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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Discovery of Tahiti

A great review of The Discovery of Tahiti from a fellow writer, seafarer, and maritime historian whose knowledge of the islands of Eastern Polynesia is encyclopedic.   A vast compliment indeed!

 Great shipboard or armchair reading July 7, 2018
My love affair with Tahiti began in 2001 when husband Bob and I arrived aboard our 36-foot sloop Topaz, having made our way from Hawaii where we lived. Our first view of Tahiti and her island group was the exquisite emerald landscape of Moorea -- roughly the same as shown on the cover of Joan Druett's book, The Discovery of Tahiti. This image remains clear in my mind and stands for the anticipation we felt, the lush beauty, seductive charm and romance the word "Tahiti" provoked in us. Bob and I spent the summer cruising Polynesia while I immersed myself in all the history, art, literature and culture I could discover. In the years that have passed since our Tahiti experience, I've continued to discover Tahiti through reading history, fiction, and through visiting Gauguin exhibits in Paris and London.

Joan Druett's book is an important addition to the history and literature of Tahiti. Like her earlier book, Tupaia; Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator, The Discovery of Tahiti draws on logbooks, journals, manuscripts and books to frame the story around a notable individual history has largely overlooked. In her earlier work it was Tupaia, the Polynesian navigator Cook employed. In this book, it's the Cornishman, Samuel Wallis. The British Admiralty chose Wallace to command HMS Dolphin on a mission to find a missing continent believed to be somewhere in the largely uncharted South Pacific Ocean.

Druett points out that historians have largely overlooked Wallace and his crew's contribution as the first Europeans to find Tahiti, giving Captain James Cook most of the publicity and credit. Yet Samuel Wallace was here first and, making a great impression on the Tahitian queen, paved the way for Cook's subsequent success. Druett sheds light on the man, the ship, the crew, the voyage, and the aftermath. One of Druett's strengths as a writer of popular history is her ability to gather and cull all the known facts and present them in an immensely readable fashion. Her command of the historical Pacific maritime world is apparent. She brings the account to life with a historian's eye and a seaman's familiarity of pertinent details.

Includes bibliography, illustrations, maps, author's commentary, and a creative essay by the ship's barber, Rogers Richardson.

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