition on permanent deposit in the High Chief's house no doubt assisted materially to maintain the civil authority. 68 As a result Randell's authority over the people of Butaritari was considerable; as evidenced when the New Bedford whaler Ontario was wrecked on Butaritari in 1852 and the natives, for the first time in their history, were restrained from exercising their traditional right of pillage: “through the influence of Captain Randell, resident there, no lives were lost, and much even of the oil was saved”. 69 The relationship of mutual trust and support continued, and fourteen years later, after Kaiea, in a drunken spree, had killed three Hawaiian sailors, it was Randell's personal influence that protected the Hawaiian missionaries and their property. 70
On Abaiang, where there was also a chiefly system, Randell almost overreached himself at the start. In 1849 he persuaded the chief of the northern district to come with him on a visit to Butaritari where, if we may believe Handy, the firm proposed to keep him until they had “extorted a large amount of oil from him and his people at home as the only conditions on which they would bring him back”. 71 Handy, finding him stranded, promptly returned him to Abaiang on the Belle, and in consequence was adopted into the chief's family and given land for a trading station, while the chief and his brothers acted as his local agents for purchasing oil. In 1855, with the chief dead, we find Handy endeavouring to negotiate an agreement between the two brothers, both of whom claimed the oil agency. 72
Despite their business rivalry, however, Randell and Handy maintained good personal relations and neither of them attempted to press their local ascendency to the point of excluding the other from trading. Handy maintained a trading post on Butaritari and Randell's agents operated on Abaiang. 73
In 1858, as a result of the Battle of Taratara, Kaiea became High Chief of Abaiang and thereupon constituted himself the trading agent for the island, his commission being $3 for a 50 gallon cask, or $15 a tun, which Bingham in 1863 estimated was bringing him in an income of - 416 about $500 a year. 74As even a decade later the average income of an Abaiang native from oil production was calculated to be under $1.30 a year, Kaiea soon became a rich man by island standards and was able to live in a frame house specially imported at a cost of $600 from the States. 75 Randell was on good terms with Kaiea, who nevertheless traded impartially will all comers.
Abemama was the only other Gilbert Island to possess a stable centralized Government. Here the redoubtable Baiteke was High Chief and, with the aid of European muskets, became an absolute dictator; not only over Abemama itself but the neighbouring islands of Kuria and Aranuka. After the European residents, some of whom were acting as Randell's agents, had been disposed of in 1851 all trading was controlled under the direction of an English-speaking native trading master appointed by Baiteke himself. Rigorous rules were laid down to govern trading procedures, under which no vessel was permitted to enter the lagoon, and no trading was allowed, until she had been boarded by his agent and the customary gifts tendered and received; after which the captain or super-cargo was at liberty to land at one place only—the little Entrance Islet on the western reef—and barter with the visiting natives, while the crew were kept happy by a bevy of girls considerately sent by the High Chief for the duration of the ship's stay, all other women being prohibited on board. 76
Mahlmann has given a graphic description of Randell at work on Abemama in 1866:
“Captain Randell was a very busy man during our stay of nearly two months at this island. We took on board about ninety tuns of cocoanut oil during that time, besides a great quantity of bêche-de-mer, turtle shell, coir, etc., all of which had to be brought to the atoll in canoes. The cocoanut oil being brought in cocoanut shells, it can readily be imagined what a time the captain had each day in bartering for same, usually for only a few shells of oil at a time. Mrs. Randell, the second mate and half the brig's crew were, however, of great assistance. As soon as a cask was filled it was rolled down to the beach and brought alongside by a native, who would swim back with an empty one in place thereof.” 77
Baiteke never visited ships or dealt with Europeans directly but only through intermediaries, who were at first his brother and brother-in-law and later his son and heir-apparent, Binoka. Even Randell, who had more influence over the High Chief than any other European, had to admit that he “could not obtain any assurance of protection from the king were he wishing to remain permanently on the island”. 78- 417
The tyrannical rule of Baiteke resulted, however, in a reduction of the population, particularly on Kuria and Aranuka where in 1863 only a few hundred slaves were left out of Randell's 1860 estimate of 2,500, and these were kept on a bare subsistence level. 79 As a result the population density was low and the surplus coconut crop available for barter greater than anywhere else in the Gilberts. The single shipment of 90 tuns mentioned above represented between 2 and 3 times the entire annual export of Abaiang, and for such a prize Randell, or any other trader, was naturally prepared to submit to almost any conditions.
On Tarawa, where civil war was endemic, frequently extending to Abaiang as well, Randell maintained amicable relations with the chiefs of all factions. When, for example, “the king of the middle portion of Tarawa” was asked if he was willing to receive missionaries, his reply was that “whatever might be the sentiments of Captain Randell would be his own”. 80 Indeed, Randell seems to have acquired a monopoly of the Tarawa trade for a time, for in 1862 some islanders who had the temerity to patronise “two agents from an oil-trader not belonging to the firm of Smith, Randell and Fairclough” were forced to flee to Abaiang from the wrath of a Tarawa chief Kourabi, who refused to allow them back unless they agreed that “there should be only one port of entry”. 81 Kaiea of Abaiang shortly afterwards invaded Tarawa on a variety of pretexts, and it was now Kourabi's turn to flee to Abaiang, where he remained a fugitive on a small islet until “he was relieved by Captain Fairclough, who reinstated him without bloodshed over a part of his kingdom”. 82
At the other islands for all practical purposes the village was the political unit and the “Old Men”, sitting in their boti (traditional clan sitting places) in the maneaba (the ceremonial meeting house), acted as the governing body. 83 There were periodic attempts in the northern islands of Marakei and Maiana to form centralised governments under an Uea, or High Chief, and in the southern islands to form loose confederacies of village districts, but by and large the trader was dependent for trade and personal safety on his relations with the people of the village where he set up his headquarters, even though in times of peace the whole island might trade with him on sufferance.
The trader's greatest safeguard was the prestige conferred on a village in having him reside there and the fact that, as Mahlmann, who was Randell's chief officer in the Tyra, remarked: “when once the natives of any of these islands have tasted tobacco or spirits, they must have them . . .”. 84 In other words, no-one in their sober senses desired to kill the bird that laid such golden eggs; a danger being, of course, that the Gilbertese of the time were far from being always sober.- 418
We have already noted that when the first party of Protestant missionaries called at Butaritari on their voyage of exploration through the then unevangelized groups of Micronesia, they found the traders already well-established on the island. At first Randell and his partner took them for a rival group of traders and were anxious that they “should understand that there is but little chance of trade and that they have that entirely in their hands”; but once this misconception had been cleared up they were welcomed cordially: “they seem”, reported Dr. Gulick, “to be very friendly toward us, and say that they think the coming of missionaries would be the means of increasing their trade”. 85
But Randell was not only concerned with increasing trade: he was personally interested in the Christian message which the missionaries brought. Even before their arrival he had spoken to the High Chief and his people about Christianity, expounding the ten commandments “and by several times kicking over their spirit stones made them understand he had no fear of their objects of superstition”; 86 many Europeans in the Group had been killed for far less and it speaks volumes for his personal prestige that he lived to tell the tale. 87
On Sunday, August 8, 1852, therefore, we find Randell attending the morning service on board the mission ship with several of his employees, and in the afternoon, at his particular request, a service was held on shore: the date is important for it was the first Christian worship to be conducted in the Gilbert Islands. 88 Three years later, on the second mission visit, he again joined in the service and Pierson wrote that he “. . . Seemed deeply interested. He was very accessible on the subject of religion and deplores his past life”. 89
In 1857, when Bingham established his mission headquarters at Abaiang, Randell was reported as “not at all averse to plain and pointed religious conversation in private. He appears to have tho't and felt much in regard to his own salvation”. 90 He commenced a firm friendship with Bingham which continued until both left the Gilberts, being generous with his gifts, whether in kind(“Captain Randell presented us with a large sow”), in services (“Capt. Randell would be glad to take freight for our Eastern Micronesia from Sydney, thinks Capt. Smith resident partner at S. Would make purchases for us”), or in cash (including $100 for a printing press, with the remark “that he would be glad to do something for the good of the Kingsmill people”). 91 There is no need to labour the point, for the correspondence of Bingham and other mission workers is full of acknowledgements for willing help received: “I am under - 419 obligations to Capt. Randell”, stated Captain Gellert of the mission ship Morning Star, “whose kindness to the missionaries and honourable conduct and dealings among the natives, have won for him the respect of all who know him”. 92
In return, the gentle, almost saintly, Bingham made a profound impression on the trader, which at one time seemed likely to result in his becoming a missionary himself:
“Captain Randell still gives pleasing and increasing evidence of a determination to find the pearl of great price. At a recent visit to Apaiang, he again showed his kindness to us by a present of 20 sovereigns. He now purposes dissolving partnership with Capts. Smith and Fairclough after the present year, and looks forward to a life somewhat similar, I may say, to that of Paul's, the making known the Gospel to the Kingsmill Islanders at his own expense. He proposes to leave off trading in tobacco, as he has also left off smoking it, and to sell useful articles to the people of this group, while he is desirous of doing good to those from whom he has acquired his property, which now probably exceeds $25,000. He has two children now at school in Sydney. He remarked, not long ago, that if our society should be pushed to an emergency, if it were required, he would offer to take charge of the Morning Star gratis”. 93
It was perhaps a fanciful idea and in the event nothing came of it, but Randell continued his unwavering support of the mission. This caused no dissension in the firm for his partners were both religious men; in particular, Fairclough, who was described by a contemporary as “one of the pillars of the Presbyterian Church in Parramatta”, showed considerable interest in the Gilbert Islands mission, to which he donated £20 in 1862. 94
“The cocoanut oil trade of our group will always bring traders”, wrote Bingham in 1860, “and if they were always to be as friendly as are Captains Randell and Fairclough, and as was Captain Danelsberg, we would never be left to suffer long”; 95 and, as we shall see shortly, Randell's island traders, whether from inclination or prudence, for the most part took their cue from the employers.
