Captain James Cook made three Pacific voyages, which covered a continuous period of British exploration in the south Pacific from 1764 to 1780. Cook’s first expedition (1768-1771) was under the auspices of the British Admiralty and the Royal Society, primarily to observe the transit of Venus from the newly found island of Tahiti.
On this trip, Cook and Joseph Banks, botanist aboard the ship, discovered breadfruit. Banks saw breadfruit as a potential source of cheap and nutritious food for slaves on the sugar plantations of the British West Indies.
He pitched the idea to King George III, who authorized William Bligh (who had been on Cook’s crew on his 3rd voyage to Hawai‘i) to spearhead the breadfruit-gathering expedition. (Rupp, National Geographic)
The Bounty set sail on December 23, 1787, bound for Tahiti; they reached there on October 26, 1788, and spent five months there gathering and potting 1,015 breadfruit saplings they had grown from seed. On April 4, 1789, the Bounty left Tahiti.
In the early hours of April 28, 1789, Master’s Mate Fletcher Christian and 25 petty officers and seamen mutinied and seized the ship.
Bligh and 18 of his trusted crew were given a small boat which Bligh piloted 3,618 miles to Timor aided only by a quadrant and pocket watch, and his memory of charts he had seen. On his return to England, he was promoted to captain and in 1791, returned to Tahiti on the Providence for more fruit. (Mayne)
The Pacific made a particular impression on the British imagination, with the revelation of the Polynesian culture, entirely cut off from any exterior force of civilization.
Cook’s Pacific finds later led to questions for the Evangelicals. Why did British Christianity, with the means at hand, lack a missionary history? When had there last been a serious missionary movement among Christians anywhere?
“(The London Missionary Society) was in consequence formed in England, and zealously seconded by our brethren in North Britain. On notifying our intentions to the public, we met a spirit of zeal and liberality highly encouraging; applications manifold were poured in of candidates for the mission, with subscriptions adequate to the undertaking.”
“Thirty men, six women, and three children, were approved, and presented to the directors for the commencement of the mission.”
“August the 10th, 1796, at six in the morning, we weighed anchor, and hoisted our missionary flag at the mizen top-gallant-mast head: three doves argent, on a purple field, bearing olive-branches in their bills.” (They headed to Tahiti.)
“An ingenious clergyman of Portsmouth kindly furnished Dr. Haweis and Mr. Greatheed (founding members of the London Missionary Society) with a manuscript vocabulary of the Otaheitean language, and an account of the country …”
“… which providentially he had preserved from the mutineers who were seized by the Pandora, and brought to Portsmouth for their trials which was of unspeakable service to the missionaries …”
“… both for the help which it afforded them to learn before their arrival much of this unknown tongue, and also as giving the most inviting and encouraging description of the natives, and the cordial reception which they might expect.” (Wilson)
The vocabulary and island background were originally prepared by Peter Heywood and James Morrison, both were convicted mutineers on the Bounty.
“Indeed so perfectly calm was (Peter Heywood) under his dreadful calamity, that in a very few days after condemnation his brother says …”
“‘While I write this, Peter is sitting by me making an Otaheitan vocabulary, and so happy and intent upon it, that I have scarcely an opportunity of saying a word to him; he is in excellent spirits, and I am convinced they are better and better every day.’”
“This vocabulary is a very extraordinary performance; it consists of one hundred full-written folio pages, the words alphabetically arranged, and all the syllables accented. It appears, from a passage in the Voyage of the Duff, that a copy of this vocabulary was of great use to the missionaries who were first sent to Otaheite in this ship.” (Barrow)
“The petty officer, James Morrison, had employed the three months of his captivity on board the Hector in writing out from notes which he had kept of daily occurrences from the period of the departure of the Bounty from England to his return as a prisoner.”
