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THE

MOON
MAN

A BIOGRAPHY OF

NIKOLAI MIKLOUHO-MACLAY
E. M. WEBSTER
This story o f an outstandingly strange and
interesting man is a t r i u m p h o f m o d e r n
biography. Nikolai Miidouho-Maclay. b o m
in Russia in 1846, was one o f the most
extraordinary o f all the nineteenth-century
savant-adventurers. A brilliant student o f
Ernst Haeckel, he embraced the natural
sciences at a time w h e n the genius o f Darwin
was revolutionizing Western cosmology. In
his short lifetime he made the w h o l e world
his laboratory: sponges in the R e d Sea, and
the ancestry o f sharks; head measurements in
4
N e w Guinea; N e g r i t o races in Malay jungles;
marine life in Sydney Harbour—all these and
/ 4

a hundred other topics and places engaged his


curiosity.
Sent by the Russian g o v e r n m e n t to N e w
Guinea, Miklouho-Maclay explored, c o n -
ducted ethnographic studies, collected
vocabularies, and pioneered several advances
in marine studies. He visited other far-flung
areas o f the South Pacific over the years,
eventually serving as an adviser to the British
g o v e r n m e n t , but his deepest attachment was
to N e w Guinea. This he considered his
'kingdom', and he was its ruler, determined
t o shield his subjects f r o m the rapacious
materialism o f white men. In fact, his fame
today, to those w h o have heard his n a m e at
all. rests chiefly on the humanity o f his
0 0
approach to 'native races'. T h e irony o f his
being transported to his beloved N e w
Guinea shores by Russian warships, testing an
early Pacific imperialism, never troubled him
any m o r e than did the contrast between his
scientific optimism and his devotion to the
pessimistic philosophy o f Schopenhauer.
Dazzled villagers believed that he came f r o m
the m o o n , a misconception he may have
f o u n d useful, perhaps, but a dubious basis for
l o n g - t e r m understanding.
E. M. Webster brings Miklouho-Maclay
o u t of the shadows o f nineteenth-century m

obscurity and at the same time rescues him


f r o m the adulatory veneration bestowed on
j
him by the Soviet Union today. She writes
4 0

in engaging detail of his family background,


his cultural and scientific formation, and his
w o r k in the Pacific. A man o f practical bent
and rugged ability. Miklouho-Maclay was
also an inveterate dreamer, an idealist, and a
philosopher, and his biographer follows
compcllingly all the many threads o f his
c o m p l e x life.

Printed in Australia
THE
MOON
MAN
THE
MOON
MAN
A Biography of
Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay

E. M. WEBSTER

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS


Berkeley Los Angeles London
University of California Press
Berkeley and Los Angeles, California

University of California Press, Ltd.


London, England
Copyright © 1984 by Elsie May Webster
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Webster, E. M. (Elsie May).
T h e moon man.
Bibliography.
Includes index.
1. Miklukho-Maklal, Nikolai Nikolaevich, 1846-1888.
2. Zoologists—Soviet Union—Biography. 3. Naturalists—
Soviet Union—Biography. 4. Explorers—Soviet U n i o n —
Biography. I. Title.
QL31.M56W43 1985 591'.092'4 [31 84-16248
ISBN 0-520-05435-0

Printed in Australia at GrifFm Press Limited


Marion Road, Netley, South Australia 5037

1 234 5 6 78 9
For Peter Ryan
who probably wanted a different book

'Natives love stories'


Miklouho-Maclay
I

T h e author and publishers a c k n o w l e d g e the generous assistance


o f the U t a h Foundation towards the preparation
and printing o f illustrations and maps.
Foreword

T -L.HIS is A remarkable b o o k about a


remarkable man. Probably most Australians w h o have heard o f
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y at all have a vague idea that he was the first
e t h n o g r a p h e r to d o serious w o r k in N e w Guinea, a Russian w i t h a
w a r m h u m a n sympathy f o r native races'. Others, w h o have read C L.
Sentinella's translation o f his vivid N e w Guinea diaries, published b y the
Kristen Press at M a d a n g in 1975, will k n o w m o r e . B u t w h a t are m e r e
outlines and hints in Sentinella—Maclay's family background, his
cultural and scientific formation, his w o r k in Malaya and the East Indies,
the political aspect o f his N e w Guinea activities—are h e r e filled o u t
w i t h a wealth o f detail. In the process o f putting flesh o n the skeleton,
s o m e o f the gilding is scraped o f f the rather saintly image; b u t Maclay
emerges as a far m o r e complexly interesting h u m a n being, alike in his
triumphs and his disasters, his joys and his frustrations. S o m e at least o f
his failures w e r e d u e to his o w n failings, and one may see him as a Rajah
B r o o k e manque. The Moon Man is the real stuff o f history.
Elsie W e b s t e r excels in the very difficult art of pulling together
discrete diary passages into a coherent and m o s t readable narrative; o n e
must salute also the tactful w a y in w h i c h she conveys essential scientific
information, so o f t e n a stumbling-block, in crisp and lucid footnotes.
T h e transitions in the narrative, always the points at w h i c h less expert
writers fall d o w n , are admirably handled, f o r instance at the e n d o f
Chapter 11. V e r y rarely indeed does she miss a trick; perhaps only at
Maclay's conclusion that 'the great obstacle to progress in e t h n o l o g y was
the frailty of w o m e n ' , w h i c h to m e demands, irresistibly, the c o u n t e r
that the potency o f m e n has as m u c h or m o r e t o d o with i t B u t she
brings out, v e r y skilfully, the e x t e n t o f Maclay's misunderstanding o f
the people w h o m he t h o u g h t he k n e w so well, and w h o , h o w e v e r
vii
viii Foreword

dazzled b y 'the M o o n M a n ' and his tricks, t o o k f r o m h i m w h a t they


w a n t e d and held their o w n secrets and their o w n ways.
T h e r e is c o m e d y in Maclay's Sydney sojourn and his bizarre ideas o n
the p r o p e r r u n n i n g o f a research institute, not t o m e n t i o n the delicious
t h o u g h t that the Australia C l u b might not be the right v e n u e f o r
anatomical research; tragedy in his tangled doings o n the Papua-Koviai
coast, culminating in the Vile parody o f his anatomical preparations . . .
the d i s m e m b e r e d and headless, d e c o m p o s i n g b o d y o f that pretty little
girl, the d a u g h t e r o f Raja Aiduma'. A n d disillusion is almost a constant:
w h a t could be better than Webster's evocation o f the 'improved* aspect
o f Russia o n Maclay's return: T h e cities w e r e bigger and busier, w i t h
m o r e people m a k i n g a living there or s o m e h o w staying alive w i t h o u t
a living. M o r e "business was done. T h e r e w e r e m o r e factories, roads,
railways. M o r e bureaucrats d r u d g e d or y a w n e d in m o r e offices and
m o r e soldiers paraded a r o u n d m o r e barracks. T h e r e was m o r e , in short,
o f all he hated and fled in m o d e r n Europe...'?
These extracts give some idea o f the quality o f Webster's writing;
n o t e f o r example the simplicity, b u t the telling cumulation o f simple
words, in the last passage. B u t f o r full e n j o y m e n t , one must read m o r e
continuously; subtle but n o t falling into the t e m p t a t i o n o f o v e r -
subtlety, Webster's style is admirably adapted to her theme. This is n o t
an over-psychologized biography, yet it seems t o m e that Maclay's
psychological problems, notably his unsatisfactory b u t n o t u n i q u e
relations with his family, are analysed w i t h as sure a touch as are his
financial misadventures, w h i c h w e r e plenty. Occasionally o n e m a y
feel—as is almost inevitable in the critical evaluation o f a m y t h — t h a t
Maclay m i g h t m o r e o f t e n be given the benefit o f n u m e r o u s doubts.
A n y such feelings must surely be dissipated in the concluding chapters,
w h e r e b o t h a u t h o r and subject m e l l o w marvellously, and the darkening
scene is lightened, briefly, by the t o u c h i n g d e v o t i o n o f Maclay's w i f e
Margaret, Sir J o h n R o b e r t s o n ' s daughter, b e f o r e the final shadow fell.
It is indeed m o r e than saddening to find Maclay's idealism deteriorat-
ing to the point w h e r e , in a desperate search f o r Tsarist backing f o r a
grossly impracticable paternalistic Protectorate (with himself as P r o t e c -
tor) he seems little m o r e than a self-appointed agent f o r Russian
imperialism, and a failed agent at that, since official Russia was n o t
interested
T h e elements w e r e indeed greatly m i x e d in Maclay, as in all o f us;
yet despite all his inconsistencies, deceptions and self-deceptions, he
remains a m a n o f exceptional gifts: an acute and enquiring m i n d , basic
generosity o f spirit, great p o w e r s o f endurance and great courage. It is
fitting that the last w o r d s o f The Moon Man should refer to the simple
inscription, that 'satisfied her belief w i t h o u t insulting his u n b e l i e f ,
placed by M a r g a r e t M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y o v e r his grave: ' " W e l l d o n e t h o u
Foreword IX

g o o d and faithful servant". She had f o u n d him faithful in all t h i n g s . . .


H e had left only plans f o r a k i n g d o m , only sketches f o r a c r o w n , b u t
she kept them'.
W e must be grateful to Elsie W e b s t e r f o r this fascinating, and
ultimately most m o v i n g , portrait o f Nikolai Nikolaevich M i k l o u h o -
Maclay, in all his generosity and his vanity, his littleness and his greatness.

O. H. K. Spate
Canberra,
January 1984
Contents

Foreword vii
Spelling and dates xvii
Conversions xviii
Acknowledgements xix
Preface xxi
A N o t e on Sonrres xxiii
1 T h e Search f o r Solitude 1
2 T h e Sea of O k h o t s k 18
3 T o the Blessed Isles 33
4 First Contact 50
5 Prospero's Island 23
6 Sans Souci 110
2 Pray T o m o r r o w 122
8 Disillusion 142
2 Pages f r o m an O l d B o o k 152
10 R e t u r n to Paradise 124
li N o Ships Call 182
12 Descent into Hell 209
13 Clause T w o 223
14 T h e Hairless Australian 239
13 A Glimpse of the K i n g d o m 253
16 Apotheosis 263
12 W h i t e Ants 276
IS A m o n g Savage Tribes 290
12 T h e Island o f M 310
Epilogue 338
Abbreviations 356
Notes 352
Bibliography 382
Index 407
Maps

PAGE

Astrolabe Bay and s u r r o u n d i n g s 51


P o r t K o n s t a n t i n , Astrolabe Bay 55
Papua-Koviai 126
Maclay's j o u r n e y in J o h o r and s o u t h e r n P a h a n g , 1 8 7 4 - 7 5 154
Maclay's j o u r n e y in t h e Malay states and s o u t h e r n Siam, 1875 158
V o y a g e o f t h e Sea Bird, J a v a to N e w G u i n e a , 1876 179
T h e M a c l a y Coast in 1 8 7 7 192
Maclay's travels, 1 8 7 9 - 8 0 237

Xll
Illustrations

FRONTISPIECE
N i k o l a i M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y at St P e t e r s b u r g , a b o u t 1886 (Mitchell
Library)

FACING PAGE

N i k o l a i Ilich M i k l o u h o , M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y ' s f a t h e r
In St P e t e r s b u r g , 1862 and 1864 (Mitchell Library)
Olga, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y ' s sister
O l g a as her b r o t h e r saw her (Mitchell Library)
Sergei M i k l o u h o , M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y ' s older b r o t h e r (Mitchell
Library)

BETWEEN PAGES 22 AND 23


T h e castle at Cintra, P o r t u g a l (Mitchell Library)
T h e p o r t and h a r b o u r at Arrecife, Lanzarote (Mitchell Library)
Volcanic craters, Lanzarote (Mitchell Library)
W i t h Ernst Haeckel at A r r e c i f e in 1867 ( f r o m Boelsche, Haeckel,
Life and Work)
T h e m o s q u e at J e d d a in 1869 (Mitchell Library)
T h e second c a m p f r o m M o g a d o r in 1867 (Mitchell Library)
T w o v i e w s o f M o r o c c o in 1867 (Mitchell Library)

BETWEEN PAGES 38 AND 39

Massawa, Abyssinia, in 1869


A s o u v e n i r o f Suakin
xiii
XIV Illustrations

M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y in M o r o c c a n dress in Jena, 1867 (Mitchell Library)


T h e R e d Sea traveller in Syrian dress (Mitchell Library)
In J e n a in 1870 (Mitchell Library)
O r a n i e n b a u m Palace in 1870 (Mitchell Library)
T h e corvette Vityaz
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y s mission cottage, J u l y 1871

FACING PAGE

T h e cabin at Garagassi, P o r t K o n s t a n t i n , in 1872 (Mitchell Library) 70


T u i o f G o r e n d u and K a i n o f Bilbil Island 71

BETWEEN PAGES 86 AND 87

T h e villages o f G o r e n d u and G u m b u . M a c l a y Coast


T h e m e n ' s h o u s e in T e n g u m - m a n a , M a c l a y Coast
Astrolabe Bay, l o o k i n g s o u t h f r o m B o g a d j i m
A Bilbil vang
T h e c o m m e m o r a t i v e p l a q u e at Garagassi

BETWEEN PAGES 118 AND 119

K e m a , Celebes, in 1 8 7 3
A h m a d , t h e P a p u a n b o y , in 1 8 7 3
T h e G o v e r n o r - G e n e r a l ' s Palace in B u i t e n z o r g
T h e L o u d o n f a m i l y and f r i e n d s (Mitchell Library)
U m b u r m e t a , A i d u m a Island
T h e h o u s e at A i v a
T h e u r u m b a i at a n c h o r
R a j a A i d u m a , Maclay's p r o t e g e , in 1874
'Sassi, Kapitan M a v a r a — m y p r i s o n e r ' ( N a t i o n a l Library o f Australia,
Manuscript Collection)
V u o u c i r a u , inhabitants o f K a m a k a - W a l l a district, 1874

FACING PAGE

Maclay and A h m a d ready f o r t h e j u n g l e , 1874 134


T h e maharaja's palace, J o h o r B a h a r u (Mitchell Library) 135
Maclay's yalo at B u k i t K e p o n g , M u a r R i v e r , 1874 135
Illustrations xv

BETWEEN PAGES 150 AND 151

Mkal, t h e J a k u n girl, 1875


O n t h e K e r a t o n g R i v e r , 1874
B i v o u a c o n t h e M a d e k R i v e r , 1875
T h e title page t o t h e j o u r n a l o f t h e second M a l a y Peninsula e x p e d i t i o n
Pekan, t h e capital o f Pahang, J u l y 1875
A n e g r i t o w o m a n , Kelantan, 1875
O n e o f Maclay's d r a w i n g s o f typical negritos, 1875

FACING PAGE

T h e palace o f the sultan o f Kelantan, K o t a B a h a r u 166


O n the Pattani R i v e r , Siam, 1875 166
T h e residence o f t h e raja-muda at Songkhla, Siam 167
T h e palace o f t h e sultan o f K e d a h , 1 8 7 5 167

BETWEEN PAGES 182 AND 183


T h e ibedul, p a r a m o u n t chief o f K o r o r , Palau Islands
A girl o f Yap, 1876
T h e interior o f a c l u b - h o u s e , Y a p
T h e c l u b - h o u s e in K o r o r w h e r e Maclay lived
A p o r t r a i t o f Mira, the Palauan girl
T h e h o u s e at B u g a r l o m , near B o n g u , Maclay Coast, 1877
T a y o - m a n a ( M o u n t Konstantin), Maclay Coast

FACING PAGE
A c o r n e r in t h e h o u s e at B u g a r l o m 198
Saul o f B o n g u in 1877 199

BETWEEN PAGES 214 AND 215

T h e telum in t h e m e n ' s house, B o n g u , 1877


T h e m e n ' s h o u s e in B o n g u
Bilbil island, w i t h b e a c h e d vangs
W i l l i a m J o h n Macleay (Mitchell Library)
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y , aged a b o u t thirty ( N a t i o n a l Library o f Australia,
M a n u s c r i p t Collection)
A P o r t Jackson shark, 1878 (Mitchell Library)
T h e Sadie F. Caller in N e w Caledonia, 1879 (Mitchell Library)
XIV Illustrations

FACING PAGE

' T a m a t e - t a m b u n a ' , skull shrine and ancestral figure, S o l o m o n Islands,


1879 230
T h e R e v e r e n d J a m e s C h a l m e r s (Mitchell Library) 230
T h e y a m h o u s e at T u m e , T r o b r i a n d Islands, 1879 230
Tupislei village, s o u t h - e a s t e r n N e w Guinea, 1880 231
Kalo village, south-eastern N e w Guinea, 1880 231

BETWEEN PAGES 246 AND 247

Family g r o u p in St P e t e r s b u r g , 1882 (Mitchell Library)


T h e biological station, Laing's Point, S y d n e y (Mitchell Library)
V l a d i m i r M i k l o u h o as a s h i p w r e c k e d sailor (Mitchell Library)
Prince A. A. M e s h c h e r s k y and his d a u g h t e r (Mitchell Library)
Sir A r t h u r H a m i l t o n G o r d o n (Mitchell Library)
V i c e - A d m i r a l N . K o p i t o v (Mitchell Library)
M a r a m a i o f Bilbil
M a c l a y at St P e t e r s b u r g , a b o u t 1886 (Mitchell Library)
M a r g a r e t M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y , a b o u t 1883 (Mitchell Library)
Sir J o h n R o b e r t s o n , a b o u t 1 8 8 5 (Mitchell Library)
A l e x a n d e r M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y , t h e t r a v e l l e r s o l d e r son, 1888 (Mitchell
Library)

FACING PAGE

A dancer at a feast in G u m b u , Maclay Coast 294


A girl o f H u l a village, s o u t h - e a s t e r n N e w G u i n e a 294
A n axe head f r o m t h e Maclay Coast 295
A flute player, B o n g u 295
A w o o d carving f r o m S u o u Island, s o u t h - e a s t e r n N e w G u i n e a 326
C a r v e d o r n a m e n t s f r o m islands n o r t h o f N e w G u i n e a 326
T a m b u n a , skull house, S o l o m o n Islands, 1879 326
A girl o f t h e A d m i r a l t y Islands 327
Vuoucirau w o m e n o f the Kamaka Mountains, south-western
N e w Guinea, 1874 327
Spelling and Dates

T h e subject o f this biography has been discussed in several languages,


by m a n y different writers, w i t h the result that there are nearly as m a n y
spellings o f his name. T h a t adopted t h r o u g h o u t this book, ' M i k l o u h o -
Maclay', is the version he most f r e q u e n t l y used w h e n writing in English
or French. In the notes and bibliography, h o w e v e r , the spelling given
in titles of w o r k s in languages o t h e r than Russian c o n f o r m s to the
preferences of the authors cited.
In transliterating o t h e r Russian names, an a t t e m p t has been m a d e to
retain the spelling most familiar to English-speaking readers. This, of
course, raises as m a n y p r o b l e m s as it solves, and in s o m e cases it has been
necessary to f o r g o a well-established spelling in order t o be consistent
with the usual transliteration of a n a m e that is even better k n o w n . It is
hoped that readers will find n o m o r e inconsistencies and irritations than
are c o m m o n l y e n c o u n t e r e d in English texts which include m u c h
transliteration f r o m Russian.
N i n e t e e n t h - c e n t u r y Russia used the Julian (old-style') calendar
w h i c h was twelve days behind the Gregorian calendar used in western
Europe. Russian ships at sea and in foreign ports, h o w e v e r , f o l l o w e d the
Gregorian system, as did M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y in his travel journals. T h e
f e w precise dates m e n t i o n e d in this b o o k are given according to the
Gregorian calendar. T h o s e included in reference notes agree w i t h the
sources, and consequently m a y be either n e w style* or 'old style'.

xvii
Conversions

I d (penny) 0.83 cent


Is (shilling) 10 cents
£ 1 (pound) S2
1 mile 1.60 kilometres
1 acre 0.40 hectare

XVlll
Acknowledgements

W i t h o u t financial assistance, I could n o t have hoped to c o m p l e t e this


w o r k f o r m a n y years m o r e , and indeed m i g h t n o t have dared to
undertake it. I t h e r e f o r e o w e f u n d a m e n t a l a c k n o w l e d g e m e n t s to the
M y e r Foundation o f M e l b o u r n e f o r the funds that m a d e the project
possible. Further financial aid came f r o m a source w h o s e identity is so
well concealed that I can only trust m y thanks will m e e t the right eyes.
In the course o f research, I depended greatly u p o n the Mitchell
Library, Sydney; the Public Library o f N e w South Wales; the Fisher
Library o f the University o f Sydney; the Archives o f N e w South Wales;
the National Library of Australia, Canberra; the La T r o b e Library,
M e l b o u r n e , and the O x l e y M e m o r i a l Library, Brisbane. I gladly take
this o p p o r t u n i t y to thank the staffs o f those institutions f o r their expert
and courteous assistance. M y thanks are also due to the Council o f the
R o y a l Geographical Society, London, f o r photocopies o f c o r r e s p o n -
dence f r o m the Society's archives, and to the Archivist, M r s Christine
Kelly, f o r her t h o r o u g h and imaginative search o f the Society's records.
M r s R o s e m a r y Seton, Archivist o f the School o f Oriental and African
Studies, University o f London, kindly investigated the papers o f Sir
William M a c k i n n o n on m y behalf T h e British Library supplied
photocopies o f essential material f r o m Gladstone and S t a n m o r e Papers.
I am deeply grateful to Luciana T r o j e r f o r translations f r o m Italian.
For invaluable corrections to some o f m y translations f r o m Russian I
have t o thank N i n a Christesen, w h o also c o m m e n t e d helpfully o n m y
treatment of the Russian b a c k g r o u n d O v e r the years, Peter R y a n
suggested m a n y i m p r o v e m e n t s in the text, and I am similarly indebted
to Professor O. H. K. Spate f o r his close and t h o u g h t f u l reading o f the
manuscript
Permission to q u o t e f r o m Australian manuscript sources was granted
by the Mitchell Library and the Archives A u t h o r i t y of N e w South
xix
xx Acknowledgements

Wales. T h e solicitors f o r Lord Stanmore's executors authorized q u o t a -


tions f r o m S t a n m o r e Papers held by the British Library. Illustrations as
individually a c k n o w l e d g e d are r e p r o d u c e d w i t h the permission o f the
Mitchell Library and the National Library o f Australia. All o t h e r
illustrations are d r a w n f r o m N . N . M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y , Sobraniye
sochineniy (Collected Works), 1 9 5 0 - 1 9 5 4 , published b y the US.S.R.
A c a d e m y o f Sciences, which holds the original drawings and p h o t o -
graphs; this material is gratefully acknowledged. For assistance in
r e p r o d u c i n g pictures f r o m printed sources I am indebted to the Mitchell
Library and the General R e f e r e n c e Library, State Library o f N e w South
Wales.
Preface

I T IS NOT u n k n o w n f o r a b i o -
grapher to confess that after years o f research and analysis the subject o f
study remains elusive, even rather enigmatic. In the case o f the Russian
scientific traveller M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y , h o w e v e r , the confession entails a
sense o f isolation, f o r his is generally regarded as a life o f exemplary
clarity and consistency. For generations o f his compatriots, and f o r m a n y
admirers outside Russia, he is the perfect humanitarian hero, a symbol o f
science dedicated to h u m a n welfare in the highest sense. H e possessed
great personal charm and the p o w e r to w i n admiration f r o m people o f
the most disparate t e m p e r a m e n t and outlook. H e copiously d o c u -
m e n t e d his o w n activities and character and clearly t h o u g h t well o f
both. T h e only failing biographers have noticed in him is o n e to w h i c h
he himself d r e w attention: an incurable tendency to place excessive trust
in others. T h u s the accepted picture remains as he painted it, and an
attractive o n e it is, u n s h a d o w e d by any suggestion o f mystery,
inconsistency or ambiguity.
Even on the basis o f his o w n record I have been unable to see his
career as an u n w a v e r i n g line d e t e r m i n e d entirely by moral and scientific
principles. I quite early had to abandon any kind o f thesis on his position
in intellectual history and the effect o f his actions in the public sphere.
W h y , then, write a biography? In the first place there was the fascination
of a life story in constant m o v e m e n t , c o m b i n i n g a multiplicity o f scenes
and themes, intimately affected by currents o f the time. T h e n there was
the fact that t h o u g h the traveller spent m a n y years in British colonies,
involving himself in their public affairs, n o comprehensive, reasonably
u p - t o - d a t e account of him existed in English. Finally there was the sense
that s o m e o n e w o u l d eventually break the pattern in which writings on
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y had b e c o m e set, and look at him in the m o r e
analytical spirit that marks, f o r example, m o d e r n studies of David
xxi
XXII Preface

Livingstone. This b o o k can be regarded as a first a t t e m p t to e x a m i n e the


available facts as they m i g h t be treated in the case o f any o t h e r
conspicuous figure.
A biographer with faith in o u r ability to psychoanalyse the dead
w o u l d probably m a k e m o r e o f the scientist's occasional self-revelations.
Lacking that faith, I have m e r e l y tried to indicate w i t h o u t excessive
emphasis s o m e points that m a y be psychologically significant If any
general psychological interpretation could be applied, it w o u l d be that
p r o p o u n d e d in O. M a n n o n i ' s Prospero and Caliban (La Psychologie de la
Colonisation, as translated b y P. Powesland, L o n d o n 1956). M y o w n
w o r k was well advanced b e f o r e I belatedly studied that classic essay, in
fact I was led to it by w h a t I had noticed in M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y . T h e r e
is, o f course, n o absolute Tit'. S o m e readers will be o f f e n d e d b y the
suggestion that any aspect o f the Russian traveller can be c o m p a r e d to
the European character-type depicted b y M a n n o n i . It nevertheless
seems to m e that e n o u g h similarities exist to invite consideration and
perhaps p r o v i d e an illuminating c o m m e n t a r y .
O n concluding this w o r k , I am very conscious o f h o w m u c h I have
been compelled to leave out. In s o m e instances w e l l - k n o w n episodes
have given w a y to facts and actions less f r e q u e n t l y described. T h e sheer
n u m b e r o f events involving or significant f o r M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y
sometimes m a d e it impossible to introduce t h e m all if the tale was to
remain coherent. M a n y readers will u n d o u b t e d l y feel that I have
sacrificed the greater to the lesser in s o m e respects, and I have indeed
given m o r e attention than is usual to s o m e phases o f the traveller's
career. For this I can only plead w h a t seems to m e an overriding reason:
these matters w e r e i m p o r t a n t to M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y .
A Note on Sources

As I have n o t had the o p p o r t u n i t y to visit Russia to investigate


manuscripts as yet unpublished, I have concentrated o n t w o bodies o f
information:
1. Writings by and about M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y published f r o m 1867 to
1984.
2. Manuscripts in Australian and British libraries and archives.

In the first o f these categories, particularly in the examination o f


scientific books and journals, daily newspapers, and British and Austra-
lian official publications, ' n e w ' i n f o r m a t i o n has c o m e t o light. T h e
second has also yielded facts n o t previously used, or insufficiently
examined.
Until the enlarged edition o f Miklouho-Maclay's Collected Works
appears in 1988, any account o f his life must depend fundamentally
u p o n the edition published by the U.S.S.R. A c a d e m y o f Sciences
b e t w e e n 1950 and 1954. This extensively annotated and illustrated
edition (five v o l u m e s in six) includes all his extant travel journals, nearly
all his published papers and reports, selections f r o m manuscripts in
Russian archives, a v o l u m e o f correspondence, and a v o l u m e o f
reproductions f r o m the traveller's drawings w i t h photographs of objects
f r o m his ethnographical collection. It is supplemented by c o n t e m p o r a r y
newspaper articles, reports by Russian naval officers, and 'specialist'
articles o n Miklouho-Maclay's life and w o r k .
T h e n e w edition will n o d o u b t include material that has already been
published elsewhere. It will also d r a w u p o n Australian manuscript
sources w h i c h w e r e not utilized in the 1 9 5 0 - 1 9 5 4 Collected Works. It
t h e r e f o r e seems probable that m a n y writings to be added to the Collected
Works have been taken into account in the present book.
xxiii
XXIV A Note on Sources

S o m e material used here does not satisfy the highest standards o f


historical evidence. Miklouho-Maclay's letters t o his family, f o r
example, apparently exist only as copies m a d e by his b r o t h e r Mikhail,
b u t it has been necessary, in spite o f evident omissions, to treat these as
primary sources. Similar considerations apply to w h a t must have b e e n
an important correspondence w i t h Prince A. A. Meshchersky, n o w
represented only by a f e w letters edited f o r publication in 1912. T h e
greatest p r o b l e m is presented by the writings that M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y
himself prepared f o r publication or caused others to publish. A n y o n e
w h o compares statements m a d e at d i f f e r e n t times must notice that the
travellers accounts o f events could differ substantially. O n l y o n e o f his
extant travel journals, that of the first Malay Peninsula expedition,
appears never to have b e e n revised f o r publication. It is t h e r e f o r e
sometimes impossible either to reconcile the journal account with other
statements m a d e or authorized by M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y or to d e t e r m i n e
w h i c h version is actually the earlier. In such cases one can only f o l l o w
the final text o f the journal. W h e r e difficulties exist I have tried to
indicate t h e m w i t h o u t belabouring the p o i n t
Little use has been m a d e o f secondary biographical sources, w h i c h in
most cases are notable mainly f o r ideological purity and avoidance o f
unsuitable information. A m o n g the longer general publications subse-
q u e n t to the 1950-1954 Collected Works, the writings o f N . A. Butinov,
Dora Fischer and C. L. Sentinella are the most complete. I have relied
u p o n t h e m f o r s o m e i n f o r m a t i o n on M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y s family
background and early years. All require, h o w e v e r , t o be s u p p l e m e n t e d
by the three articles o f B. A. Valskaya, w h i c h include d o c u m e n t s
essential f o r any realistic v i e w o f Miklouho-Maclay's activities in the last
five years of his life.
T h e first biography o f M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y in any language was the
pamphlet published by his British friend and representative, E. S.
Thomassen, in 1882. This short w o r k , compiled u n d e r the traveller's
supervision, can be read as accurately conveying the view o f his career
and character that he wished to establish. W i t h i n f o r m a t i o n f r o m
Miklouho-Maclay's sons, it f o r m e d the basis o f the second biography in
English, F. S. Greenop's Who Travels Alone (1944). N o w outdated in
most respects, Greenop's was a pioneering w o r k , and it remains
interesting f o r the impressions he gathered f r o m Sydney people w h o as
children had k n o w n the Russian scientist
English-speaking readers w i t h n o Russian are deeply indebted to the
late C. L. Sentinella n o t only f o r his translations f r o m M i k l o u h o -
Maclay's N e w Guinea diaries but f o r the biographical m a t t e r w h i c h
links t h e m into a c o m p l e t e narrative. T h o u g h a d e v o t e d and discreet
admirer of the traveller, Sentinella was n o t h a m p e r e d by the obligations
of Russian biographers. Consequently he could depart s o m e w h a t f r o m
A Note on Sources xxv

the o r t h o d o x v i e w o f Miklouho-Maclay's colonization projects and


could m e n t i o n , in appendix and annotations, the primary reason f o r the
1883 visit to N e w Guinea. A recent publication f r o m M o s c o w (N. N .
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y , Travels to New Guinea, 1983) does n o t supersede
Sentinella's translations. W h i l e o n e must occasionally disagree w i t h
Sentinella, his remains the better of the t w o versions. It is used in the
present b o o k to provide English references alongside those to the
Russian text. Sentinella s translations o f Miklouho-Maclay's Papua-
Koviai journal and that o f the first Malay Peninsula journal (not
included in the published v o l u m e ) can be studied in typescript in the
Mitchell Library, Sydney.
Miklouho-Maclay's scientific w o r k has n o t been adequately treated
in any biography, and specialist articles d e v o t e d to it have been m u c h
influenced by his standing as humanitarian. T h e essay by 1.1. Pusanov in
the Collected Works (vol. Ill, pt : 2) suggests tension b e t w e e n scientific
appraisal and the obligation to maintain a national hero. It should not be
read w i t h o u t the s o m e w h a t m o r e critical annotations in the same
v o l u m e . L. S. Berg's article on M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y as geographer and
traveller (in Otechestvennie ftziko-geograjy i puteshestvenniki, 1959.) does
n o t actually m e n t i o n contributions t o geography. T h e essay by Ya. Ya.
R o g i n s k y and S. A. T o k a r e v in the Collected Works (vol. Ill, pt. 1) is
gently critical o f s o m e deficiencies in Miklouho-Maclay's w o r k as
e t h n o g r a p h e r and anthropologist. O n the whole, I have f o u n d it best to
return to the writings o f Miklouho-Maclay's contemporaries and
near-contemporaries, which are cited in the relevant reference notes.
S o m e o f the w o r k s listed in Section 3 of the Bibliography to the
present book, while adding little or n o t h i n g to the stock o f i n f o r m a t i o n
about the traveller, are interesting as examples o f the d e v e l o p m e n t o f
the M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y cult in Russia and elsewhere.
M
1: The Search for Solitude

C
E W VISITORS disturbed the hotel
JL
Zutn Rossle in late s u m m e r 1864. Perched in the heights o f the
Schwartzwald, f o u r kilometres f r o m any village, it sheltered only the
proprietors and their servants. For days o n end n o wayfarer climbed the
mountain.
TineP said the Russian student w h o w a n d e r e d there f r o m Heidelberg.
It was beautiful, cheap, g o o d for his weak chest and sore eyes. H e could
ramble as he pleased, climbing e v e r y peak and sketching the villages
clustered round their churches. A b o v e all, it was quiet, solitary,
conducive to study and the inner life that was threatened by the chatter
and bustle o f the h u m a n herd. 'Here', he told his m o t h e r , 'here I can say
that I am completely alone'.
Ekaterina S e m y o n o v n a M i k l o u h o , a harassed w o m a n s o m e w h e r e in
St Petersburg or Kiev, k n e w h o w m u c h her son Nikolai Nikolaevich
wanted solitude. She sometimes d o u b t e d his desire f o r uninterrupted
w o r k and strict e c o n o m y . N o t h i n g could be less practicable than the
cautious dream she d r e a m e d f o r the child she had b o r n e at R o z h d c s t -
vensk, N o v g o r o d g o v e r n m e n t , on 17 July 1846, the second of five w h o
w e r e left fatherless in 1857. She saw him as o n e o f the n e w technical
elite, but n o t as a builder of the railways that in d r a w i n g Russia into the
m o d e r n w o r l d had advanced her late husband in g o v e r n m e n t servicc.
H e was to be engineer in a factory, devising better means f o r c o n v e r t i n g
raw materials into saleable goods.
Indications o f her mistake had c o m e early in 1864. A f t e r education
at h o m e , a short time at the Lutheran school o f Saint Anne, a course at
the Second St Petersburg G y m n a s i u m and t w o m o n t h s as external
student in the physico-mathematical faculty o f the university, her
second son had been expelled w i t h o u t right to enter any other Russian
university.

1
2 The Moon Man

T h e r e m i g h t or m i g h t n o t have been political reasons f o r his


expulsion. T h e inspector's r e p o r t r e f e r r e d only to the youth's having
'while in the university buildings, repeatedly b r o k e n the r u l e s . . . ' . For
himself, the ban on entrance to Russian universities seemed providential
rather than punitive. B e f o r e long, his dossier was m a r k e d ' G o n e abroad'.
It was understood that he w o u l d obtain a technical training, b u t he
t h o u g h t it t o o early to put his n a m e d o w n f o r e m p l o y m e n t . N o r should
Ekaterina S e m y o n o v n a w o r r y about his weakness in mathematics. It
was still necessary to 'study and study'.
H e m i g h t have been expected to choose science or medicine, the
subjects that had attracted him as a schoolboy. At Heidelberg he did n o t
join the majority o f Russian students. W h i l e his compatriots pursued the
natural sciences, he concentrated o n philosophy, languages and law.
His life in c o m p a n y with Kant, S c h o p e n h a u e r and G o e t h e was
sufficiently penurious. A decrepit black overcoat concealed a sketchy
w a r d r o b e . His n e w secondhand boots must be explained to Ekaterina
S e m y o n o v n a , as must e x p e n d i t u r e on tuition, rent, f o o d and books.
H e n c e his emphasis o n remittances expected f r o m Russia, the cheapness
o f Schwartzwald holidays, and the progress o f companies in w h i c h his
m o t h e r held shares. In this respect the pattern o f his life was set b e f o r e
he was nineteen. O n l y in study or the solitude o f a m o u n t a i n peak could
he f o r g e t that he was p o o r , u n p r o d u c t i v e , and totally d e p e n d e n t o n
others.
O t h e r w i s e the pattern remained unsettled, the o n e certainty being his
determination to stay abroad. H e could n o t visit Russia unless his return
to G e r m a n y w e r e guaranteed. H e w o u l d not risk being forced into an
engineering course, thence into a factory. H a v i n g b e g u n at Heidelberg
the studies his m o t h e r t h o u g h t a waste o f time, he wished to finish t h e m
there.
H e nevertheless left r o m a n t i c H e i d e l b e r g in spring 1865, to enter the
medical faculty at Leipzig. G e r m a n tradition encouraged a change o f
university. T h e times encouraged a r e t u r n to his earlier interests. Perhaps
his n e w start reflected his m o t h e r ' s pride in her grandfather, w h o had
been physician to Prussian and Polish kings. Perhaps it was p r o m p t e d by
the spirit o f a time w h e n Russian y o u t h learned to despise all but the
'practical', to c o u n t art superfluous, p o e t r y a bore and philosophy an
i m p e d i m e n t to the liberation o f the people. Nikolai M i k l o u h o had had
to d e f e n d himself against hints that he cared insufficiently f o r the p o o r
and oppressed, political justice and the rights o f w o m e n .
His earlier political interests did seem to have faded. At nineteen he
was t o o m u c h the intellectual aristocrat to give himself w h o l l y to the
'practical', t o o solitary to be a politician, t o o m u c h oppressed by w o m e n
to w o r k for their emancipation. Q u o t i n g S c h o p e n h a u e r ( w h o was
q u o t i n g an admired mystic), he had let fall some w o r d s — ' T o me,
The Search for Solitude 3

e v e r y t h i n g is indifferent'—that he could neither disown n o r frankly


adopt. In medicine, his activity m i g h t p r o v i d e its o w n justification.
At Leipzig he heard lectures only f o r the s u m m e r o f 1865. T h e city
was t o o large and noisy; he preferred the tranquil life o f the smaller
university towns. Little Jena o f f e r e d m o r e than semi-rural peace, as yet
u n b r o k e n by the railway. Its university had b e c o m e the centre o f
diffusion for the t h o u g h t o f Charles Darwin, w i t h philosophical
elaborations far b e y o n d anything that modest naturalist imagined. T h e r e
w e r e reports o f living things t o o simple to be true cells, dots o f
protoplasm that bridged the gulf b e t w e e n animate and inanimate
nature. T h e r e w e r e m e n prepared t o say that all t r u e science is
philosophy and all true philosophy is science, and in this sense all true
science is natural philosophy', ultimately to fashion f r o m Darwin's
t h e o r y a n e w religion o f the uncreated universe. T h e r e w e r e privately
circulated essays on the descent o f man, h o r r i f y i n g the o r t h o d o x and
attracting by r u m o u r a swarm o f students to the university. For w i n t e r
1 8 6 5 - 6 6 , Nikolai M i k l o u h o joined a virtual migration to Jena.
Again he enrolled as a medical student, following a condensed course
in natural science, d e v o t e d to comparative a n a t o m y u n d e r Carl
G e g e n b a u r and zoology u n d e r Ernst Haeckel. By the end o f s u m m e r
1866 he was an assistant to Haeckel, rather a favourite with b o t h
celebrated professors, o n e o f zoology's c o m i n g m e n . Ekaterina
S e m y o n o v n a considered comparative a n a t o m y and experimental
zoology as useless, expensive and unhealthy as philosophy. T h e i r
correspondence d u r i n g this period was n o t o n e either party wished to
preserve.
His teacher Ernst Haeckel, at t h i r t y - t w o , regarded his o w n life as
finished. T h e death o f his w i f e t w o years b e f o r e seemed a b l o w he could
n o t survive. A m i d tempests o f s o r r o w and the struggles p r o v o k e d by
his e x t r e m e Darwinism, he had proposed to end his life as he originally
m e a n t to begin it, as a scientific traveller in distant lands. But his friend
T. H. H u x l e y had discouraged his wish to j o i n a British expedition.
H u x l e y having f u r t h e r laid it d o w n that the times required organization
rather than increase o f k n o w l e d g e , the G e r m a n professor decided to use
his remaining days in o n e vast e f f o r t to organize knowledge. Hardly
sleeping, living like a hermit, he e x p o u n d e d his t h o u g h t in a 'last great
work'. By a u t u m n 1866 the General Morphology of Organisms, t w o
v o l u m e s containing m o r e than 1200 c r o w d e d pages, was with the
printer. Its author, in a physical and mental state that alarmed his friends,
asked leave to undertake his 'last voyage' after his 'last book'. H e
proposed to take w i t h him medical students H e r m a n n Fol and Nikolai
Miklouho.
T h e y o u n g Russian n o w had prospects f o r w h i c h most students
w o u l d give a great deal—a j o u r n e y t h r o u g h France, Spain and Portugal,
4 The Moon Man

followed by three or f o u r m o n t h s on subtropical islands. It w o u l d be


his first j o u r n e y outside Europe, his first scientific expedition. Y e t his
o u t w a r d response was marked by the coolness with which he greeted
all prospects that w e r e n o t positively disagreeable. H e m i g h t have been
sixty years old w h e n he d r o p p e d a note to his y o u n g sister, enclosing a
p h o t o g r a p h and advising in t w o sentences that he was o f f to the Canary
Islands. But for a passing reference to H e r m a n n Fol, he might have been
alone. But for his criticism o f the photograph, it seemed that to him
e v e r y t h i n g was indifferent.
Haeckel and his senior c o m p a n i o n Richard Greeff, a lecturer f r o m
Bonn, made a pilgrimage to England to visit Darwin. T h e students w e n t
direct to Lisbon, w h e n c e the w h o l e party sailed f o r Funchal in
m i d - N o v e m b e r 1866. Brief inspection o f Madeira sufficed for Haeckel.
Strengthened by talks with Darwin, the professor still thirsted f o r the
' p o w e r f u l restorative* o f Tenerife, o f which another o f his masters,
Alexander v o n H u m b o l d t , had said that no place was 'better calculated
to banish s o r r o w and restore peace to an embittered soul'. A w e e k after
they left Lisbon, a Prussian warship set the travellers d o w n at Santa Cruz.
It was n o t f o r students to describe such events as the obligatory ascent
o f the Pico de Tiede. Haeckel, the only one to struggle t h r o u g h s n o w
to the rim o f the crater, w o u l d rhapsodize in print. G r e e f f planned a
b o o k about their j o u r n e y . T h e real business began for M i k l o u h o w h e n
a sailing vessel landed t h e m at the capital o f Lanzarote.
T h e advice that sent t h e m there seemed to have elements of malice.
Lanzarote is the easternmost o f the group, about seventy kilometres
long and forbiddingly barren. W i n d s f r o m the Sahara sweep over its
chains of craters, lava flows, m a r c h i n g sand dunes and sparse vegetation.
At first glance, all life seemed concentrated on and in the sea. Q u a r t e r e d
in houses with unglazed w i n d o w s , the visitors soon wished first
impressions w e r e m o r e reliable. Swarms o f bloodthirsty insects made
life on Lanzarote a constant t o r m e n t .
Y e t m o r e than nostalgia m a d e the scientists look back on the place
affectionately. T h e lunar landscape invited M i k l o u h o to use his pencil,
as did the stark little coastal settlements with their fishing craft and
windmills. T h e sea that had its place in almost every picture yielded its
o w n delicate beauties. F r o m currents that w e r e almost rivers o f
plankton, the nets d r e w material f o r half a dozen monographs, quickly
o v e r c o m i n g Haeckel's sense o f undertaking his 'last voyage' after his 'last
book'. Each naturalist concentrated on o n e or t w o departments o f
marine zoology. M i k l o u h o w o r k e d on t w o groups o f animals almost at
opposite poles o f marine life, the fishes and the sponges.
In the first d e p a r t m e n t his physical activity was unadventurous; f o r
specimens he walked to Arrecife market. T h e mental activity inspiring
in verged on the grandiose. At t w e n t y , after three semesters o f f o r m a l
The Search for Solitude 5

study, he c o n t e m p l a t e d an e x h a u s t i v e w o r k o n t h e c o m p a r a t i v e
n e u r o l o g y o f t h e vertebrates, f r o m t h e lancelet t o m a n .
His second c o n c e r n left m o r e traces in m e m o r i e s o f Lanzarotc. O n
b r o k e n masses o f lava a b o u t t h e h a r b o u r and o n the r e e f b e l o w t h e old
f o r t , he f o u n d a p r o f u s i o n o f sponges, patches o f y e l l o w , red and violet
revealed a m o n g s e a w e e d at l o w tide. H e r e c o g n i z e d their beauty, b u t
m o r e than this attracted him. Haeckel c o n t e n d e d that t h e natural history
o f sponges, especially t h e small calcareous f o r m s , p r e s e n t e d a ' c o n n e c t e d
and striking a r g u m e n t in f a v o u r o f D a r w i n ' . In w i n t e r 1 8 6 6 - 6 7 , after
visits to D o w n and in anticipation o f a f u r i o u s r e c e p t i o n f o r the General
Morphology, such e v i d e n c e was particularly desirable. W h e n Haeckel
incited his pupil t o investigate sponges, h e e x p e c t e d f a r - r e a c h i n g results.
In spartan s u r r o u n d i n g s , t h e naturalists possessed t h e m e a n s o f
intellectual luxury. Haeckel c o u l d r e c o u n t his conversations w i t h
D a r w i n , 'a v e n e r a b l e sage o f ancient G r e e c e , a Socrates or an Aristotle'.
H e m i g h t discuss t h e equally r e v e r e d G o e t h e and H u m b o l d t , or declare
his acceptance o f Lamarck's ideas o n 'use and disuse' and t h e inheritance
o f acquired characters. H e m i g h t e x p o u n d his o w n e x t r e m e version o f
the ' b i o g e n e t i c law', a c c o r d i n g to w h i c h animal e m b r y o s recapitulated
t h e f o r m s o f their m o s t r e m o t e ancestors. T h e r e w e r e equally e x c i t i n g
possibilities in t h e b r a n c h o f science Haeckel had recently d e f i n e d and
n a m e d 'ecology'. Haeckel's researches o n t h e colonial n a t u r e o f creatures
like t h e P o r t u g u e s e m a n - o ' - w a r caused e x c i t e m e n t . So did his discovery
o f an o r a n g e - r e d speck o f jelly that appeared to h a v e n o nucleus. H e
declared this 'the m o s t simple organism', and placed it a m o n g his
' M o n e r a ' , t h e formless p r o d u c t s o f s p o n t a n e o u s g e n e r a t i o n , t h e h y p o -
thetical b e g i n n i n g s o f life o n earth.
If he cared to speak o f personal matters, as h e o f t e n did, Haeckel could
describe his r a p t u r o u s j o u r n e y in Italy six years b e f o r e , especially his stay
at Messina, a place b r o u g h t t o m i n d by t h e local c o n d i t i o n s and
a b u n d a n t m a r i n e fauna o f Lanzarote. R e a c h i n g f a r t h e r back, h e could
reveal his early a m b i t i o n t o b e c o m e a scientific traveller in t h e tropics,
d r e a m l i k e lands w h o s e e x t r a v a g a n c e still h a u n t e d his imagination.
M u c h that was in Haeckel's m i n d f o u n d its natural w a y i n t o his
pupil's, s o m e t i m e s m o d i f i e d in transit. M i k l o u h o t o o k D a r w i n i s m m o r e
o r less f o r granted. H e m o r e consciously accepted inheritance o f
acquired charactcrs as 'the law o f inheritance', ready to apply it in
s w e e p i n g ways. H e was equally p r e p a r e d t o be g u i d e d by the ' b i o g e n e t i c
law' and t o appreciate t h e i m p o r t a n c e o f ecology. T a l k o f Italy and t h e
tropics was t h e s t u f f that deeds are m a d e o f
M e a n w h i l e he t r u d g e d to and f r o m t h e fish m a r k e t , r a n g e d the shores
and reefs, m a d e c a r e f u l scientific d r a w i n g s or sketched the f l a t - r o o f e d
houses and e m p t y streets o f Arrecife. A m o n g t h e e q u i p m e n t and
materials o f their w o r k , h e and Haeckel posed f o r p h o t o g r a p h s , a r m s
6 The Moon Man

about each other's shoulders, the student rather lifted o f f his feet by the
e m b r a c e o f his tall, proprietorial master. W h e n they faced the camera
m o r e formally, wearing careless neckties and high, soft boots, Haeckel
sat relaxed but alert, ready to display the athleticism that had w o n a
laurel c r o w n in the long j u m p . S o m b r e and intense, M i k l o u h o leaned
on the handle o f his net like s o m e rebel m o u n t a i n e e r u p o n a rifle, an
oilskin hanging cloak-like f r o m one shoulder. Haeckel held a dried
starfish as t h o u g h it w e r e a rose. M i k l o u h o clutched w h a t m i g h t have
been a dagger. In their o w n persons, votaries of philosophy and science
paid tribute t o r o m a n t i c art.
It became difficult to remain either romantic or philosophical on
Lanzarote. A f t e r killing six thousand fleas, Haeckel conceded defeat,
a n n o u n c i n g that they w o u l d leave the island a m o n t h earlier than
originally planned. M i k l o u h o did n o t w e l c o m e the interruption. H e had
w o r k e d with g r o w i n g interest on sponges, finding apparently n e w
species and making observations on living animals. His attention
fastened especially o n w h a t seemed at least three ' n e w ' calcareous
sponges—one a tiny, simple t u b e on a flexible stalk, the second a larger,
stalked, pear-shaped b o d y w i t h m a n y openings, the third an almost
formless mass spreading over the rocks. H e had decided that these
different f o r m s w e r e specifically one, evidence o f the e x t r e m e vari-
ability that caused Haeckel to d o u b t w h e t h e r calcareous sponges ever
f o r m e d 'good species', important f o r the natural history o f colonial
f o r m s and for evolutionary t h e o r y in general. H e had theories to test
and experiments under way, reluctantly abandoned w h e n the party left
Lanzarote.
W i t h t i m e to spare they crossed to M o r o c c o , a c o u n t r y that still
represented adventure. T h e land was torn by rebellion and tribal war.
R o b b e r y and m u r d e r w e r e a way o f life. Hatred o f foreigners became
almost a religion as the populace struggled to preserve mediaeval ways
against European encroachment. A l o n g the coast foreigners controlled
trade and customs revenue, ran postal services and voyaged b e t w e e n
M o r o c c a n ports on French and British steamers. O n l y t w o Europeans
w e r e k n o w n to live in the interior, and they lived in disguise.
At dazzling M o g a d o r , the naturalists stayed just long e n o u g h f o r
M i k l o u h o to sketch the m o s q u e and customs house and search
unsuccessfully f o r his protean n e w sponge. T h e most cursory e n q u i r y
revealed that Europeans f r o m the port v e n t u r e d to the capital only at
intervals of years, in strong a r m e d parties. A glimpse o f Marrakesh
entailed a f o u r - d a y j o u r n e y on roads exposed to attack by bandits,
w h e r e water was so scarce that each s u m m e r m e n and animals died o f
thirst. Holy Marrakesh, once a legend f o r wealth and culture, had
b e c o m e the h o m e o f barbarism and misery, fever and fanaticism. A visit
was an undertaking f r o m w h i c h a traveller m i g h t m a k e half a book.
Nikolai Ilich Miklouho (d. 1857), Miklouho-Maclay with a friend in
Miklouho-Maclav's father St Petersburg, about 1862

In St Petersburg, about 1864


Olga as her brother saw her
Olga, Miklouho-Maclay's sister

Sergei Miklouho, Miklouho-Maclay's older


brother
The Search for Solitude 7

Hacckcl and G r c c f f took ship f o r Gibraltar. T h e students set out f o r


Marrakesh, w e a r i n g M o r o c c a n dress, w e l l - m o u n t e d , and equipped w i t h
a large tent. Disguised effectively e n o u g h to remain a f e w minutes in
o n e place, M i k l o u h o sketched scenes along the way, the party's camps
and animals, architectural details, a lonely shrine, a r o m a n t i c bridge, a
v i e w of the Great Atlas. W h e n he returned to the coast he had
u n d o u b t e d l y learnt m u c h amid scenes that shook European faith in the
need f o r sanitary laws and caused s o m e d o u b t as to w h e t h e r slavery was
always an unmitigated evil. N o t yet ready to use such material, he
resumed the quest f o r sponges.
T h e travellers pursued their h o m e w a r d way by steamer, calling
briefly at those ports w h e r e the surf p e r m i t t e d a landing. At Mazagan
the y o u n g Russian sketched the remains o f centuries of Portuguese
occupation, and searched the dreary shore in vain. T h e absence of that
most interesting o f sponges remained u p p e r m o s t in his thoughts as he
viewed t u m b l e d o w n , fever-stricken Casablanca, passed t h r o u g h
Tangier and crossed to Gibraltar. A r o u n d Algeciras Bay, w h e r e the
reunited party spent s o m e weeks, he again sought but did not find the
h u m b l e organism that d o m i n a t e d his imagination. W h e n they set o u t
for Jena, the student had, like his master, theories e n o u g h to occupy him
for years. A n y energies left over f r o m investigation o f the vertebrate
brain w o u l d be d e v o t e d to animals that had long been regarded as plants.
His first published research concerned neither sponges n o r the brain.
R e t u r n i n g to Jena bronzed, fit, bursting w i t h scientific plans and ready
to m a r r y again, Haeckel f o u n d that his revolutionary testament had
fallen remarkably flat. T h e silence might be that of i m p o t e n t rage.
Perhaps it showed that the controversy Haeckel m e a n t to stir was lost
a m o n g the technicalities o f his masterpiece. H e began the shorter, less
technical w o r k suggested by Carl Gegenbaur. T o be presented first as a
course o f lectures, this 'popular' exposition was intended to p r o v o k e a
sluggish e n e m y . But b e f o r e o p e n i n g his war, Hacckcl had to m e n d his
defences. As part o f that operation, Nikolai M i k l o u h o investigated the
'swimbladder' or 'air bladder', the gas-filled sac w h i c h in most b o n y
fishes serves as a hydrostatic apparatus.
Assuming that the 'simple' swimbladder was m o r e 'primitive' than
the c o m p l e x lung to w h i c h e m b r y o l o g y related it, D a r w i n had
suggested that vertebrates w i t h lungs evolved f r o m an ancient and
u n k n o w n p r o t o t y p e . . . furnished w i t h a floating apparatus'. G e g e n b a u r
had shown, to Haeckel's satisfaction, that the u n k n o w n ancestor o f
m o d e r n fishes and air-breathing vertebrates was a sharklike animal. T h e
great obstacle to uniting these t w o ideas was the fact that m o d e r n adult
sharks have n o swim bladders. O n l y the 'biogenetic law' could save all
interests. S o m e investigator must find, in e m b r y o s of living forms, the
evidence of an organ m o r e necessary f o r the scientists than f o r sharks.
8 The Moon Man

M i k l o u h o was satisfied that 'undifferentiated' sharklike fishes w e r e


both 'the point of departure for o t h e r fishes' and 'the origin o f higher
vertebrates'. H e f o u n d the evidence in e m b r y o s o f the lowlier sharks, a
forward-directed pocket o f m u c o u s m e m b r a n e arising f r o m the gullet,
m i n u t e but consistently detectable. G e g e n b a u r t h o u g h t this could be
'regarded as the r u d i m e n t o f an air-bladder'. Haeckel unconditionally
adopted it. If the little m e m b r a n e o u s pocket existed as a r u d i m e n t in the
ancestral shark, it could evolve as a swim bladder in one line o f descent
and lungs in the other. If it was, as M i k l o u h o preferred, the vestige o f
an organ that had been functional in the ancestors, the t h e o r y remained
intact.
T h e results so acceptable to the teachers (neither o f w h o m cited
M i k l o u h o as authority for their statements) w e r e quickly obtained in
early s u m m e r 1867, and immediately printed in the scientific journal o f
w h i c h G e g e n b a u r was the m o v i n g spirit. In t r i u m p h a n t lectures and in
the b o o k evolved f r o m t h e m , his f a m o u s Histor)> of Creation, Haeckel
spoke confidently o f the swimbladder possessed by the ancient 'Prosel-
achii'. M i k l o u h o returned t o medical studies and w o r k on materials
collected abroad. But n o t f o r long. H e left Jena again that a u t u m n to
study sponge collections in European museums. In Sweden, the ultimate
goal o f the excursion, he applied to join an expedition led by Baron
A d o l f Nordenskiold.
T h e explorer could count on three zoologists, seasoned by previous
Arctic voyages. M i k l o u h o returned w i t h n o t h i n g to s h o w but sketches
o f romantic Scandinavia and notes on sponges preserved in Berlin,
C o p e n h a g e n and Stockholm. In a way this was fortunate. N o man was
less suited t o life aboard the tiny, c r o w d e d vessel in w h i c h the
expedition presently departed. H e needed solitude and loathed noise,
dreaded cold and secretly feared the sea. If his destiny d e m a n d e d the
heroic life, it could not be fulfilled by a voyage aimed at the N o r t h Pole.
H e conceived the h e r o clearly, as 'an extraordinary person . . . w h o '
w o u l d wish to help everyone, to teach everyone'. This being was
innately noble, perhaps self-disciplined by the kind o f asceticism that
Nikolai Chernyshevsky imposed u p o n the h e r o o f his celebrated novel
What is to be Done? Chernyshevsky, an early influence in the scientist's
life, had been exiled to Siberia f o u r years before. His characterization o f
the austere, fearless, didactic and totally materialist h e r o remained as a
model for Russian youth. But w h e n M i k l o u h o looked into his o w n
heart, he f o u n d n o t h i n g resembling that selfless revolutionary. H e saw,
or professed to see,
. . . a tiresome egoist, completely indifferent to the lives and
aspirations o f other, w o r t h y folk, even ridiculing t h e m ; w h o obeys
only his o w n desires, striving by o n e means or another to put an end
to his b o r e d o m ; w h o considers virtue, friendship, m a g n a n i m i t y to be
The Search for Solitude 9

only fine words, pleasantly soothing to the eager cars o f g o o d people.

T h e self-portrait lost s o m e confessional value in the context. In w h a t


he t h o u g h t a 'quite original manner', his path had crossed that o f a y o u n g
G e r m a n w o m a n visiting F r a n k f u r t - a m - M a i n . N o w she urgently
s u m m o n e d him to her side. His self-appraisal was ostensibly meant to
dispel h e r illusions. Adding s o m e a d v i c e — ' W h e n y o u wish to see people
as splendid and interesting, observe t h e m only f r o m afar'—he seemingly
did e v e r y t h i n g to repel a deluded admirer. Y e t he took measures to
preserve and strengthen this tie. Depicting himself as an e m p t y cynic,
he a v o w e d a nature 'not quite m a d e to the measure o f ordinary w o r t h y
people', depths left u n p l u m b e d by a f e w hours acquaintance and t w o or
three letters. Emphasizing his inability to save Auguste Seligman, he
implied that he himself needed and deserved salvation. T h e challenge
to r e d e e m a lost soul, irresistible to any y o u n g w o m a n w o r t h her salt,
concluded w i t h promises o f a sudden, pleasant and interesting m e e t i n g
in the spring.
T o enthral a troubled y o u n g lady, he posed byronically, m u c h as he
struck an attitude f o r the camera on Lanzarote or leaned, w e a r i n g
M o r o c c a n dress, u p o n a classical pillar in the studio o f a Jena
photographer. In his t w e n t y - s e c o n d year he tried 011 selves like
garments—cool, objective scientist, r o m a n t i c traveller, w e a r y cynic or
potential hero. Y e t he truly was n o t m a d e to the measure o f ordinary
people, n o r was he easy to k n o w , perhaps least o f all to himself In 1868
he symbolized his quest f o r distinctive identity by adopting a n e w name,
adding to his Zaporozhian Cossack s u r n a m e a f u r t h e r difficulty o f
pronunciation and spelling. S o m e believed the n a m e 'Maclay' was that
o f Scottish ancestors w h o had migrated to Russia b e f o r e the eighteenth
century, distinguished themselves in military service and been e n n o b l e d
by Catherine the Great. O t h e r s t h o u g h t the n a m e had been used by o n e
o f the scientist's grandfathers. O t h e r s still, on Miklouho-Maclay's
authority, maintained that his g r a n d m o t h e r had been Scottish-born. T h e
n e w or revived n a m e may have d r a w n h i m closer to his ancestors or to
the fashion f o r things Scottish. It b r o u g h t him n o closer to living
relatives, for his father's b r o t h e r and his o w n elder b r o t h e r never used
it, and his m o t h e r ' s family remained content w i t h the n a m e o f Bekker.
T h e n a m e Maclay or Maclcay—popularly believed to be f r o m the
Gaelic 'Mac an Leigh', m e a n i n g 'Son o f the Physician', f u r t h e r distin-
guished as the original family n a m e o f Livingstone the e x p l o r e r — p e r -
haps expressed d e t e r m i n a t i o n f o r the future. For the present it identified
his uniqueness, distancing him f r o m both Russia and his relatives.
Additional distance hardly seemed necessary. T h e great phase o f
r e f o r m in Russia had been succeeded by o n e o f reaction, but Nikolai
Nikolaevich was still treated with an indifference that testified to the
10 The Moon Man

insignificance o f his misdeeds. H e was free to enter and leave his


h o m e l a n d as he chose. H e nevertheless associated so little w i t h
compatriots that he believed his Russian was b e c o m i n g i n c o m p r e h e n -
sible. S o m e t i m e s he felt that n o o n e tried to understand it, particularly
w h e n he w r o t e about m o n e y .
M o n e y or the lack o f it d o m i n a t e d his existence, perhaps one reason
w h y he 110 longer lived alone. In 1868 he shared a flat with Prince
Alexander Alexandrovich Meshchersky, an old schoolfriend w h o was
studying law. A m e m b e r o f o n e o f Russia's most aristocratic and erratic
families, Meshchersky seemed b o r n to represent his country's 'super-
fluous men'—talented, idealistic and wealthy, but directionless, vacillat-
ing, given to alternate enthusiasm and ennui. Sympathy f o r m e d o n e
element in his relationship with the naturalist, w h o s e p o v e r t y was plain
to see. Admiration was clearly another. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y (as he was
d e t e r m i n e d to be called) displayed all the energy and decision that
Meshchersky lacked. W h e t h e r or n o t Meshchersky k n e w all about his
friend—perceived, f o r instance, the traits sketched f o r the girl in
F r a n k f u r t — h e displayed c o m p l e t e faith in one n o t m a d e to the measure
o f ordinary people. For his part, Nikolai Nikolaevich felt there was
hardly anyone m o r e closely linked to him than this y o u n g aristocrat
w h o personified the qualities least appropriate to the finished portrait
o f Miklouho-Maclay.
B e t w e e n his scientific 'family' and the society o f a friend he called
'brother', he rarely missed the family o f his birth. H e sometimes
w o n d e r e d w h e t h e r his m o t h e r and sister lived in St Petersburg, Kiev or
Samara. T h e doings o f his older b r o t h e r Sergei and the y o u n g e r boys
Vladimir and Mikhail w e r e equally mysterious. As his letters remained
unread or unanswered, it became clear that the distance separating the
family f r o m its most ambitious m e m b e r could not be measured solely
in kilometres or versts.
Perhaps Ekaterina S e m y o n o v n a and her other sons w e r e n o t entirely
to blame. Nikolai Nikolaevich tended to be p e r f u n c t o r y in expressing
filial or fraternal concern. His letters conveyed n o t h i n g o f the scientific
w o r k in which his m o t h e r was required to have c o m p l e t e faith, n o n e
o f the e x c i t e m e n t o f study and travel in foreign lands. Brief and
businesslike, they w e r e w r i t t e n w h e n his allowance failed to arrive or
was needed before its d u e date. T h e ensuing silence left him to feel the
prccariousness o f his position, or to suspect that, as 'the kind o f person
w h o needs a g o o d deal', he placed an u n d u e tax on his m o t h e r ' s
resources. Such suspicions never noticeably influenced his plans. C o n -
strained by personal needs or by her unpredictable will, by the influence
o f her b r o t h e r or by h o p e that her son m i g h t be forced into the path
she chose, Ekaterina S e m y o n o v n a could ignore t w o or three letters.
M o n e y , w h e n it came, was accompanied by strictures 011 studies that
The Search for Solitude 11

cost a f o r t u n e , ruined the eyes and b r o u g h t n o tangible benefits. M o n e y


always came eventually.
S o m e t i m e s it came as the result o f his sister's intercession. In earlier
years Olga Nikolaevna had received occasional laconically playful notes,
c r u m b s f r o m the table o f her brother's a d v e n t u r o u s existence, a c c o m -
panied by photographs f o r her album. His latest brief visit to Russia had
introduced him to a n e w Olga, an attractive y o u n g girl, eager to learn,
nursing aspirations as r e m o t e as his o w n f r o m the limited aims their
m o t h e r preferred. M o r e than any other o f the family, Olga resembled
him. She also revealed a capacity f o r usefulness. As part o f their alliance
o f kindred minds, Olga became her brother's agent, f o r w a r d i n g his
books and c o m f o r t s to Jena, passing on papers and photographs to
scientific contacts in St Petersburg. She became the confidante in
financial anxiety, the mediator w h e n it was necessary to ask m o t h e r '
about m o n e y .
Juggling debts and deploring the effect o f uncertainty u p o n his w o r k ,
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y looked ahead to a sojourn in Italy. His second
scientific paper was published late in spring 1868, a description o f the
highly variable sponge discovered on Lanzarotc, with remarks on its
biological significance. H e presented his results clearly and authorita-
tively. H e displayed a comprehensive k n o w l e d g e o f the literature,
except f o r the m o s t recent publications in English. Systematists noticed
the lack o f a precise 'diagnosis' f o r the n e w genus, but his sponge was
amply illustrated and t h o r o u g h l y discussed in a rather unconventional
style. T h e dearth o f experimental details to support his m o r e far-
reaching statements was not exceptional f o r the time.
U p to a point, his w o r k did not conflict w i t h established opinion.
C o n t e m p o r a r y zoology recognized the liability o f sponges to vary in
f o r m under the influence o f e n v i r o n m e n t , kept an open m i n d as to h o w
sponge colonies w e r e f o r m e d , and entertained m o r e than o n e view o f
their affinities. T h e idea that sponges w e r e best g r o u p e d with corals and
sea a n e m o n e s had prevailed a m o n g naturalists f r o m Linnaeus to Cuvier,
at least a m o n g those w h o did not regard these animals as plants.
Respected scientists had recently revived it in modified f o r m .
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y claimed only to supply the p r o o f that had been
missing, while placing the sponges closer to the corals than his
predecessors supposed. His basic propositions w e r e that the sponge's
internal spaces corresponded in both d e v e l o p m e n t and function to the
digestive cavity o f a coral polyp, and that the so-called 'osculum'
t h r o u g h w h i c h water is expelled also serves as the sponge's m o u t h . But
this was quite e n o u g h t o bring about a revolution in the subject.
G e n t l e m e n w h o had studied these animals for f o r t y years and m o r e
w e r e told that their observations w e r e inadequate, their ideas o f sponge
anatomy and physiology entirely mistaken.
12 The Moon Man

T h e n e w views w e r e not immediately attacked, a surprising o u t c o m e


in a field w h e r e the placidity o f the subject was equalled by the
touchiness o f its students. Ernst Haeckel had already w e l c o m e d the
p r o o f o f the coelenterate nature o f sponges. H e p r o m p t l y began w o r k
on sponges himself, obviously eager to abandon his earlier opinions.
Critics o f this theory had reason to save their a m m u n i t i o n f o r the
weightier o p p o n e n t .
Self-confidence also marked Miklouho-Maclay's next publication, a
preliminary c o m m u n i c a t i o n o f w o r k on the brain. In his opinion, this
research left 'no d o u b t ' that all other anatomists had mistaken the
midbrain o f sharks f o r the cerebellum. Established names f o r parts o f
the fish brain w o u l d have to be changed. By giving the sharks a
cerebellum n o better developed than that o f the frog, his results also
seemed to support the hypothesis that m a d e primitive sharks the starting
point for the evolution o f b o n y fishes and land-dwelling vertebrates.
Carl G e g e n b a u r decided to revise his t e x t b o o k o f comparative a n a t o m y
to agree with his pupil's interpretation.
Behind the poised y o u n g anatomist, the student was swamped by
debts, rather frightened by his V e r y unenviable position'. Alarm and
testiness crept into his account o f himself—constantly ill, suffering f r o m
bad eyes, s h o w e r e d w i t h bills and left, 'thanks to the Russian post and a
n o n - a n s w e r i n g m o t h e r ' , in m o s t u n c o m f o r t a b l e uncertainty. T h e
m o n e y that released him f r o m Jena and his most pressing debts was a
m e r e palliative. H e w o u l d return 'as before, w i t h o u t a kopeck', in
i m m e d i a t e need o f m o r e funds.
Ekaterina S e m y o n o v n a to s o m e extent deserved the bitter o v e r t o n e s
that accompanicd her son's demands. R e j e c t i n g his vague o f f e r to
relieve her o f the burden, she had undertaken to support him f o r five
years abroad. W h e n those years turned out to include extensive travels,
she had neither the means to grant his wishes freely n o r the w i l l - p o w e r
to refuse outright. T h e son w h o addressed her as 'Mia cara Madre!\ in
anticipation o f his n e w Italian identity, reacted with a m i x t u r e o f pride
and humility, pleading and ruthlessness, exhortations to be as candid as
he, c o m b i n e d w i t h evidence that n o candour on her part could alter his
decision. H e k n e w the objections by heart: that he was wasteful, lived
b e y o n d their means, encroached u p o n the rights o f brothers and sister.
T h e answer w o u l d appear in his w o r k , p r o o f that he never wasted t i m e
or m o n e y . Meanwhile, his m o t h e r should prepare herself for the cost
o f his next j o u r n e y .
Just as Ekaterina S e m y o n o v n a ' s attempt at control t h r o u g h the
financial lever was probably unconscious, Nikolai Nikolaevich detected
n o self-interest in his self-imposed necessities or ruthlessness in his
determination. His needs w e r e those of science, his travels undertaken
exclusively for research. B u r d e n e d with p r o o f o f m o r e than scientific
The Search for Solitude 13

points, obliged also to justify the scientist in the eyes o f his family, his
w o r k required his presence in Sicily. T o Sicily he w e n t in a u t u m n 1868,
betraying n o n e o f the elated uncertainty w i t h w h i c h Ernst Haeckel had
j o u r n e y e d south eight years before.
Hacckcl in Italy was as outdated as Byron's Harold. Biologists n o
longer rambled t h r o u g h the peninsula rhapsodizing o v e r o r a n g e -
blossom, seas and sunsets and getting d r u n k w i t h painters. T h e y came
for specific purposes, stuck to their microscopes, and w e n t h o m e to
publish reports on beauties inaccessible to the unaided senses. Italy did
impress M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y as a c o u n t r y w h e r e he could live. A soft
sketch o f a gondola on a Venetian canal revealed interests less
u n c o m p r o m i s i n g l y scientific than his letters allowed. O t h e r w i s e he
seemed n o m o r e concerned w i t h the face o f Italy than with its politics
and brigandage.
Apart f r o m Mafia m u r d e r s and an autonomist plot, the Sicilians
stayed quiet that winter while mainland Italy rioted. T h e land itself was
less tranquil. Etna erupted, thrilling the c r o w d s as far away as Malta.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y slept t h r o u g h an earthquake that kept the populace
alert all night.
For most o f his stay he was the guest of his wealthy, cultivated
colleague, A n t o n D o h r n . In a spacious, c o m f o r t a b l e apartment, assisted
by D o h r n ' s array o f instruments and portable aquaria, he continued his
research. Investigating the brain o f the chimaera or rat-fish, he again
obtained startling results which w e r e for a t i m e adopted by Gegenbaur.
In the c o m p l e x conditions o f the Strait of Messina, an investigator m i g h t
devote years to the effects o f external factors o n marine life. Yet
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y regarded with dissatisfaction the superb view o u t -
spread b e l o w the Palazzo Vitalc. Like the celebrated Fata M o r g a n a of
the Strait, the sponges he w a n t e d w e r e always elsewhere.
It m i g h t already be t o o late to find these urgently needed animals. In
a Paris m u s e u m he had seen specimens f r o m Indo-Pacific waters,
directly contradicting his published views on the structure of sponges.
But he argued that these objects preserved in m u s e u m s did not reliably
represent living animals. H e m u s t observe the creatures in their natural
state, then decide w h e t h e r his opinions stood unchanged. Plans for a
j o u r n e y to the R e d Sea e m e r g e d , half-recognized as preliminary to
f u r t h e r travels. M e a n w h i l e his endangered results w e r e in the hands o f
the scientific world. Haeckel was preparing a m o n o g r a p h in which the
opinions of M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y w o u l d be used to support daring
generalizations.
W h i l e Maclay awaited funds to leave Messina, his host was in a
troubled state o f mind. At n o t i m e since abandoning his academic career
had D o h r n f o u n d satisfaction in his w o r k . B e n e v o l e n t d o m i n a t i o n by
Haeckel and G e g e n b a u r was a thing o f the past. I m p o r t u n a t e students
14 The Moon Man

n o longer kept him f r o m original research. H e remained a prisoner,


dissatisfied w i t h life and Europe, thinking o f escape to the Tropics.
Impulsive, imaginative and subject to n e r v o u s depression, D o h r n
recognized his o w n ' m a n y peculiarities' as clearly as did his guest, and as
easily forgave t h e m . H e did not blame t h e m f o r his disappointing results.
Pondering the 'accident' that m a d e him a zoologist, the question marks
hanging over the f u t u r e , he f o u n d concrete reasons f o r his frustration.
In Scotland it had been caused by w e a t h e r that prevented his
obtaining research material. In a Sicilian w i n t e r that behaved like spring,
he was still beset by obstacles. T o o m u c h time was lost in obtaining and
identifying, preparing and maintaining the materials for embryological
studies. H e believed his c o m p a n i o n was equally oppressed by the sense
o f a c h i e v e m e n t falling short o f expectations. These impressions led
D o h r n back to an idea dating f r o m his first f i e l d - w o r k with Haeckel:
the necessity for research stations w h e r e zoologists, finding e v e r y t h i n g
ready to hand, could concentrate u p o n e x p e r i m e n t and thought.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y at the time complained only o f the unsatisfactory
fauna, his ' n o n - a n s w e r i n g m o t h e r ' and the state o f his eyes, w h i c h
required 'expensive' rest in a distant region. H e agreed that zoologists
needed convenient laboratories by the sea. H e and D o h r n o f t e n
discussed the matter, decided to leave their e q u i p m e n t as the nucleus f o r
a station at Messina, attempted to collect donations to start the project.
W i t h i n general a g r e e m e n t , they t h o u g h t o f a zoological station in
different terms. T o M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y it w o u l d be a quiet, bare place, a
hermitage w h e r e the researcher m i g h t delve and meditate, secure f r o m
the world's intrusion. For D o h r n it became a t e m p l e and showcase o f
science, w h e r e savants o f all nations, relieved o f d r u d g e r y by a staff o f
assistants, w o u l d w o r k alone or co-operatively in their sanctum while
the public visited the outer halls. Instead of presenting 'the ridiculous
aspect o f a man in child's dress', Darwinian biology w o u l d have
institutional clothing equal to that w o r n by the physical sciences. It
would b e c o m e capable o f progress 'even if all the universities w e r e
extinct at once'. T h e presence at Messina o f an Austrian naval squadron,
circumnavigating the globe w i t h a scientific staff, led D o h r n to an
ultimate vision, a chain o f zoological stations around the earth.
W h e n they left Messina (which had not financed one zoological
station), b o t h y o u n g scientists had finished w i t h universities. O t h e r w i s e
they parted to f o l l o w v e r y d i f f e r e n t ways. In the idea of zoological
stations, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y adopted a subsidiary ambition. D o h r n had
recognized the gateway to his k i n g d o m . H e had also encountered, in the
family at the Agence Russe, the girl he w o u l d eventually marry. H e
w e n t h o m e to reconcile Darwinism with the Hegelian m a x i m that the
real is rational, and to find the means o f building a zoological station at
Naples.
The Search for Solitude 15

M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y s o m e t i m e s d o u b t e d w h e t h e r his o w n reality was


rational. H e admitted it as he prepared to visit the R e d Sea. This w o u l d
not be the first t i m e he risked his p o o r health and bad eyes in a
notoriously unhealthy region w h e r e trachoma prevailed. T h e dangers
he e x p e c t e d — p o o r food, insalubrious climate, bad communications, the
absence o f Europeans, the presence of'particularly fanatical' M u s l i m s —
w e r e those he had s u r m o u n t e d almost casually in M o r o c c o . ' H e w h o
risks n o t h i n g gains nothing', he told Mcshchersky. H e was grateful for
the m o n e y that allowed him to take risks. Y e t he wanted his m o t h e r to
k n o w that he m i g h t not return f r o m this ' n o n e t o o pleasant panic de
plaisir\ not to be w o r r i e d unnecessarily, but 'sensibly' prepared to hear
o f his death.
H e sent this w a r n i n g f r o m Cairo. W h e n his elder b r o t h e r passed it
on, Nikolai Nikolaevich w o u l d be on his way to Suakin or Massawa or
' s o m e w h e r e or other'. For a m o n t h or so, Ekatcrina S e m y o n o v n a could
feel r e m o r s e for the stubborn ignorance that denied value t o his w o r k ,
parsimony that questioned his e x p e n d i t u r e and sent him abroad w i t h
dangerously inadequate funds. If he returned, he w o u l d p r o v e the
extent o f her error. Until then she must be assured that he never paid a
kopeck w i t h o u t e x t r e m e necessity. 'As to the way I spend this m o n e y ' ,
he insisted, 'I am convinced that in applying it to m y researches I am
right. And n o b o d y will persuade m e to the contrary'.
W i t h half-acknowlcdged desire f o r risk, an unrecognized urge to
chasten and an endless need to p r o v e and justify, he c o m b i n e d m o r e
avowablc reasons. C o n f i d e n t o f publishing p r o o f o f his proposition, he
still needed the sponges to settle the fate o f his theories. N e w species
m i g h t c o m e his way to be described and figured. Beyond that he
discerned a broader purpose. R e g a r d i n g the R e d Sea as 'almost entirely
uninvestigated f r o m the zoological point o f view', he m e a n t to d o what
he could to reveal its treasures.
H e t h o u g h t o f t h e m as threatened treasures, to be urgently appraised
b e f o r e they disappeared. T h e official o p e n i n g o f the Suez Canal was set
for August 1869. H e saw himself as probably the last naturalist' to
e x a m i n e the R e d Sea fauna b e f o r e marine inhabitants o f the M e d i -
terranean streamed t h r o u g h the canal to change the ecology o f the
southern waters.
H e conceded t h e possibility of s o m e migration in the opposite
direction. Certain assumptions f o r b a d e him to imagine this p r e d o m i n a t -
ing as it was to do. In disregarding the relative p o v e r t y o f the eastern
Mediterranean fauna, the connection o f the R e d Sea with a t e e m i n g
ocean, the barrier o f hypersalinc lakes across the canal, and the strong
n o r t h w a r d current that was expected, he was not misled solely by lack
o f scientific information. T h e w a r m south symbolized ease, inertia,
softness, its biological luxuriance unconsciously equated with luxury.
16 The Moon Man

His thoughts w e r e tinged with belief that vigour, aggressiveness,


adaptability f l o w e d f r o m the north, f r o m the direction o f Europe.
C o n c l u d i n g that the struggle for survival could have but o n e result, the
'last naturalist' prepared to sing a scientific r e q u i e m for w h a t had been
in the R e d Sea.
H e w o u l d n o t be the last in this rich field. H e was right in feeling he
must act quickly. Besides construction o f the canal, a British military
expedition to Abyssinia had d r a w n European political and commercial
attention to lands b o r d e r i n g the R e d Sea. Travellers and naturalists
responded to the trend. An u n p r e c e d e n t e d n u m b e r o f books and articles
on those countries came o u t in 1868 and 1869. W h i l e m u c h of this
topical literature concentrated on Abyssinia, there w e r e i m p o r t a n t
studies o f the plant and animal geography o f the Sudan and the western
shore of the R e d Sea generally. M o r e significantly, f r o m M i k l o u h o -
Maclay's point o f view, a British naturalist had just spent a happy w i n t e r
dredging in the G u l f o f Suez, and a y o u n g Italian, author o f a
m o n o g r a p h on R e d Sea molluscs, was preparing to return to the region.
Everything indicated that to be the first investigator o f p h e n o m e n a
south o f Suez w o u l d b e c o m e increasingly difficult.
W i t h 200 roubles and an admitted 'ignorance o f the Arabic language',
he left Cairo f o r Suez late in M a r c h 1869. T h e Turks, w h o nominally
ruled most o f the R e d Sea area, w e r e particularly sensitive about
possible designs on their territory. W h e r e a European travelling openly
m i g h t be accepted, a m a n in disguise was liable to be taken f o r a spy.
But M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y adopted all the precautions used by Europeans
w h o had reached Mecca. His f l o w i n g chestnut hair was shaven, his beard
cut short and dyed and his face and arms darkened. Instead o f M o r o c c a n
dress, he chose Syrian costume, a disguise f a v o u r e d by m o r e than one
f a m o u s traveller. T o c o m p l e t e the effect, he relied on a remarkable
facility in acquiring languages and a willingness to imitate 'in externals'
the religious observances o f Muslims. M u c h d e p e n d e d on w h e t h e r
Muslims believed in a co-religionist w h o travelled f r o m Syria to collect
reef animals and measure sea temperatures instead of going to Mecca.
M u c h also depended on his m e e t i n g n o b o d y f r o m Syria.
C o m m i t t e d to 'all the abominations of Egyptian steamers', he
visited Y e n b o on the Hejaz coast, Jidda, Massawa and Suakin. At the
m e r c y o f trading dhows, he managed to see the less-frequented Y e m e n i
ports o f Hodeida and Luhaiya. H e f o r m e d an e x t r e m e l y low opinion o f
Arab seamanship. H e was safely c o n v e y e d to all the ports he could
afford to visit. Adding some local excursions—to the inhospitable
Dahlak group, to islands near Luhaiya and to reefs n o r t h o f Massawa—
he acquired in about six weeks a considerable experience o f R e d Sea
travel.
The Search for Solitude 17

T h e trials o f the j o u r n e y surpassed his g r i m m e s t predictions. 'Travell-


ing in these parts is far f r o m comfortable', he told his sister, 'and I have
had a great deal to put up with'. A n d again, '1 in n o w a y expected all the
difficulties and inconveniences I had to meet'. His reports implied
encounters with fanaticism and crime and with the hardships travellers
must face in beggarly t o w n s and barren islands. But s o m e expected
difficulties melted away. Europeans w e r e present as consuls and
businessmen in the larger towns. H e o f t e n m e t ' g o o d people w h o f r o m
h o n o u r a b l e motives arc ready to help the naturalist w h o gladly risks
e v e r y t h i n g f o r marine science'. H e stayed w i t h the friendly and cultured
Egyptian g o v e r n o r o f Suakin. At Jidda on the return j o u r n e y , he lived
'very c o m f o r t a b l y f o r fully eighteen days, w i t h o u t paying a kopeck', in
the h o m e of a French commercial agent f r o m w h o m he b o r r o w e d
m o n e y to reach Suez. W e a r y b u t 'not sick and n o t w i t h e m p t y hands,
only with e m p t y pockets', he set o u t for Russia early in May.
As he b o r r o w e d his way h o m e w a r d , he had gained m o r e than the
nine ' n e w ' species o f sponges to be described. H e carried m e m o r i e s o f
the island-town o f Suakin, a smaller, simpler Venice w h o s e delicate
cluster o f coral-built houses and mosques seemed to float u p o n the sea.
H e r e m e m b e r e d sunrise over waters so calm and transparent that the
naturalist m i g h t 'clearly see the luxuriant life o f coral reefs and pick up
the very smallest thing'. H e saw lithe divers w o r k i n g skilfully in
submarine gardens to bring him, for a f e w small coins, great pieces o f
coral with all their inhabitants attached. M o s t vividly he re-experienced
the beauty and animation o f Jidda, its streets, coffee-houses and
matting-shaded squares c r o w d e d w i t h pilgrims f r o m all quarters o f the
Muslim world. Faces t h r o n g e d his m i n d — n a t i v e s o f the East Indies,
Turks, Persians, Indians, Bedouin, Tartars f r o m the Volga and n e w l y
c o n v e r t e d N e g r o e s f r o m the shores of Lake Chad. H e did not approve
their faith, to h i m a fatalistic creed that imprisoned its followers in
'immobility and apathy'. It b r o u g h t b e f o r e him a greater pageant o f
h u m a n i t y than he had yet surveyed, indirectly influencing his o w n fate.
His mental pictures included glimpses o f M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y the
traveller. His disguised image leaned intently f o r w a r d in a skiff
propelled by a muscular N u b i a n . Despite the g o v e r n o r and the
commercial agent, he saw himself d e f y i n g h u n g e r and scurvy as well as
fever and oppressive heat. H e saw the lone, embattled European,
constantly compelled by Arab fanaticism and rapacity to fear f o r his life.
In another m o o d he felt that danger o f r o b b e r y added 'piquant variety'
to a walk in the hills behind Suakin, or told h o w he o u t m a n o e u v r e d and
d o m i n a t e d a c r o w d o f fanatics w h o sought to m u r d e r h i m aboard an
Egyptian vessel. W h a t e v e r his m o o d , there remained no d o u b t that this
j o u r n e y was 'only preparatory to f u r t h e r travels'.
2: The Sea of Okhotsk

A SENSE OF URGENCY pervaded


Miklouho-Maclay's plans as he returned to Russia. Travelling via
Odessa, the Crimea, the Sea o f Azov and the l o w e r D o n to Saratov on
the Volga, he could stay n o w h e r e for m o r e than a f e w days. H a v i n g
collected the fishes required for w o r k on the vertebrate brain, he w o u l d
settle f o r most o f the s u m m e r w h e r e v e r his family happened to be. H e
had a full p r o g r a m m e o f w o r k , writing accounts o f his travels and
preparing f o r his b o o k on comparative neurology. His sister was w a r n e d
that she w o u l d spend the s u m m e r 'in harness' as his amanuensis. T h e
urgency o f these tasks probably arose in part f r o m t w o matters he had
n o t discussed w i t h his family, the project f o r f u r t h e r travels and the fact
that the five years for which his m o t h e r had promised to pay w e r e
almost over.
T h e opposition included all the authority o f the f a m i l y — w o r r i e d ,
indecisive Ekatcrina S e m y o n o v n a and her practical b r o t h e r Sergei
Bckkcr, the n e w l y qualified lawyer Sergei M i k l o u h o , cold to his
scientist-brother's aspirations and to his determination to use a n a m e that
was not their father's. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y invested s o m e hopes in his
y o u n g e r b r o t h e r Vladimir, a cadct at the naval college. H e could c o u n t
only u p o n Olga and twelve-year old Mikhail. Olga loved music and
study, n u r t u r i n g artistic ambitions that Nikolai Nikolacvich encouraged.
Mikhail was inclined to f o l l o w his advice and b e c o m e a geologist or
m i n i n g engineer. These t w o became their brother's spiritual children,
ready to adopt his chosen name, looking to him f o r leadership and
counsel. B e f o r e he left t h e m , the second son had distinguished f r o m the
pedestrian Miklouhos a family o f Miklouho-Maclays, o f which he was
the natural head.

