"Play Logie o' Buchan, slow, soft and simply"

This Scottish song has been ascribed to Lady Anne Barnard, the authoress of “Auld Robin Gray,” but it is of older date than her life. Mr. Peter Buchan, formerly of Peterhead, now of Glasgow, says that it was written by a school-master at Rathen, in Aberdeenshire, of the name of George Halket, who died in 1756. Halket was a great Jacobite, and wrote various pieces in support of his party: one of the best known of these is the song called “Whirry, Whigs, awa’, man.” The Logie mentioned in the song is situated in Crimond, a parish adjoining the one where Halket resided, and the hero of the piece, was a James Robertson, gardener at the place of Logie. The original Ballad, according to Mr. Buchan, commences thus:

O Logie o’ Buchan, O Logie the laird,
They ha’e ta’en awa’ Jamie, that delved in the yard,
Wha play’d on the pipe, and the viol sae sma’;
They ha’e ta’en awa’ Jamie, the flower o’ them a’.
⁠He said, Think na lang lassie, tho’ I gang awa’;
⁠He said, Think na lang lassie, tho’ I gang awa’;
⁠For simmer is coming, cauld winter’s awa’,
⁠And I’ll come and see thee in spite o’ them a’.

Tho’ Sandy has ousan, has gear, and has kye;
A house and a hadden, and siller forbye:
Yet I’d tak’ mine ain lad, wi’ his staff in his hand,
Before I’d ha’e him, wi’ the houses and land.
⁠He said, Think nae lang, &c.

My daddie looks sulky, my minnie looks sour,
They frown upon Jamie because he is poor:
Tho’ I lo’e them as weel as a daughter should do,
They’re nae hauf sae dear to me, Jamie, as you.
⁠He said, Think nae lang, &c.

I sit on my creepie, I spin at my wheel,
And think on the laddie that lo’ed me sae weel;
He had but ae saxpence, he brak it in twa,
And gi’ed me the hauf o’t when he gade awa’.
⁠Then haste ye back, Jamie, and bide na awa’,
⁠Then haste ye back, Jamie, and bide na awa’,
⁠The simmer is coming, cauld winter’s awa’,
⁠And ye’ll come and see me in spite o’ them a’.

Dr. George Chismore (1840-1907) was a San Francisco doctor.

[For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2193].

To Dr. George Chismore

Schooner Equator,

40 miles off Samoa, 5 December 1889


[…] Recommend […] to play Logie o’Buchan, slow, soft and simply. Yours ever

Robert Louis Stevenson

Logie o’Buchan arranged by RLS, performed by J.F.M. Russell on a the flageolet [https://sites.google.com/a/music-of-r…]

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"We are now about to rise, like whales, from this long dive"

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2192.]

To Edward L. Burlingame [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 169-71]

Schooner Equator, at sea,

Wednesday, 4th December 1889

My dear Burlingame,

We are now about to rise, like whales, from this long dive,

and I make ready a communication which is to go to you by the first mail from Samoa. How long we shall stay in that group I cannot forecast; but it will be best still to address at Sydney, where I trust, when I shall arrive, perhaps in one month from now, more probably in two or three, to find all news.


Business […]. – […] Will you be likely to have a space in the Magazine for a serial story, which should be ready, I believe, by April, at latest by autumn?

Edward Livermore Burlingame (1848-1922). In 1886, he was appointed founding editor-in-chief of Scribner’s Magazine, where he served until his resignation in 1914 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

It is called The Wrecker; and in book form will appear as number I of South Sea Yarns by R.L.S. and Lloyd Osbourne. Here is the table as far as fully conceived, and indeed executed.

[Table of chapter headings follows...]

‘The Wrecker’ was to be serialised in Scribner’s Magazine August 1891-July 1892.

The story is founded on fact, the mystery I really believe to be insoluble;

From the ‘Daily Alta California’, 21 April 1889: Captain and crew of the Wandering Minstrel had been schpwrecked on Midway Island in February 1888. There they found a seaman abandoned by another shipwrecked crew because suspected of murder. The men of the Wandering Minstrel were rescued on 6 April 1889. The story became the germ of the plot for RLS and Lloyd’s ‘The Wrecker’. Cfr. Letter 2176: https://lettersofrobertlouisstevenson.wordpress.com/2019/11/28/i-have-seen-sights-that-cannot-be-told-and-heard-stories-that-cannot-be-repeated/ [https://cdnc.ucr.edu]

the purchase of a wreck has never been handled before, no more has San Francisco.

 German Gunboat Adler, overturned on the reef, on the western side of Apia Harbor, Upolu, Samoa, during salvage work after the storm, March 1889 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

These seem all elements of success. There is, besides, a character, Jim Pinkerton, of the advertising American, on whom we build a good deal; and some sketches of the American merchant marine,


opium smuggling in Honolulu, etc.

William A. Whaley, aka The King of the Opium Ring (1861-1907) [http://2.bp.blogspot.com]

It should run to (about) three hundred pages of my MS. […]

In 2010 a major RLS manuscript has come to light in Ireland, at an auction. It is a collection of over 90 pages of drafts for his planned historical, cultural and anthropological work, In the South Seas (https://edrls.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/ms_southseas/)

I would like to know if this tale smiles upon you, if you will have a vacancy, and what you will be willing to pay. It will of course be copyright in both the States and England. I am a little anxious to have it tried serially, as it tests the interest of the mystery.

