My interview with Linda Hall
This book is absolutely fascinating.
From the tale itself to the drawings, paintings and sketches it really is something anyone with an interest in history should read. In fact I think it would make a great addition to school's history reading. I love the way it is written, almost like a novel with the characters emerging and growing before your eyes.
Tupaia the Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesain Navigator takes readers onboard the Endeavour, introduces them to sailors good and bad who were with Cook when he landed in New Zealand.
According to author Joan Druett, Tupaia, a Tahitian, sailed with the Endeavour from Tahiti and was one of the ship's most important artists and helped Cook's crew with the language barrier when thy landed at different islands around the Pacific.
I asked Joan some questions about her book.
Q: How did you discover Tupaia?
A: I was aware that a Tahitian named Tupaia sailed on the Endeavour, because his name kept on cropping up in academic books and journals, but my image of him was very vague — he was a man without personality. Then I read an interview with Dr Paul Tapsell in which he said that the noble priest, Tupaia, considered by the Maori to be the most important man on board, would have been the one who was gifted the precious taonga that Captain Cook and Joseph Banks carried to England, and presented to royalty and museums as if they had rightful ownership. I felt a rush of sympathy for this man who had been cheated after his tragic death, not just by his shipmates, but by history, too. He turned into a real human being for me. I suddenly wanted to know a great deal more about him.
Q: You say his story has never been told so how did research him?
A: When it was pointed out to me by a friend that a biography of Tupaia had never been written, I realized it had to be done by a maritime historian — someone who understood what his daily life on the Endeavour would have been like, and could compare it to his previous experiences on voyaging canoes. “I could do that!” said I. And I set to work reading accounts of the earliest European voyages to Tahiti the very next day — 11 February 2008. That is the way I work, by reading the logs, journals and memoirs of the people who were actually there. Because I am a maritime historian, I understand what they are talking about, and can visualize their surroundings — I can read between the lines, as it were. Once I had read all this basic, primary material, and had made my own deductions and opinions, I turned to what academics had written about the voyage of the Endeavour, which was very helpful.
Q: How long did it take you?
A: Just over two years. The American edition went into production in September 2010, and was published at the end of the year. More work went into the New Zealand Random House edition, as it is lavishly illustrated, and captions had to be composed. This was a great pleasure, as I was able to add observations and anecdotes, but it took extra time.
Q: Apart from Tupaia, who else onboard the Endeavour stood out for you?
A: The four men who had already visited Tahiti, on the Dolphin in 1767 — John Gore, Frank Wilkinson, Richard Pickersgill, and Robert Molineux. I had already come to know them well, through reading the journals these very young men kept on the Dolphin, and so it was a pleasure to see their characters develop through the Endeavour voyage. I was also very intrigued to find a journal kept by Joseph Banks’s footman, James Roberts, in the Mitchell Library in Sydney. It was a very unusual voice from the lower deck, and one that gave me extra clues to Tupaia’s character.
Q: What first sparked your interest in history?
A: I fell into a grave! Seriously, while staying on Rarotonga in 1984, I became intrigued by a piece of wasteland that was reputed to be a graveyard for “outsiders”, and while exploring it I fell over the gravestone of the wife of an American whaling captain, who had died at the age of 24 in 1850. I wanted to read a book about the strange life she led, and found I had to research and write it myself. Luckily. I was given a Fulbright grant to travel to New England, so I was able to do it. Quite by accident, I became a world expert on the daily lives of families under sail.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.
A: I live in Wellington with my husband, Ron, who is a maritime artist. We also lecture on cruise ships occasionally, so if you see us on the high seas, say hi! I talk about women under sail, women pirates, shipwrecks and castaways (I joke that the audience should be wearing life jackets for that one). And, of course, I talk about Tupaia.
Q: Who do you think would enjoy your book?
A: I work hard to turn history into a book that reads like a novel, and so I hope it will be widely read, and enjoyed by many people. Everyone has heard of James Cook and Joseph Banks, but the story of the Endeavour should be that of three remarkable men, not just two. I have my fingers tightly crossed that my biography of this extraordinary Polynesian will help to set the record straight, and make Tupaia’s name as famous as theirs.
Q: What's next on the agenda?
A: The nonfiction story of a rousing episode in New Zealand’s early maritime history — and a seafaring novel, set in the sunset days of the East India Company, in the South China Sea.