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Introduction

WHEN in October, 1870, I sailed into the harbour of Apia, Samoa, in the ill‐fated Albatross, Mr Louis Becke was gaining his first experiences of island life as a trader on his own account by running a cutter between Apia and Savai'i.

It was rather a notable moment in Apia, for two reasons. In the first place, the German traders were shaking in their shoes for fear of what the French squadron might do to them, and we were the bearers of the good news from Tahiti that the chivalrous Admiral Clouet, with a very proper magnanimity, had decided not to molest them; and, secondly, the beach was still seething with excitement over the departure on the previous day of the pirate Pease, carrying with him the yet more illustrious “Bully” Hayes.

It happened in this wise. A month or two before our arrival, Hayes had dropped anchor in Apia, and some ugly stories of recent irregularities in the labour trade had come to the ears of Mr Williams, the English Consul. Mr Williams, with the assistance of the natives, very cleverly seized


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his vessel in the night, and ran her ashore, and detained Mr Hayes pending the arrival of an English man‐of‐war to which he could be given in charge. But in those happy days there were no prisons in Samoa, so that his confinement was not irksome, and his only hard labour was picnics, of which he was the life and soul. All went pleasantly until Mr Pease — a degenerate sort of pirate who made his living by half bullying, half swindling lonely white men on small islands out of their coconut oil, and unarmed merchantmen out of their stores — came to Apia in an armed ship with a Malay crew. From that moment Hayes' life became less idyllic. Hayes and Pease conceived a most violent hatred of each other, and poor old Mr Williams was really worried into an attack of elephantiasis (which answers to the gout in those latitudes) by his continual efforts to prevent the two desperadoes from flying at each other's throat. Heartily glad was he when Pease — who was the sort of man that always observed les convenances when possible, and who fired a salute of twenty‐one guns on the Queen's Birthday — came one afternoon to get his papers “all regular,” and clear for sea. But lo! the next morning, when his vessel had disappeared, it was found that his enemy Captain Hayes had disappeared also, and the ladies of Samoa were left disconsolate at the departure of the most agreeable man they had ever known.




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However, all this is another story, as Mr Kipling says, and one which I hope Mr Becke will tell us more fully some day, for he knew Hayes well, having acted as supercargo on board his ship, and shared a shipwreck and other adventures with him.

But even before this date Mr Becke had had as much experience as falls to most men of adventures in the Pacific Ocean.

Born at Port Macquarrie Port Macquarie in Australia, where his father was clerk of petty sessions, he was seized at the age of fourteen with an intense longing to go to sea. It is possible that he inherited this passion through his mother, for her father, Charles Beilby, who was private secretary to the Duke of Cumberland, invested a legacy that fell to him in a small vessel, and sailed with his family to the then very new world of Australia. However this may be, it was impossible to keep Louis Becke at home; and, as an alternative, a uncle undertook to send him, and a brother two years older, to a mercantile house in California. His first voyage was a terrible one. There were no steamers, of course, in those days, and they sailed for San Francisco in a wretched old barque. For over a month they were drifting about the stormy sea between Australia and New Zealand, a partially dismasted and leaking wreck. The crew mutinied — they had bitter cause to — and only after calling at Rurutu, in the Tubuai Group,


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and obtaining fresh food, did they permit the captain to resume command of the half‐sunken old craft. They were ninety days in reaching Honolulu, and another forty in making the Californian coast.