“This note-book he preserved in the wreck of the Pandora, and to these notices added minute descriptions of the places at which the Bounty had touched, especially the Society Islands …”
“… his long residence at Tahiti enabling him to describe minutely the manners and customs of the inhabitants, as well as the general productions of the islands. The manuscript of this journal, consisting of 300 pages folio, he presented to Peter Heywood when they parted.” (Belcher)
“During his imprisonment and trial, Morrison wrote what was essentially a first draft of his Journal, entitled Memorandum and Particulars respecting the Bounty and her crew. … Following his release, Morrison finished the journal, filling it with vivid observations and descriptions of Tahitian life and culture.”
“Although Heywood’s Tahitian-English vocabulary eventually disappeared, and Morrison’s journal remained unpublished until 1935, the London Missionary Society (LMS) put these documents to use at a much earlier date. The society’s first evangelical mission to the South Seas on the Duff began on August 10, 1796.”
“The ship was delayed for some time at Portsmouth, which gave Reverend Howell the opportunity to share both manuscripts with LMS director Dr Thomas Haweis, who eagerly made copies for the missionaries.” (Morrison Introduction) (Heywood and Morrison were pardoned on October 24, 1792.)
Later, the Tahitians helped American Protestant missionaries in Hawai‘i. Toketa, a Tahitian, arrived in Hawaiʻi in 1818. A convert to Christianity (he likely received missionary instruction in his homeland;) he became a teacher to Hawaiian chiefs, made a visit to Honolulu with Kuakini in January-February of 1822. (Barrere)
On February 4, 1822, “Adams (Kuakini) sent a young Tahitian to us (Toketa,) to obtain for him that part of the spelling book which is printed, with a view to commence learning to read his own language. … This young Tahitian is one of the three, whom we have found here from the Society Isles, able to read and write their native language.”
“He, with one hour’s instruction, is able to read the Hawaiian (Owhyhean) also, and to assist the chief to whom he is attached.” (Missionary Herald, 1823) Toketa then began to teach Kuakini to read and write.
Shortly after (February 8, 1822,) “Adams (Kuakini) sent a letter to Mr B (Bingham) written by the hand of Toketa the Tahitian, which Mr. B answered in the Hawaiian language. – ‘This may be considered as the commencement of epistolary correspondence in this language.’” (Missionary Herald, 1823)
William Ellis was with the London Missionary Society in Tahiti; the London Mission sent Ellis and some others to Hawai‘i. “The deputation, the two native Missionaries and their wives, five other natives and myself, now embarked, and the Mermaid stood out to sea.” (Ellis)
Ellis and the others who joined him from the London Missionary Society (including Tahitians who came with them) worked well with the American Protestant missionaries who arrived in Hawaii in 1820.
The American Mission immediately saw benefit in working with Ellis and The Tahitians … “of bringing the influence of the Tahitian mission to bear with more direct and operative force upon this nation …”
“… trembling under the too great responsibility of the spiritual concerns of the whole nation, & looking with hesitating awe at the great and difficult work of translating the bible & continually casting about for help …”
“… we feel the need of just such talents and services as Brother (Ellis) is able to bring to the work, whose general views of Christian faith practice, & of missionary duty, which accord so well with ours, whose thorough acquaintance with the Tahitian tongue so nearly allied to this …”
“… & which it cost the mission almost a 20 years’ labor fully to acquire, & whose missionary experience, among the South Sea Islands’ kindred tribes, enable him to cooperate with us, with mutual satisfaction, and greatly to facilitate our acquisition of this kindred language …”
“… & the early translation of the sacred scriptures, & thus promote the usefulness, rather than supersede the labors, of all who may come to our aid from America.” (Journal of the Sandwich Island Mission, May 9, 1822)
Ellis remained in the Islands for eighteen months, but returned to England, due to illness of Mary (she died in 1835.) Ellis later remarried and continued mission work in the Madagascar. Ellis died in 1872.)
Because of the positive role of the London Missionary Society in assisting the Hawaiian mission, any descendant of a person sent by the London Missionary Society who served the Sandwich Island Mission in Hawaii is eligible to be an Enrolled Member in the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society.