4. THE COCONUT OIL TRADE
Robert Towns and developing competition
As one would expect, it was not long before the possibilities of the new coconut oil trade came to be noticed by Smith's main competitor in the whaling industry, the well-known Sydney shipowner Robert Towns. After Benjamin Boyd's departure from Australia in 1849 Towns had for a time faced no serious opposition in his whaling ventures, but in 1851 he wrote that “Flower, Salting & Co. are increasing their ships in that trade, having a Capt. Smith for their manager—all this is against me having my - 420 own way”. 96 In the same year he remarked that Captain Handy in the Belle had been doing well in the coconut oil trade and that he felt inclined to send his little brig the Genii “amongst the Islands for Cocoanut Oil & Tortoiseshell”, if he could find a fit man to put in command. 97
In March, 1852, the Genii left Sydney under Captain Brown on a combined whaling and trading voyage to Tonga and the Gilbert Group, where she called at Nikunau, Abemama, Abaiang, Aranuka, Kuria, Tarawa, and Maiana, as well as Ocean Island. The enterprise, however, was a complete failure: only three whales were taken, yielding 50 barrels of sperm oil, and no coconut oil was obtained. The captain himself deserted at Kusaie in the Carolines, declaring that he was unwilling to return owing to the “bad success attending the voyage”, which he attributed to “the unruly conduct of the natives at the different parts at which he touched”, though his chief officer considered it to be due to Brown's bad treatment of the natives, which at Tarawa and Maiana had placed the ship and crew in grave danger. 98
Clearly Captain Brown was not the “fit man” Towns was looking for, but while the Genii was away Towns felt that he had discovered him in a Captain David McDonald, one of Boyd's former whaling masters who already knew the islands. 99 Less than a month after the Genii's return in January, 1853, McDonald was sent to the Gilberts in the 120 ton schooner Black Dog, where he apparently succeeded in establishing a trader called Stanbury on Marakei and in making arrangements with beachcombers on Tabiteuea and Nonouti to act as coconut oil agents. 100
Towns thereupon conceived the idea of employing McDonald as a sort of Randell, to itinerate through the Gilbert Group in a little 25-foot cutter, the Will o' the Wisp (which was then being finished at the Isle of Pines), collecting oil from his resident agents, of whom Stanbury was to be the principal and his deputy. 101
In the event Stanbury disappeared from the scene and McDonald next visited the islands at the end of 1853 as supercargo of the Louisa. Results were not particularly encouraging: the Black Dog obtained 40 tuns of oil and 90 piculs of bêche-de-mer in return for 6 kegs and 7 half-boxes of tobacco and the Louisa 16 tuns of oil for 10 kegs of tobacco, not all being from the Gilberts. 102
The fortunate preservation of the Louisa's log enables us to view the voyage in greater detail than usual. 103 It shows that the vessel was mainly intended to engage in sandalwooding for Towns's depot at the Isle of Pines, and that the deviation from the New Hebridean sandalwood islands took 78 days, or exactly a third of the total voyage of nearly eight - 421 months. Only two Gilbert Islands were visited: Tabiteuea, where eight days were spent in obtaining approximately 1,260 gallons of oil; and Nonouti, where 717 gallons were purchased in six days. With the exception of Stanbury, Towns's agents seem to have been all beachcombers: a Frenchman named John Cook on Tabiteuea and Tarpaulin Jack (or John) and his associate Bob from Sydney on Nonouti, and to these McDonald added a second beachcomber at Tabiteuea, together with a refractory seaman who had deserted the Louisa, while he made an unsuccessful attempt to persuade yet a third, by the name of Richard Anson (or Hanson), to serve as agent on Tamana. 104
Riff-raff such as these could obviously not be trusted and this was the reason why the two islands with the greatest density of population and consequently the smallest surplus of oil for export were the only ones called at, for on her way north from Nonouti the Louisa met Smith's brig the Phantom en route to the southern islands, and immediately returned to Nonouti and Tabiteuea to make sure that Towns and not Randell got the oil bought with the tobacco which had been left with the agents.
After the Louisa's return Towns agreed, rather reluctantly, that McDonald should make a further attempt to develop the Central Pacific trade in the schooner Bertha, equipped with “provisions for 9 months & with a very large quantity of trade sufficient I hope to procure two or three cargoes of oil and other Island produce”, with Captain Bowles in the Black Dog operating in concert: altogether a lavish expedition by Towns's standards and one which he was quick to point out was being made entirely at McDonald's suggestion. 105 Once again the venture was a disappointment: the Bertha returned in June, 1855, after an 8½ months cruise, with only 43 tuns of oil and a few pounds of tortoise-shell; “such will not pay, my people have not managed that trade well”. 106 Worse was to follow, for McDonald decided to leave Towns “in a most underhand manner” for his rival Smith: that “sweep of a neighbour” who “sticks at nothing”. 107 A month later the Black Dog also arrived back, with 33 tuns of oil, 70 lbs. of tortoise-shell, 25 tons of sandalwood and 3,000 yams, but while McDonald had apparently been engaged in appointing his own agents Captain Bowles had left trade goods with others on behalf of Towns and these were expected to bring in a further 44 tuns (10 tuns being from the Gilberts).
The Bertha, under a new captain, was sent up to obtain this cargo, with instructions to endeavour to recapture McDonald's agents for the Towns team but to avoid interfering with any agent working for Smith: “I am quite sure there is ample room for us all and that to act fairly towards each other [sic]—without which I will not follow the trade”. 108 - 422 She returned six months later with only 17 tuns of oil, and Towns determined to abandon a business at which he had made such a poor showing; furthermore whaling was now more profitable. As a consequence he showed little interest in either coconut oil or the Gilberts until 10 years later, when one of his whaling masters, Captain Michael Eury, persuaded him to fit out the barque Caernarvon as a whaler-trader, a class of vessel now virtually extinct in the Pacific. Not surprisingly, the reversion to former shipping interests was opposed both by Stuart, his partner in Sydney, and Brooks in London, who considered them an unprofitable hobby. 109
Eury left Sydney in March, 1865, and in September established trading stations on Butaritari and Little Makin, and by 1867 on Marakei, Abaiang, Tarawa, and Maiana, as well as in the Marshalls. 110 Unlike McDonald, Eury knew the Gilberts well and was a capable businessman, while his one-third financial interest in the venture ensured his loyalty to Towns. 111 Despite setbacks—the loss of the Caernarvon in 1867 and the Clara D. Robbins the following year, and the chicanery of Captain Pease of the Blossom, who succeeded in lifting 30 tuns of oil from Eury's stations on Marakei and the Marshalls 112—the enterprise survived the death of Towns in 1873, and even took over the remains of Macdonald, Smith and Company's business the following year; it was still prospering modestly when coconut oil was finally superseded by the copra trade.
