Beachcombers and Blackbirders, Missionaries, the Pacific

Deserters from ships and escaped convicts from Port Jackson soon added a new and undersirable element to the Pacific. These individuals quickly spread throughout the whole area. Sometimes they were kept as useful pets by chiefs because of their ability to repair firearms and cast bullets. At other times they set themselves up as petty dictators and terrorized the natives. Everywhere they contributed to the spread of disease and the breakdown of the native systems of morality.
Blackbirding developed soon after the beginning of the nineteenth century. The exploitation of the guano deposits of Peru required cheap, docile labor. Pacific natives were kidnapped from their homes and slowly worked to death in Peru. Whole islands such as Easter Island, as well as the islands of the Ellice group, were nearly depopulated. As sugar plantations developed in Queensland, Fiji, Samoa, New Hebrides, labor was "recruited" with face-saving contracts but the old methods. In spite of long protest on the part of missionaries and others, this system was not entirely abolished until after the First World War.


Missionary work started in the Pacific with the Spanish, and missionaries accompanied the first Spanish explorers on their voyages. Their efforts were mainly directed toward the Philippines and the Marianas, with occasional attempts in the Carolines. The renewed interest in the Pacific, after the late eighteenth-century voyages, brought fresh missions. In 1797 the Duff landed representatives of the London Missionary Society on Tahiti and Tonga. Rival groups followed. After the Napoleonic Wars, French Catholic missionaries entered the field. American missionaries from Boston reached the Hawaiian Islands in 1820. The missionaries championed the natives against the abuses of the traders, whalers, and blackbirders. From their arrival they fought for standards of moral decency. However, they probably contributed more than all the other contacts to the breakdown of the native cultures. Too often they taught uncritically that anything native was bad, while Christianity meant Mother Hubbards and Western cultural patterns. On some islands the children of the missionaries or even some of the missionaries themselves acquired land from the natives and established plantations, further contributing to the destruction of the native way of life as well as the natives themselves. A few missionaries like Ellis made explorations and published the information thus gathered. Also the reduction of native tongues to written forms was a contribution of the missionaries.

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