Pleasure. – We have had a fine time in the Gilbert group, though four months on low islands, which involves low diet, is a largeish order;

Canoe and outrigger, Apiang Island, Gilbert Group, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]
Break in Mariki Island, Gilbert Group, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

and my wife is rather down. […]

Fanny being carried ashore, Apiang, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

I am myself, up to now, a pillar of health, though our long and vile voyage of calms, squalls, cataracts of rain, sails carried away, foretopmasts lost, boats cleared and packets made on the approach of a p. d. reef, etc., has cured me of salt brine, and filled me with a longing for beef steak and mangoes not to be depicted.

Lloyd, RLS, Fanny, Mr. Rick, an agent for Wightman Brothers traders on Butaritari, and a member of the crew of the schooner Equator. Two masts can be seen behind them. The photo has the written inscription “The schooner ‘Equator’- 68 tons – Capt. Denis Reid – casting off Oceanic Co’s Wharf at Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands, on course for Butaritari, Kingsmill Islands, with Stevenson party on board, June 30 1889” [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

The interest has been immense. Old King Tembinoka of Apemama, the Napoleon of the group, poet, tyrant, altogether a man of mark, gave me the woven corselets of his grandfather, his father and his uncle, and, what pleased me more, told me their singular story,

RLS’s three Gilbert Island corselets, sold in a 1915 auction and now at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. RLS described the gift and the history of the owners in In the South Seas, Part V, ch. VII. Heavy and rigid, these provided effective protection against sharks’ teeth weapons, throwing spears, and European knives and bayonets. They are made of horizontal bundles of coconut fiber, firmly bound together with twisted fiber cord. The high back of the one in the middle is braced by two short sticks rising from the shoulders, and reinforced by two long sticks bound along the outside edges. The black diamonds and stripes on all three corslets are human hair [www.penn.museum]
Gilbert Island warriors wearing corselets, 1906 [www.penn.museum]
Close-up of one of the corselets given by King Tembinok’ to RLS, showing the braided bundle of coconut fiber bound along the ende of an arm hole. Similar bundles of fiber are lashed together to form the body of the corselet and the high, stiff back [www.penn.museum]
HM King Tembenoka of Apemama, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

then all manner of strange tales, facts, and experiences for my South Sea book, which should be a Tearer, Mr. Burlingame: no one at least has had such stuff.

We are now engaged in the hell of a dead calm, the heat is cruel –


it is the only time when I suffer from heat: I have nothing on but a pair of serge trousers, and a singlet without sleeves of Oxford gauze – O, – yes, and a red sash about my waist; and yet as I sit here in the cabin, sweat streams from me.

RLS wearing his red sash about his waist, Samoa 1894 [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

The rest are on deck under a bit of awning; we are not much above a hundred miles from port, and we might as well be in Kamschatka.

“On the ‘Equator’ – cruising amongst Kingsmill Islands, making land”. The crew of the Equator look out to sea. One man is standing in a small boat attached to the side of the main craft. Another two are holding on to the ship’s rigging [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

However, I should be honest; this is the first calm I have endured without the added bane of a heavy swell, and the intoxicated blue-bottle wallowings and knockings of the helpless ship.

The (Australian) bluebottle or Pacific man o’war (Physalia utriculus) is a siphonophore looking like a jellyfish and living at the surface of the ocean. The gas-filled bladder remains at the surface, while the remainder is submerged. Its long tentacles deliver a venomous sting, which is powerful enough to kill fish and even humans [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I wonder how you liked the end of The Master; that was the hardest job I ever had to do; did I do it?

My wife begs to be remembered to yourself and Mrs. Burlingame. Remember all of us to all friends, particularly Low, in case I don’t get a word through for him […]. – I am, yours very sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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"To other lands and nights my fancy turned"

The following, written in the last days of the sail southwards from the Gilberts to Samoa, contains the full plan of the South Sea book as it had then been conceived.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2191.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 162-8]

Schooner Equator, at sea.

190 miles off Samoa

Monday, December 2nd, 1889

My dear Colvin,

We are just nearing the end of our long cruise […].

Rain, calms, squalls, bang – there’s the foretopmast gone; rain, calm, squalls, away with the staysail;

On the forward deck of the schooner Equator, with foretopmast and staysail [www.gutenberg.org]

more rain,


more calm,


more squalls; a prodigious heavy sea all the time, and the Equator staggering and hovering like a swallow in a storm;


and the cabin, a great square, crowded with wet human beings, and the rain avalanching on the deck, and the leaks dripping everywhere:

Tres Hombres Schooner Brig in storm on the North Sea.

Fanny in the midst of fifteen males, bearing up wonderfully.

RLS and Fanny (second and third from left) on board the schooner Equator, 30 June 1889.

But such voyages are at the best a trial. We had one particularity: coming down on Winslow Reef, p. d. (position doubtful): two positions in the directory, a third (if you cared to count that) on the chart;

Bathymetric map of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. Winslow Reef (top left) had been discovered by the whaler Phoenix in 1851, and the name of the ship became attached to the entire group of islands. Perry Winslow was the master of the Phoenix on that voyage. Winslow Reef is mentioned by RLS, but the schooner Equator did not find it [https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov]

heavy sea running, and the night due.