18
The Sea of Okhotsk 19

W h a t e v e r authority said, he pushed f o r w a r d . At a M o s c o w scientific


congress he advocated zoological stations on all Russian coasts, speaking
as a researcher w h o w o u l d shortly publish a w o r k 011 the vertebrate
brain and w o u l d himself visit r e m o t e regions. Arriving in St Petersburg
in S e p t e m b e r 1869, he was introduced to the Imperial Russian
Geographical Society as an 'indefatigable traveller* w h o s e f u t u r e
j o u r n e y s m i g h t m a k e him useful to the Society.
A l t h o u g h he had n o t graduated and did n o t intend to d o so, there was
talk o f an academic post, w h i c h he declined as incompatible w i t h his
tastes and objects. T o him as to A n t o n D o h r n , the academic life was
barren slavery, a v e n d i n g of the soul f o r w r e t c h e d kopecks. His ideal
remained the aristocratic, rather outdated figure o f the independent
man o f science, o w i n g n o t h i n g to any institution. H e did realize that
funds f r o m his m o t h e r could never suffice f o r the expeditions he had
in mind. Seeking links w i t h the Geographical Society, he hoped f o r
material aid. W h e n he delivered a report on his R e d Sea j o u r n e y , the
n e w associate m e m b e r felt encouraged to place his project b e f o r e the
Society.
T h e proposal was e x t r e m e l y attractive f o r geographers, a broad
conception in the spirit o f Alexander v o n H u m b o l d t , w i t h a touch o f
m o d e r n specialization. A r g u i n g f r o m the need to study living animals
in their natural surroundings, he m e a n t to investigate marine life o f the
western Pacific b e t w e e n the Bering Sea and the Equator. As well as
studying a g r o u p o f animals that had b e e n 'little investigated', he w o u l d
trace their distribution, d e t e r m i n e questions o f physical geography, and
observe h o w animal f o r m s changed in response to e n v i r o n m e n t . T o this
p r o g r a m m e — a n y part o f it e n o u g h to occupy a g r o u p o f researchers
for years—he proposed to add the solution of questions in a n t h r o p o l o g y
and ethnology. Finally, he was prepared t o return to St Petersburg by
way o f Siberia, undertaking any research the Society m i g h t designate.
T h e presentation indicated that his plan followed naturally f r o m the
task then occupying him, examination o f sponges in the zoological
m u s e u m o f the Imperial A c a d e m y o f Sciences. Gathered by Russian
scientists on b o t h sides o f the n o r t h e r n m o s t Pacific, these collections
c o n f i r m e d his beliefs about the variability o f sponges. H e was convinced
that a sponge in widely differing conditions could assume such
divergent f o r m s that scientists u n a w a r e o f its distribution m i g h t ascribe
it to several species. T h r o u g h these studies, which involved m u c h
reading o n the physical g e o g r a p h y o f n o r t h e r n waters, he seemed
c o m m i t t e d to tracing sponges o f north-east Asia t h r o u g h o u t their range.
T h e project approximately satisfied the Society's statute, which required
that its funds be d e v o t e d to exploration in Russia and n e i g h b o u r i n g
lands.
20 The Moon Man

M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y was k n o w n in Russia as a zoologist w h o s e w o r k


on sponges m i g h t change f u n d a m e n t a l ideas. H e had the reputation o f
a traveller w h o with slender means, in the face of privation and danger,
w o u l d successfully c o m p l e t e his investigations. T h e r e m i g h t be d o u b t o f
his physical fitness. T h e g o o d health he had enjoyed at Jidda was
superseded by the illness that was at once the b u r d e n and the cachet o f
explorers. Y o u n g Prince Peter Kropotkin, scientist, explorer and f u t u r e
anarchist leader, w h o m e t him at this time, saw 'a tiny, nervous m a n ,
always suffering f r o m malaria'. O n the o t h e r hand, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y
n o longer complained o f the sore eyes and chest ailments that had
troubled him t h r o u g h o u t his student years.
In an age that regarded conquest o f personal limitations as a duty, ill
health n e v e r disqualified a b o r n traveller. S o m e m e m b e r s o f the
Geographical Society argued that the proposed j o u r n e y held n o
advantages for Russian science and lay to a great e x t e n t outside the
Society's p r o p e r field. O t h e r s complained that biographical details
supplied revealed t o o little about the y o u n g man's scientific standing.
Funds w e r e scarce. M e m b e r s could easily think o f researches—their
o w n , f o r instance—on w h i c h m o n e y w o u l d be m o r e suitably spent. T h e
Society supported Miklouho-Maclay's request for a passage to the Far
East on a warship, but the question o f financial aid was left unresolved.
Back in Jena late in N o v e m b e r , he f o u n d r o o m s equipped against
cold, r e m o t e e n o u g h f r o m 'the uproar and singing o f d r u k e n students',
and settled to live 'as before', preparing his w o r k on comparative
neurology. Prince Meshchersky had left Jena, so the scientist's life was
rather solitary. It was also expensive. R e n t i n g t w o r o o m s m o r e than he
needed, hiring f u r n i t u r e and servants, he soon had to b o r r o w . H e
seldom w r o t e h o m e w i t h o u t n e w s o f a pressing need for m o n e y .
Insecurity did n o t deter him f r o m arranging to publish a fastidiously
designed book. N o r did it cancel his plans for a trip to England, to m a k e
useful friends and buy e q u i p m e n t f o r his expedition. But a letter f r o m
Baron Fyodor R o m a n o v i c h Osten-Sacken, secretary o f the G e o g r a p h i -
cal Society, gravely threatened the larger project. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y still
told his family that e v e r y t h i n g was being arranged as he wished. T h e
main n e w s was that the Society f o u n d it difficult to give him financial
support.
Study o f his c o m m u n i c a t i o n s had convinced influential people that
he w o u l d spend t o o m u c h t i m e t o o far f r o m Russia. T h e y noted that
instead of starting f r o m the n o r t h he w o u l d begin in the tropics,
relegating to a 'secondary plan' the studies most interesting to the
Society. If he failed to c o m p l e t e his project, the geographers w o u l d get
n o n e o f the i n f o r m a t i o n they really wanted.
H e returned a dignified answer. If the conditions w e r e incompatible
with his chosen line o f research, he w o u l d r e n o u n c e the subsidy. 'I a m
The Sea of Okhotsk 21

convinced', he explained, 'that the solution o f these problems, e v e n


t h o u g h incomplete, can yield n o little profit to o u r k n o w l e d g e , and I
w o u l d n o t be false to t h e m f o r the sake o f a f e w kopecks, even if the
kopecks w e r e transformed into roubles'. H e c o u n t e d on o v e r c o m i n g
any financial difficulties: T o r the sake o f m y task I declined, w i t h o u t
regrets, m o r e than o n e r e m u n e r a t i v e o f f e r — a n d I will carry it o u t . . . ! '
Pointing o u t that the time to be devoted t o any region could not be
k n o w n b e f o r e h a n d , he suggested that his results, p r o m p t l y transmitted
d u r i n g the years in the Pacific, w o u l d teach a 4Russian scientific society'
to see his w o r k ' t h r o u g h the eyes o f scientific Russian society'. H e denied
attaching lesser i m p o r t a n c e to research in n o r t h e r n seas. ' O n the
contrary', he insisted, 'I am definitely very interested in this region, and
h o p e to have the o p p o r t u n i t y to investigate it; m y f u t u r e efforts will
accord w i t h the Society's wishes'.
N e e d i n g the m o n e y m o r e than he admitted, he m a d e strong efforts
to obtain it. H e had not intended to publish results on sponge collections
e x a m i n e d in St Petersburg. N o w he sent a long article to his most
influential supporter, C o u n t P. P. S e m y o n o v - T i a n s h a n s k y , explorer,
scientist and president o f the Society's section f o r physical geography.
H e described m a n y ' n e w ' sponges, eleven o f t h e m united in his n e w
genus and species Veluspa polymorpha. Fascinated by this organism's
variability, he emphasized the need to study it in its natural state. T o
discover h o w such f o r m s arose, and c o m p a r e t h e m w i t h tropical
species-—these w e r e the great tasks. His remarks left n o d o u b t that he
w o u l d happily spend years studying, in relation to sponges, the tides,
currents, temperatures, ice-cover and salinity of the Sea o f O k h o t s k and
adjacent waters. Including with Veluspa polymorpha the problematic
sponges o f Lake Baikal, he suggested that these animals should be sought
in o t h e r Siberian lakes. If they belonged to a marine genus, as he
contended, their presence w o u l d support H u m b o l d t ' s hypothesis c o n -
cerning a f o r m e r great Central Asia sea connected w i t h the ocean. H e
m a d e n o explicit promise to carry o u t this investigation, but it seemed
a most suitable project for his return j o u r n e y .
A traveller investigating the lower marine animals must naturally
obtain valuable k n o w l e d g e o f external factors on w h i c h they depend.
W i t h fuller i n f o r m a t i o n , and the implied promises, S e m y o n o v -
Tianshansky presented a stronger case. O p p o n e n t s w e r e silenced.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y felt he could 'almost c o u n t ' on the Russian G e o -
graphical Society. Expecting the small subsidy o f 1350 roubles, he
incurred a heavy moral obligation to the revered elder w h o supported
his cause.
As he w r o t e of that region o f mist and tundra, bearing 'the i m p r i n t
o f the Arctic', the part o f his m i n d that craved w a r m t h , luxuriance, clear
skies and seas, could n o t d o otherwise than shudder. M o r e seriously, he
22 The Moon Man

resented suggestions that he w o r k in Russia and its borderlands. H e


k n e w the importance o f research o n Russian seas and lakes, advocating
zoological stations on e v e r y shore. In his o w n case, the idea of studying
'Russian puddles and ponds' seemed to a f f r o n t the m a g n i t u d e o f his
design. O v e r l o o k i n g the need o f w o r l d science f o r i n f o r m a t i o n about
Russia's u n e x p l o r e d territories, he treated the wishes o f a 4Russian
scientific society' as the carping o f n a r r o w nationalism.
D e t e r m i n e d to f o l l o w his o w n wishes, he w o r k e d and planned,
struggling with debt and the p r o b l e m s o f f u t u r e expenditure. H e
reported a f e w personal events—remission o f his fever, being p h o t o -
graphed in Syrian dress, m e e t i n g T u r g e n e v xhe novelist, with w h o m he
was 'quite soon t h o r o u g h l y in harmony'. In general he deserved his
sister's reproaches for revealing little o f his thoughts and experiences. In
w o r d s reminiscent o f Schopenhauer's definition of genius, he
explained:

In the presence o f great, indeed e n o r m o u s , fields o f observation and


mental activity, interest in one's o w n personality is relegated quite t o
the background. T h e m o r e the brain has w o r k that is w o r t h y o f it,
the less o n e wastes its activity on one's o w n person [...] This pushing
aside of the personality . . . h o w e v e r , goes parallel w i t h the d e v e l o p -
m e n t of one's individuality.

H e w r o t e in haste, leaving Olga to c o m p l e t e his remarks with w h a t she


f o u n d ' b e t w e e n the lines'. T h e r e was advice f o r his o w n family, f o r little
Mikhail M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y and f o r Vladimir w h o m i g h t b e c o m e a
Miklouho-Maclay. 'Read', he e x h o r t e d his sister, 'and vary y o u r life,
by any means and in any way y o u can—I am coming, I will help . . . '
H e was n o t going immediately to Russia. In April he left Jena 'on the
quiet, w i t h o u t having paid all the debts', f o r an indefinite stay in London.
T h e R o y a l Navy's chief h y d r o g r a p h e r showed him apparatus f o r
deep-sea investigations. T h o m a s H e n r y H u x l e y saw a g o o d deal o f him,
assessed him as 'a m a n o f very considerable capacity and energy', and
promised help in f u r t h e r i n g the expedition. Alfred Russcl Wallace,
dining with him at Huxley's house, f o r m e d equally favourable impres-
sions. Delighted by a visitor w i t h w h o m he could discuss Russia, the
land o f his most exciting geological w o r k , Sir R o d e r i c k Murchison,
president o f the R o y a l Geographical Society, u n d e r t o o k t o use his
influence. N o n e o f the helpful scientists, officials and i n s t r u m e n t -
makers w h o m e t M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y guessed the insecurity o f his
position or the bitterness o f his thoughts. W i t h m o n e y f o r his trip to
England, he had received f r o m uncle Sergei Bekker the news that on
returning to Russia he could expect n o f u r t h e r support f r o m the family.
H e was still uncertain h o w to deal with this. But having despatched
a calmly ruthless letter to his m o t h e r , he answered the family's 'rather
T h e castle at Cintra, Portugal, 1866
T h e port and harbour at Arrccifc, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, 1866

Volcanic craters, Lanzarote


Ernst Hacckcl and Miklouho-Maclay at
Arrecifc in 1867
T h e mosque at Jedda in 1869

T h e second camp f r o m Mogador, on the road to Marrakcsh in 1867


The Sea of Okhotsk 23

c u n n i n g ' m o v e w i t h superior cunning. By the t i m e fever and p o v e r t y


compelled him to 'flee the place', he had p r o d u c e d in L o n d o n s o m e faits
accomplis well calculated to baffle the opposition.
Back in Jena he produced m o r e . Since U n c l e Sergei's w o r d s w e r e
u n c o m p r o m i s i n g l y clear, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y dccided to treat m o n e y lie
could 'almost c o u n t on' as being quite his. H e w r o t e to Baron
Osten-Sackcn requesting that half the subsidy 'promised' by the Russian
Geographical Society should be sent to him at once, for purchase o f
scientific e q u i p m e n t .
A n y w e a p o n seemed legitimate in the fight f o r his project. R e p o r t i n g
Murchison's promise to m e n t i o n him to the secretary o f state f o r
foreign affairs, he implied that he had obtained Lord Clarendon's 'open
letter to all English consuls in the Pacific Ocean'. In fact he had not m e t
his Lordship and had yet to negotiate f o r such help. W h e n he
m e n t i o n e d that his w o r k was 'better k n o w n in England than in
Russia', he neglected to explain that it was k n o w n mainly by the
opposition it a r o u s e d H e subtly b u t strongly hinted that if Russia
did not grasp the o p p o r t u n i t y he o f f e r e d the English would.
Anxiety revealed itself in his feeling, after ten days, that this trivial
business was 'protracted for a long time'. A fortnight later, it seemed
t i m e to c o n v e r t the English possibility into reality. H u x l e y was asked
to approach Lord Clarendon, and provide introductions useful
in Australia and N e w Zealand. H u x l e y was also to hand Maclay's
m e m o r a n d u m on his proposed j o u r n e y to Sir R o d e r i c k Murchison,
w i t h 'a f e w convincing words' about the importance o f zoological
research in the Pacific, and a r e m i n d e r that 'for these investigations there
is a not entirely unfit p e r s o n — m y s e l f .
Experience with the Russian Geographical Society guided his
approach to its British counterpart. Properties o f seawater and the range
o f tides appeared p r o m i n e n t l y a m o n g subjects f o r research. Emphasizing
studies o f animals in their e n v i r o n m e n t , he gave due place to
m e t e o r o l o g y and to the geology that he had not studied. H e spoke o f
'spending several years on the islands o f the Pacific'. H e did not m e n t i o n
Siberia or the Sea o f Okhotsk. Maclay's thinking, like his signature, had
b e c o m e perfectly adjusted to British interests.
W i t h n o assurance o f financial help, he prepared for his j o u r n e y as
t h o u g h n o t h i n g stood in the way. W h i l e he could pay neither Jena debts
n o r his fare to St Petersburg, he ordered e q u i p m e n t and arranged his
passage on a warship. H e invited a dozen e m i n e n t scientists to set
questions for investigation, sought advice and help f r o m e v e r y o n e with
connections in the Pacific. At the same t i m e he published, with the same
disregard for 'such trash as m o n e y ' , the first part o f his Contributions to
the Comparative Neurology of the Vertebrates, dedicated to Carl Gegenbaur.
W i t h its w i d e - m a r g i n e d quarto pages o f fine paper and seven litho-
24 The Moon Man

graphic plates, the v o l u m e m a d e G e g e n b a u r s f a m o u s t e x t b o o k s look


shoddy. H o w the publication was financed, and w h e t h e r a n y o n e
b o u g h t it, w e r e questions to w h i c h the a u t h o r seemed completely
indifferent.
Less anxious to return to Russia than he a p p e a r e d — o n receiving the
'ridiculous kopecks' f o r w h i c h he frantically signalled he f o u n d it
necessary to stay a little longer in G e r m a n y — h e did not regret leaving
Jena. Instead o f occupying part o f Professor B r u n o Hildebrandt's
c o m f o r t a b l e house, he had been living in 'a little old pavilion in a
luxuriant garden'. Because o f 'stupid and absurd rumours', the Hilde-
brandts had d r o p p e d him in a 'not-quite-delicate' m a n n e r . H e was n o
longer friendly with Hacckcl, uncertain even h o w he stood with
Gegenbaur. W i t h o u t the least o f f e n c e on his part, there w e r e houses in
w h i c h it was best not t o m e n t i o n his name. For sympathetic interest he
d e p e n d e d on Academician O t t o Boethlingk, the orientalist, w h o m he
had once considered a great bore. Besides, he again had to disappear
quietly, leaving s o m e debts unpaid.
H e predicted cholera, insisted he could c o m e to Russia only if his
m o t h e r rented a suitably located dacha. H e nevertheless spent most o f
s u m m e r 1870 in the capital. F r o m his little r o o m in the dismal family
flat in the Kolpakov building, Maly Prospekt, he enjoyed a v i e w o f
nothing. Late in July lie seemed to have reached a full stop. His m o t h e r
could not provide 5000 roubles f o r his first year o f travels. M e s h c h e r -
sky could not lend such a sum. At best, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y o f f e r e d
prospective lenders the h o p e of being repaid by o n e o f these sponsors
within t w o years. By pressing on with arrangements, he m a d e it almost
inevitable that s o m e o n e must g o into debt on his behalf M o n e y was
f o u n d , and Ekaterina S c m y o n o v n a assumed the financial b u r d e n o f her
son's first year in the Pacific.
H e was to travel on the steam corvette Vityaz ('Knight'), b o u n d f o r
the Far East as part o f the rotation o f vessels on that station. At first he
was content to secure a passage, asking only the sailing date and ports o f
call. H e soon became m o r e exacting.
T h e experience o f o t h e r naturalists did not encourage hopes f o r an
u n t r o u b l e d voyage. T o l d that Captain N a z i m o v w o u l d w e l c o m e him
cordially, he remarked, ' W e shall see!' ' M o r e or less satisfied' w i t h his
f u t u r e travelling companions, he still t h o u g h t it wise to 'take u p a
position' that minimized contact w i t h the officers. For his convenience a
separate cabin was partitioned o f f Finally it seemed essential that Vityaz,
instead o f taking the usual r o u t e r o u n d Cape H o r n , should visit Cape
T o w n , Batavia and Australian ports. O r d e r s w e r e written to his
requirements. H e had the ear o f the Grand D u k e Konstantin N i k o l a e -
vich, b r o t h e r o f the tsar and director o f the navy ministry.
For all his haughtiness and tendency to treat the navy as personal
The Sea of Okhotsk 25

property, Konstantin was a liberal r e f o r m e r and a friend o f science. His


fondness f o r accounts o f exploration had been awakened by his first
teacher, Admiral C o u n t Ltitke the circumnavigator. As president o f the
Geographical Society, he felt a lively interest in the first Russian to
undertake extensive research in the Pacific since Liitke's voyage o f
1 8 2 6 - 2 9 . So did his aunt, the G r a n d Duchess Elena Pavlovna, Russia's
great patroness o f learning and the arts, v/hose taste for science dated
f r o m her girlhood acquaintance w i t h Cuvicr. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y gravi-
tated naturally to the grand duchess's salon, which attracted e v e r y o n e o f
n o t e in the arts, sciences and administration.
H e fitted in well, a pale y o u n g man, h a n d s o m e in a slightly irregular
way, w i t h bright blue eyes and thick, curling chestnut hair and beard.
T h o u g h large m e n t h o u g h t o f him as very small, his height was almost
average f o r a European o f the time. His thin f r a m e , t h o u g h t r o u b l e d
f r o m childhood by illness, housed what doctors called a 'strong
constitution'. His m a n n e r pleased d i f f e r e n t people in d i f f e r e n t ways.
Despite w h a t s o m e regarded as nervousness or shyness, he was n e v e r
o v e r a w e d by the surroundings or c o m p a n y . T h e family had fallen o n
hard times since his father's death. T h e y always r e m e m b e r e d what was
d u e to the past. H e took pride in ancestors w h o had distinguished
themselves in military or medical service to royalty. T h o u g h he f o r g o t
w h i c h roll o f nobility carried the family's name, he attached m o r e
i m p o r t a n c e to being a 'hereditary n o b l e m a n ' than was c o m m o n in
Russia by that time. H e belonged still m o r e consciously to an
intellectual and moral aristocracy that m a d e him equal or superior to
anyone in the r o o m . Victorious in the fight to realize his ambition, a b o u t
to satisfy his wish to sec the w o r l d , he could relax, c h a r m i n g the exalted
circles he entered only to leave.
H e could discuss painting, music and literature as well as science,
travel and social questions. H e had stories o f a d v e n t u r e to relate, sketches
o f exotic scenes to show. A m o n g the intellectual ladies o f Elena
Pavlovna's court, he f o r g o t his 'decided repugnance to all stages o f
d e v e l o p m e n t and differentiation o f the genus "blue stocking'". H e
became particularly friendly with Baroness Edith v o n R h a d c n , lady-
in-waiting to the grand duchess, and w i t h Baron v o n R h a d c n , w h o like
Osten-Sacken w o r k e d in the foreign ministry. His sister was introduced
into these circles, w h e r e the baroness and her d a u g h t e r w e r e inclined to
befriend the lonely, depressed girl. Nikolai Nikolaevich advised on
b e h a v i o u r — o n the need to listen and observe rather than talk, to avoid
aloofness while always reserving 'a certain independence'. If the ideal he
set up left little r o o m f o r spontaneity in friendship, it did e m b o d y sound
guidance f o r o n e w h o must learn and m a k e her w a y in the world. Olga
t o o could h o p e to escape the c r a m p e d existence to w h i c h she had
seemed c o n d e m n e d .
26 The Moon Man

T h e departure o f Vityaz was several times postponed. In western


E u r o p e a great w a r raged. Great political questions h o v e r e d in the air,
capable o f cancelling the voyage. Impatient w i t h delays, M i k l o u h o -
Maclay m o v e d b e t w e e n the Kolpakov house and Mikhailovsky Palace,
b e t w e e n m u s e u m s and libraries and the Kronstadt naval base, c o m p l e t -
ing arrangements d o w n to choosing goods f o r barter w i t h Pacific
islanders. T h e geographers provided a letter o f introduction, r e c o m -
m e n d i n g him to the g o o d will and aid o f learned societies e v e r y w h e r e .
H e acquired a passport that described his j o u r n e y as undertaken Tor
scientific purposes to the islands of the Pacific O c e a n and t o East Asia',
m a d e his adopted n a m e official, and prefixed it by the 4von9 and 'deJ that
m a n y upper-class Russians used abroad. Finally, on 19 O c t o b e r 1870, he
read his detailed research p r o g r a m m e to the general council o f the
Geographical Society.
His last f e w weeks in Russia w e r e spent as the grand duchess's guest
at O r a n i c n b a u m Palace on the G u l f o f Finland. F r o m his r o o m in the
family apartment, w i t h its folding furniture, scientific e q u i p m e n t and
walls h u n g w i t h tools and weapons, he stepped into o n e o f the most
notable creations o f e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u r y ostentation and fantasy. B e f o r e
him stretched m a n y years in regions that m i g h t belong to a d i f f e r e n t
planet f r o m that o f the Salon japonaise or Catherine the Great's
satin-lined b e d r o o m . A m i d delicate chinoiserie, bronze m o n k e y s bearing
offerings o f Meissen china, silk hangings landscaped with millions o f
glass beads, he accepted these as he accepted all contrasts and i n c o n g r u i -
ties in his life. For all the royal wretchedness it had seen, O r a n i c n b a u m
e m b o d i e d a belief in the possibility o f happiness f o r s o m e people. Its
conscienceless extravagance f o r m e d a m o n u m e n t to the assumption that
life is sweet. But M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y ' s self-portrait at age t w e n t y - f o u r
c o m b i n e d i m p e r t u r b a b l e courage and implacable will with disdain f o r
'this fine existence', a vast 'indifference to life'. As f o r the possibility o f
happiness, he simply did not believe in it.
O r so he thought. In reality he seemed almost happy, despite the f e v e r
he treated with 'a large quantity o f quinine and small doses o f patience'.
As he sketched the palace and a u t u m n a l park, he m i g h t have been the
only person at O r a n i c n b a u m . Certainly he f o u n d n o o n e there to
question his actions, n o n a r r o w - m i n d e d colleagues g r u d g i n g him
support, n o U n c l e Sergei to snatch o p p o r t u n i t y away, n o precariously-
c o n q u e r e d m o t h e r or unsympathetic older brother. H e invited Russian
acquaintances to guess w h a t he t h o u g h t while using his microscope or
studying the landscape. T o distant friends he hinted at a f u r t h e r
'grandiose plan' t o be undertaken w h e n his official p r o g r a m m e was
completed. W h e n so m a n y difficulties had been o v e r c o m e , obstacles
that could block his path w e r e unimaginable.
The Sea of Okhotsk 27

It was equally difficult to imagine an enterprise m o r e grandiose than


that he had described. For seven or eight years, he w o u l d investigate the
western Pacific f r o m N e w Guinea almost to the Arctic Circle. In the
first o f the departments into which he divided his w o r k — ' c o n c e r n e d
mainly w i t h the l o w e r f o r m s o f animals in their natural s u r r o u n d -
ings'—he w o u l d be guided by 'the local fauna and local conditions'. In
other fields, 'meteorological observations and researches in a n t h r o -
pology and ethnography', the authorities he consulted had p r o d u c e d
s o m e 130 questions. M o s t o f these w e r e large e n o u g h to occupy an
investigator f o r life. W h e n he added equally c o m p l e x questions o f his
o w n , the list practically constituted an encyclopaedia o f the u n k n o w n .
As he emphasized, to answer m a n y o f these questions was unlikely to
be within his p o w e r . H e m e n t i o n e d t h e m as examples o f 'the blanks
which science has difficulty in filling', undertaking only to d o his best.
T h e Society had reason to be pleased w i t h his independent but
a c c o m m o d a t i n g approach to his task. E m i n e n t authorities had supplied
questions in m e t e o r o l o g y and physical geography, s o m e specifically
concerning ice and snow. H e added his determination, while ' w o r k i n g
to the n o r t h , to the shores o f the Sea o f Okhotsk', to supplement
k n o w l e d g e o f the n o r t h e r n Sea o f Japan. T h o s e w h o feared he w o u l d
linger over southern sponges and corals w e r e f u r t h e r reassured by his
plan to spend only a year in the tropics and then 'to advance gradually
to the north, to the shores o f the Sea o f O k h o t s k . . . '
His travels must begin in the tropics in o r d e r to finish economically
w i t h a return t h r o u g h Siberia, so N e w Guinea seemed as g o o d as
starting point as any. His correspondence contained hints that the island
was m o r e than a starting point. T h e sketch o f his den in the Kolpakov
building was labelled, ' M y r o o m in St Petersburg b e f o r e m y departure
f o r N e w Guinea', as t h o u g h N e w Guinea itself w e r e the goal. H e
evidently felt the Geographical Society w a n t e d f u r t h e r explanations, for
he promised, and drafted, a long account o f his reasons. S o m e w e r e
prosaic e n o u g h , like his feeling that N e w Guinea, perhaps the most
d e m a n d i n g part o f the j o u r n e y , should be tackled b e f o r e he was
'weakened by o t h e r exertions'. O t h e r s verged on the romantic. H e had
been almost excited by the w o r d s o f James Beete Jukes:

I k n o w o f n o part o f the world, the exploration o f which is so


flattering to the imagination, so likely to be fruitful in interesting
results,... and altogether so well calculated to gratify the enlightened
curiosity o f an adventurous explorer, as the interior o f N e w Guinea.
N e w Guinea! the very m e n t i o n o f being taken into the interior o f
N e w Guinea sounds like being allowed to visit s o m e o f the
enchanted regions o f the 'Arabian Nights', so dim an atmosphere o f
obscurity rests at present on the w o n d e r s it probably contains.
28 The Moon Man

Little had changed since Jukes and the officers o f H.M.S. Fly d r e a m e d
o f f o l l o w i n g into the interior the great river they had detected almost
thirty years before. In a b o o k published in 1869, avidly studied by
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y , Alfred Russcl Wallace spoke o f the bulk of N e w
Guinea as 'the greatest terra incognita that still remains f o r the naturalist
t o explore'. T h e w o r k o f those w h o visited the island after Wallace had
also been confined to coastal districts. T h e obscurity veiling the interior
r e m a i n e d as dense as ever, and M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y meant t o dispel it.
Departing so far f r o m his official p r o g r a m m e , he strayed farther w i t h
every line he w r o t e in explanation.
T o account f o r the apparently anomalous distribution o f lemurs and
their allies, an English zoologist had imagined an ancient continent n o w
vanished beneath the Indian Ocean. Using the 'Lemuria' hypothesis to
explain far m o r e than the originator intended, Ernst Haeckel had
postulated m o r e vanished continents. O n e o f t h e m , including Sumatra,
Java, B o r n e o and the Philippines, was connected to Asia t h r o u g h the
Malay Peninsula and southern Indo-China, and probably also with the
L e m u r i a n continent'. T h e second, including Celebes, the Moluccas,
N e w Guinea and the Solomons, was joined to Australia in accordance
w i t h Wallace's views. R o u n d i n g o f f w i t h another lost continent in the
south Pacific, Haeckel had tidied up e v e r y t h i n g in the southern
hemisphere. All islands w e r e united either w i t h existing continents or
with each other, as remains o f land masses otherwise covered by the sea.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y disagreed w i t h b o t h his f o r m e r teacher and A. R .
Wallace. T h e geologist Jukes had r e m a r k e d on the great difference in
climate and vegetation b e t w e e n Australia and w h a t he saw of N e w
Guinea. T h e similarity o f fauna in such contrasted countries seemed
'almost astounding' to Wallace himself T h e much-travelled naturalist
and independent a u t h o r o f the t h e o r y o f evolution by natural selection
saw the apparent anomaly pointing to a ' c o m m o n origin' f o r the t w o
faunas. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y read it as a sign that Wallacc was mistaken.
O n g r o u n d s o f climate and terrain, he t h o u g h t o f N e w Guinea as 'a
u n i q u e c o u n t r y w h e r e entirely n e w organic f o r m s m a y be concealed'.
H e did n o t m e a n to divorce it f r o m all associations. 'By its position', he
w r o t e , ' N e w Guinea is the central link o f the chain in investigation o f
the organic nature o f Polynesia, p e r m i t t i n g us to c o m p l e t e o u r
i n f o r m a t i o n about the hypothetical continent o f Lemuria'.
T h e Russian geographers n e v e r m e a n t to subsidize exploration o f the
N e w Guinea interior or a determination o f the relationship b e t w e e n its
fauna and that of Australia. Still less had they contemplated a search f o r
lost Lemuria. Yet by comparison with the full explanation these seemed
slight departures f r o m the f o r m a l p r o g r a m m e . M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y ' s
supporters had o v e r l o o k e d the p o t e n t g e r m contained in his u n d e r -
taking to investigate, 'with permission, according to opportunity',
The Sea of Okhotsk 29

the anthropological and ethnographical p r o b l e m s encountered.


W h e n he first m a d e that tentative proposal, he had not systematically
studied the subjects. T h e report o f his R e d Sea j o u r n e y nevertheless
revealed a g r o w i n g interest. Mingling his observations with i n f o r m a -
tion gained f r o m books, he said as m u c h o f the people and their w a y o f
life as o f geography. In the intervening year, reading in a n t h r o p o l o g y ,
e t h n o l o g y and the literature o f travel had left him impatient and
dissatisfied. E v e r y w h e r e he f o u n d V e r y unsatisfactory descriptions o f
the natives in their primitive condition', a sketchiness he attributed to
c o n t e m p t or indifference on the part o f European travellers. T h e
authorities he consulted c o n f i r m e d the ignorance, if n o t the suspected
'disdain f o r acquaintance w i t h primitive races'. T h e encyclopaedia o f the
u n k n o w n compiled to guide his j o u r n e y was filled mainly with
questions on a n t h r o p o l o g y and ethnography. At s o m e u n r e c o r d e d
m o m e n t , he had c o m e to regard the study o f primitive peoples as the
object truly w o r t h y o f one's d e v o t i n g to it several years o f one's life'.
T h e sense that he possessed w h a t H u x l e y and Haeckel declared essential
f o r this task—a b a c k g r o u n d in zoology and comparative a n a t o m y —
m a d e it his particular duty. E v e r y t h i n g else was 'subordinated . . . to
anthropo-ethnographical goals'.
T h e first step was to find 'primitive tribes o f people, b e y o n d the
influence o f others w h o have been raised to a comparatively high level
o f civilization'. Again he was directed towards N e w Guinea, the land
w h o s e 'size and obscurity' gave it first place a m o n g the southern islands.
Practically e v e r y t h i n g about the people o f N e w Guinea was in
dispute. T o s o m e authorities the 'Papuans' represented the original
population o f all south-east Asia and the Pacific. O t h e r s maintained that
the Papuans had been preceded by a d i f f e r e n t people, w h o s e r e m n a n t s
survived in m o u n t a i n o u s areas o f o t h e r large islands. T h e same
uncertainty prevailed in ideas o f their distribution. According to
Haeckel's fairly restrained interpretation, the Papuans spread eastward
f r o m Lemuria t h r o u g h the East Indies and N e w Guinea to reach Fiji,
m o v i n g as far north as the Philippines, as far south as Tasmania. T h e m a p
compiled by M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y ( c o m b i n i n g older views w i t h the most
recent) placed Papuans or their relatives in Africa and Madagascar. In
considering N e w Guinea itself, the imagination was unrestrained.
Travellers had f o u n d a m o n g the islanders characteristics varied e n o u g h
to relate t h e m directly to half the peoples o f earth. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y
believed that N e w Guinea was probably inhabited 'not by o n e b u t by
m a n y races'.
From the mass o f disagreement he extracted t w o f u n d a m e n t a l
p r o b l e m s for investigation: 'Firstly, to explain the anthropological
relationship of the Papuans to o t h e r r a c e s . . . S e c o n d l y , . . . to determine,
by personal observation, the dispersion o f these races in comparison
30 The Moon Man

with the rest o f the tribes o f the Pacific Ocean'. T o answer these
questions, he was prepared to spend m a n y years a m o n g the Papuans and
the peoples w h o m i g h t be closely related to t h e m .
Stupendous vistas opened f r o m the line o f t h o u g h t he faintly
sketched. According to Hacckcl, it was in Lemuria that mankind had
evolved f r o m a long-extinct anthropoid ape. O n Haeckel's m a p o f
hypothetical migrations, all currents o f h u m a n i t y streamed out o f the
lost continent. If N e w Guinea had been linked with Lemuria rather than
Australia, as M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y suggested, the great obscure island
m i g h t be a r e m n a n t o f Haeckcl's 4single primaeval home\ the 'probable
cradle o f the h u m a n race'. By the same a r g u m e n t , the inhabitants o f the
u n k n o w n interior m i g h t include the most primitive o f m e n , the nearest
to the hypothetical 4 Homo primigenius.
T h e n e w object explained the urgency with w h i c h M i k l o u h o -
Maclay approached his task, the anxiety that seemed excessive w h e n he
spoke only o f physical g e o g r a p h y or the variability o f sponges. As w h e n
he hastened to study the R e d Sea fauna, he had dedicated himself to
w h a t must shortly disappear.
S o m e t h i n g o f the same feeling always coloured his attitude towards
peoples w h o aroused his interest. T h e first such race w e r e the 'Guanche',
regarded as the original inhabitants o f the Canary Islands, generally
believed to have been exterminated by European invaders and N o r t h
African slavers. U n a w a r e that the Canaries had supported t w o early
populations, w h o had both left descendants, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y had
n a m e d his first ' n e w ' sponge Guancha blanca, to c o m m e m o r a t e the
vanished race.
Similar preoccupation with change and disappearance marked his
thoughts on the f u t u r e o f the R e d Sea littoral. It seemed to him that
European humanity, like marine animals o f the Mediterranean, must
surge t h r o u g h the n e w canal t o collide with the peoples o f Arabia and
Sudan. H e r e he had reservations about the o u t c o m e , suggesting that
climate m i g h t defeat Europeans as he believed it had defeated the
natives. H e reserved his sympathy f o r what was native t o the place. T h e
poverty, slavery, fanaticism and crime he described as prevailing on the
shores o f the R e d Sea w e r e always lesser evils than those b o u n d t o
f o l l o w the arrival o f Europeans.
Spreading t h r o u g h the Pacific, the European plague must inevitably
destroy the native peoples. W h e n he accused science of'disdain f o r the
study o f primitive races', he f o u n d it the m o r e deplorable since 'these
r a c e s . . . because o f collision with European civilization, are disappearing
with every year'. In the N e w Guinea interior he w o u l d find peoples not
yet contaminated by Europe, u n t o u c h e d even by the lesser plagues o f
Malays, Chinese, Indians and Arabs. His mission was a race against time,
to be the 'last naturalist' t o observe these tribes in their primitive state.
The Sea of Okhotsk 31

S o m e o f his beliefs w e r e debatable. A n y 'disdain* evident a m o n g


ethnologists seemed to be directed at E u r o p e and n e i g h b o u r i n g lands.
W h e n systematic study o f European a n t h r o p o l o g y and prehistory had
hardly begun, travellers w e r e ever eager to investigate Africa or the
Pacific islands, corners o f Asia or the Americas. T h e largest and most
influential t e x t b o o k o f the t i m e dealt exclusively w i t h 'primitive*
peoples. Science was deluged w i t h facts on the customs and character-
istics o f distant tribes. T h e study o f man had c o m e to m e a n the study o f
'primitive* man.
T h e fascination o f the distant and unfamiliar helped to establish this
bias. M a n y a n o t h e r m a n with severe scientific aims privately responded,
like M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y , to a simple desire to see the world. T h e r e was
the continuing search for the 'pure race', isolated f r o m all others, which
w o u l d e n d o w the science o f m a n with s o m e t h i n g like laboratory
conditions. N e w impetus came f r o m the acceptance o f evolutionary
theories that with increasing boldness w e r e applied to m a n and his
institutions. M u c h e f f o r t was e x p e n d e d in pursuit o f 'atavisms* and, as
Haeckel said, 'the discovery o f tailed m e n was long anxiously expected
. . . in order to establish a closer relationship b e t w e e n man and the o t h e r
mammals'. E m b r y o l o g y answered m a n y questions, including that of the
h u m a n tail. It did not exclude the possibility that s o m e w h e r e the total
h u m a n atavism m i g h t be walking about.
Yet at the same t i m e as the search f o r the most 'primitive', there w e n t
f o r w a r d a less obvious quest for the m o r e nearly perfect. Behind the
facade o f confident p o w e r , m o d e r n E u r o p e was prey to g n a w i n g doubt.
T h o u g h t f u l people reflected that material wealth and c o m f o r t and
g r o w i n g c o m m a n d over nature b r o u g h t 110 corresponding g r o w t h in
virtue or happiness. In this t i m e of public optimism and faith in progress,
Schopenhauer's pessimistic teachings reached the height o f popularity.
Q u o t a t i o n marks o f t e n s u r r o u n d e d the w o r d 'civilization'. People
became ironical about the process o f ' i m p r o v i n g away'. M a n y meditated
u p o n the ultimate instance o f ' i m p r o v i n g away', the actual or expected
obliteration o f o t h e r peoples, o t h e r m o d e s o f life, b e f o r e the advance
o f Europe.
M e n like Haeckel, ultra-Darwinists and atheists, satisfied that their
o w n race was fittest to survive, regarded that prospect with equanimity,
as part o f the process that had decreed the extinction o f trilobite and
dinosaur. At most t h e y urged scientific study o f such d o o m e d peoples
as the Australian Aborigines or those Asian tribes w h o , according to
Baron Nordcnskiold, must soon disappear b e f o r e Russian conquest and
settlement. Others, n o less n u m e r o u s and vocal, d e m a n d e d on h u m a n i -
tarian and religious grounds the protection and civilization o f ' i n f e r i o r '
peoples. Still a n o t h e r school o f t h o u g h t rejected b o t h extinction and
civilization f o r c o n t e m p o r a r y primitives. Its unorganized ranks included
32 The Moon Man

the traveller w h o f o u n d a m o n g the natives o f the N i c o b a r Islands a


'chastity, honesty, cleanliness and kindly bearing towards each other' that
Europeans should emulate. T h e same spirit m o r e coarsely i n f o r m e d the
naval officer w h o w a n d e r e d t h r o u g h Patagonia admiring the Indians'
physique, endurance and instinctive 'decency', noting that in their
horse-racing 'foul play is u n k n o w n and all debts o f h o n o u r are
scrupulously paid on the spot'. T o the uneasy eyes o f m a n y Europeans,
r e m o t e and despised tribes p r o v e d that 'a people d e e m e d by us
uncivilized and savage m a y yet be in possession o f all that makes life
happy and contented, and present moral and industrial qualities o f n o
mean order'. Hacckcl himself felt obliged to put the phrase 'blessings o f
civilization' in quotation marks.
Perhaps the m e a n i n g o f it all came most vividly to light in the f a m e
that n i n e t c c n t h - c c n t u r y E u r o p e accorded the Guanche. W h e t h e r
derived f r o m w a n d e r i n g Vikings or f r o m survivors o f lost Atlantis, the
G u a n c h e became an example, peaceable, honorable and innocent,
representing the unspoiled h u m a n i t y o f the Golden Age. T h e i r
patriarchal and aristocratic society appealed to critics o f bourgeois
democracy. Their needy pastoral way o f life, described as at once feudal
and 'communistic', was contrasted with the obsessive greed o f m o d e r n
Europe. T h e G u a n c h e w e r e declared extinct, memorialized with
compassion and indignation. T h e r e remained other peoples in w h o m
the same exemplary force m i g h t be found, living evidence that the
moral nature o f m a n was warped rather than i m p r o v e d by a p r o b l e m -
atic 'civilization'. Born in the R o m e o f Tacitus, matured in e i g h t e e n t h -
century salons, the N o b l e Savage haunted the meetings o f scientific
societies. H e was still e n c o u n t e r e d in the world's archaic corners by
those w h o sought to cure or cscapc f r o m Europe's ills.
T h e y o u n g Russian held n o conscious belief in the primitive virtue o f
mankind. His favourite p r o n o u n c e m e n t on the subjcct was that o f
C o u n t A r t h u r de Gobincau, theorist o f aristocratic racism: ' M a n is the
wicked animal par excellence'. His n o t e b o o k s and m e m o r y contained
m a n y such p r o n o u n c e m e n t s , expressing a settled misanthropy. Yet he
was not w i t h o u t h o p e o f a kind. Occasionally he m e t people w h o pleased
him—idealistic youngsters like his d e v o t e d sister and little brother, w h o
accepted his authority and guidance, or sympathetic elders w h o fostered
his ambition and supplied his needs. H e was prepared to believe that a
'joyless planet' concealed lands w h e r e existence was 'still bearable' f o r
the untainted few, places as g l o w i n g and innocent as childhood, w h e r e
n o t h i n g w o u l d discourage or disgust. W i t h rational scientific aims, he
was b o u n d for the pure well-spring o f existence, a c o u n t r y t o o long lost
to be corrupt. Ernst Haeckel had provided the map, with the vanished
continent playfully labelled 'Paradise'.
3: To the Blessed Isles

A ATLANTIC or Mediterranean
shores, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y had o f t e n surrendered to an o v e r p o w e r i n g
experience. Classical coastlines lost their attraction. T h e open sea seemed
to draw him out o f himself, ' s o m e w h e r e into the distance*. H e f o r g o t
fear o f d r o w n i n g , f o r g o t intentions, f o r g o t w h e r e he stood. H e wished
only t o g o farther and farther, in a disembodied voyage towards an
unreachable horizon.
If he looked seaward f r o m the island choked by the 'Kronstadt slum',
circumstances crippled spiritual flight. T h e real voyage involved a very
solid vessel, 2225 tons, 350 horsepower, nine guns, sailing almost in
c o m p a n y w i t h three other warships. Instead o f travelling alone, a
liberated spirit, he was an inconvenient passenger, d e p e n d e n t on a
c o m m a n d e r he hardly k n e w and a c r o w d o f officers w h o m i g h t o r
m i g h t not be respectful and co-operative after a harangue f r o m the
grand duke. And he was tied to a m o u n t a i n o f luggage. Vityaz loaded
m o r e than a h u n d r e d cases o f his possessions, a revelation o f w h a t a
civilizcd m a n needs in his search for the primitive.
M u c h o f this w o u l d accompany him e v e r y w h e r e , capped by its
intellectual equivalent—counsels f r o m G o e t h e , Kant and S c h o p e n -
hauer, inspiration f r o m Italian, Indian and Spanish sayings, w o r l d -
weariness f r o m B y r o n and acid thoughts f r o m Molicrc. A n d with the
w e i g h t o f civilization he bore responsibilities distinct f r o m his stated
p r o g r a m m e . T h e correctness and importance o f his choice must be
demonstrated. H e had to p r o v e that detailed investigations on the spot
w e r e w o r t h m o r e than collections sent back to museums. Chauvinists
must learn f r o m his example that science could not be restricted by
national interests. Foreigners m u s t be disabused o f the notion that
Russians began well but n e v e r finished everything. Most d e m a n d i n g o f
33
34 The Moon Man

all was his duty t o p r o v e that the right kind o f European could live
peaceably a m o n g 'savage' peoples, neither damaging their way o f life
n o r exploiting t h e m f o r any gain but k n o w l e d g e .
T h e load included m o r e personal responsibilities to those he left
behind. His m o t h e r must be convinced that while strictly conserving
time and m o n e y he w o u l d d o all he undertook. She must be persuaded,
too, that f o r health's sake she should m o v e to Italy, w h e r e he m i g h t
eventually live with her. Olga must take o f f the dark glasses o f b o r e d o m
and melancholy and seize her n e w opportunities. She must draw, read,
travel, expand her life in every way, while awaiting the day w h e n her
b r o t h e r w o u l d build her a n e w existence. Y o u n g Vladimir must prepare
to f o l l o w M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y to N e w Guinea. Meshchersky should
detach himself f r o m the Russia in w h i c h he f o u n d n o future, have d o n e
with hopeless Europe, and join his friend in the tropics. For the time
being, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y was forced to take a great deal, w i t h only
promises and advice to give in return. H e pioneered the w a y f o r those
akin to him. In time, he w o u l d repay t h e m w i t h a n e w world.
Meshchersky saw him o f f f r o m Kronstadt on 8 N o v e m b e r 1870.
Farewells to the family w e r e c o m p l e t e d by a terse note: ' A u revoir or
goodbye. Keep y o u r promises, as I will keep mine'. T h e possibility o f
death was faced in a one-sentence will, leaving to Olga all that her
b r o t h e r possessed or m i g h t possess. T h e n he becamc an inmate o f a
'floating barracks'. Cold bit into his bones; d a m p and frost hindered his
w o r k ; his legs ached and he felt the beginnings of a chill. For c o m f o r t
he had a folding armchair given him by the grand duchess, portraits o f
his m o t h e r and sister, and plans t o o grandiose to be revealed.

W h i l e Vityaz sailed f r o m C o p e n h a g e n to P l y m o u t h , M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y
was ashore, c o m p l e t i n g his e q u i p m e n t and arrangements. T h e eyes o f
Europe w e r e on the G e r m a n siege o f Paris. H e hardly noticed that he
traversed a country at war. In G e r m a n cities he conferred with scientists,
bankers, booksellers, instrument-makers. H e visited libraries and scienti-
fic institutions and added to his e q u i p m e n t until cash ran short and bills
w e r e being sent to St Petersburg.
E v e r y o n e c o n f i r m e d the importance o f his undertaking. S o m e could
help with i n f o r m a t i o n and advice. G e r m a n business firms and mission
societies had great and g r o w i n g interests in the Pacific. G e r m a n
naturalists had visited the western end o f N e w Guinea. In recent years
geographers had strongly supported proposals that the island should
b e c o m e a G e r m a n colony. T h e ' w o r t h y , practical persons' M i k l o u h o -
Maclay consulted n e v e r failed to e n v y him. T h e i r admiration always
ended with a 'significant ooh!!, achll or aher—'. T h e y w e r e not g o i n g to
N e w Guinea, n o t t h e y — t o o risky.
To the Blessed Isles 35

H u g g i n g his satisfaction, he bustled t h r o u g h Europe, practising f o r


hardship by taking only o n e meal a day, sending h o m e a faithful stream
o f promises, advicc and personal news. In the Netherlands he obtained
letters t o potentially helpful people in the East Indies. In England, his
arrival stirred up the scientists and caught the attention o f newspapers.
T h o u g h English biologists disagreed w i t h his views on sponges and fish
brains, scientific dissent n e v e r prevented friendly co-operation. H u x l e y
and others provided letters to s m o o t h his w a y in Australia, claiming f o r
him the assistance d u e to a leader o f science. M a n y things w e r e his for
the asking.
But m u c h o f his preparatory e f f o r t had been wasted. Lord Clarendon
had died. T h e sympathetic, russophil M u r c h i s o n was dying, taking with
him any h o p e o f support f r o m the R o y a l Geographical Society. T h e
acting president, Sir H e n r y Rawlinson, was a p r o p h e t o f the great
British bogy, the Russian threat to India. And for all the courtesy, times
had never o f f e r e d less e n c o u r a g e m e n t t o a Russian seeking English
official assistance. T h e w o r l d had just learned that Russia, taking
advantage o f European upheavals, was abrogating treaty provisions that
had closed the Black Sea to her navy since the C r i m e a n War.
W h a t H u x l e y called 'the Russian r o w ' had e r u p t e d — o u t c r y in
parliament and press, m e n - o f - w a r m a k i n g ready f o r sea, W o o l w i c h
arsenal w o r k i n g day and night. Englishmen almost f o r g o t the Franco-
Prussian conflict in the prospect o f their o w n war with Russia. Four
Russian warships, calling at P o r t s m o u t h and P l y m o u t h , w e r e m o r e
significant than w e l c o m e .
A r r a n g e m e n t s f o r an international c o n f e r e n c e had b e g u n to blunt the
crisis w h e n M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y j o i n e d Vityaz at P l y m o u t h . H e personally
had m e t w i t h n o t h i n g but kindness. H e was nonetheless glad to leave
'cold, n o r t h e r n ' England, w h e r e r u m o u r claimed he travelled on the
grand duchess's m o n e y , or even as an official emissary o f Russia. T h e
politics he ignored had not finished w i t h him. W h e n the corvette sailed
on 18 D e c e m b e r , she was unexpectedly b o u n d for Madeira.
H e understood the reasons, and reconciled himself to delay. A recent
decision m a d e him j o y f u l as he w e l c o m e d 1871.
A f t e r objective consideration, he had decided n o t to stay away f o r
seven years. T h r e e years in N e w Guinea, Australia and 'about the tropics
generally' w o u l d d o f o r a start. T h e n he w o u l d live f o r a year or so in
his m o t h e r ' s Italian villa. W i t h scientific results partly w o r k e d out, he
w o u l d turn refreshed to the second stage o f his travels—cast Asia,
n o r t h e r n seas and the breadth o f Siberia. Olga and his m o t h e r could live
by the certainty that within f o u r years he w o u l d return.
T h e warships left the vantage point closest to Gibraltar and anchored
at St Vincent, Cape V e r d e Islands. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y w e l c o m e d the
36 The Moon Man

chance o f three weeks alone in a tent on the desolate shore. ' M y health
is good', he reported, 'and there is e n o u g h w o r k . Sumtna = all's well!' His
o n e care was that outsiders—the Russian Geographical Society, f o r
instance—should learn n o t h i n g a b o u t his change o f plan.
Threats o f war faded out while Vityaz lay at St Vincent. Late in
January 1871 she sailed at last f o r R i o de Janeiro. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y
k n e w by n o w that he w o u l d n e v e r voluntarily associate with Captain
N a z i m o v . H e suspected that the grand duke's preaching had d o n e m o r e
harm than g o o d a m o n g the officers. And the voyage in this c o m p a n y
was going to last a long time; like most warships o f the period, Vityaz
used her engines only occasionally. But thus far shipboard life had been
bearable. H e had weathered a storm in the Baltic, disturbed m o r e by
shrieks and groans f r o m the cabin partition than by w i n d and waves that
damaged the corvette. W h i l e Vityaz pranced and rolled b e t w e e n
Madeira and St Vincent, he had learned to catch a flying breakfast o r a
waltzing dinner and tie himself into his b u n k or armchair. These
experiences m a d e breezy paragraphs for letters h o m e , a breath o f salt
air and danger sweeping into the family's stuffy apartment. H e p r e f e r r e d
n o t t o m e n t i o n the seasickness he e n d u r e d almost all the w a y to R i o ,
and the fact that N a z i m o v m a d e a point o f doing so could not i m p r o v e
their relations.
In spite o f seasickness, he finished a paper on R e d Sea sponges. H e
also began w o r k on the study o f the seas. S o m e o f his advisers' questions
in this d e p a r t m e n t had already been overtaken by the progress o f
scicncc. O t h e r s presupposed a large expedition with a ship o f its o w n .
H e nevertheless m e a n t to d o s o m e t h i n g about the topic o f the hour,
the m e a s u r e m e n t o f deep-sea temperatures and the revived t h e o r y o f a
general oceanic circulation. In recent years entrenched errors had been
cleared away, techniques developed to the point w h e r e he could b u y
the most advanced deep-sea t h e r m o m e t e r f o r JT2 2s 6d. H e had t w o
such t h e r m o m e t e r s f r o m Casclla o f London, with a thousand f a t h o m s o f
special line f r o m the R o y a l Navy's chief h y d r o g r a p h e r and plenty o f
expert advice. N a z i m o v was not going to emulate c o m m a n d e r s w h o
kept their ships stationary all day f o r 'serial' readings f r o m surface to
b o t t o m , but he agreed to lend assistance and loiter f o r three hours in the
doldrums. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y was able to take the first m e a s u r e m e n t o f
deep-sea t e m p e r a t u r e in that part o f the Atlantic.
H e w r o t e u p the result at R i o dc Janeiro, with an historical and
theoretical introduction to m a k e a substantial article. But R i o was a
plunge into the real business o f the j o u r n e y . Each step in this
ethnologist's paradise b r o u g h t him face to face w i t h different races and
mixtures o f races. H e visited hospitals and e x a m i n e d specimens o f b o t h
sexes. In streets and markets he p o u n c e d on interesting subjects and t o o k
them to be p h o t o g r a p h e d naked f r o m three different angles. H e did not
To the Blessed Isles 37

seek the aborigine, reduced to a shadowy influence in a f e w people o f


m i x e d descent. T h e fascination lay in the 'lowest neighbourhoods',
w h e r e African blood ran p u r e or predominant.
Meetings w i t h representatives o f ' e v e r y possible African tribe, f r o m
M o r o c c o and Guinea as far as M o z a m b i q u e ' , m a d e a perfect i n t r o d u c -
tion t o studies m e a n t t o settle, a m o n g o t h e r things, the question o f links
b e t w e e n Pacific peoples and Africans. But he sought especially the
African natives w h o had spent m a n y years in Brazil, and their children
b o r n in that country.
As a f o l l o w e r o f the most e x t r e m e environmentalism, he expected
the N e g r o 'type' to change quickly in n e w climatic and social conditions.
H e took it for granted that the difference b e t w e e n Africa and Brazil
could bring this about. E v e r y w h e r e he f o u n d the expected changes
'leaping to the eye'. A long life in a ' m o r e temperate climate' m a d e an
old African's skin dull, even pale, by imaginary comparison with the
glossy black that must prevail in his native land. W h e n another old m a n
seemed as glossy and black as he should be, the comparison was w i t h his
adult son, 'born in a m u c h cooler country'. Exactly as reported f r o m the
n o r t h e r n U n i t e d States, these blacks w e r e t u r n i n g white.
T h e widespread idea that transplanted N e g r o e s b e c a m e m o r e like
Europeans had served various purposes. For s o m e early n i n e t e e n t h -
century advocates o f h u m a n unity, it c o n f i r m e d the N e g r o ' s 'degenera-
tion' f r o m an ideal w h i t e Adamic stock. T o later writers, it m a d e him a
primitive f o r e r u n n e r , capable o f b e c o m i n g a w h i t e m a n if placed in the
right conditions. For m a n y it b r o u g h t racial differentiation c o m f o r t a b l y
within a Biblical t i m e scale. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y gained his satisfaction in
contemplating the p o w e r o f e n v i r o n m e n t .
C h a n g e o f living conditions, then, could produce 'complete trans-
formation'. Y e t the evidence had its disturbing side. Behind the
influences he m e n t i o n e d — t i m e spent indoors, a settled m o d e o f life and
w o r k that was presumed u n k n o w n in Africa, association with o t h e r
races—there lay the single great fact o f slavery.
T h e slave traffic to Brazil had ceased eighteen years before. A f t e r
centuries o f manumission, the majority o f Afro-Brazilians w e r e as free
as Miklouho-Maclay. W i t h emancipation certain, a visitor could
concentrate on prices charged for the remaining slaves—'enormous' by
comparison with those paid in N u b i a and Abyssinia—and the legal
conditions g o v e r n i n g their treatment. H o w e v e r he c o m m u n i c a t e d with
t h e m , w h a t e v e r questions he asked, he saw in every African a slave or
a product o f slavery.
So the apparent evolution o f Afro-Brazilians caused m i x e d feelings.
A f t e r half a lifetime in Brazil, a slave could still match the w h i t e man's
image o f the N e g r o — s h i n y black, w i t h a 'naively-stupid visage . . .
grinning at every trifle'. A n e w style o f behaviour m a r k e d his
38 The Moon Man

Brazilian-born son. T h e influences that faded the c o m p l e x i o n seemed


t o suppress the thoughtless g o o d nature b o r n 'in Africa, in freedom*.
W h e n reserve and self-control replaced primitive simplicity, the
observer's sense o f w h a t the black m a n should be declared it a p o o r
exchange. It was pointless to regret an inevitable process. H e understood
that Afro-Brazilians w i t h o u t a d r o p o f European blood' w e r e already
indistinguishable f r o m mulattos. C o n f i r m e d and strengthened b y
heredity, the effect o f using different muscles w o u l d re-shape the
N e g r o face.
T h e Brazilian s u m m a r y o f Africa perhaps took the edge o f f
disappointment w h e n he learned that Vityaz w o u l d neither call at the
Cape o f G o o d H o p e n o r help test the 'Lemuria' hypothesis by soundings
in the Indian Ocean. W h e n changed orders sent the corvette south, he
could n o longer count on visiting Australia or even being taken to N e w
Guinea. 'I am alive, healthy, and have m o r e than e n o u g h w o r k ' , he
s u m m e d up, 'but I don't k n o w w h e r e I'm going or h o w to get t o the
Papuans'.
O n the shores o f Magellan Strait he was t o o engrossed to fret a b o u t
the future. Those shores, w h e r e he v e r y consciously walked in the
footsteps o f the y o u n g Charles Darwin, w e r e not quite as D a r w i n had
seen t h e m forty years before. T h e world's most southerly t o w n s h i p
n o w occupied Punta Arenas o n the Brunswick Peninsula. Forest and
snow-streaked hills f o r m e d the background for m o r e than t w o h u n d r e d
houses, w i t h church, school, barracks and sawmills. Perhaps misled by
English and Irish names and a British steamer service, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y
took this part o f Chile for an 'English colony' mainly populated by
Chileans. In fact the settlement was a Chilean Siberia, built by
transported criminals and political exiles. W h a t e v e r its materials,
civilization had c o m e to stay.
Ascending a m o u n t a i n o n trolleys pushed by h u m a n 'locomotives', a
party f r o m Vityaz inspected coal mines and gold diggings. O n excursions
f r o m the t o w n the naturalist f o l l o w e d a road that seemed at first 'too
good f o r Patagonia'. T h e minimal clearing o f forest, settlers told him,
had already i m p r o v e d vegetable gardens by altering the rainfall. But the
settlement a m o u n t e d to a fingernail scratch in the wilderness. A f e w
minutes on horseback, and he entered a primeval world.
T h e road shrank to a faint path b e t w e e n a wall o f forest and the
m o o d y expanse o f the strait, completely disappearing at high tide. H e
could ride f o r t y kilometres in either direction along cobblestone
beaches w i t h o u t m e e t i n g a soul. In the sodden gloom o f beech forests
h e plunged a m o n g mossy rocks and decaying w o o d , b e t w e e n columnar
trunks thickly studded with fungi, wrapped in a silence that m i g h t have
reigned since the w o r l d began. H e stood o n the w i n d s w e p t threshold
o f the continent, asked what lay ahead, and was told, T h e Pampas'.
Massawa, Abyssinia, in 1869

A souvenir of Suakin: from the title page of Miklouho-Maclay's notes on Red


Sea sponges
Miklouho-Maclay in Moroccan dress in Jena,
1867

T h e R e d Sea traveller: Miklouho-Maclay


Syrian dress
Miklouho-Maclay in Jena, 1870

Oranienbaum Palace, the


Salon Japonais, 1870
Mangarcva, Tuaniotu Archipelago, with the mission cottage in which
Miklouho-Maclay lived, July 1871
To the Blessed Isles 39

F r e e d o m , fine weather, a willing horse, an unspoilt country—all was


excellent as o n the first day.
D a r w i n had discovered in Patagonia that there was n o t h i n g like
geology. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y , regretting his ignorance o f the subject,
caught a touch o f his predecessor's enthusiasm. But elementary observa-
tions o n coastal uplift and the action o f streams soon t o o k second place.
As t h o u g h it had b e e n arranged for him, the village filled with
Patagonians, T e h u e l c h e h o r s e m e n w h o crossed the isthmus to Punta
Arenas once or twice a year.
E v e r y w h e r e , tall figures swathed in guanaco skins r o d e silently
t h r o u g h the streets or l o u n g e d about shop doorways. H e studied their
r u g g e d features, long black hair and clumsy garments, admired their
highly efficient harness, copied their decorative designs, and watched a
demonstration with the bolas. In these hardy, intelligent, taciturn
hunters, he saw a people equal to Patagonia. H e was hardly surprised to
find a m o n g t h e m , as D a r w i n had, a fugitive f r o m civilization, an
Argentinian w h o had l o n g b e f o r e exchanged Buenos Aires for
primitive f r e e d o m .
Yet sadness shadowed the meeting. D a r w i n had f o u n d the T e h u e l c h e
'half civilized and proportionally demoralized' by their strange fondness
f o r Europeans. N o w they w e r e half civilized and wholly ruined. W h e n
they traded guanaco skins and ostrich feathers to the settlers, w h a t
interested t h e m most was r u m . W i t h i n three hours most o f the Indians
w e r e t o o d r u n k to stand. T h e y drank until they lost consciousness. T h e
only consolations came f r o m the rarity o f the e v e n t and the p r o o f that
Patagonians w e r e n e v e r t o o d r u n k to ride.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y left facts to speak for themselves: w o m e n drinking
themselves as insensible as their husbands, guns o f f e r e d as freely as
liquor, the friendly, w e l l - i n f o r m e d g o v e r n o r m a k i n g m o n e y f r o m this
trade. H e could n o t entirely c o n d e m n a settlement w h e r e a regular
steamer delivered, along with alcohol and firearms, a sheaf o f letters
f r o m h o m e . B e f o r e leaving Punta Arenas, he sent o f f a long r e p o r t to
the Russian Geographical Society, again r e m i n d e d his m o t h e r o f his
careful regard f o r time and m o n e y and his promise to live with her in
Italy.
T h e n Vityaz left the strait, past u n t o u c h e d shores o f snowpatch and
forest, peaks rising tier b e y o n d tier, s o m b r e channels that Darwin had
imagined leading to 'another and worse world'. By the end o f April,
Maclay m i g h t indeed have entered a n o t h e r world. H e stood in a
courtyard at Talcahuano, while the British consul explained the
brainchild on which he had spent a f o r t u n e , a 'solar machine' f o r
smelting copper. If the old visionary did not die or beggar himself
b e f o r e he perfected it, the traveller concluded, the i n v e n t i o n w o u l d be
'immensely p o w e r f u l ' .
40 The Moon Man

