“I chose these isles as having the most beastly population, and they are far better, and far more civilised than we”

On 20 July 1888, after 22 days at sea and 3000 miles, the yacht Casco dropped anchor in Anaho Bay in Nuka Hiva, the largest of the Marquesas Islands. All RLS’s literary energies were devoted to his journal, The Cruise of the Casco, which has never been fully published. From it he later quarried Parts I and II of the South Seas Letters syndicated by McClure in 1891 and posthumously published in 1896 as In the South Seas.

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 2106.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, p. 76]

Yacht Casco, Anaho Bay, Nouka Hiva,

Marquesas Islands [28 July 1888]

My dear Colvin,

From this somewhat (ahem) out of the way place, I write to say how d’ye do.

Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia.
Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia [http://enacademic.com]

The corvette the Astrolabe and Zelee entering the port of Noukahiva (Marquesas Islands), Dumont d’Urville expedition in Antarctica (1837-1840). Paris, Bibliothèque Des Arts Decoratifs.

It is all a swindle: I chose these isles as having the most beastly population, and they are far better, and far more civilised than we.

Morai and portraits Nouka-hiva, c. 1834 [www.antiqueprintclub.com]
Warriors and double pirogue, Nouka-hiva, c. 1834 [www.antiqueprintclub.com]

I know one old chief Ko-o-amua, a great cannibal in his day, who ate his enemies even as he walked home from killing ’em, and he is a perfect gentleman and exceedingly amiable and simple-minded: no fool, though.

An unknown chief, Marquesas Islands, late 19th century. Kooamua, the chief of Hatiheu, paid his first visit to the Casco on 24 July, ‘a man of weight and fame, late leader of a war upon the French, late prisoner in Tahiti, and the last eater of long-pig’ [https://imgc.allpostersimages.com]

The climate is delightful; and the harbour where we lie one of the loveliest spots imaginable.

Anaho Bay, Nouka Hiva, Marquesas Islands [https://aldebaran42.files.wordpress.com]

Yesterday evening we had near a score natives on board; lovely parties. We have a native god; very rare now. Very rare and equally absurd to view.

Marquesans performing a Haka dance, 1909 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

This sort of work is not favourable to correspondence: it takes me all the little strength I have to go about and see, and then come home and note, the strangeness around us. I shouldn’t wonder if there came trouble here some day, all the same. I could name a nation that is not beloved in certain islands –

Conquest of Fautahua Fort, Tahiti, 1846. The Marquesas, the Paumotus, and the Tahitian group were all dependencies of France [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and it does not know it! Strange: like ourselves, perhaps, in India!

Lieutenant William Alexander Kerr earns the Victoria Cross in the Great Indian Uprising of 1857 [https://spectatorau.imgix.net]

Love to all and much to yourself.

R.L.S.

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