“Think of me sea-bathing and walking about, as jolly as a sandboy”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2152.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 129-32]

Honolulu, April 2nd, 1889

My dear Colvin,

I am beginning to be ashamed of writing on to you without the least acknowledgment, like a tramp; but I do not care – I am hardened; and whatever be the cause of your silence, I mean to write till all is blue. I am outright ashamed of my news, which is that we are not coming home for another year. I cannot but hope it may continue the vast improvement of my health: I think it good for Fanny and Lloyd; and we have all a taste for this wandering and dangerous life. My mother I send home, to my relief, as this part of our cruise will be (if we can carry it out) rather difficult in places […].

Margaret Stevenson and Belle Strong, standing near their bungalow at Honolulu, 1889; in front of them Ah Fu, their Chinese cook, pouring RLS tea; at their left, Fanny and Lloyd [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

Here is the idea: about the middle of June (unless the Boston Board objects) we sail from Honolulu in the missionary ship (barquentine auxiliary steamer) Morning Star:

The fourth Morning Star, 1884-1900. These ships were built for missionaries working in the Hawaiian islands. The first ship departed from Boston in 1866. The plan was that the Morning Star would make yearly trips from the Gilbert Islands to Ponape, one thousand miles northwest, visiting other mission islands on the way, bringing supplies and occasionally transporting missionaries. After only three years, however, the first Morning Star was lost in a severe squall, though everyone on board was saved [http://marshall.csu.edu.au]

she takes us through the Gilberts and Marshalls,


and drops us (this is my great idea) on Ponape, one of the volcanic islands of the Carolines.

Ponape (Pohnpei since 1984), Eastern Caroline Islands, Micronesia [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Carl Saltzmann (1847-1923), Cruiser And Gunboat Hoist On Ponape.

Here we stay marooned among a doubtful population,

Natives of the Caroline Islands, 1836 [https://a.1stdibscdn.com]

with a Spanish vice-governor and five native kings,

Luis Cadarso y Rey (1843-1898), governor at Ponape, Eastern Caroline Islands. In 1852 the Spanish representative and the kings of Koror and Artingal signed an act which recognized the sovereignty of the king of Spain on the Carolines. Having secured the territory, Spain attempted to establish custom duties in the region in 1875. A conflict arose with Germany and the UK, leading to the arbitration by Pope Leo XIII, who recognized Spanish rights on the islands west of the 164th meridian east; he assigned to Germany the Marshall Islands and the right to maintain a naval station in one of the Caroline Islands, a right that Germany never exercised [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

and a sprinkling of missionaries all at loggerheads,

American Missionaries to Ponape, Caroline Islands, 1852 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]
Spanish Capuchins outside the mission residence on Ponape. The controversy between Germany and Spain concerning the possession of the Carolines having been settled by Pope Leo XIII in favour of Spain, the king directed Spanish Capucins to the islands, 1886, and the Propaganda Fide officially established that mission. The Spanish Capuchins had a catechism and prayer book printed in the Ponape dialect [www.micsem.org]

on the chance of fetching a passage to Sydney in a trader, a labour ship or (maybe, but this appears too bright) a ship of war. If we can’t get the Morning Star (and the Board has many reasons that I can see for refusing its permission) I mean to try to fetch Fiji, hire a schooner there, do the Fijis and Friendlies, hit the course of the Richmondat Tonga Tabu, make back by Tahiti,


and so to S[an] F[rancisco], and home: perhaps in June 1890. For the latter part of the cruise will likely be the same in either case. You can see for yourself how much variety and adventure this promises, and that it is not devoid of danger at the best; but if we can pull it off in safety, gives me a fine book of travel,

The volume ‘In the South Seas’ was edited by Sidney Colvin and published after RLS’s death in 1896.

and Lloyd […] a fine lecture and diorama, which should vastly better our finances. […]

Lloyd Osbourne, RLS’s stepson, aged 21, Honolulu, 1889. He was taking photographs, probably to serve as models for a painter doing dioramas or just to show as slides on a magic lantern [www.capitalcollections.org.uk]

I feel as if I were untrue to friendship; believe me, Colvin, when I look forward to this absence of another year, my conscience sinks at thought of the Monument:

The British Museum (‘The Monument’, to RLS and Colvin) reading room, 19th century.

but I think you will pardon me if you consider how much this tropical weather mends my health. Remember me as I was at home,

RLS, Bournemouth, 1888.

and think of me sea-bathing and walking about, as jolly as a sandboy:

RLS, prob. Honolulu 1889.

you will own the temptation is strong; and as the scheme, bar fatal accidents, is bound to pay into the bargain, sooner or later, it seems it would be madness to come home now, with an imperfect book, no illustrations to speak of, no diorama, and perhaps fall sick again by autumn.

Edinburgh [https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com]

I do not think I delude myself when I say the tendency to catarrh has visibly diminished. […] It is a singular thing that as I was packing up old papers ere I left Skerryvore, I came on the prophecies of a drunken Highland sibyl, when I was seventeen. She said I was to be very happy, to visit America, and to be much upon the sea. It seems as if it were coming true with a vengeance.

H. Bloemaert (1601-72), A Fortune Teller. RLS’s MS written during a visit to Dunoon in April 1870 was posthumously published as ‘A Retrospect: it describes the prophecies of ‘a poor mad Highland woman’ ‘that I was to visit America, that I was to be very happy, and that I was to be much upon the sea’. RLS appended a note when he came across the MS in 1887: ‘the old pythoness was right: I have been happy, I did go to America
(am even going again – unless -) and I have been twice and once upon the deep’.

Also, do you remember my strong, old, rooted belief that I shall die by drowning? I don’t want that to come true, though it is an easy death;


but it occurs to me oddly, with these long chances in front. I cannot say why I like the sea; no man is more cynically and constantly alive to its perils;

British School, Ships in a Sorm off Sea Cliffs, 19th century [https://media.mutualart.com]

I regard it as the highest form of gambling;

H. Walker, Only survivour of a shipwreck, 19th Century.

and yet I love the sea as much as I hate gambling. Fine, clean emotions; a world all and always beautiful; air better than wine; interest unflagging; there is upon the whole no better life.

[…] – Yours ever,


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