Scoundrels & Ec­centrics of the Pa­cific

North & South - - Monthly Review -

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. +

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