The boats were cleared, bread put on board, and we made up our packets for a boat voyage of four or five hundred miles, and turned in, expectant of a crash.

Victorian lifeboat at sea.

Needless to say it did not come, and no doubt we were far to leeward. If we only had twopenceworth of wind, we might be at dinner in Apia to-morrow evening;

Samoa Islands and Pacific Ocean [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

but no such luck: here we roll, dead before a light air – and that is no point of sailing at all for a fore and aft schooner –

Wightman Schooner Equator, at anchor in Apia, Samoa [https://www.wightman-crane.com]
The schooner Equator, in T.M. MacCallum, Adrift in the South Seas,1934. In 1897 it was converted to a steam tender for work in the Alaskan salmon trade, and then became a tugboat for charting underwater hazards in southeastern Alaska in 1915 [https://edrls.files.wordpress.com]

the sun blazing overhead, thermometer 88°, four degrees above what I have learned to call South Sea temperature;


but for all that, land so near, and so much grief being happily astern, we are all pretty gay on board, and have been photographing

On board the Equator (RLS standing left, Fanny seated and wearing a white hat), in T.M. MacCallum, Adrift in the South Seas, 1934 [https://edrls.files.wordpress.com]

and draught-playing


and sky-larking like anything. I am minded to stay not very long in Samoa and confine my studies there (as far as any one can forecast) to the history of the late war.

Entrance to a fort during Samoan War, 1889 [https://thumbnailer.digitalnz.org]

My book is now practically modelled: if I can execute what is designed, there are few better books now extant on this globe, bar the epics, and the big tragedies, and histories, and the choice lyric poetics and a novel or so – none. But it is not executed yet; and let not him that putteth on his armour, vaunt himself. At least, nobody has had such stuff; such wild stories, such beautiful scenes, such singular intimacies, such manners and traditions, so incredible a mixture of the beautiful and horrible, the savage and civilised. I will give you here some idea of the table of contents, which ought to make your mouth water. I propose to call the book The South Seas: it is rather a large title, but not many people have seen more of them than I, perhaps no one – certainly no one capable of using the material.

Part I. General. ‘Of schooners, islands, and maroons’

CHAPTER I. Marine.

CHAPTER II. Contraband (smuggling, barratry, labour traffic).

CHAPTER III. The Beachcomber.

CHAPTER IV. Beachcomber stories. I. The Murder of the Chinaman. II. Death of a Beachcomber. III. A Character. IV. The Apia Blacksmith.

RLS’s book was to be published after his death, in 1896. Part I, listed above in this letter, was never written.

Part II. The Marquesas

CHAPTER V. Anaho. I. Arrival. II. Death. III. The Tapu. IV. Morals. V. Hoka.

CHAPTER VI. Tai-o-hae. I. Arrival. II. The French. III. The Royal Family. IV. Chiefless Folk. V. The Catholics. VI. Hawaiian Missionaries.

CHAPTER VII. Observations of a Long Pig. I. Cannibalism. II. Hatiheu. III. Frère Michel. IV. Taahauku and Atuona. V. The Vale of Atuona. VI. Moipu. VII. Captain Hati.

Contents of In the South Seas, as published in 1896. Parts II and III, listed in this letter, appeared serially in the New York Sun, and were reprinted with corrections in the 1896 volume. Part IV was never written. Part V was elsewhere written. Part VI closed the volume.

Part III. The Dangerous Archipelago


CHAPTER IX. A House to let in a Low Island.

CHAPTER X. A Paumotuan Funeral. I. The Funeral. II. Tales of the Dead.

Part IV. Tahiti

CHAPTER XI. Tautira.

CHAPTER XII. Village Government in Tahiti. […]

CHAPTER XIII. A Journey in Quest of Legends.

CHAPTER XIV. Legends and Songs.

CHAPTER XV. Life in Eden.

CHAPTER XVI. Note on the French Regimen.

Part V. The Eight Islands

CHAPTER XVII. A note on Missions.

CHAPTER XVIII. The Kona Coast of Hawaii. I. Hookena. II. A Ride in the Forest. III. A Law Case. IV. The City of Refuge. V. The Lepers.

CHAPTER XIX. Molokai. I. A Week in the Precinct. II. History of the Leper Settlement. III. The Molokii. IV. The Free Island.

Part VI. The Gilberts

CHAPTER XX. The Group. I. General. II. Position of Woman. III. The Missions. IV. Devilwork. V. Republics.

CHAPTER XXI. Rule and Misrule on Makin. I. Butaritari, its King and Court. II. History of Three Kings. III. The Drink Question.

CHAPTER XXII. A Butaritarian Festival.

CHAPTER XXIII. The King of Apemama. I. First Impressions. II. Equator Town and the Palace. III. The Three Corselets.

Part VII. Samoa

which I have not yet reached

Even as so sketched it makes sixty chapters, not less than 300 Cornhill pages; and I suspect not much under 500. Samoa has yet to be accounted for: I think it will be all history, and I shall work in observations on Samoan manners, under the similar heads in other Polynesian islands.