The two lads did not find the routine of a merchant's office at all to their taste; and while the elder obtained employment on a sheep ranche at San Juan, Louis, still faithful to the sea, got a berth as a clerk in a steamship company, and traded to the Southern ports. In a year's time he had money enough to take passage in a schooner bound on a shark‐catching cruise to the equatorial islands of the North Pacific. The life was a very rough one, and full of incident and adventure — which I hope he will relate some day. Returning to Honolulu, he fell in with an old captain who had bought a schooner for a trading venture amongst the Western Carolines. Becke put in $1000, and sailed with him as supercargo, he and the skipper being the only white men on board. He soon discovered that, though a good seaman, the old man knew nothing of navigation. In a few weeks they were among the Marshall Islands, and the captain went mad from delirium tremens. Becke and the three native sailors ran the vessel into a little uninhabited atoll, and for a week had to keep the captain tied up to prevent his killing himself. They got him right at last, and stood to the westward. On their voyage


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they were witnesses of a tragedy (in this instance fortunately not complete), on which the pitiless sun of the Pacific has looked down very often. They fell in with a big Marshall Island sailing canoe that had been blown out of sight of land, and had drifted six hundred miles to the westward. Out of her complement of fifty people, thirty were dead. They gave them provisions and water, and left them to make Strong's Island (Kusaie), which was in sight. Becke and the chief swore Marshall Island Bruderschaft with each other. Years afterwards, when he came to live in the Marshall Group, the chief proved his friendship in a signal manner.

The cruise proved a profitable one, and from that time Mr Becke determined to become a trader, and to learn to know the people of the north‐west Pacific; and returning to California, he made for Samoa, and from thence to Sydney. But at this time the Palmer River gold rush had just broken out in North Queensland, and a brother, who was a bank manager on the celebrated Charters Towers goldfields, invited him to come up, as every one seemed to be making his fortune. He wandered between the rushes for two years, not making a fortune, but acquiring much useful experience, learning, amongst other things, the art of a blacksmith, and becoming a crack shot with a rifle. Returning to Sydney, he sailed for the Friendly Islands (Tonga) in company with


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the king of Tonga's yacht — the Taufaahau. The Friendly Islanders disappointed him (at which no one that knows them will wonder), and he went on to Samoa, and set up as a trader on his own account for the first time. He and a Manhiki half‐caste — the “Allan” who so frequently figures in his stories — bought a cutter, and went trading throughout the group. This was the time of Colonel Steinberger's brief tenure of power. The natives were fighting, and the cutter was seized on two occasions. When the war was over he made a voyage to the north‐west, and became a great favourite with the natives, as indeed seems to have been the case in most of the places he went to in Polynesia and Micronesia. Later on he was sent away from Samoa in charge of a vessel under sealed orders to the Marshall Islands. These orders were to hand the vessel over to the notorious Captain “Bully” Hayes. (Some day he promises that he will give us the details of this very curious adventure). He found Hayes awaiting him in his famous brig Leonora in Milli Lagoon. He handed over his charge and took service with him as supercargo. After some months' cruising in the Carolines they were wrecked on Strong's Island (Kusaie). Hayes made himself the ruler of the island, and Mr Becke and he had a bitter quarrel. The natives treated the latter with great kindness, and gave him land on the lee


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side of the island, where he lived happily enough for five months. Hayes was captured by an English man‐of‐war, but escaped and went to Guam. Mr Becke went back in the cruiser to the Colonies, and then again sailed for Eastern Polynesia, trading in the Gambiers, Paumotus, and Easter and Pitcairn Islands. In this part of the ocean he picked up an abandoned French barque on a reef, floated her, and loaded her with coconuts, intending to sail her to New Zealand with a native crew, but they went ashore in a hurricane and lost everything. Meeting with Mr Tom de Wolf, the managing partner of a Liverpool firm, he took service with him as a trader in the Ellice and Tokelau Groups, finally settling down as a residential trader. Then he took passage once more for the Carolines, and was wrecked on Peru, one of the Gilbert Islands (lately annexed), losing every dollar that he possessed. He returned to Samoa and engaged as a “recruiter” in the labour trade. He got badly hurt in an encounter with some natives, and went to New Zealand to recover. Then he sailed to New Britain on a trading venture, and fell in with, and had much to do with, the ill‐fated colonising expedition of the Marquis de Ray in New Ireland. A bad attack of malarial fever, and a wound in the neck (labour recruiting or even trading among the blacks of Melanesia seems to have been a much less pleasant business than residence among the gentle brown