Blackbirders and Buccaneers
Commercial competition, however, was not one of Smith or Randell's main worries in the 1850s or 60s. Towns's ventures were of small consequence at the time and there were no other big firms in the oil business. Apart from the now rarely seen whaler-traders like the Herald there were only a few independent trading ships such as the San Francisco owned Rodolph, wrecked at South Tabiteuea in 1851, the American brig Rosa, attacked off Tarawa by the natives of Maiana in 1854, and the schooner Pfeil of Honolulu, owned by the firm of Stapenhorst and Hoffschlaeger, which operated in the late 50s and early 60s. 113
Commercial contacts with the ordinary whaler seeking provisions were far more numerous. Until well into the 1870s these frequented the area in large numbers and found the Gilbertese willing enough to visit them in their canoes to barter their meagre local produce: “They are all traders”, said a seaman on an American whaling ship in 1850, “bringing with them, to trade with ships, shells, fish, mats, cocoanut, and a species of fruits called dittoes . . . . The currency here, as at most of the Kanaka Islands, is tobacco and pipes, and for this they will follow a ship for miles”. 114
But although there were attempts to set up registers of visiting shipping in charge of natives at Kuria, Nikunau, an Arorae, few whaling - 423 masters or their crews ventured ashore except at Butaritari, fearing robbery, violence, or being held to ransom. It is true that pilfering on board visiting ships was endemic and the occasional native detected in the act might be shot at by an exasperated captain, but otherwise the charges of licentiousness and violence levied against the whalers seem to have had little foundation in fact, at least after the 1840s. On the other hand many Gilbertese were recruited as whaling crews and gained the reputation of being quick to resent real or supposed injustice—evidenced, for example, by the mutinies on board the William Penn in 1835 and the John in 1855—but for the most part contacts with the visiting whaling ships were short and businesslike. 115
What did worry Randell was the advent of two new visitors to the Gilberts: the blackbirders and the freebooters.
In 1847 Benjamin Boyd commenced the Pacific labour trade by sending the Portenia and Velocity to the Loyalty Islands, New Hebrides, Rotuma and the Southern Gilberts, and although they only succeeded in obtaining 22 recruits in the Gilbert Group (17 from Tamana and five from Arorae) it was at least a prelude to what was to come. 116
It was not until the 1860s that blackbirding began on a serious scale. In 1863 the Ellen Elizabeth took 161 Gilbertese to Peru and, when refused permission to land them, disembarked the 110 survivors on Penrhyn Island; while the following year recruiting started for Fiji and in 1868 for Tahiti. 117 No love was lost between Randell's traders and the recruiters, who in 1870 attempted to obtain provisions by force from the firm's head station at Butaritari and later fired on the branch store at Onotoa. 118 Much of the early recruiting was in fact true kidnapping: the mate of the Tahitian barque Moaroa, for instance, describes how on Beru “they had great sport in the bush catching them and making them fast”, and again how on Arorae “thirty-eight young women were all made fast by the hair of their head and led into the boat”. 119 While the Samoan and Queensland labour trade did not extend to the Gilberts until after the coconut oil period and the Fiji trade was, in general, better conducted, the well-known Carl abductions at Maiana and Tabiteuea in 1873 show that at least one of the Fiji recruiters was as capable of kidnapping as his confrèes from Peru or Tahiti. 120 The Gilbertese and Marshallese women were particularly sought after for their good looks: “they fetch at the Fiji Islands twenty pounds a head, and are much more profitable to the slavers than the men”. 121
The freebooters, represented by Captain “Bully” Hayes and his associate Benjamin Pease, affected the Gilbertese to a lesser extent, as they preyed on the European traders rather than the natives. In 1868 Captain Pease landed a large supply of arms and ammunition at Tarawa to assist - 424 the High Chief Kaiea of Abaiang to recover his island from a rebel party under Kabunare; and, after courteously saluting the mission ship Morning Star with nine guns, he allegedly robbed Eury's station on Marakei of 31 hogsheads of oil 122 Four years later Hayes arrived at Abaiang in the Leonora to recover the amount due from Kaiea for the arms left by Pease; and then proceeded to strip Randell's store of its contents. 123 At Nikunau the independent trader Tom Day was made drunk and robbed of his oil. 124
Between 1871 and 1873 Hayes made a few abortive attempts to establish his own traders in the Gilbert Islands, of whom James Garstang, from all accounts a murderous desperado, was the most notorious. 125 Nothing came of these ventures, since he was unable to service these men with adequate supplies of trade goods or to visit them with any regularity. His traders were abandoned without compunction: like Prescott, the “poor forlorn looking individual” whom he put ashore at Tarawa with some bad rice as trade, and never visited again. 126
Randell complained bitterly of the harm done by these lawless elements, charging that they not only robbed, but on occasion murdered, the Gilbertese, as well as abducting their young men and women by force. He attributed the decline in inter-race relations almost entirely to their actions, and directed his ships' crews to be on constant guard against reprisals when trading with the outer islands, since, in the absence of the guilty party, Gilbertese custom sanctioned vicarious revenge. 127
Randell's Oil Traders
There is no denying the fact that Randell's earliest traders were a rough lot and that the staff at Butaritari headquarters were little better: alcoholic excess being their besetting sin. In August 1852, Gulick comments that all the whites at Durant's trading station on Makin were intoxicated and later that year an American visiting Butaritari found the Europeans “engaged in making cocoanut rum, and all hands, natives included, were as drunk as rum could make them”. 128
There is no record of Randell being intemperate personally and, whether from principle or because it was clearly good business, he made every effort to raise the standards of his island traders as well as those of the firm's other employees ashore and afloat. In 1861 Bingham speaks approvingly of “the reform on Captain R's vessel”, and shortly afterwards his colleagues reported that they had been “kindly received and assisted in our work by his agents”. 129
On the outer islands the early system, already detailed, by which temporary agents were landed at convenient points to barter tobacco for oil on a commission basis, was abandoned in favour of selecting responsible - 425 men in Australia to become permanent resident traders with fixed trading stations stocking a variety of goods to meet the increasingly sophisticated demand.
Even in Stevenson's time the majority of traders in the Gilberts were still ex-seamen, but most of them were of a different type from Tarpaulin Jack or Tommy. They needed to be, for many trading stations represented a considerable capital investment in buildings and stock and the man in charge had to be respected, as well as to keep his wits about him, if he hoped to maintain good terms with the islanders and prevent his goods being pilfered.
Apart from intemperance, the main allegation against the early oil agents, particularly in missionary circles, was the unsanctified nature of their sex relations. True enough these were often impermanent affairs, lasting only for the usually brief period of the agent's residence on an island, but on the other hand they conformed of necessity to Gilbertese custom, which was strict in its enforcement of female chastity except among the nikiranroro, or slave women. As the only permanent white residents of any consequence Randell and Durant alone maintained the polygamous establishments appropriate to important chiefs. Randell, as we have seen, was early married to four wives, and Durant's domestic establishment on Makin was described as “scarce anything but a harem”; a plurality of wives was, in fact, a recognized status symbol, the High Chief Kaiea leading Butaritari society with a total of 20. 130
The new resident traders whom Randell began to introduce in the 1860s would also have agreed with the advice of Theodore Weber, Godeffroy's famous manager, that it was essential to: “have a woman of your own, no matter what island you take her from; for a trader without a wife is a man in eternal hot water”; 131 but their marriages were often lasting unions and it was now the wife who tended to conform to European customs and indeed was often an invaluable assistant in his trading affairs.
