William Ellis. Polynesian Researches, During a Residence of Nearly Six Years in the South Sea Islands, including Descriptions of the Natural History and Scenery of the Islands, with Remarks on the History, Mythology, Traditions, Government, Arts, Manners, and Customs of the Inhabitants. London: Fisher, Son, & Jackson, 1829. Gift of Katharine E. McBride ’25.

     
 

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English missionaries began to play an important role in collecting and writing about the natural history of remote parts of the world in the early nineteenth century as British missionary societies started to take an interest in the souls of these regions’ inhabitants. An influential example, and one read by Charles Darwin on the Pacific leg of his Beagle voyage, was Polynesian Researches, written by William Ellis (1794-1872), an English missionary for the London Missionary Society. Prior to his ordination in 1815, Ellis worked as a printer, a skill which he used to produce a number of Christian texts in Hawaiian and Tahitian. Polynesian Researches describes his years working in the Pacific, and it combined neutral scientific observation with Christian discourse. This mixture of science, travel narrative and theology proved to be popular and was appreciated by such famous nineteenth-century novelists as Herman Melville and Wilkie Collins. Darwin remarked that that Ellis’s book was one of his main sources for knowledge about Polynesian culture.

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