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folk of the Eastern Pacific) made him leave and return to the Marshall Islands, where Lailik, the chief whom he had succoured at sea years before, made him welcome. He left on a fruitless quest after an imaginary guano island, and from then until two years ago he has been living on various islands in both the North and South Pacific, leading what he calls “a wandering and lonely but not unhappy existence,” “Lui,” as they call him, being a man both liked and trusted by the natives from lonely Easter Island to the faraway Pelews. He is still in the prime of life, and whether he will now remain within the bounds of civilisation, or whether some day he will return to his wanderings, as Odysseus is fabled to have done in his old age, I fancy that he hardly knows himself. But when once the charm of a wild roving life has got into a man's blood, the trammels of civilisation are irksome and its atmosphere is hard to breathe. It will be seen from this all‐too‐condensed sketch of Mr Becke's career that he knows the Pacific as few men alive or dead have ever known it. He is one of the rare men who have led a very wild life, and have the culture and talent necessary to give some account of it. As a rule, the men who know don't write, and the men who write don't know.

Every one who has a taste for good stories will feel, I believe, the force of these. Every


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one who knows the South Seas, and, I believe, many who do not, will feel that they have the unmistakable stamp of truth. And truth to nature is a great merit in a story, not only because of that thrill of pleasure hard to analyse, but largely made up of associations, memories, and suggestions that faithfulness of representation in picture or book gives to the natural man; but because of the fact that nature is almost infinitely rich, and the unassisted imagination of man but a poor and sterile thing, tending constantly towards some ossified convention. “Treasure Island” is a much better story than “The Wreckers,” yet I, for one, shall never cease to regret that Mr Stevenson did not possess, when he wrote “Treasure Island,” that knowledge of what men and schooners do in wild seas that was his when he gave us “The Wreckers.” The detail would have been so much richer and more convincing.

It is open to any one to say that these tales are barbarous, and what Mrs Meynell, in a very clever and amusing essay, has called “decivilised.” Certainly there is a wide gulf separating life on a Pacific island from the accumulated culture of centuries of civilisation in the midst of which such as Mrs Meynell move and have their being. And if there can be nothing good in literature that does not spring from that culture, these stories must stand condemned. But such a view is surely too narrow.


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Much as I admire that lady's writings, I never can think of a world from which everything was eliminated that did not commend itself to the dainty taste of herself and her friends, without a feeling of impatience and suffocation. It takes a huge variety of men and things to make a good world. And ranches and cañons, veldts and prairies, tropical forests and coral islands, and all that goes to make up the wild life in the face of Nature or among primitive races, far and free from the artificial conditions of an elaborate civilisation, form an element in the world, the loss of which would be bitterly felt by many a man who has never set foot outside his native land.

There is a certain monotony, perhaps, about these stories. To some extent this is inevitable. The interest and passions of South Sea Island life are neither numerous nor complex, and action is apt to be rapid and direct. A novelist of that modern school that fills its volumes, often fascinatingly enough, by refining upon the shadowy refinements of civilised thought and feeling, would find it hard to ply his trade in South Sea Island society. His models would always be cutting short in five minutes the hesitations and subtleties that ought to have lasted them through a quarter of a life‐time. But I think it is possible that the English reader might gather from this little book an unduly strong impression of the uniformity of Island life.


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The loves of white men and brown women, often cynical and brutal, sometimes exquisitely tender and pathetic, necessarily fill a large space in any true picture of the South Sea Islands, and Mr Becke, no doubt of set artistic purpose, has confined himself in the collection of tales now offered almost entirely to this facet of the life. I do not question that he is right in deciding to detract nothing from the striking effect of these powerful stories, taken as a whole, by interspersing amongst them others of a different character. But I hope it may be remembered that the present selection is only an instalment, and that, if it finds favour with the British public, we may expect from him some of those tales of adventure, and of purely native life and custom, which no one could tell so well as he.

PEMBROKE. June 1894.
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