While in 1852 Randell's wives were bare-breasted and content with the diminutive “grass skirt” of their village sisters, a decade later his sister-in-law Nei Matinaba was described as wearing “a single gown of some very thin, gaudy coloured material, fastened at the waist by a red leather belt, a sailor's straw hat, white stockings and white boots”, while the then Mrs.Randell, a greatly respected lady, was accustomed to act on occasion both as trader and supercargo. 132
A contemporary visitor speaks in these terms of the duties of a capable trader's wife in the Gilberts towards the end of the coconut oil era:
“She takes his [the trader's] business completely off his hands, and attends the store when the natives require anything. She soon learns the quantity of oil required for every article, sees to the casks in the shed, coopering - 426 them when required, or, if she needs any assistance from the natives, being in a position to pay for anything, she is readily served, as both she and her family are treated with every respect”. 133
It is from wives such as these that some of the leading Euronesian families in Micronesia—the Narruhns, Milnes, Hickings, and others—are described.
If only from self-interest, many of the new men tended, like Randell himself, to be supporters of the missionaries and did all they could to fight the wave of sour toddy drinking which swept through the Gilberts in the 1850s. Robert Waters, for instance, was reported to have given “not a little religious instruction” to the people of Vaitupu, in the Ellice Group, before being put in charge of Randell's store on Onotoa, where in 1867 the missionaries found him “a man of more than ordinary intelligence, and quite disposed to favour our object”. 134Waters had “recently induced the natives to give up the use of fermented cocoanut toddy”, while another of Randell's traders, James Macpherson, was endeavouring to persuade the people of north Tabiteuea to do the same. 135
Several of the later men who started trading in Randell's employ lived all their lives in the islands and became persons of substance and authority in their local communities; the respected advisers of the emergent island governments of the immediate pre-Protectorate days.
Robert Conic, the best-known of all, commenced trading on Maiana in 1860. “Quiet, spectacled Bob Corrie, of wild Maiana, who can twist them round his little finger without an angry word”, as a brother trader described him, was building and running schools at his own expense before the arrival of the mission teachers. 136 Offered the governorship of Maiana by Tern Binoka and recommended as British Vice-Consul for the Gilberts in 1886, Corrie lived to act as the official interpreter for Captain Davis on the establishment of the Protectorate in 1892.
James Lowther, who chose Nonouti, the most unpromising island of all, for his home in 1865, also lived on into the 1890s, despite an environment of war, murder, drunkenness and theft; as did Robert Randolph of Abaiang: “a man of tremendous nerve and resolution”. 137 It was Randolph who in 1869 put an end to the continual pilfering of property at Bingham's mission headquarters by refusing to purchase any further oil until everything stolen had been restored. 138 A year earlier Thomas Redfern had taken over from Waters as Randell's representative at Onotoa where he lived for many years, founding a notable island family of traders and officials.
Such men were, however, exceptional and the following description of a trader on Tabiteuea in or about the year 1875 would he more typical of the generality:
“It is his duty, in the absence of vessels, to collect what oil he can by bartering with the natives. He is kept in a good supply of trade in accordance with - 427 the requirements of the people, as he may not be visited perhaps for nine or twelve months, during which time he may have gathered 10 or 12 tons, each ton realising £43 in Sydney. When any vessels call connected with the firm they take away the full casks, leaving as many empty ones; the white trader's goods are overhauled, and he is supplied with a fresh stock of anything he may require. He receives £6 per month, and a commission on the oil equal to another £6”. 139
Wages, Prices and Profits
£150 a year was perhaps not a princely remuneration for the risk, hardships, isolation, and lack of fresh food inseparable from a trader's life in the Gilberts, even though his requirements, apart from alcohol, were small. Yet it was liberal compared with the commission paid to the temporary oil agents of the earlier era, now only found on the smaller and more isolated islands.
Towns's agent Eury was still paying these semi-beachcombers a mere £3 per tun in 1868, when Robert Townsend complained that he had spent 10 months on an island collecting seven tuns for a total of £21 and asked to be put on a regular trader's wages. One is scarcely surprised to learn that he had been taken out of gaol in Sydney to join the ship. 140 But Towns was notoriously parsimonious and his traders in general were dissatisfied, disloyal, and of a low standard: Towns himself called them “some of the greatest rascals unhung”. 141
Randell's employees were reputed to be better paid and better class men, while their leaders, like Corrie and Randolph, soon bcame independent traders working on their own account, and in their prime were said to be making as much as £1,000 a year.
From the Towns letters it would seem that about 1865 the cost of oil collection in the islands, including the purchase price, or more usually the cost of the trade goods (principally tobacco) for which it was bartered, was estimated at about £18 a tun, or if obtained in small and scattered lots, at up to £20 a tun. 142 It was insured with Sydney underwriters from loading at islands to discharge at Sydney for £30 per tun at a cost of £3 per tun; though Macdonald, Smith and Company, the successors of Smith, Randell and Fairclough, were said to effect their insurance at cheaper rates in London. The cost of the casks and interest on capital involved amounted to another £7 - £9 per tun. 143
The total cost was therefore from £28 - £32 per tun, the shipments being sold in Sydney at between £37.10.0 and £38.10.0, though the market price was often below this. When prices were unduly low it was often advantageous to ship the oil to England for sale, a price of £37.10.0 being considered the rough equivalent of £45 in the United Kingdom. This was particularly the case when freight rates were below normal; in March, 1869, for example, Towns contemplated shipping his oil to - 428 London at “a cheap freight, 55/-, in the iron ship Caldbeck” rather than sell it in Sydney for £.30. 144
Unfortunately figures for the operations of the Smith, Randell and Fairclough partners have not survived, but there is reason to believe that, owing to their greater experience in the trade, their monopoly or near monopoly over a number of years, the unrivalled local knowledge of Randell and the greater probity of his traders, their profit margins in the firm's heyday were higher, though not spectacularly so. By 1867 Towns was reluctantly admitting that: “Our experience of C.N. oil is not encouraging and we would have abandoned it had it not been that we did not like to leave 60 or 70 Tuns of oil [in the islands] without an attempt to realize it”; yet Towns and Company actually succeeded in outliving Randell and his organization before also closing down in the face of new opposition possessing resources immeasurably superior to theirs. 145
Trading and the Gilbertese
It remains to consider briefly the consequences of this early trading activity in modifying the way of life of the Gilbertese people. The main effect was clearly a direct one on their material culture and technology, but there were also some less obvious repercussions on their social and political structure; in both instances, however, it is important not to attribute every cultural change in the early post-contact period to the influence of traders: some antedated their advent, being due to discoverers, whalers, and beachcombers, and others to the later work of missionaries, recruiters and repatriated labour.
It must be remembered, furthermore, that even in pre-European times the Gilbertese culture was undergoing modifications both from internal innovation and external borrowing. In the economic sphere, for example, stones (so important to the low island craftsman), timber for canoe building, and even European artefacts could on occasion penetrate the ocean barriers, and it is probable that iron had been already found by the Gilbertese, as it had by their neighbours in the Marshalls, embedded in driftwood. 146In any case the Gilberts were in sporadic touch with Micronesia (through the Marshalls and Carolines), Polynesia (through Samoa and the Ellice Islands) and even Melanesia (notably through Rotuma); the well-known migration from Samoa was not the only source of cultural modification. By the time of initial trader penetration from Butaritari in or about 1850 iron tools, though rare even on Nikunau, were beginning to supersede shell.
It is unfortunate that the recorders of Gilbertese oral tradition were interested almost exclusively in pre-European times and that, so far as I am aware, only one account, written by a Gilbertese on Butaritari about 45 years ago, is specifically concerned with technical changes introduced by the early European residents. 147 According to this narrative the Butaritari people credited the first beachcomber Robert Wood (or “Bob”), who lived with them from 1834 to 1841, with three main innovations: (1) the - 429 manufacture of sour toddy; (2) the coconut oil lamp; 148 and (3) an improved mosquito screen.
There is independent evidence in support of this Gilbertese tradition that sour toddy drinking was learnt from Europeans, as was certainly the art of distilling spirit from toddy. 149 A beachcomber was operating a still on Nikunau in 1841 and the traders on Butaritari another in 1849; and we know that their methods were copied by the islanders. Sour toddy drinking, however, whether in distilled form or merely fermented, does not seem to have been a major social problem throughout the Gilberts until about the middle 1850s, from which time continual efforts were made to suppress it by chiefs, village councils, missionaries, and, as we have seen, traders; but only on Abemama, Kuria and Aranuka, ruled with an iron hand by Tem Binoka, were these successful for more than a brief period.