S o m e w h e r e in Chile—in the arid surroundings o f Talcahuano or


Valparaiso, o n a u p - r i v e r trip f r o m Concepcion, in the streets and
m u s e u m s o f almost-Parisian Santiago or o n the road to A c o n c a g u a —
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y managed to catch a fever. O r perhaps he relapsed
into the malaria he had suffered in Europe. Either way, he became and
remained so ill that N a z i m o v d o u b t e d his chances o f surviving in N e w
Guinea. Illness was the least o f Maclay's worries. At Valparaiso the
captain received orders to m a k e direct f o r N e w Guinea, w i t h o u t calling
at any Australian port.
So m u c h f o r the grand duke's promises. W i t h calm restored b e t w e e n
England and Russia, political storms b l e w u p f r o m the south Pacific.
British colonists in Australia, always nervous about their exposed
position, had lately seen t o o m a n y Russian warships. W h i l e Vityaz was
at sea b e t w e e n R i o and Magellan Strait, yet another Russian corvette had
appeared in Australian waters. A n d while the colonists c h e w e d o v e r
their surmises, they had heard o f Miklouho-Maclay's i m p e n d i n g arrival
in the Pacific. M o r e o v e r , the scope o f his plans and enquiries had
convinced G e r m a n and English scientists that he led an official
expedition. As Australians heard it, the Russian g o v e r n m e n t was
sending N e w Guinea a 'scientific mission' that w o u l d spend t w o years
in 'complete examination and survey o f the island'.
Soothing but i m p r o b a b l e hopes w e r e p u t f o r w a r d , suggestions that
Australian scientists, missionaries and prospectors could w o r k in N e w
Guinea u n d e r Russian 'protection'. Friends o f civilization w e r e told to
rejoice that the interior was to be explored f r o m end to end.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y was introduced as a potential 'Rajah B r o o k e ' to bring
the great island o u t o f primeval darkness. But the general reaction was
hostile. Optimists t o o k it for granted that Russia had 'an eye to N e w
Guinea'. Alarmists saw the Russian scientific mission 'establishing a
f o o t i n g for annexation'. Australians, always interested in obtaining N e w
Guinea f o r themselves, or at least in keeping others out, w e r e u r g e d to
be 'up and doing if they w o u l d not have the Russian e m p i r e e x t e n d i n g
to their very doors'.
W h i l e Vityaz lay at Valparaiso, the Australian alarm reached London.
O t h e r s began to take steps. T h e D u t c h nominally held western N e w
Guinea t h r o u g h their vassal state o f Tidore. For thirteen years they had
ignored it. T h e i r only real interest, the exclusion o f o t h e r powers, had
recently been threatened by the ideas o f Germans, Italians and
Australians. N o w Batavia started to organize its o w n l o n g - p o s t p o n e d
expedition to the island. T h e sight o f the Dutch, 'startled o u t o f their
apathy', seemed to c o n f i r m Australian fears, and Australian agitation
f u r t h e r alarmed the Dutch.
It w o u l d take time to convince this South Seas hornets' nest that the
great Russian expedition consisted o f one y o u n g man, travelling at his
To the Blessed Isles 41

m o t h e r ' s expense. Meanwhile, alarmists caused him m o r e trouble than


he caused t h e m . H e had rather fancied m a k i n g his way to N e w Guinea
w i t h o u t N a z i m o v ' s 'floating barracks' and its mindless inhabitants. But
his f u n d s had been sent to Australia, w h e r e only he could d r a w t h e m .
H e had n o t h i n g for c u r r e n t expenses, purchase o f supplies and building
materials, or p a y m e n t o f the servants he must find as substitutes for m e n
engaged at Sydney. In this e x t r e m i t y he o v e r c a m e distaste f o r dealing
with N a z i m o v . H e obtained 1000 roubles f r o m the captain, covering
the loan by a bill d r a w n on Meshchersky. This faithful friend w o u l d
understand the position and say, ' H e is right!'
Six m o n t h s away f r o m Russia, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y o f t e n t h o u g h t o f
those he had left behind. H e f o u n d decent folk in Chile, especially a little
girl o f fourteen, o n e o f the rare people w h o pleased him. B u t he m a n y
times wished he could seel Olga and his m o t h e r . H e regretted that
Meshchersky was not sharing his adventures and alleviating the miseries
o f shipboard life. As an antidote to this sense o f loss and loneliness,
D a r w i n had r e c o m m e n d e d 'the exhaustless delight o f anticipating the
long w i s h e d - f o r day o f return'. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y t h o u g h t m o r e o f the
day w h e n those he needed w o u l d c o m e to him. Vladimir must join him,
'even in N e w Guinea'. This brief separation m e a n t nothing, he
c o m f o r t e d Olga: 'I will c o m e soon, and perhaps (I speak very seriously)
I will take y o u away w i t h me'.
T h e f u t u r e he desired f o r this beloved sister did n o t include an Olga
w h o g r e w older, married s o m e suitable man, became a m o t h e r . At times
he seemed almost to wish her changed to stone until his return. As he
passed b e y o n d reach o f her letters, b e y o n d the possibility o f guiding her
life, he insisted on the duties she o w e d him: 'Keep y o u r diary, and don't
d o anything w i t h o u t m y advice' . . . ' W r i t e m o r e to m e , and don't
undertake anything w i t h o u t m y advice'. T h e i r shared f u t u r e was to
resemble the past, with Olga as his c o m p a n i o n and handmaiden, but in
s o m e better place.
H e was b o u n d f o r islands that to generations o f Europeans had
f o r m e d the very image of the better place. Approaching N e w Guinea
f r o m an unplanned direction, he had only to reverse the order in which
he studied the relationship o f Papuans to their Polynesian neighbours.
A n d the change o f r o u t e b r o u g h t unexpected opportunity. Vityaz
carried letters for Easter Island, Rapanui, most fascinating island o f t h e m
all.
Adolph Bastian, the president o f the Berlin Geographical Society and
vice-president o f the Society for A n t h r o p o l o g y , E t h n o l o g y and P r e -
history, had especially urged study o f Easter Island. O n e o f those w h o
took M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y for leader o f a scientific mission, he even h o p e d
to see excavations carried out. In any case he wanted i n f o r m a t i o n about
smaller objects than stone platforms and enigmatic colossi. H e had
42 The Moon Man

received rubbings o f w o o d e n tablets f o u n d o n the island, s h o w i n g r o w s


o f incised symbols that he declared a f o r m o f writing. O t h e r e m i n e n t
scientists disagreed. B u t the original tablets in the Santiago m u s e u m had
convinced Miklouho-Maclay. T h e s e w e r e true hieroglyphs, the first
writing f o u n d in the Pacific islands. H e had enthusiastically prepared f o r
Rapanui, studying w o r k s o f art b r o u g h t back by a Chilean frigate and
official reports available at Santiago. H e r o u n d l y c o n d e m n e d most o f his
predecessors, ignorant or indifferent travellers w h o had allowed
themselves to be p r e m a t u r e l y driven f r o m the island by famine, bad
w e a t h e r or native hostility.
As Vityaz approached Rapanui, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y began to tackle a
p r o b l e m set by o n e o f his advisers: to d e t e r m i n e w h e t h e r H u m b o l d t ' s
'law' on the decrease o f sea t e m p e r a t u r e near land held g o o d for the
Pacific islands. H e gained n o t h i n g else, for there was n o going ashore.
H e saw only the island's rolling profile, a stony beach p o u n d e d by surf,
and s o m e white buildings against reddish-dun slopes. T h e people w h o s e
history he wished to unveil w e r e a f e w half-clad figures b o b b i n g about
in t w o European sloops. According to white m e n w h o came aboard, the
missionaries and most o f the islanders had g o n e to Tahiti. T h e remaining
natives w o u l d probably leave w h e n the Tahiti vessel returned.
T h e resident Europeans impressed the officers as three e m b i t t e r e d
castaways, almost u n h i n g e d by m o n o t o n y and isolation, r e - f i g h t i n g the
Franco-Prussian W a r in the middle of n o w h e r e . N o b o d y recognized
the voluble F r e n c h m a n as a f u t u r e king. Jean-Baptiste D u t r o u x - B o r n i e r
and his native allies had ousted their rivals, priests and flock. H e had their
cottages, gardens and animals, even their church f o r use as a w o o l store.
H e could t u r n to developing a prosperous pastoral concern. And he
wanted m o r e . H e w o u l d m a r r y a native princess', proclaim her queen,
and rule in her name. H e w o u l d enjoy wealth, w o m e n , p o w e r , and see
a child b o r n to continue his line. T h e n he w o u l d be killed by his enraged
subjects. But n o f o r e b o d i n g s disturbed the m a n w h o w o u l d be king.
H e told the Russians the necessary lies, but m a d e n o a t t e m p t to
dissuade t h e m f r o m landing. U n a b l e to deliver the missionaries' letters,
N a z i m o v refused to linger at an unsafe anchorage. Disappointment
sharpened Miklouho-Maclay's criticism o f predecessors w h o had wasted
the privilege o f visiting Rapanui. It did n o t p r e v e n t his writing up
e v e r y t h i n g learned f r o m books and m u s e u m study. O t h e r s m i g h t test
his theories. Besides, he was b o u n d f o r places w h e r e most o f the
R a p a n u i people n o w lived.
Illness p r e v e n t e d his going ashore at Pitcairn. T h e officers w e n t , and
returned in raptures. T h e earth's abundance, closeness to nature, an
enchanting simplicity, peace, h a r m o n y — i t was the Pitcairn o f children's
books, the idyll that helped shape the restless European's vision o f the
South Seas. These e x e m p l a r y people k n e w n o t h i n g o f Europe's frenzies
and alarms. T h e y w e r e not like the hysterical trio on Rapanui, h u n g r y
To the Blessed Isles 43

f o r newspapers to feed private hatreds. T h e y n o m o r e needed w i n e and


cigars than that other poison, the m o n e y that 'civilization* m a d e essential.
T h e y wanted only their o w n simple ways, true Christian faith and
mutual love. Admirers preferred to o v e r l o o k the quantity and variety
of European goods that the descendants o f the Bounty mutineers w a n t e d
f r o m Vityaz.
It did n o t satisfy Miklouho-Maclay's idea o f the 'primitive', this
half-Polynesian c o m m u n i t y that clung to European f u r n i t u r e and
respectability, taught its children in English and kept a m o r e - t h a n -
English Sabbath. H e carried away only s o m e sketches, m o r e t e m p e r a -
ture m e a s u r e m e n t s contradicting ' H u m b o l d t ' s law', and an impression
that the islanders' Polynesian inheritance was o v e r c o m i n g the 'English
type'. A w e e k later he was established beside a lagoon at Mangareva. His
cottage steps led straight on to the beach. A f e w paces f r o m the back
door, a rich tangle o f vegetation began. B e y o n d , a green-clad m o u n t a i n
rose t o a vibrant sky. H e had entered the Pacific o f legend. His o w n
Pacific was still far to seek.
W e a r i e d by illness and a 36-day voyage f r o m Valparaiso, he gladly
stayed u n d e r the r o o f provided by the mission. Mangareva had been
d o m i n a t e d by missionaries f o r almost f o r t y years, part o f a French
protectorate since 1844. F r o m his veranda he saw all he wished to see.
Natives w e r e sent to him in satisfactory n u m b e r s , b r o u g h t f r o m the
other side o f the island on request. Several times a day, people gathered
on his veranda. H e inspected t h e m f r o m the c o m f o r t of his armchair.
T h e y c o n f o r m e d to his silence and immobility, only occasionally talking
and laughing a m o n g themselves. H e noted facial characteristics, d r e w
portraits w i t h the aid o f the camera lucida, and gave thanks f o r ideal
conditions. S u r r o u n d e d by strangers w h o s e talk he did n o t understand,
he felt safe f r o m the influence o f sympathy and antipathy, able to
d e t e r m i n e the 'general type' quite objectively. W h e n he f o u n d it 'far
f r o m beautiful', this conclusion seemed as objective as the rest.
T h e visitors whispering w h o - k n o w s - w h a t about the stranger
included m a n y people f r o m Rapanui. T h e y displayed the same features
as the Mangarevans, yet M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y easily picked t h e m out.
Their ' f r o w n i n g , sad expression and thin faces' spoke to him o f recent
upheavals on their island and sufferings on the way to Mangareva. T h e y
spoke, too, o f w h a t these people had earlier suffered at the hands o f
white men. A string o f population estimates, and s o m e idea o f South
American politics, m a d e him cautious about Chilean claims that
Peruvians had killed thousands o f Rapanui. But m a n y islanders had been
violently or fraudulently carried off, nine years before, to w o r k in Peru.
T h e f e w w h o r e t u r n e d had b r o u g h t smallpox to the island. H e was
examining survivors o f the destruction he expected to find w h e r e v e r
Europeans had been.
H e nevertheless concluded that native wars and a 'scanty and
44 The Moon Man

unreliable f o o d supply' had helped reduce the n u m b e r o f Rapanui. T h e


principal cause o f depopulation seemed to be a 'huge numerical
disproportion b e t w e e n the sexes'. Europeans had always r e m a r k e d on
it. N o w there remained, f o r f o u r h u n d r e d Rapanui m e n , only o n e
h u n d r e d very thin and sickly w o m e n , and the f e w little girls w e r e
married at about ten years o f age.
Perhaps disproportionate n u m b e r s o f w o m e n had died f r o m small-
pox, as the m e n explained. But reliable records o f Mangareva's declining
population showed a similar imbalance. Ever f e w e r girls w e r e b o r n
alive, and m o r e o f t h e m died in the first year of life. As on Rapanui,
m a n y married y o u n g , died y o u n g and left n o offspring. T h e dutiful
survivors b o r e f o u r children on the average, yet the rising generation
contained twice as m a n y boys as girls.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y answered the standard question about the condi-
tion o f w o m e n . H e refrained f r o m interpreting the figures. Faced by
t w o peoples w i t h o u t a f u t u r e , he retrieved w h a t he could o f their past.
Authentic Mangarevan artefacts could still be purchased. O n e man,
incapable o f felling trees with his father's stone axe, donated it to science.
Rapanui tablets obtained by the missionaries had been sent to Tahiti or
Chile, but the refugees still held t w o or three of these kohau rongorongo.
T h e i r past was in those beautifully-inscribed symbols, they explained, all
the important events o f the island. T h e i r fathers had been able to
engrave and read these signs, but n o b o d y understood t h e m n o w .
S o m e R a p a n u i customs could be ascertained almost directly. F o r m e r
warriors b o r e vestiges o f tattooing that in the great days had covered
even the lips of the war-leaders. Children of eleven r e m e m b e r e d meals
of h u m a n flesh. C o n f i r m i n g reports that m e n in their early twenties
w e r e smaller and less robust than their elders, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y traced
this decline to the abolition o f cannibalism. H e left European readers to
j u d g e w h e t h e r missionaries should tamper w i t h such practices. H e
regretted only that these zealots did so little to record w h a t they
destroyed.
H e m i g h t as reasonably have criticized a sailor's neglect to study
marine life as the ship w e n t d o w n . T h e brief, discontinuous evangeliza-
tion o f R a p a n u i had b e g u n and ended in turmoil. In b e t w e e n , death and
departure had halved the mission. Perc Hippolyte Roussel had n e v e r -
theless stolen time f r o m religion and island politics to copy rock
engravings and e x a m i n e fallen statues. H e had collected eight inscribed
tablets and c o n f i r m e d the existence o f m o r e , compiled vocabularies,
recorded some customs. But on Mangareva in 1871 he could tell a
visitor hardly anything new. O t h e r investigators had questioned him
and published the results.
W i t h Roussel as interpreter and principal informant, M i k l o u h o -
To the Blessed Isles 45

Maclay c o n f i r m e d English and Chilean reports that w e r e still n e w s in


Russia. H e learned m o r e about events as yet u n k n o w n to the outside
world. D u t r o u x - B o r n i e r claimed to have b o u g h t the missions buildings
and sheep. Lies, said the missionary; the pirate had simply taken
everything. T h i n k i n g o f that desolate island, so p o o r in 'means o f
existence', the scientist almost believed that its inhabitants had emigrated
o f their o w n accord. N o t at all, said Pere Roussel. D u t r o u x - B o r n i e r had
incited his allies to destroy the Christians' houses. He, not the rats, had
d u g up the sweet potatoes and forced the people to choose b e t w e e n
flight and starvation. N o w those on R a p a n u i w e r e held by terror, while
those in safety pined to go h o m e . O n l y authority and guns could
recover the graveyard that m e a n t so m u c h to t h e m , and so far n o b o d y
with the p o w e r had the will.
R a p a n u i problems provided an education. N o b o d y denied that the
refugees had undertaken to w o r k a set time for D u t r o u x - B o r n i e r ' s
partner in Tahiti. T h e missionaries accused that respected planter and
trader o f using intrigue and violence to get the island for his sheep and
its people as plantation labourers. N o t so, said J o h n Brander. H e had
b o u g h t the island. T o save his sheep f r o m h u n g r y islanders and the
islanders f r o m starvation, he had arranged to resettle the Rapanui, at o n e
stroke doing g o o d deeds and g o o d business. N o w he complained that
the exiles on Mangareva w e r e p r e v e n t e d f r o m keeping their agree-
ment. T h e priests claimed to have rescued the r e m n a n t f r o m slavery.
W i t h one party French and Catholic, the other mainly British and
Protestant, Tahiti tradition b r e w e d a dispute in w h i c h even the R a p a n u i
would take sides.
T h e officers of Vityaz had already taken sides w h e n Brander
w e l c o m e d t h e m to Tahiti. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y acccptcd the missionaries'
account, but saw n o reason to refuse the predator's hospitality. W i t h the
officers and most o f local 'society', he attended a party at Brander's
house. W i t h Brander and the officers, he visited the southern districts
for a native festival and witnessed dances that n o missionary approved.
T h e trip gave him his first acquaintance w i t h close relatives of the
Papuans, plantation w o r k e r s f r o m the S o l o m o n Islands and N e w
Hebrides. It allowed him to study the ruins of the great marae at
Mahaiatea, f o r comparison w i t h other Pacific island religious m o n u -
ments. It also introduced him to the m a n w h o had completed the
destruction b e g u n by nature. Against Tahitian protests, William Stewart
had salvaged masonry f r o m the temple f o r use in another extravagant
dream. O n his cotton plantation, the sacred stones had helped to build a
settlement that he represented as a w o r k i n g man's paradise and his
enemies c o n d e m n e d as hell on earth. N o w he was sliding into ruin, soon
to die, deposed and penniless. Vegetation w o u l d s m o t h e r his kingdom's
foundations as t h o u g h they had remained in the marae Mahaiatea.
46 The Moon Man

For Miklouho-Maclay, the most interesting man in Tahiti was


neither the despoiler o f R a p a n u i n o r the magnate w h o s e agents w e r e
ravaging other islands f o r labourers to p r o p up d o o m e d fortunes. T h e
t i m e he could spare f r o m excursions and business was spent with
T e p a n o Jaussen, Bishop of Axieri in partibus infidelium, first vicar
apostolic o f Oceania, w h o held most o f the Rapanui tablets thus far
obtained.
M o n s e i g n e u r Jaussen could claim priority in recognizing the i m p o r -
tance o f kohau rongorongo—'speaking w o o d ' , as he translated the name.
T h e lay b r o t h e r w h o had spent nine hair-raising m o n t h s on the island
in 1864 had seen m a n y such tablets, w h o s e o w n e r s seemed to care v e r y
little for t h e m . But European scientists had cared n o m o r e . His discovery
forgotten, the discoverer had died on Rapanui in 1868, w i t h o u t
m e n t i o n i n g the subject to his colleagues o f the n e w mission. T h e n the
bishop had c o m e across the neglected report. A missionary f r o m
R a p a n u i had b r o u g h t a gift—braids o f h u m a n hair w r a p p e d r o u n d a
board bearing engraved signs. T h e h u n t was on f o r pieces o f w o o d that
the people o f a treeless island w e r e said to be feeding into their cooking
fires.
T h e bishop had five, all affectionately named, and spent his spare t i m e
trying to extract their meaning. T h u s early in his task, he never d o u b t e d
that the speaking w o o d must speak to him. N e i t h e r he n o r his visitor
imagined that these symbols w o u l d baffle scholars a century later.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y chose for description the largest and best-
preserved tablet, m a d e f r o m a European ashwood oar that p r o v e d b o t h
the inscription's m o d e r n i t y and the island's lack o f w o o d . By the t i m e
he finished w i t h the bishop's collection he had seen ten of these
relics—boards in all shapes and sizes and a variety o f timbers, s o m e
marked by ill-treatment, fire, w o r m s or long i m m e r s i o n in the sea.
W i t h o u t discovering anything the bishop had not, he could give
European scientists a vivid picture o f objects they k n e w only f r o m t w o
paper copies. His g o o d luck was completed by the possession o f
specimens. T h e bishop donated o n e o f his finest tablets 'to the Russian
warship Vityaz. In Miklouho-Maclay's collection it m a d e a splendid
c o m p a n i o n for a smaller, odd-shaped, defective tablet that he had
perhaps obtained at Mangarcva.
His last w o r d about Rapanui was written in m i d - A u g u s t at Apia, the
capital o f Samoa. H e was counting the days to N e w Guinea, sure that
even Olga could not imagine his eagerness. T h e officers speculated on
their reception a m o n g savages w h o did n o t expect visitors. T h e
carpenters w e r e dressing t i m b e r f o r Miklouho-Maclay's N e w Guinea
h o m e . Yet his enterprise still suffered f r o m uncertainty. H e easily
resisted Nazimov's a r g u m e n t that a man so sick and w e a k e n e d should
To the Blessed Isles 47

abandon the undertaking and g o on to Japan. H e could n o t ignore the


difficulties o f trying to live alone in N e w Guinea. N o b o d y in Chile or
Tahiti had wished to join the expedition. Apia seemed equally unable
to provide t w o servants. H e faced the prospect o f leaving the corvette
and m a k i n g his o w n w a y to the goal via unpredictable detours in search
of men.
H e l p came f r o m T h e o d o r e W e b e r , consul for the G e r m a n E m p i r e
and local m a n a g e r for the great H a m b u r g f i r m o f G o d e f f r o y . O n e o f
W e b e r ' s finds was a N i u e Island y o u t h , probably conscriptcd f r o m
a m o n g i m p o r t e d labourers o n G o d e f f r o y plantations. T h e other, a
S w e d e n a m e d Will Olsen, had been a seaman on a m e r c h a n t vessel.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y could n o t afford to be too particular. Olsen
seemed cheerful and obliging, fit to keep house and manage a boat. His
prospective e m p l o y e r , w h o w a n t e d a servant not a c o m p a n i o n , never
asked h o w this talkative fellow w o u l d adapt to a life o f isolation and
silence. T h e y o u n g islander should at least be able to cook native foods
and the dried b e e f b r o u g h t f r o m Chile. By some aberration M i k l o u h o -
Maclay imagined that a Polynesian, born on a small island m o r e than
f o u r thousand kilometres f r o m N e w Guinea, m i g h t act as 'guide' a m o n g
the Papuans. H e neither f o u n d out w h e t h e r this waif had any n a m e but
the condescending 'Boy' n o r noticed his deep-seated cough.
Olsen understood G e r m a n and could sign his name. 'Boy' understood
n o language but his o w n . B o t h accepted a w r i t t e n a g r e e m e n t pledging
t h e m to d o w h a t e v e r their master required and f o l l o w w h e r e v e r he
w e n t . As to their expectations, the record was less clear. Olsen seemed
to think he m i g h t better himself in N e w Guinea. B o y was t o o scared
and ignorant to expect anything.

T h e y sailed f r o m shabby little Apia, with its bars and billiard tables,
native power-struggles and European intrigue. European influence was
n o t left behind. Samoans solved the religious p r o b l e m by impartially
attending both Protestant and Catholic churches, balancing the d o u b l e
dose o f sermons by dances that the visitors f o u n d even m o r e indecent
that those o f Tahiti. O n R o t u m a , native factions m a d e w a r on behalf o f
i m p o r t e d creeds. Vityaz delivered a letter there, assuring the Catholic
missionaries that a French g u n b o a t was on the way. For a couple o f days
the Russians p r o v i d e d the f r i g h t e n e d fathers with c o m p a n y guaranteed
to o v e r a w e the Protestants. These w e r e their last dealings w i t h w h i t e
m e n in the south Pacific. O n 12 S e p t e m b e r they anchored in Port
Praslin, at the south-west tip o f N e w Ireland, and k n e w they had
entered a d i f f e r e n t world.
N a z i m o v did n o t like the looks o f the 'Papuans' w h o w a n d e r e d a b o u t
the deck, exclaiming in a m a z e m e n t at e v e r y t h i n g they saw. T h e y
48 The Moon Man

appealed n o m o r e t o the literary-minded officer w h o rhapsodized o v e r


the primitive idyll of Pitcairn. It was not merely the sight o f sticks and
bones thrust t h r o u g h nostrils and ear lobes, teeth blackened by
betel-chewing, harsh, bushy hair dyed red or daubed w h i t e w i t h lime.
These wild m e n punctuated their torrential talk by alarming shouts and
bursts o f laughter. T h e i r eyes w e r e 'knavish', their w h o l e expression
disagreeable and disturbing. For the first time, the Russians felt they
w e r e m e e t i n g savages.
Yet these m e n , dressed 'entirely in the costume o f Adam', w e r e ready
for business, v e r y clear about w h a t they wanted in exchange for garden
produce. Along with a f e w w o r d s o f English, they had picked up s o m e
o f the l o w - g r a d e civilization dispensed by whaling vessels. T h e y stole
nothing, threatened n o b o d y . W h e n Vityaz sailed, a flotilla o f canoes gave
her a gala farewell.
A l o n g the south coast o f N e w Britain the wind played the kind o f
tricks that had prolonged the voyage across the Pacific. T h e n calms and
light, capricious breezes gave w a y to squalls and thunderstorms. Clouds
blotted out the sun and hurled masses o f water on to the deck. Lightning
slashed the g l o o m o f sea and sky and Saint Elmo's fire tipped the masts.
Everything increased the travellers' sense o f approaching a special place.
It filled the horizon on 19 September, an immense, b r o o d i n g
u n k n o w n . Mountains rose to view, half-hidden in cloud, half-revealed
as steep slopes dark with forest. T h e light-coloured strip at their feet
took shape as a series o f terraces clad in grassland and isolated thickets,
slashed by jungle-filled clefts. As Vityaz followed the coast n o r t h - w e s t ,
the trees seemed to close ranks until their s o m b r e mass stretched f r o m
shore to mountains. H e r e and there, columns o f s m o k e signalled the
presence of men. Just b e f o r e nightfall the corvette passed a small island
w h e r e roofs appeared a m o n g coconut palms. T h e Russians saw n o other
evidence of h u m a n life in that secretive land.
Their destination, still uncertain while Vityaz lay at Apia, had been
settled b e f o r e they sighted N e w Guinea. T h e y had reached the n o r t h
coast near William Dampier's 'Cape King William', and w e r e m a k i n g
for D u m o n t d'Urville's 'Cape Rigny'. T h e islands to their right had been
labelled by Dampier. T h e mountains l o o m i n g to the left had received
f r o m the French explorer the n a m e o f 'Finisterre'. N e x t day, the
Russians w o u l d land on one o f those stretches of coast that m a p m a k e r s
indicated by b r o k e n lines. D a m p i e r had seen this bight or gulf, the only
large indentation in m o r e than 1000 kilometres n o r t h - w e s t f r o m Cape
King William. In 1827 D u m o n t d'Urville had laid d o w n its southern
and n o r t h e r n limits and n a m e d it after his ship—'Astrolabe Bay'. N o
European had entered it or f o r m e d m o r e than a vague idea o f h o w far
it bit into the bulk o f N e w Guinea. N o n e , that is, unless o n e believed
the r u m o u r that a Captain Edgar had recently sailed up the gulf f o r
To the Blessed Isles 49

m o r e than 300 kilometres w i t h o u t sighting its termination. W i t h or


w i t h o u t the r u m o u r , Astrolabe Bay promised a sheltered anchorage f o r
taking on w o o d and water. For M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y , it f o r m e d a possible
gateway to the interior.
O n deck at d a w n to study the mountains w i t h o u t their veil o f cloud,
he expected to see a series o f peaks, gaps that m i g h t lead to the heart o f
the island. Instead, he faccd a 'high, u n b r o k e n wall' that looked n o m o r e
encouraging w h e n sunrise resolved it into three or f o u r parallel ranges
piled up o n e on top o f another'. W h e n Vityaz reached the middle o f
Astrolabe Bay, o n e glance s h o w e d that this bight had f e w inlets of any
size, n o evidence o f a large river. T h e m o u n t a i n s decreased in height
towards the north and stood farther f r o m the coast, yet still they f o r m e d
a stubborn barrier w i t h n o immediately discernible gaps. T h e shore,
studied t h r o u g h the telescope, had a closed, u n w e l c o m i n g look.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y saw n o houses, n o canoes, n o t a break a m o n g the
trees that g r e w to the water's edge. O n l y s m o k e and s o m e patches o f
c o c o n u t palms on the hillsides p r o v e d that people lived there.
A n d w h e r e , Captain N a z i m o v asked, w o u l d he like to be set d o w n ?
H e chose the southern side, w h i c h looked less unhealthy' than the rest.
A sandy hook, halfway into the bay, protected a fairly g o o d
anchorage. As Vityaz d r e w in, the first officer noticed figures o n the
sand, r u n n i n g and stopping, r u n n i n g and stopping. W h e n die corvette
r o u n d e d the spit the natives reappeared on the inner side, creeping
d o w n to watch as a boat put o f f to take soundings, fleeing w h e n it came
towards t h e m . Vityaz anchored b e t w e e n the sandy cape and a shore o f
coral rock w h e r e giant trees, laccd together by creepers, d r o p p e d their
branches to the sea.
In that dark tangle n o t h i n g m o v e d . T h e people on the opposite shore
could n o t afford t o lurk out o f sight. A great floating thing had nosed
into the cove and settled as t h o u g h to stay. It looked like a canoe, a canoe
large e n o u g h to carry the ancestors of all living men. M o s t o f its bulk
was dark and dull as a charred log, yet here and there it billowed with
w h i t e or glittered w i t h mysterious brilliance. U n k n o w n objects p r o -
truded f r o m the upper surface. It gave o f f smaller versions of itself. It
was full o f voices, s w a r m i n g with pale, misshapen beings like visitants
f r o m a n o t h e r world. It was impossible, but there. T h e m e n had to d o
s o m e t h i n g about it.
T h e y came out o f the jungle, keeping close together. T h e y talked
until there was n o t h i n g m o r e to say. T h e n the boldest left t h e m and
w e n t d o w n to face the apparition. H e placed a c o c o n u t on the sand and
tried to show by signs that it was a gift. Perhaps the spirits w o u l d take
it and go away.
4: First Contact

p
JL-RFVERY EDUCATED SAILOR knew
w h a t could occur w h e n w h i t e m e n first appeared a m o n g savages.
T h r o u g h their outlandish looks and e q u i p m e n t , manifestations o f
European p o w e r , or peculiarities o f native thought, the n e w c o m e r s
w e r e o f t e n received as s o m e t h i n g m o r e than m e n . Drake and Raleigh
had tasted this experience in the N e w W o r l d . As late as 1860, on the
fringes o f the East Indies, A. R . Wallace had m e t people w h o seemed
ready to take him for a demigod. An ignorant and destitute castaway
could b e c o m e g o d - k i n g o f a South Seas island, provided he was first.
T h e officers o f Vityaz hardly d o u b t e d w h a t was happening w h e n a
larger g r o u p o f natives appeared on the beach to the north, bringing
coconuts, taro and yams. T h e y w e r e practically sure w h e n the Papuans
displayed t w o small yellow dogs, brained t h e m against a log, and laid
the carcasses on the pile. A sacrifice was offered. T h e gods accepted.
Tossing about in a boat behind the cape, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y felt less
godlike. T h e m e n on the beach raised their weapons and m o t i o n e d him
away. W h e n he cast gifts on the waters and w i t h d r e w a little, the natives
seemed pleased with the strips of red cloth that drifted to the shore. But
still they shook their weapons, and signalled ' G o away!'
H e a v y surf prevented his landing. Aboard the corvette, they f o r m e d
the impression that threats had driven him o f f E v e r y o n e a c k n o w l e d g e d
the scientist's right to contact the natives first, w i t h o u t interference, b u t
the day was almost gone. N a z i m o v felt justified in spying out the land,
at least f r o m the sea.
T h e c o m m a n d e r s expedition located several villages. At o n e point
natives seemed to invite the Russians to land. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y and his
servants set out again, with red cloth, beads, nails, fish hooks. H e must
be first to m e e t these people, and he must d o it b e f o r e dark. W h e n he

50
First Contact 51

Astrolabe Bay and s u r r o u n d i n g s , n o r t h - e a s t e r n N e w Guinea, w i t h principal


places visited by Miklouho-Maclay. Names of modern towns are shown in
square brackets.
52 The Moon Man

noticcd a track leading into the jungle, he could n o t wait for the servants
to secure the boat. Alone he leapt ashore and hurried along the path.
F r o m the first glimpse o f the village, he sensed its perfect Tightness.
C o c o n u t palms shaded a dozen huts around a small 'square* o f beaten
earth. Dark j u n g l e and groves o f fruit trees set o f f palm-leaf thatch
silvered by time and sunlight, crimson hibiscus flowers and the leaves
o f multicoloured shrubs. T h e place w e l c o m e d h i m — n e a t , pleasant,
entirely strange yet s o m e h o w homelike. A n d it was quiet, w r a p p e d in
a dreamlike stillness. T h e cry o f a bird c o n f i r m e d the silence.
Suddenly as he had c o m e to t h e m , the people had seen or heard him
first. A fire smouldered and flickered in the square; o p e n e d coconuts lay
w h e r e they had been d r o p p e d in flight; t w o huts stood open, gaping
evidence o f hasty departure. H e peered t h r o u g h o n e d o o r w a y and
inventoried the c o n t e n t s — b a m b o o bed frames, a f e w loose stones
containing a smoulder under a pot, bunches o f shells and feathers on the
wall, a skull dangling f r o m the r o o f H e was m o v i n g towards the other
open hut w h e n a rustle behind him broke the trance.
A m a n stood there, paralysed. T h e i r eyes m e t for a m o m e n t . T h e n
the savage dashed into the j u n g l e with the white man in pursuit.
T h e fugitive soon looked back, saw w h i t e hands bearing only a piece
of red stuff, gestures that seemed to m e a n n o harm. H e stopped and
allowed the apparition to approach, took the cloth and tied it r o u n d his
head. But w h e n a hand touched him his w h o l e body t r e m b l e d so m u c h
it seemed he must fall. T h e ghostly hand that felt like flesh stroked his
arm. A voice spoke u n k n o w n words. Resisting, but afraid to resist t o o
m u c h , he let himself be dragged back to the village.
Olsen and B o y w e r e in the square, looking for their master. Seven or
eight m o r e natives e m e r g e d f r o m the j u n g l e and watched f r o m a
distance until Maclay pulled t h e m one by o n e into his 'circle*. Exhausted,
he sat on a stone, observing his n e w acquaintances and distributing gifts.
T h e y avoided m e e t i n g his gaze, but uneasily submitted to its scrutiny.
T h o u g h they did not understand the nails and fish hooks, n o b o d y
refused w h a t he offered. Finally they assembled their o w n gifts—
coconuts, bananas and t w o squealing piglets—and accompanied him t o
the shore.
T h e y balked at f o l l o w i n g him to the corvette. H e persuaded f o u r or
five m e n to board a canoe, and masterfully took it in tow. O t h e r s
followed in another vessel, as t h o u g h hypnotized. But halfway o u t the
m e n in the second canoe w o k e up and fled. T h o s e in the craft u n d e r
t o w tried to release the line. Olsen and Boy had to r o w hard to bring
t h e m alongside Vityaz, then bundle t h e m up the ladder while the sailors
dragged t h e m o n to the deck. T h e Papuans shook w i t h terror and
looked ready to collapse.
First Contact 53

T h e y stayed upright nevertheless, small, dark figures in breech-cloths


and armbands, barefoot on a w o o d e n expanse as wide as the village
square. U n k n o w n shapes l o o m e d or gleamed in the dusk. Indefinable
beings c r o w d e d round, speaking, but n o t in the speech o f men. As the
leader o f the visitants examined t h e m and their possessions, w i t h o u t
doing any harm, their minds g r e w a little easier.
Captain N a z i m o v still disliked black teeth in m o u t h s reddened by
betel chewing; on the w h o l e he f o u n d these faces pleasant c o m p a r e d
w i t h those o f N e w Ireland. T h e natives w e r e m a r c h e d o f f the
quarterdeck and into the floating village. In the lamplit w a r d r o o m they
became almost calm. T h o u g h they squatted on the benches in their o w n
fashion, they drank tea like g e n t l e m e n and seemed to e n j o y it. T h e y
w e r e gratified by presents and displays o f n e w things, n o t at all alarmed
by the sound o f the piano. B u t they could n o t bear the hard, s m o o t h ,
shining surface in which faces—their o w n faces—appeared as t h o u g h
imprisoned. Allowed to go, they scrambled d o w n the ladder in great
haste.
So far e v e r y t h i n g promised well. N a z i m o v noted that he had seen n o
natives carrying arms. T h e officers rather relished the idea o f being gods.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y experienced a deeper c o n t e n t m e n t . H e had f o u n d his
ideal primitive village, the tranquil, unspoiled place w h e r e he could feel
at .home. Its inhabitants, t h o u g h not exactly beautiful, and clearly subject
to interesting diseases, looked neither wild n o r fierce. T h e y w e r e quiet,
timid, manageable if taken by surprise. In particular he t h o u g h t kindly
o f Tui, the small middle-aged man w i t h a 'quite engaging' face, w h o
had surrendered so easily in the jungle. H e sensed that T u i w o u l d obey.
Early next m o r n i n g the same m e n r e t u r n e d w i t h friends. T h e y came
aboard w h e n invited and inspected the corvette, still timid, less intense
or m o r e restrained in their curiosity than the N e w Irelanders. W h e n
leaving, they indicated that f o o d w o u l d be b r o u g h t to the ship, and sure
e n o u g h , the supplies arrived. A 'chief came first, spear in hand, followed
by three m e n w a v i n g palm leaves. Behind t h e m , t w o stout fellows
carried a large pig tied to a b a m b o o pole. Auxiliaries with baskets o f
coconuts, fruit and taro b r o u g h t up the rear. T h e y piled the tribute on
the beach and departed in the same c e r e m o n i o u s manner. T h e gods
showed approval by collecting the gifts and leaving a basket o f useful
articles.
T h e second day at anchor coincided with an important birthday. T h e
inlet was n a m e d 'Port Grand D u k e Konstantin'; the ship was dressed,
privileges arranged f o r the men. But the celebration could n o t be
limited to these peaceful gestures. T o h o n o u r the grand d u k e properly,
Vityaz must treat the j u n g l e to a 2 1 - g u n salute.
N o sign-language could prepare the people for an event so far
54 The Moon Man

b e y o n d their experience. M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y felt it w i t h i n his p o w e r to


reduce their fear. As the t i m e approached, he took up his post in the
village, w i t h T u i and his other n e w friends.
At each explosion the villagers tried to run, t h r e w themselves to the
g r o u n d or c o w e r e d trembling, hands over ears. Helpless with laughter,
Maclay made n o n e o f the reassuring gestures he had imagined. Yet he
felt that his presence, and his laughter, had helped t h e m t h r o u g h the
crisis.
T h e w o m e n hidden in the jungle, and all the inhabitants o f other
villages, had to cope with the grand duke's birthday as best they could.
A n d b e t w e e n the midday salute and the e v e n i n g illuminations all the
natives, protected or not, decided they wanted n o t h i n g to d o with the
corvette. N a z i m o v preferred n o t to connect this with the grand duke.
Relations changed, he suggested, w h e n the Papuans realized that s o m e
o f the visitants intended t o stay.
H e and his officers disliked the place M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y had chosen
for his dwelling, a small p r o m o n t o r y on the southern side o f Port
Konstantin. In that position, he could n o t sight vessels passing Astrolabe
Bay, n o r w o u l d his house be noticed f r o m the sea. Strategists assessed
the place as a death-trap. T h e surgeon reported that it shrieked o f
malaria. Maclay inspected the 'better' places, and stuck to his choice. T h e
little cape lay about ten minutes walk f r o m his ideal village, near a clear
stream and a native path. Its virgin forest suggested ownerless land,
w h e r e his unauthorized presence w o u l d o f f e n d nobody. It suited his
need f o r quiet and isolation; closer to a village he m i g h t be a n n o y e d by
crying children and h o w l i n g dogs. H e did not find it particularly
malarial, or otherwise dangerous; and he was not anxious t o see
European ships.
O v e r the next five days u p to 110 m e n at a t i m e w o r k e d f o r him. A
spacc 77 metres square was hacked f r o m almost impenetrable jungle.
T h e y surrounded the clearing with a barricade o f tree trunks and t h o r n y
bushes, built graded paths to the beach and the stream. A cabin took
shape, just over f o u r metres long and t w o metres wide, raised on piles
and divided into t w o rooms, with a separate shed for use as a kitchen.
T h e n Maclay's possessions w e r e b r o u g h t ashore, load after load. H e had
left some luggage in Samoa, to be collected in a f e w years time; clothing
and e q u i p m e n t needed f o r his n o r t h e r n travels stayed aboard Vityaz, to
be taken to Japan; still the cases, sacks and baskets filled the cabin and the
space beneath and o v e r f l o w e d into the clearing. T h e r e was n o r o o m to
sit d o w n .
H e felt as exhausted as if he had felled each tree and carried e v e r y
box. Everything required his planning and supervision. W h e n a chance
o f sleep occurred, w o r r y kept him awake. Most o f all, perhaps, he was
w o r n out by haste and tumult, desperate f o r t h e m all to be g o n e so that
First Contact 55

Port Konstantin, Astrolabe Bay, after the chart drawn by officers of Vityaz.
Position of Maclay's house at Garagassi as indicated by him on a copy of the
chart.
56 The Moon Man

he m i g h t k n o w peace in his n e w surroundings. T h e wish lost n o t h i n g


by the k n o w l e d g e that while practical concerns imprisoned him the
officers explored the coast, m e t the inhabitants, b o u g h t up the skulls and
artefacts he needed for scientific w o r k . U n d e r his eyes, they w e r e
stealing N e w Guinea.
T h e natives kept away f r o m the building site. Parties sent out with
gifts to establish friendship 'in M r Maclay's interests' f o u n d that people
w e r e w i t h d r a w i n g f r o m the villages. T h e w o m e n and children had been
taken away, towards the foothills, and the m e n w h o m e t the Russians
opposed any progress in that direction. N o clash took place. T h e w h i t e
m e n always gave way. T h e officers managed to present gifts and m a k e
exchanges. But the villages stood deserted, and the canoes disappeared
f r o m the shore.
Maclay's friend T u i came once to the clearing, and raised hopes by
spontaneously helping the workers. H e accepted a knife, promised t o
c o m e again, then failed for s o m e days to return. Parties f r o m Vityaz m e t
him and urged him to g o to M r Maclay. H e always indicated by signs
that he w o u l d c o m e soon but first must have a bite to eat. T h e Russians
g r e w tired o f this. N e x t time they saw him, they b r o u g h t him to
Maclay.
H e really was obedient. T h e trouble, apparently, was that he had to
obey fellow villagers w h o f o r b a d e him to w o r k on Maclay's house. And
he told the Russians m o r e in his expressive m i m e . W i t h a sweep o f the
hand he wiped the corvette f r o m the sea. H e indicated Maclay and his
servants as those w h o w o u l d stay. Gestures s h o w e d h o w m e n f r o m the
villages w o u l d c o n v e r g e on the clearing, wreck and b u r n the house and
spear its occupants to death.
It might be bluff. Travel literature had taught Maclay that the w h i t e
man must never s h o w fear. In his o w n principles he w e n t f u r t h e r ,
resolved to m e e t all threats with impenetrable calm. H e answered with
feigned incomprehension. W h e n T u i repeated the p e r f o r m a n c e ,
Maclay w a v e d a hand and o f f e r e d him a nail. T h e account he gave
aboard Vityaz seemed serious e n o u g h , and w h e n the g u n n e r y officer
outlined suitable precautions Maclay agreed.
Lieutenant Chirikov installed six land mines orfougasses in a semicircle
facing the jungle. T h e basic device had stopped e n e m y assaults at
Sevastopol. R e c e n t i m p r o v e m e n t s allowed it to be fired almost instantly
f r o m a distance. O n e of Maclay's tasks, after another sleepless night, was
to study this simple system for b l o w i n g his neighbours to k i n g d o m
come.
H e might spring the mines, d e f e n d the house to the last w i t h rifles,
revolvers and 'rapid fire' gun, b u t w h a t then? In such e x t r e m e s he could
n o t stay; n o r could he leave, since he had n o boat. Even if peace w e r e
preserved, N a z i m o v pointed out, Maclay needed a boat to investigate
First Contact 57

the sea and islands, yet he had m a d e n o e f f o r t to obtain one. T h e solution


was to leave him the smallest o f the ship's boats, w i t h all its tackle.
Maclay accepted. As he had s h o w n w h e n engaging a sailor-servant, he
had always expected s o m e t h i n g of the kind.
A n o t h e r point w o r r y i n g the officers, w h o w o r r i e d about him m o r e
than he liked, was the meagreness o f his provisions. H e had b r o u g h t
s o m e beans and dried b e e f f r o m Valparaiso, but at Apia, the last port
w h e r e European f o o d could be obtained, he had seemed indifferent to
such things. T h e r e are people in N e w Guinea', he replied w h e n the
officers nagged, and I can eat w h a t e v e r they eat'. T r u e , the N e w
Guineans cultivated gardens and kept pigs. But w h a t if they refused to
feed him? Maclay w o u l d h u n t in the j u n g l e and cultivate the fruit and
vegetable seeds b r o u g h t f r o m Tahiti. In any case, staying in N e w Guinea
for an indefinite time, he must be i n d e p e n d e n t o f European food. W h e n
N a z i m o v insisted on giving him biscuit and canned goods f r o m the
ship's stores, and the officers sacrificed s o m e o f their rice, tea and sugar,
Maclay acquiesced again. After m o n t h s at sea he could not look at
canned f o o d himself, but it m i g h t be acceptable to his servants.
Sparc supplies and e q u i p m e n t w e r e stored in 'cellars' u n d e r the house.
T h e flag o f the Russian m e r c h a n t marine flapped f r o m a tall mast w h e r e
it m i g h t be seen if a ship happened to pass. Astrolabe Bay had been
surveyed as far as t i m e allowed (with closer attention to Port Konstan-
tin) and a n u m b e r o f Russian names appeared on the map. A m i d chaos,
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y w r o t e his last letters to Europe. So w e a r y that he
could hardly stand, he accompanied N a z i m o v to the sandy point
opposite his n e w h o m e . H e r e he was to bury, f r o m t i m e to time, special
canisters containing his journals and scientific notes. S o m e Russian vessel
m i g h t retrieve his w o r k if he and his servants should die.
All that foresight suggested had been done, except f o r o n e thing. If
all w e n t well, M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y w o u l d stay f o r a year or two. In
e m e r g e n c y , he could use the small boat to escape. N o b o d y m e n t i o n e d
the question of h o w he m i g h t leave N e w Guinea peacefully, with his
luggage and specimens. It seemed that neither he n o r a n y o n e else
expected his survival.
Perhaps this occurred to Olsen, w h o k n e w n o Russian but had seen
the mines installed. T h e situation became real to him on 27 S e p t e m b e r ,
w h e n the corvette's anchor rose, w h e n his master sent him to dip the
flag in salute, w h e n he k n e w b e y o n d h o p e that the m e n w i t h w h o m he
had lived and w o r k e d w e r e going. A f t e r a f e w minutes, M i k l o u h o -
Maclay noticed that n o t h i n g was happening with the flag. A n n o y e d , he
hurried to the flagpole and saluted the ship himself Olsen was crying.

Maclay reclined on a fallen tree, listening to the m u r m u r o f waves, wind


a m o n g leaves, the occasional cry o f a bird. H e was really resting.
58 The Moon Man

W i t h o u t dregs of the past or care f o r the f u t u r e , his m i n d lay open to


e n j o y m e n t o f the m o m e n t . It thankfully embraced all he saw and could
n o t see in this n e w w o r l d — t h e splendour o f jungles, sparkling sea,
c l o u d - w r e a t h e d mountains, the hidden life o f reef and forest. J o y and
responsibility w e r e one: t o observe and understand all this u n k n o w n
land m i g h t reveal. H e felt his p o w e r s expanding to the task. Felt, too,
the expansion o f a naturally serene t e m p e r a m e n t that had t o o o f t e n
been disturbed by tiresome people. It was pleasant n o t to hear
arguments, quarrels, nagging, advice, rarely a h u m a n voice. W o r l d
w i t h o u t men.
N o w that e v e r y t h i n g d e p e n d e d on his 'energy, w o r k and will', he
f o u n d himself equal to the lonely responsibility. H e had quickly
recovered f r o m tottering exhaustion to sort o u t the chaos in and a r o u n d
his hut. H e was in g o o d health and m e a n t to preserve i t — t o dress
w a r m l y after dark and avoid w e t clothing, never to go o u t d o o r s
w i t h o u t a hat, t o drink only boiled water. W i t h plenty o f rest and a
regular life, he hoped to fend o f f malaria. Olsen, by contrast, had satisfied
N a z i m o v by suffering a fever attack b e f o r e Vityaz left. Hands and faces
l u m p y w i t h insect bites suggested that b o t h servants w e r e physically less
suited to N e w Guinea than their master. As for their moral strength, he
preferred to say nothing. T h a t incident at the flagpole had s h o w n w h a t
could be expected f r o m Olsen's boasted courage. T h o u g h Maclay had
demonstrated that in w o r r y i n g circumstances one should have a g o o d
night's rest, Olsen and Boy insisted on keeping watch all night long.
T h a t the situation was dangerous Maclay readily admitted. Just after
Vityaz sailed, he had seen a c r o w d o f m e n on the opposite shore, r u n n i n g
and leaping in s o m e t h i n g like a dance. T h e n T u i had c o m e , w i t h
s o m e t h i n g suspicious in his m a n n e r — t h e w o r d 'spy' occurred to
Maclay—inspecting everything, wanting to enter the house. But the
gesture that accompanied the u n k n o w n w o r d 'Tabu/' m a d e him keep
his distance. W h e n he asked by signs w h e t h e r the corvette w o u l d return,
Maclay gave h i m to understand that it would. Even w h e n he came back,
w i t h companions w h o watched Maclay's every m o v e m e n t , r e n e w e d
study o f the minefield taught him nothing. H e could stare all day at
levers and plungers and the lines leading to the house, w i t h o u t divining
the hidden physics and chemistry. T h e r e was s o m e t h i n g in the g r o u n d ,
perhaps a dangerous magic. A f t e r Tui's inspection, a g r o u p of natives
came very cautiously, bringing coconuts and sugar cane.
Considerable c e r e m o n y accompanied the next visit. T w e n t y - f i v e
m e n b r o u g h t gifts, including a sucking pig, laid t h e m on the g r o u n d
before Maclay, and individually presented their offerings. T h e y
behaved quietly, keeping away f r o m the house. All their attention
centred on Maclay, at least until Boy began to play the m o u t h - o r g a n .
T h e n Maclay p r o v e d his willingness to suffer for the cause. Despite his
First Contact 59

cultivated musical taste and sensitivity to noise, he had b o u g h t s o m e o f


these little instruments, so popular in Samoa. W h e n he distributed t h e m ,
the delighted Papuans all began to b l o w at once.
Maclay e n d u r e d it, for the sake of a f o o t on the ladder to his goal. H e
already m a d e progress in observing physical characteristics, dress and
o r n a m e n t , weapons, implements o f w o o d , stone, b o n e and b a m b o o ,
e q u i p m e n t for s m o k i n g and b e t e l - c h e w i n g and other o d d m e n t s the
natives carried in neat bags slung r o u n d their necks and over their
shoulders. H e began to recognize individuals, to pick up s o m e o f their
words. H e dared not predict h o w long it might take to penetrate b e y o n d
appearances.
H e early realized that he was u n i q u e in their perceptions. W h i l e he
remained calm and passive, they could not m e e t his eye or bear his gaze
f o r long. If he f r o w n e d and looked at t h e m hard, they ran away. W i t h
a glance he could make t h e m obey, while his servants, walking amid the
same magic, w e r e of n o account in the visitors' eyes. T h e y called Olsen
'Vil\ T h e y k n e w the y o u n g dark o n e as 'Boy'. But o n e o f these
mysterious beings was master. Everything belonged to him; all gifts
came f r o m him. T h e n a m e going t h r o u g h the villages was 'Maclay', and
all his visitors k n e w it b e f o r e they arrived.
T h e y w o u l d never manage to p r o n o u n c e 'Miklouho'. In any case, the
family n a m e had fallen into such disuse aboard Vityaz that e v e n
N a z i m o v rarely r e m e m b e r e d it. N o w this establishment o f the chosen
n a m e in N e w Guinea increased its bearer's sense of b e c o m i n g
completely himself
H e did n o t r e n o u n c e vital ties—portraits o f his m o t h e r and sister
stood on his w o r k table—yet e v e r y t h i n g induced 'forgctfulness o f the
past'. H e had entered a country n e w to his race, as a stranger even to
those he b r o u g h t with him. T h e last representative of outside authority,
interfering, critical, full o f stupid advicc, had disappeared with Vityaz.
And n o portrait of Nikolai Ilich M i k l o u h o looked up f r o m the table,
n o image o f that handsome m a n in u n i f o r m , alert, clean-shaven, with a
soldier's bearing and a scholar's eyeglasses, dead of p n e u m o n i a at the age
o f thirty-eight. T h e sons r e m e m b e r e d an ideal father, strict but just,
attentive to their education, artistic and intellectual as well as practical.
T h e early influence o f such a man could n e v e r be lost. Yet his n a m e
slipped o u t of the second son's life as naturally as a beard and moustache
concealed the lips inherited f r o m Nikolai M i k l o u h o . If a n a m e was left
on the m a p on N e w Guinea, it w o u l d not be the M i k l o u h o name. This
n e w w o r l d created 'Maclay', a u n i q u e being, o f w h o m n o t h i n g was
k n o w n and e v e r y t h i n g m i g h t be expected.
Exploring and expanding his powers, he still did not k n o w w h a t to
expect o f himself in relations with Papuans. W h i l e they clustered before
him, talking together, sometimes addressing him as t h o u g h they
60 The Moon Man

t h o u g h t he understood, he noticed the weapons they kept handy, their


uneasy glances to all sides. T h e i r distrust w o r r i e d him, as did their way
o f staying only until they received gifts. T h e behaviour o f some,
inspecting his possessions, suggested envy. A f e w approached him with
something like malice and hostility in their faces, as t h o u g h they w o u l d
bare their teeth. H e could not confidently describe these expressions in
terms o f the questionnaire Charles Darwin had sent out. N o r could he
be sure that his calm m a n n e r and authoritative glance w o u l d always
prevail.
O n e thing certain was that he w o u l d never understand their lives by
staying on his o w n ground. Four days after Vityaz left, encouraged by
t w o rather formal calls and the natives' familiarity with his name, he
decided to visit a village.
H e took it for granted that he should go alone. T h e question was
w h e t h e r he should go armed. By the loaded guns in his house, and the
mines s u r r o u n d i n g it, he assumed the right to kill any n u m b e r o f m e n
in self-defence. Indifference to life raised n o serious doubts about the
need f o r survival. W h a t seemed questionable at that m o m e n t was his
ability to m e e t provocation with unshakeable calm. Even if it b r o u g h t
n o other consequences, o n e untimely bullet could destroy all h o p e o f
w i n n i n g the natives' trust. If it came to a fight, he could kill six m e n
w i t h o u t attaining safety. Fear m i g h t keep his neighbours at bay f o r a
time; in the end their n u m b e r s and thirst f o r r e v e n g e must prevail. T h e
only safe w e a p o n s w e r e those o f the mind. In the interests o f safety, he
left his revolver at h o m e .
H e meant to revisit Tui's G o r e n d u , the homelike village o f first
contact. H e took the w r o n g path, and f o u n d himself a m o n g strangers
w h o had been w a r n e d o f his coming.
All the w o m e n and children w e r e in hiding. T h e m e n awaited him
in the square, w e a p o n s at the ready. C o n v i n c e d that he must n o t retreat,
Maclay walked slowly towards t h e m , seeking a familiar face. B e f o r e he
reached the group, t w o arrows flew dangerously close to his head.
Voices seemed to reprimand those w h o loosed the arrows. M e n near
by explained by signs that the b o w m e n had aimed at a now-invisible
bird. T h e r e w e r e people here with w h o m he might have reached an
understanding. But the longer he stood a m o n g t h e m , disciplining his
face to express no m o r e than a mild curiosity, the m o r e futile he f o u n d
his position. N o b o d y here recognized Maclay, his w o n d e r f u l gifts or his
c o m m a n d i n g glance. T h e c r o w d g r e w , and the hostile party seemed to
prevail. O n e o f the loudest talkers almost struck Maclay's eye w i t h a
spear.
W h i l e the villagers discussed this, Maclay congratulated himself on
being unarmed. H e might have shot the hunters of the non-existent
First Contact 61

bird or the u n c o u t h fellow with the spear. Instead, he discovered a secret


weapon.
H e was far f r o m h o m e , and desperately tired. W i t h o u t long search,
he m i g h t have f o u n d a quiet place for a nap. H e chose to rest here, in
this u n f r i e n d l y village, u n c o n c e r n e d w h e t h e r death caught him stand-
ing, sitting or lying d o w n . B e f o r e the inhabitants' eyes he took a clean
n e w mat, f o u n d a shady place, and composed himself to sleep.
N o man in N e w Guinea came silently to a strange village, refused to
see that he was u n w e l c o m e , openly appropriated other people's
belongings and completed his transgressions by falling asleep. N o n e of
the noisy, generous ghosts f r o m the great spirit canoe had behaved like
this. H e was as large and hairy as a man, as white and strangely covered
as a ghost, yet he acted like a child. A n d e v e n the most ignorant child
w o u l d be afraid to d o such things w h e r e he did not belong.
T h e y discussed the situation, looking at him and w h a t he had
r e m o v e d w h e n he lay d o w n . At first he seemed to have taken o f f his
feet, but the man w h o had w a v e d his spear t o o close discovered that the
black objects w e r e hollow. M o r e o v e r , t w o peculiarly-coloured, f o o t -
shaped appendages remained in the place o f feet. C o n v i n c e d there was
n o t h i n g to be done, the m e n sauntered o f f and put their w e a p o n s away.
T h e y squatted in the shade, a f e w paces f r o m the sleeper, talking and
c h e w i n g betel. T h e y did not call the w o m e n and children h o m e . These
days they always had to wait, to see w h a t outrageous thing w o u l d
happen next.

W h e n Maclay next chose a village for investigation, he m a d e an


obviously dangerous experiment. G u m b u , the large settlement n o r t h -
east o f Port Konstantin, was the h o m e o f those w h o had threatened him
w h e n he first tried to land. H e did have the advantage of surprise. This
time n o b o d y m e t him on the path and raced ahead to w a r n the village.
H e glimpsed a pleasantly animated s c e n e — m e n at w o r k on the r o o f
o f a hut, girls preparing palm-leaf thatch and handing it up to the
builders, w o m e n nursing children. T h e n s o m e o n e noticed him, a scream
tore t h r o u g h the chatter, and in an instant there was turmoil. T h e
w o m e n shrieked and snatched up h o w l i n g babies, grabbed the children's
hands and streamed into the jungle. Even the dogs and pigs ran away.
T h e m e n ran t o o — t o w a r d s him, seizing makeshift w e a p o n s on the
way. T h e y surrounded him, scowling, evidently unafraid. Perplexed by
the c o m m o t i o n , Maclay noted his o w n perfect calm. H e was tired after
the long walk, but sleep, h o w e v e r useful as a psychological w e a p o n , did
not profit science. H e climbed on to o n e of the w o o d e n platforms on
the perimeter of the square, seated himself c o m f o r t a b l y , and began to
take notes and m a k e sketches.
62 The Moon Man

N o b o d y accepted his invitation to join him. T h e y kept their distance,


ignoring his thirsty glances at a pile of fresh coconuts. Again he was
d e f y i n g the rules, assuming rights he did not possess, asserting a kind o f
p o w e r . T h e villagers did not hide their wish that he should go, or their
resentment under his inspection. In L o n d o n that intense scrutiny could
have b r o u g h t him a p u n c h on the nose or the attention o f a policeman;
in Sicily he m i g h t have received the last services o f a priest. In G u m b u
they simply walked away muttering. T h e e n o r m i t y o f his behaviour left
t h e m helpless.
H e w e n t w h e n staying seemed unprofitable, and kept away f o r
months. These visits had p r o v e d that by self-control and surprise he
could impose himself H e could not regard t h e m as otherwise satisfac-
tory. H e had seen only sullen hostility, a tension that hardly relaxed until
he prepared to leave. Faces seemed to ask w h y he had come, out o f
n o w h e r e , to disturb and embarrass them. H e had n o w o r d s to answer
their unspoken question. W h e n forced to ask it o f himself, he had n o
satisfactory reply.
Results w e r e little better w h e n he dropped in on G o r e n d u , the
village that possibly o w e d him something. T h e w o m e n and children ran
away. T h e m e n , t h o u g h less hostile than those elsewhere, still m e t him
with w e a p o n s in their hands, t o o excited to sit for portraits or teach him
words. Since they did not accept his right to be there, cases o f w h a t he
called 'insolence' occurred.
For the time being, he f o u n d it best to let the natives c o m e to him.
Staying at h o m e , he had all his d r a w i n g materials at hand. H e avoided
carrying an assortment o f gifts. H e had n o need to question himself
about taking a revolver. All the guns w e r e there, behind the semicircle
o f mines.
Patience. N o n - i n t e r f e r e n c e . Maclay let matters take their course.
Villagers came readily to 'Garagassi', as the p r o m o n t o r y was called,
treating it as his territory, w h e r e 'insolence' was inappropriate. M e n w h o
had behaved churlishly at h o m e soon joined in the examination o f his
belongings and the exchange o f o r n a m e n t s and small utensils f o r
European goods. T h e y learned to m i x trade tobacco with their o w n , to
sit d o w n and stay, instead o f w a n d e r i n g about uneasily or 'sneaking o f F
as soon as they w e r e given something. T h e y came by twos and threes
and in parties o f t w e n t y or thirty. T h e y m i g h t arrive early on a chilly
m o r n i n g , carrying b u r n i n g brands that they piled together to make a
c o m f o r t a b l e glow, or quite late at night, elaborately decorated and on
their way to a feast. W h e n e v e r there was n o t h i n g else to do, the m e n
of the n e i g h b o u r h o o d visited Maclay, source o f inexhaustible w o n d e r
and gifts.
S o m e t i m e s they reciprocated with gifts o f food; sometimes they
b r o u g h t nothing. Maclay treated givers and takers alike. C o c o n u t s w e r e
First Contact 63

supplied o f t e n e n o u g h for him to adopt the 'milk' as a regular luxury.


H e did n o t otherwise rely u p o n the natives. H e asked f o r nothing,
allowed t h e m to d o the asking, and in this d e p e n d e n t role they became
quite 'tame'. S o m e began to fetch and carry for him, accepting this
relationship as naturally as he did.
T h e importance he assumed in their lives was revealed by m o r e than
their increasing docility. W h e n m e n f r o m other localities paid visits,
Maclay's neighbours b r o u g h t t h e m to Garagassi. W h i l e the local m e n
displayed him and his possessions, Maclay observed the inhabitants o f
places he meant to visit. T h e r e w e r e m e n f r o m coastal c o m m u n i t i e s
farther to the north, m o u n t a i n dwellers f r o m the ranges behind
G o r e n d u , canoe parties f r o m the islands of Bilbil and Y a b o b in the
n o r t h e r n part of the bay. W h e r e v e r they came f r o m , their astonishment
c o n f i r m e d that they had n e v e r seen a w h i t e man. Saucepans in the
kitchen, a table, a folding chair, Maclay with his boots and striped
socks—everything o v e r w h e l m e d them. T h e festive c r o w d f r o m Bilbil
shrieked with w o n d e r at every revelation. T h e lone, wild-looking little
man f r o m the mountains tried to run away, then burst into laughter and
j u m p e d up and d o w n on the spot. H e had bravely c o m c to investigate
an improbable r u m o u r . A reality so far b e y o n d his imagining almost
unhinged him.
So while Maclay stayed h o m e a variety of ethnological material came
to him, and his spreading f a m e prepared the way for f u t u r e journeys.
H e conccntrated on mastering the 'Papuan' language, looking f o r w a r d
to the day w h e n friendly speech w o u l d p r e v e n t misunderstandings and
gain his neighbours' trust. T h e n he w o u l d learn customs, legends and
songs, b e c o m e familiar with every detail o f these d o o m e d lives.
H e had underestimated the difficulties o f acquiring a language
entirely by signs. Most of his n e w acquaintances did n o t understand or
'wish to understand' w h a t it was that he w a n t e d to k n o w . H e learned
some expressions by constant attention and f o r t u n a t e chance. O t h e r -
wise, he could discover w o r d s only by pointing at objects. After t w o
m o n t h s in N e w Guinea he k n e w names for s o m e birds and a variety of
ornaments, foods and utensils. H e could n a m e heavenly bodies and parts
o f the h u m a n body. H e could not say 'yes' or 'no', 'good' or 'bad', 'hot'
or 'cold', or e m p l o y any v e r b of motion. T h e meanings o f the w o r d s
most o f t e n used eluded him, and he could devise no way of finding out.
W i t h o u t words, he learned s o m e t h i n g about his neighbours' minds
and characters. N o n e o f the things lying about Garagassi had been
stolen—an 'unthinkable' result in any civilized place—and t h o u g h he
saw advantages in isolation he gave full credit to the natives' honesty.
H e f o u n d t h e m 'a practical people'. All European goods w e r e n e w and
w e l c o m e , but the Papuans preferred useful articles—knives, hatchets,
nails, bottles—to merely decorative items. T h e y quickly discovered uses
64 The Moon Man

f o r strange things. Nails that w o u l d n e v e r be h a m m e r e d became


engraving tools. T u i picked up broken glass, g r o u n d it sharp and
expertly shaved himself, immediately creating a market for b r o k e n
glass. Pocket mirrors, at first frightening, became valued aids in the
r e m o v a l o f facial hair, an operation that took up m u c h o f the y o u n g
men's time.
By relating the n e w to the familiar, they helped themselves t h r o u g h
the shocks. T h e u n k n o w n nature o f metal did not disturb t h e m ; it
p e r f o r m e d m o r e quickly the w o r k o f shell or stone. Glass, too, merely
took the place o f local materials f o r several purposes. At first m u c h
afraid o f books and pictures, the villagers soon came to terms with t h e m ,
calling all the strange marks negretigba—'drawing'. T h e y had never
before heard the w o r d tabu, b u t they had similar magical prohibitions
and soon used this term f o r e v e r y t h i n g forbidden by Maclay.
T h e y accepted that the recent visitors w e r e tamo-Russ, ' m e n f r o m
Russia', w h a t e v e r that m i g h t mean. Yet Maclay had to realize that they
did not accept him. T h r e e m o n t h s after his arrival, he still sensed distrust
and 'a kind o f fear'—'tiresome', 'ridiculous' and always present. M e n
w h o had visited him a dozen times still avoided his eyes and
misunderstood his intentions. Even his quiet, intelligent 'old friend' Tui,
the most constant caller at Garagassi, betrayed a veiled but persistent
uneasiness.
W h e n he noticed that visitors always came armed, Maclay t o o
exclusively connected this with their attitude to him. T h e s e m e n seldom
w e n t a n y w h e r e w i t h o u t the w e a p o n s that m i g h t be needed f o r h u n t i n g
or a skirmish with traditional enemies. T o its bearer, a spear or b o w was
as ordinary as his knife, c o m b or lime spatula, almost part o f himself T o
Maclay it signified fear or hostility, particularly w h e n half-concealed.
W h e n a f e w m e n approached w i t h o u t weapons, he k n e w their well-
armed friends w e r e watching f r o m the bushes.
Prepared f o r something, but f o r what? T h o u g h Maclay believed they
feared him, he never f o r g o t the m i m e d warnings o f destruction, the
'insolence' in villages, the envious appraisal of his possessions. M o r e than
once, w h e n visitors concluded that he carried n o weapons, they tried to
learn w h a t was hidden in the house. T h e y asked by signs w h e t h e r he
had spears and bows. If he had none, perhaps he w o u l d like s o m e o f
theirs. Maclay answered w i t h a laugh, and rejected the p r o f f e r e d
weapons with all the scorn he could express. C o n t r a r y to the p r u d e n t
white man's usual practice, he p r e f e r r e d n o t t o demonstrate his gun just
yet. Let t h e m live in ignorance as long as possible.
Life at Garagassi was hard e n o u g h , w i t h o u t the need t o be ' f o r e v e r
on one's guard'. T h e cramped hut, the upper halves o f its walls filled in
by canvas, had to be extended and protected by a veranda on t w o sides.
T h e shaggy palm-leaf r o o f began to leak, and m a n y hours w e r e spent
First Contact 65

o n unsuccessful repairs. T h e boat had to be rescued w h e n it drifted on


the reef, hauled ashore for scraping and painting, returned to the water.
T h e garden involved days of back-breaking w o r k , chopping t h r o u g h
tangled masses o f roots, constantly striking coral rock, b e f o r e Maclay
could plant the seeds that he did n o t expect to sprout.
P r o u d and f o n d o f the first estate he had o w n e d , he never grudged
time and e f f o r t e x p e n d e d on his house and land. T h e boat allowed him
to test and expand his physical powers, and to reflect on the one-sided
European education that developed the m i n d but neglected the body.
Just as lie had left behind that u n w o r t h y self w h o in St Petersburg had
been h u n g r y e v e r y t w o hours, he was escaping the intellectual w h o in
civilized surroundings depended on the muscles o f others. Cuts and
callouses f r o m such labour w e r e h o n o u r a b l e scars, p r o o f that he m e t the
demands o f this primitive life.
H e a v y rain came m o r e and m o r e frequently, in crashing, blinding
t h u n d e r s t o r m s that tore the night apart. W h e n water p o u r e d t h r o u g h
the roof, Maclay rescued books and papers and spread a w a t e r p r o o f coat
over his bunk. W h e n w i n d put out his lamp t o o often, he stoically w e n t
to bed. M i l d e w ruined his clothes. Mosquitoes gave h i m n o peace.
Wasps attacked him, ants ate his butterfly collection, and dogs or sharks
took the f e w birds he shot. N a t u r e always compensated for the trials she
inflicted and helped h i m to look u p o n his troubles w i t h 'complete
detachment'.
A series o f earth tremors, s o m e strong e n o u g h to jolt books f r o m the
shelves, stimulated curiosity and the sense of nature's p o w e r . T h e storms
that plunged him into d a m p discomfort r e w a r d e d him by their
grandeur. In the clear m o r n i n g s the w o r l d seemed r e n e w e d , and Maclay
w a n d e r e d t h r o u g h the j u n g l e entranced by the variety o f sparkling
foliage, the o v e r n i g h t g r o w t h o f fantastic f u n g i and the brilliant insects
that e m e r g e d to dry themselves and join his collection. O n fine evenings
he s w u n g in a h a m m o c k u n d e r giant trees, admiring the m o o n l i g h t ,
listening to the concert of frogs, insects and night birds accompanied by
distant thunder. In his best m o m e n t s he was lost in 'contemplation of
the magnificent, mysteriously-fantastic surroundings'. His vilest m o o d
could be cured by a sudden vision o f beauty. W h e n he stumbled and
slid in darkness d o w n the path to the stream, soaked by rain, chilled by
wind, stabbed by the t h o r n y bush he accidentally grasped, o n e flash o f
lightning restored his 'normally g o o d state o f mind'. H e loved
e v e r y t h i n g revealed in that ecstatic m o m e n t — w a v e s breaking on the
beach, individual leaves etched by a bluish light, even the t h o r n in his
hand. Living in and for such beauty and illumination, he wanted n o t h i n g
more.
H e o f t e n wished f o r s o m e t h i n g less. T o flourish, his natural serenity
required n o t only beautiful surroundings but f r e e d o m f r o m 'tiresome
66 The Moon Man

people'. And even here he had n o t escaped them. T r o u b l e s o m e people.


B o r i n g people. Sick people.
A fortnight after the corvette's departure, his hut had b e c o m e 'a
regular hospital', with all its inmates laid l o w together or by turns.
Maclay hardly considered his o w n malaria an interruption to peaceful
study o f nature. T h e fever paroxysm, headache and pains in the back,
days lost to weakness and lassitude—these w e r e accepted as part o f the
life he had chosen. H e counted on resilience and determination to drag
his body upright and m o v e his shaky legs. But he could not bear the
illnesses o f his servants. His plan o f life had excluded the possibility that
those engaged to save him d r u d g e r y m i g h t b e c o m e d e p e n d e n t on him.
O n most days, little remained o f his satisfactory routine but a 5 a.m.
rising, meteorological observations m o r n i n g , n o o n and night, and the
bedtime inspection o f guns. W h e n he could hardly m o v e , he had to act
as doctor and nurse to t w o sick m e n . W h i l e he h u n g e r e d for his p r o p e r
w o r k , he f o u n d himself carrying water, chopping w o o d , cooking meals,
a servant to servants.
H e might have b o r n e the d r u d g e r y and frustration had these m e n
been capable o f suffering quietly. But the 'delightful silence' that had
reigned immediately after Vityaz left was a thing o f the past. Olsen
m o a n e d as he shivered u n d e r his blanket or staggered about glassy-eyed.
B o y emitted heart-rending groans or 'bellowed like a c a l f . T h e 'concert'
d r o v e Maclay o u t o f the light, airy veranda r o o m w h e r e he had enjoyed
the view o f the sea or entertained the natives w i t h o u t c o m i n g d o w n
a m o n g them. T h e o u t d o o r s became his h o m e . O n e tree in the clearing
shaded his 'study'; another marked his 'dining-room'; a third space was
set aside f o r 'receptions'. T h o u g h he still heard groans, these arrange-
m e n t s w e r e satisfactory, even pleasant, in fine weather. At night and on
rainy days there was n o escape. O f t e n , as he was falling asleep, groans
f r o m the other side o f the canvas partition dragged him back to
consciousness.
H e blamed himself to some extent. H e should n o t have settled u n d e r
o n e r o o f with others, and w o u l d never d o it again. H e should have paid
m o r e attention to the y o u n g Polynesian's health before engaging him,
for Boy confessed that the o m i n o u s c o u g h had troubled him for years.
Perhaps it had been a mistake to bring these cast-offs f r o m Samoa.
Perhaps it w o u l d have been a mistake to bring anybody. Maclay o f t e n
t h o u g h t h o w free and serene he w o u l d be w i t h o u t these useless servants
w h o stole his t i m e and strength and tied him to the house.
Alone, he w o u l d have avoided cooking, the domestic task that
annoyed him most. T h o u g h the natives showed n o inclination to
provide for him, he imagined himself going to the village and allowing
t h e m to serve him taro and yams. Olsen and B o y barred the way to that
solution. H e even m o r e bitterly resented t h e m w h e n he t h o u g h t o f the
First Contact 67

j o u r n e y s he wished to make. Had he been alone, he w o u l d have left the


house to itself and g o n e exploring, regardless o f what the natives m i g h t
do. At the same time, he dared not leave Garagassi in Olsen's hands.
Olsen had n o control o v e r the natives, could not check t h e m with a
glance as Maclay did. A n d he was a c o w a r d t h r o u g h and t h r o u g h . Far
f r o m c o m m i t t i n g rash violence, he w o u l d surrender his master's
p r o p e r t y w i t h o u t a shot.
Rational or irrational, consistent or not, it added up to one thing: 'tied
to these t w o individuals', Maclay could not be truly productive and
happy. Early in D e c e m b e r , he k n e w he w o u l d soon be f r e e o f one o f
t h e m . B o y had hardly m o v e d for m o r e than a m o n t h . S o m e complica-
tion or n e w illness p r o d u c e d swellings o f the lymphatic glands and an
e n o r m o u s abscess. His t e m p e r a t u r e r e m a i n e d high; his c o u g h g r e w
worse; he suffered abdominal pain. W e e k after w e e k he lay in bed,
eating next to nothing, rarely speaking, sometimes groaning, sometimes
silenced b y morphia. Just once m o r e he managed to rise and stagger
along the veranda. Maclay caught him as he was falling d o w n the steps,
and dragged him back to the r o o m . B o y was t o o far g o n e to recognize
his master.
Maclay still f o u n d it 'very unpleasant' to sense distrust and fear a m o n g
his neighbours. H e n o longer encouraged t h e m to stay and m a k e
themselves at h o m e . H e became bored, sitting in f r o n t o f a c r o w d o f
m e n with w h o m he could not talk. O r he m e r e l y wished, f o r
unspecified reasons, to be rid o f t h e m as quickly as possible. As the
situation deteriorated, o n e o f his most trying tasks was that o f receiving
'uninvited, inquisitive and sometimes i m p o r t u n a t e visitors'.
T h e w h i t e m a n and those belonging to him must never appear to be
sick. H o w e v e r w r e t c h e d he felt, Maclay s h o w e d himself to the natives,
did his best to create the impression that all was well. His efforts w e r e
frustrated f r o m the start. Visitors n e v e r saw Olsen delirious or vomiting,
but they surely heard him m o a n i n g in the hut. In the recent past they
had seen him carrying w o o d and water, w o r k i n g o n the house and boat
or digging in the garden. H e had learned s o m e o f their words, given
t h e m presents, played the m o u t h organ. N o w they perhaps glimpsed a
haggard creature sitting about listlessly, with swollen eyelids, lips and
tongue. As for Boy, he had been six weeks out o f sight, with only groans
f r o m the h u t to p r o v e he existed. Garagassi stank o f death.
T u i raised the subject in his m a t t e r - o f - f a c t way. Boy w o u l d die soon,
he pointed out. T h e n Vil w o u l d die and Maclay w o u l d be left alone.
M e n w o u l d c o m e f r o m B o n g u and G u m b u , he showed by gestures, in
n u m b e r s expressed by all his fingers and toes. T h e y w o u l d spear Maclay
here in the throat, here in the stomach, and here in the chest. T h e n , it w e n t
w i t h o u t saying, the B o n g u and G u m b u tamo w o u l d have his house and
all it contained.
68 The Moon Man

' O Maclay, O Maclay .. .', T u i repeated in a melancholy sing-song,


searching for s o m e t h i n g in Maclay's face. N o longer able to pretend he
did n o t understand, Maclay decided to treat this second w a r n i n g as a
joke. At the same time he tried to m a k e it clear that n o b o d y at Garagassi
could possibly die. T u i looked slightly sceptical, and w e n t on m o a n i n g ,
' O Maclay, O Maclay ...'. A little later he asked again w h e t h e r a ship
w o u l d come. Maclay told him it would.
Garagassi had experienced false alarms. Olsen awakened his master
one night, imagining he heard signals f o r attack, but Maclay identified
the shrieks as the natives' greeting to the rising full m o o n . A f e w nights
later he himself had been alerted by a c o m m o t i o n at the landing place,
lights on the track f r o m the beach. Olsen shouted, ' T h e y ' r e coming!'
Maclay w e n t out and f o u n d m e n near the house, all a r m e d and carrying
torches, calling his name. W h a t did they w a n t at midnight? Olsen thrust
a g u n into his hand, m u t t e r i n g ' D o n ' t let t h e m c o m e any closer!' Maclay
invited t h e m to approach—six acquaintances, holding out gleaming fish.
Olsen, w h o had been w a n t i n g fish for a long time, was suitably ashamed.
All the same, the villagers evidently discussed the 'old subject' o f
killing Maclay. Expecting the e n e m y every night, Olsen suggested
leaving while there was time. Maclay planned to b u r y his notes and
scientific e q u i p m e n t . T h e fishermen had s h o w n h o w vulnerable
Garagassi was to attack by sea. A landing party w o u l d r e m o v e or destroy
the boat, the w h i t e men's only means o f excape. N o mines guarded that
side, and the steps o f the house faced the water.
Perhaps these thoughts helped to p r o m p t an e x p e r i m e n t Maclay
m a d e on the still, dark night o f 7 D e c e m b e r , w h e n he noticed t w o
lighted canoes o f f the cape. O n a sudden inspiration, he lit o n e o f the
signal flares supplied by Vityaz, just to test the effect.
For half a m i n u t e a fierce blue aura surrounded Garagassi, driving
night f r o m the face o f the sea. T h e fishermen t h r e w away their torches.
W h e n the flare died d o w n , the canoes had gone.
Maclay counted the demonstration 'very successful', b o u n d to m a k e a
strong impression. T h e news was slow to reach some o f those he wished
to impress. C r o w d s o f visitors came f r o m Bongu. Fishing canoes again
appeared o f f the cape at night. T h r o u g h f o u r days in w h i c h Maclay
experienced n o t h i n g he wished t o record, the events T u i predicted
seemed to d r a w near. O n 13 D e c e m b e r Maclay began to prepare his
notes, journals and sketches f o r burial, not at the appointed place—that
was t o o far a w a y — b u t u n d e r a m a r k e d tree at Garagassi. H e decided to
b u r y blank paper as well, in case he survived.
T h o u g h he resented Olscn's calling T u i a spy, Maclay himself was not
i m m u n e to impressions. T h e r e m o v a l o f beard and moustache had
revealed s o m e t h i n g unpleasant in Tui's face. A n d this m o r n i n g T u i
behaved like a spy. H e inspected the house f r o m all sides. D r o n i n g ' O
First Contact 69

Boy, O Boy ...', he tried to look into the servants' r o o m . H e


i m p o r t u n e d Maclay to let him take Boy to G u m b u , w h e r e the sick
m a n w o u l d surely be curcd.
Maclay put an end to this by going inside. Shaking w i t h fever, he
dared not lie d o w n . H e still had to cope w i t h m o r e o f the s a m e — m e n
f r o m G o r e n d u , asking w h e t h e r Boy was alive, proposing to take him
away to be cured. Unable to guess their motives, Maclay assumed they
m e a n t to use Boy against him.
N o possible asset to the natives, B o y was a dangerous liability to
Maclay. His protracted dying taught the w h o l e n e i g h b o u r h o o d that
those at Garagassi could die. T h e white m e n could neither abandon him
in his helplessness n o r allow him to i m p e d e their escape. A n d he seemed
as incapable o f dying as o f living. T h a t e v e n i n g he twice fell o u t o f his
bunk. In his master's arms he w e i g h e d n o m o r e than a child. Coldly
sweating, w r i t h i n g in pain f r o m suspected peritonitis, he still grasped
Maclay w i t h terrible strength and tried to deliver an inaudible message.
D o w n o n the beach, w h e r e Olsen was busy w i t h the boat, Maclay
a n n o u n c e d that it was all up with Boy. This was n o news to Olsen, but
Maclay for once needed c o m p a n y in w h a t he had to do. T h e y f o u n d
Boy w r i t h i n g on the floor again, a pitiful sight, n o longer to be borne.
In a hospital this bag o f bones, w i t h his weak, faltering pulse, w h i t e
lips and cold extremities, m i g h t not have been considered fit f o r
anaesthesia. Maclay p o u r e d c h l o r o f o r m on cotton w o o l and held it to
the bloodless nose. By the t i m e Maclay had convinced Olsen that
digging a grave was t o o difficult and risky, superintended preparation
o f the boat, and helped gather stones to sink the body, B o y was
certifiably dead.
W h i l e Boy lived, his fellow servant had said n o t h i n g but ill o f him.
N o w Olsen professed to m o u r n , and solemnly spoke o f God's will.
Maclay f o u n d himself speaking softly, as t h o u g h he could w a k e the
dead. O f t e n driven o u t o f the house by groans, he n o w seemed to
r e m e m b e r that Boy had suffered as silently as he died. But he wasted
n o t i m e on talk or c e r e m o n y . H e took it for granted that a servant's
remains became the master's property. Against Olsen's protests, he
prepared to obtain a Polynesian brain f o r science.
An annoying discovery. H e had n o container large e n o u g h to hold a
h u m a n brain. W h i l e Olsen held a candle w i t h o n e t r e m b l i n g hand and
the cadaver's head with the other, Maclay r e m o v e d part of the forehead
and scalp. T h e n he fulfilled a promise given Professor G e g e n b a u r — t o
obtain a dark man's larynx, with t o n g u e and related muscles.
W h e n he cut t h r o u g h the nerves, the dead arm m o v e d slightly. Olsen
took fright and d r o p p e d the candle. T h e j o b was nevertheless success-
fully finished. T h e y o u n g Polynesian w h o had c o m e to N e w Guinea
only to die, m o r e useful dead than alive, was packed f o r disposal.
70 The Moon Man

Olsen tripped and fell o n the descent to the beach, allowing the
corpse to roll far d o w n the sand. T h e y had to search for it in darkness,
lug it into the boat, fill the enshrouding sacks w i t h stones and drag the
w h o l e w e i g h t o u t to launch it o n an inconveniently l o w tide. Just as
they shoved off, a procession o f lighted canoes entered Port Konstantin.
Maclay t h o u g h t o f a festive party visiting Garagassi, or a w a r party
a b o u t to attack. Q u i t e simply, n o t all the flares o f the Imperial Russian
navy could keep the G u m b u m e n away f r o m their g r o u n d s w h e n the
fishing was good. T h e y paddled o n serenely—eleven canoes, t h i r t y -
three m e n , w i t h e n o u g h torches to reveal e v e r y t h i n g Maclay had to
hide.
Olsen, a simple, ignorant man, easily imagined w h a t o t h e r simple,
ignorant m e n w o u l d think o f Boy's scalped head and o p e n e d throat.
Maclay t h o u g h t it t o o late to jettison a h u n d r e d w e i g h t o f stones and
hide the body. As they crossed the path o f the canoes, trying to r o w at
full speed w i t h o u t m a k i n g a sound, he assessed the odds. T h i r t y - t h r e e
spears and b o w s against t w o revolvers. T w e l v e bullets w o u l d probably
break the attack. T h e n let c o m e w h a t might. But the natives neither saw
the boat n o r m e a n t to attack anything but fish. Maclay relaxed and
admired the scene—the line o f canoes, the long reflections o f torches
hardly w a v e r i n g on a calm sea. His one regret was that he had n o t
b r o u g h t a dipper to collect plankton.
W i t h a kind t h o u g h t for the sharks, they pushed the b o d y o v e r b o a r d
and r o w e d h o m e leisurely. T h e fishermen had m o v e d away. At
Garagassi all was peace. W h i l e Olsen m a d e tea, Maclay recorded the
day's events. H e could n o t repress all pride. Despite mishaps and the
unforeseen, he had managed well. In e m e r g e n c y he had c o n v e r t e d a
liability into a scientific asset. C h e e r f u l and c o m f o r t a b l e , he marvelled
at the speed with w h i c h o n e m o o d replaces another.
Olsen was cheerful, too, as he served the tea. H e had d o n e e v e r y t h i n g
required, and in shared danger and labour b e c o m e almost friendly with
his master. N o w he w o u l d live like Maclay's equal, in a quiet r o o m o f
his o w n . M u c h as he feared death in N e w Guinea, he had o n e c o m f o r t .
As a European, he was n o t interesting. His master w o u l d n e v e r cut him
up.

