A serviceable account of two 19th-century missionaries’ travels through the South Seas, Asia, and Africa.
To further the interests of God and Empire, British evangelicals George Bennet and Daniel Tyerman gladly accepted a charge from the London Missionary Society to inspect the organization’s far-flung network of missions and report on their successes and failures. In 1821, the two set out for the South Seas, where they made their way from one island chain to another, visiting with fellow pastors and reassuring converts to Christianity that they would enjoy divine forgiveness for their sins. Though occasionally put off by certain native practices—a fondness for infanticide on the island of Raiatea, for one—the pair kept reasonably open minds, and their reports provide a wealth of ethnographic data on then utterly unfamiliar cultures. Wondering, for instance, why it was that jackals were free to roam the streets in India, they concluded, “the impunity [these creatures] enjoy is a necessary provision for the health and comfort of human society, in a climate and a place where life and death are so frequently in contact, that, unless the perishing remains of mortality were buried out of sight as quickly as possible, existence would be intolerable, and the plague perpetual.” Quoting liberally from his subjects’ writings, Hiney (Raymond Chandler, 1997) follows the intrepid travelers to such places as Tahiti, China, and the Kalahari Desert, where they confronted pirates, slavers, ravening animals, and ferocious storms, surviving all that God could throw at them for nearly eight years. Bennet eventually returned to England from the tropics, only to find himself shivering through one of the coldest winters on record; in the years left to him, he drew on his experiences to organize antislavery efforts and drum up support for the Missionary Society, which endured until 1977.
A solid history that will be particularly useful to students of colonialism.