Thursday, May 27, 2010

Global exchange, 1700s style

Sailors and traders : a maritime history of the Pacific peoples / by Alastair Couper. Published by the University of Hawai'i Press, 2009. 262 p., illustrations, maps.

Selected from the new book shelf are Sailors and traders : a maritime history of the Pacific peoples / by Alastair Couper and A Maritime history of Baja California by Edward W. Vernon. Both books offer amazing insight into changes that occurred because of maritime influence on the indigenous societies and ways of life at the time of their discovery by people from as far away as Spain and the Netherlands.

Sailors and Traders is a summary history: its intent is to include the most important events of ocean and island cultural exploration, enriched by details about the interaction between explorers and native people of New Zealand, the Maoris. From pages 67-68, the author characterizes the attitudes prevalent among the explorers:

“… members of the first exploration ships were the scientists and artists, whose perceptions were politically influential… The European scientists were so ethnocentric that they were unable to learn much from the skills and knowledge of Pacific people… The proud and intelligent Tupaia of Tahiti must have carried enormous indigenous knowledge, most of which remained unrecorded… Only in the twentieth century did this knowledge become more clearly recognized by Europeans as the essential basis of marine science.”

The book has eleven chapters : besides an encapsulation of the first explorers of the Pacific, he discusses the maritime and trade events leading to foreign settlement and commerce; he also considers shipping companies, maritime law, and the “spheres of influence of maritime trade”, along with photographs . An epilogue, “Some contemporary resonances”, completes his essay.

In a summary on pages 97 and 98, he states, “The period of 1800 to the 1860s brought most of the main islands of Polynesia and several elsewhere to the edge of the capitalist system. This was carried to them by commercial ships… and new commodities were incorporated into indigenous channels of trade… and the accumulation of personal wealth for the… deeply entrenched kingships of Tahiti and Hawai’i. One of the most lasting effects was the creation of a working class at sea and ashore. To them the ship was among the most remarkable of the material changes which Euopeans had introduced into the life of the Pacific. ”

Explanation of terms used:
new book shelf: as the library acquires or receives donations, they are noted on the web site and cataloged on Look for a posting on The Maritime History of Baja California, next week.

Image from Wikipedia, engraved after Sydney Parkinson's sketch of a Maori chief.

Maoris: explained on page 187 of South Pacific A to Z. / Robert S. Kane. Published by Doubleday, 1966. “New Zealand’s earliest known inhabitants were a people believed to be Polynesian… They came in giant canoes… all the way from French Polynesia. The earliest of these Pacific Vikings probably arrived in New Zealand in the 12th century.” Moreover, on page 440, Geography of the Pacific. / Otis W. Freeman, editor. N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1951, “Prior to their migrations to New Zealand were already skilled navigators, fearless warriors, and expert agriculturalists.” Read about the Maori culture, origins, migrations and more in the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Tupaia: the Tahitian priest who first met Europeans Captain James Cook and his botanist Joseph Banks in 1768, and became a translator and interpreter of the Maori language in New Zealand for the explorers.

epilogue: "a concluding part adding to a literary work..." p. 480, Random House Dictionary, 1966.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vitamins and health aboard ship

Blackcurrant fruits.

Did you know? We take it for granted that citrus fruits like oranges and limes from our local supermarkets and groceries provide us with a daily morning drink and vitamin C. But before it was discovered that lemons, limes, and blackcurrants contain a potent substance called anti-scorbutic acid good for promoting healthy skin and gums in cases of poor nutrition, sailors and crew on ships long at sea were in danger of loosing their lives to the disease called scurvy.

Several books have been written about this powerfully devastating disease, and may be popular in Great Britain's history, as it directly affected exploratory voyages and naval excursions. The back cover of our featured book states, "During the Age of Sail, scurvy was responsible for more deaths at sea than war, piracy, storms and shipwreck combined".

The Age of Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner and a Gentleman helped Britain win the Battle of Trafalgar. by Stephen Bown. Summersdale Press, 2005. ISBN 1 84024 402 X

If as a sailor or long-term traveller, you had contracted scurvy from a poor diet, your symptoms would have been pouchy gums, teeth that fell out, skin discoloration, lethargy and weakness, and finally, death. The British were probably first to discover, during long voyages of the 17th and 18th centuries, that drinking the juice of citrus fruits could delay the horrors of scurvy and maintain relative health aboard. These fruits were found on expeditions to the South Pacific where citrus fruits are native.

Explanation of terms used:
Scurvy, a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, was very prevalent at sea between the 16th and 19th centuries owing to the difficulty of preserving fresh fruits and vegetables. It usually became apparent after about six weeks on salt provisions. It became a common ailment when long voyages began in the 16th century and continued until passages were shortened in the age of steam, and canned vegetables became available.” --- p. 763 Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, edited by Peter Kemp. Oxford University Press, 1976.

Blackcurrant: name of a kind of berry native to Great Britain and other Northern European countries.

Web sites of interest:
The author Stephen Bown’s site is available here.
Wikipedia's article on Blackcurrants.
The Black Currant Foundation.
History of Scurvy by Jonathan Lamb.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bread-fruit bounty

Drawing by Sydney Parkinson, an artist, sailing on board the Endeavor with Captain Cook, who made meticulous botanical drawings of new discoveries.