Early English settlers in America had been w a r n e d that any death


a m o n g t h e m must be hidden f r o m the natives. Almost three centuries
later, the same rule applied in N e w Guinea. In case visitors looked inside,
Olsen had to keep his r o o m exactly as it had been w h e n shared with
Boy. If he talked to t h e m , he must avoid m e n t i o n i n g his late companion.
Maclay's policy stood several tests in the n e x t f e w days, w h e n a
succession o f visitors raised the subject he wished to forget.
T h e cabin at Garagassi. Port Konstantin, N e w Guinea, 1872
Tui o f Gorendu, Maclay's first
acquaintance in N e w Guinea

CjL .

rV

/ '
v>
- A" /
/ * '^ksBBT-
\
IW
) 2W T>f (11 / ^
ij / I

JC V
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A

Kain of Bilbil Island


First Contact 71

T u i c a m e first, with a party including a stranger w h o stood high in


the medical world. If Maclay let B o y g o to G u m b u , T u i insisted, this
practitioner w o u l d effect a cure. Maclay inscrutably repulsed all
arguments. H e did not like this individual f r o m G u m b u . Drinking his
m o r n i n g tea, he decided it was time f o r a n o t h e r 'test o f impression-
ability'.
Behind his half-wall, he p o u r e d a little alcohol into the saucer, which
he placcd w h e r e the visitors could see. A f t e r demonstratively sipping
water, he added s o m e to the saucer. T h e n he lit the alcohol.
T h e visitors j u m p e d back, w i d e - e y e d and o p e n - m o u t h e d . W h e n
Maclay completed the demonstration by splashing fire towards t h e m ,
o n to the steps and g r o u n d , they left in a hurry.
By all the rules, he should have been rid o f t h e m f o r a long time.
Instead they r e t u r n e d w i t h a c r o w d o f highly-decorated sightseers, and
T u i begged Maclay to s h o w e v e r y o n e h o w he b u r n e d water. T h e
second demonstration w e n t as well as the first. Most o f the n e w c o m e r s
fled. T h e rest stood immobilized b y fear, imploring Maclay not to b u r n
the sea.
W h e n they calmed d o w n , he acquired a n e w function. S o m e o f t h e m
had suppurating w o u n d s , to be disinfected and bandaged, or f l y - b l o w n
sores to be cleared o f maggots. N e x t day there w e r e m o r e patients, with
fever, sores, rheumatism. Since they distrusted all unfamiliar substances,
and refused to take anything internally, Maclay could d o little for their
ailments. H e nevertheless gave the attention that helped w i n trust and
encouraged dependence. T h e y w e r e pathetically grateful. Maclay was
the medicine m a n n o w .
W i t h all the c x c i t c m c n t and magic, his neighbours refused to forget.
T h r e e days later they w e r e back, asking after Boy. ' N o Boy', Maclay
tried to explain, 'Boy's n o t here'. T h e n they naturally w a n t e d to k n o w
w h e r e he had gone, an appalling question f o r one w h o loathed
falsehood but dared not tell the truth.
N o t k n o w i n g h o w these people disposed o f the dead, Maclay avoided
pointing to the earth or sea. H e w a v e d his hand towards a region
s o m e w h e r e above the horizon. T h e questioners seemed to conclude
that B o y had ' f l o w n away', and within a f e w days this t h e o r y c o m p l e t e d
itself All the villagers t h o u g h t that Maclay's magic had sent Boy far, far
across the sea, to mysterious Russia. Astonished and amused by their
simplicity, Maclay n e v e r k n e w their language well e n o u g h to ascertain
exactly w h a t they believed or to correct such helpful errors.
In all his reading o f travel literature, n o story had impressed him m o r e
than G e o r g e Keate's romanticized account o f events in the Palau Islands,
w h e r e the noblest savages had treated ordinary English seamen as gods.
Yet he d r e w n o discernible inspiration f r o m evidence that primitives
72 The Moon Man

f r e q u e n t l y m a d e such mistakes. H e had detected n o religious o v e r t o n e s


in the ceremonial delivery o f gifts to Vityaz y n e v e r j o i n e d in the officers'
theorizing. W h e n he provided, within that single fortnight, an eerie,
u n p r e c e d e n t e d illumination, the miraculous ignition o f water, and the
mysterious flight o f a sick m a n to a distant country, there w e r e reasons
o f science or expediency. H e m e a n t to test the Papuans' psychological
reactions, or to conceal his servant's death, n e v e r to pose as anything
m o r e than man. N o b o d y could be m o r e surprised than he, w h e n it
d a w n e d o n him that his neighbours t o o k him for 'some kind o f
supernatural being'.
5: Prospero's Island

A s THE H A N D S o f his watch came


together on the hour, Maclay raised his double-barrelled revolver. H e
w e l c o m e d 1872 with twelve solemn shots, drank a toast in coconut milk
to family and friends, and w e n t to sleep.
H e ran n o risk of disturbing the n e i g h b o u r s — N e w Year came in
with t h u n d e r s t o r m s and torrents o f rain—but perhaps this celebration
seemed rather juvenile. H e later preferred to forget it. If he chose this
traditional t i m e to r e v i e w his actions, he had little else w i t h which to
reproach himself H e sometimes let his den b e c o m e untidy, an
unavoidable failing in such cramped quarters. T h r o u g h days o f fever
and weakness, he could n o t maintain his routine. H e o f t e n feared his
m i n d m i g h t p r o v e unequal to the p r o b l e m s presented by nature and
man in N e w Guinea. O t h e r w i s e he felt content with his chosen life and
the way he m e t its challenges.
H e still checked the guns at night, still w e n t to the door, ill as he was,
to s h o w himself to the natives. Olsen was useless in these circumstances.
N o matter h o w roughly he spoke, the Papuans acted t o o familiarly with
him. T h e y feared only Maclay, w h o was always kind and patient. O n l y
Maclay had the eye that subdued.
For his part, Maclay noticed h o w quickly he had b e c o m e accustomed
to constant danger. 'Indifference to life', or simple fatalism, dispelled any
shadow o f fear. Stoic fortitude o v e r c a m e sickness, hunger, hard labour.
N a t u r e repaid him for everything, filling the most ordinary day with
beauty and stimulation.
H e o f t e n t h o u g h t he had been wise to settle well away f r o m villages.
In silence and solitude he attained the deep pcacc that he came to equate
with happiness. W h i l e he w e l c o m e d the lightning flash, he gladly
embraced the routine o f observing the t e m p e r a t u r e o f water, air and
73
74 The Moon Man

soil, barometric pressure, the heights of tides, w i n d strength and


direction and rates o f evaporation. H e collected on the reef or w a n d e r e d
in the rain forest admiring the endless variety o f vegetation. In the
evenings he relaxed in his h a m m o c k , listening to jungle sounds, or sat
on a tree o v e r h a n g i n g the water, watching the waves and the luminous
m o v e m e n t s o f a myriad living things. Studies at the microscope,
preservation o f specimens, w r i t i n g up his notes and j o u r n a l s — e v e r y -
thing fell into a soothing, strengthening pattern that never became stale.
A f t e r nights o f fever and storm, his ears ringing f r o m heavy doses o f
quinine, he f o l l o w e d the alternation o f sunshine and shadow over sea
and jungle, finding all things peaceful, all things good. Millions, n o
d o u b t , shared his belief in perfect peace as ultimate happiness. H e alone
was living it. Lost in contemplation, he almost escaped the deceptive
w o r l d o f individuality. T h e t r u e Self o f w h i c h the Indian sages taught
reached o u t to the Eternal All.
These w e r e the best days, w h e n 'noisy people did n o t i n t e r r u p t —
n o b o d y came'. All the same, the visitors w e r e the reason f o r his presence.
U p o n their unpredictable arrival, he gave all his attention to the natives.
T h e externals o f Papuans, in all their variety, had b e c o m e almost as
familiar as his o w n . H e had seen dark b r o w n skins and skins as light as
those o f Samoans, youngsters o f quite 'African' type and m e n w i t h
comparatively thin lips and great h o o k e d noses. H e k n e w the thickness
o f fingernails and the dexterity o f toes, the breadth o f the f o o t and the
f r e q u e n c y o f use f o r right hand and left. H e had c o m p a r e d the
well-developed leg muscles o f m o u n t a i n dwellers w i t h the thin calves
o f islanders w h o spent m u c h o f their lives in canoes. H e could correct
those writers w h o ascribed to Papuan skins a roughness sufficient t o
f o r m a racial characteristic. H e had investigated the texture o f Papuan
hair, k n e w h o w m u c h its 'typical' appearance o w e d to teasing and
c o m b i n g , and could r e f u t e the belief that it g r e w in small separate tufts.
In this d e p a r t m e n t , his great disappointment was that the natives'
suspicion of any physical manipulation still made it impossible to
measure heads.
T h e nearest approach to a 'general type' a m o n g his neighbours did
not m e e t his standards o f beauty. This people w h o m a d e an art f o r m o f
the h u m a n body nevertheless provided m a n y m e m o r a b l e images. H e
w o u l d n o t forget the gala travellers f r o m the offshore islands, or Tui's
eldest son, balancing b o w in hand on a canoe platform, w i t h hibiscus
flowers in his hair and long, coloured leaves fluttering f r o m girdle and
armbands. In the midst of crisis he had admired the dramatic c r o w d
around his h u t — m e n f r o m distant Karkar Island w h o s e black-smeared
faces and bodies contrasted p o w e r f u l l y with the flaring red o f their
B o n g u hosts. Painted faces, w a v i n g plumes, coronets o f flowers and
streamers o f leaves, high decorated combs, o r n a m e n t s of boar tusks, d o g
Prospero's Island 75

teeth, shell and b o n e — a t times a pageant swirled around him, the


h u m a n counterpart o f this magnificent land, savage, p r o u d , completely
male. Since the G u m b u w o m e n ran away, he had n o t seen a w o m a n .
H e realized that the tension in the villages was connected with the
w o m e n ' s flight. Papuan m e n seemed inordinately jealous of their
females, an attitude he explained by their k n o w i n g ' n o pleasure o t h e r
than sexual'. O r perhaps he represented s o m e less c o m m o n p l a c e
menace. W h a t e v e r the reason, the m e n received him sullenly, w i t h
w e a p o n s in their hands. H e had never seen a village in its n o r m a l state,
never spent an h o u r watching its ordinary activities. At times it seemed
impossible to o v e r c o m e 'the mistrusting nature o f this race'.
Patience. N o n - i n t e r f e r e n c e . W i t h o u t leaving Garagassi, he was
acquiring a w o r k i n g k n o w l e d g e o f one dialect and beginning to realize
that there w e r e others. T u i had given him an account of local
geography, amazing h i m by the detail in w h i c h the inhabitants n a m e d
every natural feature. H e had seen visitors m a k i n g cigars of native
tobacco, plaiting bracelets and decorating lime-tubes. H e had noted
their minimal greetings, their favourite postures and their mania for
plucking every grey hair f r o m the head. Sitting by the shore in his o w n
domain, he had watched T u i skilfully catching fish with his toes. T u i and
a friend had staged a m o c k fight with b o w s and spears, and others had
demonstrated, less successfully, a native m e t h o d o f counting. T h e
villages could wait.
G o r e n d u r e m i n d e d him o f itself by loud d r u m m i n g at full m o o n .
A l m o s t - i n h u m a n howls—Papuan singing—sometimes mingled with
his fever until he could n o t tell the music f r o m the illness. But after one
hallucinatory experience, w h e n in 'a kind of deadful d r e a m ' he had
almost collapsed on the track, he did n o t try to witness the festivities.
H e visited this 'clean, green and pleasant' place only to get coconuts, and
left w h e n he saw that his presence was b u r d e n s o m e .
T h e situation had nevertheless i m p r o v e d . It had occurred to him that
mistrustful people w h o spent most o f their time outdoors m i g h t regard
his sudden, silent arrival as an attempt at spying or surprise. H e f o u n d
that by b l o w i n g a whistle as he approached, t h e n waiting a f e w minutes
outside the village, he had a better reception. T h e w o m e n and children
made a quiet departure. T h e m e n m e t him u n a r m e d and soon resumed
their ordinary activities. H e still sensed uneasiness, anxiety for him to
leave, but elementary consideration did m u c h to relieve the strain.
His second visit to the larger c o m m u n i t y o f B o n g u , three m o n t h s
after its b o w m e n had greeted him w i t h arrows, made a very formal
occasion. W h e n he arrived by boat with Olsen, villagers w e r e waiting
waist-deep in the sea to carry him ashore. H e was led f r o m o n e
club-house to another, greeted at each by a g r o u p o f m e n in all their
finery. After distributing gifts, including some f o r the absent w o m e n ,
76 The Moon Man

he was able to inspect the village at his leisure.


B o n g u m a d e a g o o d impression—solid, comfortable, pleasant e n o u g h
even under drizzling rain. And it offered special attractions. Maclay paid
less stately visits over the next f e w weeks, to copy drawings f o u n d on
the rear wall o f o n e 'men's house', and to sketch the carven figures that
his hosts called telum, the first large examples o f art he had seen in N e w
Guinea.
T h e c o m p a n y o f T u i and other G o r e n d u m e n s m o o t h e d his way.
Instead of r u n n i n g into the jungle, the B o n g u w o m e n hid in the huts.
H e could barter f o r fish and bananas, stroll about as he pleased. T u i was
equally helpful in G u m b u , w h e r e one lucky day Maclay obtained six
well-preserved skulls to compensate for those lost to tamo-Russ in o t h e r
villages. In every way the G o r e n d u connection p r o v e d its w o r t h . By
discounting those days w h e n Tui's behaviour seemed suspect, Maclay
had f o u n d the white man's essential helper, the faithful, trusting native
w h o s e k n o w l e d g e and influence m a d e this strange world manageable.
H e was t h e r e f o r e d o u b l y disturbed w h e n a G o r e n d u m a n stole a
knife f r o m Garagassi. H e could not afford to ignore this first theft. A n y
attempt to obtain restitution and p r e v e n t f u r t h e r pilfering carried a risk
o f falling out with G o r e n d u . T h e n T u i accidentally came to the rescue,
by standing in the w r o n g place while felling a tree. Badly w o u n d e d in
the head, he called the doctor.
At o n e stroke, Maclay could help a valued friend, p r o v e his general
g o o d will, and deal w i t h the theft. H e gave preliminary treatment, then
m e n t i o n e d the stolen knife. W h i l e he w e n t h o m e for m o r e e q u i p m e n t ,
the villagers settled things in their o w n way. T h e knife was handed over
at the first request.
Maclay was n e v e r again troubled by theft. For weeks he struggled
with a bad patient. T u i g r e w bored and lonely in the hut, needed fresh
air and sunshine, talk and activity. Maclay had to f o l l o w the patient to
the gardens and h u n t him h o m e . H e applied poultices for hours on end,
visited G o r e n d u twice in a day, dragged himself there w h e n almost t o o
ill to m o v e . H e could not breathe freely until linseed poultices, or basic
toughness, had pulled T u i o u t o f danger.
T u i was n o useless servant but a personal friend, an essential key to
the general friendship. A n d visits to G o r e n d u b r o u g h t m a n y rewards.
Maclay inspected the gardens, admiring sturdy fences f o r m e d f r o m
branches and g r o w i n g sugar cane, wcll-cultivatcd raised beds separated
by neat paths, flourishing plots o f sweet potatoes, sugar cane and
tobacco. H e watched the villagers at their meals, marvelling at the
a m o u n t o f vegetable f o o d they had to consume just to maintain life. H e
saw t h e m preparaing keu, a drink he t h o u g h t the same as the Polynesian
kavat not previously k n o w n to be used in N e w Guinea.
Prospero's Island 77

T h e great progress came early in these medical visits, w h e n T u i


m e n t i o n e d the w a r n i n g whistle that sent the w o m e n into hiding. It was
w r o n g for t h e m to r u n away like that, he suggested. Maclay was a good
man, o f w h o m n o b o d y need be afraid. H e was enlarging on this w h e n
a w o m a n ' s voice interrupted, and Maclay saw his first Papuan female at
close quarters.
Tui's w i f e was old, hideous, with flat, pendulous breasts and wrinkles
all o v e r her body. She had a g o o d - n a t u r e d smile, and to Maclay she
seemed the most i m p o r t a n t person in the world. W h e n he pressed her
hand, to noises o f approval f r o m the m e n , all the w o m e n and girls
appeared as if at a signal, bringing gifts for Maclay. In a matter o f
minutes, with grace and h u m o u r , the village shook o f f the tension and
inconvenience o f months.
Maclay inspected the G o r e n d u w o m e n , some o f t h e m quite pretty
and w e l l - r o u n d e d , while they did the same by him. H e watched their
w o r k in the gardens, concluding that e c o n o m i c as well as sexual services
m a d e Papuan w o m e n ' m o r e necessary' than those o f Europe. A b o v e all,
he felt he had w o n the natives' c o m p l e t e trust. H e celebrated by digging
up the notes and journals he had buried in expectation o f being killed.
H e refused invitations to live in G o r e n d u . T h e r e was n o disputing his
friends' statement that his r o o f was in a bad w a y — t h e m o o n shone
t h r o u g h the thatch. It was equally true that the large trees shading
Garagassi m i g h t fall and kill him. O n e o f t h e m had c o m e d o w n , with a
fearful crash in the night, narrowly missing the hut. But he valued quiet
and solitude t o o m u c h to accept the n e w , safe house G o r e n d u promised.
H e p r e f e r r e d not to m i x in village affairs. Ideally he w o u l d remain the
lone spectator, observing w i t h o u t taking part in events. Distance
preserved the sense o f his uniqueness, a certain mystery s u r r o u n d i n g his
ways. Besides, the G o r e n d u and B o n g u m e n w e r e always a little t o o
proprietorial w h e n displaying him to visitors. W h e n he wished to find
o u t h o w to reach m o u n t a i n villages, his neighbours evaded his
questions. T h e y did n o t w a n t him to k n o w other communities, he
concluded. T h e y w e r e trying to o w n him.
This impression was c o n f i r m e d w h e n he decided to visit Koliku-
mana, his first excursion away f r o m the coast. Reconnaissance by sea
had s h o w n him s m o k e - c o l u m n s m a r k i n g villages in the hills, but he had
n o intention o f tackling the paths alone. O v e r n i g h t , the promised
G o r e n d u guides had ' f o r g o t t e n ' h i m and g o n e elsewhere.
T h e y must not m a k e a fool o f him. H e w h i p p e d out his compass and
a n n o u n c e d that it w o u l d s h o w the way. T h e villagers stepped back f r o m
the magic needle. W i t h a display o f self-sufficiency he strode off, h o p i n g
to have better luck in B o n g u .
W i t h i n a f e w minutes t w o G o r e n d u m e n caught up, trying to
78 The Moon Man

dissuade him f r o m the j o u r n e y . W h e n they had turned back, another


m a n appeared, ready to take Maclay to Koliku. A n o t h e r quarter o f an
h o u r and the first pair w e r e again shouting behind, eager to visit the
mountains. S o m e change o f m i n d had occurred—desire to keep faith
w i t h him, fear o f his anger, a feeling that if his trip could n o t be
p r e v e n t e d it should be supervised. Maclay m e t their shuffling with the
indifference that kept him master o f every situation.
T h e walk proved h o w m u c h he needed company. O n to the beach
by a ladder of roots, in and o u t o f the jungle, across streams, d o w n to
the floor o f a deep ravine and up the other side—the track hardly kept
the same direction f o r five minutes. For the first t i m e he crossed an area
of head-high grass, realizing h o w nearly impossible this w o u l d be
w i t h o u t guidance. By the t i m e he set f o o t on the steep black path
leading up the bare ridge to Koliku, he felt he had v e n t u r e d to the
interior.
Koliku had n o t expected him so soon. H e was received by t w o m e n ,
a boy and a very ugly old w o m a n . But the G o r e n d u m e n set to w o r k
as t h o u g h impressing multitudes, extolling his character and p o w e r s and
the w o n d e r f u l things he o w n e d . Any possessiveness flavouring the
praise was lost on him.
Apart f r o m its setting, this first upland c o m m u n i t y offered n o t h i n g
very different f r o m the coastal villages f o u r or five kilometres away.
T h e excitement came f r o m the n a r r o w path leading up the range, the
view o f mountains stretching into the real interior. S o m e day he w o u l d
take such a path and c o n q u e r t h e ranges o n e by one, to reveal the heart
o f the island. But n o t yet. First he must visit m o u n t a i n villages his n e w
friends had pointed out. H e had standing invitations to coastal c o m m u n -
ities and islands to the north. A n d w h e n he reached h o m e , after a b o u t
o f fever on the way, he was almost immediately c o n f r o n t e d by crisis.
H e saw n o reason to d o u b t that m e n f r o m the m o u n t a i n village o f
M a r a g u m - m a n a had attacked G o r e n d u and killed several people. For
weeks G o r e n d u had kept w e a p o n s ready f o r such an e m e r g e n c y . In
G u m b u , w h e r e he happened to be visiting, they seemed to believe the
news, beating the great w o o d e n slit gong, bringing o u t their weapons.
T h e e n e m y was supposed t o have g o n e to Bongu. T h e n the m o u n t a i n
m e n w o u l d descend u p o n G u m b u and Garagassi.
Maclay hurried h o m e and prepared the guns. A d m i t t i n g the possibil-
ity of defeat, he allowed Olsen to ready the boat for escapc. H e did not
intend to stand guard. W h i l e the agitated Olsen kept watch, Maclay
stretched o u t and enjoyed his almost-superhuman p o w e r s o f sleep.
H e nevertheless heard the approaching noise b e f o r e he was called. H e
directed the barricading of the entrance, stationed himself on the
veranda with the a r m o u r y within reach and Olsen behind to load the
guns. H e was first to sight figures a m o n g the trees, first to notice they
Prospero's Island 79

w e r e a r m e d w i t h bananas and coconuts. T h e y had c o m e to tell him it


was all an absurd mistake.
All the same, strangers seen that m o r n i n g could have c o m e f r o m
M a r a g u m - m a n a . B o n g u and G o r e n d u continued to fear attack. W h e n
Maclays neighbours praised his preparations, they asked that in case of
need the w o m e n and children should be given protection at Garagassi.
Dozens o f frightened w o m e n and children in a flimsy, flammable
little h u t — t h e idea invited disaster. Y e t Maclay could n o t reject his
friends' pathetic faith. T o c o n f i r m his ability to d e f e n d t h e m , he
demonstrated the p o w e r o f firearms.
T h e r e was n o t h i n g to shoot, and the connection b e t w e e n loud noise
and possible death was o f t e n obscure to people w h o s e w e a p o n s killed
silently. Maclay's occasional shots at birds had almost certainly been
heard in the nearest village. T h e B o n g u m e n nevertheless clapped their
hands to their ears and looked ready t o run. T h e y begged Maclay to
hide the gun and fire it only against the m e n f r o m M a r a g u m . But they
w a n t e d to handle it. Maclay said 'Tabu!1 so m a n y times that the n e w
w o r d f o r prohibition became the local n a m e f o r a gun.
At last they had s o m e idea o f his weapons. N e x t day visitors came
f r o m G u m b u , w i t h T u i and representatives o f Koliku. T h e y m a d e n o
bones about w h a t they w a n t e d — a n attack on M a r a g u m , w i t h Maclay
to direct operations and use his tabu. T h e y predicted that the first n e w s o f
his approach w o u l d m a k e the M a r a g u m people take to their heels.
Maclay betrayed n o suspicion that the panic m i g h t have been
stage-managed to this end. N o r did he noticeably question the morality
o f attacking people w h o had d o n e h i m n o harm. H e rejected the
proposal because m i x i n g in their quarrels could bring him n o t h i n g but
trouble, because these 'capers' threatened his tranquillity. Far f r o m being
flattered by this 'widespread n o t i o n ' o f his p o w e r , he f o u n d it distasteful.
As time w e n t on, h o w e v e r , he began to feel that his reputation was an
asset to his neighbours. In the end he believed that only fear o f Maclay
had prevented an attack f r o m M a r a g u m .
His friends did not seem upset by being denied their preventive war.
T h a t night a feast began at G o r e n d u , attended by most o f the m e n f r o m
n e i g h b o u r i n g villages. For m o r e than t w e n t y - f o u r hours, G o r e n d u ,
B o n g u and G u m b u lay helplessly open to attack.
Invited to his first Papuan feast at half-past f o u r in the m o r n i n g ,
Maclay was t o o enthralled to think o f defence. H e was witnessing 'the
life o f savages at their most primitive', the wild h a r m o n y o f nature and
man that repaid a traveller f o r hardship. In a clearing by the shore, he
observed the poetry o f muscular, decorated bodies in e v e r y possible
attitude and grouping, in a setting o f dawnlight, firelight, sea and jungle.
W h e n he w e n t h o m e , with a h u g e basket o f food, and a violent
headache caused by Papuan music, he had collected all the details of
80 The Moon Man

festive f o o d preparation, cooking and eating utensils, p r o c e d u r e and


etiquette. H e was familiar w i t h the instruments w h o s e 'excruciating
sounds' reached Garagassi at night and with the sight o f his friends
stupefied by keu. H e had sensed the ritual nature of this male feast, in a
place f r o m w h i c h w o m e n w e r e strictly excluded. H e never suspected it
might have political significance.
T h e feast was nominally Tui's, perhaps the first sign that this
unassuming man was b e c o m i n g a p o w e r in the land. W i t h f e w e r than
thirty adult inhabitants, G o r e n d u had n o individual o f outstanding
wealth and prestige to give feasts, organize e c o n o m i c and religious life
and impress friends and enemies. T u i had only o n e old wife and o n e
g r o w n son, n o large n e t w o r k o f helpful connections, n o c r o w d o f
followers to sit b e f o r e his h u t and rush to d o his bidding. H e must have
needed m u c h help f r o m B o n g u and G u m b u before he led the
procession carrying festive supplies, called each m a n for his share o f
pork and farewelled the guests with baskets of food. By the old
standards, he had n o t h i n g to m a k e him eminent. But he seemed to have
Maclay, w h o s e presence changed everything.
T h e first to m e e t this strange, p o w e r f u l being, T u i was the most
f r e q u e n t visitor at Garagassi, the only o n e w h o sometimes ascended to
Maclay's veranda. H e had actually received permission to spend the
night there once, t h o u g h silence and isolation had soon driven him
h o m e . H e was Maclay's favoured c o m p a n i o n on excursions. H e taught
Maclay w o r d s and the names o f places, and learned the names o f distant,
u n k n o w n places that Maclay pointed out on a large drawing. W h e n T u i
was ill Maclay had c o m e at his call, and s h o w n m o r e concern f o r T u i
than for himself It was Tui's little b o y w h o m Maclay wished to take
away, perhaps to Russia. At this rate, T u i m i g h t share the secrets o f
Maclay's magic. It was fitting that the principal mediator b e t w e e n the
villages and the p o w e r o f Garagassi should b e c o m e a leader, expressing
his status in the only w a y he understood. It seemed equally fitting that
T u i should be called 'Maclay' and Maclay addressed as 'Tui'.
Maclay had been interested t o find the custom o f n a m e - e x c h a n g e
practised in N e w Guinea. H e appreciated the esteem inherent in the
explanation—that since the healing o f his w o u n d T u i would d o
anything f o r Maclay; that they t w o , almost close e n o u g h t o be regarded
as one, should bear each other's names. H e had not authorized this and
never would. W i t h proposals for an aggressive alliance fresh in m i n d ,
he could n o t relish the implication that he should be ready to d o
w h a t e v e r T u i wanted. H e had m a d e it clear that T u i was not Maclay,
that the n a m e o f Maclay must never be applied to any other.
T u i had had his m o m e n t , w h e n he called, 'Maclay tamo-Russ!\ and
presented Maclay's share of pork. N e x t day he h u n g the e m p t y basket
on a tree at Garagassi, explaining that if anyone asked about it Maclay
Prospero's Island 81

must reply, 'Pork and yams f r o m T u i o f Gorendu*. H e pressed n o claim


to be called 'Maclay'. But his friends had s h o w n surprise and resentment
at this prohibition. Talk o f war w e n t on until Maclay almost wished the
e n e m y w o u l d come. H e s h o w e d his opinion o f the war scare by sailing
with Olsen f o r the island of Bilbil, the sanctuary the w h i t e m e n spoke
o f w h e n they discussed escape.
W h e n they reached it, r o w i n g , after a sleepless night, the place repaid
them. It was magically beautiful, a d r e a m o f a South Seas island, w i t h
magnificent views o f the mainland coast and ranges. A c r o w d o f m e n
greeted Maclay w i t h extravagant joy, c o m p e t i n g for the h o n o u r o f
helping to beach the boat, t h r o n g i n g r o u n d to escort him into the
village. W i t h the help o f Kain, a highly influential person w h o had
visited Garagassi, he quite easily persuaded the Bilbil m e n that their
w o m e n need not remain in hiding.
Strolling about the island, he realized that this c o m m u n i t y could give
him m o n t h s o f profitable study. Its houses w e r e m o r e elaborate, its
carvings m o r e n u m e r o u s and varied than those of his mainland
neighbours. It was a centre f o r canoe-building, and m a d e e n o r m o u s
quantities o f pots, w h i c h its seafarers distributed along the coast. Its lively
people seemed easier in their manners than the suspicious folk o f
G o r e n d u and Bongu. W h e n he took a walk they did n o t ask w h e r e he
was going or w h y . N o b o d y ran after h i m to watch. H e was noticing
s o m e t h i n g he m i g h t have observed in Europe, the psychological
difference b e t w e e n small peasant c o m m u n i t i e s and a relative m e t r o -
polis, d e v o t e d to manufactures and trade.
Maclay foresaw difficulties, e v e n as he felt 'at home'. T h e r e w e r e t o o
m a n y people, or t o o little space. It m i g h t be unsuitable f o r a m a n w h o
needed quiet and a certain distance b e t w e e n himself and others. Besides,
the island had n o t m u c h cultivable land. As well as m a k i n g all those pots,
the w o m e n tended gardens on the mainland, s o m e t i m e s staying there
overnight. Despite this kind o f overseas agricultural colony, f o o d
supplies depended largely on the yield o f trading voyages. This tight
little island m i g h t soon resent extra mouths.
W h e n he lightly suggested that he w o u l d live there, he detected a
false n o t e in his hosts' enthusiasm. O f course they longed f o r him to
come. T h e y told him m a n y times that Bilbil was m u c h better than
B o n g u and G o r e n d u . But w h e n rain forced him to stay o v e r n i g h t
n o b o d y o f f e r e d a hut or a place in the men's house.
Maclay i m p c r t u r b a b l y sheltered on the covered platform o f Kain's
canoe, a seagoing house that a c c o m m o d a t e d six or seven m e n c o m f o r t -
ably in any weather. H e was n o m o r e put out w h e n his hosts' faces
betrayed the wish that he should leave. H e o f t e n felt like that himself
As soon as a breeze came up he gave the signal, and thirty m e n put the
boat in the water as willingly as they had hauled it out.
82 The Moon Man

H e did n o t abandon all idea o f living on Bilbil. T h e island had several


nooks suitable for his house. T h o u g h the language differed greatly f r o m
that o f his neighbours, he need not start again f r o m nothing, and m a n y
islanders spoke the B o n g u tongue. If he lived a m o n g t h e m , these
urbane, courteous people w o u l d take his presence for granted. A m b i -
tious Bilbil parents already understood that they m u s t not n a m e their
children 'Maclay'. Admirers w o u l d learn that he wanted n o such tribute
as the u n f o r t u n a t e d o g that had been smashed against a tree and laid at
his feet. As f o r food, w h e n his trade goods gave out—as they soon must
a m o n g such a c r o w d — h e m i g h t d r a w on other resources. T h e islanders'
sores cried out for o i n t m e n t .
H a v i n g travelled halfway r o u n d the world to experience the
primitive, he was t e m p t e d by a place w h e r e personal life faintly
resembled the privacy and a n o n y m i t y o f European cities. Bilbil
promised t o be valuable even if he never made it his h o m e . His 'good
friend' Kain was a real force in the region, a leader w h o s e prestige rested
securely on ability and wealth. Maclay foresaw the time w h e n Kain's
t w e l v e - m e t r e sailing canoe w o u l d take him exploring along the w h o l e
coast, while Bilbil linguists helped him contact people t h r o u g h o u t their
trading sphere.
M e a n w h i l e he had business in the mountains, perhaps b e y o n d the
gaps he had sighted f r o m the sea. And he was truly attached to Garagassi.
Approaching the cape, he felt the pleasure o f h o m e - c o m i n g . H e
hastened to sec h o w the house had fared, u n g u a r d e d f o r almost t w o
days.
T h e Papuan-style d o o r fastenings o f poles, rope and palm leaves w e r e
untouched. Apparently his cabin m i g h t have stood like that f o r weeks.
T h e neighbours had imagined he was visiting Russia.

Even b e f o r e establishing satisfactory relations w i t h the natives, Maclay


had t h o u g h t of staying in N e w Guinea, 'never r e t u r n i n g to Europe'.
T h e r e w e r e precedents—naturalists disgusted by civilization or E u r o -
pean politics, w h o settled in the South American j u n g l e or w a n d e r e d
the South Seas w i t h n o intention o f going back. N o w h e r e in Europe
had he k n o w n such beauty and solitude, peace and f r e e d o m . H e felt
m o r e at h o m e every day. W h e n he followed a path in the dark, w i t h o u t
suffering bruises or lacerations, or p o u n c e d on a crab and ate it raw, he
imagined himself b e c o m i n g 'a little bit Papuan'.
T h e single great i m p e d i m e n t was sickness. ' N o t the natives, not the
tropical heat, not the dense forests' repelled intruders f r o m N e w Guinea.
B e f o r e he could m a k e the island his h o m e , he must reckon with the
'pale, cold, shivering then b u r n i n g fever'.
T h e gender o f the Russian w o r d for 'fever' is feminine. But in
English Maclay still t h o u g h t o f malaria as a mcrcilcss female. She was on
Prospero's Island 83

the watch f o r him at dawn. H e r talons closed on him in the heat o f n o o n


and in the day's last glimmer. Chill, s t o r m y nights and soft, m o o n l i t
evenings w e r e all the same to her, and precautions never saved him
f r o m her fury. She sent the giddiness, the leaden feeling, the shivering
fits and 'dry, endless heat'. She persecuted him with m o n s t r o u s images
and processions o f sad visions that dissolved in a kaleidoscopic dance. She
tricked his perceptions, m a k i n g his b o d y g r o w until it threatened to fill
the r o o m , thickening his fingers until they equalled his arms, enlarging
his head until it almost touched the r o o f Harpy, fury, vampire, she
attacked him five and six days in a r o w , t w o and three times in a day,
tearing his life to pieces, leaving h i m t o o weak to sit in his chair or hold
a book.
W i t h n o idea w h a t w e n t on in his bloodstream—it w o u l d be years
b e f o r e m e n in Europe studied the right microscope slides—he m i g h t as
well symbolize fever by the c o n s u m i n g female. His m o r e precise
explanations w e r e n o m o r e real. H e had stayed t o o long outside in the
evening. A w i n d had chilled him w h e n his legs w e r e wet. S o m e
physiological shock had occurred w h e n he passed f r o m blazing sunshine
to cool, moist shade. Just as he imagined his European or N o r t h African
fever abandoned in E u r o p e and his Chilean fever left aboard Vityaz, he
saw each b o u t of malaria in N e w Guinea as an isolated event. At the
same time, he could n o t always distinguish b e t w e e n f e v e r and the
effects o f ' a l m o s t eating' quinine. But he did n o t blame his weakness
entirely on fever. H e had n o t eaten the raw crab to p r o v e his N e w
Guinea m a n h o o d . H e was hungry.
Always convinced that he must live on local foods, he had made only
minimal provison for three months. T h e sugar had lasted less than six
weeks. A f t e r a long battle with grubs, the stock of biscuit had been
t h r o w n out. T h o u g h Maclay never touched it—the m e r e t h o u g h t
disgusted h i m — N a z i m o v ' s canned meat and fish had quickly dis-
appeared. T h e simplicity and m o n o t o n y o f meals—rice and curry f o r
breakfast, beans and a little dried beef f o r d i n n e r — h a d rather pleased
Maclay. B u t he never regarded dried b e e f as real meat. W h e n he first
noted the decline in his physical powers, he had attributed it to three
m o n t h s of vegetable diet. N o w n o t h i n g remained of the i m p o r t e d
stores but tea and a small daily ration of rice and beans, c o n s u m e d
w i t h o u t salt.
T h e p o r k he had expected to be plentiful turned o u t to be a rare and
solemn privilege to Papuans. D o g meat, far less palatable, was just as
scarce. Fowls seemed to be kept only for plumage, and Maclay tasted
neither their flesh n o r their eggs. O n c e or twice the natives provided
fish. T h e y had n o idea o f bringing a regular supply.
A f t e r three m o n t h s at Garagassi, Maclay had still imagined the
p r o b l e m of animal f o o d w o u l d be solved once relations w i t h the
84 The Moon Man

neighbours allowed him to hunt. W h e n he did g o out with his gun, he


experienced all the disadvantages o f the Australian faunal region
w i t h o u t its benefits. W i l d m a m m a l s in this thickly-populated district
w e r e f e w , small and nearly all nocturnal. H e k n e w most o f t h e m only
as a squeak and scuttle in the dark.
T h e delightfully ignorant birds i m p r o v e d his diet and eked o u t his
trade goods w i t h plumes t o give the natives. Y e t s o m e days there
seemed to be none, and t h o u g h he gladly ate anything with feathers he
had to w e i g h the cost in shot against the unreliable gains. His garden
g r e w n o t h i n g but coconut palms that w o u l d n o t bear for about six years.
T h e natives' gifts o f vegetables could never be relied upon, and in any
case he tried to avoid dependence. H e was n o t Papuan e n o u g h to eat
reptiles and insects or confident e n o u g h to persevere w i t h fishing. His
strength was failing. His teeth and g u m s became sore f r o m c h e w i n g
sugar cane to sweeten the tea. H e began to dream about food.
As long as n o ship d r o p p e d in, the question about leaving N e w
Guinea remained theoretical. H e assumed that some vessel must appear,
with a captain willing and able to give him supplies. O n e thing certain
was that if he stayed he w o u l d be alone. T h e first ship, w h a t e v e r its
destination, w o u l d take away his servant Olsen.
Unless there had been s o m e t h i n g w r o n g w i t h Olsen, he probably
w o u l d n o t have been available at Apia. H e s h o w e d n o n e o f the vices
expected o f a white drifter in the South Seas. H e neither complained o f
lack o f alcohol n o r broke into the medical supplies. H e did n o t steal, or
o f f e n d by dirty habits, bad language or boisterous behaviour. T h o u g h
he regretted n o t seeing the w o m e n d u r i n g the first visit to B o n g u , he
never caused t r o u b l e by chasing native females.
Olsen recognized his o w n inferiority. His faith in his employer's
k n o w l e d g e was sometimes absurd, as w h e n he asked Maclay w h e t h e r
there w o u l d be another earthquake. W h e n attack seemed i m m i n e n t , he
begged t o be told w h a t to do, sure that w i t h o u t Maclay's instructions
he w o u l d be helpless. At the height o f crisis, he r e m e m b e r e d to call
Maclay 'master'.
Y e t they w o u l d never get on together. T h e qualities that m i g h t have
made Olsen an acceptable m e m b e r o f some mediocre European
c o m m u n i t y w e r e hopelessly inadequate here. Maclay's basic p r o b l e m
was that o f all heroic adventurers: any assistant must be totally devoted
and subordinate, yet equal t o him in courage, intelligence and
endurance.
Olsen never approached that standard. H e was, or had been, capable
o f great physical effort. T h e r e w e r e intermissions in his cowardice, since
he could be left alone to rcccivc the natives' gifts in B o n g u or to guard
the boat while Maclay explored Bilbil. H e was not entirely a fool; he
and Maclay sometimes had the same idea at the same time. But in
Praspera's Island 85

general Maclay regarded him as cowardly, stupid, lazy and d e p e n d e n t


O n c e 'cheerful and obliging, Olsen had b e c o m e irritable and
querulous, constantly complaining, shirking his w o r k . H e was always
hungry, w i t h o u t the decency to keep quiet about it. H e was always ill,
shameless in his fear o f death. W h e n Maclay f o u n d Olsen 'ready to
collapse as soon as he felt slightly o f f c o l o u r , he naturally suspected
sham. T h e r e was n o simple devotion to compensate for faults. W h e n
Olsen flung himself d o w n , sobbing, at Maclay's bedside, imagining his
master about to die, Maclay k n e w the m a n was thinking o f his o w n
subsequent fate.
As Maclay's character strengthened and expanded, Olsen's deterior-
ated. H e had n o sustaining self-image, n o store of k n o w l e d g e and
interests to help him forget his troubles. Except w h e n ordered to hold
the head o f Boy's corpse, he took n o part in scientific w o r k . H e was not
permitted to j o i n Maclay's excursions by land, g o h u n t i n g or fishing, or
visit the villages on his o w n account. H e sometimes came to life, as
w h e n he handled the boat or helped r e m o v e a fallen tree f r o m the
stream. His usual w o r k , w h e n he was on his legs, consisted o f cooking
and washing, carrying fuel and water, with such diversions as sorting out
grub-riddled beans or airing Maclay's m i l d e w e d clothes. N o w o n d e r he
was bored.
O n top o f that, he was disappointed. His master had not promised to
m a k e him g o v e r n o r of an island, but Olsen had s o m e h o w expected to
better himself His deterioration had b e c o m e apparent w h e n he decided
there was n o t h i n g to be gained here.
It became m o r e obvious as he learned h o w he must exist. Perhaps
sociable, perhaps merely weak, he could not live w i t h o u t talk. Egotistical
and ignorant, he had limited subjects o f conversation. At first he had
bored Maclay w i t h 'endless anecdotes about his past life'. But not any
more. Maclay f o u n d it difficult to tolerate chatterers at any time. H e
refused to have his time in N e w Guinea wasted, a precious experience
ruined, by 'society' that he felt as an intrusion. T h r e e m o n t h s after their
arrival, the only k n o w n European residents o f mainland N e w Guinea
hardly spoke to each other, and never took meals together.
Olsen tried talking to himself. Maclay still had to hear m o n o l o g u e s
about sickness, starvation and the danger o f native attack. H e pointed
out that he had not asked Olsen to c o m e to N e w Guinea—literally true,
since Consul W e b e r in Samoa had d o n e the asking. H e gave reminders
o f that m o m e n t beside the flagpole, w h e n the man had been offered a
chance to leave with Vityaz. W h e n he made Olsen aware o f his
c o n t e m p t and resentment, he never imagined that such a creature might
hate in return. N o t even w h e n Olsen let him lie five days ill w i t h o u t
o f f e r i n g him anything to cat.
T h a t was just an aspect o f Olsen's uselessness. His usefulness was m o r e
86 The Moon Man

subtle. Maclay took scientific interest in observing the effects o f such


living conditions u p o n a European. Olsen's presence 1 m a d e it possible t o
c o m p a r e reactions. '
Olsen had g r u m b l e d w h e n the sugar ran out. Maclay, t h o u g h he later
f o u n d sugarless tea unacceptable, had not felt the change at first. T h e
way Olsen tore into a piece o f meat, w h e n he could get it, c o n f i r m e d
the carnivorous nature o f man and the sustaining quality o f Maclay's
detachment. Day in, day out, Maclay's busy c o n t e n t m e n t contrasted
w i t h Olsen's fretful listlcssness. T h e contrast was never m o r e m a r k e d
than in their response to solitude. Maclay f o u n d h u m a n society 'almost
superfluous'. Olsen needed it desperately. T h e m a n w h o achieved his
ambition remained active and serene. T h e disappointed man became
peevish and indolent. T h e silent m a n thrived on silence. T h e talkative
man, deprived of talk, began to disintegrate.
In facing the possibility o f attack, Maclay's calm had always s h o w n up
clearly beside Olsen's t r e m b l i n g terror. W i t h friendly relations estab-
lished, Olsen still feared the natives. But he raised n o m o r e false alarms.
H e spent days and nights alone at Garagassi w i t h o u t causing specific
annoyance. A m o n g the Papuans he seemed solid and responsible,
neither b e c o m i n g rattled n o r giving t h e m offence. T h e worst to be said
was that he lacked the sense o f privilege. T o Maclay, any gift f r o m
Papuans was sacred, a b o n d uniting t h e m to him. Olsen criticized t o u g h
fish and green bananas as t h o u g h they had c o m e f r o m Europeans.
Maclay always noticed h o w the Papuans differentiated b e t w e e n the
t w o w h i t e men. W h e n gifts o f d i f f e r e n t meats w e r e sent, the pork was
for Maclay; Olsen got d o g flesh. T u i m i g h t sit with Olsen in the kitchen,
but only while waiting f o r Maclay. T h e demonstrative w e l c o m e at
Bilbil had been for Maclay, not Olsen, and n o b o d y wanted to n a m e
children 'ViT. W h e n Maclay noticed that the natives t h o u g h t him a
'supernatural being', he had realized they only 'to some extent' ascribed
that status to his servant.
T h a t did not m e a n they expected n o t h i n g of Olsen. W h e n Maclay
sailed away f r o m a village, Olsen, at the tiller, had to shout the farewell
'E aba! E meme!'—'Goodbye brothers! G o o d b y e fathers!' N e v e r called
u p o n to b u r n water or lead a military expedition, Olsen was sometimes
asked for a tune on the m o u t h - o r g a n , or a Swedish song. As the f a m e
of Maclay's magic spread t h r o u g h the country, so did that o f the
mouth-organ.
T h e 'music' lacerated Maclay's ears. But he himself tried to fulfil the
natives' requests. H e must allow his servant to d o the same. For the
general safely, it was best that on his o w n level Olsen got along w i t h
t h e m fairly well. Maclay s h o w e d n o curiosity about w h a t happened at
Garagassi during his absence, or what Olsen m i g h t experience w h e n left
alone in a village. For him, at such times, his servant ceased to exist.
Gorendu village, Maclay Coast, N e w Guinea, February 1872

Gumbu village, Maclay Coast, February 1872


The men's house in the mountain village of Tcngum-mana,
Maclay Coast, 1872

Astrolabe Bay, looking south from Bogadjim


A Bilbil I'ling
The commemorative plaque at Garagassi
Prospero's Island 87

In his seventh m o n t h in N e w Guinea, he received notice that Olsen's


loneliness, and the neighbours' idea of him as a lesser being than Maclay,
m i g h t endanger correct relations. Since Tui's first unsuccessful attempts
to spy or to p r o v e his trust, n o Papuan had set f o o t in the house or
t h o u g h t of staying overnight. N o w , after a trip to the mountains,
Maclay f o u n d the magical barrier broken. T u i had stayed at Garagassi,
to keep Olsen company.
It never happened again, at least n o t to Maclay's knowledge. In fact
Olsen had little chance to establish over-close relations w i t h Papuans.
Maclay stayed t w o or three times in nearby villages. H e recorded only
o n e m o r e expedition to the mountains.
Illness and weakness restricted his m o v e m e n t s . So did his neighbours'
reluctance to help. H e w o u l d happily have g o n e alone, with his lightest
blanket and the old rucksack used on student rambles in G e r m a n y and
Switzerland. Instead, he needed guides on the capricious paths, inter-
preters to introduce him in n e w places. O b t a i n i n g t h e m involved
tedious negotiations, particularly since the coast villages w e r e at odds
w i t h some m o u n t a i n communities. T h e guides g r u m b l e d at being
required to carry his small table and folding chair and other items o f
w h i t e man's e q u i p m e n t . T h o u g h he invariably travelled w i t h m o r e
followers than he wanted, the youths w h o came along to protect their
friends, or for the f u n of it, w e r e decorative rather than useful. T h e y
entertained and i n f o r m e d . T h e y carried n o t h i n g but their weapons.
B o n g u or G u m b u guides refused to take h i m beyond the first
m o u n t a i n c o m m u n i t y . E v e r y o n e insisted—and Maclay's observations
seemed to c o n f i r m — t h a t n o villages or tracks existed in the dense forest
rising towards the veil o f cloud. O t h e r villages in the same belt w e r e
enemies, f o r e v e r unapproachable. A visit to the mountains never lasted
m o r e than three days, and Maclay had to abandon h o p e o f penetrating
the interior.
H e experienced m a n y fine m o m e n t s — w h e n a gap in the trees
opened an inspiring view o f coast and ranges, w h e n he witnessed a brief
magical rite in a forest grove, w h e n in deepest secrecy he was s h o w n a
great w o o d e n mask. H e studied 'hieroglyphs' 011 a fallen tree. H e
acquired highly-valued carvings. Mustering all his k n o w l e d g e o f the
B o n g u dialect, he made, to general approval, a halting and strictly
practical public speech. T h e m o u n t a i n villages w e r e full o f fascination.
Yet he was never sorry to be back at Garagassi. Exhausted on difficult
tracks, he felt unable to rest bccausc of his c r o w d o f followers. W h e n
he wished to enjoy the surroundings, he had to watch w h e r e he p u t his
feet. H e suffered f r o m sunburn and lacerations to feet and legs, incurred
in crossing rocky streams. T h e n there w e r e disturbed nights in villages
w h o s e inhabitants never seemed to stop talking and m o v i n g about, days
full o f ' t i r e s o m e ' people w h o f o l l o w e d him e v e r y w h e r e . W i t h relief he
88 The Moon Man

sank back into soothing routine, happy 'not to see or hear people about
f r o m m o r n i n g to night'.
Birds in great variety contributed their flesh to the pot and their
p l u m a g e to his collections or the natives' head-dresses. A f e w small
marsupials came his w a y f o r dissection and drawing. H e enjoyed rearing
a y o u n g cuscus that spent its days sleeping and nights trying to g n a w
t h r o u g h its box. His collections g r e w to the point w h e r e it became haru
to cram m o r e into the hut. A n d there was always m o r e to learn about
his neighbours, either f r o m visitors to Garagassi or in almost-daily trips
to the nearest villages.
Sometimes, going to G o r e n d u or B o n g u at an hour w h e n the people
w e r e in the plantations, he had the place to himself, strolling a m o n g the
huts with only a d o g or a pig to supervise him. Sometimes he took meals
there, the centre of attention for the w h o l e c o m m u n i t y . H e constantly
observed n e w facts about the practical side o f life. H e attended feasts
and collected details of songs and dances. H e noted tokens of social
relations, w i t h o u t learning anything about their significance. H e never
saw a w e d d i n g or a circumcision, and witnessed a funeral only as an
uninvited and not particularly w e l c o m e guest. But he could wait. H e
was ready to spend 'several years' on that coast.
N o 'culture shock' occurred in Maclay's N e w Guinea, at least not to
Maclay. In m o u n t a i n villages he saw 'savage' faces, a wildness o f
expression rather than features. H e m i g h t reject f o o d after a w e l l -
m e a n i n g friend had taken it in less-than-clean hands and b l o w n on it to
cool it, or refuse the only water the m o u n t a i n people could offer. H e
witnessed n o disturbing rituals. His primitive w o r l d contained p r o h i b i -
tions but n o k n o w n punishments. It echoed w i t h w a r and the cult o f
warriors, but he saw n o fighting. S u r r o u n d e d by magic, sometimes told
o f its use for r e v e n g e and malice, he observed only its benevolent side.
H e lived in a world w i t h o u t crime, anger or competition, an accusing
contrast to the Europe he hoped to abandon.
Physical isolation fostered this impression. So did the language barrier,
his c o m m a n d o f the n e i g h b o u r h o o d dialect being limited to the
concrete. Living above the villagers rather than a m o n g them, he seemed
content to believe that in his absence their life w e n t on exactly as in his
presence.
In any case, his detached, enquiring attitude prepared him for
anything. Early in his stay, w h e n the natives provided some unidentified
meat, he had shocked his servants by suggesting they had enjoyed a meal
of h u m a n flesh. T h o u g h he saw n o proof, he continued to expect
cannibalism, regarding it as a natural response to scarcity o f animal food.
A f t e r a year, his o n e complaint was that he f o u n d Papuan music
'excruciating'. H e noticed that people defecated close to dwellings,
leaving the e x c r e m e n t to be eaten by dogs and pigs. H e was m u c h
Prospero's Island 89

impressed by their personal cleanliness, and in Maclay's N e w Guinea


there w e r e n o bad smells. T h o u g h he n e v e r f o r g o t the sight o f his
friends after a feast, so stuffed with f o o d that they could not m o v e , he
k n e w their condition had n o t h i n g to d o w i t h greed. A n y religious
significance in the drinking o f keu escaped him. N o b o d y p r e t e n d e d to
enjoy the taste. But Papuan drunkenness was a brief oblivion, with n o
noisy, quarrelsome prelude or evil after-effects. Like e v e r y t h i n g here it
was natural, w h o l e s o m e , a c e r e m o n y that helped bind the c o m m u n i t y
together.
T h e m o r e he saw o f this life, the m o r e he liked its kindly morality.
H e o f t e n saw children on the beach, imitating the sexual activities o f
their elders. H e learned to appreciate the f r e e d o m with w h i c h w o m e n
and girls discussed the sexual functions and y o u n g people exchanged
jokes that w o u l d be 'filthy to European ears'. It was an important day in
his investigations w h e n he discovered that peculiar exercises with the
pelvis, practised by little girls for hours on end, w e r e part o f every girl's
upbringing, a highly-valued preparation for coitus. And with all their
f r e e d o m f r o m false shame, their assumption that sexual relations w e r e
the same as other physical needs, he f o u n d Papuan girls in n o way loose.
T h e y w e r e m o r e truly chaste than European w o m e n ' b r o u g h t u p in
hypocrisy and pretended innocence'.
T h e m e n w e r e 'distinguished by strict morality'. Late in his stay, he
heard o f fights involving acquaintances w h o had m a d e t o o f r e e w i t h
other men's wives. Perhaps the rarity o f extramarital intercourse o w e d
s o m e t h i n g to fear o f a husband's weapons. Maclay saw n o t h i n g to
change his opinion. Most m e n married early and had only one w i f e at
a time, polygyny being a rarely-attained ideal. W h e r e w o m e n w e r e in
the minority, and tended to die y o u n g , the m e n had to be jealous. O n
the other hand, there was n o n e o f that over-valuation o f w o m e n , so
wittily exposed by Schopenhauer. Relations b e t w e e n the sexes here
c o n f i r m e d both European artificiality and the philosopher's view,
shared by Maclay, that w o m a n was the natural ' n u m b e r t w o o f the
h u m a n race'.
Papuans seemed to m a k e little fuss about marriage and n o n e about
divorce. If they could not manage polygyny, they i m p r o v e d o n
Schopenhauer's r e c o m m e n d a t i o n s in one respect: w o m e n w o r k e d f o r
m e n , rather than the other w a y round. Maclay quite pitied t h e m w h e n
they staggered h o m e , b o w e d under loads o f vegetables and infants, with
bundles o f f i r e w o o d on their heads and children dragging at their hands.
W h i l e the m e n ate the best food, seated on their platforms, the w o m e n
sat on the g r o u n d a m o n g dogs and pigs, c o n s u m i n g what their husbands
discarded. But they w e r e seldom beaten or required to w o r k b e y o n d
their strength. A m a n w h o could easily rid himself o f a disabled w i f e
and take another m i g h t g o to considerable trouble to obtain magical
90 The Moon Man

medicine. O n the whole, Maclay considered the position o f w o m e n


fairly good.
It was as good as they seemed to deserve or desire. E c o n o m i c value
assured e v e r y female o f a husband, so these w o m e n neither indulged in
u n p r o d u c t i v e sentiment n o r b o t h e r e d to m a k e themselves attractive.
T h o u g h they suckled infants f o r years to avoid m o r e f r e q u e n t p r e g n a n -
cies, they rarely showed the tenderness for children that was so pleasant
in the men. Hard w o r k and hard c o m m o n s contributed t o the early loss
o f their f e w charms. C u s t o m perhaps decreed that w o m e n ' s bodies
should be less o r n a m e n t e d than those o f men. T h e r e was n o mistaking
their indifference to elegance and art. Seeking fine objects f o r his
collection, Maclay asked w h y cooking pots w e r e not decorated. T h e
Bilbil w o m e n , making hundreds o f fragile articles that m i g h t n e v e r
reach their destination, replied, ' W h a t for? It's not necessary'. These
natural females p r o v e d Schopenhauer's contention that the European
w o m a n ' s supposed interest in art was m e r e pretence and coquetry.
T h e m e n w e r e instinctively artistic. All Maclay's friends exercised
skill and taste in embellishing their bodies and every article they o w n e d .
T h o u g h he never regarded their productions as m o r e than 'rudiments o f
art', he greatly admired the patience and dexterity with w h i c h they used
their primitive implements. T i m e was essential to higher achievements
here as elsewhere. These m e n w h o otherwise possessed so little had
plenty o f time. T h e i r heaviest w o r k , the clearing and fencing o f gardens
and the breaking o f the soil, occupied a f e w weeks each year. H u n t i n g
and fishing w e r e sport and a d v e n t u r e rather than w o r k . T h e building
or repair o f a h u t or canoe f o r m e d islands o f interesting activity in
oceans o f pleasant idleness. T h e m e n w e r e dandies, conversationalists,
warriors, musicians, artists, custodians o f the sacred Maclay had n e v e r
seen, and never w o u l d sec, a society that m o r e clearly illustrated the
benefits o f f e m i n i n e industry and masculine leisure.
This paradise for m e n seemed equally blessed for children. T h e y w e r e
f e w in the first place, and those w h o arrived w e r e sure o f being
cherished. T h e y rarely cried, never seemed to be punished. A f o u r -
year-old w h o sought the breast m i g h t be unwillingly received, but not
deprived. Sexual play was n e v e r discouraged. Yet these indulged
children w e r e far f r o m spoilt. Like w o m e n , they ate only w h a t the m e n
rejected, and youths o f t w e n t y dared n o t touch the pork that was safe
only f o r g r o w n m e n . T h e little fellow w h o ran to his mother's breast
had to help w i t h domestic tasks. Later, while girls shared the w o m e n ' s
w o r k and practised the gyrations meant to please f u t u r e husbands, he
w o u l d learn the use o f weapons, accompany his father to the gardens
and on h u n t i n g and fishing trips. C h e e r f u l , friendly, free to exercise
their instincts, these youngsters presented a picture o f happy childhood
Prospero's Island 91

while painlessly gaining the k n o w l e d g e and skill to fit t h e m for adult


life.
W e l l - l o v e d , satisfied children; leisured, dignified m e n ; w o m e n w h o
k n e w their place and accepted it. Had Maclay imagined a truly
h a r m o n i o u s society, enjoying every necessary f r e e d o m b u t h o n o u r i n g
every necessary restraint, this m i g h t have fulfilled his ideal. W e a l t h was
expressed, as far as he could m a k e out, entirely in w e a p o n s and the
beautifully-fashioned w o o d e n dishes that w e r e handed d o w n f r o m
generation to generation. Each m a n o w n e d o n e stone axe o f the small
kind. O n e large axe, greatly treasured, m i g h t serve a w h o l e village. Most
mainland villages boasted only t w o or three canoes, and s o m e had n o n e
at all. Maclay could not imagine a dwelling that contained less than a
Papuan hut. It was simplicity and sufficiency, n o t poverty, the natural
state o f m e n w h o k n e w neither m o n e y n o r c o m m e r c e , with all their
wants supplied by the earth and sea or the exchange o f gifts b e t w e e n
friends.
T h e w o r l d he described f o r f u t u r e European readers was on the
w h o l e a sunny, simple place, little disturbed by the breath o f sorcery and
almost devoid o f mystery. T h e m a n y things he did not k n o w — f o r
instance, the Papuans' ideas o f spiritual beings, the origins o f this w o r l d
and the possibility o f any o t h e r — w o u l d all be revealed by time and
perseverance. W h e n he sketched telums and noted their names, he
w o n d e r e d w h e t h e r they could properly be called 'idols' and w h a t
relationship they b o r e to the oddly-shaped stones that received similar
veneration. For the time being, these static, b u r d e n e d - l o o k i n g figures,
as r e m o t e f r o m his o w n aesthetic as the eldritch music o f moonrise,
w e r e classed a m o n g 'rudiments o f art'. As soon as he could investigate
m y t h s and legends, he w o u l d pry out any mysteries behind the grave,
stylized, chinlcss faces, sunk deep in the shoulders, and those animal
heads on h u m a n bodies.
Maclay was d e t e r m i n e d n o t to change the material he studied.
Despite curiously 'Semitic' names, evidence f o r a smallpox epidemic
eight or ten years before, and cases of influenza directly observed, he
was satisfied that these people had never m e t outsiders. A l t h o u g h they
r e m e m b e r e d smallpox c o m i n g ' f r o m the north-west', and told h o w
their grandfathers had received tobacco and the k n o w l e d g e o f its use
f r o m the same direction, he understood that until the arrival o f Vityaz
they had t h o u g h t themselves the world's only inhabitants. H e f o u n d this
situation as desirable for the humanitarian as for the anthropologist. H e
could wish the Papuans n o t h i n g better than the chance to remain
f o r e v e r ignorant o f the w o r l d b e y o n d their horizon.
Missionaries in the South Seas had discovered w i t h h o r r o r that the
measles they inadvertently b r o u g h t killed the people they m e a n t to
92 The Moon Man

save. Maclay had n e v e r imagined that the fever he suffered d u r i n g the


voyage, or the chest complaint o f his Polynesian servant, m i g h t
endanger the natives. H e did n o t associate the influenza cases with the
visit o f Vityaz. Like most people o f conscious rectitudc, he assumed that
bad things came only t h r o u g h bad men. K n o w i n g his g o o d intentions,
he was satisfied that neither he n o r those connected with him could
harm the Papuans.
By the same token, he did n o t believe that these people could be
corrupted by European goods received f r o m the right hands. T h o u g h
annoyed by rubbish' with which the naval officers b o u g h t N e w Guinea
skulls, he confidently gave similar articles for w h a t he wanted. H e
developed some idea o f native principles o f equivalence. T h e r e was n o
recognized equivalent for w h a t he brought. T h e usual introductory
items o f South Seas trade—cloth, beads, tobacco—all figured in his
system of exchange. H e established a small m i r r o r as the 'standard price'
for a pig. W h e n he insisted on having a revered telum in exchange for
nails and bottles, he did n o t feel this upset traditional values. Realizing
that religious feelings m a d e Papuans reluctant to part with the l o w e r
j a w b o n e s o f their dead, he obtained specimens, at last, by irresistible
appeals to greed.
His ideal being observation w i t h m i n i m u m interference, he never
intended to teach. T h e Papuans showed e n o u g h didactic spirit for both
parties. Even small children, noticing that he did anything by m e t h o d s
different f r o m theirs, w o u l d demonstrate the one correct way. H e
learned native techniques and sometimes picked up k n o w l e d g e — l i k e
h o w to obtain salt f r o m d r i f t w o o d — t h a t was immediately useful to
himself But his teachers could n o t help learning. Their readiness to use
things that other Pacific islanders had b o u g h t f r o m Europeans f o r
generations always surprised Maclay. Just as they discovered uses f o r
nails, glass and h o o p iron, they learned by observation the relative values
of axes, knives and bottles.
If Maclay wanted to test their adaptability, he had to provide the
means to be adaptable. H e fondly cxpcctcd that European knives w o u l d
encourage m o r e f r e e d o m and originality in an art w h o s e formal straight
lines spoke to him o f technical limitations and h u m a n laziness. W i s h i n g
to see h o w easily these people learned n e w words, he had to give t h e m
names for the things that interested t h e m most. T h e y had been calling
Vityaz a kowet b e f o r e she was o u t o f sight. N o w the Russian w o r d s f o r
'axe', 'knife', 'bottle', 'nail', v e r y well p r o n o u n c e d , had passed into daily
use. W h e n his neighbours g r e w tikva f r o m seed he donated, Maclay had
to s h o w t h e m h o w to cook p u m p k i n , and p r o v e its wholcsomcncss by
eating a dish he disliked. It was only a short step to explaining h o w to
obtain c o c o n u t oil, a tropical product previously u n k n o w n to the
villagers.
Prospero's Island 93

H e became a teacher, because his very presence was a lesson. H e could


n o m o r e avoid assuming authority. O n principle he rejected the
European tendency to d o m i n a t e a m o n g 'primitive' peoples. H e
belonged by birth and t e m p e r a m e n t to a class accustomed to c o m m a n d .
In any part o f the w o r l d the r e q u i r e m e n t s of scientific progress,
inseparable f r o m those o f personal safety and convenience, obliged him
to give orders. At Garagassi a native w h o began to climb the steps must
be ordered d o w n . Travelling c o m p a n i o n s must be told w h a t to do.
W h e n village chatter kept Maclay awake at night, he naturally
d e m a n d e d quiet. If the interior of a men's house was t o o dark, it became
necessary to have the telums carried outside. S o m e t i m e s considerations o f
justice restrained him. H e k n e w the G o r e n d u people w o u l d n o t 'dare to
oppose' his taking an animal they had captured, b u t he preferred
negotiation to force. S o m e t i m e s he was h a m p e r e d by lack of words. H e
could n o t tell the m o u n t a i n m e n w h o trod o n his heels that they w e r e
a nuisance. H e n e v e r d o u b t e d his right to restrict their m o v e m e n t s as
well as their conversation.
H e saw n o native authority to clash with his, n o t a single formal
chieftainship. In almost every village, h o w e v e r , he identified at least o n e
individual with w h o m he came to associate the expression tamo-boro—
'big-man'. Kain o f Bilbil was o n e of t h e m , as was Saul in Bongu.
N o t h i n g happened at Bogadjim w i t h o u t a sly old fellow n a m e d
K o d i - b o r o . In o n e o f the m o u n t a i n villages e v e r y t h i n g revolved around
a certain M i n e m . N e i t h e r age n o r o r n a m e n t n o r visible occupation
distinguished t h e m f r o m fellow-villagers. Able m e n and strong person-
alities, they had n o m o n o p o l y on intelligence. Yet they seemed to
preside over the most elaborate club-houses. Followers sat around t h e m ,
awaiting their w o r d . T h e y m a d e the speeches, gave the most effective
orders. H o w e v e r they came by it (a point Maclay never really
understood) they possessed the only p o w e r he could see.
R a t h e r than encroaching on this vague authority, he wished to study
it scientifically and perhaps use it to f u r t h e r his objects. H e naturally
tended to attract and be attracted by the most i m p o r t a n t people. Apart
f r o m being a fine fellow, Kain had the best sailing canoe on the coast.
Friendship w i t h Saul helped put B o n g u at Maclay's disposal. W h e n the
m o u n t a i n people objected to parting w i t h a telum, M i n e m talked t h e m
d o w n . Kodi could obtain a rattle so treasured by his village that he had
to smuggle it into Maclay's hands. This made an ideal situation f o r a
E u r o p e a n — s u r r o u n d e d by friendly m e n w h o s e prestige supported his
o w n , influential e n o u g h to help him but not pedigreed or p o w e r f u l
e n o u g h to expect h o m a g e . T h e o n e danger was that o f falling into the
vacancy at the top.
His friends had n o w h e r e else to place him. Until he came, this had
been an orderly, charted world. T h e great gods and heroes w h o m a d e
94 The Moon Man

it had retired, leaving h u m a n s to r u n their creation in prescribed ways.


Every c o m p o n e n t , m a n or tree, occupied a k n o w n place f r o m birth to
death and beyond. M e n lived in the villages like their ancestors. T h e
ancestors lived near by, in m u c h the same way, on a n o t h e r plane o f
being but always able to intervene on this one. As long as e v e r y o n e
obeyed the rules, living m e n and the spirits o f the dead managed well.
If s o m e t h i n g w e n t w r o n g , they f o u n d o u t w h i c h deity or ancestor had
been o f f e n d e d , and the appropriate ritual set life on its proper course.
All possible events, g o o d and ill, had already been experienced and
explained. N o t h i n g fundamentally n e w could enter a w o r l d that had
been filled and fixed f o r all time. N o w this scheme of things had t o
a c c o m m o d a t e Maclay and all that came w i t h him.
His m e r e appearance defied understanding—features that w e r e
humanlike yet subtly u n h u m a n , unearthly pallor, unnatural eyes that
seemed t o open on another sky inside the skull. W h e n he looked at
t h e m , people still felt an impulse to run. If a baby's cry b r o u g h t a f r o w n
to Maclay's face, the m o t h e r hurriedly took her child to safety.
W h a t people saw f o r m e d only a f r a g m e n t o f the mystery that had
suddenly entered the world. T h e y called Maclay tamo and invited him
to feasts, but n o b o d y could be sure that he was male. T r y i n g to settle
this, the G u m b u people had b r o k e n the rules by sending a girl into the
club-house w h e r e Maclay slept alone. She had lain beside him and
grasped his hand, only to be told: ' G o away! Maclay doesn't need
women!' In the m o r n i n g he had acted as t h o u g h n o t h i n g had happened,
leaving the plotters to think w h a t they chose.
A g e became just as unfathomable. O f t e n he seemed old, slow, staid,
heavy with k n o w l e d g e b e y o n d h u m a n understanding. But he denied
having children, and sometimes he seemed as ignorant as a little child.
H e had to be taught w o r d s for the c o m m o n e s t things and the w a y to
d o the simplest tasks. H e had to be told not to t h r o w f o o d scraps into
the fire or leave t h e m on the g r o u n d f o r sorcerers to find. N o t h i n g
could make him understand the dangers o f long j o u r n e y s a m o n g the
malignant spirits of the bush. At a funeral, with the token 'battle' a b o u t
to begin, he had almost to be pushed f r o m the path of spears and arrows.
Like a child he k n e w n o fear, treating weapons as t h o u g h u n a w a r e o f
their meaning. A n d it truly seemed that he need fear nothing. N o
sorcery had been able to kill him or dislodge him f r o m Garagassi.
S o m e h o w he paralysed the will o f warriors. Giant trees fell close by and
did him n o harm, as t h o u g h his spiritual force repelled their bulk. H e
had said that he w o u l d not die. N o w it was easy to believe. Looking
vulnerable w h e n those disquieting eyes w e r e turned away, yet
indifferent to every danger, Maclay perhaps could never k n o w death.
Mortal or immortal, he was the force w i t h w h i c h m e n must c o m e
Prospero's Island 95

to terms. T h e korvet's arrival, with its a w e s o m e sights and sounds, had


led only to his establishment at Garagassi. T h e busy tamo-Russ, n o t unlike
h i m to look at, apparently existed only to d o his will. F r o m the start he
had calmly exercised p o w e r over men. Apart f r o m his terrifying magic
and his attempts to obtain the bones of the dead, he seemed harmless,
even benevolent. N o t h i n g revealed the purpose f o r which he came, the
ends to which his p o w e r m i g h t be used.
Such an upheaval must have an equally great purpose. It must concern
the people, w h o stood at the centre o f all things. T h e y w o u l d perhaps
learn i m m e n s e mysteries, the origin o f Maclay and the w o n d e r f u l things
he b r o u g h t , the secrets of his p o w e r and wealth. H e m i g h t grant t h e m ,
at last, the gift o f living forever.
Meanwhile, practising patience and obedience, they held together the
fabric that his presence t h r e w into question. A d m i t n e w knowledge, and
all k n o w l e d g e became suspect. A d m i t an unexplained being, and the
w h o l e structure was t h r o w n out o f joint. T o keep existence going while
awaiting the n e w order of things, they must find a place f o r Maclay
within the old.
U n a b l e to die, and above the need f o r w o m e n , he could n o t be a man.
H e could not be an ancestor, since he had n o descendants. T h e one
possible precedent was f o u n d far back. Maclay's neighbours o w e d all
they had and all they w e r e to Kilibob, the great creator, w h o had
completed his w o r k long, long ago and retired to a distant island in the
south-east. T h e y had n o t expectcd him to c o m e back. N o w all the
evidence—an e n o r m o u s canoe f r o m the right direction, a p o w e r f u l ,
otherwise inexplicable being, a sudden accession o f novel objects—
suggested that Kilibob had returned, w i t h a n e w n a m e and a n e w dis-
pensation. T h e y w e r e ready to believe. T h e y could never be quite sure.
T h e y possessed n o precedents for dealing with a visibly-active god.
W o m e n and children, w h o must not look u p o n any musical instrument
lest they be h a r m e d by its sacred p o w e r , saw Maclay almost daily
w i t h o u t d e t r i m e n t to themselves. Uninitiated boys, unfit to v i e w a telum
or an ancestral mask, w e r e familiar with his look and voice. Yet n o
revolution occurred. Like other people, Maclay's neighbours kept
contradictory ideas in separate compartments. A n d another protective
habit of t h o u g h t preserved tranquillity. W h e r e spiritual beings lived in
almost social relations with humans, taken f o r granted unless directly
invoked, the tentative identification o f a deity imposed n o constant
burden of awe. People asked Maclay about his doings as they w o u l d ask
any neighbour. W h e n he took o f f s o m e of his coverings to cross a
stream, his companions felt free to make h u m o r o u s remarks. It became
a regular j o k e for y o u n g followers to screen him f r o m view, then step
aside to reveal him suddenly to s o m e unsuspecting girl. W h e n it seemed
96 The Moon Man

expedient to deceive him, his supposed divinity never m a d e it


impermissible.
Maclay was satisfied that they t h o u g h t him a 'quite extraordinary
being*. At first he became indignant w h e n B o n g u guides told the
m o u n t a i n m e n h o w he b u r n e d water, killed at a distance with fire and
m a d e people fall ill by the p o w e r o f his gaze. T h e y added to the terror
of his n e w acquaintances, caused his research material to run away. Y e t
a f e w weeks later, in another m o u n t a i n village, he listened serenely to
equally terrifying stories, including 'trifling* incidents that he had
forgotten. His friends w e r e w e l c o m e to any advantage they gained
f r o m spreading the sense of his dangerous p o w e r .
H e did not personally reject the advantages o f a godlike reputation.
Half his m i n d insisted that he had w o n friendship and esteem by purely
h u m a n qualities. T h e other half remained open to the t h o u g h t that his
friends, given incentive, o p p o r t u n i t y and courage e n o u g h , w o u l d try to
kill him.
W h e n he noticed that travelling companions feared to walk ahead o f
him, he could n o t blame them. H e t o o sometimes t h o u g h t h o w easily
the m a n behind might spear him in the back. W h e n B o n g u m e n
reported that some distant people wished to attack his house, he felt that
n o such thing could occur w i t h o u t help f r o m neighbours w h o
'wouldn't m i n d sharing the loot*. It did n o harm to d r o p hints about the
disaster courted by anyone w h o attacked him. But his best defence was
a general belief that m e n w e r e simply powerless to d o him injury.
In explaining his success, he emphasized qualities admired by
Europeans—strict adherence to his w o r d , invariable kindness and justice,
unshakeable self-control and indifference to danger. H e sensed that
some o f these m e a n t even m o r e to the Papuans. Indifference to their
actions told his friends that he had n o need to fear t h e m . It had b r o u g h t
him t h r o u g h the test o f spears and arrows. N o w he applied it
automatically in every situation. W h e n his guides' refusal to lead the
way inconvenienced him, he did not c o m m e n t or try to make t h e m g o
ahead. W h e n T u i gave him the slip during an excursion, perhaps to find
o u t w h e t h e r the magic needle could guide him h o m e , Maclay neither
reproached him n o r d e m a n d e d explanations. O v e r and over, people
learned that n o t h i n g they did affected this being w h o stood an immense,
irreducible distance a b o v e t h e m .
This moral ascendancy seemed to him far m o r e significant than a f e w
simple tricks. Perhaps there w e r e f u r t h e r trivial pieces of magic that he
f o r g o t and others r e m e m b e r e d . A f t e r guides had lauded his p o w e r s to
the mountain-dwellers, for instance, he publicly p e r f o r m e d a miracu-
lous 'cure' on his o w n imaginary stiff leg. O t h e r w i s e he was n o t obliged
to add to his magical reputation. N e i t h e r contradicted n o r c o n f i r m e d by
him, it rolled along o f its o w n accord, gathering m a n y amusing
Prospero's Island 97

exaggerations and distortions. H e n e v e r ceased to marvel at h o w


imagination fed on n e x t - t o - n o t h i n g , belief u p o n belief.
H e constantly saw h o w the native m i n d t r a n s f o r m e d and connected
fortuitous events. As an h o n o u r e d guest in G u m b u , he had been
questioned about life on the m o o n and stars, which his hosts apparently
confused with Russia. T h e indifference w i t h which he treated the
girl-in-thc-bcd episode was m e a n t to emphasize that 'such little things
could not interest a m a n f r o m the m o o n ' . H e noticed h o w the account
o f his extra-terrestrial travels became distorted w h e n G u m b u m e n
passed it on. But he was mystified w h e n the n a m e Kaaram-tamo, the
M o o n Man, began to reach his ears. Discovering at last that it referred
to him, he f o u n d that its origins w e n t far back. T h o s e w h o witnessed
his early e x p e r i m e n t w i t h the blue flare had t h o u g h t he c o m m a n d e d
light f r o m the m o o n .
H e liked the title Kaaram-tamo, the very description he had casually
used. T h e r e m i g h t be advantages in association with a heavenly b o d y
that seemed important to the natives. H e felt n o responsibility for the
error, or need to arrest its progress. T h e m o r e unearthly they t h o u g h t
h i m , the less the likelihood o f attack. For their sake as well as his o w n ,
he acquiesced in useful misunderstandings.
It m i g h t have been impossible to correct t h e m . T h o s e w h o had
exaggerated his feats to frighten potential enemies n o w seemed to
believe every w o r d themselves. N o r m a l behaviour, as 'European,
scientist, investigator', m a d e him strange enough. Imagination supplied
the rest.
H e appreciated the simplicity and c o m f o r t o f being s o m e kind o f god
while remaining completely himself, n e v e r obliged to pose or pretend.
H e o v e r l o o k e d the risks o f such a reputation a m o n g a practical people.
B u r n i n g water and releasing private m o o n l i g h t had rather suggested
divine wrath. Apart f r o m their use in w a r n i n g enemies, they could not
be said to d o any good. Papuans, o n the w h o l e , expected w o r t h w h i l e
deities to serve the h u m a n s w h o a c k n o w l e d g e d t h e m .
T h e y w e r e patient with Maclay. Eyes that could m a k e people fall ill
w e r e evidently powerless or unwilling to give t h e m health. E v e r y -
w h e r e he looked impassively u p o n elephantiasis, fever, skin diseases. But
people said nothing, gratefully allowing him to treat sores and w o u n d s ,
relying 011 Saul to deal with fever by whispering his old magic into a
piece o f sugar cane. Maclay's tabu provided feathers, a thrilling
entertainment, and a lesson to those w h o m i g h t threaten his neighbours.
But he refused to lead the villages to war, n e v e r used his p o w e r s to smite
their enemies at a distance. T h e y could n o m o r e look to h i m for better
crops. W h e n giving seeds o f n e w plants, he supplied n o incantations to
m a k e t h e m g r o w . His o w n garden s h o w e d that he cither k n e w n o
special magic or never b o t h e r e d to use it.
98 The Moon Man

If only they had proper ritual. N e i t h e r the old creator n o r the


problematic resurgent god had taught means for his o w n invocation.
M e n w e r e forced to approach w i t h o u t the sustaining f o r m s that w o n
co-operation f r o m other s u p e r h u m a n beings. A n d this haphazard
business gave unsatisfactory results. People w h o lost valuable fish-traps,
carried away by the sea, w e r e told that Maclay did not k n o w w T here to
find them. W h e n prolonged rain began to damage the gardens, he
insisted he could not stop it.
Surely he could m a n a g e such simple, useful things if he wished. Yet
he m e t their accusing disappointment with indifference, as t h o u g h he
did n o t realize h o w unfriendly his attitude seemed. T h e usual m a n w e n t
on p e r f o r m i n g the usual magic; the rain eventually stopped, w i t h o u t
leaving t h e m the prospect o f famine. T h e y did n o t understand Maclay
and never would. T h e one thing clear was that any g o o d action must
be o f his o w n choosing.
Unless he relented, or s o m e o n e learned the necessary ritual in a
dream, there was n o h o p e o f harnessing Maclay's full potential.
Meanwhile, he made satisfying material return for goods and services.
W h e n he received pigs f r o m the mountains, his friends shared in the
meat. Prestige accrued to those he favoured. Protection m i g h t be gained
by spreading his reputation. A n d most o f these benefits came to villages
near Garagassi. W h e r e v e r his restlessness took him, Maclay returned to
the house on the point.
K o d i - b o r o , the b i g - m a n o f Bogadjim, f o u n d this unnatural. B o n g u
and G o r e n d u w e r e backwaters, p o o r in w o m e n , pigs and coconuts,
places w h e r e n o t h i n g m u c h happened or could happen. Maclay had
s h o w n his opinion o f t h e m by refusing to live in either. T h e wanderings
that mystified e v e r y o n e could have but o n e object: Maclay was looking
for a better place to live.
Bogadjim was the largest and richest village on the bay, the scene o f
all really brilliant events. Its people acted as m i d d l e m e n , trading Bilbil
wares to the hinterland. It b o u g h t or invented stories, songs and dances
that the m o u n t a i n dwellers transmitted far inland. It set the fashion, set
the pace. Kodi confidently promised plenty o f everything, a fine house,
t w o or three wives to be chosen f r o m a far greater range than that
available at Bongu. At Bogadjim Maclay could manifest himself in
circumstances w o r t h y o f his greatness and Kodi-boro's.
Yet he refused. Kodi and his followers w e n t h o m e puzzled, still
h o p e f u l o f adding Maclay to the public and personal assets o f Bogadjim.
Maclay did not speculate on the motives for this pressing invitation'.
N o r did he connect events w h e n another deputation came w i t h a
'strange request'. B o n g u , G o r e n d u and G u m b u could neither quarrel
w i t h Bogadjim n o r ignore Kodi's machinations. T h e i r leading m e n
implored Maclay not to think o f leaving. T h e y o f f e r e d houses in e v e r y
Prospero's Island 99

village, an unlimited n u m b e r o f wives. All they asked was his promise


to stay w i t h t h e m .
T o u c h i n g as the proposal was, Maclay could n o t quite agree to it. H e
was n o t sure w h e t h e r he w o u l d go away, he told t h e m , but if so he
w o u l d certainly return. As f o r w o m e n , he did n o t need t h e m . T h e y
talked t o o m u c h , m a d e t o o m u c h noise, and he disliked that.
His friends' disappointment was partly soothed by gifts o f tobacco.
For the t i m e being, they had n o t h i n g to fear. H e had d r o p p e d all idea
o f exploring the interior or living elsewhere on the coast. S o m e t i m e s
he toyed w i t h the t h o u g h t that Olsen's death m i g h t allow him to m o v e
to the mountains, w h e r e malaria was less prevalent. O n the w h o l e he
f o u n d it best to stay at his original base, in case a ship should call.
Life at Garagassi had been m o r e secure in o n e respect since early June,
w h e n the neighbours had m a d e peace with their old enemies in the
mountains. In other ways, Maclay's position constantly worsened. H e
could still dip into his bag for tobacco, beads and scraps o f cloth, and
p r o d u c e the occasional knife or m i r r o r f o r really i m p o r t a n t transactions,
but his stock of trade goods was r u n n i n g out. At the same time, the need
for t h e m increased. At the end o f M a r c h he had measured o u t v e r y small
rations of rice and beans f o r five months, confident that he could avoid
d e p e n d i n g on friends w h o experienced seasonal f o o d shortages. By
August he was t h o r o u g h l y dependent, n o t merely f o r the meals he took
in villages w h e n e v e r he decently could. H u n t i n g b r o u g h t in t o o little.
T h e natives, left to themselves, provided a l u x u r i o u s meal' one day,
then n o t h i n g f o r weeks. T h e w h i t e m e n obtained taro and yams by
almost daily barter, yet never felt adequately fed.
W e a k e n e d by u n d e r n o u r i s h m e n t , and w o r r i e d by the depletion o f
his quinine, Maclay suffered m o r e than ever f r o m malaria. O u t hunting,
he collapsed and lay f o r hours b e f o r e he could drag himself h o m e .
T h r o u g h July and early August, bouts came nearly e v e r y day. Illness
consumed as m u c h as twelve days in a row. In pain f r o m spreading
tropical ulcers, he n o longer celebrated the tranquillity that had cast a
golden g l o w over the early m o n t h s in N e w Guinea. But his remaining
time could not be spent passively at h o m e . W h e n his strength sufficed,
he used it f o r strenuous action.

