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Empire into the Pacific, to 1900

A ship belonging to The Dutch East India company on an exploration expedition in 1642 came found what today is called Tasmania (named after the ship's captain, Able Tasman), and late that year he found New Zealand. On a second voyage a couple of years later the Dutchmen mapped the north coast of Australia. The company didn't find much if anything useful and the exploration was discontinued.

In 1767 a British ship commanded by Samuel Wallis anchored at the island of Tahiti. Wallis found a hierarchical society that was also communal and accustomed to conflict and war. The Tahitians were interested in cloth and things of iron that the British had. Soon Wallis' crew was using gunfire to protect the ship from the sense of sharing by the islanders. But real trade resumed when one or more of the island's numerous chiefs recruited women of lower than nobility status to offer themselves to the British crewmen. (Prostitution was not a way of life in Polynesia, but sexual hospitality was not uncommon.) A lively trade resumed. Crewmen pulled nails from the ship to trade for sexual favors – nails with which the Tahitians made fishing hooks.

The following year, 1768, Britain's Royal Navy sent Captain Cook on a scientific expedition to explore navigation methods. Sailing around the southern end of South America, Cook was in Tahiti by April 1769. He unsealed orders that instructed him to explore New Zealand and Australia. On his second trip to the Pacific (1772-75), Cook again visited Tahiti and found it and surrounding islands at war with each other, including a flotilla of 200 war canoes and 10,000 warriors. He invented the name Society Islands in honor of the Royal Society, sponsor of the scientific survey of the islands. On Cook's third trip, starting in 1776, his mission was to find a passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic. By January 1788 he had stumbled upon the Hawaiian islands 1788. He journeyed on and returned in November, planning to do repairs, and, while anchored offshore, one of his small boats was stolen. A crewman shot one of the islanders. This inflamed islander passions. Cook went ashore with four crewmen to get the boat back. The islanders killed them and dragged their bodies away.

Also in 1788, the British put 732 people ashore at Sydney Cove in Australia and raised the British flag. Having lost colonies with the US War of Independence, Britain could no longer send its convicts there., and with Britain's prisons overcrowded Britain had begun sending them to Australia. The day of that landing — January 26 — was to be celebrated yearly in Australia as Australia Day.

That same year, in October, another British ship, the Bounty, arrived in Tahiti, its mission to collect saplings of breadfruit trees for transport to the West Indies where British landowners were in need of a source of food for plantation workers. The Bounty stayed at Tahiti for five months — as a story to be known as "Mutiny on the Bounty" was unfolding.

In 1794, in Australia another settlement was established forty kilometers north of Sidney, alongside the Hawkesbury River. A naval dockyard was built at Sydney in 1796. Whaling ships from Britain visited Sydney. Trade developed. Grains, grapes and fruit trees were planted, along with the raising of chickens, cattle and sheep. In 1797 coal was found 120 kilometers up the coast from Sydney.

That same decade, nine years after the Bounty mutiny, Protestant missionaries from Britain arrived at Tahiti. They tried but were unable to stop the warring between the islanders. The missionaries helped the Pomare family gain control of the entire island. In 1808 various other chieftains on Tahiti drove Pomare II from power. Pomare, in his twenties, believed that his difficulties were a sign of having lost favor with the god Oro, and, aided by the missionaries, he began paying more attention to the god of the Christians. From Tahiti the missionaries moved to other islands. In 1815, allied with a couple of other islands (including Bora Bora) Pomare was victorious. And he pardoned all who laid down their weapons. Defeated warriors returning from the hills were surprised to find their homes had not been set afire and that their wives and children had not be slaughtered. There were deaths from the diseases that arrived with the Europeans. And there were lifestyle changes. The missionaries set up a sugar refinery and a textile factory. In 1817, Tahiti acquired its first printing press, and, in 1819, cotton, sugar and coffee crops were planted.

The French were eager to catch up with the British and Americans in the Pacific. Catholic missionaries supported by France's government landed in Hawaii in 1827. Hostile Protestant missionaries from the United States (New England) resulted in their expulsion. The French navy landed Catholic missionaries in the Gambier Islands (14 small mountainous islands more than 1000 miles southeast of Tahiti). They converted the local king, Maputeoa, and other conversions followed.

Under the influence of British Protestants, two French Catholic missionaries were evicted from Tahiti, and, seeing this as an affront to the honor of France and the Catholic religion, the French moved warships to Tahiti. The French declared the Society Islands as their protectorate, and from 1844 to 1847, Tahitians fought bloody battles against the French (the Franco-Tahitian War). The freedom fighters requested help from the British, which did not arrive.

By 1863 about a thousand Chinese, mainly Cantonese, were recruited at the request of a plantation owner in Tahiti, William Stewart, to work on the great cotton plantation at Atimaono. After the enterprise went bankrupt in 1873, many stayed in Tahiti and mixed with the population, females with Chinese ancestry enhancing the image of beauteous Islanders dancing in grass skirts.

Meanwhile, in 1841, New Zealand had become a British colony. From the early 1800s, Christian missionaries had settled there. They befriended a local Maori chief, Hongi, and in 1820 he visited England and met with King George IV, who gave him gifts in recognition of his help in introducing Christianity to the Maori. By 1839 the British feared that France was planning to colonize New Zealand's South Island (of the two main islands). The New Zealand Company was formed, and in January the company began transporting settlers to New Zealand, the year before Queen Victoria's government claimed New Zealand on the ground of Captain Cook's visit.