Part VII, listed in this letter, developed itself into A Footnote to History, 1892 .

It is still possible, though unlikely, that I may add a passing visit to Fiji or Tonga, or even both; but I am growing impatient to see yourself, and I do not want to be later than June of coming to England. Anyway, you see it will be a large work, and as it will be copiously illustrated, the Lord knows what it will cost. We shall return, God willing, by Sydney, Ceylon, Suez, and, I guess, Marseilles the many-masted (copyright epithet). I shall likely pause a day or two in Paris, but all that is too far ahead – although now it begins to look near – so near, and I can hear the rattle of the hansom up Endell Street,

Endell Street, London, heading north to the British Museum [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Endell Street, London, heading north to the British Museum.

and see the gates swing back, and feel myself jump out upon the Monument steps – Hosanna! – home again.

Open gates at the British Museum, ‘the Monument’.
The ‘Monument’ steps, 1900 [www.architecture.com]

My dear fellow, now that my father is done with his troubles,

Thomas Stevenson had died at 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, on 8 May 1887 [www.nationalgalleries.org]

and 17 Heriot Row no more than a mere shell,

Stevenson House, 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, is now a guest house [https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com]

you and that gaunt old Monument in Bloomsbury are all that I have in view when I use the word home; some passing thoughts there may be of the rooms at Skerryvore,

Skerryvore Cottage, RLS’s house in Bournemouth, had been rented since he had left [www.dorsetlife.co.uk]

and the blackbirds in the chine on a May morning;


but the essence is S.C. and the Museum.

Sidney Colvin (1845-1927) was keeper of prints and drawings in the British Museum. Charles Baxter, RLS’s lawyer in Edinburgh, paid on the author’s behalf an annual premium on Colvin’s life assurance policy, to provide financial support for his mother in the event of his death [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Suppose, by some damned accident, you were no more; well, I should return just the same, because of my mother and Lloyd, whom I now think to send to Cambridge;

Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson (1829-1897) [www.wikimedia.org]
Lloyd Osbourne, RLS’s stepson, attending a feast, Honolulu, 1889 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

but all the spring would have gone out of me, and ninety per cent of the attraction lost. I will copy for you here a copy of verses made in Apemama.

The following poem was to be published as ‘To S.C.’ in Songs of Travel, XXXVII, 1896.

I heard the pulse of the besieging sea

Throb far away all night. I heard the wind

Fly crying, and convulse tumultuous palms.

I rose and strolled. The isle was all bright sand,

And flailing fans and shadows of the palm:

The heaven all moon, and wind, and the blind vault –

The keenest planet slain, for Venus slept.


The King, my neighbour, with his host of wives,

Slept in the precinct of the palisade:

Interior of the moniap of King Tembinoka’s harem, Apemama, Gilbert Islands [www.gutenberg.org]

Where single, in the wind, under the moon,

Among the slumbering cabins, blazed a fire,

Sole street-lamp and the only sentinel.

To other lands and nights my fancy turned,

To London first, and chiefly to your house,

The many-pillared and the well-beloved.

The British Museum, London, Sidney Colvin’s home [https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com]

There yearning fancy lighted; there again

In the upper room I lay and heard far off

The unsleeping city murmur like a shell;

The British Museum Reading Room, 19th century.

The muffled tramp of the Museum guard

Once more went by me; I beheld again

Lamps vainly brighten the dispeopled street;

The New Egyptian Room, British Museum, mid 19th century.

Again I longed for the returning morn,


The awaking traffic, the bestirring birds,

The consentaneous trill of tiny song

That weaves round monumental cornices

A passing charm of beauty: most of all,

For your light foot I wearied, and your knock

That was the glad réviellé of my day.

Lo, now, when to your task in the great house

At morning through the portico you pass,

One moment glance where, by the pillared wall,

Far-voyaging island gods, begrimed with smoke,

Sit now unworshipped, the rude monument

Of faiths forgot and races undivined;

Ancestor figure ‘moai’, called Hoa Hakananai’a (‘hidden or stolen friend’) from Easter Island, in the new display at the British Museum entrance. According to Colvin, RLS referred to “the two colossal images from Easter Island which used to stand under the portico” of the British Museum [www.artribune.com]

Sit now disconsolate, remembering well

The priest, the victim, and the songful crowd,

The blaze of the blue noon, and that huge voice

Incessant, of the breakers on the shore.

As far as these from their ancestral shrine,

So far, so foreign, your divided friends

Wander, estranged in body, not in mind.

RLS and Fanny, Samoa, 1889-1890



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“A strange trade this voyaging: so vague, so bound-down, so helpless”

RLS and his party sailed accordingly from Honolulu on the trading schooner Equator, ‘on a certain bright June day [24th] in 1889,’ for the Gilbert Islands. Their expectation was to come back into civilisation again by way of the Carolines, Manila, and the China ports; but instead of this, circumstances which occured to change the trader’s course will take them southwards to Samoa, where they will arrive in December 1889. Their second voyage was thus of a six months’ duration; in the course of it they spent two periods of about six weeks each on land, first at one and then at another of the two island capitals, Butaritari and Apemama. The following letter is the first which reached RLS’s friends from this part of his voyage, and was written in two instalments, the first from on board the Equator in the lagoon of the island of Apaiang; the second, six weeks later, from the settlement on shore at Apemama, which the king, his friend Tembinoka, allowed him and his party to occupy during their stay. The account of this stay at Apemama and of the character of the king is far most the interesting and attractive part of the volume called In the South Seas, which was the literary result of these voyages.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2188.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 157-62]

Schooner Equator, Apaiang Lagoon, August 22nd, 1889

My dear Colvin,

The missionary ship is outside the reef trying (vainly) to get in; so I may have a chance to get a line off.