Little m o r e than a w e e k after receiving Maclay's qualified promise,


those w h o feared he w o u l d leave t h e m f o u n d his house deserted.
Maclay was on Bilbil, waiting f o r a wind.
A v i e w f r o m the mountains had s h o w n him a g r o u p o f islands in the
north, just b e y o n d Astrolabe Bay. N o w he wanted Kain to take him
there. H e waited three days, finding plenty to investigate, rather
suspicious o f dangerous winds that did n o t p r e v e n t canoes f r o m going
elsewhere. Finally he w o k e in the night, decided the w e a t h e r was as
100 The Moon Man

helpful as it ever w o u l d be, and d u g Kain o u t of bed. T h e y sailed at three


in the m o r n i n g , leaving Olsen on Bilbil to guard the boat.
Kain's friendship and g o o d nature quietly b o r e treatment that a m a n
o f his standing m i g h t have resented. His big canoe, a vang as the natives
called it, p r o v e d nearly as c o m f o r t a b l e afloat as ashore. Maclay relaxed,
enjoying the voyage north t h r o u g h the n a r r o w channel b e t w e e n
Graged and the mainland and a m o n g the isles he had glimpsed f r o m
afar. In Kain's c o m p a n y he was sure o f a friendly reception. His o w n
f a m e had spread a m o n g the islanders, several o f w h o m had visited
Garagassi. H e recognized acquaintances, charmed t h e m by reading their
names f r o m his notebook. T h e m e n he distingushed sat at his feet and
hardly left him, o u t d o i n g each other in services to Maclay.
H e f o u n d the villages less clean and pleasant than those near h o m e ,
yet he sensed an even m o r e attractive quality in these communities. A
special h a r m o n y marked relations a m o n g the inhabitants. W i v e s and
children w e r e treated even m o r e gently here. These m e n loved their
surroundings, their neighbours and themselves. In a part of the w o r l d
w h e r e e v e r y o n e seemed reasonably satisfied, these reached the pinnacle
of content. Maclay n a m e d the g r o u p the Archipelago of C o n t e n t e d
Men.
An arc o f islands protected a sheet of quiet water w h e r e the rest o f
the archipelago lay like coral eggs in an over-sized nest. Gaps in the outer
reef gave safe entrance to the great sheltered harbour. So far as Maclay
could j u d g e — h e lacked means to take soundings—deep channels and
anchorages abounded. A considerable river entered the bay. T h e climate
seemed good, the f o o d supply abundant. T h e people said that fever
rarely visited these blessed isles.
Maclay had f o u n d Paradise on earth, and was considering w h a t to d o
with it. H e did not regard it merely as a possible h o m e for himself As
he noted its advantages and m a d e a r o u g h sketch map, his thoughts ran
ahead to a p r o p e r survey, ships using those convenient channels,
mariners b u y i n g pigs and vegetables f r o m the friendly inhabitants. It
seemed an ideal port o f r e f r e s h m e n t for European vessels, and perhaps
something more. H e showed n o d o u b t that others could share this Land
of C o n t e n t w i t h o u t impairing the c o n t e n t m e n t o f its present owners.
Back at Garagassi after a five-day absence, the longest period f o r
which he had left the house unguarded, he f o u n d all safe. Various signs
told him the natives had been there. T h e y had not disturbed the
' c o b w e b ' o f string and w h i t e thread that entangled the doors. H e
supposed they imagined a touch on the string w o u l d cause guns to fire
f r o m all sides. O r perhaps the frail barrier suggested s o m e magical
prohibition, threatening infinite evil to those w h o b r o k e it. H e never
asked w h a t they thought. Such trifles could n o t concern a man f r o m the
moon.
Prospero's Island 101

T h r e e days later, he c o b w e b b e d the doors again and set o u t w i t h


Olsen o n another voyage. M o n t h s o f b u m p i n g o n reefs had left the boat
in bad shape. T h e trip to Bilbil had d e p e n d e d as m u c h on the bailer as
on oars and sail. Intending at least to visit the eager folk at Bogadjim, he
had to d o it quickly.
K o d i - b o r o r e n e w e d his invitation m o r e urgently than ever. T h e first
i n d u c e m e n t was a 'rather pretty' y o u n g girl w h o looked u p o n Maclay
with favour. N e x t came a 'not bad-looking' and e v e n y o u n g e r maiden,
equally well disposed. E v e r y w h e r e there w e r e attractive, healthy
girls—Kodi pointed t h e m out w i t h his tongue—all o f t h e m suitable
wives. But this 'bride inspection' merely irritated Maclay. H e could n o t
actually dislike any inhabitant o f this coast w h e r e he felt beloved and at
h o m e , but he came close to antipathy for K o d i - b o r o . H e disciplined
himself to express nothing, shake his head, change the subject. Feminine
whispers in the night m a d e him suspect that Kodi was trying to repair
the day's 'fiasco'. H e again managed to ignore the episode.
T h e y parted g o o d friends, Kodi satisfied w i t h the knife that r e w a r d e d
h i m for stealing a sacred object on Maclay's behalf. T h e 'irksome'
experience never affected Maclay. Sexual relations b e t w e e n w h i t e and
black, regarded as an o f f e n c e against the latter, w e r e contrary to his
principles. Besides, Papuan girls fell short o f the male standards in style
and cleanliness. At their youngest and prettiest, they n e v e r equalled the
sensitive beauty that quite o f t e n appeared a m o n g the boys. A n d apart
f r o m morality and aesthetics he had to think o f policy. His heavenly
origin n o w seemed established. O n Bilbil he had to answer questions
about life o n the m o o n and the stars. H e must remain o n his guard
against behaviour inconsistent with a s u p e r h u m a n reputation, inscrut-
able, f r e e o f entanglements, above the cares and needs o f m e n . N o
Papuan, male or female, should enter Maclay's house or testify to his
merely h u m a n nature.
Life in the tal-Maklai safer as well as quieter w i t h o u t w o m e n , had
included f e w excitements over the last three months. Maclay attended
village feasts. H e took part in an i m p o r t a n t seasonal event, the b u r n i n g
o f the long grass and the h u n t for animals driven o u t by the flames,
covering himself with ash, blood and glory. B e f o r e his eyes, a n o t h e r
great tree crashed to earth, t w o paces f r o m the hut. A f t e r the visit to
Bogadjim he could undertake n o m o r e sea voyages. T h e boat, taking in
eighty buckets o f water a day, was finally placed high and dry. T o the
n e i g h b o u r s w h o assisted, the beaching o f the boat must have seemed
direct p r o o f that Maclay w o u l d n e v e r leave t h e m .
H e almost t h o u g h t so himself, as he celebrated the anniversary o f his
arrival. W i t h the g r o u n d prepared for ' m a n y years o f investigation' in
N e w Guinea, he f o r g o t about researches in n o r t h e r n seas. Assured o f
the natives' 'complete trust' and willing help, he w o u l d gladly stay on
102 The Moon Man

this coast. T h r e e things gave him pause: the dangerously l o w stock o f


quinine, the shortage o f a m m u n i t i o n , and the fact that he was w e a r i n g
his last pair of boots.
H e m i g h t have added to the list, for misfortunes came in crowds. T h e
f o o d supply caused constant anxiety. T h e stock o f trade goods, on w h i c h
it largely depended, presented an equally o m i n o u s picture. H e was n o w
forced to reserve tobacco for the old and important m e n , gratifying the
y o u n g ones only if they w e r e handsome. T h e n S e p t e m b e r began w i t h
disaster—Violent fever' that n e v e r really left him, a deep axe-cut in the
knee that crippled h i m f o r weeks. Unable to h u n t or to visit the villages,
forced to save the scanty stores, he was reduced to dreams o f dining in
luxury. W h e n he again w e n t o u t with his gun there w e r e n o birds. T h e
villagers w e r e clearing his h u n t i n g grounds for gardens.
Decay surrounded h i m — t h e derelict boat, the hut quickly falling into
disrepair, the clearing w h e r e bushes and saplings stood shoulder-high.
H e saw signs o f collapse in himself H e became giddy f r o m hunger. His
weakened muscles hardly dragged him over level g r o u n d , and an
insignificant slope represented defeat. W h e n his will d e m a n d e d action,
his w o r n - o u t b o d y tended to refuse. H e could not describe the state o f
m i n d that sometimes o v e r c a m e him, a vagueness, an absence, a sense o f
living in a dream. H o l d i n g his gun carelessly, he shot himself in the hand.
Gaps in his journal became longer and m o r e frequent. T h e days he
chose as samples w e r e h a r r o w i n g enough. G e n t l e m e n in Europe, he
imagined, w o u l d n o t e n v y him those times w h e n he w e n t to bed
exhausted, ill, with a night o f h u n g e r b e f o r e him and the t h o u g h t that
the hut m i g h t collapse. But he r e m i n d e d himself that worse situations
existed. T h o u g h he meant to s h o w that a traveller's life was n o r o u n d
o f pleasures, he r e m e m b e r e d the compensations. Except w h e n headache
tortured him, he could never be really w r e t c h e d in the 'peace and
solitude' of Garagassi. H e m i g h t have remained entirely at o n e with
these surroundings, had he only been f r e e o f Olsen.
T h e servant had continued unwell and 'very tiresome'. W h e n Maclay
lost a w e e k t h r o u g h sickness, he could r e m i n d himself that Olsen was
m u c h m o r e o f t e n ill. Olsen, it was true, had sometimes risen f r o m
lethargy and despair. In July he had had e n o u g h life in him to persuade
Maclay to let him attend a festival at Gorendu. In August he had played
the m o u t h - o r g a n for visitors, r o w e d to Bilbil, apparently quite enjoyed
the trip to Bogadjim. For weeks he had been 'shopping' in the villages,
a fact Maclay m e n t i o n e d obliquely w h e n Olsen was unable to go. But
early in S e p t e m b e r Olsen had directed the G o r e n d u m e n in hauling the
boat ashore. For the sailor, the funeral o f the boat seemed t o symbolize
the end. T h a t vessel had once been considered g o o d e n o u g h to take
t h e m as far as T e r n a t c in the Moluccas. N o w Olsen had n o h o p e o f
leaving N e w Guinea.
Prospero's Island 103

H e collapsed in m i d - S e p t e m b e r , complaining o f pains all o v e r the


body. W h e n e v e r Maclay needed him, he was groaning in bed 'getting
ready to die', or lounging about 'pretending to be very sick'. W h e n he
rose to cook meals or wash clothes, he was 'sullen and b a d - t e m p e r e d '
H e really talked to himself n o w , not only spoke aloud but listened f o r
an answer. Maclay sometimes t h o u g h t the m a n was deranged.
C o m p l e t e l y disgusted with 'this lazy coward', Maclay n o longer
deigned even to give him orders. H e felt he m a d e concessions e n o u g h
by feeding a useless m o u t h and tolerating the man's presence, instead o f
t u r n i n g him out to fend for himself. His tolerance was stretched to the
limit. Olsen i n c o m m u n i c a d o still disrupted the peace w i t h m u t t e r i n g s
o f misery and d o o m . Maclay had pointed out the solution: there w e r e
trees all r o u n d and the sea a f e w steps f r o m the door; Olsen was f r e e to
hang or d r o w n himself T o o craven to take the hint, Olsen stayed on, a
w r e t c h e d intruder w h o could not live and w o u l d not die.
H e still had uses as a subject o f psychological observations. Maclay
sometimes d e v o t e d a journal entry to Olsen, satisfied that his remarks
w o u l d be w o r t h y o f publication. Olsen's collapsc had its g o o d side. T h e
sound o f the m o u t h - o r g a n n o longer assailed Maclay's ears. H e n o
longer had to w o r r y about what Olsen did or said in villages. T h e r e was
n o m o r e risk o f the natives' b e c o m i n g over-familiar with a w h i t e m a n
w h o failed the tests o f divinity or cheapened its o u t w a r d signs.
Maclay's o w n m e m o r y easily slipped w h e r e his servant was c o n -
cerned. B e f o r e long, he w o u l d forget that Olsen had accompanied h i m
o n voyages and visited the villages alone. H e could expect s o m e t h i n g
similar o f the Papuans. H e t h o u g h t highly o f their intelligence and
morality, but gave t h e m little credit f o r p o w e r s o f recollection. A n d it
was b e c o m i n g important that they should not r e m e m b e r m e r e
incidentals o f his sojourn, that Maclay alone should be impressed u p o n
their minds.
H e had had o n e unpleasant experience early in his stay, w h e n the
G o r e n d u people complained that tarno-Russ had felled some c o c o n u t
palms. This was serious in itself, since G o r e n d u possessed f e w coconuts,
and m e n t i o n e d this incident w h e n unable to send him supplies.
A n n o y e d by being associated w i t h such thoughtlessness, Maclay lived it
d o w n . But nearly f o u r t e e n m o n t h s after his arrival he had p r o o f that
Vityaz was not forgotten.
T h e trip to Male, a large village b e t w e e n B o n g u and Bogadjim, was
his only excursion in almost t w o months. T h e place was interesting, the
w e l c o m e friendly. T h o u g h the people o f f e r e d only b r o k e n telums and
skulls w i t h o u t l o w e r jaws, they fed him well and insisted on his staying
the night. T h e distasteful m o m e n t s came w h e n villagers complained
that tamo-Russ had b r o k e n into huts and stolen a valuable d r u m and a
particularly g o o d spear, r e m o v e d fish f r o m a trap and taken or lost the
104 The Moon Man

trap itself. T h e y w a n t e d c o m p e n s a t i o n .
Maclay o f f e r e d p a y m e n t and suggested t h e y collect it at Garagassi.
F r o m all sides he heard, 'Maclay is a g o o d , g o o d man!' B u t it had b e e n
a disturbing surprise. T h e s e p e o p l e r e m e m b e r e d e v e r y detail o f t h e
Russian visit and c o n n e c t e d it w i t h him. For t h e m he r e m a i n e d a m a n ,
h o w e v e r w o n d e r f u l , associated w i t h m e n w h o did w r o n g , and liable f o r
their actions.
O n o n e side t h e d a n g e r s o f b e i n g h u m a n ; o n the o t h e r , those o f b e i n g
a god. O c t o b e r and N o v e m b e r 1872 w e r e cruel m o n t h s at Garagassi.
T h e stock o f f o o d was exhausted, t h e q u i n i n e almost g o n e . So f e w g u n
caps r e m a i n e d that Maclay had t o ration his h u n t i n g . N o alcohol was
left f o r p r e s e r v i n g zoological specimens; m a n y o f t h e old ones had so
d e t e r i o r a t e d that he t h r e w t h e m out. For h o u r s at a t i m e , O l s e n
m u t t e r e d and listened, m u t t e r e d and listened. Maclay tried t o w o r k in
the shaky, sodden h u t full o f p i l e d - u p collections and h u m a n hostility.
' R a i n and still m o r e rain' p o u r e d d o w n , trickling t h r o u g h t h e r o o f o n
t o table, bed and books. T h e side v e r a n d a fell w i t h a crash in t h e night.
O n t h e m o r n i n g o f 3 N o v e m b e r T u i p l o d d e d t h r o u g h t h e rain f o r
a serious talk w i t h Maclay. T h e i r conversation revealed m a n y interest-
ing details o f native life, b u t T u i r e f u s e d t o be side-tracked. T h e d e l u g e
was r u i n i n g t h e gardens. B o n g u and G o r e n d u had d o n e e v e r y t h i n g
possible t o d r i v e it away. If Maclay w o u l d use his p o w e r s , it w o u l d stop
at once.
Sheltered beside Maclay's d o o r , T u i could see t h e collapsed veranda,
w a t e r s t r e a m i n g t h r o u g h t h e r o o f o f the i n n e r r o o m . H a d Maclay b e e n
capable o f i m p r o v i n g t h e w e a t h e r h e w o u l d have d o n e it w e e k s b e f o r e .
H e was able to silence these i m p o r t u n i t i e s f o r the m o m e n t . B u t w h e n
he w e n t to G o r e n d u n e x t m o r n i n g — t h e r e was n o t h i n g t o eat at
Garagassi—the w h o l e village 'pestered' h i m to stop t h e rain. T h e
discussions allowed h i m t o see h o w the G o r e n d u rain m a n , n o w r e d u c e d
t o sullen despair, n o r m a l l y w e n t a b o u t his business. N o diversions
f e n d e d o f f t h e d a n g e r s o f inflated reputation. All G o r e n d u said that
Maclay did n o t w a n t t o save t h e gardens that f e d h i m .

For f o r t y - t h r e e days n o t h i n g h a p p e n e d . T h a t , at least, was t h e i m p r e s -


sion c o n v e y e d b y Maclay's j o u r n a l , w h i c h n e i t h e r r e c o r d e d e v e n t s n o r
explained w h y n o n e w e r e r e c o r d e d . W h e n he r e s u m e d it, e v e r y t h i n g
s e e m e d n o r m a l t o the p o i n t o f tediousness. It was n o l o n g e r raining. A
feast at B o n g u had just r u n its usual course, and Maclay had spent t h e
n i g h t o f 18 D e c e m b e r in t h e m e n ' s house. As he lay in b e d in t h e
m o r n i n g , m a k i n g u p f o r rest disturbed b y yells and 'excruciating music',
m o r e noise b r o k e t h r o u g h his d r o w s e . S o m e w h e r e t h e y w e r e s h o u t i n g
'Fire! Fire!'
Prospero's Island 105

A large steamer, still hull d o w n , was approaching f r o m the north. H e


had to h u r r y h o m e by canoe, find the flag and raise it. T h e n e w s t h r e w
Olsen into such incoherence, such mingled laughter and tears, that
Maclay t h o u g h t the m a n was o u t o f his mind. T h e ship came into view,
heading for Port Konstantin. Maclay w a n t e d to m a k e a decent
appearance b e f o r e these Europeans. W h e n he w e n t to change, h o w e v e r ,
he realized that the clothes he m i g h t p u t on w e r e as bad as those he was
wearing.
Aboard the steam clipper Izumrud ('Emerald'), o n e o f the ships that
had left Kronstadt with Vityaz in 1870, hardly a n y o n e expected to find
Maclay alive. Alarm about his position had b e g u n in M a r c h 1872, a
m e r e six m o n t h s after his landing at Astrolabe Bay. T h e Russian
Geographical Society, ill i n f o r m e d about N e w Guinea communications,
had appealed to its British counterpart. T h e English geographers had
written to g o v e r n o r s of Australian colonies, requesting that ships
visiting N e w Guinea waters should try t o find and assist Maclay. T h e n ,
in July, Russian newspapers had published a vague message f r o m H o n g
Kong, reporting Maclay's death f r o m fever. In S e p t e m b e r r u m o u r s
current on the China coast had reachcd St Petersburg via London. It was
said that s o m e colonial vessel had called at Astrolabe Bay, w i t h o u t
finding traces o f the w h i t e m e n , or that Olsen had been rescued, or that
b o t h Europeans had been killed. Despite the mysterious source and
changeable c o n t e n t o f the stories, Grand D u k e Konstantin had caused
action at Vladivostok. Izumrud, about to r e t u r n to Europe, had been
diverted to N e w Guinea.
T h e officer w h o first discerned Maclay's flag was almost t o o excited
to tell the captain. As the clipper lost way, a canoe laboured towards it,
with a European seated on the platform. Olsen, the watchers surmised.
T h e n they recognized their c o u n t r y m a n . O n the c o m m a n d e r ' s order,
the c r e w lined the rails to greet Maclay w i t h three cheers and a flourish
o f caps.
H e looked a real R o b i n s o n Crusoe' as he came aboard—in thread-
bare clothes and a battered straw hat, w i t h a satchel full o f 'trade' over
his shoulder, knife and revolver at his belt. T h o s e w h o had m e t him t w o
years b e f o r e f o u n d him greatly changed, aged by suffering and a
hermit's life. And as he shook dozens o f hands, listened t o congratulatory
voices, he felt weary, confused, already rather disaffected. H e had c o m e
f r o m the noise and c r o w d of a B o n g u festival, yet it was only n o w that
he really experienced the pressure o f humanity. All unprepared, he
faced the people he had escaped fifteen m o n t h s b e f o r e — E u r o p e a n s ,
with their questions and advice, their torrents o f trivia and their
l o o m i n g authority. T h e y m e a n t well, b u t 'the sound o f voices all
a r o u n d ' exhausted him. T h e i r v e r y kindness threatened his i n d e p e n -
106 The Moon Man

dence. At the first o p p o r t u n i t y he returned to the hut, t o think o u t his


position alone.
H e had n e v e r managed to penetrate the interior o f the island. H e had
n o m o r e penetrated the minds o f its inhabitants—it w o u l d take m o r e
years than he could estimate to grasp their 'way o f t h o u g h t and w a y of
life*. His k n o w l e d g e o f the local language, m u c h as it impressed his
c o u n t r y m e n , did not allow him to understand a conventional speech at
a feast, m u c h less discuss traditions and beliefs. H e had n e v e r witnessed
a w e d d i n g or an initiation, or discovered w h a t rites, if any, s u r r o u n d e d
the birth o f a child. H e did n o t k n o w h o w p o w e r was attained in N e w
Guinea or w h e t h e r these people had o t h e r gods besides him. T h e path o f
d u t y and inclination was clear. H e should stay in N e w Guinea, using the
trust he had gained as the key to f u r t h e r discoveries.
H e assumed that the navy w o u l d repair the hut, provide him w i t h
necessities for an indefinite stay, take charge o f his papers and collections
and r e m o v e the 'completely useless* Olsen. H e f o u n d the c o m m a n d e r
m a k i n g different assumptions. Captain K u m a n i and his officers reacted
d o u b t f u l l y w h e n Maclay explained his plan. T h e y suspected that
hardship and solitude had affected his brain.
At any rate, he w o n t i m e f o r f u r t h e r thought. N e w s o f the outside
world clarified his thinking. W h i l e he lived in isolation, naturalists had
been busy in other parts o f his island. O n the south-east coast a
missionary society had established stations. Missionaries and traders had
m o v e d into s u r r o u n d i n g islands. European intruders w e r e d r a w i n g
closer to his people. But this activity opened m o r e w e l c o m e possibilities.
T h e D u t c h 'political' expedition was n o w to be f o l l o w e d by a scientific
one. H e could perhaps join this undertaking and use it to r e t u r n to his
coast w i t h ' n e w strength and n e w supplies'. R e t u r n he must, and at the
first opportunity. H e needed n o pressure or invitation to realize that.
Everything was settled next m o r n i n g , with equal regard f o r necessity
and honour. Captain K u m a n i could not wait while Maclay w r o t e
scientific reports for Europe. H e was anxious to leave a coast w h e r e m e n
of Vityaz had contracted fever. Maclay u n d e r t o o k to be ready to go
within three days.
T h e time became a f u r y o f packing and carrying; even the materials
o f the h u t w e r e to be r e m o v e d . Maclay chose to stay as long as possible
in the familiar hut, sleeping o n the makeshift bed ( t w o large baskets o f
different heights) that had o f t e n kept him awake in the last fifteen
months. N o matter h o w he insulated himself e v e r y t h i n g revolved
around him, e v e r y o n e w o r k e d for h i m — t h e officers supervising the
removal of his belongings, the boat crews r o w i n g to and f r o m the
clipper, the craftsman engraving a copper plaque to c o m m e m o r a t e
Maclay's sojourn and the names o f the ships that w o u l d be f o r e v e r
associated with him.
Prospero's Island 107

H e also occupied the centre o f the natives' thoughts. All along the
coast they k n e w he was leaving. People c a m e f r o m Bilbil, f r o m Male,
f r o m m o u n t a i n villages, to say g o o d b y e and j o i n in w h a t e v e r was
happening. G u m b u was organizing a farewell feast. But while they
prepared for his departure his friends did n o t despair o f keeping him.
M e n f r o m the nearest communities, with representatives o f o t h e r
places, visited him o n e e v e n i n g in force. Close associates again begged
him to stay, o f f e r i n g houses in every village, with a w i f e or t w o in e v e r y
house. Maclay naturally had to decline the i m m e d i a t e proposal. H a v i n g
reached his o w n decision, he could promise only to r e t u r n 'in due
course'.
H o w e v e r their accounts differed f r o m his, the officers agreed that
Maclay e n j o y e d the natives' perfect trust. H e told t h e m h o w this was
a c h i e v e d — b y guarding his neighbours' w o m e n and children w h e n the
m o u n t a i n prople attacked, tending the m e n w o u n d e d in battle, and
giving the coast villages the protection o f his fame. T h e y saw the result
in the w a y natives clung to him aboard the ship, constantly appealing to
him f o r i n f o r m a t i o n and protection, in the h o n o u r paid him e v e r y -
w h e r e , in the general grief at parting with the 'beloved w h i t e man'. His
influence was obvious w h e r e v e r his compatriots w e n t .
A f t e r a little alarm, the first people seen ashore c a m e f o r w a r d boldly,
shook hands with the strangers, felt t h e m , smelt t h e m , and asked f o r
tobacco. T h e G o r e n d u m e n s u r r o u n d e d the Russians trustfully, even
affectionately. T h e w o m e n , w h o at first ran away, soon r e t u r n e d to
e x a m i n e and discuss the n e w c o m e r s . But the officers' self-esteem was
quickly deflated. T h e Papuans f o u n d the w h i t e m e n far less fascinating
than the small South American m o n k e y that accompanied t h e m , and
the big black N e w f o u n d l a n d d o g Izumrudka.
O n e officer, transferred f r o m Vityaz to s h o w w h e r e Maclay's papers
m i g h t have been buried, t o o k an interest in c o m p a r i n g the situation
with that o f the previous year. F r o m the start, he felt sure these people
n o longer regarded w h i t e m e n as supernatural beings. T h e y b r o u g h t n o
'sacrificial offerings'. N o trace o f a w e appeared in their behaviour. T h e y
seemed m o r e k n o w i n g in every way. T h e y gladly accepted tobacco,
clothes and gold braid as presents, but gave n o t h i n g in return. W h e n
they o f f e r e d articles in barter they tried to m a k e a profit, d e m a n d i n g
axes and knives f o r the poorest foodstuffs. H e actually got the
impression that those w h o o f f e r e d Maclay a house (and a pretty girl
w i t h o u t any clothes) required t w o axes in return. Maclay had taught the
Papuans a scale o f values that m i g h t save t h e m f r o m exploitation. T h e
y o u n g m a n f r o m Vityaz, as well as witnessing the beginnings o f
Russo-Papuan friendship, dimly recognized the end o f innocence.
Maclay's possessions had been transferred to Izumrud. T h e c o m -
m e m o r a t i v e plaque, set o n a stout red board, was affixed to the tree he
108 The Moon Man

chose as most imposing. H e and s o m e officers w e n t to the feast at


G u m b u , a splendid affair attended by m o r e than f o u r h u n d r e d people.
E v e r y w h e r e the Russians w e r e made w e l c o m e and asked to c o m e again.
O n e distressing episode marred a m e m o r a b l e occasion. H a v i n g stayed
o v e r n i g h t in G u m b u , Maclay was t o o exhausted, and t o o crippled by
his injured leg, to get back to Garagassi. H e himself told h o w the natives
made a stretcher and carried him to Port Konstantin. T h e officers w e r e
under the impression that o n e o f t h e m had f o u n d him lying d o w n ,
alone and helpless, and had him b r o u g h t aboard the clipper. At any rate,
he received medical attention and was allowed to g o h o m e . M o r e
p o w e r f u l l y than ever, the Russians appreciated the fortitude that had
b r o u g h t him t h r o u g h his long ordeal.
N o b o d y had m u c h t i m e to spare f o r Olsen, a servant and a foreigner.
Maclay told the officers, as he was to tell m a n y others, h o w m u c h his
servant's shortcomings had added t o his difficulties. T h e y admired the
h u m a n i t y w i t h w h i c h Maclay, h i m s e l f ' o n the brink o f the grave', had
given this m a n the best o f care and saved a useless life. T h e y inspected
Olsen—along w i t h the o v e r g r o w n clearing, the decaying r o o f , and the
r o o m s so c r a m m e d w i t h boxes that one could hardly t u r n r o u n d — a s
part o f the test Maclay had passed. T h e n s o m e o n e decided the m a n was
'in the most deplorable condition'. H e was carried aboard Izumrud and
into the sick bay; o u t o f Maclay's life, but never o u t o f bitter m e m o r y .
W h e n the anchor rose and the propeller began to churn, the canoes
h o v e r i n g r o u n d the warship hastily retreated. Voices calling to Maclay
w e r e lost in the r u m b l e o f engines. As Izumrud m o v e d slowly out o f
Port Konstantin, the clamour o f slit gongs began in G o r e n d u , spread to
Bongu, to G u m b u , and n o r t h w a r d round the bay. All along the coast
they signalled Maclay's departure, an end to the era of marvels, the start
of indefinite waiting. T h e y had n o idea h o w long it w o u l d be b e f o r e
he returned. U n a b l e to say ' m a n y m o n t h s ' in the B o n g u dialect, he had
always fallen back on the expression he believed meant 'in due time'.
H e recorded n o e m o t i o n on leaving the c o u n t r y he n o w considered
his h o m e , the people he looked u p o n as his o w n . T h e last w o r d in his
N e w Guinea journal concerned the n a m e 'Izumrud Strait', by w h i c h he
distinguished the channel b e t w e e n Karkar and the mainland. O n his m a p
it balanced 'Vityaz Strait' at the other end o f his domain. M a n y m o r e
n e w names appeared in between. H e had n a m e d the highest summits
seen to the south-east, M o u n t s Kant and Schopenhauer. H e had
dedicated peaks to Meshchersky, Grand D u k e Konstantin, the Grand
Duchess Elena, Peter the Great and Prince Gorchakov, the foreign
minister. A m o u n t a i n chain farther inland had been called after o n e o f
his advisers, the biologist, Karl Ernst v o n Baer. Elsewhere, native names
w e r e to be substituted f o r those that appeared o n the m a p s —
M a n a - b o r o - b o r o f o r the range k n o w n as Finisterre, Karkar f o r the
Prospero's Island 109

island called after William Dampier. B u t just as the natives had n o


designation for themselves as a people, they apparently had n o n a m e f o r
this coast as a whole. For convenience in speaking and writing, he
intended to call it the 'Maclay Coast'.
M
6: Sans Souci

T A HE M E N W H O WERE on their way


h o m e paid dearly f o r rescuing Maclay. Izumrud became a sick ship
within a f e w days. W h e n she reached T e r n a t e three weeks later,
e i g h t y - f o u r o f the c r e w and nearly all the officers w e r e d o w n with
fever.
N o t Maclay. Thanks to the 'strong-nerved, clastic and robust*
constitution inherited f r o m his m o t h e r , he had c o m e t h r o u g h 'in g o o d
health and ready for anything'. D u r i n g the voyage he had w o r k e d on a
general report for the Russian Geographical Society. H e was writing up
anthropological and meteorological results, planning several zoological
papers. J o u r n e y s stretched ahead, n e w tests for the v i g o u r he claimed t o
have gained f r o m acclimatization.
H e r e m e m b e r e d the promise to visit his family b e t w e e n his tropical
travels and those in eastern Siberia. It made u n c o m f o r t a b l e news to hear
that Olga constantly t h o u g h t o f him, always awaited his return. But
Olga must t h r o w o f f melancholy and faint-heartedness, mobilize the
resolution she shared with her brother, and prepare herself to bear a
longer separation. Letters received at T e r n a t e assured him that his
m o t h e r did not insist on his c o m i n g h o m e at once. As he pointed out,
it w o u l d have been almost unpatriotic f o r her to ask him to abandon
the task begun. It w o u l d have justified the c o m m o n belief that 'a
Russian begins well but doesn't have the staying p o w e r to finish the job'.
Free to disprove this notion by successfully completing his research,
he w r o t e at once to the g o v e r n o r - g e n e r a l of the Netherlands Indies,
asking permission to accompany the D u t c h expedition. H e w o u l d spend
a year or so in the Indies, then m o v e to Australia, then to Japan, w h e r e
his b r o t h e r Vladimir must join him. A f t e r that, it w o u l d be t i m e t o think
o f return to Europe.
110
Sans Souci 111

H e did n o t have to waste six weeks aboard a motionless vessel full o f


sick m e n . Accompanied by guides w h o feared that s o m e European
insult to guardian d e m o n s m i g h t start an eruption, he climbed the
volcano o f Ternate. H e crossed to the north-eastern peninsula o f
Celebes to visit localities celebrated f o r their beauty. As guest o f the
sultan, he spent eight days investigating the small but important island
o f Tidore. E v e r y w h e r e he tasted fame. For the past year, people had
been 'chattering' about his j o u r n e y and his supposed death. N o w they
chattered about the m a n w h o had survived and succeeded. T h e sultan
o f T i d o r e c o m m e m o r a t e d his guest by n a m i n g his n e w b o r n son after
'Sultan Maclay o f N e w Guinea'.
Maclay acquired at T i d o r e the very thing he needed, a youngster t o
fill the position once intended for Tui's son. W h e n the sultan gave him
away, A h m a d the slave b o y was eleven or twelve years old and small
f o r his age. T h o u g h f r e q u e n t l y disobedient, and n o t consistently keen
on w o r k , he made on the w h o l e an intelligent, g o o d - n a t u r e d servant.
His most i m p o r t a n t quality was that o f being Papuan. W i t h A h m a d at
hand, Maclay could directly c o m p a r e an u n d o u b t e d N e w Guinean with
representatives o f possibly related races.
A h m a d had f o u r m o n t h s aboard Izumrud to learn Russian and his
duties. W h e n e n o u g h m e n w e r e fit f o r w o r k , the clipper headed for
higher latitudes, w h e r e Captain K u m a n i hoped to rid his ship o f fever.
Maclay was b o u n d f o r the Philippines, to m e e t a people w h o might be
allied t o the Papuans.
T h e venerable K. E. v o n Baer, w h o had w r i t t e n about the Papuans
w i t h o u t seeing t h e m alive, had wished him to concentrate o n the
Philippines in the first place. Several writers declared the Aeta or Negritos
del Monte to be Papuans. T h e G e r m a n naturalist A. B. M e y e r , just c o m e
f r o m the Philippines, had joined Maclay in e x a m i n i n g N e w Guincans
at Ternate, and reached the same conclusion. But M e y e r had not
measured heads in the Philippines. T h e t w o Aeta skulls available to Baer
w e r e broad in relation to their length, while Papuan skulls presented the
opposite condition. For Baer, e v e r y t h i n g d e p e n d e d on measurements of
the living. If the Aeta always showed a significantly higher 'cephalic
index' than Papuans, it w o u l d dispose o f the relationship b e t w e e n the
groups and cast d o u b t on the Papuan position as original inhabitants o f
the w h o l e region.
Discussions in England and G e r m a n y had satisfied Maclay that
e t h n o l o g y n o longer attached such importance to the f o r m of skull.
N o w a d a y s they talked about microscopic study of hair and skin, or the
overall 'habitus' o f a race. H e nevertheless had to answer Baer's question:
'Are these negritos of the Philippines brachiocephalic?' T h e m o r n i n g
after Izumrud reached Manila, he crossed the bay in a fisherman's canoe,
ready to penetrate the mountains.
112 The Moon Man

T w o hours walk w i t h guides f r o m a coastal village b r o u g h t him to a


seasonal c a m p o f negritos. For the first t i m e he gauged the heads o f the
living, using an improvised device to m a r k the length and breadth on
paper for later measurement. As to the t w e n t y m e n w h o paraded b e f o r e
him there was n o doubt: all w e r e brachycephalic. W h e r e a s all the
Papuan skulls he had measured had been less than f o u r - f i f t h s as broad
as they w e r e long.
H e could n o t resolve the greater questions as Baer expected. O n e
glance told him these people belonged to 'the same race as the Papuans'.
T w o days a m o n g t h e m deepened the impression. T h e y w e r e Papuan in
everything—'customs, attitude t o w o m e n and children, facial expres-
sions, m a n n e r o f speaking, posture, dance and song'. T h e shapes o f heads
seemed relatively insignificant. In any case, Maclay argued that s o m e
N e w Guineans m i g h t p r o v e to have broader heads than others, while
s o m e Aeta m i g h t incline towards the Papuan f o r m .
H e had to discount m o r e than the negritos' discrepant heads and small
stature. As w a n d e r i n g hunters and f o o d gatherers, they contrasted
sharply with the settled gardeners of the Maclay Coast. T h e y had n o pigs
or fowls, canoes or pots. T h e y elaborated n o club-houses, p r o d u c e d n o
art they could not carry on their persons. C o m p a r e d w i t h their flimsy
little shelters, the most scantily-equipped Papuan h o m e was a furnished
mansion. Maclay did not speculate on what historical or e n v i r o n m e n t a l
forces had reduced the negritos to p o o r relations o f the people he called
the 'most primitive'. T o him, N e w Guinea had b e c o m e the navel o f the
world. W h i l e he could still speak of ' p u r e - b l o o d Papuans', his n o w -
settled opinion that the race exhibited m a n y different types was broad
e n o u g h to include any dark-skinned people he met.
O t h e r s must establish his point by research on negrito customs and
language. Maclay looked f o r w a r d to the next stage of the p r o b l e m he
had chosen as most important, his second visit to the island that
represented his destiny. Aboard Izumrud he was still 'the most vigorous
and healthiest of air. At H o n g K o n g a telegram f r o m the D u t c h
g o v e r n o r - g e n e r a l assured him o f being a 'most w e l c o m e guest' in the
expedition to N e w Guinea.
Fame preceded him, o p e n i n g all doors. Along the China coast,
Europeans had chattered and scribbled about his adventures. N o w they
w a n t e d to o f f e r hospitality and hear his story. N e w s o f his supposed death
and dramatic resurrection also reached the b e s t - i n f o r m e d Chinese. O n a
trip to C a n t o n he had audience w i t h the g o v e r n o r , and this great
mandarin, almost b e y o n d the w o r l d of ordinary m e n , returned the visit
with full ceremonial. It became b o r i n g to have so m a n y people seeking
his acquaintance, but the fuss was n o t entirely distasteful t o Maclay. H e
appreciated the kindness, the h o n o u r s and opportunities. His letters to
Sans Souci 113

E u r o p e sounded exultant. H e w a n t e d to k n o w w h a t Russian papers had


said o f him w h e n he was believed to be dead.
A brilliant return to civilization, w i t h a public image to be
maintained, perhaps began to colour his m e m o r i e s o f N e w Guinea.
W h e n he c o m p l e t e d reports at Ternate, his m o u n t a i n j o u r n e y s had
seemed in retrospect b o t h longer and m o r e n u m e r o u s . As he saw
himself struggling on while Olsen 'lay 11 m o n t h s sick', his solitude
became complete. Magical events arranged as tests of native impression-
ability began to seem like f o r t u n a t e accidents, o w i n g n o t h i n g to his will.
H e was satisfied, n o w , that the Papuans truly believed his gaze could
heal the sick as well as strike d o w n the healthy. For the first time, he
recorded potent titles c o n f e r r e d on him—Kaaram-tamo, the M o o n M a n ,
and Tamo-boro-boro, Big-big-man. H e was sure that only his presence had
saved the coast villages f r o m their enemies, that his friends' desire to
keep him p r o v e d their need f o r his protection. And he wished the w o r l d
to k n o w him as m o r e than the patient investigator w h o had 'entered
deeply into the life o f these interesting savages'. O n c e he had been
content to describe h o w the Papuans vacillated f o r three or f o u r m o n t h s
w i t h o u t deciding to kill him. 'In spite o f five long m o n t h s o f almost
daily attempts to m u r d e r me', he told a G e r m a n geographer a f e w
weeks later, 'I became . . . so m u c h their master that they w e r e not only
convinced I was a higher being but f i r m l y believed and still believe I
am a kind of god'.
' M a s t e r ' . . . 'a higher b e i n g ' . . . 'a kind o f god'. For Europeans, Maclay
e m b o d i e d the ultimate fantasy o f p o w e r . By m i n d alone, he saved,
restrained, instructed and protected. His quelling eye transformed
Caliban into Ariel. U n d e r his moral d o m i n i o n , the cannibal gladly
became M a n Friday. Europeans h o n o u r e d n o t only the d e v o t e d scientist
and hardy a d v e n t u r e r but the ideal w h i t e man w h o s e innate superiority
made him divine in the black man's eyes.
T h e sense o f mastery still sustained him, t h o u g h in a d i f f e r e n t f o r m .
' M y destiny is decided', he told Meshchersky.

I am m o v i n g o n — I d o n o t say by a k n o w n road (the road is a matter


o f chance), b u t in a k n o w n direction. And I am going to everything,,
prepared for everything. This is not the fancy o f a y o u t h f u l enthusiasm,
but a p r o f o u n d consciousness o f the strength that is g r o w i n g in m e . . .

At the same time, he became terribly vulnerable, not m e r e l y t h r o u g h


r e n e w e d fever and rheumatism. R e t u r n to civilization t h r e w him back
into the toils of m o n e y . A m i d generous hospitality, i n n u m e r a b l e things
had to be paid for—clothes, excursions, materials for w o r k , photographs
o f himself in bush dress, seated on a studio rock with his Papuan servant
at his feet—trivial things in the face o f destiny, yet a constant drain on
114 The Moon Man

scanty funds. H e had m o n t h s to wait f o r the D u t c h expedition, n o means


to support himself while waiting or t o finance a second sojourn in N e w
Guinea. H e disliked asking help f r o m strangers in a w o r l d that praised
but failed to nurture. And his m o t h e r ' s e n c o u r a g e m e n t to c o n t i n u e his
travels left him the p r o b l e m o f h o w to d o it. His first t r i u m p h a n t letter
had w a r n e d her that he must soon ask f o r m o n e y . T h e next contained
instructions for sending at least 1000 roubles. H e needed, besides,
assurances f o r the future, relief f r o m the fear that he cost m o r e than his
share o f family resources. H e could neither plan his life n o r enjoy peace
o f m i n d until Ekaterina S e m y o n o v n a disclosed her total i n c o m e and
approximate annual expenditure.
W o r l d - f a m o u s and twenty-six years old, he had n o resource but the
maternal breast that m i g h t be w i t h d r a w n or dry. Celebrity already
bored him. W i t h m e m o r i e s o f godlike p o w e r , and a n e w sense o f
spiritual strength, he f o u n d himself powerless against a w o r l d d o m i -
nated by 'stupid kopecks'. W i t h o n e hand it gave admiration and
sympathy; w i t h the other it stole his independence, the right to shape
his life. Yet it could be escaped if n o t o v e r c o m e . A f e w days b e f o r e
describing his surge o f spiritual p o w e r , his h e n c e f o r t h steady march
towards his goal, he had been absorbed in the opposite experience. As
Izumrud steamed towards Batavia, he celebrated n o t the t r i u m p h o f the
will but its annihilation.
O n e a f t e r n o o n in H o n g K o n g he had dressed in Chinese trousers and
Turkish tunic and stretched out on a couch in the Chinese club. In t w o
and t h r e e - q u a r t e r hours he had s m o k e d 107 grains o f o p i u m . An
English doctor stayed by him, recording pulse-rate, respiration and
temperature, asking questions, observing responses to stimuli, the state
o f eyes and skin, the decline o f m o t o r control, speech and hearing. T h e
medical man's notes f o r m e d the basis for an interesting physiological
report.
M o r e than describable physiology m a d e the e x p e r i m e n t important
for Maclay. His slow t o n g u e had s u m m e d up the attraction towards the
end: 'I w a n t n o t h i n g and aspire to nothing'. W h a t he described in
r e t r o s p e c t — p r o f o u n d peace, obliteration o f m e m o r y and thought, will
and self—merely enlarged u p o n this blessing. H e had discovered the
state f r o m w h i c h 'one w o u l d never wish to be released', understood the
multitudes w h o sought this 'foretaste of non-being'. Yet there w e r e
weaknesses in his reiterated conviction that w i t h o p i u m he had w a n t e d
'nothing, absolutely nothing. A f t e r the f o u r t e e n t h pipe he had wished to
hear Schumann's incidental music t o Byron's 'Manfred'. As long as
consciousness lasted, he had always wanted another pipe.

Tied to 'self, Maclay visited Singapore and m a d e m a n y useful acquaint-


ances. In J u n e 1873, nearly six m o n t h s after leaving N e w Guinea,
Sans Souci 115

Izumrud landed him at Batavia and resumed her voyage to Europe. W i t h


n o t h i n g to depend upon, he n o w had t w o dependants, A h m a d and the
little South American m o n k e y f r o m the clipper.
A f t e r a short, u n h a p p y stay in a Batavia hotel, he m o v e d to the hill
station o f Buitcnzorg (Bogor), a favourite resort o f Europeans and the
real administrative centre o f the colony. His fever and rheumatism
persisted. In the sublime surroundings o f the colonial Sans Souci his cares
and irritations increased. His villa's r o o m s w e r e small and low-ccilinged,
stuffy and dark. Attended only by A h m a d ( w h o w e n t into hiding w h e n
w o r k displeased him), he had to send out for breakfast and dine at a
hotel. Instead o f too m u c h social life, he had none. H e did n o t present
his letters o f introduction, and the Dutch concluded that he wished to
be left alone.
R e s c u e came in the f o r m o f a tactful invitation f r o m the g o v e r n o r -
general. Maclay could choose an a p a r t m e n t in the great, rambling palace
and live there as in his o w n house, restricted in nothing, u n d e r n o
obligation to see the o t h e r inhabitants. W h e n he inspected the vicc-rcgal
residence, his choice fell inevitably o n the 'simplest and most r e m o t e
rooms, in a completely separate pavilion'.
C o m f o r t a b l y housed, daintily fed, waited u p o n by m a n y servants, he
was freed o f all care about daily existence. In the opulent beauty o f
Buitenzorg, protected f r o m intruders and given every facility for study
and leisure, he w o r k e d or rested as the fancy took him. But all this, he
emphasized, w o u l d count for n o t h i n g had he not f o u n d the g o v e r n o r -
general and his family surprisingly congenial people.
T h e r e w e r e seven in the family: James Loudon, his wife, and five
daughters ranging in age f r o m eight to seventeen years. L o u d o n was the
son o f an Englishman w h o had migrated to Java in the days o f Stamford
R a f f l e s and b e c o m e a D u t c h citizen w h e n the colony was handed back
to the Netherlands. In colonial councils, at gatherings o f the civil and
military establishment, or a m o n g his children at Buitenzorg, he radiated
authority. Visitors soon heard that he was e x t r e m e l y strict in official
business, feared t h r o u g h o u t the colony. T o Maclay he was 'a m a n o f
justicc and e n e r g y ' w h o s e public severity n e v e r conflicted with private
kindliness. These qualities w e r e magnified for a y o u n g friend, almost
one o f the family, fatherless f r o m childhood and neglected, as he felt it,
by his o w n distant family. Strict but just, sensitive but practical, always
sympathetic despite his differing t e m p e r a m e n t , Maclay's g o v e r n o r -
general strongly resembled the ideal father w h o had been absent f r o m
the adolescence and perhaps f r o m the w h o l e life o f Nikolai N i k o l a e -
vich. H e also possessed in abundance the essential attribute o f ideal
fathers—power. Maclay repeatedly m e n t i o n e d that the g o v e r n o r -
general played 'the role o f king', with ' m o r e absolute p o w e r than the
king o f the Netherlands'.
116 The Moon Man

Disillusionment was b o u n d to come. T h e viceroy had neither the


absolute p o w e r his admirer imagined n o r the will to use p o w e r as
Maclay eventually desired. W h i l e Maclay invested him w i t h a state
approaching that o f the tsar-autocrat, L o u d o n struggled w i t h advisers,
appealed to T h e H a g u e f o r support, waited u p o n the decisions o f
cabinet ministers and parliamentary chambers. Maclay had w a n d e r e d
into the colony at a crisis in its history and the life o f James Loudon.
In a tangle o f treaty obligations, r u m o u r e d foreign intervention,
intrigue, stubbornness and confusion, the g o v e r n o r - g e n e r a l had
declared w a r on the ramshackle, piratical old state of Atjeh in n o r t h e r n
Sumatra. W h i l e sensation boiled in the Netherlands, almost incredible
news had c o m e f r o m Atjeh. In its first serious e n g a g e m e n t the
expeditionary force had suffered a stunning defeat, with the loss o f its
commander-in-chief.
T h e force had been w i t h d r a w n , arrangements set in train for a larger
expedition. E v e r y o n e k n e w the Dutch must win in the end. But
long-range views b r o u g h t little c o m f o r t to James Loudon. W h i l e he
awaited reinforcements, the voting o f war credits, the survival or fall o f
the g o v e r n m e n t that gave him rather bewildered support, D u t c h
prestige, and his o w n , suffered b l o w u p o n blow.
T h e less secure the governor-general's position, the m o r e dramatic
and u n c o m p r o m i s i n g w e r e his attitudes. As minister for colonies he had
pushed t h r o u g h i m p o r t a n t r e f o r m s that he m e a n t to see t h o r o u g h l y
carried out. H e must also p r o d u c e i m p r o v e m e n t s in the native states
under D u t c h suzerainty. T h w a r t e d in plans f o r supporting rebels against
the sultan of Atjeh, L o u d o n had decided that this 'Asiatic despot' must
be r e m o v e d by a short, sharp war. H e had w a n t e d a sense o f e m e r g e n c y .
N o w he had it. N o European nation could stomach defeat by a
barbarian rabble. A satisfactory 'war m o o d ' had arisen in the N e t h e r -
lands. U n f o r t u n a t e l y an even m o r e v e h e m e n t w a r m o o d was b o r n in
Atjeh, w h e r e an incurably independent, fanatically Muslim population
w o u l d f o l l o w any native leader rather than submit to the dubious
intentions o f Batavia.
European g o v e r n m e n t s assured the D u t c h of their sympathy. Private
persons e v e r y w h e r e sided w i t h the lawless Atjehnese. T h e situation was
full o f significance for an observer like Maclay. In o n e f r a m e o f m i n d ,
he m i g h t sympathize with the 'traitors', as L o u d o n called t h e m , w h o
defied a Dutch sovereignty they had never accepted. T h e predicted
imposition o f European p o w e r and ways might, in another time and
place, have roused his indignation. Yet Maclay refrained f r o m passing
j u d g e m e n t . B r o u g h t to Java by a Russian war vessel, he had acquired
almost official standing, backed by r e c o m m e n d a t i o n s f r o m Grand D u k e
Alexei and Admiral Possiet, earlier visitors on another Russian m a n -
of-war. Dutch fear o f Russian designs on N e w Guinea had apparently
Sans Souci 117

subsided. Russia was the o n e great p o w e r n o t r u m o u r e d to be ready to


intervene in Atjeh. T h e naturalist remained a kind o f guarantee f o r his
country's g o o d behaviour. W h i l e a guest o f the g o v e r n o r - g e n e r a l , he
m e n t i o n e d Atjeh only as an obstacle to the N e w Guinea expedition he
had h o p e d to join.
H e spent six m o n t h s in his pavilion, w o r k i n g u p the results o f his
observations and considering the future. ' I n b o r n laziness... and pain in
the finger joints' p r e v e n t e d his d o i n g m u c h writing himself N o b o d y in
Buitenzorg or Batavia could w r i t e the Russian language, or r e n d e r
French to his satisfaction. W h e n he f o u n d an amanuensis w h o w r o t e
G e r m a n 'almost w i t h o u t mistakes', he w o r k e d t h r o u g h his notes,
deciphering crabbed h a n d w r i t i n g and obscure abbreviations and trans-
lating aloud as he w e n t . H e expected criticism for excessive brevity,
'angular' style, failure to provide interpretations. H e nevertheless sent
o f f his notes, satisfied that their r o u g h f o r m was best f o r science.
T o Russia and G e r m a n y he sent letters and articles o n N e w Guinea
a n t h r o p o l o g y and ethnology, o n the m e t e o r o l o g y o f the Maclay Coast,
and o n his o w n activities. J. C. Galton, an English surgeon attached to the
second Atjeh expedition, translated and summarized the longer e t h n o -
logical writings f o r British readers. W h e n Maclay gave most o f his
papers first to Batavia scientific journals, he assumed that s o m e o f his
compatriots w o u l d be shocked. Explaining that he feared loss o f
manuscripts in transit to Europe, or misprints in articles n o t published
under his o w n eye, he insisted that n o 'intelligent person' could reproach
him.
N o reproaches reached him at Buitenzorg, w h e r e diplomacy and
gratitude quite justified giving his w o r k to the local learned society.
Scientific circles had received h i m w a r m l y . H e awaited the chance to
join a D u t c h expedition, or D u t c h help in w h a t he u n d e r t o o k alone.
U n d e r D u t c h auspices he began w o r k o n the comparative a n a t o m y o f
the h u m a n brain, using Malay brains obtained f r o m the prison hospital,
and carried out craniological m e a s u r e m e n t s in the Batavia m o r g u e . T h e
curator o f Buitenzorg botanic garden was e x a m i n i n g Maclay's plant
specimens f r o m N e w Guinea. A b o v e all he lived at Buitenzorg, thanks
to the fatherly viceroy, s o m e t h i n g like the life o f a king's son, w i t h o u t
its tiresome duties.
W h e n tired o f w o r k and piles o f books f r o m the Batavia library, he
walked in the extensive park o f the palace or the adjacent botanic
garden, called f o r a carriage to take h i m to the city, or w e n t riding on
one o f the horses at his disposal. Illness forced or p e r m i t t e d him to lead
a 'quiet and sedentary life', his w o r l d temporarily b o u n d e d b y the palace,
the park and the g o v e r n o r ' s family. Almost effortlessly he picked up the
Dutch language and the native tongue. H e sketched the palace facade,
the skyline o f volcanoes and the features o f the m i l k - w h i t e , a m p l e -
118 The Moon Man

b r o w e d L o u d o n daughters. R e l a x i n g in the garden, he let the m o n k e y


caper to entertain the children, or posed w i t h the rest f o r a family
photograph.
A special position as the g o v e r n o r ' s friend, a sick m a n and a foreigner
freed him f r o m most conventions o f local society. N o guest at
Buitenzorg was entirely e x e m p t f r o m formality. If he wished to dine
with the governor-general, he must w e a r the tail coat, w h i t e tie and
gloves that protected European standards.
Maclay swallowed this prophylactic against tropical rot as 'the price
of a very g o o d dinner'. It was also t h e price of s o m e t h i n g he valued
more. A f t e r the c e r e m o n i o u s meal, he escaped f u r t h e r c e r e m o n y by
retreating with the ladies to the d r a w i n g - r o o m , w h e r e he exercised the
soft, veiled tyranny o f the p a m p e r e d only son and brother.
T o extend the girls' c o m p e t e n t l y p e r f o r m e d piano repertoire, he sent
to E u r o p e f o r copies o f suitable works, including the ' M a n f r e d ' music
that had haunted his opium trance. W h e n the ladies w e r e inclined to
m a k e conversation, he put an end to this by introducing the custom o f
reading aloud f r o m w o r t h w h i l e literature. His evenings thus passed
'tolerably well', with the music f o r which he famished in his w a n d e r -
ings, sufficiently intelligent discourse, and the c o m p a n y of an indulgent
' m o t h e r ' and substitute sisters. G i v e n better health and m o r e m o n e y , he
might have contrived to be happy.
Illness made real tranquillity impossible. His fever and rheumatism
continued in the reputedly healthful air of Buitenzorg. Sores developed
o n his legs. T h e doctors feared an ulcerated liver, urging him to leave
as soon as possible for E u r o p e or Australia. ' M y health has suffered
severely, he told Meshchersky, 'and it could not have been otherwise. I
w o u l d wish m o t h e r and sister to be prepared for all eventualities'. At the
same time he avoided w a r n i n g the family himself, leaving t h e m to
suppose he still enjoyed the vigour he had boasted d u r i n g the voyage
f r o m N e w Guinea. It was the old story: learning f r o m a third person
that her son was likely t o die, Ekaterina S e m y o n o v n a must be pierced
by remorse for the neglect that left him w i t h o u t support. She must
assure him that w h e r e v e r he m i g h t be, w h a t e v e r he might undertake,
he need not fear destitution.
At Buitenzorg he received o n e letter each f r o m his m o t h e r and sister,
f r o m w h i c h he f o u n d that they n o longer breathed 'the rotten air o f
Peter burg'. W h e r e and h o w they lived remained a mystery. H e had n o
answer to enquiries about the family finances, n o sign o f a remittance,
n o assurance that he was never a b u r d e n to the distant w o m e n w h o s e
portraits stood on his w o r k table. Silence c o m m i t t e d him to the
j u d g e m e n t of conscience, which as ever c o n f i r m e d that he was right.
Conscience also acquitted him w h e n Olga's reaffirmed longing f o r
his return b r o u g h t to m i n d his cxcitcd promise of N e w Year's Day
Ahmad, the Papuan boy, Maclay's servant, in 1873

T h e Governor-General's Palace in Buitenzorg, Maclay's h o m e during his first


sojourn in Java
r h c Loudon family and friends, Buitenzorg, 1873

U m b u r m e t a , Aiduma Island, Papua-Koviai


T h e house at Aiva, Papua-Koviai, 1874

19
~J'
^ V' ^

' /h

i/ r: *

T h e urunibai at anchor, 1874


Raja Aiduma, Maclay's protege, Papua-Koviai, 1874

Vuoucirau, inhabitants o f Kamaka-Walla district, Papua-Koviai, 1874


Satis Souci 119

1871. His m o t t o was "Tengo una palabrn— 'I keep a promise'. A f t e r his
years in the tropics he w o u l d c o m e to her. But r e u n i o n was postponed
to some unpredictable m o m e n t w h e n his w o r k should be complete. H e
w r o t e m o r e frankly to Meshchersky. Given the most favourable
circumstances, he w o u l d perhaps 'take a look at Europe', but this w o u l d
be impossible f o r several years. It b e c a m e clearer every day that he could
not live there. ' N a t u r e , air and conditions o f life in the tropics', he
explained to Meshchersky (but not to Olga), 'arc definitely m o r e in
accord with m y character and tastes'. B e y o n d that, he saw the difficulty
o f attaining an 'independent and c o m f o r t a b l e life'. A substantial f o r t u n e
w o u l d n o t provide w h a t he called a tolerable existence in Europe, let
alone satisfy the 'demands and caprices' with which he surprised himself
'Well', he concluded, 'I shall settle s o m e w h e r e here in the blessed
tropical lands ...'.
So it was decided, unless—. H e w a v e r e d b e t w e e n predictions o f death
and the likelihood o f a penniless f u t u r e , b e t w e e n the allure o f the tropics
and h o p e o f a bearable life in Europe. T o Meshchersky he broadly
hinted that they should m e e t at Sorrento, Capri or Ischia, to share a v i e w
o f sea or mountains f r o m a villa planned b y Maclay and paid for by
Meshchersky. H e sketched a similar project f o r his sister. W h i l e awaiting
him, Olga should deflect Ekaterina S e m y o n o v n a f r o m her obsession
with o w n i n g 'some o f the steppe' to the purchase o f a villa on Ischia or
Capri or near Sorrento. 'This w o u l d be a glorious surprise for me', he
suggested, 'and perhaps I, departing a second time for N e w Guinea,
w o u l d not wish to g o there a third t i m e but w o u l d settle for a long
while with you!'
In his heart, perhaps, he k n e w the futility o f such persuasion.
Meshchersky n o w f o l l o w e d the traditional career o f the bored Russian
landowner, that o f travelling f o r his health. Desiring b o t h a c o u n t r y
h o m e and an income, Ekaterina S e m y o n o v n a w o u l d inexorably p r e f e r
a slice o f the steppe to a romantically-dilapidated Italian villa. W i t h o u t
a b a n d o n i n g hope o f a satisfactory life in Europe, he scanned the tropics
for a p e r m a n e n t residence. It seemed impossible to settle close to
Europeans—'near t h e m , e v e r y t h i n g is terribly expensive and b o r i n g ' —
equally impossible to live entirely w i t h o u t what E u r o p e provided. His
h o m e must be a land w i t h o u t tail coats and w h i t e gloves, w h e r e m o n e y
was unnecessary and his will supreme. At the same time it must have
c o m m u n i c a t i o n with science, w i t h the sister w h o m i g h t still be rescued
f r o m her fate. N e w Guinea waited in the background, at once a d u t y to
be shouldered, an 'intractable thing' to be mastered and a promised
h o m e l a n d as yet unattainable.
All naval resources w e r e required f o r the Atjeh war. N o Dutch
expedition could reach N e w Guinea within any time that he could
a f f o r d to wait. Maclay t o o k u p on his o w n account the challenge o f the
120 The Moon Man

c o u n t r y w i t h w h i c h he identified himself
This time he chose the D u t c h half of the island. T h e n o r t h coast,
distantly ruled by the vassal sultan o f Tidore, was relatively well k n o w n .
In constant touch with the Moluccas, it enjoyed or e n d u r e d the presence
of t w o or three missionaries, fairly f r e q u e n t visits f r o m European ships,
and the attention o f naturalists f r o m Alfred Russel Wallace onwards.
T w o Italians, Luigi D'Albertis and O d o a r d o Beccari, had recently spent
s o m e m o n t h s there, and A. B. M e y e r intended to investigate another
part of the same region.
T h e prevalence o f naturalists in the n o r t h - w e s t n o d o u b t had
s o m e t h i n g to d o w i t h Maclay's decisions. H e himself emphasized the
prevalence o f traders. In truth b o t h coasts had been f r e q u e n t e d f o r
centuries by prahus f r o m various islands, t h o u g h the south had seen
f e w e r Europeans and n o Chinese. B o t h received the benefits o f
civilization—metal tools, cotton cloth, firearms, firewater, the casual
begettings o f sailors and a sprinkling of'rajas' and 'kapitans' w i t h D u t c h
flags and slightly superior guns. Both had suffered visitations by hongis
or tribute-collecting fleets f r o m Tidore, thinly-disguised pillaging and
slave-taking expeditions n o w prohibited by the Dutch. N o r t h e r n e r s and
southerners alike bore such reputations f o r savagery that it was difficult
to choose b e t w e e n them.
Maclay favoured the southern folk. T h e i r recent record was less
impressive than that o f their compatriots, w h o in N o v e m b e r 1872 had
slaughtered half a ship's company. A long-established character f o r
ferocity nevertheless seemed to guarantee their racial integrity. O n the
south-west coast, in the region k n o w n as Papua-Koviai, he expected to
find p u r e - b l o o d e d Papuans.
For all their stories o f m u r d e r and torture, Malay traders still visited
that coast. W h e n Maclay tried to learn m o r e about their voyages he
faced a barrier stronger than m e r e ignorance. N o b o d y in Java k n e w
w h e n c e the prahus departed, w h e n they sailed or by w h a t route. In all
probability n o b o d y w a n t e d to k n o w . W i t h their lawful purchases, the
traders o f t e n b r o u g h t back a strictly-illegal cargo of slaves.
Maclay based his first plans on sailing w i t h the traders. T a k i n g n o
servant but A h m a d , he w o u l d go t o Banda or A m b o n and find a vessel
b o u n d for southern N e w Guinea. H e t h o u g h t first o f destinations
b e y o n d Papua-Koviai—the m o u t h o f the Utanate R i v e r , or e v e n the
southern end o f Princess Marianne Strait, w h e r e uncharted coast
stretched far towards the east. If he escaped death f r o m fever and 'the
bloodthirstiness of the Papuans', his return was assured. Six m o n t h s after
his departure, a steamer sent by the g o v e r n o r - g e n e r a l w o u l d seek him
out and bring him back to Java.
N o t h i n g about his project was less certain than its financing. His
original letter of credit had been spent, as had a donation o f 2 0 0 0 roubles
Sans Souci 121

received t h r o u g h the Russian Geographical Society. But 'miserly


incidentals' w o u l d n e v e r obstruct his expedition. Since ' o n e t h e r e
doesn't need that m o n e y w h i c h evaporates so quickly here', p o v e r t y
itself b e c a m e an a r g u m e n t for retreat to N e w Guinea. T h e r e remained
the p r o b l e m o f h o w to live if he returned. H e heard n o t h i n g f r o m his
m o t h e r to d e t e r m i n e the f u t u r e , his m i n d rejecting the obvious
interpretation o f her silence. S o m e t i m e s he spurned the idea o f asking
anything m o r e f r o m the Geographical Society. S o m e t i m e s he felt that
the promise o f his ethnological collection m i g h t induce the Society to
p r o v i d e an annual stipend. If the patriots w e r e o p e n to influence, they
m i g h t consider a n o t h e r possibility. 'Really', he warned, 'they are f o r c i n g
m e to o f f e r m y w o r k and researches to the D u t c h or s o m e o t h e r
government!' For the present, m o n e y was 'not w o r t h thinking about',
h o w e v e r p r o m i n e n t l y it figured in his correspondence. ' W h a t e v e r is to
c o m e , let it come!' he told Meshchersky. 'I set o f f for N e w Guinea as
t h o u g h I had the prospect o f c o m p l e t e material prosperity o n m y
return!'
H e was sure he could extricate himself f r o m any difficulty. H e did
feel compelled to take strong measures. W i t h o u t awaiting replies t o his
offers, appeals and threats, he told a Batavia business house to expect
m o n e y f r o m Russia, and obtained a substantial advance. Meshchersky
was left to find the 2000 roubles that w o u l d c o n v e r t h o p e into fact.
Maclay was again g o i n g 'to everything, prepared f o r everything',
escaping the over-civilized self that was s o m e t i m e s capricious and
d e m a n d i n g , sometimes 'utterly indifferent to everything, to the point o f
complete, w e a r y apathy'. His feelings w e r e s u m m e d u p in a quotation
f r o m O t t o Boethlingk's collection o f Indian sayings: ' H e w h o k n o w s
well w h a t he must do, he it is w h o tames destiny'. T h e n his n e w
e n c o u n t e r w i t h destiny suffered a p o s t p o n e m e n t . T e n days b e f o r e he
was to e m b a r k , he w e n t d o w n with d e n g u e fever. W h i l e the m o n t h l y
steamer sailed f o r A m b o n , he lay in bed, rackcd by pains in the joints,
unable to m o v e his legs or hold anything in his hands. W h e n he rose
for the last f e w days o f correcting articles, collecting and packing
e q u i p m e n t , his feelings w e r e m o r e m i x e d than he dared admit. H e had
b e c o m e so accustomed to the L o u d o n family, increasingly reluctant to
leave 'this dear, peaceful Sans Souci'. But m o r e than the tendrils o f peace
and c o m f o r t attached him to Buitenzorg. Leisure and proximity, shared
tastes and affectionate care in a family o f substitute sisters had d o n e their
w o r k . H e had fallen in love with one o f the governor-general's
daughters.
7: Pray Tomorrow

O N E DECEMBER MIDNIGHT the


carriage left the park at Buitenzorg, its passenger h o p i n g that his
half-asleep state w o u l d soften the parting into dreamlike unreality. Just
after d a w n he was in Batavia, watching his luggage start for the w h a r f
in a cart d r a w n by a b r o k e n - d o w n nag, presently whisked there himself
in the resident's carriage. H e noticed people bathing and defecating in
the canals, discussed the cholera that had taken m o r e than t w o thousand
lives in Batavia. A m o n g the t h r o n g o f travellers he was fascinated by
the little girls of a wealthy Chinese family, gorgeously dressed, glittering
w i t h jewellery, their faces w h i t e masks o f rice p o w d e r . H e meditated
u p o n anthropological p r o b l e m s presented by m i x e d races, questioned
the belief that in the islands European families inevitably died o u t after
three generations. H e noted e v e r y t h i n g useful f o r an article he hoped
to sell to a Russian magazine. But neither w a t e r f r o n t diversions n o r the
bustle aboard the Konig Willem III dulled the sense of separation. In his
cabin w i t h n o c o m p a n y b u t A h m a d and the m o n k e y , and lying
dead-tired in his bunk, he t h o u g h t of Buitenzorg.
T h e steamer coasted n o r t h e r n Java, past intense cultivation r e s e m b l -
ing o n e vast garden, or low, s w a m p y shores that seemed u n t o u c h e d by
man. T h e horizon o f mountains, occasional headlands or the beauty o f
isolated volcanic cones b r o k e t h r o u g h the sultry m o n o t o n y . In his
softened m o o d Maclay almost ceased to be irritated by tiresome fellow
voyagers, seasick ladies and boisterous children w h o inconvenienced
him on deck. W i t h other male passengers he talked of the islands. T h e y
told him o f j a v a n e s e precautions against o f f e n d i n g the spirits that inhabit
volcanoes, of strange sexual customs a m o n g the Dyaks, o f h o w Malay
boys w e r e circumcised and of the impossibility o f discovering h o w the
corresponding operation was p e r f o r m e d on girls. H e heard tales o f

122
Pray Tomorrow 123

m u r d e r by cumulative or slow-acting poisons, and o f bizarre revenge.


