Scoundrels & Eccentrics of the Pacific
John Dunmore (Upstart Press, $40)
John Dunmore’s survey of the less reputable sorts who’ve found their way into our seas ranges from the possibly too familiar (William Bligh and “Bully” Hayes) to the much lesser known likes of Hsu Fu, with whom he begins in 219BC. Hsu Fu sounds like the first of the Nigerian scammers. He convinced his emperor he could find a plant that would bestow immortality, and set sail into the Pacific to find same. He returned emptyhanded. If only, Hsu Fu told the emperor, more funds and resources could be advanced, he would surely achieve his goal.
Captain Bligh’s reputation has improved consistently over the past few decades, so he is no longer seen as the tyrant of the Bounty but as the resourceful mariner who completed an amazing voyage of 6700km when cast adrift. Dunmore gives us a revised revisionist view of the captain, pointing out the prodigious sailing feat was an anomaly in an otherwise dismal career of cruelty.
Many of these scoundrels supplemented ill- gotten gains more respectably by giving public lectures about their exploits. Then, as now, you needed a gimmick to get noticed, but few can have gone to the lengths of Jackson Berry, who once lectured in Nelson with the 22m carcass of a whale as a visual aid.
All these stories are of interest, but the book as a whole might have been even better had Dunmore included some more contemporary scoundrels, such as the barbaric exploiters of fishing crews who thrive to this day in the Pacific. +