Accurate information respecting the different parts of the world, is probably possessed in a greater degree, and diffused to a wider extent, at the present day, than it has been at any former period. The mariner has encountered the dangers of untraversed and hitherto impenetrable seas; and the traveller has explored remote and inhospitable countries, in order to increase general knowledge, and add new facilities to the prosecution of enlightened philosophical research.
Without depreciating the pursuits of science, or the advantages of a more enlarged acquaintance with the natural history of our globe, the Christian philanthropist directs his attention to objects still more important, and is led to contemplate, with growing intensity of interest, the moral and spiritual condition of mankind. The dominion and extent of delusive and sanguinary idolatries, with page vi their moral debasement and attendant misery, have excited his liveliest concern; and to the melioration of human wretchedness thus induced, and the extension of true religion, as the only solid basis of virtue and happiness, his energies are directed, and his resources consecrated.—Animated by the predictions of inspiration which refer to the moral renovation of the world, and cheered by “the signs of the times,” his anticipations of ultimate success are strengthened by the effects that already reward his exertions.
The results of efforts combined for the accomplishment of these objects, though various, have been such as materially to affect some of the most interesting portions of the human race. Their influence is at the present moment felt among the aborigines of Africa, the victims of colonial slavery, the millions of civilized China and India, the population of the inhospitable regions of Siberia and Greenland, and the inhabitants of the distant islands of the South Sea.
In this latter part of the world the author spent a number of years, endeavouring to promote the knowledge of Christianity among the natives; and while engaged in this pursuit, he regarded it as perfectly consistent with his office, and compatible with its duties, to collect, as opportunity page vii offered, information on various subjects relative to the country and its inhabitants.
Although circumscribed in geographical extent, and comparatively insignificant in amount of population, the Society and Sandwich Islands have been regarded with unusual interest ever since their discovery; and the descriptions already given to the public, of the loveliness of their general appearance, and the peculiar character and engaging manners of their inhabitants, have excited a strong desire to obtain additional information relative to the varied natural phenomena of the Islands themselves; the early history; the moral, intellectual, and physical character of the people; and the nature of their ancient institutions.
All their usages of antiquity having been entirely superseded by the new order of things that has followed the subversion of their former system, the knowledge of but few of them is retained by the majority of the inhabitants, while the rising generation is growing up in total ignorance of all that distinguished their ancestors from themselves. The present, therefore, seems to be the only time in which a variety of facts, connected with the former state of the Inhabitants, can be secured; and to furnish, as far as possible, page viii an authentic record of these, and thus preserve them from oblivion, is one design which the Author has always kept in view.
The following work will exhibit numerous facts, which may justly be regarded as illustrating the essential characteristics of idolatry, and its influence on a people, the simplicity of whose institutions affords facilities for observing its nature and tendencies, which could not be obtained in a more advanced state of society.
These volumes also contain a brief, but it is hoped satisfactory history of the origin, progress, and results of the Missionary enterprise, which, during the last thirty years, has, under the Divine blessing, transformed the barbarous, cruel, indolent, and idolatrous inhabitants of Tahiti, and the neighbouring Islands, into a comparatively civilized, humane, industrious, and Christian people. They also comprise a record of the measures pursued by the native governments, in changing the social economy of the people, and regulating their commercial intercourse with foreigners, in the promulgation of a new civil code, (a translation of which is given,) the establishment of courts of justice, and the introduction of trial by jury.
Besides information on these points, the present work furnishes an account of the intellectual culture, page ix Christian experience, and general conduct, of the converts; the proceedings of the Missionaries in the several departments of their duty; the administration of the ordinances of Christianity; the establishment of the first churches, with their order and discipline; the advancement of education; the introduction of arts; the improvement in morals; and the progress of civilization.
During an absence of ten years from England, the author made copious notes of much that came under his notice, and, while residing in the South Seas, kept a daily journal. From these papers, from the printed and manuscript documents in the possession of the London Missionary Society, (to which the most ready access has been afforded,) from the very ample communications by the Missionaries in the islands, especially his respected colleagues, Messrs. Barff, Williams, and Orsmond, and from information derived by daily intercourse, for several years, with many of the natives, who have been identified with the most important events of the last thirty years in Tahiti, the present volumes have been written. He has studiously and constantly endeavoured to render the accounts accurate, and trusts they will prove, not only interesting, but useful.page x
From the defects that may appear in the execution of the work, he feels it necessary to apologize. It has been prepared amidst incessant public engagements, and some parts have passed through the press during his absence on a distant journey in behalf of the Missionary Society.
To the Rev. Joseph Fletcher, A. M. of London, who, amidst his numerous and important engagements, has kindly inspected most of the sheets, and to Captain R. Elliot, R. N. who has favoured the Author with the use of his drawings for the embellishment of the work, he takes this opportunity of tendering his sincere and grateful acknowledgments.