T h e ports slipped b e h i n d — T j i r e b o n , a ghostly place in darkness—
Semarang, w h e r e cholera was taking its toll, high surf p r e v e n t e d a
landing and there was n o ice f o r drinks. At Surabaja the sightseers
admired public gardens and an opera house, a dry dock and w o r k s h o p s
m a k i n g castings and boilers f o r the navy. Maclay spent most o f his time
o n a divan at a friend's house, discussing native customs, writing to J a m e s
L o u d o n , feeling ill. T h e d o c t o r declared the explorer's health w o u l d not
stand a n o t h e r visit to N e w Guinea. Maclay 'decided otherwise'. A parcel
f r o m Buitenzorg b r o u g h t him a m o m e n t o f ' g r e a t joy', f o r it contained,
besides a raincoat as evidence o f practical solicitude, the portrait o f his
beloved.
Illness, love and separation b r o u g h t his spirits to l o w water d u r i n g his
t w o days in the g o v e r n o r ' s residence at Makasar. H e visited a r e d u n d a n t
king, was b o r e d by this amiable relic o f a vanished p o w e r , was bored
again and again by garrulous representatives o f the present p o w e r . Just
b e f o r e he left, he enjoyed a rare, heartening e n c o u n t e r with a n o t h e r
m e m b e r o f the b r o t h e r h o o d o f travelling naturalists.
H e and the botanist O d o a r d o Beccari took an i m m e d i a t e liking to
each other. T h e shared fascination o f N e w Guinea gave t h e m endless
matter f o r conversation. T h e i r past travels in m a n y ways c o m p l e m e n t e d
each other. Still barely thirty, Beccari could describe a long expedition
to B o r n e o , w h e n c e he had been invalided h o m e while Maclay was a
student, his travels in the R e d Sea area a year after Maclay's visit, or his
recent sojourn in n o r t h - w e s t e r n N e w Guinea. H e could tell o f meetings
with the W h i t e Rajah o f Sarawak, o f Egyptian hostility at Massawa, o f
the absurd suspicion with which the Dutch had greeted his r e t u r n f r o m
P a p u a - N o t a n . H e was less likely to m e n t i o n his ambitions f o r Italian
p o w e r in Abyssinia, his part in his country's acquisition o f territory on
the Bay o f Assab, or his g r o w i n g belief that N e w Guinea should b e l o n g
to Italy. Beccari belonged to a less b r o t h e r l y g r o u p o f naturalists, those
w h o travelled with one eye on imperial opportunity. A breath o f these
interests could destroy his h a r m o n y w i t h Maclay, the supporter o f
native rights. As it was, they parted firm friends, Maclay charmed by the
Italian's lively m a n n e r and interesting conversation, Beccari feeling he
had k n o w n the y o u n g Russian for years. T h e i r o n e regret was that they
f o l l o w e d d i f f e r e n t paths.
W h i l e Beccari was sending his patron an appreciative description o f
his n e w friend, Maclay shuddered with f e v e r b e t w e e n Florcs and
S u m b a w a . Great and petty things s w a r m e d t h r o u g h his m i n d — p l a n s f o r
his j o u r n e y , dreams o f Buitenzorg, annoyance at learning that a talented
w o m a n had wasted her t i m e and desecrated the Italian language by
translating Captain N a z i m o v ' s 'silly, ignorant letters'. A w o m a n passen-
ger to w h o m he was callcd had cholera—had cholerine—was getting
124 The Moon Man

better—survived past Kupang, to die b e f o r e they reached the capital o f


Portuguese T i m o r . 'Headache. Lassitude. T h e blues'. Little Dili was
buzzing over an a t t e m p t to kill the g o v e r n o r . Aboard the Willem III they
w e r e bringing out c h a m p a g n e and fireworks. Maclay m e t N e w Year
1874 alone in his cabin, 'with a high fever'.
Staying with the D u t c h resident at A m b o n , he revised his plans.
Instead o f searching for trading vessels, he n o w m e a n t to charter a ship
as Beccari had done, and be taken direct to his chosen destination. Instead
o f visiting the s w a m p y coast o f the far south, he w o u l d m a k e for higher
g r o u n d near T r i t o n Bay, w h e r e the D u t c h had once a t t e m p t e d
settlement. H e believed it safer to live and travel alone a m o n g primitive
peoples than to take a retinue o f servants. H e came to recognize the peril
o f a sick m a n o n a probably hostile shore with n o assistant but a
t w e l v e - y e a r - o l d boy. At A m b o n he engaged t w o m e n o f P o r t u g u e s e -
Malay descent—David H o u k h o u m , an experienced h u n t e r w h o had
w o r k e d with several naturalists in N e w Guinea, and Joseph Lopez, a
y o u n g e r man, r e c o m m e n d e d by his honest face. H o u k h o u m was
regarded as s e c o n d - i n - c o m m a n d o f w h a t was b e c o m i n g a considerable
expedition.
Maclay bustled about the old city o f spices, b e l o w hillsides dotted
with white-walled Chinese graves and m o u n t a i n forests patched by
bright green clove trees. H e m a d e m a n y acquaintances, sorted o u t
e q u i p m e n t , inspected vessels that w e r e b e y o n d his means. H e w r o t e
letters and an article on Papuan customs, collected a n u m b e r o f
interesting sponges, and attended the medical inspection o f prostitutes,
finding a m o n g t h e m three Papuan w o m e n to be measured and
sketched. All his activity ended in prostration. Fever was j o i n e d by pains
in the side, sores o n the legs, periostosis, colic and pain in the liver. Pain
and sleeplessness b r o u g h t him to a state o f m i n d in w h i c h n o d u t y
seemed m o r e u r g e n t than that o f m a k i n g a bequest to the Dutch couple
w h o w e r e so kind in his illness.
H o w long he lay immobilized was not recorded, n o r w h a t reflections
occupied his mind. If it occurred to him that his condition m i g h t justify
cancelling a j o u r n e y , the t h o u g h t was suppressed. H e n e v e r sought
medical advice w i t h o u t deciding 'otherwise' himself, never advised
friends o f his state w i t h o u t reiterating his determination to carry out the
expedition. N o r did he ask w h e t h e r a m a n w i t h so m a n y ailments should
g o a m o n g people w h o m i g h t be free o f t h e m . Europe had learned that
gravely c o m p r o m i s e d health could n e v e r p r e v e n t Maclay f r o m grap-
pling with the challenge o f N e w Guinea.
All questions w e r e swept aside in mid-February. W i t h a vessel and
c r e w lent by the authorities, he and his followers m a d e a m i d n i g h t
departure. For five days they struggled against high winds and r o u g h
seas towards the islands o f C e r a m Laut, battered by waves breaking o v e r
Pray Tomorrow 125

the deck and persecuted by the biting ants and large cockroaches that
infested the cabin. T h e n they w e r e at anchor o f f the chief village o f
Geser Island, and Maclay was presenting his demands to the h e a d m e n
w h o came out to m e e t him.
In the names o f the g o v e r n o r - g e n e r a l and the A m b o n resident, he
ordered a vessel w i t h a c r e w supervised by o n e o f the notables. In the
n a m e o f the g o v e r n m e n t , he kept the h e a d m e n aboard the official
vessel, badgered until they promised all he wanted. H e had never b e f o r e
exercised such p o w e r over m e n so abjectly anxious to obey. By the end
of the day he had an urumbai, a t w o - m a s t e d vessel, capable o f being
r o w e d in a calm, with a fairly r o o m y deckhouse amidships. H e had a
c r e w o f fifteen m e n , chosen f r o m different c o m m u n i t i e s t o reduce the
risk o f plots against the w h i t e man, and led by the ill-favoured b u t
intelligent b r o t h e r of the 'mayor*. C o n f u s i o n developed regarding the
time f o r w h i c h these conscripts w o u l d serve. In his journal Maclay
m e n t i o n e d their e n g a g e m e n t for five months. T o the Russian G e o -
graphical Society, he indicated that as soon as a hut had been built for
him in N e w Guinea the urumbai w o u l d return to Geser. His n e w
employees believed the latter version, so f r o m the start there was
potential for dispute b e t w e e n master and m e n .
By 23 February the urumbai was laden w i t h baggage, provisions, and
palm-leaf mats for constructing a house. Maclay called the roll o f his
Malays, Papuans and m e n o f m i x e d race f r o m half-a-dozen islands, and
had the anchor raised. T h e y sailed via G o r a m and precipitous, green-clad
Watu-Bella, f r o m w h o s e high cliffs he glimpsed the peaks o f
Papua-Koviai.
T h e f o u r t h day o u t f r o m Geser, wild w e a t h e r buffeted the vessel,
s w a m p e d the cabin, tore the jib to shreds and carried away a small boat
Maclay had b o u g h t for local voyages. In t u m u l t and darkness he noticed
that o n e of the h e l m s m e n was on his knees petitioning Allah instead o f
struggling with the helm. T h e situation resembled that e n c o u n t e r e d by
a favourite traveller, James Bruce, on the R e d Sea in 1769. Maclay
reacted like James Bruce. Plunging towards the helm he dragged the
man's head up and presented the revolver. ' Y o u can pray t o m o r r o w ' , he
shouted a b o v e the uproar. 'If you don't steer properly n o w I'll put a
bullet t h r o u g h y o u r head!' A shot beside the helmsman's ear convinced
him this infidel's revolver was m o r e dangerous than Allah's winds and
waves. It set the k e y n o t e f o r Maclay's relations with his m e n , the process
by which they became 'accustomed to obey'.
N e x t night the urumbai lay b e t w e e n Adi Island and the N e w Guinea
mainland, in a great stillness w h e r e the only tokens of life on land w e r e
cries that m i g h t c o m e f r o m either h u m a n s or birds. In dead calm they
r o w e d towards the shrouded mountains, towards a solitary fire that was
covered at their approach. T h e beauty and strangeness began to grip
131° E
[•pprox. 1 3 3 ° 2 3 ' E J

Papua-Koviai, south-western N e w Guinea. From a Dutch map, with Maclay's discoveries of 1874. Approximate latitudes and
longitudes according to modern maps are given in square brackets.
Pray Tomorrow 127

Maclay. Deserted shores, m o o n l i g h t o n cliffs swathed in dense g r o w t h ,


h u g e echoes roused by the drums, gongs and singing that encouraged
the rowers—these w e r e foretastes o f the ecstatic m o m e n t s for which
he endured. H e was not disappointed b y the occupants o f canoes that
m e t his vessel. These timid folk needed his reassurance, his protection.
H e was back in N e w Guinea, a m o n g his people, w i t h o u t a pain or a
misgiving.
W h e n he landed o n N a m a t o t e Island he nevertheless carried a
revolver as well as n o t e b o o k and umbrella, and was escorted by t w o
a r m e d m e n . Impressions w e r e less pleasing by daylight. Apart f r o m a
f e w y o u t h f u l 'specimens o f Papuan beauty', the inhabitants w e r e nearly
all o f m i x e d race and neither healthy nor handsome. T h e i r village hardly
deserved the name, beached canoes and t w o or three huts being all it
had t o show. Maclay was n o m o r e favourably impressed b y the
dignitaries. Raja N a m a t o t e , w h o s e ' g o v e r n m e n t ' , according to the map,
e m b r a c e d half o f Papua-Koviai, was an athletic but ugly y o u n g m a n in
a state o f unease. T h e face o f Sassi, 'kapitan' o f Mavara Island, aroused
i m m e d i a t e dislike. T h e chieftains evidently t o o k Maclay f o r a represen-
tative o f the mysterious g o v e r n m e n t w h o s e flag decorated N a m a t o t e ' s
canoe. Hearing that he wished to learn all a b o u t the country, people and
local events, they lodged complaints o f w a r f a r e and depredations.
These tale-telling m e n , with their Malay and Arab garments and their
enquiries for r u m and gin, w e r e not his people. H e could n o t stay o n
that small, dry island, in Raja Namatote's repulsive hut. Ignoring their
r e p o r t that the A i d u m a people had been driven away by attackers, he
sailed for the island w h o s e raja supposedly g o v e r n e d the other half o f
Papua-Koviai.
H e f o u n d A i d u m a exactly as they said—not a glimpse o f a h u m a n
being, not a h u m a n sound to be heard. T h e abandoned huts w e r e t o o
decrepit f o r repair. T h e island was even smaller and less productive than
N a m a t o t e . Maclay sailed for Mavara. T h e fires w e n t out; the shore was
silent; the people fled.
W h e n the urumbai turned into T r i t o n Bay it m e t a canoe containing
t w o w o m e n , t w o children and a thin old m a n w h o identified himself
as the Raja A i d u m a w h o s e title covered so m u c h space o n maps. In tones
o f tragedy and pathos he told o f the fall o f Aiduma, h o w w i t h o u t reason
the islanders o f Adi had hired mercenaries f r o m afar to attack his villages
and drive A i d u m a f o r t h , a dispossessed w a n d e r e r in his o w n land.
Maclay was not entirely satisfied with the history. H e believed e n o u g h
in the end. H o w e v e r the old m a n c a m e to such misfortunes, he was
incontestably u n f o r t u n a t e n o w . Maclay presented him w i t h rice and
sago and attached him to the expedition. A i d u m a r e m e m b e r e d exactly
w h e r e the Dutch settlement had stood f o r t y years before.
128 The Moon Man

M e r k u s o o r d , or Fort du Bus as it was c o m m o n l y called, had been


built beside a deep, placid basin within an amphitheatre o f mountains.
Maclay's m e n cut a track t h r o u g h j u n g l e that c r o w d e d d o w n to the
beach. T h e y came first u p o n a stone plinth bearing remains o f a heavy
w o o d e n pillar. T h e n there was artificial smoothness u n d e r f o o t , a
metallic sound beneath Maclay's studded boot. His m e n cleared layers
o f g r o w t h and decay f r o m a great iron slab, turned it and revealed the
corroded, earth-encrusted R o y a l A r m s o f the Netherlands. A r o u n d
t h e m j u n g l e surged over the graves of hundreds w h o had futilely died.
In breathless heat w h e r e it seemed 'easier to die than to live', trees
t o w e r e d within the c r u m b l i n g foundations and rose f r o m stumps cut
f o r t y years before. T h e Russian had the fallen symbol cleaned and set
upright against the rotting pillar.
H e could n o t live at Fort du Bus. H e followed Raja A i d u m a t h r o u g h
a m a n g r o v e s w a m p and up a scorching hill. Almost at the end o f his
strength, he looked at the w r e t c h e d huts, last r e f u g e o f Aiduma's
people, and k n e w he could n o t live there. N o r could Raja Aiduma.
W i t h a fresh burst o f lamentation he t h r e w himself u p o n the visitor's
protection, begging to be allowed to live with his followers w h e r e v e r
Maclay m i g h t settle. Maclay saw h o w useful it w o u l d be to have subjects
for research constantly available. 'And o f course', he reflected, 'Aiduma's
people w o u l d soon b e c o m e m y servants, and could act as guides ...'.
W h e n he resumed his voyage, the dispossessed of Aiduma w e r e close
u p o n the w a k e o f the urumbai.
A n o t h e r day's search revealed the placc w h e r e he could live. T h e
natives called it 'Aiva', a cape on the mainland b e t w e e n T r i t o n Bay and
Bicharu Bay, high and dry, w i t h easy access to the fauna o f coast and
foothills. As Maclay looked seawards f r o m the rock ledge chosen for his
dwelling, there lay to his left a m e a n d e r i n g strait b o u n d e d by rocky
islands that apart f r o m Mavara w e r e uninhabited. T h e Grand Duchess
Elena Pavlovna had died a year before, b u t he n a m e d in her h o n o u r , in
m e m o r y o f his weeks at O r a n i e n b a u m , this c a v e r n - b o r d e r e d w a t e r w a y
traversed only by canoes. T o the west, b e t w e e n N a m a t o t e and the
mainland, there was an equally gracious and undisturbed channel,
named in due t i m e f o r Q u e e n Sophie o f the Netherlands. B e t w e e n
royalty and royalty he gazed u p o n the sailless Arafura Sea, f r o m a
p r o m o n t o r y w h e r e n o one had ever lived. Y e t his sanctuary already
became less secluded. Aiduma's people put up shelters along the beach,
mingling with visitors f r o m N a m a t o t e , Mavara and s u r r o u n d i n g inlets.
W h i l e Maclay's house rose o n Cape Aiva, a lively village g r e w in all t o o
intimate proximity.
O n 7 March the house was finished—an a n t e r o o m , a smallish r o o m
for Maclay and a large o n e f o r his three servants—and Maclay again
called himself 'a resident o f N e w Guinea'. His c o m f o r t a b l e establish-
Pray Tomorrow 129

m e n t was not w i t h o u t hints o f t r o u b l e to c o m e , f r o m m o r e than the


termites that p r o m p t l y invaded the house.
T h e n e w settlement threatened to b e c o m e s o m e t h i n g other than a
handy source o f servants and anthropological material. T h e natives
w o u l d accept only gin as a r e w a r d f o r their w o r k . Reluctant to pander
to their vices, Maclay had to give t h e m the gin b r o u g h t f o r preserving
specimens. Almost o n his doorstep, they e m p t i e d o n e bottle, shouting
and singing so lustily that he invited t h e m to leave. T h e i r voices still
carried f r o m the beach, a u g m e n t e d by shots f r o m ancient flintlocks. T h e
sailors visited the shacks in search o f w o m e n . W i l d m e n f r o m the
m o u n t a i n s p r o w l e d a b o u t at night. In the Eden o f Aiva the p o w e r f u l
n e w c o m e r ' s presence created a little w a t e r f r o n t , c o m p l e t e with sins and
dangers.
H e heard o f m u r d e r s c o m m i t t e d the day o f his arrival. Strange cries
at night sent h i m to the arms chest. T h e r e w e r e endless tales o f raids and
payback killings, attacks o n trading vessels and w a r f a r e b e t w e e n coast
and mountains. T h e natives boasted that '(Drang-Papua' w o u l d kill any
m a n to get his possessions. Maclay recalled that while declaring the
N a m a t o t e people u n t r u s t w o r t h y a D u t c h traveller had praised others
w h o m the sailors called bandits. 'I m y s e l f , Maclay noted, a m convinced
they are all u n t r u s t w o r t h y ' . In particular he learned to distrust his client
Raja Aiduma. T h e old fellow was n o victim o f u n p r o v o k e d attack, but
the object o f long-invited revenge. Papuans told h o w he had a c c o m -
panied a T i d o r e hongi to p l u n d e r Lakahia Island and massacre its
inhabitants. Malay traders k n e w h i m as the greatest swindler in
Papua-Koviai, repeatedly obtaining goods and absconding to hiding-
places inaccessible to his creditors. N o w he w o r e the mask o f aggrieved
virtue for Maclay's benefit, but he should be watched.
Maclay watched as well as he could while measuring and sketching,
collecting vocabularies and struggling to adjust his t o n g u e to the dialect.
H e e x p l o r e d Elena Pavlovna Strait, w h e r e waves f r e t t e d the coral
limestone into fantastic shapes, collapsed cliffs left scars a m o n g the
g r e e n e r y and old landslides could be traced f r o m high o n mountainsides
to the water's edge. H e visited the spring w h e r e his m e n d r e w water,
and the beautiful, crocodile-haunted pool that received the stream. In a
cave h u n g w i t h stalactites he gathered fossils and h u m a n bones. O n the
shore he f o u n d a p r o f u s i o n o f sponges. His h u n t s m e n w e r e successfully
at w o r k , helped at times by Raja N a m a t o t e , a skilful bird-catcher.
Maclay's hands w e r e full o f w o r k , his head full o f ideas. H e had n e v e r
dwelt in a lovelier place, or o n e he loved m o r e .
Yet he felt restless, even s o m e w h a t depressed, d o u b t f u l about the
value o f staying there. T h e sparse local population included f e w
u n c o n t a m i n a t e d Papuans. A n apparently p u r e - b l o o d e d Papuan couple
w o u l d present as their children a r o w o f infants whose hair ranged f r o m
130 The Moon Man

frizzy to almost straight, with skins in equally varied shades. Maclay


rapidly approached the conclusion that the great obstacle to progress in
e t h n o l o g y was the frailty o f w o m e n . H e must search elsewhere f o r the
p u r e race, as far east as Lakahia, w h e r e explorers had reported a people
so fierce and unpredictable that they w e r e almost b o u n d to be pure. H e
also wished to see the strange lake o f w h i c h he heard f r o m visitors
calling themselves 'Vuoucirau', w h o s e h o m e was on its shores.
Again he was ill, first with pain in the legs and a feeling o f sickness
f r o m head to toe. His left arm became 'entirely useless'; then fever laid
him up for days. His followers p r o v e d that servants can be as sick as
masters and t w e n t y m e n fall ill as easily as t w o . David H o u k h o u m had
a badly swollen hand and a significant fever. Ahmad's paroxysms
seemed capable o f shattering his childish frame. S o m e o f the sailors
living in the beached urutnbai w e r e as sick as the gentry on the hill, b u t
with t h e m Maclay was not concerned.
H e had to concern himself w i t h t h e m w h e n he a n n o u n c e d plans for
exploring. W h e t h e r he originally intended to keep the vessel and c r e w
for five m o n t h s or to send t h e m back almost immediately w i t h his
despatches, his actions w e r e n o w d e t e r m i n e d by the loss o f his b o a t
W i t h o u t a vessel o f his o w n , distrustful o f the natives, he could n o t
explore unless he kept the urumbai. So the ship lay beached at Aiva,
retained by Maclay's will and the n a m e o f the Netherlands Indies
g o v e r n m e n t . T h e sea-lawyers claimed that having built his house t h e y
w e r e entitled to g o h o m e . O t h e r s w e r e prepared to stay, provided they
need not visit Lakahia. O n e w a y or another, m a n y o f the c r e w p r e f e r r e d
not t o go with him.
Maclay refrained f r o m calling it m u t i n y , attributing the w h o l e
situation to fear o f the natives. It was neither here nor there, since he
must leave a guard over his house. T h e cowards could stay behind while
he w e n t to Lakahia with a c r e w o f volunteers.
A h m a d became alarmingly weak. Joseph Lopez fell ill. Maclay
doctored the sick, f o u g h t white ants, listened to Raja Aiduma's
stories—especially the hints o f a p y g m y people in N e w G u i n e a — a n d
endured a visit f r o m the N a m a t o t e ladies. W h e n annoyed by 'troubles
o f daily existence', he o f t e n f o r g o t t h e m in the v i e w f r o m his w i n d o w .
A fortnight o f this w o n d e r f u l scene still seemed t o o m u c h . H e pitied
A h m a d , w h o seemed unlikely to recover. O t h e r considerations settled
his conflict. 'I have been m u c h out o f spirits...', he noted. 'Kamaka and
Lakahia will divert m e with fresh impressions.' H e had the urumbai
launched. A h m a d w o u l d be nursed back to health or buried by Joseph.
O n l y five m e n w e r e to stay under Joseph's c o m m a n d . T h e r e w e r e
e n o u g h volunteers, adventurous, loyal or afraid o f the Dutch, to w o r k
and d e f e n d the vessel. But the result o w e d s o m e t h i n g t o Sangil, the
Pray Tomorrow 131

b r o t h e r o f the m a y o r o f Geser. W i t h o u t the headman's consent, the


ship w o u l d n e v e r have entered the w a t e r to g o to Lakahia.
Maclay disposed o f the native rulers, ordering Raja N a m a t o t e to stay
at Aiva. Raja A i d u m a could neither be trusted with first place at Aiva
n o r subordinated to y o u n g N a m a t o t e . O n the o t h e r hand, Sangil and
N a m a t o t e advised against taking him to Lakahia. If A i d u m a appeared o n
the scene o f his f o r m e r exploits, they predicted, the natives w o u l d either
avoid the expedition or attack to r e v e n g e themselves o n him. Finally
A i d u m a was taken along to help find guides. S o m e o f his strongest m e n
w e n t ahead to await the expedition, f o r which they w o u l d act as porters.
Maclay enjoyed Aiduma's c o m p a n y , mainly because the old m a n
enjoyed himself so m u c h . Aiduma's great days came again, greater than
ever u n d e r Maclay's patronage. Dressed in a yellow r o b e and full o f
consequence, he sat beating a little d r u m and pointing out the sights. H e
was so rich in i n f o r m a t i o n and e n t e r t a i n m e n t that Maclay f o r g o t the
reputed villainy. Maclay also f o r g o t a b o u t r e t u r n i n g him to his people.
T h e expedition f o r the m o u n t a i n s landed o n the eastern shore o f
T r i t o n Bay, a party consisting o f Maclay, David H o u k h o u m , Sangil and
Raja Aiduma, with five or six o f Aiduma's m e n and s o m e Vuoucirau
guides. Maclay liked the Vuoucirau, quiet, respectful people w h o s e
chieftain b o w e d w h e n greeting the w h i t e man. Apart f r o m possessing
firearms, they seemed gentle and unspoiled.
T h e i r c o u n t r y p r o v e d a t o u g h place. A f t e r half an h o u r o n steep
u p - a n d - d o w n tracks u n d e r a broiling sun Maclay was weak in the legs,
blistered by n e w boots and in increasing pain f r o m his swollen left side.
T h e n came headache and giddiness, vestiges o f an aborted fever attack.
T h e r e was n o w h e r e to rest, n o t h i n g to d o b u t keep walking. For the last
three hours o f the j o u r n e y it p o u r e d rain. Exhausted, soaked and
starving, they reached the Vuoucirau village at s u n d o w n .
T h e hut Maclay occupied was so l o w that he could not stand, its d o o r
so n a r r o w that he must squeeze t h r o u g h . It was nevertheless substantial,
w i t h partitioned living space, incised decorations o n the walls, and
beams carved to represent crocodile heads. T h o u g h there seemed to be
only a b o u t f o r t y Vuoucirau, they lived settled lives, visiting the coast
but securely apart f r o m its turmoil. In their c o m p a n y Maclay escaped
that poignantly beautiful, ruined Papua-Koviai, w h e r e trickery,
robbery, m u r d e r and enslavement w e r e a way o f life.
H e was equally pleased by lovely Lake Kamaka-Walla, with its
t h o u g h t - p r o v o k i n g populations o f molluscs and sponges and its
evidence o f great and mysterious changes o f level. H e could have spent
profitable w e e k s o n its shores or canoeing o n its waters. Instead he had
barely half a day to investigate the lake, to measure and sketch its
proprietors and t h r o w t h e m into fits o f laughter b y his attempts to
132 The Moon Man

p r o n o u n c e their words. R e l y i n g on hospitality, his party had b r o u g h t


very little in the way o f provisions. T h e Vuoucirau had art, peace and
beautiful surroundings, but n o surplus food.
W i t h o u t hard feelings, hosts and guests set o u t f o r the coast. As
t h o u g h they had not a care in the world, the Vuoucirau decorated
themselves w i t h multicoloured leaves and sang their way d o w n to the
landing-place. N i n e canoes full of people followed the urumbai o u t to
its anchorage at Koira Island. O n each of the open vessels, carrying only
m e n , a warrior leapt and shouted in his war dance, chastized the air and
loosed arrows at the sky. In the covered canoes w o m e n and children
sang and yelled, each party trying to d r o w n out the others. T h a t night
there was a general dance on Koira—crescendos o f m o v e m e n t that
over and o v e r reached the point o f frenzy and suddenly s t o p p e d Clouds
gathered and discharged their rain; Maclay retired to the urumbai; but
deep into the night the dance w e n t on.
R e f r e s h e d by n e w impressions, or by old expectations given n e w life,
Maclay sailed o u t o f T r i t o n Bay. N o t h i n g tarnished his m e m o r i e s of the
Vuoucirau sanctuary, the courtly Vuoucirau chief, or a y o u n g girl
w h o s e eyes w o u l d please 'the most exacting connoisseur o f f e m i n i n e
beauty 1 . T h e singing procession d o w n the mountainside, the firelit
dance o n the shore, a sacred vine-curtained inlet w h e r e the water
splashed in constant, mysterious agitation—these w e r e true pictures o f
Maclay's N e w Guinea. T h e y did n o t c o m e again as the urumbai passed
eastward b e t w e e n A i d u m a and the mainland, coasted south o f Dramai
and entered K a y u - M e r a Bay. E v e r y w h e r e he f o u n d scenes so beautiful
they must be called sublime, in a land so e m p t y that it must be called
unpopulated. K a y u - M e r a village had been b u r n e d d o w n by attackers
just b e f o r e his arrival in Papua-Koviai. T h e other islands and the
m o u n t a i n s behind seemed equally deserted. Maclay d o u b t e d w h e t h e r
all the people f r o m N a m a t o t e t o the western shores o f T r i t o n Bay
w o u l d n u m b e r m o r e than a hundred. B e t w e e n T r i t o n Bay and Lakahia
he saw n o b o d y . O n l y the occasional c l u m p o f coconut palms s h o w e d
w h e r e people had lived beside s o m e secluded inlet.
H e had read that the way o f life here was largely nomadic. A family
w o u l d use its covered canoe as a shelter f o r a short stay in o n e locality,
then m o v e on to fish and gather f o o d at another little beach. H e had
m e t o n e floating household w h o s e leader, asked w h e r e they w e r e
going, replied: 'I am looking f o r s o m e t h i n g to eat'. Contrasting this
existence with that of gardening c o m m u n i t i e s on the Maclay Coast, he
attributed it wholly to fear and persecution. Granted peace and security,
these people w o u l d live like the villagers o f B o n g u and G o r e n d u ,
cultivating the soil and bringing up generations of children in o n e place.
At least they w o u l d live like the Vuoucirau, g r o w i n g n o t h i n g m u c h to
eat but enjoying leisure and tranquil minds for the cultivation of art and
Pray Tomorrow 133

song and the collection o f zoological specimens. Maclay saw m u c h in


the emptiness, and f o r m e d far-reaching ideas.
Perhaps because o f Raja Aiduma's presence, he m a d e n o a t t e m p t to
explore Lakahia or contact its inhabitants. Past low, m a n g r o v e - c o v e r e d
shores as deserted as the cliffs to the west, the expedition entered Kiruru
G u l f O n c e , a g r o u p o f natives ran d o w n the beach, w a v i n g their
garments and tossing handfuls o f sand. O n seeing the w h i t e m a n and a
cake o f tobacco they cautiously b r o u g h t their canoes u p to the urumbai.
W h e n Maclay demonstrated that the cabin curtain concealed n o a r m e d
m e n , they v e n t u r e d o n deck, shouting, laughing and h u g g i n g the sailors.
Maclay had time to ascertain that they w e r e darker and m o r e
r o b u s t — m o r e P a p u a n — t h a n his n e i g h b o u r s at Aiva, and to taste the
drink they m a d e f r o m the shoots o f a palm. H e sensed uneasiness behind
their extravagant delight. T h e i r older m e m o r i e s told o f T i d o r e hongi.
Fresh m e m o r i e s included the devastation o f K a y u - M e r a . H e did not
w o n d e r that to t h e m all strangers w e r e enemies. O n the o t h e r hand, he
r e m e m b e r e d their reputation. W h e n n o t acting as victims, these people
w e r e fierce and indiscriminate in revenge.
H e w e n t to v i e w a waterfall s h o w n o n D u t c h charts, only to find that
the long dry season had reduced it to insignificance. H e looked for a
p u r p o r t e d village and f o u n d a single decaying hut. T h r e e canoe-loads
o f people approached the urumbai closely e n o u g h f o r h i m to conjecture
h o w ' t h e custom o f piercing the nasal septum m i g h t result in noses
'resembling the H e b r e w ' . H e saw n o o t h e r inhabitants o n the w a y up
the silent, windless gulf.
At the eastern limit o f the w a t e r w a y he led a party into the
mountains, camped o n the seaward slope o f the first ridge and climbed
to the crest. H e was in the area w h e r e the maps s h o w e d western N e w
Guinea narrowest in its n o r t h - s o u t h direction, the point o n the south
coast apparently nearest to the head o f vast Geelvink Bay.
H e saw n o t h i n g f r o m the heights but trees and mountains. Yet the
trip convinced him that an inland expedition f r o m this p o i n t — perhaps
an a t t e m p t to cross the island—would not be impossibly difficult. T h e
forest looked relatively open. O n l y tracks and cut branches revealed the
presence o f inhabitants o n the ridge. Beyond, the land seemed as e m p t y
as the Vuoucirau asserted.
T h e sailors nevertheless feared attack. E v e n Maclay, in that stillness,
could imagine m o u n t a i n people gathering with 'not the best intentions'.
That same day he rejoined the urumbai and t u r n e d back f o r the open sea.
N o natives had visited the anchored vessel. T h e land party had been
disturbed only by a hornbill's screech or the p r e - d a w n p r o w l i n g o f a
cassowary. N o w , just as the explorers w e r e about to collect some skulls
f r o m a cleft in a rock, five canoes appeared, c r o w d e d with a r m e d m e n .
T h e sailors began to load their guns and the natives to handle their
134 The Moon Man

weapons. T h e canoes came on, their occupants chanting and shrieking.


Maclay ordered preparations f o r defence, stationed himself on the cabin
r o o f with rifle, revolver and 'rapid fire gun', and had his vessel r o w e d
straight at the canoes. T h e r e was n o question of a w a r n i n g volley. His
m e n had orders to aim well and waste n o a m m u n i t i o n . O n e canoe
maintained a dignified position, the rest retreating as fast as their crews
could paddle.
In reply to Maclay's shout, a headman explained in b r o k e n Malay that
the warriors only wanted to see the white tuan. T h e y hesitantly came
alongside. After reassurances the leaders climbed aboard and accepted
tobacco. N o b o d y was quite at ease. W h i l e Maclay noted native w o r d s
and place names, his visitors slipped back to their canoes. T h e last man,
alarmed to find himself alone, leapt over the side w i t h o u t taking his
tobacco.
T h e sailors w e r e sure that the Papuans came only t o see h o w m a n y
m e n w e r e on the vessel and w h a t w e a p o n s they carried. N o w they
w o u l d hide until nightfall and the best m o m e n t for attack. Maclay
preferred to believe that piles o f weapons in the canoes p r o v e d the
natives' fear of strangers, rather than their o w n warlike intentions, yet
he could not feel wholly satisfied with this. H e was persuaded to
abandon f u r t h e r exploration o f K i r u r u G u l f T h e sailors r o w e d so hard
that by d a w n they w e r e back on the open sea.
Strong winds and high waves m a d e it t o o dangerous to take the small,
ill-equipped vessel farther along the exposed coast t o the south-east.
Maclay decided to investigate the large bays west o f Aiva. In r o u g h seas
they r o w e d across to K a y u - M e r a Bay for a day's rest. Again they r o w e d
'with all their m i g h t ' to pass a grand cape that Maclay n a m e d after the
governor-general. At an anchorage o f f the n o r t h coast o f Aiduma, a
native in a canoe gave Maclay the worst news he could have received.
M o u n t a i n m e n f r o m Bicharu Bay had attacked the Aiva settlement.
A w i f e and child o f Raja A i d u m a had been killed, captives taken, and
Maclay's house plundered. T h r o u g h the confusion o f the story and its
interpretation, Maclay made o u t the general course o f events. T h e
business o f the m o u n t a i n m e n was with Aiduma's family and followers.
But Aiduma's people had fled to the w h i t e man's house for protection.
T h e r e the killing had been done, and pillage had followed as a matter
o f course. S o m e t h i n g was saved, for Joseph Lopez had reached a large
trading vessel anchored o f f N a m a t o t e , returning to Aiva w i t h an a r m e d
party in time to interrupt the division o f spoils. N o w Maclay's m e n and
his rescued chattels w e r e aboard the Makasar paduakan. T h e raiders w e r e
back in their mountains w i t h their booty, captives and trophies, the
heads o f Aiduma's w i f e and child.
Anger acted on Maclay like a stimulant. W e a r y and afraid, his m e n
w e r e forced to r o w all night. But he never intended to c o n f r o n t the
Maclay and Ahmad ready for the jungle, 1874
Maclay's yalo at Bukit Kepong, Muar River. Johor, 1874
Pray Tomorrow 135

warriors o f Bicharu Bay. For reasons he did n o t explain—beyond the


fact that he 'never liked' the man's face—he had identified Kapitan
Mavara as the chief culprit, with Raja N a m a t o t e sharing the guilt.
T h e o n e person he did not blame was himself K n o w i n g h o w well
Raja A i d u m a was hated, he had risked attracting e n m i t y by extending
protection to Aiduma's people. T h e n he had w i t h d r a w n most o f the
protection, while w e a k e n i n g his clients by taking their leader and
strongest m e n on the voyage. Left to d e f e n d the followers o f a m a n
w h o was hated and feared, N a m a t o t e and his friend Mavara had shirked
the task. Maclay could not allow himself to see this. Raja A i d u m a
understood. A m i d his tears and wailing, he heaped recrimination on
Maclay.
A f t e r visiting Mavara, w h e r e he f o u n d n o b o d y h o m e but frightened
old w o m e n and h o w l i n g children, Maclay m a d e f o r the anchorage o f
the Makasar trader. T h e shattered Joseph Lopez gave a slightly different
b u t n o t entirely unexpected account. Certainly the Bicharu m e n had
descended on Aiva t o settle old scores. D e e m i n g it safer n o t to defend
their neighbours against a force said to be larger than the entire
population o f the t w o islands, N a m a t o t e and Mavara had stood aside.
W h e n the invaders had gone, w i t h all the b o o t y they could carry, these
friends had s w o o p e d to appropriate the remainder. Joseph was c o n -
vinced that Maclay's employees, nearly all Papuans or half-Papuans,
w e r e in league with the raiders. W h e n he served o u t a m m u n i t i o n , the
guards had fired only blanks.
T h e only g o o d news was that A h m a d had recovered. Maclay waited
aboard the urumbai while his remaining possessions w e r e transferred
f r o m the Makasar vessel. S o m e w h e r e in the Bicharu mountains, they
could n o w w o r k great magic with his meteorological e q u i p m e n t , or
operate on each other w i t h instruments f r o m his large dissecting case.
W h i l e he claimed to be indifferent to the loss o f clothing, linen and
food, he w o r r i e d about the disappearance of his medicine chest and
most o f the quinine. Eight o f the sailors had fever.
T h e atmosphere aboard the urumbai was enigmatically disturbing.
Raja A i d u m a stopped accusing his failed protector and strenuously tried
t o please Maclay. This m i g h t be explained by Aiduma's having other
wives and daughters and h o p i n g still to gain s o m e t h i n g f r o m the white
man. Raja N a m a t o t e ' s behaviour was less comprehensible. As t h o u g h
he k n e w n o reason to stay away, he arrived to co-operate or c o m p e t e
with Aiduma. T o g e t h e r they besieged Maclay, clung to his garments,
pressed his hands and outbid each other in assurances o f devotion. All
they wanted was to f o l l o w him. Let Maclay give the order and they
w o u l d collect the people w h e r e v e r he chose to live. T h e Ceramese
sailors told him n o t to believe a w o r d . In their opinion, A i d u m a m e a n t
to pay back s o m e o n e f o r the deaths in his family and the w o u n d i n g or
136 The Moon Man

capture o f his followers. If he could not reach the murderers, he w o u l d


r e v e n g e himself u p o n Maclay. Later, b o t h rajas spoke to the sailors,
promising that w h a t e v e r happened n o harm w o u l d befall the crew.
Unable to digest the implications o f this, Maclay turned his suspicion
and c o n t e m p t u p o n the Ceramese, w h o cared less for his life than f o r
w h a t the D u t c h w o u l d do to t h e m if he w e r e killed.
H e ordered them to return to Aiva. T h e y proposed to sail for h o m e .
Even David and Joseph refused to live on the cape again. W h a t Maclay
required was that fear of D u t c h prisons should make his m e n risk death
to support him in purposes they did not understand. It was n o t e n o u g h .
N o r was he entirely successful w i t h threats to shoot them. T h e revolver
a r g u m e n t d r o v e t h e m only as far as the beach, w h e r e Maclay was landed
with his baggage and the m e n w i t h d r e w to the urumbai.
H e never explained w h a t he proposed to d o at Aiva. B e f o r e Papuan
ferocity and Ceramese cowardice, he acted as he believed a superior
being should, exerting his will w i t h o u t m u c h regard f o r purpose.
Despite the m e n w h o lacked his s u p e r h u m a n self-confidence and
indifference to life, Maclay must live in his chosen domain, assert his
p o w e r and find means to punish the transgressors. A n y t h i n g less w o u l d
give the t r i u m p h to his inferiors and to the u n w o r t h y self he had left
behind. So he w e n t up to Aiva to p r o v e what must be proved. H e was
prepared to find chaos in the house on the p r o m o n t o r y , f o r the absence
o f his possessions and the ruin o f w h a t remained. H e expected the
patches o f dried blood on walls and floor, since here m u r d e r had been
done. But he f o u n d s o m e t h i n g against which he was not f o r e - a r m e d .
Across his w o r k table, like a vile parody of his anatomical preparations,
lay the d i s m e m b e r e d and headless, decomposing b o d y o f that pretty
little girl, the daughter o f Raja Aiduma.
Back on the urumbai, he told himself he w o u l d have stayed at Aiva
had the e n e m y not poisoned the water supply. In his m e m o r y the bodies
of fishes floated belly-up, hiding the s u b m e r g e d ghastliness o f the
m u r d e r e d child. H e w o u l d nevertheless maintain his authority and bring
to justice those w h o stole his goods, killed his followers and profaned
his only altar. T h e question was h o w to accomplish this, surrounded by
enemies, w i t h an openly m u t i n o u s crew. Promises o f 'handsome
r e m u n e r a t i o n ' persuaded s o m e o f the sailors to return with him, strip
the matting f r o m the house for use in a n e w dwelling and set the rest
alight. O t h e r w i s e the position for some days remained uncertain.
W h i l e Maclay p o n d e r e d his m o v e s and did s o m e desultory a n t h r o p o -
logical research, the Makasar captain reached his o w n decision. This
conscientious seaman had rcscucd Maclay's servants and goods and spent
nearly t w o weeks in idleness and danger on Maclay's behalf. T r a d e was
bad. T h e situation on the coast m a d e h i m afraid to stay any longer. H e
proposed t o take his valuable ship and cargo to m o r e peaceful markets.
Pray Tomorrow 137

T h e n e w s had a disastrous effect on the m e n o f the urumbai, nearly


all suffering f r o m fever. Maclay still seemed to have the u p p e r hand, his
threats e v o k i n g promises o f loyalty and obedience. H e did not believe
these m e n really regarded him with d e v o t i o n or w o u l d willingly risk
their lives so that he m i g h t risk his. W h i l e preparing boxes o f specimens
for despatch on the paduakan, he w r o t e to James L o u d o n , giving 'a brief
account o f events and o f m y decision to stay here'. T o the captain o f a
g o v e r n m e n t vessel said to be visiting Gcscr, he w r o t e a terse note:

Very urgent
O n 28 M a r c h the Papuans r o b b e d m y hut. I find myself in a difficult
position and I have the h o n o u r to request you to c o m e to m e at
A i d u m a w i t h o u t delay. O n l y in the case o f e x t r e m e necessity w o u l d
I dccidc to return w i t h the u r u m b a i to Gcscr.

T h e w o r d s preserved his f r e e d o m o f action. If the g o v e r n m e n t vessel


came, he could d e m a n d help to stay in Papua-Koviai. H e m i g h t also
yield to persuasion and leave. O n e thing u n a m b i g u o u s l y revealed was
that he felt less than usual confidence in his ability to d o m i n a t e the
surroundings.
T h e supposed p r o x i m i t y o f a Dutch ship added a n o t h e r twist to the
sailors' predicament. T h e y w e r e sufficiently reassured or intimidated to
o b e y w h e n ordered to sail for Aiduma. T h e r e Maclay chose a place if
possible m o r e sublime than Aiva, c o m m a n d i n g a full view o f T r i t o n
Bay, w i t h the Kamaka Mountains, Mavara and Aiva itself A g o o d w a t e r
supply lay close at hand; the island vantage point seemed relatively safe;
but his m e n refused to sleep on shore. Maclay a n n o u n c e d that he w o u l d
live there alone, while they remained on the urumbai. T h e sailors built
a n o t h e r hut, just large e n o u g h t o a c c o m m o d a t c his table, chair and bunk.
O b l i g e d to w o r k ashore d u r i n g the day, and to c o m e to his aid in case
o f attack at night, his e m p l o y e e s w e r e hardly safer afloat than on the
island.
U m b u r m e t a , as the place was called, became as animated as Aiva had
been. Aiduma's people settled there. Survivors f r o m K a y u - M e r a and a
large party o f Vuoucirau mysteriously j o i n e d the c o m m u n i t y . F r o m his
veranda Maclay watched the doings o f the w h o l e s h o r e — m e n and
w o m e n at w o r k and leisure, youngsters practising f o r war. T h o u g h the
material was restricted by the absence of N a m a t o t e and Mavara people,
he resumed his scientific w o r k . As he inspected a n e w b o r n Papuan baby,
or f o l l o w e d racial traits t h r o u g h the results o f female promiscuity, he
w o u l d not have changcd places with scholars w h o p r e s u m e d to classify
the h u m a n species w i t h o u t leaving their armchairs in Europe.
Yet he n e v e r k n e w a peaceful day at U m b u r m e t a . T h e hut, true
p r o d u c t o f unwilling labour, admitted e v e r y breeze to keep h i m cold
at night and p r e v e n t his lighting a candlc. A n y o n e w h o believed Maclay
138 The Moon Man

m i g h t be dislodged by discomfort was mistaken, b u t he could n o t


ignore other assaults on his nerves. N o w it was a canoe arriving at night
w i t h n e w s that m o u n t a i n m e n had visited Aiva in the h o p e o f killing
Maclay and picking up any neglected booty. N e x t it was said that
N a m a t o t e and Mavara planned to attack in force. O n e c o m m u n i t y after
another seemed to be hatching mischief against Maclay. S o m e o f his
followers f o u n d traces o f u n k n o w n m e n about his hut. O t h e r s sighted
strange canoes in suspicious manoeuvres. Aiduma's people pointed o u t
this one and that o n e as e n e m y spies or infiltrators posing as subjects o f
Aiduma. In the deepening confusion it became impossible t o say w h o
w a g e d the w a r o f nerves, or f o r w h a t purpose.
Maclay m a d e his m e n laugh by asking h o w m o u n t a i n warriors could
reach A i d u m a w i t h o u t canoes. A r g u m e n t and laughter b r o k e d o w n
w h e n the reports concerned invasion f r o m other islands. Tear has big
eyes and ears', he reflected. ' T h e worst thing is that it is infectious.' Still
looking f o r outside assistance, he t h o u g h t to check the disease by
dismissing the urumbai and its sullen, terrified crew. But his A m b o n e s e
servants w e r e frankly afraid o f this. T h e Papuans, they said, w o u l d kill
a m a n f o r an e m p t y bottle o r a cracked plate. If they three and the b o y
stayed there w i t h o u t means o f escape, the affair w o u l d end badly f o r
t h e m and f o r the wives and children in A m b o n . T h e result o f their talk
was perhaps not w h a t David and Joseph hoped. Instead o f deciding to
return to Geser, Maclay felt compelled to keep the urumbai
In defiance o f r u m o u r s and entreaties, he spent each night in the
sievelike hut, binding his m e n as firmly t o his will as if they had been
shackled beside the door. S o m e t i m e s events of broad daylight seemed
to take place in a dream. H e had little o p p o r t u n i t y t o dream at night,
the time o f whispers and mysterious activity. O n e visit to the island, that
of a G o r a m trader, caused an e a r l y - m o r n i n g alarm. O n e definite
incident—the appearance o f a fleet o f canoes and their swift retreat at
sight o f the trading vessel—lent substance to the sailors' attacks o f
'imagination'. David and Joseph m a d e their o w n contributions to the
uneasiness. A m o n g the belongings o f a half-Papuan sailor, they saw
articles supposedly stolen by the raiders. M a n y of Maclay's possessions,
t h e y reported, had been bartered to natives f o r N e w Guinea produce.
Maclay was tired of alarms and evidence that he could trust n o b o d y .
It was 'irksome and tiring' to be constantly a r m e d and alert. H e had
almost exhausted the anthropological materials, and on zoological
excursions dared go no farther than the nearest reef T h e g o v e r n m e n t
vessel clearly was not coming, had probably left Geser b e f o r e his
message could arrive. H e could n o t take retribution to his enemies. W i t h
his quinine perilously low, and the m o n s o o n in the offing, he could not
wait f o r the e n e m y to c o m e to him. H e must accomplish s o m e act o f
justice and leave Papua-Koviai.
T h e necessary act and the means to it w e r e revealed on 23 April, as
Pray Tomorrow 139

he sat drinking coffee and admiring the sunrise. W h i l e waiting on his


master, Joseph Lopez m e n t i o n e d an alarm caused in the night by a canoe
arriving f r o m Mavara. T h e vessel had m o v e d away w h e n hailed, b u t
Joseph was sure that o n e o f its passengers was Kapitan Mavara himself
Maclay regretted the absence o f Raja N a m a t o t e , w h o m he had not
seen f o r almost three weeks. Still, Kapitan Mavara was equally guilty o f
p e r m i t t i n g the killings and had always been regarded as 'one o f the
leading participants in the robbery'. H e must be taken 'dead or alive'.
Joseph b r o u g h t David f r o m the urumbai and m a d e sure that the
e n e m y was actually in the covered canoe. All the guns w e r e loaded,
e v e r y t h i n g in the hut collected and packed. Outside, dispositions w e r e
in order. Instead o f having breakfast o n the ship, some o f the sailors w e r e
flirting with girls o n the beach, keeping hold o f their w e a p o n s as they
paid their addresses. But Maclay saw three times as m a n y natives as
Ceramese. These w e r e his friends and proteges—Aiduma's followers,
V u o u c i r a u and m e n o f K a y u - M e r a — y e t he feared they w o u l d
misunderstand his motives and rush to d e f e n d Kapitan Mavara. T h e n
m e m o r i e s o f a blood-spattered r o o m , that p o o r child's b o d y o n his table,
o v e r c a m e any hesitation. T o avenge these crimes u p o n his chosen
e n e m y , he was prepared to kill relatives and friends o f the victims.
Accompanied b y Lopez and a Papuan sailor n a m e d Moi-Birit (noted
f o r unquestioning obedience), he set out to capture and execute Kapitan
Mavara. H e still did n o t k n o w exactly w h a t action to take, d e p e n d i n g
o n the inspiration that sometimes c a m e to h i m in m o m e n t s o f crisis. H e
nonetheless enjoyed the picture o f Maclay, strolling d o w n the beach,
a r m e d with a revolver, flanked by Joseph with a rifle and M o i w i t h a
stout rope, but looking, he imagined, as t h o u g h n o t h i n g unusual was
afoot. W i t h o u t speaking to anyone, they passed the flirtatious couples
and the groups c o o k i n g and gossiping. N e a r the strange canoe they
stopped, and Maclay, in the quiet, e v e n voice on which he prided
himself, called out f o r Kapitan Mavara.
Kapitan Mavara did not answer the first call or the second. W i t h a
third s u m m o n s , Maclay tore the a w n i n g f r o m the canoe and exposed
his paralysed e n e m y . R i f l e in hand, Joseph c o n f r o n t e d the gathering
crowd. T h e a m o r o u s sailors w o r k e d their w a y to the front. Maclay
gripped Kapitan Mavara by the throat and held the revolver to his
m o u t h while M o i - B i r i t tied the captives arms. W h e n Sangil took
charge o f the prisoner, e v e r y t h i n g was o v e r except the explanations.
Kapitan Mavara was a miserable capture. F r o m first to last his only
utterances w e r e a mechanical 'Greetings, tuan\ and a sickly denial o f any
k n o w l e d g e o f Raja N a m a t o t e ' s whereabouts. His only action was a
violent trembling. T h e danger l o o m e d f r o m another quarter, c o m b i n -
ing with the prisoner's abject state to m a k e Maclay abandon ideas o f a
s u m m a r y execution.
T h e c r o w d did n o t understand w h y Maclay treated Kapitan Mavara
140 The Moon Man

thus. H e told t h e m he was taking the prisoner because this m a n had


failed to protect Aiva, p e r m i t t e d w o m e n and children t o be killed in the
master's house and 'looted e v e r y t h i n g in it'. Y e t they did not recognize
the agent o f justice, their friend and protector Maclay. T h e y saw a w h i t e
m a n and his servants dealing r o u g h l y w i t h a Papuan, binding a man's
arms and dragging him o f f to a ship, and they w o n d e r e d w h e r e it w o u l d
end. Scowling m e n began to handle their weapons. T h e w o m e n ran o f f
to hide. S u r r o u n d e d by his o w n a r m e d m e n , Maclay faced the prospect
o f shooting d o w n people w h o s e interests he m e a n t to defend.
H e talked t h e m into docility at last, explaining that he was not angry
with a n y o n e but Kapitan Mavara and Raja N a m a t o t e . His friends w e r e
m a d e to understand that they w o u l d not be shot or taken away and that
by laying d o w n their w e a p o n s and carrying Maclay's boxes to the beach
they could earn s o m e tobacco. T h e main thing was to keep t h e m busy,
allow t h e m n o time to recover f r o m surprise and discuss these events
a m o n g themselves. W h i l e his servants m a d e ready for departure, and his
w a t c h m e n prevented any canoe f r o m leaving the shore, Maclay created
diversions that absorbed surplus attention and ensured that only he
should speak.
Followed by the c r o w d , he w e n t to assure the w o m e n that there was
n o danger. H e o f f e r e d a passage on the urumbai to Kapitan Mavara's
wife, w h o either failed to understand or preferred not to starve alone
in a foreign c o u n t r y while s o m e t h i n g or other was d o n e to her husband.
H e also o f f e r e d transport to o n e o f Raja Aiduma's older daughters, just
married to a m a n f r o m the urumbai; but she preferred to stay and
c o m f o r t her old father, and perhaps be sold to a n o t h e r sailor. By the
time Maclay had finished w i t h speeches, diplomacy and the distribution
o f tobacco, his vessel was ready to sail.
H e did n o t f o r g e t scientific interests. H e had long coveted an
'interesting anthropological object' displayed on a structure near his hut.
W h i l e forced to stay on the island, he had hesitated t o o f f e n d his friends
by taking w h a t science required. N o w he could not abandon the prize
to t i m e and weather. By a stratagem that caused him considerable pride,
he stole the skull of a f o r m e r Raja Aiduma.
T h a t was s o m e t h i n g f o r t h e m to p o n d e r w h e n they discovered
i t — w h y the w h i t e m a n w h o pursued a thief should filch the relics that
held life convulsively together in Papua-Koviai. But Papuan collective
w i s d o m had m u c h to consider w h e n relieved o f Maclay's o v e r p o w e r i n g
presence. T h e r e w e r e small b u t disturbing matters, like the question o f
h o w Kapitan Mavara's w i f e happened to be on Aiduma, the stronghold
o f her enemies. T h e r e was the p r o b l e m o f exactly w h a t her husband
had done, his fate, and h o w his absence w o u l d affect the future. T h e r e
w e r e mysteries in w h y the w h i t e man had n o t pursued thieves and
m u r d e r e r s at Bicharu Bay, and w h y he pretended not to k n o w w h e r e
Pray Tomorrow 141

Raja N a m a t o t e was. A b o v e t h e m all l o o m e d the ungraspable question


o f w h o was really to blame for the disaster at Aiva. Probably the w h o l e
puzzle could be solved only by that Allah of w h o m a foreign teacher
had told the ancestors.
At least one k n e w w h e r e one stood w i t h the m e n f r o m Bicharu Bay.
T h e y had n o t d o n e harm by ignorance, vanity or accident b u t
deliberately, after the ways of the coast. A n d according to the ways of
the coast they should n o w be defending themselves against those w h o
sought to kill t h e m in revenge. N u m e r o u s as they seemed to Maclay,
f e w e r m e n than usual w e r e on the beach at U m b u r m e t a . W i t h the
Vuoucirau as his principal allies, Raja A i d u m a had launched his attack
on N a m a t o t e and Bicharu Bay. W h i l e Maclay sailed away, his friends
awaited the war news. It w o u l d be a long t i m e b e f o r e he learned that
Raja N a m a t o t e was dead.
8: Disillusion

A
-Z. JLPART FROM a navigational error
that took the urumbai far south o f its p r o p e r course, the h o m e w a r d
voyage was almost uneventful. Maclay sometimes threatened the sailors
with gaol, showed his revolver, or fired a shot 'as a last resort'. O n the
whole, he considered t h e m fairly well tamed. W h e n they wished to
replace the admittedly l o w and noisome water supply, he refused to
land; but next day he called at G o r a m to b u y himself a fowl. As they
approached Geser, he allowed the m e n to hoist flags, beat gongs and fire
guns to signal and celebrate their h o m e c o m i n g . T h e n he ordered t h e m
to sail f o r Kilvaru instead. T h u s they learned w h a t it is to serve a m a n
of p o w e r . T h e y learned m o r e w h e n he dismissed them. In a f e w weeks
they w o u l d have to return to Kilvaru. Maclay could n o t pay t h e m until
he received funds f r o m Batavia.
H e handed over his prisoner to the raja o f Kilvaru and settled to wait
in the heir-apparent's palace. T h e 'rustic Venice', as A. R . Wallace called
Kilvaru, seemed to rise directly f r o m the sea, its pile dwellings
completely hiding the islet. As in Wallace's day, it remained an
important trading centre dealing particularly in N e w Guinea produce.
Its gloriously m i x e d population, placed at Maclay's disposal by raja-muda
M u h a m e d , supplied perhaps the richest field of investigation e n c o u n -
tered in his j o u r n e y . Examining specimens o f m i x e d race, he could
c o m p a r e t h e m with b o t h parents. H e inspected examples of 'atavisms'
—children w i t h remarkably hairy bodies, or a w o m a n with t w o pairs
o f breasts—and observed cases o f incomplete albinism. H e heard of the
grandest atavism o f all, a race of people w i t h tails, but these lived
elsewhere and had never quite been seen by his informants. T h e r e was
dancing to watch in the evenings, m u c h to be learned o f customs and
beliefs. T h e island itself, a sandbank over which the highest tides

142
Disillusion 143

occasionally f l o w e d , showed m o r e interesting features than m i g h t be


expected. B u t Maclay was pestered by people with ailments and
grievances. His stocks o f wine, sugar and c o f f e e w e r e almost done; he
had n o biscuits or m o n e y , and n o h o p e o f release until the Dutch
resident's steamer arrived f r o m A m b o n .
Kapitan Mavara, hitherto a m o d e l prisoner, provided s o m e excite-
m e n t . O n the night o f a lunar eclipse he contrived to escape. T h e r e
being n o w h e r e else to go, he ran into the water and stood t h r o w i n g
stones at his pursuers. Maclay was again t e m p e d to shoot him, but
refrained out o f consideration f o r the raja. T h e n c e f o r t h the prisoner's
legs w e r e chained to a block. D u r i n g the voyage, it appeared, he had
o f f e r e d large bribes in N e w Guinea p r o d u c e for a chance o f f r e e d o m .
Since similar temptations m i g h t c o n f r o n t the Kilvaru gaolers, Maclay
the m o r e impatiently awaited the resident.
T a l k i n g very confusedly' b e f o r e the authorities, Kapitan Mavara
seemed to declare himself innocent. T h e raja, a staunch adherent o f
Maclay, a f f i r m e d b o t h the prisoner's guilt and that o f the Ceramese
sailors. In the attitude o f the D u t c h official, Maclay f o u n d s o m e t h i n g so
unsatisfactory that he decided to take the case to the governor-general.
O t h e r matters w e r e to be laid b e f o r e the governor-general. Maclay
had learned that T i d o r e hongis still visited N e w Guinea to collect
'tribute'. Regardless o f the effect o n his admirer, the sultan o f Tidore,
he m e a n t to expose this persistence in f o r b i d d e n ways. Regardless o f
consequences f o r the dignified old raja and the engaging M u h a m e d , he
w o u l d also report aspects o f life at Kilvaru. T h e traders there still dealt
in h u m a n beings.
H e was not so m u c h concerned with adult or adolescent slaves, o f t e n
purchased f r o m Papuan tribes w h o specialized in taking captives f o r the
purpose. T h e Ceramese highly valued their Papuans, the girls as
concubines and the youths as industrious, obedient workers. W h a t m a d e
his g o r g e rise was the t r e a t m e n t o f children t w o or three years old, sold
for n e x t to n o t h i n g b y their parents. These 'wares o f small price' w e r e
so starved and neglected that they only b y chance survived to reach full
market value. At the case o f o n e little child, emaciated and covered with
sores, crawling about a m o n g goats beneath a hut, Maclay so t r e m b l e d
with anger that he could hardly stand. H e delivered his r e p r i m a n d o n
the spot. H e m e a n t to cause m o r e lasting action f r o m Buitenzorg.
James L o u d o n was a m a n o f his w o r d . O n the w a y to A m b o n with
the resident, Maclay m e t the steamer despatched to bring him f r o m
N e w Guinea. But he had n o t h o u g h t f o r the colony's useless trouble and
expense. O n arrival at A m b o n , suffering f r o m f e v e r and neuralgia, he
entered hospital u n d e r the care o f Dr H u s e m a n , a 'decent fellow' he had
m e t d u r i n g the o u t w a r d j o u r n e y .
H e still t h o u g h t o f expeditions—to N e w Guinea with a D u t c h
144 The Moon Man

acquaintance, to the Kei and Aru islands or to Halmahera, w h e r e the


little-known interior sheltered a people said to be related to Papuans.
Such hopes w e r e abandoned as he lay w e e k after week, with erysipelas
and partial paralysis added to his sufferings. T h e doctors regarded his case
with great anxiety. Visitors f r o m H.M.S. Basilisk w e r e convinced that he
could not live, a belief they spread by w o r d o f m o u t h and corres-
pondence. Y e t Maclay listened intently to accounts o f Basilisk's voyage
in N e w Guinea waters, noted that her officers had not set f o o t on the
Maclay Coast, and obtained a copy o f Captain Moresby's map. For the
present he said n o t h i n g about an o m i n o u s piece of imperialism,
Moresby's proclamation o f three islands o f f eastern N e w Guinea as a
British possession.
By the end o f J u n e 1874, thanking his hardy constitution and the
efficient hospital, he had recovered well e n o u g h to resume his j o u r n e y .
T h e w a n d e r i n g t w e n t y - d a y voyage aided his recuperation. It allowed
him to c o n f i r m that D u t c h officials at Ternate w e r e as ignorant as their
A m b o n counterparts about the despatch of hongis. It also r e n e w e d his
acquaintance w i t h the n o r t h e r n peninsula o f Celebes, a district he
regarded as a possible h o m e .
T h e h o m e he r e - e n t e r e d was n o longer the safe haven he had left in
D e c e m b e r . T h e g o v e r n m e n t that supported James L o u d o n had fallen.
H a v i n g sent in his resignation, L o u d o n acted as g o v e r n o r - g e n e r a l only
until his successor's arrival. This m a d e n o immediate difference to
Maclay. W h e n the family m o v e d to the rather modest c o u n t r y
residence, their guest w e n t with them. But s o m e t h i n g in Maclay resisted
these changes, p r e v e n t i n g any admission that his patron had ceased to
be all-powerful. H e acted as t h o u g h n o such thing had occurred.
O n the case o f Kapitan Mavara, the g o v e r n o r - g e n e r a l requested
written particulars. H e received a statement fit to e v o k e b o t h m i r t h and
anguish. W i t h o u t access to Maclay's journal, L o u d o n could not guess
that the original charge against Mavara had been that o f 'permitting'
murders, n o t o f c o m m i t t i n g t h e m . H e could not question Maclay's
account o f h o w m e n f r o m the urumbai, immediately after the attack,
had f o u n d stolen goods in the chieftain's hut. N o r could he be aware
that u p o n arrest Kapitan Mavara had m a d e t w o useless remarks rather
than the full confession that Maclay n o w described. T h e r e was n o such
difficulty in perceiving that Maclay had no first-hand k n o w l e d g e o f any
significant event. M o r e o v e r , he discredited his informants and potential
witnesses by suggesting that their personal interests m a d e it 'impossible
to attach great importance to the w o r d o f these people'. A f t e r that, the
g o v e r n o r - g e n e r a l w o u l d hardly b o t h e r to explain the worthlessness of a
paraphrased confession, allegedly obtained f r o m a m a n w i t h a hand on
his windpipe and a revolver held 'almost to his teeth'.

I
Disillusion 145

O n e surprising aspect o f the statement was Maclay's anxiety to


discredit the h e a d m a n o f his crew. Sangil figured in the explorer's diary
as an interpreter w h o s e translations, s o m e t i m e s d o u b t e d , w e r e n e v e r
actually p r o v e d w r o n g . H e appeared as a serious adviser, as o n e o f
Maclay's bodyguard, as m e m b e r o f the Kamaka-Walla expedition,
finally as master-at-arms taking charge o f the prisoner. H e seemed a
reliable officer against w h o m Maclay m a d e n o particular complaint. Yet
almost as m u c h o f Maclay's testimony was d e v o t e d to Sangil's s h o r t -
comings as to the crimes o f Kapitan Mavara. Far f r o m r e n d e r i n g service,
Sangil had caused ' m a n y annoyances and difficulties'. Ignorant o f the
'Papuan' language, lazy and cowardly, he had d o n e n o t h i n g but s m o k e
o p i u m and skulk in the cabin o f the urumbai. His was 'a character full o f
falsehood and deceit', in all things u n t r u s t w o r t h y . It almost seemed that
Maclay was afraid o f Sangil.
A f t e r tendering his statement, Maclay b r o u g h t f o r w a r d evidence
f r o m unidentified traders w h o had told him that Kapitan Mavara
f r e q u e n t l y ' r o b b e d Makasar and C c r a m prahus> in this c o m m i t t i n g
murders'. It appeared in the end that he had r e m o v e d the prisoner f r o m
N e w Guinea to p r e v e n t f u r t h e r crimes and allow the g o v e r n m e n t to
m a k e a 'salutary example', which w o u l d then, presumably, be publicized
in Papua-Koviai.
T i m e passed, and n o witnesses w e r e callcd. Maclay learned that his
captive, a subject o f the sultan o f Tidore, accused o f crimes c o m m i t t e d
in the sultan's territories, had been sent to T i d o r e and there imprisoned.
Finally he heard that Mavara had been d e p o r t e d to N e w G u i n e a — i n
o t h e r words, sent h o m e . Kapitan Mavara was never tried. But then there
w o u l d have been n o trial had Maclay carried o u t his original intention
o f shooting the prisoner on the spot.
T h e additional charges appeared in a m e m o r a n d u m presented soon
after Maclay reached Buitenzorg. H e described w h a t he had learned
a b o u t hongis and the treatment o f Papuan children at Kilvaru. In m o r e
general terms, he discussed the 'deplorable state' o f Papua-Koviai. H e
did not in this report lay the blame so exclusively o n Malays as he had
in writing to Russia. H e placed m o r e emphasis 011 local warfare as a
cause o f depopulation, terror and nomadism. H e m e n t i o n e d m u r d e r o f
traders, t h e f t o f cargoes and n o n - p a y m e n t o f debts as factors in the
decline o f N e w Guinea trade. But he m a d e it clear that his sympathy lay
with the natives in their 'sad lot'. H e advocated a Dutch settlement
'strong e n o u g h to maintain justice and punish wrongdoers'. T h u s
protected, the Papuans w o u l d abandon fighting and n o m a d i s m and
settle to cultivate the soil. T r a d e w o u l d revive; Papua-Koviai w o u l d
attain the prosperity f o r e t o l d by its natural wealth; the N e t h e r l a n d s
w o u l d be justified at last in claiming the territory as its o w n .
146 The Moon Man

T h e experience o f Fort du Bus, w h i c h in six years had m a d e n o


impression on Papua-Koviai, did n o t encourage hopes o f t r a n s f o r m a -
tion. B u t Maclay envisaged a purely military colony, w i t h suppression o f
'lawless acts' as its sole aim. T h e natives w a n t e d such an establishment,
he insisted. In any case, he expected n o trouble in maintaining a military
post, since 'the sparsity o f the population and the w e a k influence o f
chiefs w o u l d greatly facilitate such an undertaking'.
H e seemed unconscious o f addressing an official w h o s e authority
survived only f r o m day to day. H e also revealed h o w little he
understood James L o u d o n and the Dutch East Indies. Traditionally the
colony existed for the sake of Java, w i t h interests in Celebes and the
Moluccas. Elsewhere, D u t c h control was exercised t h r o u g h native
rulers. Year in, year out, L o u d o n insisted that Netherlands p o w e r should
n o t be asserted in any m o r e territories. Even while invading Atjeh, he
had not contemplated direct rule. H o l d i n g that Netherlands resources
w e r e o v e r - e x t e n d e d , he was justified by e v e r y t h i n g in the Indies. Every
residency outside Java reported chronic piracy, slave-trading, insurrec-
tion and anarchy.
O v e r it all h u n g the spectre of Atjeh, straining colonial resources and
heartening all rebels. In D e c e m b e r 1873 a larger D u t c h a r m y had landed
in Sumatra. W i t h i n a f e w w e e k s the recalcitrant sultan was dead, a
successor installed and a treaty signed. T h e n came the b l o w f r o m w h i c h
Batavia never recovered. N o sultan had authority to bind Atjeh to the
Dutch. Real p o w e r belonged to a dozen chiefdoms, jealous of their o w n
independence. T h e war was extinguished in o n e district, r e b o r n in
another. N a t i v e leaders w e r e killed or imprisoned, and n e w leaders took
their places. T h e D u t c h parliament and people d e m a n d e d quick victory
in this unforeseen war. T h e troops plunged t h r o u g h Sumatran swamps
and jungles, h u n t i n g and h u n t e d by an e n e m y w h o was e v e r y w h e r e and
n o w h e r e . W i t h the best intentions, James L o u d o n had created a war that
w o u l d virtually halt d e v e l o p m e n t o f the Indies f o r a w h o l e generation,
and cost the lives o f D u t c h m e n and Sumatrans yet u n b o r n .
Oblivious to the older man's despair, Maclay was ready to b e c o m e a
r e f o r m e r . Despite his confident tone, he did n o t regard the pacification
o f Papua-Koviai as easy. Success required a leader f r e e o f self-seeking
ambition, familiar w i t h the land and people, and m o v e d purely by
' h u m a n e and sympathetic feelings'. It seemed t o him that o n e m a n
c o m b i n e d the k n o w l e d g e , compassion, moral influence and will to save
that t o r m e n t e d country. As f o r the natives, he recalled, or t h o u g h t he
recalled, the respect they s h o w e d him, the eagerness w i t h w h i c h t h e y
began to cultivate the soil near his house, their reiterated wish f o r a
protector. T h e y m i g h t well have used the w o r d s in w h i c h n i n t h -
century Russians had addressed the Scandinavians: ' O u r land is great and
rich, b u t there is n o order in it. C o m e and rule over us!'
Disillusion 147

Entering a sequence o f events w i t h n o k n o w n beginning or


foreseeable end, he had t h r o w n in his lot w i t h the party that flattered
him best. H e had failed to protect Aiduma's people, failed to p r e v e n t
Aiduma's revenge, and slipped perilously close to b e c o m i n g its object.
I m p e r v i o u s to his influence, the Vuoucirau abandoned peace f o r a share
in o t h e r people's quarrels. Y e t Maclay saw n o weakness in his authority
or e r r o r in his j u d g e m e n t . T o regulate affairs in south-west N e w
Guinea, he needed only physical p o w e r to match his moral force.
In private conversation with Loudon, he indicated the need f o r a f e w
dozen Javanese soldiers and a gunboat. W i t h these, he u n d e r t o o k to
u p r o o t in o n e year the evils o f centuries. Since 4 only the wish to be useful
to this part o f the h u m a n race' p r o m p t e d his offer, he felt justified in
imposing f u r t h e r conditions. T h e r e must be n o o t h e r European
involved. H e must n o t be r e c o m p e n s e d or fettered b y any kind o f
p a y m e n t f r o m the Dutch. H e must have c o m p l e t e i n d e p e n d e n c e o f
action, 'going as far as p o w e r o f life and death o v e r m y subordinates and
the natives'.
L o u d o n did not b o t h e r w i t h m u c h explanation o f his refusal, stating
only that the N e t h e r l a n d s intended n o f u r t h e r settlement. H e could
hardly help feeling uneasy. Maclay seemed u n a w a r e o f d e m a n d i n g
personal p o w e r that n o civilized g o v e r n m e n t could confer. His naivety
and confusion w e r e almost t o u c h i n g w h e n he rejected all European
assistance, yet required a g u n b o a t w i t h its inevitable officers and crew.
T h e same qualities b e c a m e f r i g h t e n i n g w h e n he d e m a n d e d that he, as
dictator answerable to n o b o d y , should have p o w e r o f life and death'
o v e r N e t h e r l a n d s soldiers and sailors. C o m b i n e d w i t h attitudes dis-
played in the case o f Kapitan Mavara, the proposal revealed that his
idealistic consciousness m i g h t breed monsters.
H e continued to live w i t h the Loudons, his friends apparently n o less
respectful and affectionate than o f old. H e had s h o w n himself m u d d l e d ,
i m p e t u o u s and ignorant o f the restraints u p o n respectable g o v e r n m e n t s .
H e had given a glimpse o f the moral arrogance and breathtaking
self-confidence o f which he was capable. But these need n e v e r be
exerciscd in James Loudon's jurisdiction. L o u d o n saw n o evidence that
his friend was ever less than honest, every reason to respect the
humanitarian w h o reported the secret despatch o f hongis and the fate o f
little Papuans in the slave-dealing islands.
Maclay still t h o u g h t L o u d o n a just, w e l l - m e a n i n g man, t h o u g h
unexpectedly h i d e b o u n d . H e declined t o admit that his patron lacked
the p o w e r to authorize a dictatorship. Feeling that conditions attached
to his o f f e r had influenced the refusal, he was prepared to believe that
in this L o u d o n fell short o f ideal justice. H e argued that the decision
resulted largely f r o m his being a foreigner. T h e suspected prejudice did
n o t change his regard f o r the family at Tjipanas.
148 The Moon Man

N o m o r e did he abandon h o p e o f pacification for Papua-Koviai. His


r e p o r t t o the Russian Geographical Society was an expose o f violence,
misery and dislocation. For a Batavia scientific journal, he prepared a
s u m m a r y o f his semi-official m e m o r a n d u m , including the news that he
had proposed 'a sure and simple way to r e f o r m the situation' and a plea
that his report should not be ' m e r e l y consigned to the archives'. Late
that year he w r o t e again to St Petersburg, describing his personal offer.
W h i l e he hoped that appeals to the Dutch w o u l d n o t 'remain w i t h o u t
effect', his strongest feeling was resigned pity for 'the p o o r Papuans o f
Koviai', w h o f o r decades m o r e w o u l d g o on 'starving, plundering and
killing each other, stealing and selling each other into bondage'. H e
evidently looked f o r s o m e Russian intervention; m o r e than a year later,
he was asking w h a t had been done; but w h a t e v e r happened to his report
in Batavia, his inviting letter was p r o m p t l y buried in the archives of the
Russian Geographical Society.
H e professed himself content w i t h a rejection that allowed this year,
unexpectedly offered 'out o f humanitarianism to practical activities', to
be given to p u r e science. His second stay in Java p r o d u c e d little scientific
w o r k . Apart f r o m his report to the Geographical Society (written
mainly at Kilvaru), a brief account o f the expedition for a G e r m a n
journal, and a correction to matter previously published, the articles that
appeared that year had been sent to press b e f o r e he left for Papua-
Koviai. These last m o n t h s of 1874 passed mainly in recuperation and in
planning a n e w j o u r n e y .
T h e peaceful family life, n o w that o f a prince in exile, w e n t on as
t h o u g h it could never be disrupted. Maclay read and meditated,
sketched and listened to music. H e could entertain friends with a wealth
o f exciting anecdotes, some o f t h e m — l i k e those o f his j o u r n e y 'alone
and u n a r m e d ' in the Kamaka Mountains, and his virtually single-handed
arrest o f Kapitan M a v a r a — b e c o m i n g m o r e heroic as t i m e passed. His
love for the little sister w h o was developing under his eyes and
influence m a d e steady t h o u g h uncharted progress. T h e i r initials,
e n t w i n e d and decorated, appeared in the margins of his writings. T h e
symbol o f her n a m e floated a b o v e his landscapes. Promises w e r e
exchanged, t h o u g h h o w far these w e n t was never revealed. H e
nevertheless imagined j o u r n e y s — t o the Malay Peninsula, to Europe, to
Australia—in w h i c h his beloved had n o apparent place.
All plans, as ever, depended on m o n e y . Meshchersky had paid for the
Papua-Koviai expedition, allowing a reasonable sum for Maclay's
support on his return. Maclay f o u n d himself'placed under the necessity
o f borrowing to provide for f u r t h e r travels. 'It is even possible that this
m o n e y will n o t suffice', he w a r n e d his m o t h e r , 'and that on m y r e t u r n
(?) I will be forced to resort to f u r t h e r borrowing'. H o p i n g that the tax
Disillusion 149

w o u l d n o t inconvenience her t o o m u c h , he requested despatch o f f u n d s


w i t h o u t delay.
H e had reason to believe that n o such remittance w o u l d arrive.
B e f o r e leaving for Papua-Koviai, he had learned that Ekaterina
S e m y o n o v n a ' s obsession with landed p r o p e r t y had led her to purchase
an estate in the Kiev district. At the t i m e he had limited his c o m m e n t
to the h o p e that she w o u l d not repent a decision he personally f o u n d
Tar f r o m cheering'. Lying ill after the expedition, he had received almost
with surprise her c o n f i r m a t i o n o f the news. For m o n t h s he could not
trust himself to reply. T h e n , shortly after regretting that she had tied
herself to this property, not even situated in a good climate, he began
to feel that 'Malm', as the estate was called, m i g h t be put to use.
T h e o u t c o m e was a series o f n u m b e r e d questions requiring Ekaterina
S e m y o n o v n a to state, firstly, w h e t h e r her w a n d e r i n g son was entitled
to share in the property. If he was, she must advise w h e t h e r he could
expect an i n c o m e f r o m that share or had, as he obviously preferred, the
right 'to turn it into money. Assuming that questions 1 and 2 w e r e
answered in the affirmative, he asked: 'Approximately w h e n can I, with
justice to all, receive m y p r o p e r sharer'
H e could not be expected to live p e r m a n e n t l y in Europe. W i t h i n a
f e w years he m i g h t be forced to g o to Australia f o r his health. But his
m o t h e r could expect him fairly soon. ' M y tasks arc approaching their
conclusion', he pleaded, 'and in t w o years I will be able to r e t u r n to
Europe. But will it be possible for m e to live independently there? Will I
just have the means to be entirely free to continue m y scientific w o r k ,
w i t h o u t d e p e n d i n g on any kind o f salary or assistance?' H e needed so
little. H e w o u l d be m o r e content with 'a trifle' than if he sold time and
thoughts 'for thousands'. All he asked was a candid answer c o n f i r m i n g
his right to w h a t e v e r he contemplated spending, assuring him that he
m i g h t always c o u n t o n her support. 'I ask you very urgently', he
concluded, 'to answer m e at oncc and quite frankly, i) you still love y o u r
son a little and have not quite f o r g o t t e n him'.
T h e answer was silence. As Olga had explained w h e n Meshchersky
asked about m o n e y o n her brother's behalf, the purchase o f Malin had
involved great financial sacrifice. T h e n came the time o f drought, dying
cattle, desiccated crops, negotiations for an e m e r g e n c y loan. Nikolai
Nikolacvich's share, if it existed, w o u l d be a share o f debt.
T h e silence that protected him f r o m this k n o w l e d g e also saved him
f r o m k n o w i n g h o w deeply his sister was hurt. W i t h almost religious
faith, Olga believed that he could not die b e f o r e they m e t again and his
research was laid b e f o r e the scientific world. She learned o f his survival
only by a telegram f r o m Meshchersky. T o her, his w o r k remained 'a
right and just cause' which must prevail, but she faced a pressing task o f
150 The Moon Man

her o w n , the fight f o r mental survival amid a host o f dreary worries.


