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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Review of The Notorious Captain Hayes

CAPTAIN WILLIAM “BULLY” Hayes became a legend across the Pacific, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. Newspapers celebrated his wicked ways from Honolulu to Singapore, Hong Kong to Manila, and Saigon to Sydney.

The more outrageous Hayes’ behavior became, the better editors and the reading public
liked it. Separating fact from fiction about the master mariner never got in the way of a good yarn.

To research The Notorious Captain Hayes, New Zealand maritime historian and novelist Joan Druett spent fifteen years poring through the recorded flotsam and jetsam left in the wake of Hayes’ remarkable life to get at the truth about the character many called the “consummate scoundrel.”

Hayes was believed to have been born in Cleveland, Ohio, about 1828 or 1829. As a young man, he initially learned seamanship sailing the Great Lakes during the schooner era. Arriving in the Pacific in the 1850s, he left his mark in seemingly every port he visited.

“Wherever he went,” writes Druett, “a tsunami of headlines seethed in his wake . . . ‘THE HISTORY OF A CONSUMMATE SCOUNDREL’ blared a Honolulu paper in September 1859, just months after he had arrived in Hawaii . . .”

Among the dastardly deeds attributed to Hayes was murder, serial debt-dodging, piracy, bigamy (he loved women), swindling, plain thievery, and engaging in the infamous “coolie trade” and slavery. Journalists were inescapably drawn to these crimes, often imaginatively embellishing reality, which romanticized the rogue and further aroused interest in him from one end of the Pacific to the other.

Despite his black-hearted ways, Hayes was considered to be a competent shipmaster and a strict authoritarian aboard the vessels he commanded. An Englishman named Hines, sailing as an ordinary seaman in the barque C. W. Bradley, recalled: “Every man aboard was afraid of him, and his discipline was almost as strict as a man-o’-warsman.”

By the time Hayes met his maker in 1877 at the hands of an enraged Norwegian sailor, stories from his life had been documented in newspaper archives and books. The Bully Hayes saga was alive well into the twentieth century.

Joan Druett’s lively and salty chronicle, which is as fresh as a sea breeze, brings to life a bygone maritime era that was reigned over by a generation of stalwart men and women – for better or worse.


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