Welcome of the missionary ship, in H. Bingham, Story of the Morning Star, 1883
Apaiang island, looking across the lagoon, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk1]
Apaiang (Abaiang) is a large atoll in the Gilbert (now Kiribati) Group. The schooner Equator arrived there on 21 August and RLS and Fanny spent the next night on shore [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
The Gilbert (now Kiribati) Group [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Map of the Gilbert Group, in H. Bingham, Story of the Morning Star, 1883.

I am glad to say I shall be home by June next for the summer, or we shall know the reason why. For God’s sake be well and jolly for the meeting.

Sidney Colvin, 1890 c. [http://media.vam.ac.uk]

I shall be, I believe, a different character from what you have seen this long while. This cruise is up to now a huge success, being interesting, pleasant, and profitable.

Lloyd, RLS and Fanny on board of the schooner Equator, 1889 [http://robert-louis-stevenson.org]

The beachcomber is perhaps the most interesting character here; the natives are very different, on the whole, from Polynesians: they are moral, stand-offish (for good reasons), and protected by a dark tongue.

Street in Apaiang, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]
Gilbert Island warriors, in H. Bingham, Story of the Morning Star, 1883.

It is delightful to meet the few Hawaiians (mostly missionaries) that are dotted about, with their Italian brio and their ready friendliness.

Mission Station at Apaiang, in H. Bingham, Story of the Morning Star, 1883

The whites are a strange lot, many of them good, kind, pleasant fellows;

Sunday morning in Apaiang, in H. Bingham, Story of the Morning Star, 1883.

others quite the lowest I have ever seen in the slums of cities. I wish I had time to narrate to you the doings and character of three white murderers (more or less proven) I have met.

From 17-20 August 1889 the Equator was at the island of Mariki (nowadays Marakei). Accordingly to Lloyd the Stevensons met there Peter Grant, a Swedish trader (later naturalised American), generally believed to have poisoned a British trader James Byrne (commonly called Byron) at Mariki in August 1888 with the complicity of an American trader, William Blanchard (who was later lost at sea). Cf. Mehew 6, p. 372 n. 1 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Natives on beach of Mariki Island (nowadays Marakei), August 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

One, the only undoubted assassin of the lot, quite gained my affection in his big home out of a wreck,

Wreck of ‘Jenny Walker’ schooner, Mariki Island (nowadays Marakei), August 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

with his New Hebrides wife in her savage turban of hair and yet a perfect lady,

Native Women, Villa, New Hebrides, late 19th century [https://media.tepapa.govt.nz]

and his three adorable little girls in Rob Roy Macgregor dresses, dancing to the hand organ, performing circus on the floor with startling effects of nudity, and curling up together on a mat to sleep, three sizes, three attitudes, three Rob Roy dresses, and six little clenched fists:

Children on the beach at Mariki (nowadays Marakei) [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

the murderer meanwhile brooding and gloating over his chicks, till your whole heart went out to him; and yet his crime on the face of it was dark; disembowelling, in his own house, an old man of seventy, and him drunk.

It is lunch-time, I see, and I must close up with my warmest love to you. I wish you were here to sit upon me when required. Ah! if you were but a good sailor! I will never leave the sea, I think; it is only there that a Briton lives:

RLS on the bowsprit of the Equator, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

my poor grandfather, it is from him I inherit the taste, I fancy, and he was round many islands in his day;

Robert Stevenson (1772-1850), RLS’s grandfather and famous lighthouse engineer [www.nationalgalleries.org]

but I, please God, shall beat him at that before the recall is sounded. Would you be surprised to learn that I contemplate becoming a shipowner? I do, but it is a secret. Life is far better fun than people dream who fall asleep among the chimney stacks and telegraph wires.


Love to Henry James

Henry James, 1890 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and others near. – Ever yours, my dear fellow,

Robert Louis Stevenson

Equator Town, Apemama [30 September 1889]

Accoding to Lloyd, the Equator left Apaiang (Abaiang) on 25 August 1889 and reached Apemama (Abemama) 5 days later. Cf. Mehew 6, p. 328 n. 4 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

No Morning Star came, however; and so now I try to send this to you by the schooner J.L. Tiernan. We have been about a month ashore, camping out in a kind of town the king set up for us: on the idea that I was really a ‘big chief’ in England.

Stevenson's camp at Apemama.  'Equator - town'
RLS’s camp, Equator Town, Apemama. RLS established friendly relations with the formidable tyrant Tembinok’ and he allowed the party to stay there [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]
Tembinok’, King of Apemama, with adopted son. He reigned 1878-91. RLS’s classic account of Tembinok’ and life in Apemama must be read in Part V of “In the South Seas”. After the king’s death, the Gilberts became a British Protectorate [www.gutenberg.org]

He dines with us sometimes, and sends up a cook for a share of our meals when he does not come himself. This sounds like high living! alas, undeceive yourself. Salt junk is the mainstay; a low island, except for cocoanuts, is just the same as a ship at sea: brackish water, no supplies, and very little shelter.

