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Thursday, April 7, 2016

What did Bully Hayes look like?

No one is even sure what this notorious American looked like, and yet his impressive physical appearance is part of the Bully Hayes legend.  Most of the people who met him agree that he was six feet tall, and hefty in physique, that he had a bluff and hearty manner and a soft, persuasive voice, but otherwise descriptions vary. Some reckoned he had blue eyes, others that they were brown. Sometimes he is described as bald, while in other yarns he has long, curling hair, just as in this newspaper drawing, published not long after his gory demise. 

Everyone agrees that he had a beard, but whether it was cut to a point (like Captain Morgan) or flowing down to his belt varies according to the narrator, and whether it was brown, black or gray is equally vague. What everyone is sure about is that he loved women. Captain Bully Hayes had several wives on shore, and kept a constant stream of beautiful brown girls on board his ships. And they also say that he had a magnetic personality. Today they would call it charisma.

Not only did Hayes brag like a buccaneer, but according to a neighbour in Samoa, he dressed like a storybook pirate, too. As he strode along the Apia waterfront, the skirts of his long alpaca coat swished back from his black broadcloth trousers and black boots, revealing that his broad chest was covered with a white frilled shirt with a white flowing necktie, and that instead of a waistcoat he wore a brightly coloured sash about his waist.  A wide-brimmed black slouch hat was propped aslant his head, and his white teeth shone through his moustache and beard when he grinned.  He even smelled good, a man who knew him well testifying that he “oiled and scented himself before going on shore.”  

So, did he look like this well-dressed fellow, photographed in Apia in Bully Hayes' time?

Or did he look like Tommy Lee Jones, dressed (or undressed) for the part of the dashing buccaneer in the film called Nate and Hayes or Savage Islands, depending on where it was released:

Well, this last is pretty unlikely.  But implausible, too, is the image billed as "The only known photograph of Bully Hayes" in Frank Clune's racy biography Captain Bully Hayes, Blackbirder and Bigamist:

 Clune says that the picture was pointed out to him by the late Professor Harry Maude (co-author of a very fine book, Of Islands and Men, which has much about Bully Hayes, but chooses not to publish this picture), who -- says Clune -- "found me the photograph of Bully Hayes, the only one I have ever seen.

"It was included in a thesis on the history of the Caroline Islands written by a scholar at the University of the Philippines," Clune adds, without naming the scholar or giving the title of the thesis.

Highly unsatisfactory, in my opinion, especially as the man in the picture not only has short hair, but is also wearing a monocle -- a monocle, for heaven's sake! -- which is certainly not part of the Bully Hayes legend.

Yet this picture has been republished many times since, with no questions asked at all.

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