The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64
Such is a brief outline of the past history, first discovery, and then missionary zeal. Unlike India, Africa, America, and Australia, wherein discovery was followed by commerce, and then by religious teaching, Polynesia first received religions civilization. Now commerce is stepping in, and we are becoming still more deeply interested in the welfare of the islands. As yet commerce has been of very slow growth, although the exceeding fertility of the islands, their tractable inhabitants, and the general wealth of the Pacific, have long been well known. The great distance of Polynesia from the principal centres of commerce must have been the cause of this slow progress. Steam, however, is lessening the distance; population is flowing over from the Australasian colonies, and a large trade is springing into existence. It was not until some few years since, when the colonies of Australia began to take an interest in the islands, that commerce assumed any degree of importance. The American war, and the suggestions contained in Dr. Seeman's well-known work, turned the attention of those colonists to cotton-growing, and many persons from the colonies commenced to form plantations. Previously to that date a few merchants in the principal groups carried on a small traffic, and one or two associated companies endeavoured to profit by the evident wealth of the islands: the celebrated South Sea Company of the last century, which resulted in what is commonly called the "South Sea Bubble" being the first attempt. There were also, as still there are, many traders, who, fitting out in Australasian ports small vessels with suitable articles of trade, cruised amongst the islands, and bartered with the natives, as the Carthagenians of old bartered with the Africans. (This sort of trading appears to be very suitable to Polynesia, and is likely to increase. When the resources of the islands are better opened up, trading schooners will give place to resident (merchants.) Trade, however, is entirely in its infancy. The natives are hardly sufficiently educated to demand much from us. As yet their wants; ire few. The people of Western Polynesia, and nearly all Central Polynesia, have not sufficient civilization to want at all, a little calico and a few: knives being all that is at present required. I do not suppose that the Pacific Islands import more than £700,000 per annum, one half of which is page 64 for the use of the resident whites, the other half for native use. As the population of the Pacific, exclusive of New Guinea, must number something over a million, it will readily be seen that trade is in its infancy. Nearly all that we have as yet obtained is the surplus natural production—cocoa-nut oil, béche-de-mer, pearl shell, whale oil, sandal wood, etc. Other productions, such as cotton, coffee, sugar, tobacco, etc., have yet to be raised. An attempt has been made to grow cotton, but the uncertainty of obtaining the necessary labor has almost caused its abandonment. How sadly the Pacific needs protection, and how necessary it is for commerce to be under some sort of regulation, is shown in the fact that immediately an exotic production was attempted to be raised, the poor islanders suffered one of the greatest wrongs which the white race could inflict—the wrong of slavery.