Apemama:- A trade gale.  Trees on windward beach
‘Apemama – A trade gale’, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]
Foo Bay - Apemama
‘Foo Bay – Apemama’, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]
Abemama, Kiribati (Gilbert Group) [www.viaggio-vacanza.it]

The king is a great character – a thorough tyrant, very much of a gentleman, a poet, a musician, a historian, or perhaps rather more a genealogist – it is strange to see him lying in his house among a lot of wives (nominal wives) writing the History of Apemama in an account-book;

King Tembenoka with adopted son and wives
‘King Tembenoka with adopted son – standing to the front of wives’, Apemama, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]
King Tembenoka writing the 'History of Apemama' in an a
‘King Tembenoka writing the History of Apemama in an account book’, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

his description of one of his own songs, which he sang to me himself, as ‘about sweethearts, and trees, and the sea – and no true, all-the-same lie,’ seems about as compendious a definition of lyric poetry as a man could ask. Tembinoka is here the great attraction: all the rest is heat and tedium and villainous dazzle, and yet more villainous mosquitoes.

King dining with Stevenson party in camp at Apemama
King Tembenok’ with RLS, Fanny and Lloyd, Apemama, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

We are like to be here, however, many a long week before we get away, and then whither? A strange trade this voyaging: so vague, so bound-down, so helpless. Fanny has been planting some vegetables, and we have actually onions and radishes coming up:


ah, onion-despiser, were you but a while in a low island, how your heart would leap at sight of a coster’s barrow!


I think I could shed tears over a dish of turnips.


No doubt we shall all be glad to say farewell to low islands – I had near said for ever. They are very tame; and I begin to read up the directory, and pine for an island with a profile, a running brook, or were it only a well among the rocks.

Mount Vaea, Upolu, Samoa, RLS’s future and last destination [https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com]

The thought of a mango came to me early this morning and set my greed on edge;


but you do not know what a mango is, so –

I have been thinking a great deal of you and the Monument of late, and even tried to get my thoughts into a poem, hitherto without success.

The ‘Monument’ was the British Museum, Sidney Colvin’s office and home [https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com]

God knows how you are: I begin to weary dreadfully to see you – well, in nine months, I hope; but that seems a long time. I wonder what has befallen me too, that flimsy part of me that lives (or dwindles) in the public mind; and what has befallen The Master,

The Master of Ballantrae was published in 1889.

and what kind of a Box the Merry Box has been found.

Charles Baxter had received his copy of RLS and Lloyd’s book in June 1889.

It is odd to know nothing of all this. We had an old woman to do devil-work for you about a month ago, in a Chinaman’s house on Apaiang (August 23rd or 24th).

Interior of Chinese trader's house, Apiang
Interior of Chinese trader’s house, Apiang, 1889 [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

You should have seen the crone with a noble masculine face, like that of an old crone, a body like a man’s (naked all but the feathery female girdle), knotting cocoanut leaves and muttering spells: Fanny and I, and the good captain of the Equator, and the Chinaman and his native wife and sister-in-law, all squatting on the floor about the sibyl; and a crowd of dark faces watching from behind her shoulder (she sat right in the doorway) and tittering aloud with strange, appalled, embarrassed laughter at each fresh adjuration. She informed us you were in England, not travelling and now no longer sick; she promised us a fair wind the next day, and we had it, so I cherish the hope she was as right about Sidney Colvin. […]

The shipownering has rather petered out since I last wrote, and a good many other plans beside. […]

Health? Fanny very so-so; […] I pretty right upon the whole, and getting through plenty work: I know not quite how, but it seems to me not bad and in places funny.

South Sea Yarns:

1. The Wrecker

2. The Pearl Fisher                by R.L.S. and Lloyd O.

3. The Beachcombers

The title ‘South Sea Yarns’ was duly given in RLS Edinburgh Edition, 1896, to the group of stories which included The Wrecker and The Ebb-Tide (the final title for The Pearl Fisher). No more was heard of The Beachcombers.

The Pearl Fisher, part done, lies in Sydney. It is The Wrecker we are now engaged upon: strange ways of life, I think, they set forth: things that I can scarce touch upon, or even not at all, in my travel book; and the yarns are good, I do believe. The Pearl Fisher is for the New York Ledger: the yarn is a kind of Monte Cristo one. The Wrecker is the least good as a story, I think; but the characters seem to me good. The Beachcombers is more sentimental. These three scarce touch the outskirts of the life we have been viewing; a hot-bed of strange characters and incidents: Lord, how different from Europe or the Pallid States! Farewell. Heaven knows when this will get to you. I burn to be in Sydney and have news.


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“Try to believe in our continued existence”

[For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2184.]

To Lady Taylor [Colvin 1912, pp. 260-1]

Honolulu, June 19th, 1889.

My dear Lady Taylor,

Our new home, the Equator, trading schooner, rides at the buoy to-night, and we are for sea shortly.


