Among all the rough men who made life hideous on the seas the figure of an American skipper stands pre-eminent – Captain “Bully” Hayes, who never knew fear. (Hawaiian Star, November 11, 1911)
Born in 1827 in Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, his father is said to have kept either a tavern or an ordinary grog-shop. There is no direct word of his boyhood, but there is ground for the assumption that he grew up as a reckless desperado. (Johnstone, Thrum)
The Honolulu Advertiser of September 24th, 1859 gives an interesting, history of the “Consummate Scoundrel.” About the year 1852, he was “unfortunate as to mistake a few horses belonging to a neighbor for his own, and sold them accordingly, pocketing the cash.” Unfortunately again for the world, he escaped prison by a flaw in the indictment and fled from danger.
The young Hayes received his education at Norfolk, Virginia, and later was appointed to a cadetship in the US Revenue Service, where he served with honor and promotion.
Subsequently, he resigned and became Captain of one of the Great Lake steamers, but afterwards – about the year 1854 or 1855 – he joined the US Navy, where he is reported to have served with credit under Admiral Farragut.
It has been alleged he was a man of aliases, however, these seem to be limited to “Captain Henry Hayes,” “Captain William H Hayes,” and “Captain W. H. Hayston,” as he was called throughout the South Pacific and officially announced in the reports of the British Admiralty for the years 1874-1875.
His well-known nicknames were “Bully” Hayes and “Bully”‘ Hayston. (Johnstone, Thrum)
His first venture in crimes on the seas was typical of much to follow. On a trip to San Francisco, he had so hypnotized a fellow-passenger (it seems he was a gentleman of means ready for an investment) that he agreed to establish Hayes’ “wife” (who afterwards remained there) in the liquor business, which, it seems, was quite to her taste.
But to leave his “wife” in a convenient establishment at a port of return was only a part of his plan. In the end, his scheme was brought to fulfillment by the friendly capitalist fitting out a ship for the China trade; it was not long afterwards that the bark sailed away with Hayes as Master, which was the last the owner ever saw of his ship. (Johnstone, Thrum)
He would often employ the ploy of ordering and having items delivered to his ship in port. The merchant came aboard on sailing-day for his money; he was politely received.
Then, the ship would cast off and while sailing out of the harbor, Hayes would note, ”But you see, Sir, it is inconvenient that I should pay you now. I shall return shortly and settle the account, but at this moment I am going to sea, so you must either return at once in your boat, or sail with me.”
It was near the middle-1850s when Captain Hayes first appeared in the Pacific; he arrived in Honolulu in 1858: over six feet in height, big, bearded, and blond, with a soft voice and a persuasive smile – 240-pounds of intriguing manner and sly scheming. (Gessler)
“(H)e and his first officer were put ashore at Honolulu from the ship Orestes. He was at that time accompanied by his wife, who was lately living with his children on the Navigator islands. In all his travels he was accompanied by women, whom he picked up and dropped as the fancy took him.” (Evening Bulletin, October 7, 1895)
“Since Bully Hayes touched here first in the fifties … he will be remembered by the oldest residents only. Yet there was that in the man and his acts which is worth preserving, and this brief record of his early career in the North Pacific seems due to the life and memory of the urbanest scoundrel that ever sailed a sea on evil deeds intent.” (Johnstone, Thrum)
“Eventually he commenced his career as a trader among the South Sea Islands. After raiding and robbing stations for a couple of years, Bully Hayes was arrested by the British Consul at Upolu … he readily won the hearts of men and officers, who began to believe that he was a most worthy and much injured man.”
“Within three days he was not only set free, but supplied with all he required for another sea trip, upon which he left with the best wishes of the captain and officers.” (Evening Bulletin, October 7, 1895)
“Of all the hard lives a man ever lived in the South Sea and I’ve been sailor, whaler and trader among the best of ’em – “blackbirding” was the worst. A man had good times ashore and the like of that, but when he worked he carried his life in his hands. It was so aboard ship as well as when he went ashore after labor recruits.”
“I don’t know who gave that business the name of “recruiting,” for we know it to be almost always downright kidnapping that generally ended in slavery. No wonder the natives resisted every recruiting crew that landed.” (Hawaiian Gazette, January 9, 1917)
Blackbirding is the recruitment of people through trickery and kidnappings to work as laborers. The practice occurred between 1842 and 1904. Those ‘blackbirded’ were from the indigenous populations of nearby Pacific islands.
Hayes had ship after ship, but title for each was often questionable. Over the years, he traveled the Pacific Ocean between California, Hawaiʻi, Australia, New Zealand and the Caroline Islands and would cause islanders to hide in fear of being kidnapped and shipped off to be a laborer on some distant plantation.
“Merciless to those who opposed him, he had bursts of generosity unknown to his rivals. He recognized that the invasion of the South Sea kingdom by the missionaries meant the coming of law and order, which, in turn, meant the death of his reign of violence.”
“So he strove to thwart the proselyting band, and until his end in the late-70s, with the Pacific as his shroud, he successfully combated the missionaries.” (Hawaiian Star, November 11, 1911)
“After a half century of notoriety in the Pacific, during which the voice of the investigator has ever been raised against him in condemnation, “Bully”, Hayes has at least one old acquaintance who paints him lens black than most. This is Captain Callaghan”. (Hawaiian Gazette, January 9, 1917)
“Bully Hayes was not as bad as nearly every one says he was,” said Captain Callaghan yesterday. ‘He dealt squarely with men until he was cheated and when he was he became a very bad customer indeed.’” (Hawaiian Gazette, January 9, 1917)
Hayes was a fascinating companion, who sang in fine voice the songs of the German classical composers, was an accomplished performer on piano and violin, and spoke at least four languages (besides various Polynesian dialects) with much fluency. (Johnstone, Thrum)
Hayes received a fatal stab (or shot) in the heart from one of his crew (the ship’s cook Peter Radeck or Dutch Pete, responding to threat’s from Hayes) and died on March 31, 1877 in Hawaiʻi at just 47 years old. (Evening Bulletin, October 7, 1895)
Hayes (and glimpses of his story) was later portrayed by actor Tommy Lee Jones in the 1983 film, “Nate & Hayes”.