The traders themselves turned increasingly to imported spirits, mostly trade gin, which a few of them undoubtedly sold on occasion to the natives. Not many, however, could afford such a luxury, or had need to when the local tipple was in such plentiful supply. It was just as well, when one reflects that the popular brand known as “chain lightning” was said to resemble “in flavour and aroma that methylated spirit which in Australia is distilled out of gum timber in charcoal factories” and could be obtained by traders at 9/- per case of 15 quart bottles. 150
Tobacco, at first more usually chewed than smoked, was introduced by the whalers long before the advent of the first resident trader but its consumption was negligible until Handy and Randell introduced the first regular supplies in the 1840s. Its use was strenuously opposed by the early Hawaiian missionaries and it almost certainly had a deleterious effect on the islanders, partly because of its excessive use by men, women and children, and partly because it was often of such poor quality: “it is of the description known as ‘sheepwash’, of a very vile kind, inasmuch as they [the Sydney traders] have been known to retail it to white men at 1s. per lb.”. 151
The climate in the equatorial islands was not conducive to the wearing of clothes and virtually no cloth was imported until the gradual spread of Christianity in the 1860s. In 1870, when Whitmee of the London Missionary Society first visited the unevangelized southern islands no - 430 imported cloth had as yet been introduced. Once a demand for clothes had been created by the missions, however, the traders were willing enough to satisfy it; the net result of the alliance between puritan prudery and the profit motive being an increase in tuberculosis and skin disease.
Particulars of the cargo of the brig Tyra during a trading voyage through the Gilberts in 1866 show that the variety of trade goods then being imported was far removed from the tobacco first and last of a decade before:
“The commodities for barter were of a great variety. The bulkier consisted of tobacco, pipes, powder, shot, old flintlock muskets, revolvers, tower rifles, guns and carriages, calico in bales, turkey red handkerchiefs, axes, knives, etc. Besides these articles, but of lighter bulk, were beads, needles, scissors, thread, small looking-glasses, combs, fish-hooks and lines, soap, umbrellas, tin pots, pans, and many others too numerous to mention.” 152
The new imports profoundly modified the Gilbertese technology: within a couple of decades the clam shell adze, the coral file and rasp, the wooden digging stick and many other artefacts of local manufacture were in process of disappearing, except as curiosities, in favour of metal tools and utensils which enormously reduced the labour of constructing a babai pit, fish pond, or canoe, of preparing food or drawing water, of house building, fishing, or toddy cutting; or indeed for undertaking almost any technical or domestic process one could mention. 153
The process of acculturation varied markedly from island to island, the limiting factor being the number of coconuts available for making into oil for export, this being dependent on the island's productivity (in turndependent largely on its rainfall) and population. On Abaiang the well-educated Robert Randolph kept a careful account of all oil exports from the island over a four year period: they averaged 40 tuns a year which, at the price being paid to traders in the 1870s of $90 (or £18 at the then rate of exchange) per tun, amounted to $3,600 or, divided among the 2,800 islanders, a total of $1.30 (or 5/2) per head per annum. 154
This was little enough, but only Abemama and Butaritari, with their satellite islands, possessed better production figures and here the respective High Chiefs, and particularly Tern Binoka, took a large cut for the maintenance of their extensive domestic establishments and retainers. At the other extreme lay Tabiteuea and Nonouti where, with their high population density and low rainfall, production per head amounted to only a few pence in the best of years and during times of drought virtually nothing. “It is true”, said the Rev. Hiram Bingham, writing in 1876, “that they produce some mats and coir, and receive therefore a little tobacco, but no cash I might say.” 155- 431
Consequently on islands such as Butaritari, Abemama, and Abaiang, where the physical environment permitted, there was an expansion of oil production to pay for increased European imports; but elsewhere, where population pressures permitted little surplus to pay for the new goods, now beginning to be regarded as necessities, one tended to find instead increasing conflict and disharmony within the island communities. 156 Furthermore, by their importation of firearms the traders themselves added to this political instability on such islands as Nonouti, Tabiteuea, Tarawa, and Maiana. The old defensive armour was completely ineffective against bullets; and murders and civil disorder had as their only good result the reduction of a population which in the past had regularly exceeded the means of subsistence.
The direct effect of the wares imported and sold by the early traders was, therefore, to achieve a technological revolution accompanied by a decline in morals, political stability and health. Unlike the missionaries and a few of the more intelligent leaders like Randell himself, the average trader was not concerned with the ethics, or even with the consequences, of his trading operations: he merely sold what was in demand regardless of its effect on his customers or the community. We have seen, however, that as individuals several traders played an important part as interpreters of the intruding European culture, as advisers to the chiefs and maneaba councils and as general stabilizing factors in their local communities.
By the 1870s the anarchic forces generated by the changes, for which the trader was only partly responsible, were recoiling on the European residents themselves, who had to be increasingly tough and resolute to survive: the weaker, or more unfortunate, were killed off, like Sullivan on Nonouti or Keyes on Abaiang, or soon left. “I have questioned old white men, who have spent the best years of their lives among the Kingsmills”, wrote the ex-trader H. B. Sterndale in 1874, “as to how they could have reconciled themselves to dwell among a people so debased. They have replied, ‘Ah, Sir, you do not know these natives. When we came among them they were different altogether to what they are now; and even now there is a deal of good in them, more than strangers can understand’.” 157 Richard Randell would have readily concurred.
Having followed the fortunes of Messrs. Smith, Randell and Fairclough a long way from the first beginnings of the partnership about 1850, it remains only to record its dissolution and the almost contemporaneous demise of the coconut oil trade.
In 1866 Hugh Fairclough left the partnership on joining James Merriman in his prosperous shipping business and by 1872, when he was appointed to the Marine Board, he had ceased going to sea; he died in - 432 1878. 158 In 1863 Charles Smith joined Alexander Macdonald, one of the partners in Flower, Salting and Company, to form the firm of Macdonald, Smith and Company. His partnership with Randell in the Gilbert Islands trade continued to operate but Smith's personal interests became increasingly centred in his growing Australian business affairs. 159 He retired from active commercial life on Macdonald's death in 1888 and died himself in 1897 at the age of 81, leaving an estate valued at approximately half a million pounds.
Richard Randell, who had managed the Gilbert Islands side of the business, supervised the headquarters station at Butaritari, acted as supercargo on inter-island runs and as master of many of the firm's vessels, relinquished his final command, the brig Tyra, in October, 1867, and left the islands for the last time as a passenger on board the same vessel in April, 1870. Randell now settled in Sydney and married Frances Lucy Ternan in 1875. He became a captain in the Australian coastal trade and died on November 7, 1880, off Sydney Heads while on a voyage from the Nambucca River. 160
After 1870 the Tyra, and finally the E. K. Bateson, visited the Gilbert Islands for Macdonald, Smith and Company for a few more years on an infrequent and irregular schedule. But without the local expertise of Randell there was no real prospect of carrying on in face of new and more powerful opposition; for over two decades the best of the island traders had been his men, but their loyalties were essentially to Randell himself, the respected leader of them all, who was married as they were within the local community, shared their outlook and understood their difficulties. They felt no such bond towards a company in Australia and when Randell left they became independent operators or joined some other firm. The E. K. Bateson paid her final visit to the Gilberts for Macdonald, Smith and Company in 1873 and the following year was sold to R. Towns and Company to continue the same run—a pity that Towns himself was not alive to witness the final triumph over his old rival.
1873 is, in fact, a convenient year to end our study, not only because it saw the end of the Smith and Randell combine in the Gilberts but because in the early 1870s the coconut oil trade itself died; a trade which after a difficult birth at Tahiti in 1819 had grown into the major export commodity of the Pacific region, affecting as no other single factor had the way of life of the inhabitants of the remotest islands.
