1843 - Russell, Michael. Polynesia; or an Historical Account of the Principal Islands in the South Sea [New Zealand Chapter Only] - [Front Matter], p 1-16

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  1843 - Russell, Michael. Polynesia; or an Historical Account of the Principal Islands in the South Sea [New Zealand Chapter Only] - [Front Matter], p 1-16
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Printed by Oliver & Boyd,
Tweeddale Court, High Street, Edinburgh.


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THE main object of this volume is to throw light on the introduction of Christianity and civilisation into the islands of the South Sea. From the moment that Wallis discovered the beautiful group which bears the name of George the Third, many schemes were formed for bettering the condition of the natives, who, at their first interview with Britons, though they saw much to excite their wonder, could receive no favourable impression as to the obligations of morality on the cultivated mind. It was not, however, till a later period that any plan was matured for conveying thither the knowledge of true religion and the elements of social improvement. Mercantile speculation had, indeed, been invited to the shores of Otaheite in quest of materials on which to found an intercourse beneficial to the inhabitants of both hemispheres; and Science had selected the spot as a theatre for her triumphs in the sublime department of astronomy. But the year 1796 had arrived before the benevolent spirit of the gospel undertook a nobler mission, animated by the hope of establishing among the gentle savages of the Pacific the foundations of a pure faith and the motives to a holy life.

A variety of opinion continues to prevail as to the effects produced by the labours of the missionary. Without presuming to determine the several points at issue

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on dogmatical grounds, the author has supplied ample materials for forming a clear judgment, both as to what has been already accomplished, and also in regard to the result which must necessarily follow. A change has commenced, the consequences of which, for good or for evil, will undoubtedly be permanent. In no case has the convert, on either side of the equator, relapsed into his former usages, nor revived the hereditary superstition. His new belief may not be fully comprehended, and its influence on his conduct may be at once imperfect and unsteady; but, in all respects, he holds it to be incomparably better than that which he has relinquished, more reasonable in itself, and infinitely more conducive to his happiness. It is accordingly admitted by all who have visited those distant regions, that the cruel abominations of heathenism have not been any where resumed. A principle has been put in operation which no human power can counteract, for it has already connected itself with new institutions affecting the very basis of society, and given birth to hopes that can never be extinguished in the human heart.

Some pains have been taken to exhibit the actual condition of society in Polynesia;--the manners which have been adopted by the natives from their European visiters; the improvement of taste and sentiment among the higher class; a desire for the conveniences and even the luxuries of civilized life; and, above all, the disappearance of those gross indulgences which so often called forth the reprobation of the religious teacher. A view is also given of the manufacturing industry and commercial relations which have been established in some of the islands, more especially in those of the Sandwich group, where consuls from England and the United States have for some time past resided under the protection of the local government.

The attention of the reader is more particularly drawn to New Zealand, which, viewed in reference to trade and colonization, has of late assumed a paramount degree of importance in the eye of the public. Details are pre-

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sented illustrating the progress which has been already made at the various settlements on the coast; describing the productions of the soil, both natural and exotic; and setting forth the vast capability of improvement in agriculture, fishing, manufactures, and, indeed, in every other field of human industry.

A reference is also made to an act just passed "for regulating the sale of waste lands belonging to the crown in the Australian colonies;" a designation which now comprehends New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Van Diemen's Land, and New Zealand, including their respective dependencies. With regard to the more special purposes of this enactment, it will be sufficient to mention, that one-half of the gross proceeds arising from the sale of land will be appropriated to the purposes of emigration, particularly to assist those persons who possess not the means of defraying the expense of their own removal thither from the several portions of the United Kingdom. Property in New Zealand will henceforth be placed on a secure basis; and the claims of individuals will no longer be at variance with the rights or welfare of the natives.

In delineating the state of the inhabitants in the smaller islands of the Pacific, the author has enjoyed the great advantage of perusing an unpublished work, written by a distinguished officer resident some years in that part of the globe, and which is repeatedly quoted under the title of a Manuscript Journal or Diary. The details are the more interesting that they appear not to have been intended for the press; being confined to the casual observations of an intelligent mind, invited to contemplate a new state of things, and under circumstances which could not have occurred had his position in society been materially different.

It has not been thought expedient to enter very deeply into the question which respects the origin of the Polynesian tribes, and the source whence their languages have been derived. On this subject, the reader will find much interesting discussion in the works of Reland, Forster,

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Crawfurd, Zuniga, Ellis, Lang, and in the posthumous volumes of William Humboldt. The more minute acquaintance with the natives, which has been obtained through the medium of recent voyagers, leaves no room for doubt that their progenitors must have proceeded from the eastern shores of Asia, and gradually spread, through various channels and at successive periods, over the surface of the great South Sea.

To the missionaries the divine and the philosopher are greatly indebted for much valuable knowledge, relative to the mythology, the traditions, the laws, government, and usages of the simple people whom they have brought within the pale of revealed religion. From the same source has been gained an acquaintance with their superstitions, their objects of worship, their notions of a future state, their arts of sorcery and divination, their mode of carrying on war, and, more especially, the atrocities of human sacrifice with which their battles were wont to be preceded and followed. Not less interesting are the details which illustrate the progress of education among the subjects of Pomare in the Society cluster, and of Rihoriho in the barbarous islands of Owhyhee and Woahoo. Under such influence the power of civilisation has every where made itself felt in a greater or less degree, combined with the principles of that divine faith which, while it elevates the standard of morality and taste, directs the thoughts of the convert to his eternal destination.

In the department of natural history, due notice is taken of the various hypotheses which have been entertained in relation to the structure of the several classes of islands spread over the Pacific, viewed in connexion with the causes to which they are imagined to owe their present form. The volcanic origin of the larger ones is illustrated by a reference to the rocks of which they are composed; while the extent to which the saxigenous polypes contribute to the elevation of others, is carefully estimated according to the clearest principles that science or observation has hitherto supplied.

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In the other branches of natural science there is still a great deficiency of information, owing as well to the peculiar races of plants and animals which occupy Polynesia, as to the fact that the missionaries, having in view much more important objects, do not devote any particular attention to the zoology, the flora, or the silva of the respective islands. For this reason it has been resolved to defer all details on these various heads till a future occasion, when, in a separate work on Australasia, will be given, by a distinguished naturalist, a complete and systematic view of the subject as it respects the whole of the inhabited lands in the bosom of the South Sea.

The Map provided by the Publishers, with the view of illustrating the position of the several insular groups which fall within the compass of this volume, is constructed on the most approved principle, and presents to the reader, in a very intelligible form, the discoveries of all the recent voyagers in that vast expanse of ocean which stretches from Australia to the western shores of America.

EDINBURGH, September 1842.

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