Bread growing on trees that can be baked, or sliced and eaten with fish, and spiced to your liking---this was a discovery made for the Europeans by Captain James Cook when encountering the breadfruit tree in Tahiti during his first excursion to the South Pacific. His sailing-master on a later voyage was William Bligh. Bligh later became captain of his own ship, bound again for Tahiti, with the promise of obtaining and then transporting the wondrous fruit to islands in the Caribbean where there were plantations of sugar and pineapple and other exotic crops grown for European taste. Breadfruit became a staple food of the slave laborers. Bligh, having survived mutiny on his ship the BOUNTY, commandeered a lifeboat and with 18 crew members rowed to safety in Timor, a 3600 mile journey, that, “… is still regarded as perhaps the most outstanding feat of seamanship and navigation ever conducted in a small boat.” Caroline Alexander, Smithsonian magazine, September 2009, p. 58. In the article, Alexander describes Bligh’s 2nd voyage on the PROVIDENCE, to the island of Tahiti to acquire botanical specimens and whole plants which were to be shipped east to the West Indies. The breadfruit was at the time considered, by Captain Cook and botanist Joseph Banks, a practical food for slave laborers on the Caribbean Islands since it was easier to prepare and eat than grains, etc. These islands had been absorbing new vegetation, fruit and coffee since Columbus, in 1494, and the Spanish, as early as 1513.

Explanation of terms:
Captain James Cook (1728 - 1779) sailed on three voyages for Britain's Royal Society. He died in Hawaii before completing his third voyage.
William Bligh (1754-1815) sailed for Britain’s Admiralty and died in England after a life at sea.
BOUNTY: Bligh’s first ship to the Pacific Ocean.
PROVIDENCE: Bligh’s second ship bound for Tahiti and the West Indies
Timor: located in the Indonesian archipelago.

Books in the Maritime Research Library on William Bligh:

The Bligh notebook : rough account, Lieutenant Wm. Bligh's voyage in the Bounty's launch from the ship to Tofua & from thence to Timor, 28 April to 14 June 1789 : with a draft list of the Bounty mutineers. / transcription and facsimile edited by John Bach.

Captain Bligh & Mr. Christian; the men and the mutiny. / by Richard Hough.

Web sites of interest:
Wikipedia's articles on breadfruit and the botanical description of breadfruit.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Artists On Board

Captain Cook in the Pacific. / Nigel Rigby and Pieter van der Merwe. Greenwich, England: National Maritime Museum, 2002. 144 p., color illustrations.

When James Cook returned to Plymouth, England in 1771 from his first voyage to Tahiti, Australia and beyond, he surrendered his journal as master of the ship. The journals were proof of the enterprise and provided information about the excursion to the financial supporters of the voyages. Travelers on these ships were pledged to present their journals and logs to the Admiralty, although some kept their own versions privately for publication and fame later on. Of immense value to the members of the Royal Society awaiting news of Cook’s voyages were the drawings, engravings and paintings by ships’ artists that served to inform them about the wonders of distant lands in the Pacific Ocean, the people and their resources.

A few botanists, astronomers, topographers, and painters, etc., accompanied the crew and Captain Cook on the ships Endeavor, Resolution, Adventure and Discovery as they sailed into unknown waters on three separate voyages between 1768 and 1779. The scientists’ tasks were to painstakingly examine the soil, plants, animals, and local resources, to describe and illustrate them in journals and to actively preserve samples and seeds of trees, fruits and grains, and if any minerals and valuable stones were available, to bring them back to Britain for examination. Of the artists who accompanied these voyages, William Hodges became famous for his dreamy and romantic visions of the Pacific coves where Cook’s ships anchored. Paintings by him were shipped back to England for immediate viewing. (Rigby and van der Merwe, p.42)

Nu-tka: Captain Cook and The Spanish Explorers on the Coast. / Barbara S. Efrat and W.J. Langlois, editors. Victoria, British Columbia: Sound Heritage, Volume VII, Number 1, 1978. 101 p., illustrations.

The coasts and islands of the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand provided work for the ships’ topographers who were busy on these voyages creating maps of as yet unknown territories beyond Southeast Asia and the Philippines. During Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific, he searched the West Coast of North America for the Northwest Passage. Instead he found the inhabitants of islands and inlets along what is now western Canada and southern Alaska. Some of these people are known as the Nootka Indians who traded fur pelts with the British voyagers. The topographer John Webber is better known to us as a portrait engraver, who created likenesses of the Nookta, the landscape and of James Cook himself.

Explanation of terms used:
James Cook (1728-1779): captain of the British ships Endeavor, Resolution, Adventurer and Discovery entrusted with scientific inquiry in the late 18th century
Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce: since 1754 improved trade and industry through science. (Rigby and van der Merwe, p.79)
Admiralty: British organization for maritime issues
botanists, astronomers, topographers: scientists selected for the purpose of advancing British claims to knowledge in plant science, geology and map making, respectively.
third voyage to the Pacific: Cook’s expedition, 1776-1780, to locate the Northwest Passage, a mythical route from the Atlantic to the Pacific over the North Pole.
Nootka: tribe of people who inhabited a part of Vancouver Island now known as Nootka Island

Book titles from the Library: Be sure to look at the Maritime Museum Research Library pages on the web. You can find many of the books cataloged at Los Angeles Maritime Museum members can borrow books for a three-week period.

Web sites of Interest:

William Hodges at the web site of the national Maritime Museum of Greenwich, England.

John Webber:
See ArtEncyclopedia's collection of sites about the artist.
Nootka culture from Canadian Culture Online.