The author, in the original 1851 edition of this book, wanted to be known only as “A Lady.”
She was, in fact, Mary Davis Wallis, wife of well-known sea captain Benjamin Wallis of Salem, Massachusetts. During the 1840s and early 1850s this florid, forceful Yankee captain dominated the dangerous but lucrative Fiji-Manila trade in beche-de-mer — otherwise known as sea cucumber
Fortunately for posterity, but to the wonder of his fellow trading captains and frustration of his crew, Captain Wallis took his piously eccentric wife voyaging to the Fiji’s from 1844-1849 aboard the bark Zotoff.
Mary Wallis has a lot to say about native life. Her account is always lively, sometimes feminist, and usually opinionated. She wasn’t always appreciated by her husband’s crew, either. On one of the many occasions when their boat was boarded by natives eager to trade, she observed
The whole conduct of this people was boisterous, rude, and immodest in the extreme. The girls came on board for the vilest of purposes, but stated that the purposes were not accomplished, as the sailors were afraid of “Captain’s Woman.”
She often alludes to practices “too horrible to describe,” but what she includes is graphic enough. She spend much of her time, for example, with practicing cannibals.
…dead bodies were brought to Bau as often as twice and sometimes three times in a week.. They were taken to a “buri” where a chief named Rotuimbau divided them, after which they were cooked, and then each portion sent to its destination. If they had more than could be devoured in Bau, portions were sent to other towns. The hearts and tongues are considered the choicest parts, and are claimed by the cheifs. The hands are usually given to the children.
Captain Wallis played a central role in Fiji history through his dealings with high Fijian chiefs, but his wife also left her indelible mark on Fiji. Even today Walesi and Merewalesi are popular girl’s names.
This is a classic true woman’s adventure of the South Seas.