Between 1867 and 1869 Theodor Weber, the newly appointed agent in Apia for the German firm of J. C. Godeffroy and Son of Hamburg, experimented in the shipment of copra instead of oil. It was an instant - 433 success and from that date coconut oil as an island export was doomed, though it took several years for the changeover to spread to the outermost islands. For a brief period it gave a competitive advantage to Weber who established the first facilities for bulk storage at Apia and direct shipment to Hamburg. It was not for long, however, for the Sydney merchants were quick to follow the German lead and in October, 1869, the Sydney Morning Herald could report that:
“The first large importation of copra, arrived by the Scotsman, from the South Sea Islands, is about being transhipped into the clipper ship Centurion. Copra is the kernal of the cocoa nut, which is cut up in small pieces and left to dry, and then shipped home in bulk, where it is pressed, and the oil being extracted, the remains are used for the feeding of cattle. . . . On the hatches being opened on board the Scotsman yesterday, the copra although stowed in bulk was found to be entirely free from heat”. 161
Throughout the islands the change from coconut oil to copra was at first regarded with considerable distrust and for some years Godeffroys and their competitors had to continue the purchase of oil from conservative natives (and even the occasional conservative trader), but eventually all came to appreciate that there was infinitely less labour involved in drying copra than in pressing oil. In the Gilberts Captain Hallet of the Morning Star was purchasing the first copra produced on Abaiang (10 tons) as early as August, 1872, at 1¼ cents a lb., while on the neighbouring island of Marakei they were still making only coconut oil. 162
Again, it was the early 1870s that saw large-scale business enterprise enter the local trade, with Godeffroy in the lead. The firm had commenced its agency at Apia under August Unshelm in 1857 and in 1869, under his successor Weber, it extended operations to the Gilberts, Miguel Casal being sent as the first trader and stationed on Tamana; 163 in 1874 it was reported as trading with all islands in the Group.
By 1881 the Godeffroy company had commenced business on Butaritari and two years later had stores on Marakei and Nonouti, while a second German firm, Messrs. Hernsheim and Company, were trading throughout the Gilberts, with stations on several of the islands. Their main competitors were the Sydney firm of On Chong and Company, with headquarters on Butaritari which had the largest share of the Gilbert Islands trade; Henderson and Macfarlane of Auckland; Wightman Brothers of San Francisco; and (on Tabiteuea) Messrs. Beaver of Melbourne. The old coconut oil trade was now only a memory, together with the man who had pioneered and developed it.
Before concluding it may be as well to relate the general lessons to be learnt from a detailed microcosmic study such as we have attempted to the general history of the Pacific trade. In the first place we have traced a progression of trading procedures from the first barter of the explorer, through the whaling and other vessels in transit requiring provisions and refreshment, the itinerant trading vessels, the whaler-traders with their - 434 native purchasing agents, the resident headquarters trader with his rotating oil agents, to the island trader with his fixed retail trade store.
These patterns may well be found elsewhere, though complicated maybe by an overlay of factors particular to the area: a dominant local trade, such as sandalwod; an unsuitable climate, such as on Easter Island; or an inhospitable population, such as in most of Melanesia. Their study is essential to any adequate working out of the processes of culture change.
The historian, on the other hand, will find it no less significant to note the reasons which make the history of the oil trade in the Gilberts unique in the Pacific area, and these may be summed up in the personality of one man, Richard Randell: a pioneer who built up and controlled a virtual trading monopoly over the entire Gilbert Group which lasted for a quarter of a century, and this not from an office desk in Sydney but as a practical trader living in the islands; and who, well in advance of his times, maintained and enforced a code of race relations, missionary co-operation and general fair dealing which has probably done more for the ultimate benefit of the Gilbertese people than the work of any other single man before or since.
1 There are, however, two noteworthy exceptions: Davidson 1942 gives a stimulating account of early Pacific commercial development and Shineberg 1965 the first detailed study of a Pacific trade—both are as yet unpublished theses. Maude 1959b deals with the birth of Pacific commerce in Tahiti between 1800 and 1830.
2 It should be emphasized that trading history is distinct from economic history, which cannot be written in the absence of adequate quantitative data.
3 For the discovery of the Gilbert and neighbouring groups see Maude 1959a and 1961.
4 Stackpole 1953:280; Beale 1839: 188-191.
5 Stackpole 1953: 344.
6 Trading transactions were too sporadic for any scale of values to emerge and the unsophisticated native was apt to accept almost anything as a fair return. Sometimes they were quite generously treated, as for instance by an English whaler in 1842, which paid a pound of tobacco and a clasp knife for 675 coconuts, 3 chickens and some mats.—Baker 1844: 44.
7 Wilkes 1845: V: 61; Coulter 1847: I: 193-195. These girls were in actual fact not relatives at all but nikiranroro (captives, slaves or persons convicted of various offences, usually theft, who were, for practical purposes, regarded as prostitutes) ; their supply was strictly limited and the whaling fleet soon learnt that women could be more easily obtained elsewhere, and particularly in the Polynesian islands.
8 Wilkes 1845: V: 67-68.
9 The Friend 1846: 180-181; Spencer 1848; [Jones] 1861: 112-113; Whipple 1954: 70-84.
10 Wilkes 1845: V: 68-69.
11 Wilkes 1845: V: 62.
12 Historical Records of Australia Ser. I XX: 669.
13 Historical Records of Australia Ser. I XX: 668-669.
14 Sydney Herald 7.9.1837.
15 The ransom paid in 1846 to the Nonouti islanders by Captain J. H. Pease of the Chandler Price was 20-30 heads of tobacco per man, or nearly 100 Ibs. For the entire crew.—The Friend 1846:180.
16 Coulter 1847: I: 234. One of the Butaritari beachcombers would have been Robert Wood, who left the English whaler Janie in 1834 ; the others were probably there for only a brief period, as they are not mentioned in local tradition.—Wilkes 1845: V : 72 ; Butaritari MS n.d.
17 Wood on Butaritari, Kirby on Kuria, 4 on Beru and 10-12 on Nikunau ; one was negro.—Wilkes 1845: V: 106; Wilson 1839-1843, Nikunau presumably had the largest number of beachcombers since it was normally the first island touched at by whalers working ‘on-the-line’ from Honolulu and the east ; and owing to the Trades most vessels worked westward. The leading European, who spoke Gilbertese well and possessed considerable influence with the islanders, had been there since 1836 and was engaged in distilling spirit from coconut toddy for sale to visiting ships. Captain Hammer, of the whaler Sussex, stayed ashore on Nikunau with a beachcomber in 1841 while recovering from an illness.—Wilson 1839-1843.
18 Wilkes 1845: V: 72 ; Reney 1836:68.
19 For a more detailed discussion of the significance of the beachcomber see Maude 1964.
20 Strauss 1963: 24-25.
21 Coulter 1847: I: 189-237.
22 Putnam 1930: IV: 43, 95, 113. An average turtle yielded 2¼ lbs. of shell.
23 Coulter 1847: I: 198-199.
24 Coulter 1847: 1: 197, 230-231.
25 Bennett 1831: 196.
26 In 1847 and 1848 the Empire brought 7 tuns, the Rebecca Sims two shipments of 12 barrels each, the Planter 35 barrels, the Pocklington 42 lbs. of tortoise-shell and the Christopher Mitchell 250 piculs of bêche-de-mer; all but the Australian barque Pocklington being American whalers. The whaler Tuscaloosa was bringing coconut oil to Sydney as early as 1843 and 1844.
27 Pierson 1855. An alternative method was to allow the meat to disintegrate in a coconut basket, the oil dripping into a clam shell or other container.—Gulick, A. 1932: 67-68. Pierson remarks on the “Beautiful softness and delicacy given to the skin of many of them and especially the females by the use of cocoa nut oil with which they rub themselves every day after bathing.”
28 Pierson 1855. Handy went on to pioneer the coconut oil trade in the neighbouring Marshall Islands in 1855.
29 Pierson 1855.
30 Handy had left New Bedford on December 10, 1844, and returned on September 10, 1851, after a voyage of 6 years and 9 months during which he sold, sent home or brought home 2,950 barrels of sperm, 950 barrels of whale oil and 1,850 barrels of coconut oil (the last presumably obtained between 1849 and 1851).—Boston Post 11.9.1851. At 28 gallons to the barrel (see Shipping Gazette 23.10.1847 and footnote 74) the coconut oil was worth $51,800 (or £10,360).It took about 50 coconuts to make a gallon of oil.—Sterndale 1874:16.
31 Butaritari MS n.d.
32 The High Chief of Abaiang was appointed an oil agent by Handy in 1849.—Pierson 1855.
33 Butaritari MS n.d. Actually Richard Randell was an Englishman, the son of a carpenter William Randell. Born in London in 1816, he emigrated to Australia in 1840, probably as a seaman, at the age of 24. He was thus 30 when he commenced business in the Gilberts.—New South Wales, Registrar General's Department, Certificate of Death 2278/1880. Mahlmann 1918:28 confirms that he was called Teng Koakoa. The mention of copra is clearly an anachronism.