All your folk of the Roost held us for phantoms and things of the night from our first appearance;

Bournemouth East Beach, 1890 (Amusement Fair, bathing huts and horses). Theodosia Alicia Ellen Frances Charlotte Spring Rice, Lady Taylor lived in a cottage named ‘The Roost’, Bournemouth [www.bournemouth.co.uk]

but I do wish you would try to believe in our continued existence, as flesh and blood obscurely tossed in the Pacific,

Spearing fish on bow-sprit

RLS the bowsprit of the Equator, with a group of men spearing fish [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

or walking coral shores,

Coral beach, French Polynesia [https://stockfresh.com]

and in our affection, which is more constant than becomes the breasts of such absconders. My good health does not cease to be wonderful to myself: Fanny is better in these warm places; it is the very thing for Lloyd; and in the matter of interest, the spice of life, etc., words cannot depict what fun we have.

RLS, Lloyd, Belle, Fanny and Margaret in the lanai, Waikiki, Honolulu [www.thenational.scot]

Try to have a little more patience with the fugitives, and think of us now and again among the Gilberts, where we ought to be about the time when you receive this scrap. They make no great figure on the atlas, I confess; but you will see the name there, if you look – which I wish you would, and try to conceive us as still extant.


We all send the kindest remembrances to all of you; please make one of the girls write us the news to the care of R. Towns & Co., Sydney, New South Wales, where we hope to bring up about the end of the year – or later. Do not forget yours affectionately,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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"Aita te pahi – no ship"

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2181.]

To Charles Baxter

[Baxter Letters, pp. 250-1; http://www.hathitrust.org]

Honolulu, 16 June 1889

My dear Charles,

Herewith a certified copy of my new will necessitated by fresh risks and obligations.

RLS, c. 1889. His will, made on 14 June, came to light in Honolulu in the 1920s and was kept at the Writers’ Museum, Edinburgh; a copy of it is in the Catton papers, University of Hawaii (Cf. Mehew 6, p. 317 n. 2)

I wish to say I have since re-read your last, and withdraw, with apologies, the epithet “shirty” applied to it. It was, on the other hand, a wise and careful letter – wisely cold; only the coldness shocked me, for God knows I have enough of it now from old friends. But I quite appreciate the spirit in which you wrote, and I hope you will forgive the dulness that made me fail to understand it at the first.

I am going on here with my complicated burthens: to give poor Joe Strong (a very annoying, loveable man) a square start in life. His debts have proved less and his assets more than was feared, but the expense of the whole experiment is staggering.

The painter Joseph (Joe) Dwight Strong (1853-1899) had married RLS’s step daughter Belle in 1879. They had a son, Austin (1881-1952). In the 1880s, they lived first in San Francisco. Joe came up to stay with the Stevenson party in Silverado and Calistoga where he drew pictures of the miners’ cabin. In 1882 the Strongs went to Hawaii. The Stevensons met up with them there when the Casco arrived in Honolulu in January 1889. Joe Strong was painting transparencies for RLS’s magic lanter, too. Unfotunately he had a drink problem and was not an ideal husband; trying to help, RLS was going to take him on the Equator cruise as a photographer and to sent Belle and Austin to Sydney with a small allowance. Joe’s irregular life will cause further problems and Belle finally will divorce him in 1892 [www.robert-louis-stevenson.org]

I have sent £200 to R. Towns and Co. in Sydney to dole out to Belle and the child; in case anything unforeseen should happen to delay us beyond expectation, they, Towns and Co., are to communicate with you; and of course, Belle and the boy must not be left in trouble.

Isobel (“Belle”) Osbourne Strong with his son Austin at Vailima in 1892 [https://image.jimcdn.com]

My health keeps incredibly good: for the last six days I have been from five to eight hours in continual business, much of it very annoying, some downright painful, and am fairly fit today on the back of it. Our schooner is now due and we are fairly ready to get away. To all our chronies now on land, we cards prepared for sea send salutations. I trust all is explicit; and I do hope my new books will sell, for this is a tight place to pass, and if I can pass it, and the lecture and panorama pays, I shall feel safer for the future. We have sickness and doctors’ bills and a nurse on our back foreby – which I could have gladly spared.

Isobel (“Belle”) Osbourne Strong (1858-1953), RLS’s step daughter, c. 1889. She had been seriously ill in the last few weeks, after taking an excessive dose of sulphur [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

But my books have been amazingly profitable this last year, and I make hay, with rather morbid eagerness, while the sun shines.

June 18th

On June 17th, my wife twice saw you come into the lanai, once before 12, and once before four P.M. Do not mention this, as it most likely means only a passing state of health: the doctor thinks it nothing out of the way in her condition; yet I am superstitious enough, or anxious enough to be superstitious, to pass you on the dates. You had a very severe expression.

Charles Baxter later recorded (in a 1915 memorandum, laid in his copy of The Wrong Box) that 17 June was the date he received his copy of RLS’s book. He then understood that the character of Michael Finsbury was “a rather ill-natured caricature” of himself, and his “feelings towards the author were for the moment decidedly strained” (Cf. Mehew 6, p. 318 n. 4)

We have all been very much annoyed and wearied, but things are plainer now, the schooner is overdue by some days, she cannot be long now, and then to sea! I am very tired today and do not feel like much correspondence, and I have a good many letters before me. But perhaps I can add a word later on; and perhaps indeed I may be still many days here. Aita te pahi – no ship – being an old word of ours in Tahiti and likely to be an older friend ere we are done with sea faring.