She hardened her thoughts and suggested that Nikolai Nikolaevich's
needs m i g h t be m e t by the Russian Geographical Society.
Maclay had considered that possibility for himself. H e had asked
financial help f r o m the Society, 'not as a gift, but as a t e m p o r a r y loan',
by which the organization might justify its existence. 'I have already said
that f o r m y researches I am prepared to sacrifice all*, he told Baron
Osten-Sacken, 'but it is a difficult circumstance w h e n this all does n o t
suffice*. Osten-Sacken f o u n d this letter 'quite strange', but passed it to
the finance c o m m i t t e e . S e m y o n o v - T i a n s h a n s k y received a m o r e p e r -
suasive appeal. W h i l e awaiting replies, Maclay depended heavily o n
Hendrick-Jan Ankersmit, head o f D u m m l e r and Co., Batavia. M y n h e e r
Ankersmit was a gentleman and a friend. H e nevertheless lent m o n e y
t o m a k e m o n e y , and he w o u l d ask f o r it back, principal plus interest.
Regardless of love or m o n e y , Maclay planned a n e w expedition. For
reasons of health, he could n o t return immediately to N e w Guinea. It
seemed that his health m i g h t benefit f r o m a visit to the heart o f the
Malay Peninsula, w h e r e a n o t e on his w o r l d - m a p indicated another race
possibly allied to the Papuans.
T h e European p o w e r s that had squabbled over footholds on the
Peninsula since the days o f A l b u q u e r q u e had never d o n e m u c h to
explore the interior or investigate its inhabitants. Nevertheless by 1813
the armchair anthropologist James C o w l e s Prichard, in a b o o k w h o s e
latest edition Maclay had studied, had b e e n able to assert: 'Most o f the
m o u n t a i n o u s districts in the peninsula of Malacca are peopled with
tribes o f black savages, w h o closely resemble the Papuas, and are
evidently o f the same stock'. M o r e recent descriptions o f these people
only confused opinion, e m i n e n t m e n arguing strongly against w h a t had
been accepted as fact. T h e disputants in Europe had never seen a native
of the Malayan interior. But equal confusion appeared a m o n g those
w h o had m e t these tribes, s o m e describing t h e m as 'negritos' while
others maintained that the 'Sakai* or 'Semang* did n o t differ significantly
f r o m Malays. Maclay proposed to settle the disagreement by seeking o u t
the p u r e - b l o o d e d aborigines w h o must live in areas n e v e r visited by
Europeans.
H e restricted his aims to 'finding and observing, f r o m a purely
zoological point o f view, this interesting variety o f the h u m a n race',
proposing to complete the task in a matter o f days. T h e country,
population and means o f travel all being u n k n o w n , he could plan
n o t h i n g b e y o n d the purchase o f a steamer ticket. But the undertaking
must n o t be postponed. H e must push f o r w a r d , 'not thinking m u c h
about the future', to d o w h a t his failing strength permitted. H e also
believed himself in search o f a race w h o s e language, customs and v e r y
U . r ^ Mkal, the Jakun girl,
t/fVMU* C Lobo-Loondan, Johor,
V
\ 1875

O n the Kcratong River, Johor, 1874


V / . ( —— if

Bivouac on the Madck River, Johor, 1875


The title page to the journal or sketch book of the second Malay
Peninsula expedition

Mil

Pekan, the capital of Pahang, July 1875


UJUJIUj ^(IKULLxj

A negrito woman,
Kelantan, 1875

'A real chimpanzee profile':


one of Maclay's drawings
of typical negritos, 1875 -p—
JMCLC*<UJ ^•iji. j m
— f
Disillusion 151

f o r m must soon vanish b e f o r e the advance o f stronger peoples. Again


he was 'the last naturalist', the recorder o f w h a t had been.
T h o u g h t s o f the f u t u r e resulted, b e f o r e he left Batavia, in the
d r a w i n g - u p o f a n e w will. In concrete terms, the chief beneficiaries
w e r e Meshchersky, w h o w o u l d have all books, manuscripts and
drawings, and the Russian Geographical Society, w h i c h w o u l d receive
all collections with the exception o f craniological specimens. T h e skulls
w e r e t o go to the m u s e u m o f the Imperial A c a d e m y o f Sciences, w i t h
an addition that aroused interest w h e n the news became public: Maclay
intended to have his o w n head preserved and sent to the Academy.
A h m a d was allocated 1000 silver roubles that the testator did n o t possess.
Olga, once sole bcneficiary, became residuary legatee, inheriting all her
brother's 'property estate and rights n o t m e n t i o n e d a b o v e in this Will'.
For his m o t h e r and brothers there was n o t a m e m e n t o or a w o r d . N o r
was there a r e m e m b r a n c e f o r anyone in the L o u d o n family.
T h i n g s had fallen apart at Buitenzorg. Perhaps f o r reasons of love or
m o n e y — h i s dealings w i t h James Loudon's daughter or his dealings w i t h
Ankersmit—perhaps because o f m o r e public actions, Maclay was n o
longer an h o n o u r e d guest in the L o u d o n household. T h e reasons
remained locked in the breasts o f those concerned. F r o m magnanimity,
f r o m embarrassment, or f r o m deeper than ordinary hurt, neither party
decried the other to outsiders.
Preparing to leave Java, Maclay wished only to f o r g e t Buitenzorg.
T h e h o m e in w h i c h he had lived as son, as brother, as prince, had
b e c o m e the symbol o f betrayal and humiliation, f r o m w h i c h he d r e w
the bitterest o f lessons: 'Don't b e c o m e attached to anyone. D o n ' t believe
in others'. H e did n o t r e n o u n c e his love, t h o u g h w h a t he m i g h t do about
it remained a mystery. But w h e n the steamer was u n d e r w a y f o r
Singapore, he realized he had f o r g o t t e n to hand over the letter for his
beloved.
9: Pages from an Old Book

CLAY NEVER A D M I R E D Singa-


pore's favourite music, a Chinese orchestra of bank tellers ceaselessly
counting dollars or testing f o r counterfeit by p o u r i n g coin f r o m hand
to h a n d His m o o d late in 1874 did not respond to the m o t l e y i m m i g r a n t
population or the placid waters e m b r o i d e r e d at night w i t h the
multicoloured reflections o f lanterns. In the dark little r o o m s and
draughty corridors of the single men's quarters at the Hotel de l'Europe,
he ate p o o r food, winced at loud voices, slamming doors, the t r a m p o f
Europeans on their w a y to o r f r o m China, Japan, the Indies or Australia.
S u r r o u n d e d by 'respectable m e m b e r s o f the rabble', he could neither
rest n o r w o r k .
H e inspected ethnological collections b r o u g h t in by H.M.S. Basilisk,
and r e n e w e d acquaintance w i t h local friends o f science. In the
governor's absence, he called at G o v e r n m e n t H o u s e and listened to the
chatter o f his excellency's attractive wife. But the hotel b e c a m e
unbearable. T h e gossip—like the story of a w a n d e r i n g Hungarian
nobleman, said to be hopelessly in love with the governor's lady—set
him b r o o d i n g on his o w n lost love. H e repacked his bags and fled to
J o h o r Baharu.
For once there w e r e n o other guests in the unpretentious palace
o v e r l o o k i n g the waters b e t w e e n the mainland and Singapore Island.
T h e capital that had g r o w n up on the site of a saw-milling village was
far e n o u g h away. Maclay read and w r o t e , admired the view, investi-
gated ways and means f o r his expedition. O n an excursion with officials,
he m e t the local tribe of* Orang-utan1, the wild ' m e n o f the forest', living
in their n o r m a l miserable conditions while felling t i m b e r f o r the
g o v e r n m e n t . W i t h his host, the maharaja A b u Bakar, he talked about
the roads and railways, schools and hospitals the ruler m e a n t to build and

152
Pagesfrom an Old Book 153

the European ideas he h o p e d w o u l d benefit his country. H e liked the


maharaja, b u t sometimes p r e f e r r e d to dine alone. M e m o r i e s o f B u i t e n -
zorg t o r m e n t e d him. R a i n y days b r o u g h t o n the 'blue devils'. Solitude
that edged towards loneliness w h e n he reproached his f o r g e t f u l sister
was t o o peopled f o r a m o o d that b e c a m e 'constantly m o r e mis-
anthropic'. His shaky tranquillity came to an end with the arrival o f f o u r
E n g l i s h w o m e n w h o chattered and sang half the night. F r o m the
respectable rabble there was n o escape b u t the jungle.
W h e n he visited Singapore again, he f o u n d the g o v e r n o r could
contribute little. O n taking u p his a p p o i n t m e n t in 1873, Sir A n d r e w
Clarke had been unable to obtain maps or u p - t o - d a t e facts about lands
next d o o r to the British colonies. It was said that n o European and very
f e w Malays could give the names o f all the peninsula states, their
geographical positions or the titles o f their rulers. T o the British, the sole
reliable i n f o r m a n t was A b u Bakar, w h o had n o m a p o f his o w n
territory.
Maclay filled his place at the G o v e r n m e n t House table and sat
t h r o u g h the play to w h i c h he accompanied the vice-regal party. His
bitterness and desolation, welling u p w i t h thoughts o f letters that did
n o t arrive f r o m Buitenzorg, was n o t betrayed to his host. His state o f
m i n d was n o m o r e apparent to Luigi Maria D'Albertis, w h o m e t h i m
late that night. Superficially they had little in c o m m o n — t h e swash-
buckling, opera-singing D'Albertis and Maclay, the w o u l d - b e c o n t e m -
plative. Y e t the Italian explorer was captivated by Maclay's enthusiastic
talk o f past adventures and those he h o p e d to have. In 'very lively
French', his eyes shining and dancing, Maclay described his expedition
to Papua-Koviai and sketched f u t u r e travels. D'Albertis understood w h y
Maclay had used his g u n in Papua-Koviai. H e shared Maclay's indigna-
tion o v e r the misbehaviour o f the Ceramese sailors, the real cause o f the
trouble. T h e y agreed about everything, D'Albertis reported, particularly
about N e w Guinea, the land that obsessed t h e m both. W h e n the
Russian spoke o f the Maclay Coast, 'you w o u l d think he had f o u n d the
earthly Paradise'. T o the Italian, the w h o l e island was paradise, degraded
to Purgatory w h e r e o t h e r w h i t e m e n had set foot. But while they
praised Papuan customs and virtues, w i t h comparisons m u c h to the
disadvantage o f Europeans, the travellers looked to the day w h e n 'those
happy savages will b e c o m e civilized h u m a n beings'. Both, t h o u g h they
m i g h t differ a b o u t the means, believed they k n e w h o w to accomplish
this apparently inconsistent end.
D'Albertis left again f o r N e w Guinea, to besiege the natives with
confident love that in a m o m e n t c r u m b l e d into fear and hatred,
b e n e v o l e n c e that f a v o u r e d a little salutary terror. Maclay already
planned a third visit to the island, and a f o u r t h expedition in w h i c h his
b r o t h e r Vladimir w o u l d join. H e still seemed n o closer to his object in
154 The Moon Man

Maclay's journey in Johor and southern Pahang, 1874-75


Pages from an Old Book 155

the Peninsula. Meetings with Orang-utan o f J o h o r ('Jakun' as they w e r e


called m o r e precisely) had assured h i m that 'Papuan' characteristics
w o u l d be f o u n d a m o n g inland tribes. R e a c h i n g these people was m o r e
difficult than expected. Johor's o n e road ran in the w r o n g direction.
Elsewhere, tracks w e r e so n a r r o w that a porter's load must be very small.
At best, a m a n could carry n o m o r e than his o w n provisions for t w e n t y
days. A m i d counsels o f despair, Maclay began to think the undertaking
'almost impracticable'. T h e n came a sudden opportunity, a police foray
in borderlands o f the n o r t h - w e s t , and within three days the n e w
adventure began.

T h e excursion m e a n t to last t w e n t y days eventually took fifty,


traversing J o h o r f r o m the Straits o f Malacca to the South China Sea and
f r o m n o r t h e r n b o r d e r regions to the tip o f the peninsula. Deposited by
the g u n b o a t at a settlement o n the M u a r R i v e r , Maclay, A h m a d and a
Javanese cook n a m e d Sainan took to the river again in a yalo, a
partly-covered, f l a t - b o t t o m e d boat w i t h f o u r rowers. T h e y covered
m u c h o f the distance by similar means. R i v e r s w e r e the true roads o f
the country, the tracks m e r e t e m p o r a r y links b e t w e e n streams. Swollen
b y rains, the waters spread wide, travellers o f t e n navigating a forest
rather than a river.
Maclay at first regarded this style o f travel as 'comfort', feeling that
he saw m o r e o f the c o u n t r y than was visible f r o m a jungle-walled track.
As river voyages e x t e n d e d and multiplied, he g r e w cramped and tired
in the n a r r o w belly o f a canoe or balanced all day o n the baggage. O n
n a r r o w streams, o v e r h a n g i n g vegetation must be cut away. W h e r e
banks w e r e u n d e r m i n e d , the boat's a w n i n g was r e m o v e d and the
occupants lay flat to creep beneath fallen trees. Maclay noticed h o w little
f r e e b o a r d kept his heavily-laden craft afloat, h o w easily an incautious
m o v e m e n t b r o u g h t w a t e r p o u r i n g in. A l o n g the w a t e r y highways, the
primal fear o f d r o w n i n g kept him c o m p a n y .
H e still p r e f e r r e d the rivers to the tracks. W h e n the party was divided
the porters, not Maclay, took the land r o u t e to their meeting-place.
B e t w e e n voyages they faced i n n u m e r a b l e crossings o f the same sinuous
rivulet, k n e e - d e e p swamps or flooded hollows w h e r e water reached the
waist. H e r e Maclay tried to negotiate a slippery log and t u m b l e d into
the stream. Elsewhere the m e n t o w e d h i m o n a hastily-built raft or
raised a makeshift bridge that m i g h t be crossed w i t h safety b u t n e v e r
with dignity. O n o v e r g r o w n paths, half the day m i g h t be lost in
c h o p p i n g t h r o u g h spiny entanglements. In m o r e civilized places Maclay
walked 'infernal structures' o f poles laid lengthwise, e n v y i n g the
barefooted porters their coolness and agility.
By night he shook with f e v e r or w r o t e by the light o f dammar-resin
torches in a variety o f places. H e spent poetic nights afloat in a m o o n l i t
156 The Moon Man

forest. H e f o u n d shelter at e n c a m p m e n t s o f the western J a k u n and in


the c o m m u n a l dwellings o f m o r e settled eastern tribes. In villages he
shared a Malay headman's house, t o o k o v e r a h u m b l e r dwelling, or
claimed the hospitality o f a lone Chinese. N o w h e r e did he feel so m u c h
at h o m e as in the j u n g l e bivouacs that he sketched and described w i t h
particular pleasure. Sometimes his followers m e r e l y built him a
platform o f branches above the reach o f sudden floods. S o m e t i m e s they
raised a hut o n piles. Maclay was o f t e n c o n t e n t with an a r r a n g e m e n t
tested in Papua-Koviai, a h a m m o c k slung b e t w e e n trees and r o o f e d
w i t h a r u b b e r sheet. T h e bivouac symbolized his existence, a nomad's
life in w h i c h h o m e began w h e r e v e r the day's j o u r n e y ended.
H e w a n d e r e d n o r t h w a r d well b e y o n d the ill-defined frontier, south
again and eastward to the sea, plotting his course f o r a progressive
maharaja w h o s e c o u n t r y had n e v e r been mapped. O n featureless
w o o d e d plains rising to an almost equally featureless w o o d e d plateau,
he f o u n d little to indicate but rivers and rare settlements. W i t h his eye
f o r enlivening detail, he was n e v e r bored. T h o u g h he hailed the first
mountains seen in his j o u r n e y , he did n o t strike out f o r the ranges. For
the t i m e being he sought neither the sublime n o r final answers to his
questions.
H e m e t n o great perils once despatch o f baggage by the land r o u t e
let his vessel ride higher in the stream. H e saw tiger tracks, traps f o r
tigers, people w h o feared the beast and people w h o bore its claw marks,
but n e v e r a tiger. H e f l o u n d e r e d in the water-filled tracks o f elephants,
but elephants n e v e r appeared. T h e o n e great snake to cross his path was
instantly gone, leaving only an impression o f speed and elegance. N o r
did he c o n t e n d with the savagery o f man. J o h o r had long been free o f
the chiefly power-struggles, brigandage and g a n g - w a r f a r e that m a d e
life cheap farther north. O n the frontier, w h e r e n e i g h b o u r i n g Pahang
sometimes pressed territorial claims, the travellers f o u n d barricades
across streams, c o m m u n i c a t i o n s at a standstill. Following the m u r d e r o f a
J o h o r official and the appcarancc o f a s t r o n g m a n f r o m o v e r the border,
m a n y people had fled and the r e m a i n d e r lived in fear. T h e expedition
passed t h r o u g h as t h o u g h the conflict w e r e one o f shadows. Maclay was
apparently right w h e n he told his followers that a w h i t e tuan need not
fear the squabbles o f Malays.
A f t e r w a r d s he was inclined to recall the sufferings m o r e vividly than
the compensations. H e told o f finding his boots full o f blood after a day
in c o m p a n y w i t h leeches, o f attacks by mosquitoes and the agony o f
centipede bites. H e spoke o f w e a r i n g w e t boots f o r m o r e than a m o n t h
and o f seventeen days w i t h o u t a dry stitch o f clothing. In retrospect he
seemed to have spent t o o m a n y o v e r l o n g days in the jungle, all o f t h e m
filled by weariness and pain. At the time, he did not feel the j o u r n e y an
unrelieved m a r t y r d o m . Hardships faded in d a w n splendours, the
Pages from an Old Book 157

b c c k o n i n g gleam o f rivers, shafts o f sunlight in treasure-caves o f


vegetation w h o s e riches he could not describe. In m o m e n t s o f solitude
he listened to the silence. 'But in the j u n g l e it is n e v e r silent', he
corrected himself; 'only there is n o t that insistent h u b b u b o f humanity,
so o f t e n distasteful to me'. In the m u t e d sounds o f wordless life, the plash
o f water o n leaves, the distant, reverberating fall o f trees, he heard the
voice o f the tropical lands and pledged himself a n e w to them. H e f o u n d
h i m s e l f ' p e r f e c t l y well in this w a y o f life', m o r e than ever resolved to
continue it.
His life in the j u n g l e included m u c h o f an ingredient essential to his
f r e e d o m , the servitude o f others. Arriving at a settlement, he w o u l d
present an open letter f r o m the maharaja, o r d e r i n g the h e a d m e n to d o
e v e r y t h i n g Maclay required. W h e r e respcct f o r authority was strong
but the art o f reading s o m e w h a t neglected, the sight o f the princely seal
was enough. If t o o m a n y excuses w e r e made, Maclay had the ruler's
letter read out and threatened recalcitrants with the maharaja's anger. H e
m i g h t still be irritated by people w h o talked m o r e than they acted, by
the eternal 'a long w a y ' or 'I don't k n o w ' o f m e n evading his questions.
But J o h o r was a law-abiding country, and the maharaja's will was law.
If Maclay intended to stay overnight, the best hut was cleared f o r him.
Should he wish to m o v e o n immediately, porters must be f o u n d within
an hour. Boats w e r e requisitioned; people w h o s e crops barely satisfied
their needs b r o u g h t him supplies; m e n w h o n e v e r w e n t farther than
their o w n ricefields left their h o m e s and occupations and shouldered
loads f o r destinations w h e r e they had n o business.
Maclay exercised the kind o f p o w e r he had k n o w n in the N e t h e r -
lands Indies, the authority granted a w h i t e tuan b y a g o v e r n m e n t with
an arm long e n o u g h to inspire fear. H e s o m e t i m e s coupled threats o f
his o w n anger with invocation o f the maharaja. H e n e v e r had to d e p e n d
o n personal prestige or resort to bribes. H e also c a m e to feel that
Europeans w e r e m o r e highly esteemed here than in the Indies. In
reaction against a h a l f - f o r m e d allegiance, he was prepared to attribute
this to some difference in character b e t w e e n the English and the Dutch.
O r perhaps it resulted f r o m the comparative rarity o f Europeans in the
Peninsula. As either a fascinating novelty or a supposed representative
o f Singapore, he could rely o n his right to c o m m a n d .
T h e same half-official, half-magical p o w e r that secured supplies and
transport b r o u g h t him material f o r research. At first, having politely
waited for J a k u n w h o failed to appear, he attracted suitable crowds by
promises o f tobacco and rice. H e soon discarded such tactics. J a k u n o n
the m o v e w e r e ordered to t u r n back. W h e n Maclay reached o n e o f
their e n c a m p m e n t s , the tribal leader had to assemble the people. In
Malay settlements, it was the headman's duty to collect all J a k u n in the
n e i g h b o u r h o o d . Maclay noticed that Malays o f t e n treated these people
158 The Moon Man

Maclay s journey in the Malay states and southern Siam, 1875


Pages from an Old Book 159

cruelly. H e did not ask h o w his orders w e r e fulfilled. Finding terrified


w o m e n and children huddled in a windowless hut, he did n o t question
the m a n n e r o f their imprisonment. T h e i r t e m p o r a r y fear and discom-
fort, perhaps their pain, w e r e insignificant beside his object. H e wished
only that they w o u l d n o t hinder him by covering their faces and
turning to the wall.
W i t h his right to obedience established, he was kind to all ranks and
races. Malay notables became quite friendly and communicative. A
Chinese m i g h t o f his o w n accord w e l c o m e the traveller and o f f e r the
fruits o f his garden. A m o n g the Jakun, Maclay f o u n d intelligence,
energy and courage, 'quite pleasant faces' and girls w h o w e r e not
bad-looking by any standards. H e shared his quinine, listened to J a k u n
grievances and tried to allay fears. His m e n , o f t e n hard-driven on the
march, w e r e treated well as long as they w o r k e d and o b e y e d w i t h o u t
question. Delighted by tropical nature, falling into the r h y t h m o f travel,
he stopped asking ' W h a t next, and h o w m u c h farther?' W i t h red wine,
m o r e biscuits and an inexhaustible stock o f quinine, he could c o n -
tentedly spend longer in 'these backwoods'.
Yet he was always in a hurry. T h o s e w h o served the restless white
tuan never wished to travel so far or so fast. Usually they did not w a n t
to travel at all. As the maharaja had predicted, the first crew o f Jakun
Maclay requisitioned ran o f f into the jungle, to be retrieved by the
h e a d m e n threatening death f r o m the w h i t e man's gun. T h e y w e r e
doubtless afraid of the w o r k , as Maclay decided, since the loads w e r e
heavy and the J a k u n very small. T h e y w e r e strangers to discipline, living
semi-nomadic lives and hardly acknowledging any authority. But once
in harness they seemed cheerfully resigned, clearing the track and
bearing loads for ten or eleven hours a day. T h e y did n o t need to be
told that the day wasn't over, or that the night w o u l d be spent at a
certain place because Maclay willed it so. H e was always glad to
exchange the lazy, argumentative Malays f o r quiet, obedient little Jakun.
H e did so with particular pleasure towards the end of the j o u r n e y .
R o w i n g back f r o m the east coast, along the Endau R i v e r , the m e n
shouted and laughed until he let t h e m k n o w the noise was intolerable.
W h e n after a day o f deadly silence the r o o f of the shelter caught fire,
he suspected the blaze was not entirely accidental. T h e Malays w e r e as
anxious to leave the w h i t e master as he was to be rid o f them. At their
suggestion, he stopped a clan o f travelling Jakun and forced t h e m to
return to their old camp.
For some reason, only three J a k u n could be obtained. Day after day,
they struggled t h r o u g h swamps, b o w e d u n d e r loads that had seemed
excessive to m u c h bigger men. R a i n poured d o w n ; barricades caused
labour and delay; deteriorating rice was sorted grain by grain to obtain a
scanty meal. Giving w a y to pity, weariness and something in the
160 The Moon Man

atmosphere, Maclay at last called an early halt and sent the Jakun to a
village to find m o r e m e n of their o w n stamp.
Days passed and no Jakun appeared. Feeling the approach o f fever,
Maclay t h o u g h t o f going to the village, but stayed and unpacked the
baggage. All his remaining followers set o f f to find provisions and the
Jakun. W i t h fever, swollen legs and painful sores, he sat alone in the
jungle.
H e was pleased with solitude, r e m i n d e d o f his peaceful isolation on
the Maclay Coast. Listening to the m u r m u r o f the forest, he t h o u g h t o f
past and future, considered ethnological results and sought less banal
adjectives to describe his surroundings. H e had never felt m o r e content
in his way o f life or m o r e enchanted by the tropical lands. But he had
n o quinine, dry blankets or clothing. T h e little f o o d remaining could
not be cooked, for rain doused the fire and there w e r e n o matches. A f t e r
t w o days poetry and philosophy fled b e f o r e brute hunger. W h e n against
the odds his Jakun reappeared, he was frankly glad to see them, still m o r e
pleased with the rice they b r o u g h t and the fire they k i n d l e d W h e n his
short-handed party thereafter proposed an early halt, Maclay himself
explained that the m e n w e r e slightly built and the loads very heavy.
Apart f r o m these concessions, which hardly mattered so late in the
j o u r n e y , he never had to relax the will o f the white tuan. A m o n g the
learned and h u m a n e in cities, he scorned the w h i t e man's pretensions
and c o n d e m n e d European absorption of the world. In the jungle, at
once the slave and master o f a m y t h , he sustained almost flawlessly the
b u r d e n o f European superiority and p o w e r . Malays and Jakun procrasti-
nated or malingered, argued or played tricks. T h e y bent to the w h i t e
man's authority in the end, never forcing him to use a stronger w e a p o n
than his voice. It was not until he re-entered civilized areas that Maclay
m a d e the ultimate wager in the g a m e o f rank and race. T h e l o w e r J o h o r
R i v e r was plied by large, peculiar vessels. Marching past plantations o f
pepper and gambir, new-felled forest and busy sawmills, he heard a
language as foreign to the c o u n t r y as his o w n . T h e enterprise o f this
district was o w n e d and w o r k e d exclusively by Chinese.
Maclay admired Chinese industry. T h e best European workers, he
guessed, could not equal 'these yellow men'. H e distinguished their
position f r o m that o f Malays, n e v e r treating the Chinese settler as a m a n
w h o s e labour could be requisitioned. S o m e of the richest and most
influential people in Singapore w e r e Chinese. T h e humblest Chinese
i m m i g r a n t was encouraged by the colonial administration. Behind t h e m
stretched the vast, disdainful e m p i r e w h e r e Maclay had been flattered
to have audience with a lofty mandarin. Yet in southern J o h o r he f o u n d
himself increasingly annoyed by their attitude towards a w h i t e man.
Mostly it was an indefinite s o m e t h i n g in the way people spoke o r
looked at him. T h e n came a clearer instance. W i t h o u t so m u c h as a reply
Pagesfrom an Old Book 161

f r o m the deck, the j u n k he hailed kept o n its course f o r Singapore,


leaving him standing o n the river bank with the letter he wished to send.
A dozen Malays had seen him treated as disrespectfully as their o w n
headman.
T h e lone Chinese sawyer w o r k i n g in the forest k n e w n o t h i n g o f this.
W h e n Maclay called h i m t o s h o w the way, there was 110 response. At a
second s u m m o n s the w o r k m a n neither raised his head n o r altered the
r h y t h m o f his saw. Malays w e r e watching this contest o f race and station.
Incivility that m i g h t earn a European w o r k m a n a stroke o f the
gentleman's cane assumed the proportions o f dangerous revolt. Raising
his gun, Maclay told the Chinese to c o m e at once or be s h o t
It was well for the w h i t e m a n that the the y e l l o w man decided to
obey. J o h o r s ruler had certainly n e v e r authorized his friend to shoot the
people w h o provided the state's only revenue. Anxious t o establish the
rule o f law, he could n o t p e r m i t Maclay to shoot anybody. Anger also
blinded Maclay to f u r t h e r complications. M a n y Chinese w o r k e r s in
J o h o r held dangerously influential papers. O n e m o m e n t m o r e , and
Maclay m i g h t have shot a British citizen.

Maclay was not the first white m a n t o cross J o h o r . That had been d o n e
accidentally a year before, by an Englishman pursuing elephants. But he
had seen and charted m u c h territory never visited by Europeans. H e
had also looked into the question o f boundaries and gathered alarming
political information.
Applying their o w n names for rivers, the Pahang people claimed
territories e x t e n d i n g as m u c h as t w e n t y kilometres south o f the
b o u n d a r y recognized by J o h o r . Fear o f Pahang disrupted life well
b e y o n d the area in dispute. Assured on the Pahang side that the state had
110 warlike intentions, Maclay had nevertheless f o u n d villages full o f
a r m e d m e n , an a t m o s p h e r e o f preparedness and secrecy. O n the o t h e r
hand, he heard evidence that Pahang's ruler was n o t necessarily
responsible f o r this. People along the frontier complained o f an
ambitious local chief w h o used the b o r d e r question to his o w n
advantage, terrorizing J o h o r and Pahang alike. Curious to i n t e r v i e w a
person w h o reportedly c o m b i n e d great boldness and determination
with almost m o n s t r o u s ugliness, Maclay had visited the warlord's village.
T h e tyrant did n o t choose to m e e t the w h i t e tuan, but the attitude o f
his followers matched the stories.
W h e t h e r or n o t he was asked to investigate, Maclay was b o u n d to
report, for the people had begged him to tell the maharaja o f their
sufferings. H e could n o m o r e w i t h h o l d his observations o n the
weakness o f Johor's defences and the l o w morale o f the defenders.
T a k e n f o r an emissary o f Singapore, he had also used this m i s u n d e r -
standing to impress Pahang minds w i t h the J o h o r version o f political
162 The Moon Man

geography. His findings w e r e neither n e w n o r conclusive, b u t his


enquiries had been conducted w i t h the coolness and skill o f an
experienced political agent.
H e w o u l d soon be g o i n g back to Pahang f o r f u r t h e r scientific
w o r k . A m o n g the J a k u n he had seen e n o u g h dark skins, broad noses
and frizzy hair to satisfy him o f a 'Papuan presence. But these traits
appeared sporadically in an e x t r e m e l y m i x e d population, w h e r e the
majority resembled undersized Malays. H e o f t e n w a v e r e d in his
interpretation. S o m e t i m e s exceptionally dark skin and curly hair w e r e
read as signs o f a Papuan 'infusion'. His latest opinions m o v e d far in
the opposite direction. C o m p a r i n g s o m e Jakun with A h m a d , he f o u n d
t h e m m a t c h i n g feature f o r feature. W h e n he told people that
f o r m e r l y all Orang-utan had hair like Ahmad's, Malays and J a k u n
politely agreed. Instead of finding a Papuan strain in basically Malay
tribes, he had c o m e to regard the exceptional individuals as ' r e t r o -
grade instances', 'reversions to the main aboriginal type'. All the Jakun
had once been Papuans.
H e felt he had b e g u n to read 'an interesting old book, o f w h o s e
half-effaced pages s o m e w e r e missing'. T h e b o o k was not such a simple
story, and he was trying to read it upside-down. T h e Jakun w e r e
primitive Malays w h o s e ancestors had lived in the Peninsula long b e f o r e
the arrival of their m o d e r n i z e d relatives. W h e n Maclay f o u n d t h e m ,
they w e r e adopting the Malay w a y o f life, exchanging their language
for the m o d e r n version, and m a r r y i n g incalculably distant cousins. T h e
absorption he deplored was m o r e a kind o f family reunion. B u t the
Jakun intermarried with o t h e r groups w h o shared the wild interior. In
n o r t h - w e s t J o h o r they showed the influence o f the Senoi, a people o f
the great m o u n t a i n ranges, w h o m i x e d with negrito tribes k n o w n as
'Semang'. W h e r e Maclay f o u n d t h e m most interesting, they had
mingled m o r e directly w i t h negritos.
Engrossed in the search f o r Papuans, Maclay never realized the
significance of the Jakun majority in w h o s e features he f o u n d ' n o t h i n g
particular'. T h e very existence o f the Senoi was lost in the o v e r -
abundance o f names by w h i c h Malays described primitive tribes.
Preliminary results nevertheless s h o w e d the direction his quest should
take. H e had heard o f people called 'Semang', all w i t h hair like Ahmad's.
O t h e r reported characteristics—like feet three hand-spans l o n g —
belonged to an interesting b o d y o f fiction. In essence the reports w e r e
sober e n o u g h to send an investigator farther north. His attention was
d r a w n especially to the jungles of the T e k a m R i v e r in Pahang, w h e r e
an i n f o r m a n t had seen those m i g h t y footprints.
Soon after Maclay's return, Sir A n d r e w Clarke, leaving on an u r g e n t
mission to Bangkok, suggested that a cruise m i g h t benefit the scientist's
health. Maclay seized the o p p o r t u n i t y to see the Siamese capital, and
perhaps b u y s o m e material f o r comparative neurology, an elephant. T h e
Pages from an Old Book 163

trip also promised well f o r his next expedition. T h e Malay states n o r t h


of Pahang w e r e vassals o f Siam. Should he wish to travel t h r o u g h t h e m
and cross the Siamese frontier, his way w o u l d be s m o o t h e d by official
letters.
H e saw King C h u l a l o n g k o r n ( R a m a V) only f r o m a distance. H e felt
n o interest in talking w i t h a m o n a r c h w h o aped Europeans', n o
sympathy for the y o u n g king w h o had abolished slavery and relieved
his subjects o f the obligation to fall on their faces in his divine presence.
Maclay tolerated A b u Bakar's taste f o r tweeds, Punch and English
horse-racing. H e never forgave the 'European barracks-like style' in
which the Bangkok palacc was being rebuilt, the 'unsuitable' u n i f o r m s
o f Chulalongkorn's officers and un-Siamese decorations w o r n by
'lackeys and princelings'. H e became possibly the only m a n in history to
refuse the o f f e r o f an audience with the king o f Siam.
W h i l e he w a n d e r e d r o u n d the city in search o f w h a t was native,
incidentally collecting lurid gossip a b o u t the king, m o m e n t o u s affairs
w e r e discussed. O t h e r s besides Maclay w e r e displeased by C h u l a -
longkorn's efforts to ape Europeans. A f t e r an angry reaction that
threatened to split the state, the conservative and redundant 'second
king' had taken r e f u g e in the British consulate. Sir A n d r e w was trying
to mediate the situation while m a k i n g sure that C h u l a l o n g k o r n retained
s u p r e m e p o w e r . S o m e o n e nevertheless f o u n d time to tell the king that
the Russian naturalist wanted an elephant. C h u l a l o n g k o r n sent a w r i t t e n
promise that at t h e next royal elephant h u n t the youngest captive w o u l d
be reserved f o r Maclay. T h e king also heard that Maclay t h o u g h t o f
visiting territories under Siamese d o m i n i o n . T h e result was an open
letter c o m m a n d i n g all vassals of R a m a V to assist the traveller and
p r o v i d e m e n and supplies.
Maclay never received the elephant, but such thoughtfulncss f r o m an
absolute m o n a r c h gave him f u r t h e r reason to feel he had 'learnt m u c h '
in Bangkok. H e m i g h t have learned m o r e by m e e t i n g the king.
C h u l a l o n g k o r n took great interest in the little black people o f the far
south. Eventually he w o u l d write an edifying and popular play with a
negrito h e r o as N o b l e Savage. Had he k n o w n h o w m u c h they shared,
Maclay m i g h t even have felt sympathy f o r Chulalongkorn. T h e
counsellors had decided that the king must b o w to the conservatives.
R e f o r m s w e r e to be rescinded, modernization postponed. Q u i e t was
restored, French intervention staved off, and a warship remained at
Bangkok to protect British interests.
Maclay returned to Singapore m o r e unwell than ever, blaming the
heat and long walks in Bangkok for the renewal o f his fever and
spreading sores on his legs. In this state he w e n t t o stay w i t h the
vice-consul for the Russian Empire, the H o n o u r a b l e H o Ah Kay,
m e m b e r o f the Legislative Council, occasional m e m b e r o f the E x e c u -
tive Council, shortly to b e c o m e a C.M.G.
164 The Moon Man

At first sight Maclay seemed to have landed in another earthly


Paradise. ' M r W h a m p o a ' , as his host was called, after his birthplace near
Canton, was intermittently Singapore's wealthiest citizen and always its
most popular, esteemed f o r tact, fair dealing and liberal o u t l o o k as well
as profuse hospitality. T h e creations o f W h a m p o a ' s kitchen sent visitors
into raptures. His garden was f a m o u s t h r o u g h o u t the East. W i t h all this
at his c o m m a n d , Maclay did not live in the big white house w h e r e M r
W h a m p o a entertained all Singapore. W h i l e resting his w o u n d s and
dictating f u r t h e r notes on Maclay Coast ethnology, he occupied a
separate pavilion in the grounds.
T h e situation m i g h t have been u n c o m f o r t a b l e f o r a man w h o
threatened to shoot a disobedient Chinese. M r W h a m p o a became quite
heated over a f f r o n t to his c o u n t r y m e n . But W h a m p o a ' s 'national taste'
rather than national pride upset his guest. T h e Chinese pavilion bridged
one of the lily-ponds that s o m e people t h o u g h t the garden's most
c h a r m i n g features. Maclay t h o u g h t it unhygienic. By day he s o m e t i m e s
f o r g o t d a m p timbers and stagnant water. At night he fell helpless victim
to the pool's inhabitants. W h i n i n g mosquitoes filled his w o r k r o o m ; a
sonorous chorus o f frogs struck up below. W h e n n u m e r o u s watchdogs
joined the 'unbearable concert' he was beaten. 'All connected t h o u g h t '
fled f r o m his mind. H e could n o m o r e live with the animal rabble o f
the Villa W h a m p o a than a m o n g the h u m a n herd. As soon as his sore leg
permitted, he left for J o h o r Baharu.
And there it was n o better. T h e maharaja had a large and noisy staff
of servants. H e was also reconstructing the palace in a style w o r t h i e r o f
Johor's ancient glory and his o w n wealth. Dozens o f w o r k m e n w e r e
replacing brick floors by marble, adding r o o m s and o p e n i n g doorways.
And to the normal din o f the building trade they added a doleful
accompaniment. All the w o r k e r s w e r e convicts, whose chains clanked
at e v e r y step.
'I am positively suffering...', Maclay w r o t e in agitation. T o r m a n y
m o n t h s I have not had one really peaceful day. H e r e in these luxurious
houses I enviously recall the tranquillity of life in m y h u t on the Maclay
Coast'. S o m e scientific w o r k , for instance his e x p e r i m e n t s on cats and
dogs with the poisons used to tip Jakun b l o w - g u n darts, was n o t m u c h
affected by noise. H e was as little able t o read and think as amid the f r o g s
o f the Villa W h a m p o a . In the 'absolute necessity' o f finding 'a quite
sanctuary' w i t h n o interruptions, no need to ask favours, he r e m e m -
bered the old idea o f zoological stations.
A n t o n Dohrn's efforts had resulted in a 'great establishment', being
opened while Maclay suffered at J o h o r Baharu. Maclay conceived
n o t h i n g like the temple o f science at Naples. His ' T a m p a t Senang' (Place
of Repose) was to be 'an isolated abode f o r one student o f nature', in the
first place for himself W i t h his o w n r e q u i r e m e n t s as standard, he chose
Pages from an Old Book 165

a high, j u n g l e - c o v e r e d p r o m o n t o r y in J o h o r Strait, c o m m a n d i n g a fine


v i e w and very c o m p l e t e isolation'. H e planned a house and m a d e rules
for those w h o in his absence or after his death m i g h t control or occupy
the place. European scientists w e r e i n f o r m e d . Similar proposals w e n t to
Batavia. But Maclay was not t h r o u g h with asking favours. T h e site
belonged to the maharaja, w h o after a p p r o v i n g began to retreat. A b u
Bakar's a g r e e m e n t with the British (designed t o p r e v e n t o t h e r p o w e r s
f r o m obtaining a f o o t h o l d at Singapore's back door), pledged him not
to sell land to foreigners. A f t e r w e e k s o f discussion, and some c o m m e n t
in the press, he felt unable to part with the cape outright. It could be
occupied only on lease, the maharaja retaining certain rights o v e r the
land. Dissatisfied w i t h this, Maclay d r o p p e d his scheme f o r the present.
T h e r e was n o escape but the jungle.
H e spent a w r e t c h e d f o u r m o n t h s b e t w e e n expeditions, persecuted
by m a n and beast. N o t least o f his distress was that loneliness amid
c r o w d s that he sought to cure by c o m p l e t e solitude. H e attended
meetings o f the Straits branch o f the R o y a l Asiatic Society. H e
maintained relations with G o v e r n m e n t House and with people like the
archdeacon, w h o appreciated his j o k e in the Malay language likening
w h i t e - m e n to ' w h i t e ants'. H e had n o closcr friends than those universal
providers, the maharaja and M r W h a m p o a .
His correspondence was almost as impersonal as his life in the
European enclave at the tip o f the Malay Peninsula. T h e r e w e r e reports
to the Russian Geographical Society and letters that acquaintances m i g h t
see in Russian newspapers. H e w r o t e to O t t o Boethlingk o n J a k u n
dialects, to D o h r n and H u x l e y concerning the ' T a m p a t Senang', t o the
Singapore press complaining about reports o f his activities. T o Baroness
v o n R h a d e n he sent a long, m u c h - i m p r o v e d account o f his adventures
in Papua-Koviai, intended for publication. H e had n o one to w h o m to
write m o r e intimately. Meshchersky's w h e r e a b o u t s w e r e u n k n o w n .
Olga did not respond to pleas, playfulness or reproaches. Maclay was
probably the only f a m o u s explorer w h o repeatedly asked a geographical
society for his m o t h e r ' s address.
In a w o r l d that seemed to detach itself f r o m him, his resolve to attach
himself to n o one was never tested. M u c h o f that chagrin was already
dispelled. Early in his j o u r n e y t h r o u g h J o h o r , m e m o r i e s o f Buitenzorg
had filled h i m with V e r y bitter feelings'. W h e n later he t h o u g h t o f his
lost beloved, the bitterness had drained away. So had most o f the reality.
She became a pair o f initials e n t w i n e d with his, a vision as insubstantial
as the imagined music that s u r r o u n d e d it. H e had c o m e close t o f o r m i n g
a m o r e corporeal attachment.
A m o n g the c r o w d in a Jakun long-house, he had noticed an attractive
y o u n g person w h o s e sex was hard to d e t e r m i n e at first sight. W h e n the
expression his gaze e v o k e d had convinced him this was a girl, he t o o k
166 The Moon Man

the usual measurements and d r e w her portrait. Mkal was about thirteen
years old, w i t h o u t a physical sign o f the early sexual maturity Europeans
expected to find a m o n g girls o f the tropical lands. Maclay depicted
hardly perceptible breasts, straight shoulders, a strong y o u n g neck
beneath a cap of short curls. As he saw t h e m , her features w e r e almost
European.
Mkal enjoyed this admiring attention, as frankly d r a w n to the strange
visitor as he to her. T h a t e v e n i n g she sat near by and watched him
writing. As he prepared to leave, depressed by rain and a lowering sky,
exasperated by procrastinators and malingerers, Mkal was there, never
taking her eyes o f f him. She was not like the affected, calculating y o u n g
ladies o f Europe, he told himself H e had only to m a k e the parents a
present and bid her, ' C o m e with me'. She w o u l d f o l l o w as confidently
as she carried a heavy b o x along the slippery causeway, smiling gently
at his unsteady progress. Maclay said nothing, boarded the canoe and set
o f f d o w n the b r i m m i n g river, leaving her to w o n d e r .
A f t e r w a r d s he t h o u g h t it strange that he w o u l d so gladly have taken
this girl with him. T h e strangest thing was that he f o u n d it strange.
T h o u g h he f o r g o t the date o f his birth, he was only t w e n t y - e i g h t years
old. For years he had lived like a m o n k b u t w i t h o u t a m o n k ' s defences,
surrounded by the frank sexuality of others, insisting f r o m pride and
policy that Maclay did not need w o m e n . H e had spent m o n t h s in the
same house as the girl he loved, could not marry and could not (without
outrage to family and society) invite to share his bed. T h e n in the j u n g l e
he had m e t or imagined all the world's ideal lover—fresh, beautiful and
guileless, submissive and tender as a girl should be, strong, brave and
comradely as a perfect boy, intelligent e n o u g h for a companion, h u m b l e
e n o u g h to be a willing slave. She was a little sister, a y o u n g e r brother, a
spirit of the wilds. But he had not taken her, and that was the end o f it.

Maclay left J o h o r Baharu in J u n e 1875, again attended by Sainan the


cook, w h o was n o t h i n g but a servant, and A h m a d the travelling standard
o f Papuan ethnology, a far f r o m perfect boy. His followers included
t w e n t y m e n donated by the maharaja, and a ' m i n o r official' w h o w o u l d
requisition w h a t e v e r was needed and transmit Maclay's orders. Plans
a n n o u n c e d to the Russian Geographical Society promised n o t h i n g
b e y o n d a visit to the wild tribes o f the T e k a m . W h e n he spoke of going
farther, people had laughed and predicted he w o u l d turn back f r o m
Pahang.
A g o v e r n m e n t vessel took the party up the J o h o r R i v e r , w h e n c e they
followed n o r t h w a r d the r o u t e by w h i c h Maclay had r e t u r n e d in
January. T h e 'war' b e t w e e n J o h o r and Pahang did not p r e v e n t his
ascending the Endau R i v e r f o r about 130 kilometres. C o m b i n e d with
to

The palacc of the sultan of Kelantan, Kota Baharu, August 1875

VJ

3ui r
fcj—a •• — t r. J

O n the Pattani River, Siam, 1875


G-*
fy L J

The residence of the raja-muda, where Maclay stayed at Songkhla, Siam, 1875

The palace o f the sultan of Kedah, 1875


Pages from an Old Book 167

impassable rapids, it did compel him to turn back w i t h o u t seeing the


mountain-dwellers. H a v i n g f o l l o w e d most of the disputed river's
course, and climbed a m o u n t a i n previously u n k n o w n to Europeans, he
returned to the coast to take ship for the capital o f Pahang.
Parting f r o m the m i n o r official and e v e r y t h i n g J o h o r provided, he
entered an area of risk. In Pahang the rulers o f t e n behaved like pirates.
But Maclay cared less about this, or the wholesale lopping of heads he
k n e w to be fashionable, than about his reception as bearer o f letters
f r o m the maharaja. Despite the ancestry they shared, Abu Bakar and the
bendahara of Pahang had long been enemies. T h e bendahara A h m a d had
w o n Pahang f r o m the recognized ruler by f o r c e o f arms. A t t e m p t i n g
to p r e v e n t it, Abu Bakar had d o n e e v e r y t h i n g short of leading his a r m y
to war. A h m a d w o u l d never forget the arms and mercenaries that had
delayed his installation, or the price o f f e r e d for his head by Abu Bakar.
N o m o r e could he forget that J o h o r had acquired m u c h Pahang
territory, of w h i c h the c o m p r o m i s e arranged by the British had
returned only a small fraction. T h e bendahara believed that Abu Bakar
and others coveted the rest o f Pahang. Most of all he feared the British,
w h o admitted his capacity to rule but deplored the way he did it. T h e
u n p r e c e n d e n t e d arrival o f a European bearing A b u Bakar's letter, fresh
f r o m inspection of the frontier, and proposing to travel t h r o u g h
Pahang, was b o u n d to cause deep suspicion.
Maclay m e t a contrast to the ruler south of w h a t e v e r river m i g h t
truthfully be called the 'Endau'. Abu Bakar was bon vivant, with figure
to match. A h m a d had a lean and h u n g r y look, attributed to illness that
m i g h t carry him o f f at an early age. But for all the s y m p t o m s he
described to visitors, he was, and looked, b o t h t o u g h and dangerous.
Maclay m a y or m a y not have carried letters f r o m the British
g o v e r n o r — h i s statements on the point w e r e contradictory. W h a t e v e r
he presented w o u l d m e e t w i t h the same reception. T h e British officials
w h o came to k n o w the bendahara best described him, in Byron's words,
as
. . . the mildest m a n n e r e d man
T h a t ever scuttled ship or cut a throat.

Even if Maclay felt compelled to m e n t i o n the border dispute, he w o u l d


m e e t with n o t h i n g worse than the frustration suffered by Sir A n d r e w
Clarke, w h o w h e n seeking p u n i s h m e n t o f a m u r d e r e r had received a
talking myna-bird.
After s o m e surprise and embarrassment, the bendahara became
friendly enough. Maclay was invited to stay in the palace, assured o f all
assistance. Rivalry b e t w e e n neighbours actually w o r k e d to his advan-
tage, A h m a d declaring that if J o h o r gave t w e n t y - f i v e m e n for the
expedition Pahang could give forty. T h e bendahara did have reserva-
168 The Moon Man

tions. H e had heard o f beings w h o left footprints three hand-spans long,


and o f a beautiful aboriginal princess w h o enjoyed the privilege o f
immortality. T h e expedition sent to bring these marvels to the ruler had
returned w i t h only a f e w miserable little blacks, having lost f o u r m e n
to tigers. M o r e o v e r e v e r y b o d y k n e w the wild people w e r e cannibals
whose poisoned arrows killed m e n instantly, n o m o r e within a r u l e r s
control than the tigers and elephants. T h e bendahara begged Maclay to
write to Singapore and Europe, absolving Pahang of blame for w h a t
might happen a m o n g the savages. By complying, Maclay placed himself
entirely in Ahmad's p o w e r .
Pahang and its capital, the ancient t o w n o f Pekan, had been coveted
and f o u g h t over by every p o w e r that rose in the Peninsula. W h e n
Maclay saw it, Pekan consisted o f t w o or three streets o f houses that
looked incapable of resisting a stiff breeze. T h e gold and tin mines w e r e
in decline, as w e r e agriculture, trade and population. T h e state was n o n e
the less interesting f o r a visitor. In J o h o r , Maclay could admire the
maharaja's combination of 'almost European' outlook w i t h desire to
preserve the best o f traditional ways. Pahang appealed to him by its
absolute rejection o f Europe. H e believed he was observing 'the p u r e
Malay character and customs'.
S o m e customs originated in Ahmad's character rather than t h e
traditions o f his people. His predecessors had n o t practised quite such
arbitrary rule and imaginative cruelty. Maclay had little time to
distinguish tradition f r o m innovation. In Pekan he m e t the experience
that recurred t h r o u g h o u t his j o u r n e y , convincing him that h o w e v e r
w a r m l y he was w e l c o m e d he w o u l d be still m o r e cordially encouraged
to leave. His presence disrupted the largely nocturnal life o f the palace,
w h e r e the removal o f o p p o n e n t s was o f t e n urgent business. M o r e o v e r
A h m a d was preparing to receive a n e w g o v e r n o r o f the Straits
Settlements. H e w o u l d have to fend o f f requests for freer trade, stricter
respect for agreements and greater regard for life and property, as well
as questions about the frontier. H e m a d e a sacrifice in sending his chief
military adviser w i t h Maclay, but w h e n the g o v e r n o r arrived the
bendahara could report that Datu Maclay had left f o r the interior u n d e r
the best protection.
Well protected, and well watched, Maclay set o f f along the Pahang
River. K n o w i n g that the wild people feared slave-hunters, he had
hoped to approach t h e m 'alone', with only his personal servants and
perhaps a f e w porters. Instead he had a retinue o f forty, plus the
c o m m a n d e r - i n - c h i e f Several boats carried the party and a pile o f
baggage that included a fair-sized table, an object u n k n o w n in the
interior and a cause o f a m a z e m e n t all along the way. This grand progress
did not matter for most o f the river j o u r n e y . S o m e distance t o right or
left, he might have f o u n d tribes like the Jakun, with the same sprinkling
Pages from an Old Book 169

o f negrito traits. T h e riverside plains w e r e inhabited only by Malays,


whose ricefields and hamlets m a d e this the most civilized part o f the
state. A b o u t three h u n d r e d kilometres o f the Pahang s w a n d e r i n g course
w e r e traversed b e f o r e he entered m o r e varied c o u n t r y along the
T e m b e l i n g , Maclay was f r e e o f the military magnate and f r o m most o f
the f o r t y porters and boatmen. H e could still count on a fresh relay
into the T e k a m jungles.
A d v a n c i n g into the wild, densely-forested region o f the u p p e r
T e m b e l i n g , Maclay was free o f the military m a g n a t e and f r o m most o f
the f o r t y porters and boatmen. H e could still c o u n t on a fresh relay
o f servants after almost every day's j o u r n e y , and the c o m p a n y o f s o m e
official as far as the next centre o f authority. H e never had to pay f o r
supplies or transport. W h a t e v e r the state o f his finances he w o u l d not
have paid the porters, w h o s e 'Malay laziness and dishonesty towards
white m e n ' m a d e t h e m t o o dear at any price. Instead, funds w e r e e r o d e d
by w h a t he called 'baksheesh', the assistance given by officials being
proportional to the bribe.
F r o m the u p p e r T r e m b e l i n g he deviated w e s t w a r d t h r o u g h the
j u n g l e to sight G u n o n g Tahan, reputedly the highest peak in the
Peninsula. H e neither climbed it n o r explored its flanks. N o native
w o u l d approach this f o u n t o f legend. It was said to be the h o m e o f spirits
inimical to man. Its s u m m i t b o r e a house built entirely o f gold, guarded
by unseen p o w e r s and strange beasts. O n e o f the latter came t o Maclay's
notice as a great ape called the bru, taller than a m a n and e x t r e m e l y fierce.
T h e task o f observing this animal was left to f u t u r e zoologists. Maclay's
time was absorbed by people he f o u n d in the vicinity, negritos o f tribes
ranging north-central Pahang and the southern interior o f Kelantan and
T r e n g g a n u . In t h e m , he believed, he had discovered a ' p u r e - b l o o d
Papuan tribe'.
H e again m e t negritos in the ranges w h e r e the vague Pahang
boundaries j o i n e d those o f the n o r t h e r n states, again hailed t h e m as
' p u r e - b l o o d ' Papuans. B e y o n d the l o w watershed, long search in the
j u n g l e that was their e l e m e n t revealed o t h e r groups o f nomads. A f t e r
his first enthusiasm, Maclay admitted that these hidden people s h o w e d
m u c h admixture. T h e Malays divided the 'Sakai', as negritos w e r e locally
called, into the categories o f ' w i l d ' and 'tame'. Maclay's direct c o m m u n i -
cation was only with the latter, people w h o f r e q u e n t e d villages, acted
as intermediaries in trade, gave their daughters to Malays and sometimes
accepted a job. T h e 'wild' negritos w e r e either ignorant o f the Malay
language or so stupefied by their first sight o f a w h i t e m a n that they lost
the use o f brain and tongue. Helped by the 'tame', he persuaded a f e w
uneasy j u n g l e people to u n d e r g o inspection, m e a s u r e m e n t and portrai-
ture. N o t e s o n their language and way o f life w e r e gathered f r o m the
'tame', careful informants, modest e n o u g h to consult the 'wild' f o r facts
170 The Moon Man

that they themselves f o r g o t or had never k n o w n . By these means he


collected, along w i t h m u c h hearsay and sensation, the first substantial
information about negrito tribes o f the eastern Malay Peninsula.
H e felt that he advanced V e r y slowly* in this part o f his expedition,
conducted mainly o n foot, but the impression perhaps arose f r o m the
general speed o f his progress. R o w e d upstream on the m e a n d e r i n g
rivers o f Pahang, he was almost o u t o f that state within a fortnight.
Shooting towards the sea on the Lebir and Kelantan rivers, he passed
t h r o u g h most o f Kelantan in less than a week.
For this he had to thank, besides geography, the wish o f local
authorities to be rid of him. H e tried to avoid causing t o o m u c h
consternation. As he approached some rustic palace, heralds w e n t ahead
t o a n n o u n c e Datu Russ Maclay. T h e r e w e r e standard answers to
possible questions, explaining that Datu Maclay came f r o m the d o m a i n
o f such-and-such a magnate and was on his w a y to the next. If a chieftain
asked w h a t Datu Maclay was d o i n g in these countries, the reply was that
he wished to learn ' h o w people live . . . h o w the princes live and the
p o o r people, people in villages and those in the forests, to b e c o m e
acquainted n o t only w i t h the people b u t with the animals, trees and
plants in the forest'. Arriving at court, Maclay presented his letters f r o m
the Siamese king and the British g o v e r n o r . H e nevertheless e n c o u n t e r e d
'no little anxiety and amazement'. H e also sensed 'great suspiciousness
and pretended stupidity', apparently aroused by the very letters m e a n t
to secure help and confidence.
T h e notables w a n t e d n o t h i n g to d o w i t h any outsider, m u c h less a
protegt o f Siam. In peaceful times Siamese suzerainty was u n d e m a n d i n g ,
but Kelantan, w i t h the m o s t peaceful history o f any Peninsula state, had
felt a heavier hand. S o m e of the m e n w i t h w h o m Maclay was dealing
surely r e m e m b e r e d the last a t t e m p t to oust the ruling sultan, w h o had
retained his t h r o n e by calling on Siamese p o w e r . Lately, alarmed by
French conquests in the east and British expansion in the south,
Bangkok asserted itself m o r e strongly. T h e t i m e m i g h t c o m e w h e n the
overlord d e m a n d e d m o r e than tribute o f gold and silver flowers, and
feudal chieftains m i g h t regret the i n f o r m a t i o n gathered by a w a n d e r i n g
friend o f R a m a V.
T h e British w e r e k n o w n mainly as the faithless ones w h o had
repeatedly t h r o w n rebellious Kedah back under Siamese domination. In
almost e v e r y t h i n g c o n c e r n i n g the vassal states, Singapore spoke only to
Bangkok. Yet the British had imposed themselves on three troubled
west-coast states within a f e w months. T h e i r officials w e r e interfering
w i t h the rulers' prerogatives, subverting such institutions as debt slavery,
forcing o p e n the way f o r foreign enterprises. Should local chieftains in
the n o r t h e r n states ever succeed in f r e e i n g themselves f r o m Siam, they
would almost inevitably fall into British hands. Maclay was probably
Pages from an Old Book 171

right in feeling that by n o t being an Englishman he enjoyed an


advantage. H e perhaps reaped s o m e benefit f r o m being Russian. O f
Russia, the Malay notables k n e w only that it was very large and far
away. Like most Muslims in o u t - o f - t h e - w a y places, they believed that
t w e n t y years earlier the Turkish sultan had t h o r o u g h l y c o n q u e r e d the
Russian E m p i r e and c o n v e r t e d its people to Islam.
Despite these advantages, Maclay g r e w w e a r y o f lies, suspicion and
feigned ignorance b e f o r e he reached Kota Baharu, capital o f Kelantan.
H e r e he stayed with old Sultan M u h a m e d II, regarded by Europeans as
a harsh but reasonably just ruler, k n o w n t o his subjects as ' R e d - M o u t h ' .
Maclay investigated the t o w n , f a m o u s f o r silk sarongs and elegant
m e t a l - w o r k , bull-fights, r a m - f i g h t s and a s h a d o w play inherited f r o m
the first Indianized k i n g d o m o f south-east Asia. H e sketched the
pleasant, rambling palace, and the m o n u m e n t a l triple gateway leading
into its great sand-floored courtyard. H e also learned o f peace-loving,
friendly and s w e e t - s o u n d i n g speeches' that had recently aroused
suspicion. W h i l e Maclay travelled t h r o u g h the interior, the British
g o v e r n o r , with naval escort and inquisitive officials, had enjoyed a
brilliant reception at Pekan, called at Kota Baharu, and g o n e o n to the
coastal centres o f southern Siam, leaving a backwash o f conjecture and
fear.
A f t e r t w o m o n t h s o f w a n d e r i n g and diplomacy, Maclay felt he had
been travelling for three. H e believed he had a 'definite and satisfactory
answer' to his scientific p r o b l e m . F r o m this busy p o r t he m i g h t have
r e t u r n e d c o m f o r t a b l y to Singapore. Instead he resolved to press on,
perhaps as far as Bangkok. Apart f r o m occasional giddiness, his health
was 'comparatively good'. T h e sultan, n o t f o r t h c o m i n g with his
elephants, agreed to provide m e r e m e n . G i v e n the usual enthusiastic
farewell, Maclay t o o k the road into Siam.
H e k n e w b y experience that negritos w e r e not f o u n d outside the
upper river valleys and the foothills o f i m p o r t a n t ranges. N o w h e r e else
was t h e r e space and security f o r n o m a d s w h o lived by hunting and
gathering food. T o present himself to the authorities, h o w e v e r , he
travelled s o m e w a y north, t h r o u g h populous agricultural districts,
b e f o r e r e t u r n i n g to the ranges b e t w e e n Siam and the Malay sultanates.
T h e j o u r n e y was fascinating f r o m political and social points o f view,
taking him t h r o u g h a civilized land o f which Europeans had seen only
the coast. This had been the Malay state o f Pattani, once so rich and
p o w e r f u l that its pride became insufferable to the overlords. T h r o u g h
centuries o f war and insurrection, Pattani had at last been t h o r o u g h l y
suppressed, carved into seven little provinces u n d e r rajas subordinate to
a Siamese g o v e r n o r . Greatly reduced by the flight o f defeated rebels,
waves o f executions and deportations, the Malays lived c o m f o r t a b l y ,
practised Islam and f o l l o w e d the old ways. T h e y felt themselves as
172 The Moon Man

d o o m e d as the aborigines in the forest. Even t w e n t y years before, it had


been estimated that the majority of Pattani's inhabitants w e r e Siamese.
Maclay still concentrated on that other d o o m e d r e m n a n t , and the
Malays w e r e mainly aid or hindrance in his progress. Presenting the
orders o f the Siamese m o n a r c h , he did not sense what divided feelings
they must arouse. H e saw only evasiveness and duplicity, a desire to d o
n o t h i n g at war with an urge to send him packing. By 'baksheesh' or
superior willpower, he invariably got his way. T h e r e w e r e always
porters to take him further. S o m e t i m e s there w e r e elephants.
He doubled back southward and advanced t w o - t h i r d s o f the w a y
across the Peninsula, skirting the frontier ranges. T o m e e t the third raja
on his list, he had to visit a village near the head of the Pattani R i v e r
and the borders w i t h Kedah and Perak. This f o r t u n a t e necessity,
bringing him again to the haunts o f negritos, also led h i m to a potentially
dangerous area. W i t h or w i t h o u t Bangkok's approval, the raja o f R a m a n
had taken advantage of a collapse o f authority in Perak to extend his
territories at his neighbours' expense. But Perak had lately received a
British resident. Complaints had g o n e to Singapore. T h e raja o f R a m a n ,
watching his newly-acquired interests f r o m a ' t e m p o r a r y residence', was
the o n e vassal o f Siam with immediate reason to fear the British, of all
rulers the least likely to w e l c o m e a European.
Regardless o f politics, Maclay measured ncgrito heads, observed skin
colour and hair texture, o r n a m e n t and weapons, and w i t h m u c h pains
discovered a f e w w o r d s of the dialect. Encounters w e r e necessarily brief
W i t h i n a fortnight o f entering Siam he had left this centre o f negrito
population. Travelling n o r t h along the Pattani R i v e r , he heard of other
tribes in the hills to right and left, but the j o u r n e y n o w had an object
quite unrelated to his earlier aims. H e meant to compare the Siamese
way o f life and 'political situation' with those of the Malay states.
T h e British g o v e r n o r , d o i n g s o m e t h i n g similar, had preceded him at
the old port o f Pattani. T h e same was true at Songkhla, seat o f the
Siamese g o v e r n o r , w h i c h Maclay r e a d i e d by w a y o f coastal provinces
inhabited almost entirely by Siamese. H e r e he again saw negritos, t w o
captive boys in an official's house. H e learned that wild tribes lived to
the north. After three weeks on elephant back in the beginning of the
rainy season he n o longer felt inclined to g o farther. O b t a i n i n g fresh
elephants, he turned southward.
T h e broad, well-kept road f r o m Songkhla to Kedah had never before
been traversed by a w h i t e m a n on an elephant. Its traffic o f m a r k e t -
b o u n d peasants, buffaloes and consignments o f Pattani tin had o f t e n
e n o u g h been interrupted by frightening sights. T i m e and again it had
taken Siamese armies south to crush revolt in Kedah. O n c e , military
traffic had m o v e d in the opposite direction, as victorious rebels burst
out to carry w a r to the gates o f Songkhla. But the Siamese had
Pages from an Old Book 173

recovered; the British had imposed a naval blockade, cutting o f f the


Malay a r m y f r o m sources o f m e n and arms. T h e retribution had been
frighful. A f t e r this, the road had decayed on the Kedah side. Visitors
v i e w i n g it f r o m the south could n o t believe in this supposed h i g h w a y
f r o m Songkhla. As it approachcd the capital o f Kedah, h o w e v e r , it
became again a broad s m o o t h road.
N o u n i n f o r m e d stranger entering Alor Setar in 1875 w o u l d guess
that Kedah had been laid waste and its capital totally destroyed.
Europeans admired the little t o w n ' s regularity and neatness. T h e
countryside breathed peace and wealth. An English official, visiting
Kedah a year b e f o r e Maclay, had f o u n d it m o r e advanced, orderly,
h u m a n e and prosperous than any o t h e r Peninsula state. T h e sultan was
esteemed for justice, integrity and intellect. T o all appearances he
faithfully observed the a g r e e m e n t that had allowed his grandfather to
return to Kedah, living in submission to the Siamese c r o w n . Maclay
could not k n o w w h e t h e r the c o m m a n d o f R a m a V was received by the
obedient vassal or by the m a n w h o s e family, t h r o u g h t w e n t y years o f
exile, had plotted and f o u g h t against the Siamese.
W h e n he settled in the palace to await a ship f o r Singapore, Maclay
had w a n d e r e d f o r 112 days. N o m o r e than three w e e k s had been spent
w i t h the people he originally wished to study. T h e tribes e n c o u n t e r e d
in southern Siam also ranged the Kedah mountains, sixty kilometres
f r o m the capital; quick ethnological results could have been obtained by
taking ship f o r Alor Setar in the first place. Instead he had c o m p l e t e d a
j o u r n e y which f r o m central Pahang ran almost entirely t h r o u g h lands
never previously visited by Europeans. H e had seen negritos in their
eastern stronghold and near their n o r t h e r n limit, establishing that these
widely separated groups belonged to the same race. H e had gained
extensive geographical knowledge. W i t h u n p r e c e d e n t e d o p p o r t u n i -
ties t o observe society and politics in southern Siam, he had also seen
Malay life in lands n e v e r penetrated by European influence. T h e
Peninsula j o u r n e y , he felt, had taught him m o r e a b o u t Malays than all
his m o n t h s in the East Indies.
This did not m e a n that he liked t h e m better. H e had c o m e f r o m Java
convinced that Malays w e r e by nature indolent, cowardly and procrasti-
nating. For all he had learned o f the political situation, he still
c o n d e m n e d the suspicion and mendacity o f rulers and officials. Despite
w h a t he saw o f their position as m e r e property, subject to forced labour,
debt slavery and dispossession at a ruler's w h i m , he did not cxcusc the
laziness, timidity and dishonesty he f o u n d a m o n g the l o w e r classes.
K n o w i n g he was not English, all classes had still o b e y e d reluctantly,
w i t h o u t trust. Maclay, w h o adopted ' D o n ' t believe in others' as a
principle, needed trust as he needed obedicncc.
M
10: Return to Paradise

T - I . H E LARGE VILLA near Buitenzorg,


once the seat o f o n e o f the native princes t h r o u g h w h o m the D u t c h
ruled Java, was still called T h e R e g e n t ' s House' long after its glory had
passed. W h e n Maclay occupied it in N o v e m b e r 1875, n a m i n g it
T a m p a t Susah' (Abode of Unease), the old house had 'holes in the r o o f
and holes in the floor'. H e valued it for size and isolation and perhaps
f o r a rent adjusted to its decrepit state. For almost t w o years n o t a kopeck
had c o m e f r o m Russia. His travels in the Malay Peninsula, and n o w his
stay in Java, w e r e financed by b o r r o w i n g f r o m Ankersmit.
Increasing debt was the price o f pride, his ideal o f scientific
independence, and his determination to stay in the tropics. H e had
earlier received a half-promise o f financial support f r o m the Russian
Geographical Society. But Semyonov-Tianshansky's news was a c c o m -
panied by advice that he should suspend ethnological research and
return to publish his results. T h e doyen o f Russian geographers also
regretted that Maclay's planned research 'on the marine fauna f r o m the
tropics to the Arctic c u r r e n t o f Japan and the Sea of O k h o t s k ' had
p r o v e d impracticable. 'And w e regret it the m o r e ' , he pursued, 'because
precisely this part o f y o u r p r o g r a m m e introduced y o u r travels as long
ago outlined to the Society ...'. T h e traveller w h o felt at h o m e only in
the tropics was urged to return to Europe. T h e m a n w h o prided himself
on keeping e v e r y promise was told that in the Society's eyes he had
b r o k e n his w o r d . N o assurances o f sympathy and admiration could
m a k e this palatable. Attributing advice and reproaches to the m a c h i n a -
tions o f 'patriotically-inspired m e n ' , Maclay had refused the p r o f f e r e d
funds.
H e sat u n d e r a tattered r o o f in the rainiest district o f Java, preparing
articles f o r publication. T h e r e was an expanded report o n Papua-Koviai,
174
Return to Paradise 175

with supplements describing Lake Kamaka-Walla and the m i x e d


population o f the eastern Moluccas. H e completed a substantial second
instalment o f 'Ethnological R e m a r k s o n the Papuans o f the Maclay
Coast o f N e w Guinea', polished the account o f his J o h o r travels, and
added a fairly long article on the second expedition in the Peninsula.
These, w i t h a short paper o n 'rudiments o f art' a m o n g the Papuans and
some notes o n Dyak sexual customs, kept Maclay and his amanuensis
busy t h r o u g h the last t w o m o n t h s o f 1875, o n e o f the most p r o d u c t i v e
periods in his scientific career.
At the same time he w o r k e d out schemes f o r zoological stations,
pressing the idea at meetings o f the R o y a l Society f o r Natural Sciences
in Batavia. B e f o r e leaving Singapore, he had obtained f r o m the British
authorities a lease o f the small island o f S a r i m b u n in J o h o r Strait. In Java
he applied to purchase a b o u t t w o and a half hectares in the Minahassa
Peninsula o f Celebes, the district w h o s e beauty had first impressed him
three years before. Inexpensive in themselves, these acquisitions f o r m e d
a considerable b u r d e n f o r a m a n with n o t h i n g but debts. H e n e v e r t h e -
less secured t w o sanctuaries w h e r e he m i g h t eventually find rest.
For the present he had n o intention o f living a n y w h e r e permanently,
t h o u g h his friends must o f t e n have w o n d e r e d w h e r e he m e a n t to go.
Olga had been told that he w o u l d spend the (northern) w i n t e r o f
1 8 7 5 - 7 6 in Australia and r e t u r n to E u r o p e in 1877. Meshchersky and
D o h r n w e r e asked to find a suitable house in Italy. Olga was to arm
herself with patience, g o o d h a n d w r i t i n g and three foreign languages, in
o r d e r to act as her brother's secretary. Maclay spoke o f attending a
congress o f naturalists in M o s c o w . H e spoke o f personally f o u n d i n g a
zoological station on the Sea o f Okhotsk. Early in the year he had
t h o u g h t it essential to visit E u r o p e and put into shape his 'large
accumulation o f materials'. A f t e r S e m y o n o v - T i a n s h a n s k y suggested
exactly that, Maclay refused to 'waste t i m e o n deviations to Europe'. H e
must continue to travel while strength sufficed. ' M e i n Cadaver, he
explained, 'will perhaps soon refuse to carry out so submissively the
superior orders o f m y quite d e m a n d i n g brain'.
H e w o u l d soon be 'on the road', spurred by stronger feelings than the
resentments that g n a w e d him in the A b o d e o f Unease. As he had told
D'Albertis a year before, he was r e t u r n i n g to the Maclay Coast.
Late in 1874 the Australian campaign f o r British acquisition o f eastern
N e w Guinea had been renewed. Captain M o r e s b y , w h o s e creeping
annexation had been u n f a v o u r a b l y v i e w e d by the imperial g o v e r n -
m e n t , had w a r n e d that the Russians w e r e 'in Astrolabe G u l f . In April
1875 the R o y a l Colonial Institute had approached the g o v e r n m e n t w i t h
the case for annexation, and certain official enquiries w e r e being made.
Maclay had written immediately to St Petersburg, requesting Russian
action, perhaps a proposal for an international protectorate, at least
176 The Moon Man

official support f o r the protest he intended to make. S e m y o n o v -


Tianshansky was to lay this matter b e f o r e the tsar.
W h i l e Maclay traversed the Peninsula, public meetings in Australia
had d e m a n d e d eastern N e w Guinea. O n e colonial legislature passed a
resolution in that sense. A n o t h e r sent to London a proposal f o r annexing
almost all the islands o f the south-west Pacific. Schemes f o r colonization
w e r e put u p and put d o w n , and L o n d o n remained u n m o v e d . O n the
other hand, scientific expeditions visited south-east N e w Guinea.
Missionaries w e r e active there. T o Maclay, Australian propaganda was
indistinguishable f r o m 'English designs'.
Again he w r o t e in agitation, 4not as a Russian b u t as Tamo-boro-boro
(highest headman) of the Papuans of the Maclay Coast', to appeal f o r the
tsar's protection o f 4 my c o u n t r y and my people'. For the m o m e n t he
asked only a o n e - w o r d cable indicating w h a t might be expected. It must
c o m e quickly. 'Because of the pressing requests o f the people o f that
coast', he explained, 'I promised to return w h e n e v e r they should be in
trouble. N o w , k n o w i n g t h a t . . . great danger threatens t h e m . . . I wish and
am obliged to keep m y w o r d ; although given to Papuans, although given
perhaps to cannibals, it was given by me\
W h e n his people asked h o w long he w o u l d be away, Maclay's limited
vocabulary and uncertainty about f u t u r e m o v e m e n t s had forced him to
answer non-committally. N o b o d y had m e n t i o n e d 'trouble', t h o u g h he
guessed they w a n t e d his protection against traditional enemies w h o
might have attacked any n u m b e r o f times since 1872. But n o such
uncertainty touched his belief that 'English colonization will end w i t h
the destruction o f the Papuans'. S o m e t i m e s he felt he had promised to
return w h e n e v e r it w o u l d benefit his people. By the end o f 1875 he
k n e w w h a t should be done. 'I attained great influence o v e r the natives',
he told Semyonov-Tianshansky, 'and I h o p e to have still m o r e w h e n I
return'. T h r o u g h this influence he m e a n t to defend 'their true interest:
their independence', or at least to p r e v e n t European colonization f r o m
having 'too disastrous an effect'. T h e first step w o u l d be a native
federation, with Maclay at its head. H o w a leader with an e x t r e m e l y
limited vocabulary w o u l d explain this to a multilingual people w h o had
never conceived such an idea was a question f o r the future. T h e
i m m i n e n c e of danger did n o t allow him to wait f o r general
e n l i g h t e n m e n t and agreement. By the ship that took him there, he
w o u l d send a declaration 'that the Papuan Union of the Maclay Coast
wishes to remain independent and will, to the limits of possibility, protest
against European invasion'.
W a i t i n g to return to his o w n country, Maclay still t h o u g h t o f other
oppressed and endangered peoples. H e never campaigned on behalf o f
the negritos o f the Malay Peninsula. He saw t h e m as victims of
displacement and exploitation, r o b b e d o f their identity and traditional
Return to Paradise 177

life by intermarriage w i t h o t h e r races and the spread o f Malay and


Chinese settlement, but that process seemed inevitable. His only duty
was to record w h a t he k n e w and e x h o r t o t h e r scientists to f o l l o w his
path b e f o r e these tribes became extinct. H e did not v i e w with such
resignation the plight o f Papua-Koviai, w h e r e the Dutch still did
nothing. As well as publishing an article o n social and political
conditions, he urged the colonial authorities to action o n his earlier
report. His advice remained unchanged: abolition o f slave trading and
establishment o f law and order by means o f a Dutch military settlement.
T h a t this represented drastic interference with the traditional ways o f
Papua-Koviai, C e r a m and T i d o r e was o f n o consequence to Maclay. H e
was n o m o r e deterred by belief that the 'tactless policy o f the D u t c h '
had caused the continuing war in Atjeh. In Papua-Koviai he had looked
u p o n the face o f evil. H e wanted it erased.
H e took a different attitude towards the third endangered g r o u p to
w i n his sympathy. In the Malay Peninsula he had emphasized his
struggles with distrust and deceit. T h r e e m o n t h s later he recalled that
s o m e o f his hosts, assured he was n o t English, had f o u n d it unnecessary
'to w i t h h o l d their confidence or to dissimulate'. T h e i r frankness had
given h i m 'a true understanding o f the political situation in the countries
o f the Malay rajas', k n o w l e d g e that m i g h t have ' n o little importance' in
British designs u p o n the Malay states. Forbidden by principle to abet
'the invasion o f the c o u n t r y o f a coloured race by whites, interference
in the affairs o f the natives, finally either the enslavement or the
extermination o f the latter', he had been compelled to m o v e hastily to
Java, w h e r e he could n o t inadvertently betray his friends to the English.
W h a t he had seen o f British rule and influence in the Peninsula could
not justify predictions o f enslavement and extermination. In Singapore
they talked about r e f o r m s similar to those he advocated for Papua-
Koviai, w i t h o u t the military settlements. His compassion seemed
directed less to the Malay l o w e r classes, w h o w e r e already slaves, than
to the rajas, threatened w i t h loss o f their absolute p o w e r . It was not to
be expected, h o w e v e r , that Maclay should distinguish b e t w e e n c o n -
scientious British officials in the Peninsula and the Australian colonists
w h o d e m a n d e d N e w Guinea. These latter, having exterminated the
native Tasmanians, almost wiped o u t the Australian Aborigines and
begun u p o n the Fijians, w e r e about to invade the Maclay Coast. T o
Maclay all m e n o f their race w e r e d a m n e d , 'irreconcilable f u t u r e
enemies' o f coloured peoples e v e r y w h e r e .
H e perhaps overestimated his importance to the British, w h o as yet
had n o designs o n the states he had traversed. T h e silence he maintained
lest the rajas accuse him o f 'espionage' was tantalizing for the Russian
Geographical Society. A f e w days after he r e t u r n e d to Java (not
p r e m a t u r e l y but six m o n t h s later than he had planned), the world's
178 The Moon Man

attention had been d r a w n to the Malay Peninsula. T h e British resident


in Perak, a righteous, inflexible man, d e t e r m i n e d to f r e e the slaves and
impose European ideas o f law and order, had been m u r d e r e d by
chieftains w h o saw their prerogatives slipping away. As troops w e r e
called f r o m H o n g K o n g and India, Maclay r e w r o t e his half-finished
letter to St Petersburg, substituting f o r remarks on Dutch tactlessness a
prediction that 'tactless policies on the part of the English could bring
u p o n t h e m s o m e t h i n g like the A t j e h n o - D u t c h war'. For once, the
Russian geographers m i g h t have preferred a confidential r e p o r t o n the
Malay Peninsula to a zoogeographical treatise on the Sea o f Okhotsk,
but there was n o time to request it.
T h e c o m m o n people o f Perak w e r e n o t enthusiastic in d e f e n d i n g
their rulers' privileges. T h e 'war' in the Peninsula was over b e f o r e
Maclay left Java. So was the i m m e d i a t e danger to the Maclay C o a s t T h e
British g o v e r n m e n t had decided against a m o v e useful only to colonists
w h o declined to pay f o r it. Maclay k n e w n o t h i n g o f this as he waited in
a w r e t c h e d hotel at T j i r e b o n f o r his ship to N e w Guinea. H e k n e w n o
m o r e about the effect of his appeal to St Petersburg, t h o u g h he
understood a letter was on the way. ' W h a t e v e r the contents o f that
letter', he pointed out, 'the nature o f m y undertaking . . . could not have
been changed. I w o u l d not be able to act otherwise, being b o u n d by m y
word?.
H e realized that travels undertaken largely f r o m philanthropic
motives m i g h t be dubiously r e g a r d e d H e tried to ensure that the
Geographical Society should n o t w i t h d r a w its support because 'com-
pletely disinterested concern f o r the natives' welfare' forced him to m i x
political action w i t h scientific research. Sacrificing time, health and
means, he could not help w o r r y i n g about the future. Meshchersky had
been asked to find s o m e o n e ready to lend 3000 or 4000 roubles to a
m a n in p o o r health and circumstances on the o t h e r side of the globe. In
Batavia Maclay left a debt o f about 6 0 0 0 roubles, accumulating interest
at 9 per cent and secured on his ethnological collection. His principal
creditor was friendly f o r the t i m e being. Maclay had undertaken to use
influence w i t h Baron Osten-Sacken (deputy director o f the Asiatic
d e p a r t m e n t o f the foreign ministry) to have A n k e r s m i t appointed
Russian vice-consul.
W i t h these matters unresolved, he had ordered supplies, trade goods
and a prefabricated house f r o m Singapore, as well as a vessel to take h i m
back to his people. A n o t h e r ship was to call at Astrolabe Bay in
N o v e m b e r 1876, bringing letters and supplies and taking anything he
wished to send. W i t h that vessel he m i g h t leave N e w Guinea, in time
to return to Europe in 1877.
Late in February 1876 the schooner Sea Bird, carrying trade goods,
supplies and six European traders to the western Carolines, the Palau
a.

