Monday, August 2, 2010

Sailing the South Seas in Search of Pirates, Artifacts, and Exotic Species

It's not difficult to determine from whom Lady Dorothy Mills inherited her wherewithal to survive some of the discomforts and privations she suffered on her 'Road to Timbuktu,' and all of the other places around the globe to which she traveled. There is no doubt that if she, herself, had not often heard the story of her father's shipwreck and survival on Île Saint-Paul directly, she must have heard him telling it to rapt listeners endlessly along the course of their family travels together when she was young.

Still, Midshipman Robert "Robin" Horace Walpole's experience of that marooning and rescue was followed by other adventures, sailing then on the HMS Blanche [pictured, upper left].

The University of Sydney notes: "The Blanche had orders to visit as many islands in the Pacific as possible and to gather information regarding British subjects and the treatment of Islanders employed on fisheries and plantations, and the practice of taking islanders, sometimes by force, for labour on plantations in Queensland and other colonies."

From the Blanche, docked at Sydney, Walpole wrote a letter to his mother, Laura Walpole, on 12 May 1872:

We are off to the islands at last. We are going in search of a notorious kidnapper and pirate named Captain [William Henry "Bully"] Hayes who has for a long time been the dread of the small trading vessels about the islands… We have got descriptions of them also (from) a detective who knows him. He is six foot two high and broad in proportion. He is covered with hair has both ears cut off and a great gash across the face so that we shall have no difficulty in identifying him if we catch him…

If we catch him he will be hung and a great many of his crew too as they are almost all murderers and people who have run from the law. [Hayes, pictured right] was a slave captain on the west coast of Africa before he came here but he made it too hot for him there and went to New Zealand where he chartered a ship to carry a cargo… of other people's goods to take to Sydney. Instead of taking them there he went to California and sold the cargo and the ship whose charter he had not paid and bought a small schooner which he used for kidnapping. He lost that and another one. He has now got a brig which he uses for kidnapping. He also boards merchantmen and plunders, one of them resisting a little while ago he shot three of her crew.

Hayes, known as a cunning and belligerent pirate, as well as a charming and wily businessman, was ostensibly involved in "blackbirding"—the mostly illegal and always morally questionable practice of 'recruiting' Pacific islanders for labor against their will.

But, as we know, Walpole's ship wasn't merely a chaser of slave-trading pirates. Of the accompanying scientific and hydrographic studies carried out by crew of the Blanche, he wrote:

"We have on board besides the detective a naturalist [John Brazier] a botanist and a geologist to examine into the products flowers &c of New Guinea."

From Nauru [pictured left, in 1917; seen is one of "Bully" Hayes's supply caches], Walpole penned another letter to his mother, on or after 6 June 1872, and it read: "We left Sydney on the [11th] of May and have been these weeks at sea. Now we are off an Island called Pleasant Island [Nauru] where we were going to, but as the Barrosa has just come from it I do not suppose we shall go in. I suppose we shall go to New Guinea. That is the place where the birds of paradise come from, also the birds nests the Chinese make soup from."

And from San Christoval Island in the Solomon Group, this letter was written to his mother on 24 July 1872: "There are birds of paradise, emus, also orang-outangs and other large animals crocodiles [swarm] on the Solomon Islands. There are hardly any animals except pigs on any of the Carolines as they are coral islands most of them at least. But they all swarm with birds—You can get such lovely parrots and cockatoos at the Solomon Is. to be got for a small piece of tobacco but the first lieutenant gave orders that none were to be brought on board and as I had to give all my spears and clubs away having no place to stow them I have only got some ornaments and small things left."

It's obvious, even from these few lines, that young Robin Walpole is quickly acquiring quite a taste for travel while experiencing these exotic locales and their unusual native species. This taste would stay with him throughout his life and would be passed along, as we shall see, to his daughter, Dorothy.

The ship's log of the Blanche reports that Captain Cortland Simpson put in at Majuro and sent boats ashore on 23 September 1872. Crewmembers found that the natives demanded payments for drinking from their coconuts. They also reported a great variety of foodstuffs for sale on the island, and commented on some unusual native notions of trade and money. The warship visited the Jaluit Atoll on September 28 1872 and the Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands on October 21 1872, and similar observations were made.

In 1872, the HMS Blanche visited Kittie Harbour, Ponape, in the Carolines, as well as Simpson Harbour [now Rabaul Harbour] in Papua, New Guinea. While they were busy making anthropological and ethnographic observations [as well as hunting for 'blackbirders'], Walpole was making the most of the situation.

In a letter mailed from Sydney to his father, the Honorable Frederick Walpole, M.P., on 4 June 1873, Walpole wrote: "We are going up to the Islands in about a fortnight I will get you some [ap—] and things I have got some clubs and bows and arrows which I mean to bring home." [One word is illegible.]

