Scoop Review of Books

Rogues at Sea

Book Review
Scoundrels and Eccentrics of the Pacific by John Dunmore (Upstart Press, $39.99)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

dunmore-002John Dunmore CNZM is a distinguished New Zealand academic, historian and author, born in France in 1923.  He founded Dunmore Press and was Professor of French at Massey University till he retired in 1985. Dunmore has written more than 30 books, including a series of thrillers under the pseudonym Jason Calder as well as several plays.  At 94, he has declared this is his final book.  His main scholarly contribution has been about the French exploration of the Pacific.

Scoundrels & Eccentrics of the Pacific is a readable book comprising a series of short chapters describing a wide variety of adventurers in the Pacific, beginning with Hsu Fu, an ancient Chinese voyager. This is followed by a chapter on pirates and buccaneers from the sixteenth century onwards, ending with Von Luckner in World War I and a few German raiders in World War II.  Most of the rest of the book is about late eighteenth or nineteenth century Europeans and Americans.  Only Captain Bligh and the mutineers of the Bounty are well known today unlike Captain Edwards and the Pandora, sent to find the mutineers.  Edwards found some of them in Tahiti, but not those who had settled on Pitcairn. His ship was wrecked but, like Bligh, he eventually managed to get back to Britain in another one.

Some of Dunmore’s subjects were unscrupulous criminals, aiming to make substantial fortunes for example by enticing locals on board and then sailing off to trade them as slaves.  William Hayes, an American, took Chinese labourers from China to Malaya.  He continued voyaging round the Pacific, leaving a trail of debt.  Walter Gibson sailed to Hawaii (not yet American) as a Mormon missionary, using Mormon funds to buy land in his own name and adapting the faith to appeal to potential converts so as to build up quite a large settlement under his influence.
A few women are featured such as Mary Bryant, an early transportee who escaped from Australia with her husband and two children and others and sailed to the Dutch East Indies where they were eventually recognised as convicts and taken back to Britain for trial – but she was eventually pardoned.  Another was Amy Bock a teacher who, when charged with theft, fled from Tasmania to New Zealand where she continued stealing and moving round the country, at one stage passing as a man and proposing to a wealthy widow.  Born in 1859, she lived until 1943.

It would have been good to have a modern map on which the reader could trace the voyages, instead of only a small, unreadable reproduction of a 200 year old French one. But do not let that omission put you off. This is an enjoyable book to dip into.