By 1852 there were around 8,000 European settlers on the South Island and approximate 6,000 across the channel on the North Island, and extensive sheep ranching. There was the Native Land Acts in the early 1860s that transferred Māori communal ownership of land into individual household titles. And to help themselves survive the Maori began selling their land to settlers. A few Maori were mixing with Europeans, and there was decimation by diseases. Into the 21st century approximately 15 percent of New Zealand's population would identify themselves as Maori.

And Hawaiian Islanders had also suffered diseases arriving with foreigners. In 1804 what people on the island of Oahu called the "Great Sickness arrived (possibly Cholera) killing at least 5,000 (the minimum estimate, interrupting King Kamehameha's war against Kauai.

The big wars ended in 1810 with Kamehameha having unified the islands — giving credit for his victory to his war god. He died around the age of eighty (in 1819) after commanding that his priests follow all customs but one: human sacrifice. He was succeeded by his son, Liholiho, who acquired the title Kamehameha II.

These were times of cultural change. Tahitians had been arriving in the islands aboard British ships and bringing with them their Christianity. In 1820, missionaries arrived from the United States, led by the Reverend Hiram Bingham. American whaling ships were calling on Hawaiian ports to gather provisions, and their trade was bringing wealth to island sub-chiefs. Yankee whaling crews sailing out of New England were coming ashore in search of a good time, and, in 1822, notices were posted prohibiting boisterous conduct by visiting sailors – Hawaii's first written laws. Sailors responded by rioting and were set upon by island police. In 1824, missionary influence managed to get the hula dance outlawed, and the missionaries introduced a new fashion for females: the mumu.

A constitution was created in 1840 that provided for the king to share power with a legislature. Foreign influence resulted in another big change in traditional Hawaiian ways (or civilization if you please). In 1848 the communal right to land was abolished. Hawaiians could claim ownership of a piece of land and sell it. And foreigners could purchase land. Plantations were still few and small, but they were developing. Some Hawaiian men were eagerly going to sea as sailors – viewed as good sailors by ship commanders – but Hawaiians were not willing to labor on plantations, and in Hawaii's legislature opened the door for plantations to be worked by Asian migrants.

The first plantation workers arrived from China and Japan in the mid-1860s. Sugar exports to California soared. Steamships provided faster transport and communications between Honolulu and San Francisco. Interest in the Pacific region was on the rise, marked by the US Navy having sent Commodore Perry's to Japan with two steam and two sailing ships back in 1853-54. American citizens. In 1858, the US Navy sent a force to the Fiji Islands in response to the murder there of two American citizens. In 1859 a US naval force landed in Shanghai, and in 1866 US forces responded to an assault on the American consul at Newchwang (today Yinkou) on the Yellow Sea in Southern Manchuria. In 1867 a US naval force landed in Taiwan in response to the murder of the crew of a wrecked American vessel.

There was steamship service between Australia, New Zealand and San Francisco that stopped in Honolulu. Tourists had begun arriving there, staying at Honolulu's one hotel or with families in outlying areas. Near the town of Hilo on the "Big Island" they could see the world's only surf-boarding.

In 1875 the United States signed a free trade agreement with the Kingdom of Hawaii. Some US citizens in the Islands thought of themselves as Hawaiian. And native Hawaiians were unhappy about the power and influence of missionaries families and hostile to white business owners, whom they characterized as arrogant and uncharitable opportunists. There were complaints that most land was held by foreigners, and native Hawaiians were unhappy about becoming a minority. "Hawaii for Hawaiians" had become a slogan.

There was concern among established whites that King Kalakaua (r. 1874-91) and the government were incompetent and that non-whites were incapable of good government. A few of the more adamant American critics of the king formed a secret society called the Hawaiian League. In 1887 armed Americans forced the king to sign a new constitution that his sister Liliuokalani described as done "under absolute compulsion — to be known as "the Bayonet Constitution. Liliuokalani didn't want bloodshed. She took the oath as reigning monarch, including swearing to uphold the new constitution that she despised. With the support of Hawaii's citizens she drafted a constitution to replace the Bayonet Constitution. She was Hawaii's last reigning monarch (as well as a composer of Hawaiian music and an author). She was overthrown on January 17, 1893, while US Marines and two companies of sailors were ashore and standing by. No shots were fired. Again, the monarchy had chosen not to defend itself.

By now the US had signed a treaty with a local Samoan king that provided the US Navy a coaling station at a bay by Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango). This was the beginning of what would be called American Samoa. In 1889, US and German warships clashed at the harbor of Apia in what was to become German Samoa. A typhoon wrecked both the American and German ships. In 1899, the British and American navies at Apia backed a Samoan chieftain, Tanu, against a rival chieftain supported by the Germans. British and American warships shelled Apia but with Tanu's forces they were unable to take control of the interior of the island. The dispute was settled with Germany holding Apia, receiving the northern Solomon Islands as a protectorate, and Britain receiving recognition of its power over the Tonga archipelago and the southern Solomon Islands.

Also that year, the Germans purchased from Spain the Northern Mariana Islands and the Caroline Islands except for Guam (which the United States had captured during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

In June 1898, the US Congress was debating whether to annex the Hawaiian Islands, with President McKinley advising Congress that "we must have Hawaii to help us get our share of China." On 7 July the US annexed the islands. In 1900 the islands were made a territory. Sanford B Dole — the son of Christian missionaries and an activist in the overthrow of Hawaiian self-rule — was made the territory's first governor. (In 1909, a member of his extended family, James Dole, founded the Hawaiian Pineapple Company.)


Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.