I inclose a scrap written many months ago, which I found in packing:


it was a curious evocation under the circumstances, and I faintly remember how it impressed me. I lie writing this in the balcony of the Hawaiian Hotel, having been fired out of my own house by general colds; I am mighty quiescent – the reaction after days of conflict – and still aita te pahi.

RLS and family in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu; the group seems to include RLS standing (white trousers, dark jacket, cap), his mother seated in front of him, Lloyd in white (with cap, arms folded), Fanny further right and seated.

The Equator is at the buoy.


Farewell! Yours ever,


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“The whole tale of my life is better to me than any poem”

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2180.]

To James Payn [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 154-6]

Honolulu, H.I., June 13th, 1889

My dear James Payn,

I get sad news of you here at my offsetting for further voyages: I wish I could say what I feel. Sure there was never any man less deserved this calamity; for I have heard you speak time and again, and I remember nothing that was unkind, nothing that was untrue, nothing that was not helpful, from your lips. It is the ill-talkers that should hear no more. God knows, I know no word of consolation; but I do feel your trouble. You are the more open to letters now; let me talk to you for two pages. I have nothing but happiness to tell; and you may bless God you are a man so sound-hearted that (even in the freshness of your calamity) I can come to you with my own good fortune unashamed and secure of sympathy. It is a good thing to be a good man, whether deaf or whether dumb; and of all our fellow-craftsmen (whom yet they count a jealous race), I never knew one but gave you the name of honesty and kindness: come to think of it gravely, this is better than the finest hearing.

James Payn (1830-1898), English novelist. RLS had been intimate with him as sub-editor of the Cornhill Magazine under Leslie Stephen in the ‘70’s. In 1883 Payn had succeed Stephen [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

We are all on the march to deafness, blindness, and all conceivable and fatal disabilities; we shall not all get there with a report so good. My good news is a health astonishingly reinstated. This climate;

Today climate change presents Pacific Islands with unique challenges including rising temperatures, sea-level rise, contamination of freshwater resources with saltwater, coastal erosion, an increase in extreme weather events, coral reef bleaching, and ocean acidification. Projections for the rest of this century suggest continued increases in air and ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and increased rainfall during the summer months and a decrease in rainfall during the winter months.
In Hawai’i, annual rainfall has decreased and surface temperatures have risen during the last several decades, but it is unknown whether these trends will persist or change with global climate change. Coastal areas will be at increased risk due to greater hurricane wind speeds and coastal inundation due to the combined effects of sea-level rise and storm surges. [www.fws.gov]

these voyagings;

RLS’s voyagings in the South Seas [https://www.gutenberg.org]

these landfalls at dawn;


new islands peaking from the morning bank;


new forested harbours;


new passing alarms of squalls and surf;


new interests of gentle natives,

RLS with Kalakaua, King of Hawaii, 1889 [https://i.pinimg.com]

– the whole tale of my life is better to me than any poem.

I am fresh just now from the […] leper settlement of Molokai,

The leper settlement of Molokai, Hawaii, 1880s [https://i.pinimg.com]

playing croquet with seven leper girls,

The Charles R. Bishop Home for Unprotected Girls and Women at Kalaupapa, Molokai, ca. 1900 [https://cdn.cnn.com]
The girls and women of the Charles R. Bishop Home, Kalaupapa, Molokai, ca. 1900 [https://cdn.cnn.com]
Leper girls at the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa, Molokai, ca. 1900 [https://cdn.cnn.com]

sitting and yarning with old, blind, leper beachcombers in the hospital, sickened with the spectacle of abhorrent suffering and deformation amongst the patients, touched to the heart by the sight of lovely and effective virtues in their helpers: no stranger time have I ever had, nor any so moving. I do not think it a little thing to be deaf, God knows, and God defend me from the same! – but to be a leper, or one of the self-condemned, how much more awful! and yet there’s a way there also. ‘There are Molokais everywhere,’ said Mr. Dutton, Father Damien’s dresser;

Ira Barnes (‘Brother Joseph’) Dutton (1843-1931), an American protestant converted to Catholicism in 1883, had arrived at Molokai in 1887. He spent the rest of his life in devoted service to the lepers, and never contracted the desease [https://alchetron.com]

you are but new landed in yours; and my dear and kind adviser, I wish you, with all my soul, that patience and courage which you will require. Think of me meanwhile on a trading schooner, bound for the Gilbert Islands, thereafter for the Marshalls, with a diet of fish and cocoanut before me;

RLS on board of the schooner Equator, 1889 [https://i.pinimg.com]

[…] – bound on a cruise of – well, of investigation to what islands we can reach, and to get (some day or other) to Sydney, where a letter addressed to the care of R. Towns & Co. will find me sooner or later; and if it contain any good news, whether of your welfare or the courage with which you bear the contrary, will do me good. – Yours affectionately (although so near a stranger),

Robert Louis Stevenson

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