From Levuka in the Fiji Islands, Robin wrote an undated letter to his father that was received on 3 December 1873: "There are no shells to be got here lots of clubs though [pictured, left]. I begin to think that curiosities are great trash, they are very little good and if I take them to Sydney people will get them out of me somehow. I gave away almost all the last lot."

Obviously, as a manager of his acquired properties, young Robin would have much to learn. He seems to have lived for the moment, and one wonders what temptations were offered for him to "give away" his last lot of souvenirs, bound for home. Hanging on to his wealth and property would become a lifelong difficulty for him.

In regard to shells, Walpole seems to have had competition for specimens. Conchologist John Brazier also sailed on the HMS Blanche, and acted as a shell-collector. However, in the Solomon Islands, Brazier not only collected shells, but artifacts as well.

In the Caroline Islands, Brazier mainly collected neck ornaments waist belts, slings, and ear ornaments that can be seen today in the Ethnographic Collection of the University of Sydney's Sydney Museum.

And, after his death, a collection of Walpole's letters was sold to the National Library of Australia, which now describes them as including:

'1. Thirteen handwritten signed letters from Robert Horace Walpole, three letters addressed to his mother & ten addressed to his father Commander Frederick Walpole, 1822-1876. R.H. Walpole was a midshipman on HMS Blanche & HMS Pearl during a tour of duty for the suppression of the slave trade, in Australia, New Zealand & the Pacific Islands, 1872-1874. His letters describe life on board ship & on shore, his financial difficulties, & his active service among the Pacific Islands including Fiji, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands & New Hebrides In letters to his mother in 1872 Walpole describes a "... search of a notorious kidnapper and pirate named Captain Hayes" (William Henry "Bully" Hayes, 1829-1877). 2. Fifteen business letters addressed to Frederick Walpole about his son's naval appointment, debts, bank drafts & clothing.'

What's notable today about the contents of these letters, for our purposes here, is that his writings during this time do tend to always return their focus to his "financial difficulties," "debts," and "bank drafts"—things that would remain a concern of his throughout the remainder of his life, were he in the South Seas, the British Isles, or elsewhere.

Robin Walpole would never meet the notorious Captain "Bully" Hayes, also known as "The Last of the Bucaneers," face-to-face during the former's tenure in the Royal Navy. Despite the Blanche's mission, Captain Hayes would escape capture and investigation by the Crown. The United States cruiser, Narragansett, according to an Australian newspaper, the Northern Territory Times and Gazette, of 28 June 1919, captured Hayes, but, "[Hayes] so won over the American officers with his affability [He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio], that they hastily set him at liberty, convinced that they had mistaken their man. Hayes graciously condescended to accept a complete outfit of new sails and other necessaries as a small compensation for their unjust suspicions."

Whether or not Hayes was a pirate, kidnapper, and slave trader or merely a sly entrepreneur who consistently walked the fine line between ethical [and legal] and unethical [and illegal] business practices, all while displaying a terribly violent temper that almost 150 years later is still noteworthy, is open to debate.

Nevertheless, Robin Walpole had been impressed by a description of Hayes as a hairy man with no ears and a scar across the face—a description that apparently was far from accurate—and sailed the South Seas waiting to find such a specimen. Walpole never found the cur he imagined, but did find a wealth of unusual people, animals, and cultures on that voyage—ones that later must have fueled the imagination of young Dorothy Walpole as she listened to his tales of adventure and exploration as a youngster. Her father's travels had whetted the appetite of young Dorothy for her own literary travels in the next century.

We know Robert Horace "Robin" Walpole later married Louise Melissa Corbin on 17 May 1888 at the English Embassy Church in Paris, France. We know that he anticipated becoming the Earl of Orford [Horatio Walpole, his uncle, would die in 1894, passing the earldom to Robin], and with the title, he also had counted upon a future nest egg from his wife's father, D. C. Corbin, a multimillionaire from Spokane, Washington, in the form of either generous monetary gifts, an inheritance, or both. These would allow him to live the life he dreamed of as a peer—a lifestyle that comes more clearly into focus in the article entitled "Ladies' Gossip" from the Otago Witness on 15 February 1905, seen at right. [Click to enlarge.]

Those plans never came to fruition. The spendthrift Robin Walpole, however, would continually have trouble with "financial difficulties," "debts," and "bank drafts," just as he'd had on his youth. We clearly know that now. His propensity, though, to satisfy his own needs immediately, at any given moment, would continue to get him into trouble beyond economics, and that trouble that would severely affect his own marriage, and perhaps, indirectly, the marriage of his daughter, the future Lady Dorothy Mills.

1888 would be a watershed year in the life of Robert Horace "Robin" Walpole, and we'll examine the reasons why next time…

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