34 In stating that the traders had been “some ten years upon the islands” in 1852 Sturgis was presumably speaking imprecisely, for we have the more definite and reliable evidence of Gulick that “Randell and Durant had lived on the island about 6 years” and that Durant had informed him that he landed in March, 1846.—Gulick, L. H. 1852a; Gulick, A. 1932: 58.
35 In any case Durant left the Gilberts for Sydney on October 10, 1853, by the brig Courier and there is no record of his returning; in 1855 he was a member of a committee which drew up a petition protesting against a clause in the N.S.W. Water Police Act compelling a night watch on vessels at wharves.—Shipping Gazette 28.11.1853; 30.4.1855. A son by a Little Makin Island woman, William Durant, visited Sydney as a child with Randell in 1852, where he may have received some education; he was living on Nui in the Ellice Group in 1871.—Supply Logs 1851-1852: entry for 5.11.1852; Vivian 1871.
36 The Friend 1852:84.
37 Gulick, L. H. 1852b.
38 One would give much to be able to consult the pages of the Pitts' Island Journal, kept by Randell and Durant during these early years, which contained details of visiting shipping. The sole published extract from the Journal, concerning the wreck of the Ontario at Butaritari is perhaps worth quoting as a specimen entry: “Tuesday, Jan. 13th, 1852. The Ontario, of New Bedford, Capt. Slocum, struck on the N.E. Reef, at 11 p.m. Monday; she is now lying a complete wreck. She had 1,500 whale and 90 bbls. Sperm on board; one and a half months from the Sandwich Islands.”—The Friend 1852: 84.
39 The evidence is strong, though circumstantial. The Woodlark was off Nauru in September, 1899, and for vessels in that area Butaritari was by then the recognized rendezvous and refitting centre; furthermore Mrs. Smith was on board, and the islanders spoke later of a European woman having landed, who was the wife of the captain. Add to this the fact of the subsequent partnership.
40 Charles Smith was born in 1817, the eldest son of John Smith, who left Forfarshire in Scotland in 1832 and settled in Australia where he became a prominent grazier at Kyeamba and the founder of the Riverina wine industry.
41 Smith had a particular affection for the Supply, which he bought in 1851 for £750, presumably with a view to the new Gilberts venture, and from all accounts she was a lovely schooner, built of the best British oak for the Trinity House Commissioners, who had used her as their yacht—Shipping Gazette 27.9.1851. A painting of her used to hang in the Union Club, Sydney.
42 Suppy Logs 1851-1852: entry for 10.12.1851; Shipping Gazette 10.1.1852.
43 “There are only two captains who travel about these islands, Captains Randell and Fairdough. They are kind to us, helping us with food and other things and they speak the language of these islands fluently.”—Mahoe 1862.
44 The Friend 1852: 84; Gulick, A. 1932: 58. Some of these employees were at the Makin branch (where they were all drunk when Gulick visited them) and others reliefs for the trading agents on the southern islands, who presumably learnt the rudiments of Gilbertese there before being posted. Randell's skilled tradesmen included an excellent blacksmith, with well-equiped forge, a carpenter (Mr. Stanbrough) and a cooper (Thomas Essex).
45 Gulick, L. H. 1852a.
46 Supply Logs 1851-1852: entries for 10.5.1852, 30.5.1852, 13.6.1852, 15.6.1852.
47 Sydney Morning Herald 13.1.1849: Gulick, L. H. 1862: 409.
48 Sydney Morning Herald 16.4.1851; The Samoan Reporter July 1851; Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle 1862: 409.
49 Gulick, L.H. 1852b.
50 These are bound in two volumes, the first containing the voyages of the schooner Supply under Captains Smith and Strachan 17.10.1851-20.2.1852, and under Captain Fairclough 31.3.1852-11.8.1852 and 25.8.1852-9.12.852; and the second the voyages of the barque Star 23.8.1854-4.1.1855, and the schooner Alice 29.2.1855-26.5.1855 and 21.6.1855-30.10.1855, all under Captain Fairclough. They were kindly lent by Mr. C. Douglas Smith, of Glenbrook, N.S.W., and Lieut.-Colonel H. Fairclough, of Ascot Vale, Victoria, respectively.
51 Oil shipments by Supply in 1852 (by islands of origin): Abemama = 69 casks Tarawa = 53; Maiana = 48; Little Makin = 39; Abaiang = 30; Nonouti = 12; Tabiteuea = 1.—Supply Logs 1851-1852: entries for 28.4.1852. 16.7.1852.
52 Eury to Messrs. R. Towns, 26.12.1868, Towns Papers.
53 This was his refusal discussed later, to return the Abaiang chief from Butaritari in 1849 for which, however, we have only the authority of his business rival Handy.
54 The Friend 1861: 46-47.
55 Gulick, P. J. 1857.
56 Mahlmann 1918: 14.
57 Randell considered the taro-like babi (Cyrtosperma chamissonis) to be a luxury except on Butaritari, Little Makin and Abemama, owing to the labour required in cultivation. The making of kamaimai (coconut molasses), by boiling coconut shells full of fresh toddy on heated stones, was also a laborious process, requiring 10 shells of toddy to make one of syrup. Pierson 1855; Gulick, L.H. 1862: 408-414: Gulick, A. 1932:61-62.
58 Gulick, L. H. 1862: 415; Gulick, A. 1932:60.
59 Mahlmann 1918: 16-17.
60 Gulick, A. 1932:60.
61 Stevenson 1908:221. The riri,or so-called “grass skirt”, was made from coconut leaflets,
62 Gulick, A. 1932: 60-61; Gulick, L.H. 1852a.
63 Bingham to Anderson, Aug. 1860, M.M.P.
64 Gulick, A. 1932: 61; Gulick, L. H. 1862:412.
65 See, for example, Gulick, P. J. 1857.
66 Butaritari MS; Mahlmann 1918:28.
67 Hill 1877; Reney 1835.
68 Gulick, L. H. 1852a.
69 Gulick, L. H. 1862: 409.
70 The Friend 1867: 76-77.
71 Pierson 1855.
72 Pierson 1855.
73 The evidence suggests, however, that Handy traded with the north of Abaiang and Randell with Koinawa and the south.
74 Say £100 per annum at the then rate of exchange. For an export of 33 tuns. Coconut oil was measured by the tun (or ton) of 252 gallons; there were 42 gallons to the tierce and 63 to the hogshead. The Kaiea mentioned here should not be confused with his namesake on Butaritari, Kaiea being a common dynastic name given the High Chiefs on both islands.
75 His example was followed by the High Chief Kaiea of Butaritari and Little Makin, who in 1867 levied a duty of £3 per tun on all oil exported from his islands.—Eury to Messrs. R. Towns, 16.9.1867, Towns Papers.
76 Mahlmann 1918:23-24, 27 ; M'L [c.1876].
77 Mahlmann 1918:25-26.
78 Pierson 1855; Bingham to the Secretaries of the A.B.C.F.M., 23.11.1857, M.M.P.
79 Sabatier 1939: 113-114.
80 Bingham to Anderson, No. 4, 1858, M.M.P.
81 Bingham to Anderson, 31.3.1862, M.M.P.
82 Bingham to Anderson, 20.9.1862, M.M.P.: to protect the trading station as well as Kourabi, Fairclough set up a battery of six cannon around it.—The Friend 1862:92.
83 For a discussion of the village as an association of kainga see Maude 1963:28-29.
84 Mahlmann 1918:17.
85 Gulick, A. 1932: 58.
86 Gulick, L.H. 1852b.
87 The owners of the stones were not always so fortunate, and the missionary physician Dr. Halsey was asked to pay a professional visit to an important chief who had been taken sick after Randell had “kicked out of the house, in a contemptuous manner, the idol stone in which this man's guardian spirit was supposed to reside”.—Gulick, A. 1932: 64-65.
88 Gulick, A. 1932:66.
89 Pierson 1855.
90 Gulick, P. J. 1857.
91 Bingham to the Secretaries of the A.B.C.F.M., 5.3.1858, M.M.P.; Bingham to Anderson, 21.9.1858, Aug., 1860, M.M.P.
92 The Friend 1860: 83.
93 The Friend 1861: 46-47.
94 Evening News (Sydney) 1.7.1878; Bingham to Anderson, 20.9.1862, M.M.P.
95 Bingham to Anderson, Aug., 1860, M.M.P. Danelsberg was captain of the Pfeil, eil, trading for Stapenhorst and Hoffschlaeger of Honolulu (see p. 422) who set up a plant for manufacturing coconut oil on Ebon, in the Marshall Group, during 1861.—The Friend 1861: 58-63.
96 Towns to Brooks, 14.2.1851, T.L.B. II.
97 Towns to Brooks, 11.2.1851, 18.3.1851, 18.6.1851.T.L.B. II.
98 Shipping Gazette 29.1.1853: Towns to Brooks, 28.1.1853, T.L.B. II.
99 Shipping Gazette 19.8.1848.
100 Shipping Gazette 30.7.1853.
101 Towns to McDonald, Towns to Stanbury, Towns to Beresford, 28.9.1853, T.L.B. III. Item 62.
102 Shipping Gazette 14.2.1853, 3.10.1853, 30.7.1853, 29.5,1854. London prices in the early 1850s varied from £22 to £30 per tun, with freight from Sydney quoted at £3 to £3 10s per tun.—Shipping Gazette 20.8.1853.
103 Louisa Log 1853-1854.
104 John A. Manich was appointed agent on Tamana by McDonald shortly afterwards, and was expected to have 10 tuns of oil ready for shipment in 1855.—Towns to Borman, 17.7.1855, T.L.B. III, Item 64.
105 Towns to McDonald, 11.9.1854, T. L. B. III, Item 63. Besides the Gilberts, Towns was interested in Rotuma, where his agent in 1855 was Francis John; the Ellice Group, where he had agents on Niutao (James Harvey), Vaitupu (Solomon Heather) and Nukulaelae (Thomas Rossio); and to a lesser extent in the Marshalls and Carolines.
106 Towns to Underwood, 6.6.1855, T.L.B. III, Item 64.
107 Towns to Borman, 17.7.1855, T.L.B. III, Item 64; Towns to Brooks, Oct., 1854, T.L.B. II.
108 Shipping Gazette 9.7.1855; Towns to Borman, 17.7.1855, T.L.B. III, Item 64.
109 Towns to Brooks, 23.9.1865, 24.6.1867; Stuart to Brooks, 13.7.1872, T.L.B. IV.
110 Eury to Messrs. R. Towns, 16.9.1867, Towns Papers.
111 Towns to Brooks, 22.10.1853, T.L.B. II. Eury was whaling in the Group as early as 1852. if not before.—Supply Log 1852.
112 Eury to Messrs. R. Towns, 16.9.1867, Towns Papers; Towns to Brooks, 23.11.1867, T.L.B.I.
113 Sydney Morning Herald 16.4.1851; The Friend 1853: 85, 1854: 22, 1855: 47, 1867: 76-77.
114 [Jones] 1861: 101. ‘Dittoes’ = te tou, the pandanus fruit.
115 [Jones] 1861: 261-262; The Friend 1856: 6.
116 New South Wales, Attorney General 1847.
117 Williams 1863.
118 The ships involved were the barque Eugene and the schooner Prince Albert, recruiting for Tahiti under French colours.—Sydney Mail 16.4.1870, 1.4.1871.
119 Oates 1871.
120 British Government 1873.
121 Moore 1872.
122 Bingham to Clark, Nov., 1868, M.M.P.; Eury to Messrs. H. Towns, 16.9.1867, Towns Papers.
123 Meade 1872; The Friend 1872: 88-89.
124 Lubbock 1931: 189.
125 Lubbock 1931: 241-245.
126 The Friend 1872: 88-89.
127 Mahlmann 1918: 17.
128 Gulick, L. H. 1852b; [Jones] 1861:249.
129 Bingham to Anderson, Aug., 1860, M.M.P.; The Friend 1864: 37-38.
130 Alexander 1934: 481. Occasionally one found an oil agent with two wives (who were usually sisters, in accordance with local custom) but the vast majority contented themselves with one: in general they proved expensive luxuries.—Brazier 1872.
131 Sterndale 1874:4.
132 Mahlmann 1918: 22, 26.
133 M'L [c.1876].
134 Missionary Herald 1868: 164: Bingham 1867.
135 Bingham 1867.
136 Becke 1893: 18.
137 Becke 1893:18.
138 Bingham to Clark, Nov., 1868, M.M.P.
139 M'L [e.1876].
140 Eury to Messrs. R. Towns, 9.11.1868, Towns Papers.
141 Towns to Brooks, 22.2.1867, T.L.B. I.
142 Towns to Brooks, 23.9.1865, T.L.B. IV; Towns to Brooks,1.8.1867, T.L.B.I.
143 Towns to Brooks, 16.9.1865, T.L.B. IV; Towns to Brooks, 23.4.1867. 26.2.1870, T.L.B. I.
144 Towns to Brooks, 27.2.1869, T.L.B. I.
145 Towns to Brooks, 1.8.1867, T.L.B. I.
146 Fosberg 1963: 173.
147 Butaritari MS n.d.
148 “The only means of illumination which the natives had was by keeping fires going all the time. . . . Bob used a half clam shell filled with coconut oil in which was the pounded up dried sheath of the spathe of the coconut (te roro), which was weighted at one end by means of a stone, serving as a wick.”—Butaritari MS n.d.
149 Sour toddy (or fermented coconut sap) is not mentioned in the Report of the Wilkes Exploring Expedition nor, more significantly, by the ethnographer Hale in his grammar and vocabulary of the Gilbertese language, nor again in any of the pre-1841 European literature.—Hale 1846. There is, nevertheless, an apparent brief allusion to it by Whittle, Surgeon of the U.S.S. Peacock, which suggests that the drink was known by then, but not commonly indulged in.—Whittle 1838-1841. Handy, speaking in 1855, states categorically that it was first taught to the islanders by the whites on Butaritari, though he gives a date (1849) which is palpably too recent.—Pierson 1855. Sour toddy was unknown on the Gilbertese outliers colonized in pre-European times: i.e. on Nui and Ocean Island (where, as on Nauru, it was apparently introduced by visitors from the Gilberts about 1872).—Moss 1889: 144. Until an exhaustive search has been made of recorded oral tradition the question must, however, be considered as unsettled.
150 Sterndale 1874: 41.
151 Sterndale 1874: 41.
152 Mahlmann 1918: 12.
153 Did space permit, one might profitably essay a detailed analysis of the effects of particular introductions on the local culture, as Ward Goodenough has done for us in his excellent study of the social and economic repercussions resulting from the importation of timber for canoe building on Onotoa.—Goodenough 1963: 167-169. Such a digression, however, would take us too far from the theme of this paper.
154 Bingham to Clark, June, 1876, M.M.P.
155 Bingham to Clark, June, 1876, M.M.P.
156 One has to remember that the Gilbertese required about four coconuts per head per day for food and that, as a consequence, except on the specially favoured islands mentioned, between 40% and 90% of the crop was probably eaten. Catala estimates that trees in the Gilberts produce an average of only 23 nuts per annum, which is low by world standards, and that two trees are required for every five inhabitants for toddy cutting.—Catala 1957: 43.
157 Sterndale 1874: 20.
158 James Merriman was a cooper by trade, at one time foreman of Benjamin Boyd's coopering establishment, who became a successful hotel keeper and shipowner. He was three times Mayor of Sydney. For Fairclough's obituary see the Evening News (Sydney) 1.7.1878, 8.7.1878; and the Sydney Mail 20.7.1878.
159 In his later years Charles Smith was chairman of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, founder and chairman of the Australian General Assurance Company, auditor of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, a director of the Bank of New South Wales and a trustee of the Government Savings Bank. His daughter Winifred married Sir Leslie Wilson, later Governor of Queensland.—Sydney Morning Herald 29.6.1897
160 Sydney Morning Herald 11.11.1880.
161 Sydney Morning Herald 23.10.1869.
162 Alexander 1934: 478-480.
163 Casal 1876.