Voyage of the Sea Bird, Java to N e w Guinea, 1876 vO


180 The Moon Man

Islands and the Admiralty group, collected Maclay at Tjirebon. His


a g r e e m e n t entitled him to alter the route, e x t e n d the ship's time at any
place, and direct the course o f the voyage once the cargo had been
discharged. First acquaintance with the captain o f the Sea Bird, David
Dean O ' K e e f e , probably disabused him o f such notions. Captain
O ' K e e f e called n o man master, least of all aboard an O ' K e e f e vessel.
This b r a w n y red-bearded a d v e n t u r e r was said to have fled the Irish
f a m i n e at the age o f t w e n t y , w o r k i n g on American railroads while
educating himself in seamanship and the classics o f literature. H e was
believed to have run the blockade f o r the southern states d u r i n g the
Civil War. As captain o f American steamers he was accused o f killing
t w o m u t i n o u s seamen with his o w n hands. T h e story w e n t that he had
fled to the Pacific to escape arrest, survived shipwreck, g o n e into
partnership with a Chinese merchant, and sailed in a j u n k to f o u n d a
trading empire. W h a t e v e r the truth, n o b o d y could d o u b t O ' K e e f e ' s
determination to live by n o authority but his o w n . O n e o f those
ambitious misfits f o r w h o m the great ocean became a promised land,
he p r o w l e d the seas f o r the wealth and d o m i n i o n that civilization held
b e y o n d his reach. W h e n Maclay fell into his hands, the captain was on
the course that eventually let him style h i m s e l f ' K i n g o f Yap, Sovereign
o f Sonsorol and M o n a r c h o f Mapia'.
T o g e t h e r and infinitely apart, the f u t u r e e m p e r o r of the isles and the
f u t u r e Tamo-boro-boro o f the Maclay Coast sailed f o r Celebes. T h e n the
Sea Bird struck north-cast on a route almost entirely n e w to Maclay,
b e t w e n Buru and the Sula islands, t h r o u g h archipelagos south and east o f
Halmahcra and along the north coast o f Waigeo. From Mapia (not yet
part o f O ' K e e f e ' s dominions), they crossed an ocean o f f e w landfalls.
T h r o u g h w e e k s at sea, with n o t h i n g to watch b u t waves, clouds and
the life o f the ship, Maclay was still concerncd about his o w n position.
For publication in Russia he sent Meshchersky a long explanation o f his
intentions, a plea that friends should not forsake him, imagine his
decision lightly taken or his scientific w o r k neglected for philanthropic
aims. T o enlist 'the public opinion o f all honourable and just people',
extracts f r o m the same letter w e r e prepared f o r an Italian geographical
magazine. Similar i n f o r m a t i o n and instructions w e n t to Osten-Sacken,
w h o surely agreed that 'only weakness o f character or cowardice in the
face o f obstacles and dangers' could prevent Maclay's fulfilling his
pledge to the Papuans.
Conscious that the only aims of his life w e r e 'the profit and progress of
science and the welfare of humanity, he trustfully appealed to those w h o
shared his beliefs. His approach to the family f r o m w h o m he had heard
n o t h i n g f o r almost three years was less confident. W h e n he w r o t e o f
returning to Russia, he d o u b t e d w h e t h e r his arrival w o u l d cause
pleasure. Ekaterina S c m y o n o v n a , he suspected, had f o r g o t t e n the
Return to Paradise 181

existcncc o f a son w h o still loved and respected her. H e was forced to


r e m i n d her b y m o r e than a recent photograph. If Meshchersky obtained
a loan to keep Ankersmit quiet, Maclay w o u l d still be liable, as soon as
he reached his coast, f o r the expenses o f the j o u r n e y and his establish-
m e n t there, including a house and a boat. Should this bill remain long
unpaid, his Singapore creditors m i g h t decline to send a n o t h e r vessel to
N e w Guinea. H e had already w a r n e d his m o t h e r that he w o u l d be
asking help. F r o m the ocean n o r t h o f N e w Guinea he begged her to
send, w i t h o u t delay, 1000 silver roubles to the creditors in Singapore.
A m o n g the islands o f Micronesia, he f o r g o t w r e t c h e d kopecks and
the opinions o f Europe. As the Sea Bird w a n d e r e d n o r t h via Eauripik
and Ulithi, f o l l o w e d a great arc west and south-west to Yap and the
Palau Islands and r e t u r n e d on a zig-zag course, the scicntific harvest
hardly left time to watch f o r opportunities o f sending letters. H e used
the briefest call at any island f o r routine research—measurements,
classification o f skin colour, observations on hair texture, facial features,
dress and o r n a m e n t . W h e r e the schooner remained longer at anchor, he
lived ashore and sought to enter into native life.
T h e experience could be disconcerting. Gathered r o u n d Yap he
f o u n d an empire, acquired by naval expeditions, paying tribute to the
d o m i n a n t island and ruled by g o v e r n o r s sent f r o m the capital. O n Yap
itself he observed a strictly hierarchical society. A p a r a m o u n t chief and a
high priest occupied the top o f the pyramid. At the b o t t o m stood a slave
caste, f o r b i d d e n to o w n land, living in segregated villages, their dress
and mobility restricted, their lives, possessions and offspring entirely in
the rulers' hands. H e noticed that the aristocrats and f r e e m e n w e r e
comparatively tall, handsome, light-skinned people, while the slaves
w e r e smaller, darker, less attractive. Marriage across the caste barrier was
prohibited.
A n o t h e r poison had e n t e r e d the system o f Yap. According to
textbooks, the inhabitants o f this almost unspoiled island w e r e innocent
o f the use o f m o n e y . Maclay f o u n d f o u r types o f currency, f r o m huge,
quarried pieces o f aragonite shaped like millstones, usually c o m m u n a l l y
o w n e d , to polished pebbles and rare shells, obtained f r o m distant islands
and used only by chiefs. A n d f o r these objects o f purely conventional
value the natives ran risks, p e r f o r m e d heavy labour, e v e n paid w h i t e
m e n to take t h e m to the source o f supply and bring back cargoes o f
what was indubitably m o n e y .
W h e n he e x a m i n e d and sketched ancient squares paved with heavy
stones, or stepped-pyramid t o m b s w h i c h by the n u m b e r o f their levels
disclosed a dead man's rank, Maclay f o u n d n o t h i n g to regret in legends
o f h o w teachings f r o m a distant c o u n t r y had set Yap 'on the path o f
n o n - E u r o p e a n civilization'. H e was there to observe the native society,
not to j u d g e it. T o him the one true oppression was European
182 The Moon Man

oppression, the only real c o r r u p t i o n was European. T h e legend o f h o w


dark, robust people f r o m the south had treacherously acquired the Palau
Islands, slaughtering and driving o u t the previous inhabitants, was
'interesting, as s h o w i n g the m a n n e r in which n o t a f e w i s l a n d s . . . w e r e
probably populated'. T h e w h i t e man's exploitation o f the natives p r o v e d
'the melancholy old truth: " M a n is a w o l f to m a n " '. Maclay intended to
take this matter up in the future.
In the Palaus he learned e n o u g h to c o n f i r m his anger, but m u c h t o
confuse him. Constantly as he advocated long, patient investigation, he
sometimes believed first impressions could be most reliable. Here, first
impressions w e r e bad. H e landed on K o r o r to find the painted warriors
relaxing after an all-night dance to h o n o u r the taking o f e n e m y heads.
W h e n he wished to see the trophies, he f o u n d they could not be s h o w n ,
having b e c o m e t o o offensive d u r i n g their tour o f n u m e r o u s villages.
H e never understood the war that caused or satisfied the desire to take
heads. T o him it seemed a series o f wars, conducted on the most trifling
pretexts. In fact it had lasted f o r untold generations and required n o
pretext at all, being fundamental in the Palauan way o f life. Most
Europeans in the archipelago adapted to a state o f affairs they f o u n d
immutable. Maclay remained troubled. W h i l e he collected legends and
vocabulary, studied social structure, customs, religion, architecture and
pictographs, he asked indiscreet questions about military affairs. H e
f o u n d 'all ruses, deceptions and ambushes considered permissible'.
W o n d e r i n g w h e t h e r it was n o t degrading f o r strong parties of warriors
to hide all night and take the heads o f u n a r m e d m e n or w o m e n and
children, he was assured it did n o t matter what head was taken—'A
w o m a n can bear m a n y children, and a child g r o w s up'. T h e warriors
would be rewarded, the head paraded t h r o u g h festive villages, w h e t h e r
it had belonged t o an e n e m y chief or an e n e m y infant. For such reasons,
Maclay suspected, the islands w e r e b e c o m i n g depopulated, as a steady
stream o f Palauans was despatched to an a f t e r w o r l d as hierarchical as this,
w h e r e aristocracy and c o m m o n e r s occupicd separate heavens.
As well as f o r m i n g unfavourable impressions of their wars and
politics, Maclay f o u n d himself disliking the Palauans as individuals. T h e y
struck him as 'deceitful, secretive and e x t r e m e l y mercenary', petty in
e n m i t y and crucl in revenge. It took ingenuity to concludc that w i t h o u t
the influence o f a f e w whites the Palauans w o u l d display the 'carefree
spirit', openness and trustfulness natural to unspoiled humanity. But
natives w h o spoke a little English told him h o w w h i t e traders sold
inferior goods, broke promises and abused native trust. W h e n a w h i t e
m a n was killed or fighting became t o o dangerous, traders terrorized the
islanders by threatening to call a warship. T h e Palauans nevertheless
continued to trade with resident Europeans and vessels that called fairly
regularly. Cloth and glass beads w e r e eagerly sought. Steel tools had
T h e ibedul, paramount chief of Koror, Palau A girl of Yap, 1876
Islands, 1876
T h e pai (club-house) in Koror, Palau Islands, where Maclay lived
Mira, the Palauan girl, Maclay's servant 1876—78: portrait drawn in N e w Guinea
T h e house at Bugarlom, near B o n g u , Maclay Coast, 1877

Tayo-mana ( M o u n t Konstantin), Maclay Coast, N e w Guinea


Return to Paradise 183

replaced stone. Almost e v e r y m a n carried a gun, be it a superannuated


muzzle-loader or the latest repeating rifle. N o b o d y blamed Europeans
f o r the war, but they supplied what a highly-militarized society valued
most. In any case, Maclay felt the nature o f the trade hardly mattered.
'All these useful foreign things and superfluous baubles', he concluded,
'producc discontent in the natives, c o n t e m p t for their o w n products.
T h e y direct all their t h o u g h t s towards o n e object: to obtain these useful
and attractive things.' Played u p o n b y e n v y and 'unpleasant sensations',
dissatisfied with old circumstances and e m b i t t e r e d by feeling d e p e n d e n t
on whites for w h a t was n e w , the native character was w a r p e d b e y o n d
recognition.
A f t e r solving this p r o b l e m , Maclay remained troubled. H e could not
quite reconcile such 'base' traditional m e t h o d s o f warfare with the
natural honesty and openness o f primitive man. C o n v i n c e d that w h i t e
m e n killed by Palauans deserved the penalty, he recoiled f r o m physical
details o f these executions. H e f o u n d his host, the ibedul or p a r a m o u n t
chief o f Koror, both kind and courteous; but he had difficulty in
believing that only orders f r o m a British naval c o m m a n d e r had caused
this m a n to shoot his b r o t h e r and grasp p o w e r . In principle he opposed
visits by warships, w h o s e officers and crcws behaved arrogantly towards
the frightened natives. Yet he could n o t think it g o o d policy f o r
European g o v e r n m e n t s to leave m u r d e r and r o b b e r y uninvestigated.
A strange nostalgia mingled with these moral questions. Just as the
natives had been c o n t e n t e d and open-hearted, w h i t e m e n had once
been as gods o n Palau. In those days islanders had b o w e d b e f o r e the
w h i t e m a n in the streets, laid aside their axes o n entering his dwelling,
and r e m o v e d the c o m b s f r o m their hair in token o f respect. N o w all
was r o u g h and t u m b l e , equalized by the chicanery o f trade, the
distribution o f firearms, the increasing n u m b e r o f European visitors and
the experience o f islanders in Manila and H o n g Kong. S o m e t h i n g in
Maclay yearned for the time b e f o r e disillusionment, w h e n Europeans
w e r e taken for 'beings o f a higher order'. T h e m o n e y - g r u b b i n g skippers
and traders had n o t k n o w n h o w to be gods. H e w o u l d never forgive
their failure.
Despite b e w i l d e r m e n t and bitterness, he t h o u g h t o f the Palaus as a
placc w h e r e he could live. M o v i n g to the large island o f Babeldaob, he
chose t w o parcels o f land in the district o f Ngetelngal, bearing the
musical names o f K o m i s and Oraberamis. A d o c u m e n t was d r a w n up
in French, the p a r a m o u n t chief and three lesser dignitaries affixed their
marks b e f o r e European witnesses, and on the spot the land changed
hands. Maclay did n o t realize that he himself had changcd hands. As
guest o f the ibedul in Koror, he had been regarded as the 'property' o f
the federation gathered r o u n d that p a r a m o u n t chief B u y i n g land in
Ngetelngal, he became a subject o f the reklai, leader o f the alliance that
184 The Moon Man

c o n f r o n t e d K o r o r in perpetual war. T o the ibedul he became a traitor.


T o the reklai he was a politically valuable acquisition. Like o t h e r
Europeans, he w o u l d eventually be asked to give m o r e than the
undisclosed price he paid for the land.
K n o w l e d g e o f pitfalls m i g h t not have changed his actions, f o r in the
Palau Islands a spirit o f recklessness possessed him. It led him, w h e n he
watched youths training for war, to set himself up as target in less b ~>ring
exercises. T h e boys used light b a m b o o practice spears, and he did not
think they could hit a mark at such a distance. But the spear flying close
to his face m i g h t have cost him an eye. T h e shaft that struck his hand
left pain and swelling as a ' m e m e n t o ' . S o m e t h i n g was p r o v e d to himself
and the delighted onlookers, perhaps that Maclay remained indifferent
to life, perhaps that some w h i t e m e n w e r e still as gods, a b o v e concern
w i t h pain or danger. If it did n o t h i n g to restore native respect for
Europeans, the test, at once self-glory and self-punishment, to s o m e
extent relieved the tension in Maclay.
In the Palau g r o u p he lived in the large club-houses, the pai, a m o n g
the warriors and their c o m m u n a l l y - o w n e d concubines. H e took great
scientific interest in the lives o f these girls, the most attractive and
accomplished o f their sex, purchased for high prices f r o m their fathers
and available to the w h o l e club. But w h e n he asked, in the most
impersonal m a n n e r , w h e t h e r the chief m i g h t lend such a girl t o a
European guest, he was told that even the p a r a m o u n t chief w o u l d n o t
dare thus o f f e n d the politically-powerful military societies. Several
times a day he passed t h r o u g h the club-house d o o r w a y , beneath an
almost-lifesize female figure in an attitude o f changeless receptivity.
Each night he tried to sleep in the w o m b o f the pai, amid activities for
w h i c h the exterior carving f o r m e d an appropriate 'signboard'. O t h e r
possibilities w e r e o f f e r e d , but in w o m e n as in all things Maclay could
tolerate only the best. O n Palau the 'best', u n d e r the same roof, w e r e
inaccessible as the stars.
Maclay t h o u g h t o f a ' t e m p o r a r y wife', w h o w o u l d live w i t h h i m in
N e w Guinea and g o h o m e w h e n n o longer required. Besides being
comely, submissive and discardable, she must be fresh, unspoiled,
e m b o d y i n g the innocence that he sought vainly t h r o u g h the inhabited
world.
In the pai at K o r o r he had seen little girls, b e l o w nubile age but
b o u g h t and paid for, obviously 'waiting their turn'. In Ngetclngal he
f o u n d Mira, about t w e l v e years old, whose uncle the reklai was willing
to bind the w h i t e man's loyalty b y such a gift. W i t h e n o r m o u s eyes and
full, pouting lips, a sultry little face f r a m e d by long hair, she did not look
a strong, boyish girl like Mkal o f the eastern Jakun. But t h o u g h
u n d o u b t e d l y female she was physically undeveloped. Maclay need n o t
decide immediately, and Mira, waiting her turn, could learn to be w h a t
Return to Paradise 185

he desired. She j o i n e d his staff o f servants, the c o m p a n y o f S a l e h the n e w


Javanese cook and Mebli the Palau m a n w h o was to act as h u n t e r and
oarsman. In place o f A h m a d , f r o m w h o m Maclay had parted, she w o u l d
serve as housekeeper and valet.

Maclay's nerves had been severely tried d u r i n g the first half o f the
voyage. T o write letters, articles and journal, he struggled against
u n c o m f o r t a b l e conditions, the rolling o f the ship and the uproar o f a
small vessel c r o w d e d w i t h robust, unintellectual m e n o f several races.
And the Sea Bird b r o u g h t h i m m o r e than the n o r m a l sufferings o f
travelling naturalists. H e soon discovered in Captain O ' K e e f e 4a m a n o f
cruel and brutal character', a t h o r o u g h g o i n g scoundrel. Fearful stories
w e r e told o f the crimes that accompanied the captain's voyages. T h r e e
out o f five Malay sailors, p r e f e r r i n g any dangers to the treatment
received f r o m O ' K e e f e , had deserted at Yap or Palau. T h e European
passengers, in Maclay's eyes hardly better m e n than the skipper,
quarrelled loudly w i t h O ' K e e f e , came to blows, threatened to t h r o w
him overboard. As Maclay experienced it, each day at sea was filled w i t h
violence and terror.
T h e Sea Bird sailed on. M e n f r o m Yap replaced the runaways and
f o r m e d a strong armed guard for the rest o f the voyage. T h e traders
continued to argue and shout, and did n o t hurl the tyrant into the sea.
W i t h beads and trinkets, knives and hatchets, cloth, firearms, g u n -
p o w d e r and a neat n e w line in little brass cannon, the schooner flew
south towards the Saint Matthias g r o u p and westward again to the
Admiralty and H e r m i t islands. T h e traders w e r e set ashore, one by one,
to start trading posts, to exchange European goods for trepang and
turtleshell, to m a k e m o n e y or m e e t death.
U r g e n t as was his return to his people, Maclay had t h o u g h t o f
directing the schooner to N e w Britain, N e w Ireland and the Solomons,
perhaps choosing a fresh field o f research. B e f o r e reaching the
Admiralty Islands he k n e w the project was absurd. H e d o u b t e d even
seeing N e w Guinea again. In agitation he half f o r m e d a plan for being
set d o w n w i t h his followers s o m e w h e r e a m o n g the islands, to await the
chance appearance o f a ship that m i g h t take him to his destination.
A n y t h i n g was better than remaining in the p o w e r o f O ' K e e f e .
H e f o u n d s o m e pleasant resting places. His desperate scheme never
came into effect. W h e r e v e r possible he escaped to study the natives in
their villages, explore by boat or relax in a h a m m o c k by the shore.
Aboard the schooner he stayed in his cabin, h e m m e d in by the
p a n d e m o n i u m o f trade, the bellowing of native salesmen abusing their
rivals, the barking o f a huge N e w f o u n d l a n d d o g let loose to clear the
c r o w d c d quartcrdeck, heartless laughter f r o m the skipper and traders.
O n deck he was sickened by the spectacle o f greed and degradation,
186 The Moon Man

filled with anger at 'so m u c h h u m a n baseness, injustice and m a l e v o -


lence*. H e intended to write a c o m p r e h e n s i v e report.
Impressive precautions w e r e taken aboard the schooner, but Maclay
never witnessed violence against the islanders. T h e natives saw the w h i t e
men's revolvers, the rifles o f the Yap guards, the small cannon in
readiness, and f o u g h t each other to reach the deck. In evident terror o f
the dog, they climbed the shrouds or flung themselves into the sea. T w o
minutes later they w e r e back, shouting as lustily as ever, intent u p o n
n o t h i n g but trade. T h e slow match smouldered but the cannon never
fired; the d o g chased the natives b u t never caught t h e m . Feeling
contaminated by p r o x i m i t y to such events, Maclay nursed his neuralgia
alone in a world he did not understand.
His moral revulsion was c o m p o u n d e d w h e r e w h i t e faces w e r e
familiar and trading less tumultuous. O n s o m e of the Admiralty Islands,
w o m e n and children did n o t flee f r o m Europeans, and native m e n
stayed aboard the schooner the first night after its arrival. In the H e r m i t
group, w h e r e O ' K e e f c had lived while trepang fishing, the familiarity
was o f another order. Islanders came aboard at dusk, greeted the skipper
as an old crony, talked loudly a m o n g themselves and t r a m p e d about as
t h o u g h they o w n e d the ship. Maclay concluded that these people,
m e e t i n g only a 'very l o w class' o f white m e n , had never had the chance
t o learn respect for Europeans. N o b o d y ordered t h e m t o stop shouting,
or r e p r o v e d 'the i m p u d e n c e o f their demands'. T h e y settled into the
skipper's cabin, a partition's thickness f r o m the man w h o could have
taught t h e m better, and spent the night carousing with O ' K c c f e and the
traders. Maclay felt that w h a t he heard s u m m e d up relations b e t w e e n
w h i t e m e n and black in that part o f the world. At the top o f his voice,
the m a n O ' K e e f e called 'the king' d e m a n d e d brandy. A half-drunk
trader, unsubtle by nature and with n o c h a r m i n g little girl awaiting his
will, as loudly asked f o r 'a w o m a n for the night'. T h e t i m e was past, if
it had ever been, w h e n a white m a n in the H e r m i t Islands m i g h t have
walked as a god.
Maclay used his 'last reserves o f patience' to e n d u r e the short voyage
t o his coast. H e had n o personal reason for fear. H e had never shouted
at the captain, struck him or threatened to t h r o w him overboard. Saving
himself for the trials ahead, he had kept to his cabin, leaving the task o f
remonstrance to m e n with the necessary violence and crudity. Perhaps
that was w h y the skipper regarded him kindly, glad that the f a m o u s
traveller had been in g o o d health t h r o u g h o u t the voyage and was n o w
to land safely in N e w Guinea. O ' K e e f e willingly u n d e r t o o k to send
Maclay's packet o f mail. Maclay was sure these letters, s o m e o f t h e m
d a m n i n g to O ' K e e f e , w o u l d never reach their destination. By the time
he landed at Astrolabe Bay he was b e y o n d caring. H e had survived. H e
was exhausted. At last he could rest.
11: No Ships Call

M ACLAY'S N E W D O M A I N , ' B u g a r -
lom', occupied a p r o m o n t o r y near Bongu, far e n o u g h f r o m the noise
o f the village, close e n o u g h to the native labour he expected to need.
T h e excited villagers gave him an estate ten times as large as Garagassi.
Directed by his servants and the ship's carpenter they built his dwelling,
s u p p l e m e n t i n g the r e a d y - m a k e sections with foundations and r o o f o f
local materials.
T h e house measured some ten metres long by five metres wide,
containing o n e large r o o m and a veranda, raised o n piles and enclosed
b e l o w to f o r m a laboratory and store. In accord with Maclay's
determination not to live u n d e r the same r o o f with others, the kitchen
and servants' quarters w e r e in a separate building. W i t h a boatshed
added, the land selectively cleared, and a broad road o p e n e d f r o m the
house to the beach, B u g a r l o m f o r m e d an attractive property. T h e
B o n g u people must have t h o u g h t that Maclay w o u l d n e v e r leave them.
H e did intend to leave, had resolved to sail by the vessel expected in
N o v e m b e r , j o i n a warship and land in E u r o p e early in 1878. Requests
f o r his passage had g o n e to Russia, w i t h the additional r e q u i r e m e n t that
the warship spend some t i m e in African ports for scientific purposes.
But t h r o u g h July 1876 Maclay was absorbed in h o m e - m a k i n g . H e
arranged folding furniture, chests and gun-racks, covered the floor w i t h
Chinese carpets, set out his books o n shelves improvised f r o m packing
cases. Meteorological instruments w e r e positioned, the laboratory m a d e
ready f o r anatomical w o r k . In the garden prepared by the natives, he
planted maize, coconuts and a selection o f fruits and vegetables. H e had
e n o u g h servants to relieve him o f daily details, supplies for about six
m o n t h s , including a very fair B o r d e a u x and champagne'. Escaped f r o m
brutality and degradation, he rested and refreshed himself f o r tasks
ahead.

187
188 The Moon Man

T h e face o f the land had suffered violent change since his first visit
M o u n t a i n tops, once thickly forested, w e r e n o w partly bare. T h e
outlines of Port Konstantin w e r e altered. Along the shore stretches o f
forest had been destroyed, sandbars changed the courscs o f streams and
paths w e r e closed by fallen trees. It was the tangrim-boro, the people told
him, severe earthquakes followed by great waves. M e n had been killed
b y falling trees and houses; huts had been swept away.
T h e r e w e r e m o r e changes a m o n g his people, old m e n dead and
children almost g r o w n up. T h e youths w e r e m e n , and a m o n g the
m o t h e r s - t o - b e Maclay f o u n d s o m e he had last seen as little girls. T h e i r
reverence f o r the Kaaram-tamo, their zeal and obedience in his service,
remained as he had willed it. W i t h the serious, blue-eyed being w h o
perhaps was immortal, they v e n t u r e d n o shouting or familiarity. A
simple gesture kept t h e m at a respectful distance. O n c e w o r k on the n e w
tal-Maklai was finished, n o native attempted to set f o o t in the sacred
dwelling. T h e y r e m e m b e r e d Maclay's magic as they r e m e m b e r e d the
Russian w o r d s he had taught them. N o t h i n g had occurred to lessen their
awe. In the three and a half years b e t w e e n Izumrud and Sea Bird, n o
Europeans had called at Astrolabe Bay, and Captain O ' K e e f e seemed to
make n o impression. T h e tamo-Russ and their ships w e r e vaguely
r e m e m b e r e d , ghostly presences accessory to Maclay. If the people
recalled 'Vil\ with his marvellous musical instrument and strange songs,
they did n o t r e m i n d Maclay, w h o believed himself the only w h i t e man
w h o had lived a m o n g them.
N o t everything was perfect. Maclay had not grasped the complexity
of native land tenure, and the B o n g u people had given h i m w h a t was
n o t entirely theirs to give. M e n f r o m other villages appeared, claiming
part o f the land or rights over its natural products. O b l i g e d to
compensate t h e m all, Maclay was n e v e r sure they k n e w they had parted
with the land forever.
Scientific progress also encountered difficulties. 'Sccretivencss and
superstitious fear' still caused people to conceal customs or change their
behaviour in his presence. W h e r e his c o m m a n d o f the language allowed
him to ask questions, he got misleading or 'fanciful' answers. Researches
that had been 'unthinkable' d u r i n g the first visit w e r e again postponed.
M o n t h s passed b e f o r e trust sufficiently o v e r c a m e fear o f magic,
allowing him to take anthropological measurements.
T h e greatest disappointment was the collapse o f his ultimate project
in N e w Guinea, to be the first white explorer o f the interior. S o m e t i m e s
he believed he relinquished this ambition f r o m lack o f funds, or f r o m
distaste for the c r o w d of foreigners w h o w o u l d f o r m a barrier b e t w e e n
him and the Papuans. In reality, he clung f o r a t i m e to the h o p e o f using
natives in place o f the Malays he could not afford. T h e u n k n o w n
interior still beckoned. Maclay still struggled to respond to the call.
No Ships Call 189

His first j o u r n e y was undertaken less f o r his purposes than f o r those o f


his friends. In his absence, the coast villages had again quarrelled and
m a d e peace with the m o u n t a i n folk o f M a r a g u m - m a n a . Both sides still
feared treachery, hesitating to ratify the a g r e e m e n t by visits. If Maclay
w e n t with t h e m , his neighbours w o u l d feel perfectly safe. So Maclay
w e n t , an incongruous figure in sun h e l m e t and w h i t e jacket, b o r n e
along by a w a v e o f m o r e than a h u n d r e d warriors decorated f o r feasting
or war. T h e y wished, he supposed, to dazzle the f o r m e r e n e m y by
splendour and numbers. T h e y also wished to show, by m o r e than the
array o f weapons, that the m o u n t a i n m e n should stay o n their best
behaviour. T h e coast again possessed its Kaaram-tamo, whose magic
o u t m a t c h e d any m o u n t a i n sorcery.
Maclay soon planned a n o t h e r expedition, intended to try out natives
as porters f o r longer journeys. H e chose the three B o n g u m e n w h o
seemed most e n d u r i n g and reliable and c o m p l e t e d the party w i t h his
servant Mebli. T h e test s h o w e d the limits o f his authority. N o t h i n g
persuaded the m e n to accept rice and dried venison in place o f their
familiar taro, f o o d that by its bulk and nutritional inadequacy must
severely limit the j o u r n e y . Despite this and the open reluctance o f his
helpers, Maclay distributed loads o f seven to ten kilos each and led t h e m
into the mountains. It seemed to him that by shouldering a pack himself,
giving t h e m so little to carry, and limiting the daily m a r c h to eight
hours, he m a d e every possible concession.
For t w o days the m e n plodded on, chafing against a steady,
meaningless e f f o r t n e v e r b e f o r e experienced, their fear o f the m o u n t a i n
people n e v e r dispelled b y Maclay's presence. S o m e t i m e s he felt that at
any turn o f the track they m i g h t d r o p their loads and disappear. It was
n o surprise w h e n on the third day, with the taro nearly finished, o n e
m a n refused to g o on.
Maclay did not argue against a catalogue o f fears and complaints
delivered 'in a w h i n i n g voice'. H e silently placed the rejected load o n
top o f his o w n and strode o f f W i t h i n an h o u r there was a n o t h e r
'invalid', Mebli complaining that fever had left him t o o feeble to walk.
Maclay could neither abandon Mcbli's pack n o r carry a third load
himself Incomprehensible as he o f t e n f o u n d Papuan facial expressions,
he recognized the looks o f the o t h e r porters as unmistakably sour,
boding ill f o r any a t t e m p t to increase their loads. T h e B o n g u m e n had
n o prince or g o v e r n o r to fear. If Maclay was not king o n the Maclay
Coast n o b o d y was, and as far as his friends w e r e concerned the
expedition was over.
H e did not waste time p o n d e r i n g the m e a n i n g o f this incident f o r his
f u t u r e ascendancy. W i t h his gift for m a k i n g the best o f things, he f o u n d
o t h e r ways to conduct his expeditions. Afraid o f unfamiliar territory,
w h e r e every bush m i g h t conceal h u m a n or ghostly enemies, the coastal
190 The Moon Man

people also feared the u n k n o w n consequences o f his anger. T h e y dared


n o t refuse to take him as far as the nearest m o u n t a i n village and sec him
provided w i t h n e w burden-bearers. T h e n they w e r e dismissed or
ordered to await his return, depending on his estimate of the t i m e he
w o u l d be away.
In practice, he never walked in the mountains f o r m o r e than t w o or
three days. T h e expedition always came to an end a m o n g people m o r e
afraid of those in the next village than of the Kaaram-tamo. Efficient and
obliging guides in their o w n districts, the Papuans became 'completely
useless' w h e n they stepped outside, fearful o f everything, ignorant o f
everything, declaring all Maclay's wishes impossible. T h e r e w e r e long
discussions b e f o r e m e n used to carrying only their w e a p o n s submitted
to different loads, helpless as w o m e n under the white man's protection.
W h e n they travelled in their o w n style, seeking safety in n u m b e r s and
treating the j o u r n e y as a festival, it seemed to Maclay that e v e r y stick
and bottle required its o w n carrier. H e recognized the advantages o f
being introduced w h e r e his n a m e was hardly k n o w n , learning a b o u t
native politics, receiving answers to questions on the spot. H e g r e w tired
o f adjusting himself to their customs, character and 'rather tiresome'
demands. H e o f t e n wished f o r a supply of concentrated food. Carrying
his o w n provisions, relieved o f the insufferable 'coaxing and persuading'
and of all these t r o u b l e s o m e presences, he w o u l d set o f f alone f o r the
interior.
Denied this ideal f r e e d o m o f action, he m a d e the best o f w h a t he had,
alternately imposing his will and b e n d i n g to the wishes o f others.
T h r o u g h August and S e p t e m b e r he was almost constantly on the m o v e ,
visiting nearly all the villages about Astrolabe Bay. B e t w e e n land
j o u r n e y s he explored by sea, h e r e and there in the bay, n o r t h w a r d to
the Islands o f C o n t e n t e d M e n , eastward around Cape R i g n y . M u c h as
he fretted against the restrictions imposed by his retinue or by the small
size and inadequate e q u i p m e n t o f his boat, he had reason to be satisfied
with the sum of his travels. By the end o f S e p t e m b e r 1876 he had seen
m o r e than 100 kilometres o f the coast and raised a canvas banner o n
M o u n t Grand D u k e Konstantin, nearly t w e n t y kilometres inland O n l y
the mountains south-west o f B o n g u , w h e r e e v e r y village was at w a r
with its neighbours, remained outside the w i d e n i n g boundaries of the
Maclay Coast.
Sometimes he returned to his base alone, almost stunned by heat after
days at sea in the open boat. S o m e t i m e s he led a procession, arriving by
torchlight with hundreds o f villagers w h o had added themselves to his
party f o r a sight o f the tal-Maklai. T o reach his o w n d o m a i n was always
satisfying. W h e t h e r at Bugarlom or in the second house he acquired on
Bilbil, the traveller insatiable for a life of m o v e m e n t as greedily sought
a life at h o m e .
No Ships Call 191

W h e n he tried to express what pleased him most in this life, the first
w o r d that came to m i n d was 'tranquillity'. Days at Bugarlom w e r e
regularly patterned: a 5 a.m. rising, about half an h o u r for each meal, an
hour's siesta in the early a f t e r n o o n , a n o t h e r h o u r f o r conversation with
the natives and instructions to his servants, b e d t i m e at nine in the
evening. H e f o u n d infinite variety in this m o n o t o n y , a calm invaluable
f o r intellectual w o r k and 'beneficial to the character'. W i t h t w e l v e hours
free f o r scientific activity, a day o n his coast still seemed t o o short.
H e o w e d his tranquillity to his servants, essential supports o f
intellectual and spiritual progress. This did n o t m e a n he f o u n d the
service flawless. Saleh the Javanese, 'a very decent man', c o m p e t e n t as
cook and occasional tailor, sometimes m a d e his master regret bringing a
Muslim c h e f to a country w h e r e the c o m m o n e s t meat was pork. Mebli
p r o v e d far less o f a m a r k s m a n than Maclay had been led to expect, and
in heavy w o r k his indolence offset his strapping physique. T h e m e n
f r o m different countries and cultures w e r e soon at odds, united only in
superstitous fears and a tendency to s u c c u m b to w h a t Maclay called
'laziness and malingering' rather than fever. It was mostly o n Mira's
account, h o w e v e r , that the servants totalled t w o - a n d - a - h a l f rather than
three. T h e little girl f r o m Palau was naturally unused to waiting on a
European gentleman, keeping his house in o r d e r and presiding o v e r
such mysteries as the laundering o f shirts and socks. Considering her
purely as a servant, Maclay felt that given a week's trial he w o u l d never
have engaged her.
His peace was never threatened by the need to carry w o o d and water
or struggle with the fire. W h e n Mebli's erratic marksmanship, and
successful fishing, saved Saleh f r o m touching an unclean animal, meals
appeared as t h o u g h o f their o w n accord. Mira learned e n o u g h to
b e c o m e useful about the house and as an attendant o n expeditions. For
Maclay this m a r k e d the limits o f her functions. C o n c e r n i n g Mira, his
diary contained n o t h i n g he w o u l d n o t wish his m o t h e r and sister to
r e a d But if she n e v e r became a t e m p o r a r y w i f e or an efficient house-
keeper she apparently saved h i m f r o m o n e hazard o f celibacy. This
time, he was spared offers o f wives f r o m the villages.
For Maclay, living with these people was almost like living alone.
T h e y needed little, stayed u n d e r their separate roof, talked to their
master only w h e n it suited him. T h e i r occasional shirking could be
treated tolerantly. T h e i r fears, sometimes ethnologically interesting,
n e v e r caused disgust. T h e y did not b o r e Maclay w i t h complaints or
reminiscences, and if they f o u n d life miserable he need not k n o w it.
W i t h t h e m he e n d u r e d neither i m p o r t u n a t e pleas f o r companionship
n o r the sight o f a w h i t e m a n disintegrating f r o m sheer loneliness.
R e l i e v e d o f such threats to his inner security, he f o r g o t that Olsen had
ever existed.
The Maclay Coast, north-eastern N e w Guinea, as defined in 1877
No Ships Call 193

Great obstacles still hindered scientific progress and the expansion o f


a t e m p e r a m e n t he considered naturally serene. Fever first attacked him
on the j o u r n e y to M o u n t Konstantin, causing a dangerous fall.
T h e r e a f t e r his w o r k was o f t e n interrupted by 'a f e w days o f fever',
anaemia, neuralgia, sudden attacks o f giddiness. N o t h i n g oppressed h i m
m o r e than the ulcers that appeared on his legs. Precious hours w e r e lost
in attending to these painful sores. For weeks on end he was confined
to the house, sleeping only with the aid o f chloral. R e p e a t i n g his
favourite m a x i m f r o m Schopenhauer, 'Every e v e n i n g w e are p o o r e r by
a day', he set to w o r k on the comparative a n a t o m y o f the vertebrate
brain.
T h r o u g h h o u s e b o u n d weeks in O c t o b e r and N o v e m b e r , he w o r k e d
at dissection, description and drawing, h a m p e r e d less by neuralgia and
aching legs than by the scarcity o f material. As it b e c o m e possible, he
carried o u t measurements u p o n the natives w h o almost every day
visited h i m singly or by t w o s and threes. H e kept up meteorological
observations, m a d e m a n y sketches, and began a w a t e r c o l o u r album o f
reef fishes. T h e f o u r - m o n t h voyage had yielded a mass of notes to be
put in o r d e r f o r despatch by the vessel expected within a f e w weeks.
And writing, f o r reasons he never explained, became increasingly
troublesome f o r Maclay. C o m b i n e d with illness and the difficulty o f
describing a life that was regular to the point of m o n o t o n y , this distaste
f o r writing m a d e his journal a meagre record, a f e w lines o f t e n
accounting f o r a w h o l e m o n t h . H e still responded to the dramatic
m o m e n t , as w h e n lightning fantastically illuminated the dancers at a
feast. T h e r e w e r e n o m o r e rhapsodies on the loveliness o f his
surroundings, n o marvelling attention to e v e r y detail o f primitive life.
Maclay was five years older, and the Maclay Coast had ceased to be a
n e w world.
T h e first crop o f maize was harvested and a n o t h e r sown; his coconut
palms w e r e g r o w i n g well; in his plantation and the gardens o f natives
to w h o m he distributed seeds, the foreign fruits and vegetables
flourished. W h i l e cultivating his n e w estate and reclaiming the o v e r -
g r o w n land at Garagassi, h o w e v e r , he looked anxiously towards the sea.
H e w a n t e d letters, scientific journals, an o p p o r t u n i t y to send papers to
St Petersburg and Berlin. H e was oppressed by thoughts o f the future,
scientific reputation, m o u n t i n g debts, possible misunderstandings w i t h
friends and supporters. O v e r his tropical paradise, the cares o f the
European f o r m e d an ever-present cloud.
Besides ordering a ship f r o m Singapore, he had m a d e k n o w n in
Australia his h o p e that vessels trading with N e w Britain and N e w
Ireland m i g h t look in at Astrolabe Bay. B e f o r e the e n d of the year, his
request had been m o r e than once published in Sydney. But n o trading
194 The Moon Man

skipper w o u l d sail so far out o f his course, and risk a ship in little-known
waters, f o r the sake of a m a n w h o had ' m a r o o n e d ' himself N o v e m b e r
passed into D e c e m b e r , 1876 into 1877, and not a European sail appeared.
Maclay awaited the schooner w i t h as m u c h fear as impatience. Its arrival
m i g h t settle some problems. O t h e r s w o u l d b e c o m e acute, in particular
that o f his return to Europe.
W h e n he deplored the shortness o f the days and dreaded being t o r n
f r o m his w o r k , he t h o u g h t first o f the principal scientific undertaking,
the collection o f i n f o r m a t i o n on native society and its customs. H e had
expected m u c h f r o m this second stay on his coast, w h e n old acquain-
tance w i t h the natives w o u l d c o m b i n e with his philanthropic purpose
to help him understand their ways. As the m o n t h s passed, the most he
could claim was that his neighbours did not always conceal their
customs. T h e expression 'step by step' overstated a rate o f advance that
seemed m o r e like a quarter o f a step at a time. Enquiries still b r o u g h t
evasive o r 'fanciful' answers. C o n v i n c e d that the only reliable i n f o r m a -
tion was that given by his o w n eyes, he f o u n d that a w a r n i n g o f his
arrival or a request that he be called f o r s o m e e v e n t could change the
w h o l e procedure. H e adopted the policy o f appearing indifferent to his
neighbours' doing, 'lying in wait' to observe significant m o m e n t s in
their lives, e m p l o y i n g stratagems to witness ceremonies 'accidentally'.
B e c o m i n g a spy f o r science, he recorded f r a g m e n t s of a w a y o f life he
believed must soon disappear. T h e y w e r e o f t e n dubious fragments,
destined t o be t h r o w n out as 'lumber'. H e was rarely able to claim a
verified discovery, n e v e r in a position t o interpret w h a t he saw. O f the
natives' thoughts and beliefs he learned next to nothing. His o w n w e r e
f r e q u e n t l y 'melancholy thoughts' about the inadequacy o f the h u m a n
mind.
H e described his relationship w i t h these people mainly in terms o f
mutual trust and friendship. It seemed to him that they became less
constrained in his presence, that eventually they w o u l d grant him the
perfect confidence essential f o r his purposes. H e learned m o r e details o f
ritual circumcision. H e managed to take a census in B o n g u and G o r e n d u .
N o t long after the m e n first submitted to his craniometer, husbandly
jealousy was sufficiently o v e r c o m e to allow him to measure the heads
o f w o m e n . T h e gulf remained, almost imperceptible w h e n the
Kaaram-tamo theorized, y a w n i n g l y evident in his daily life. It revealed
itself to Maclay in his inability to interpret a gesture or a facial
expression, to f r a m e the right question or understand the answer. It
came to light in his personal feelings. Just as he was still struck by the
ugliness of his neighbours' faces, he continued to feel a certain
helplessness b e f o r e the ways o f a people 'so r e m o t e f r o m us'. H e n e v e r
w r o t e m o r e or longer letters to E u r o p e than d u r i n g this second sojourn
in his earthly paradise, a m o n g the people he called his o w n .
No Ships Call 195

T h e relationship remained a delicate equilibrium: aloofness, mystery


and the assumption o f authority on one side, balanced by imagination,
incomprehension and obedience on the other. Practical details had been
explained to an Italian trader aboard the Sea Bird. Maclay in N e w Guinea
w o u l d n e v e r live in a village. W h i l e he bartered European goods f o r his
requirements, the natives never saw the contents o f his house. Since a
trader, apart f r o m o t h e r considerations, could n o t conceal the potential
profits of m u r d e r , Maclay believed Signor Paldi w o u l d be killed in the
Admiralty Islands.
H e remained conscious that he himself m i g h t be killed on the Maclay
Coast. H e n o longer t h o u g h t his neighbours w o u l d dare attack him
openly. H e never ruled o u t the possibility o f receiving a spear in the
back, being a m b u s h e d in a village or shot d o w n by an unseen b o w m a n .
At the height of his p o w e r , practising all he preached, he felt h o w little
separated this tranquil existence f r o m the disasters o f Papua-Koviai.
H e always r e m e m b e r e d w h a t he o w e d to the imaginations of his
friends. H e was the magician w h o b u r n e d water, luridly illuminated the
night and caused a m a n to fly away to Russia. T h e y believed that the
Kaaram-tamo's gaze could heal the sick or strike d o w n the healthy.
Strange lapses occurred in their faith. H e was n e v e r trusted to deflect
the mountain-dwellers' spears and arrows. T h e r e w e r e lingering
questions about his nature, origin and intentions towards the people. But
on the w h o l e Maclay f o u n d his m y t h self-perpetuating. ' O n c e they had
raised m e to the position o f Kaaram-tamo and given m e that heavenly
origin', he explained, ' m y e v e r y action and w o r d , interpreted in that
light, apparently c o n f i r m e d their opinion*.
Spectacular feats o f magic w e r e n o longer necessary. S o m e t i m e s the
same effect was p r o d u c e d accidentally, as in the incident of the bulu-ribut,
a musical instrument first heard on the Maclay Coast early in 1877. At
that time Maclay slept badly, plagued by w o r r y i n g thoughts. H e
believed he m i g h t rest m o r e peacefully if he heard the 'plaintive music'
that had lulled him to sleep in the Malay Peninsula. So Saleh m a d e a
bulu-ribut, long pieces o f b a m b o o w i t h the internal divisions r e m o v e d ,
pierced here and there by longitudinal slits and fastened upright in
nearby trees.
At first the sounds w e r e startling, e v e n f o r Maclay. In the village they
caused alarm. W h e n he asked w h y visits suddenly ceased, he f o u n d the
neighbours afraid o f tamo-Russ w h o talked loudly r o u n d his house at
night. Laughing at such fears, he led half the village to Bugarlom t o see
that there w e r e n o tamo-Russ. H e did not s h o w the bulu-ribut o r attempt
to explain w h a t happened w h e n the w i n d blew. By day the strange
sounds w e r e suppressed. At night aeolian music filled the air, c o n f i r m i n g
that tamo-Russ flew over the sea, convincing the B o n g u people that
Bugarlom was a dangerous place after sunset. For a time the penetrating
196 The Moon Man

notes disturbed Maclay, but he g r e w used to t h e m . T h e y sounded 'like


the voices o f guards at their posts'.
H e was similarly guarded by imagination on every side. His
'hermit-like' life c o n f o r m e d to the distance and self-sufficiency o f a
s u p e r h u m a n being. T h e useful and attractive objects that came f r o m his
house, as mysterious in origin as their proprietor, m i g h t be fresh created
every day. From the Kaaram-tamo inconvenient questioners received
enigmatic answers or evocative silences, to be interpreted as imagination
m i g h t suggest. T h e r e was n o need to lie, he emphasized. But it was
neither necessary n o r safe to undeceive. Maclay believed that an end to
his magical reputation m e a n t the end o f his peace. H e must live in his
c o u n t r y as a god or n o t at all.
H e m i g h t impulsively e c h o enthusiasm f o r civilizing happy savages.
H e could not seriously entertain such ideas on his o w n account. H e had
scientific and moral reasons 'to interfere as little as possible w i t h the
doings o f the natives, in o r d e r n o t to changc their habits or customs'.
Little as he understood their beliefs, he could not wish to alter a w a y o f
t h o u g h t essential to his security. Yet in m a n y ways he changed his
neighbours' lives. T h e villagers w e r e b r o k e n - i n to being s u m m o n e d at
three o'clock in the m o r n i n g to prepare f o r his journeys. T h e y g r e w
used to his assumption that they must shoulder his belongings and
trudge, their fears and reluctance ignored, along tracks they neither
desired n o r needed to travel. It was established that 'good m e n ' w e r e
those w h o f o l l o w e d Maclay and 'bad m e n ' w e r e those w h o did not. It
was recognized that w h e n Maclay sounded a g o n g on his veranda
people m u s t leave their o w n business and attend to his.
T h e i r w o r k was rewarded by an h o n o u r a b l e acquaintanceship, useful
plants, occasional medical attention, and lingering h o p e that his p o w e r s
m i g h t stop excessive rain or find drifting fish-traps. T h e y again obtained
European goods, the otherwise harmless articles that Maclay blamed f o r
the cupidity and discontent o f the Palauans. Gradually they learned a
n e w set o f values, a n e w idea o f authority. If they had not acquired a
god, they had a w h i t e master, and Maclay was gaining a k i n g d o m .
Thinking about the p o w e r and k n o w l e d g e attained t h r o u g h his
friendship w i t h the natives and his status as a being u n i q u e in their
experience, Maclay was o f t e n depressed. It seemed to him that a w o r l d
o f brutes and scoundrels must be eager to exploit his i n f o r m a t i o n and
influence in order to penetrate his country. At its worst, the c o m i n g o f
Europeans w o u l d bring enslavement and extermination to his people.
In its mildest f o r m it meant the destruction o f a way o f life he sought
to preserve. H e already foretold the day w h e n scientists w o u l d search
the interior for p u r e - b l o o d e d Papuans, w h e n the vanished coastal tribes
w o u l d be k n o w n only f r o m his writings. Again he was the recorder o f
w h a t m u s t pass away, finding b o t h duty and solacc in research. For m o r e
positive action he needed a distant and lofty word. In solitude he formed
one clear resolve. Neither directly nor indirectly would he aid 'the
establishment of relations between whites and Papuans'.
The decision always had a certain unreality. Europeans rarely waited
for knowledge of native customs and language before intruding on
other peoples. While Maclay agonized, any flag could be raised a day's
sail from Bugarlom. Some Captain O'Keefe, with the slow match
burning, might be offering cloth and beads at an anchorage just out of
sight. A white-clad, book-bearing figure could be on the way to
announce that the mission was extending its care from the south coast
to the north. Maclay never discussed what he would do in such cases,
his silence adding to the unreality of his position.
Most of the substance of his vow had already been eaten away by his
actions. The results of his first visit to N e w Guinea had been published
in several languages. By bringing three vessels to Astrolabe Bay, and
inviting more, he had probably done as much as one man could to
introduce Europeans to the natives. But if this rose to consciousness
among the 'sad thoughts' f r o m which he found refuge in work, it was
suppressed. Without Europeans, he could not travel to and from N e w
Guinea, receive or send letters or replenish his stores. Perhaps he would
eventually become as independent as his coast, his people free to forget
all other white men as they seemed to forget Olsen. Until then, ships
must continue to call, purified, as it were, by service to his cause.

N o ship had called by February 1877, and the rice supply was finished.
In March, when the shot ran out, Mebli began to spend much time in
a canoe, trying his luck wherever there might be fish. Nearly all
imported food was gone by the end of April. Believing his provisions
need last only five or six months, Maclay had not been much upset by
the discovery that sacks of biscuits and beans shipped from Singapore
were far f r o m full, other foodstuffs poor in quality or spoiled by bad
packing. W h e n he found himself punished' for trusting the supplier, he
refused to worry, treating his predicament as another 'opportunity to
observe the effect of Papuan food on white people'. Only shortages of
such items as pens and ink, writing paper or microscope slides could
hamper his activities. Here too, he took the philosophical attitude,
'There are many things I do not need'. As he explained, it was not in his
temperament to regard these deficiencies as a great misfortune. Living
the life he had chosen, he looked upon its hardships with the greatest
indifference'.
It also occurred to him that he was 'punished' for his impractical
approach to a member of the commercial classes'. W h e n such people
received orders for goods and services, he now realized, they usually
required some guarantee that they would not be out of pocket. He had
198 The Moon Man

not deposited cash or a promissory n o t e against the cost. Perhaps n o ship


w o u l d call. Again he could not feel seriously perturbed. T h e days w e r e
too short f o r all he m u s t do. H e m a d e plans as t h o u g h he need n e v e r
leave.
As his health i m p r o v e d , he resumed trips to villages on the coast and
in the foothills. In February he stayed a while at ' A i m ' on Bilbil, w h e r e
the islanders had built him a native-style hut, dark but cool, with a w i d e
v i e w o f coast and mountains. H e studied the m a n u f a c t u r e o f pots,
learned m u c h about Bilbil trading voyages. In Kain's big ifang, sheltered
f r o m the weather and f r e e d f r o m the toil and anxiety of m a n a g i n g a
boat, he cruised a m o n g the Islands o f C o n t e n t e d M e n and visited
mainland villages at Cape Duperrey. Suspecting that cannibalism was
practised on the coast—Bongu people described the taste o f h u m a n
flesh—he still had n o concrete p r o o f At Cape D u p e r r e y he f o u n d m a n y
villages of cannibals, shocked by their first sight of a w h i t e m a n b u t
ready to tell him, t h r o u g h Sek Island and Bilbil interpreters, exactly h o w
and w h e n they enjoyed such interesting repasts. H e saw n o cannibalism,
since it depended on the results o f war. N o r did he add anything to his
osteological collection. A f t e r being t h o r o u g h l y g n a w e d and broken, all
bones w e r e t h r o w n into the sea.
T h e Sek people occasionally visited the large island of Karkar, about
45 kilometres farther north, and Maclay hoped t o j o i n such an
expedition. H e intended to use the experience and palatial vessels o f the
Bilbil traders in a voyage to the east. Negotiations over these projects
soon took him back to Bilbil and the islands just beyond.
T h e y w e r e not his only business. Even w i t h o u t the effects o f the latest
earthquakes, Port Konstantin had n e v e r been a really satisfactory
anchorage. Sailing n o r t h again in April, he concentrated on larger and
safer harbours.
O n e sheltered anchorage, 'quite convenient f o r small ships', came to
light b e t w e e n the mainland and the islands o f Y a b o b and U r e m u . By
planting a dozen coconut palms and telling his companions to r e m e m -
ber this act, Maclay took possession o f U r e m u , an uninhabited islet
which served as overnight r e f u g e f o r thousands of pigeons. T h e n he
cruised t h o u g h t f u l l y a m o n g the h o m e s o f the C o n t e n t e d M e n ,
i m p r o v i n g his sketch m a p and taking occasional soundings.
E v e r y w h e r e g o o d anchorages and a considerable depth o f w a t e r '
c o n f i r m e d the impressions f o r m e d in 1872. H e discovered a fine strait,
'deep e n o u g h f o r large vessels'. Behind Sek, the n o r t h e r n m o s t o f the
chain, there lay exactly w h a t he wanted, a h a r b o u r g o o d e n o u g h f o r a
fleet. His most important geographical discoveries could be useful only
to the o w n e r s o f large vessels, the Europeans w h o s e c o m i n g he dreaded.
He did not intend to keep t h e m secret.
corner in the house at Bugarlom
Saul of Bongu, 1877
No Ships Call 199

In the middle o f 1877, w i t h n o idea w h e n or w h e t h e r the schooner w o u l d


arrive, Maclay prepared f o r an indefinite stay. His house was in bad c o n d i -
tion, its timbers attacked b y w h i t e ants, its r o o f t o o r o u g h l y fashioned to
withstand the rainiest months. Bugarlom again became a busy place, as his
servants directed the B o n g u people in adding a n e w structure, about the
same size as the first, with timbers allegedly resistant to termites.
Eventually he was delighted by a ' E u r o p e a n - M a l a y - P a p u a n ' house, its t w o
halves j o i n e d by a veranda serving as a corridor. It was a long t i m e
a-building, and he had cause to d o u b t he w o u l d ever occupy it.
For the first eleven m o n t h s , he had recorded n o t h i n g ominous. W i t h
faith in his o w n precautions and the respect inspired in his neighbours,
he saw n o f u r t h e r need to keep loaded guns in the house or to stay o n
the alert in the villages. In J u n e 1877 he discovered a threat to his
security. S o m e people w e r e not a w e d b y the Kaaram-tamo's powers,
guessed that his house contained treasure, and believed he could be
killed.
H e learned it w h e n his f o x y old friend K o d i - b o r o o f Bogadjim
w a r n e d h i m not to visit Gorima, a village a b o u t t w e n t y kilometres to
the north. Kodi and his son discussed the matter while Maclay sat
b e t w e e n t h e m . T h e y n e v e r m e a n t to give details. Pressed f o r explana-
tions, Kodi admitted that G o r i m a was plotting. W i t h or w i t h o u t
Bongu's help, G o r i m a m e n w o u l d kill Maclay and loot his property.
G o r i m a was bad; B o n g u m i g h t also be bad; the only reliable friends
w e r e at Bogadjim, w h e r e Kodi still wished to w i n Maclay for his village.
T a k i n g the story at face value, Maclay was 'surprised' that s o m e still
t h o u g h t his death possible and desirable. W o r s e , ideas discussed at
G o r i m a or Bogadjim could easily reach his closest neighbours. T o stop
this talk, he set out f o r a village he had n o t intended to visit.
F e w G o r i m a people had seen the Kaaram-tamo. Ignorant o f their
dialect, Maclay could d o little to quieten their agitation. P a n t o m i m e
requests f o r f o o d and a sleeping-place, methodical attention to the meal
and arrangements f o r the night, nevertheless w e n t far to p r o d u c e an
uneasy hush. Maclay o r d e r e d the fire built up, t o o k his place b e f o r e the
c r o w d and scrutinized the apprehensive faces. H e called f o r the m e n
w h o s e names K o d i - b o r o had given, and m a d e t h e m sit opposite him in
the full light o f the fire. Considering their guilt p r o v e d b y their 'obvious
reluctance' to c o m e f o r w a r d or to m e e t his gaze, he accused Abui and
Malu o f wishing t o kill him. This was very bad, since he had d o n e
n o t h i n g to a n y o n e in Gorima. N o w he was g o i n g to sleep, so those w h o
wished to kill him w o u l d have every opportunity.
H e slept badly, w a k i n g o f t e n t o hear discussions in w h i c h his n a m e
recurred, b u t this restlessness, he explained, was caused b y a heavy meal.
In the m o r n i n g the villagers w e r e docility itself A b u i presented Maclay
200 The Moon Man

with a large pig. Both the accused insisted on escorting him back to
Bugarlom. Satisfied with the effect o f his action, seeing the desire to
appease as final p r o o f o f guilt, Maclay considered the matter closed.
W h a t happened b e t w e e n G o r i m a and the Bogadjim people, w h o m he
had n a m e d as informers, was n o t his business.
W h i l e this incident was m a k i n g its impression, he left Mebli and the
bulu-ribut to guard the house and started on the long-planned voyage
w i t h the Bilbil traders. T h e y sailed by night, Maclay and Mira in the
leading isang, Captain Kain, with Saleh and his kitchen installed in a
second vessel.
Maclay w o u l d gladly have travelled thus f o r weeks, a m p l y a c c o m -
m o d a t e d with his table, b u n k and armchair on the sheltered platform,
secure in the skill o f Kain and his assistant. Gliding t h r o u g h the night o n
the strength o f the land breeze, he slept peacefully, watched the dark
coast slip by, or w r o t e by the light o f a kerosene lamp. By day, w h e n the
south-east w i n d opposed t h e m , they beached the vessels and Maclay
wandered t h r o u g h the j u n g l e or visited settlements. T h e Bilbil connec-
tion and his companions' fluency in all languages allowed him to w o r k
in an atmosphere o f calm and confidence. It was in m a n y ways the most
c o m f o r t a b l e and profitable voyage he had undertaken.
It also provided o p p o r t u n i t y to extend his influence. Along this
populous coast he f o u n d m a n y dialects, but n o m a r k e d physical or
cultural differences a m o n g the inhabitants. Already enclosed in the
Bilbil e c o n o m i c sphere, they w e r e all suitable m e m b e r s f o r a political
entity he m e a n t to extend to Cape King William, about 200 kilometres
f r o m his base. H e had s o m e reason to d o u b t their ignorance o f
Europeans. Kain told a confused story about a country far south-east o f
Bilbil, w h e r e people w o r e clothes, built large houses and used metal
tools. But all the villagers w e r e astounded by the sight o f a w h i t e m a n
and his equipment. Even at busy, dirty Singor, people w h o specialized
in charging dear for imitation boar's-tusk o r n a m e n t s m a d e f r o m
clamshell w e r e awed by Maclay's table and chair, his cooking and eating
utensils and the light that he increased or diminished at will. Apart f r o m
the value they placed on their w o r k , they w e r e as unspoiled as any
well-wisher could hope.
Maclay was n o t careful o f feelings in Singor. M e r e l y to rouse his m e n ,
he fired his double-barrelled gun. W h e n the villagers camc r u n n i n g to
discover what caused this thunderous reveille, Kain addressed t h e m in
his best ' b i g - m a n ' style, n a m i n g Maclay as 4 Tamo-boro-boro, Kaaram-tamo,
Tamo-Russ\ berating the listeners f o r failing to bring gifts to such a
visitor. T h e people retreated as fast as they had come. T h e y reappeared
with chickens, sucking-pigs, yams, bananas, bags of Canarium nuts. For
the first time, Maclay had been formally awarded all his titles. For the
first time, tribute had been d e m a n d e d and received in his name.
No Ships Call 201

As Maclay half expected, Kain's idea o f a 'long, long way' did n o t


match his o w n . T h r e e days' sail f r o m Bugarlom, they sighted the agreed
terminus o f the j o u r n e y . H e spent t w o days about Cape Tcliata,
inspecting villages, plantations and handicrafts. H e struggled with Kain,
o f f e r i n g untold wealth in axes, knives, cloth and beads as p a y m e n t for
a longer voyage. Kain w o u l d v e n t u r e n o farther, stubbornly c o n t e n d i n g
that b e y o n d that point they w o u l d be killed and eaten. Maclay s h o w e d
the revolver. Kain believed but did n o t believe, feared the magic
w e a p o n yet insisted o n its uselessness against the cannibals b e y o n d the
cape. T h e y will kill', he repeated, clinching the a r g u m e n t with, 'Maclay
is one. T h e y are many'. U n a b l e to c o u n t e r such fears w i t h w o r s e threats,
Maclay gave up. A brass plate bearing his m o n o g r a m was nailed to a
tree, and the expedition t u r n e d h o m e w a r d .
His only recorded e m o t i o n was annoyance. Yet the incident signified
m o r e than his i m m e d i a t e frustration. His scheme o f things included n o
m o r e necessary m a n than the tamo-boro o f Bilbil, w h o s e seamanship,
trading connections and linguistic talents must f o r m a cornerstone o f
Maclay's Papuan U n i o n . N o w Kain, a perfect Grand Vizier in public,
had s h o w n himself recalcitrant in private, w i t h o u t real faith in his
leader's p o w e r and immortality. T o him, Maclay was Tamo-boro-boro
only f o r the purpose o f extorting tribute.
Maclay experienced the limits o f his authority again d u r i n g the
h o m e w a r d voyage, w h e n the Bilbil m e n insisted that a c c o m p a n y i n g
m o u n t a i n excursions was n o t the duty o f seafarers. At Bugarlom he had
n o time to analyse the unsatisfactory side o f a generally successful trip. A
strong y o u n g m a n had suddenly died at G o r e n d u . T h e people w e r e wild
w i t h grief and dismay. A n d the agitation w o u l d outlast the m o u r n i n g .
T h e death was seen as the w o r k o f sorcerers. T h e r e was talk o f war
against the m o u n t a i n m e n .
W h a t Maclay k n e w o f native warfare convinced h i m that it seldom
caused m u c h bloodshed. These so-called wars w e r e nevertheless apt to
last a long time, drifting into private feuds and payback killings that kept
the villages in upheaval f o r m o n t h s or years. Apart f r o m humanitarian
concern, the situation aroused purely personal misgivings. W a r m e a n t
constant c o m m o t i o n in a village five minutes walk f r o m his house,
r u p t u r e o f c o m m u n i c a t i o n s w i t h the mountains, the c o u n t r y unsafe f o r
miles around. It m e a n t an end to his tranquillity and the pursuit o f his
chief goals. At its worst, it could force him to leave Bugarlom.
A r g u m e n t s that had restrained B o n g u a f e w weeks earlier w o u l d not
w o r k in this case. T h e n , the death had been that o f an old, childless
w o m a n . In the loss o f a vigorous y o u n g male, the people had clearer
evidence o f sorcery, stronger cause f o r fear and anger. E v e r y b o d y
agreed that sorcerers had caused V a n g u m ' s death. His family d e m a n d e d
war. Delay arose f r o m their inability to fix on the guilty party, but this
202 The Moon Man

was o v e r c o m e by a proposal to attack each suspected village in turn.


Finally a deputation came to request Maclay's alliance.
H e never k n e w exactly w h a t his refusal m e a n t to his friends. T h e y
still talked o f a march against the m o u n t a i n people. T h e r e was n o
response to his arguments o f peace, a measure o f resentment in his
reception. V a n g u m ' s father, building a fire beneath his dead son's n e w
canoe, hardly gave Maclay a glance. In all G o r e n d u , the w h i t e m a n
seemed to have n o friends b u t T u i and perhaps Vangum's y o u n g wife,
w h o s e flashing smile as she watched o v e r the dead suggested she was
bored by 'her role as inconsolable w i d o w ' . For a full week, the w e e k o f
V a n g u m ' s funeral, Maclay experienced n o event he wished to
remember.
T h e quiet was b r o k e n by news that V a n g u m ' s little b r o t h e r had been
bitten by a snake. T h e boy had died b e f o r e Maclay could reach the
village w i t h his medical equipment. T h e slit g o n g was being sounded.
T h e square was a scene o f terrible excitement as w o m e n shrieked and
wailed and armed m e n rushed about shouting. Stunned by this eruption
in a place that had always seemed the very heart o f tranquillity, Maclay
saw the uselessness o f soothing words. Every individual in G o r e n d u felt
threatened. All but grave, silent T u i w e r e hostile to Maclay, seeming to
blame him f o r their misfortunes.
C o o l e r than their afflicted neighbours, the B o n g u people w e r e n o
m o r e swayed by Maclay's arguments. Instead, Saul tried again to
persuade him o f the need f o r w a r and the rejected alliance. Even at
h o m e Maclay f o u n d n o peace. His servants k n e w all about events in the
villages. T h o u g h they called it by different names, they f i r m l y believed
in the danger o f sorcery.
A silent, absorbed spectator at rites he did not understand, he attended
the boy's funeral. T h e people, t h o u g h calmer, remained sullen and
hostile. But afterwards Maclay was included in the g r o u p w h e n o n e o f
the m e n spat into their hands a magical preparation to shield t h e m f r o m
evil. W i t h the others he w e n t to wash his hand in the sea and r e t u r n e d
to the village, protected f r o m the sorcery o f their enemies. T h e n he was
asked f o r something in return. T u i begged him t o prepare his o w n
magic, to cause an earthquake that w o u l d destroy the m o u n t a i n villages
and leave the coast u n h a r m e d .
S o m e h o w Maclay escaped, leaving his friends to their conclusions
about his inability or unwillingness to save t h e m , leaving T u i to cope
with the b l o w to his faith and prestige. That e v e n i n g the slit g o n g
sounded in Gorendu. Late at night, Mebli w o k e his master to report that
the people had resolved on war. T h e o n e sign o f regard f o r Maclay's
opinion was their wish to conceal the decision f r o m him.
Maclay had m u c h to trouble him, waiting f o r d a w n in his half-
finished house, s u r r o u n d e d by the guardian voices o f the bulu-ribut. H e
No Ships Call 203

always assured himself that he did n o t h i n g deliberately to foster his


s u p e r h u m a n reputation. T h e r e was n o d e n y i n g that it had g r o w n
uncontradicted, to b e c o m e the f o u n d a t i o n o f his safety. N o w the
structure o f illusion threatened to collapse. In his neighbours' eyes, he
was either n o deity or n o friend. If his supposed divine p o w e r s w e r e
real, he clearly w o u l d not use t h e m o n G o r e n d u ' s behalf Despairing o f
a god w h o refused to help t h e m , his people w e r e taking traditional
action to help themselves.
T h e r e must be n o war. But Maclay lacked the confident authority to
forbid it outright. N o r could he argue against the reality o f sorcery.
W i t h his 'limited k n o w l e d g e o f the language' he could not discuss such
subjects, m u c h less convince a frightened, angry audience. Besides,
t h o u g h he did not face the fact, an a r g u m e n t against sorcery became an
a r g u m e n t against himself If n o such p o w e r s existed, they could not be
attributed to him.
H e w o r k e d out a scheme w o r t h y o f any minister f o r foreign affairs.
B o n g u had never seemed as fiery as G o r e n d u — n o b o d y had died in
Bongu. T h e villages had disagreed about the identity o f the e n e m y ,
evading the question by a plan t o o ambitious f o r their strength. T h e
need f o r Maclay's assistance had been m o s t felt in B o n g u , w h e r e his
refusal p r o d u c e d a telling effect. H e concentrated o n Bongu. By
opposing to fear o f the m o u n t a i n m e n an even stronger fear, he could
play u p o n misgivings, heighten disagreement b e t w e e n the allies, and
w i n a delay for ' c o o l i n g - o f f
H e strolled to B o n g u at the usual time and waited f o r his friends to
raise the question. W h e n asked, he repeated that there should be n o war,
and sat in silence as impassioned speakers tried to change his mind. W h e n
they had finished he rose to go, a n n o u n c i n g calmly: T h e r e must be n o
war. If you attack the m o u n t a i n people, disaster will fall u p o n e v e r y o n e
in G o r e n d u and Bongu'.
' W h a t will happen? W h a t will it be? W h a t w o u l d Maclay do?', a
dozen questioners demanded.
'If you go', said Maclay, 'you will find o u t f o r yourselves'.
As he left the village he could feel imagination beginning its w o r k .
At the gates o f Bugarlom he heard the first results.
'If the B o n g u m e n g o to the mountains', gasped the old m a n w h o
came r u n n i n g after him, 'will there be an earthquake?'
'Maclay did n o t say that.'
But he had said there w o u l d be a disaster, and an earthquake was a
great, great disaster, dreaded by everyone. 'Well', the old m a n pleaded,
'will there by an earthquake?'
'Perhaps', said Maclay.

For a w e e k or so Maclay kept away f r o m the villages, superintending


204 The Moon Man

the completion o f his house, attentive to r u m o u r s b r o u g h t by his


servants. H e learned that dissension had arisen within and b e t w e e n the
communities, that warlike preparations had stopped and debate subsided
into repetitious bickering. S o m e t h i n g was nevertheless decided. N o
f u r t h e r deaths stuck G o r e n d u , but every man, w o m a n and child was
daily expected to die f r o m spells breathed o v e r remnants o f Gorcndu's
taro and yams. T h e n they noticed the leaves o f coconut palms turning
red. M o u n t a i n m e n had buried spells in the soil, to starve o u t those not
killed directly by sorcery. ' G o r e n d u is finished', T u i had said, and Maclay
learned that G o r e n d u had lost the will to live. O n c e the taro was
harvested, the villagers w o u l d disperse a m o n g other communities. T h e
prettiest, clcanest, quietest little place on the coast w o u l d be n o t h i n g but
a n a m e on the white man's map.
Maclay felt n o duty to argue against it w h e n T u i came to c o n f i r m
the r u m o u r . N o r did he protest w h e n the recital o f misfortunes and
fears developed reproachful overtones. ' W e w a n t e d to beat these
m o u n t a i n men', T u i said despondently, 'but w e ' r e n o t allowed. Maclay
doesn't want us to d o it. H e says there will be a disaster. T h e B o n g u
people are afraid o f an earthquake. If there is an earthquake all the
villages will say: "It's Bongu's fault. Maclay said there w o u l d be a disaster
if B o n g u w e n t to the mountains". All the villages will attack B o n g u if
there is an earthquake. So the B o n g u people are afraid ...'.
Maclay listened patiently and let the old m a n g o w i t h o u t contradic-
tion. H e could truthfully say he had never predicted or threatened an
earthquake. T h e w h o l e rigmarole was a g r o w t h o f fantasy around a f e w
vague words, a misinterpretation 'quite typical' o f his relations w i t h the
natives. It prevented the war—all that mattered f o r the present. Yet
Tui's account contained a warning. Apparently neither B o n g u n o r
G o r e n d u n o w believed that Maclay could foresee or cause earthquakes.
T h e y feared that others w o u l d believe it and hold t h e m guilty should
defiance be f o l l o w e d by such an event. If an earthquake occurred in
spite o f their obedience—. But that was a possibility Maclay dared not
consider.
H e resumed visits to B o n g u in full consciousness that his prestige was
at stake. W i t h i n a f e w days he had to defend it. Slanting red t h r o u g h the
d o o r w a y o f the men's house, the rays o f the setting sun fell on
personages f r o m Bogadjim and Bilbil as well as B o n g u and G o r e n d u , in
animated talk that ceased abruptly w h e n Maclay appeared. H e sat in the
midst o f an a w k w a r d silence, aware that his presence hindered their
discussions. At last Saul advanced, looked straight in the Kaaram-tamo s
eyes, and put the question that troubled them:
'Maclay, can you die?'
So they w e r e still in d o u b t , six years after his legend had first taken
root. All his heroic self-discipline had failed to prove his immortality. In
No Ships Call 205

the f r a m e o f Saul's question, several events f o r m e d an illuminating


pattern. W h e n Maclay had fallen o n M o u n t Konstantin, giddily
clutching at a vine that b r o k e and deposited him unconscious half-way
d o w n a slope, his companions had sat a little w a y off, debating w h e t h e r
he was dead or m e r e l y asleep. T h e n t h e r e had been the equivocal
behaviour o f K o d i - b o r o , w a r n i n g Maclay n o t to visit G o r i m a and at the
same t i m e almost sending him there, as t h o u g h experimentally. T h e
G o r e n d u people had e x p e r i m e n t e d in a way, by o f f e r i n g magical
protection to o n e w h o theoretically need fear n o sorcery. Most
significantly, there had been a strange conversation some m o n t h s earlier,
w i t h Saul trying to discover s o m e t h i n g definite about Maclay's age,
hinting at w h a t he m i g h t have seen or d o n e near B o n g u several
generations before. T h e i r talk had left Saul very dissatisfied. H e was still
dissatisfied as he asked, 'Can you die? Can you be dead like the B o n g u
people?' His pleading voice proclaimed his wish to hear that Maclay
w o u l d live forever.
Maclay paced back and f o r t h , studying the rafters. T h e question could
n o t be dismissed with a 'Perhaps'. H e could n o t p r o n o u n c c a plain 'Yes',
f o r the truth w o u l d be fatal to his prestige. N o r could he answer 'No'.
Accident m i g h t at any t i m e reveal that the Kaaram-tamo could both die
and lie like ordinary m e n . Oppressed by care f o r reputation, present and
posthumous, he f o u n d n o t h i n g safe to say. H e searched the r o o f f o r
inspiration. A m o n g the pig jaws and fish skeletons there h u n g a
collection o f weapons. H e took a sharp, heavy spear and handed it to
Saul. Facing Saul as he had faced the boys o n Palau, he r e m o v e d his hat
so that n o shadow hid his calm, serious look, his unblinking eyes.
'Let's see if Maclay can die.'
Saul, the hunter, warrior, husband o f three wives, B o n g u ' s nearest
approach to a chieftain, was b r o k e n f r o m the start by a challenge so
foreign to his experience. W i t h o u t raising the spear, he stood irreso-
lutely, m u t t e r i n g 4 No! No!' Maclay maintained his position a little
longer, pressing h o m e the lesson o f his invulnerability. T h e intervention
o f those w h o rushed in as t h o u g h to shield h i m was n e v e r necessary.
Calling Saul an 'old w o m a n ' , albeit jokingly, he sat d o w n amid an
outburst o f relieved chatter.
It seemed to h i m that the question had been dealt w i t h satisfactorily.
But the answer had closed quite d i f f e r e n t questions. It c o n f i r m e d
dramatically that Maclay n e v e r feared death. It s h o w e d that Saul, m o r e
trusted than the others, admitted to the privilege o f conversation o n
Maclay's veranda, could not in cold blood spear a friend whose prestige
increased his o w n . B e y o n d that, all was confusion, humiliation, an
indecisive struggle b e t w e e n scepticism and the will to believe, taking
place in a mythological c o n t e x t o f which Maclay had n o inkling. At least
206 The Moon Man

they w o u l d never again ask if he could die. His answers w e r e


unbearable.
As w i t h most o f his actions, he n e v e r k n e w the real effect in the
villages. All danger seemingly past, strengthened by a n o t h e r d e m o n s t r a -
tion o f his poise and p o w e r , he returned to peaceful solitude and
increasing adversity. Scientific w o r k was i m p e d e d by fever, the
weakness and giddiness of anaemia and the nag o f tropical ulcers. O n l y a
little coffee, tea and w i n e remained in Jiis store, he and his servants
subsisting entirely o n Mebli's fishing, their garden produce, and barter
with the natives. H e lacked the very materials o f his w o r k , 'trifles' he
had underestimated, f o r g o t t e n , or lost b e t w e e n Java and N e w Guinea.
Every day he looked o u t f o r the ship that was almost a year o v e r d u e
and m i g h t n e v e r come. Yet he still dreaded its coming. T h e r e was still
so m u c h to do.
T h r o u g h S e p t e m b e r and O c t o b e r 1877, the natives almost dis-
appeared f r o m the o u t w a r d life o f the hermit at Bugarlom. Bogadjim
held a festival, b u t Maclay either failed to attend or did not find the
event w o r t h describing. W h e n news f r o m G o r e n d u convinced him the
people intended to leave, he m a d e n o attempt to dissuade them. W h e n
a death occurred at G u m b u , the first village t o recognize the Kaaram-
tamo, he was neither consulted n o r i n f o r m e d about possible conse-
quences. T h e r e w e r e n o m o r e triumphs o f will and diplomacy to set
beside the subjection of G o r i m a and the prevention of wTar, hardly
anything w o r t h preserving in his journal. T h e people w h o had faded
into the background w e r e nonetheless present to his mind. In the face
o f his difficulties in writing, and a severe shortage o f paper, he w r o t e a
great deal d u r i n g these months. In long letters to E u r o p e he described
his w o r k , adventures and w a y o f life. H e examined his relationship with
the natives, their strange ideas about his nature, his consequent p o w e r
to live safely a m o n g t h e m , d o m i n a t i n g t h e m in their o w n best interests.
H e spoke o f his fears f o r their f u t u r e and the precautions he must take
to prevent, or at least postpone, their e n c o u n t e r w i t h o t h e r w h i t e m e n .
H e did n o t report on their political organization, w h i c h remained w h a t
it had been, a resounding phrase in a letter to Europe.
N o v e m b e r b r o u g h t signs that Maclay, f o r all his seeming i n d i f f e r -
ence, could not a f f o r d to ignore. T h e earth began a faint b u t definite
trembling. O n still nights he heard a m u t e d r u m b l e like the sound o f a
distant b o m b a r d m e n t . T h e y w o u l d be listening in B o n g u and G o r e n d u ,
dreading the tangrim, asking w h o was responsible f o r this. If the earth
became t o o restless, there m i g h t be emissaries seeking m e r c y f o r an
obedient people, or magical intervention on their behalf Maclay was
m o r e preoccupied w i t h a different p h e n o m e n o n , a river o f corruption
f l o w i n g into B o n g u f r o m a source in the kitchen o f the tal-Maklai.
No Ships Call 207

H e had n e v e r paid m u c h attention to relations b e t w e e n his servants


and the natives, or been particularly impressed by the ease w i t h which
Saleh and Mebli learned the dialect and reached an understanding with
the Papuans. Visitors sought a chat in the kitchen almost as o f t e n as an
audience with the Kaaram-tamo, but Maclay accepted the situation
w i t h o u t misgivings. H e saw n o reason to prohibit his servants' nocturnal
visits to the villages. Saleh and Mebli b r o u g h t information, including
n e w s m e a n t to* be kept secret f r o m Maclay.
Congratulating himself o n having n o w h i t e e m p l o y e e — n o b o d y to
m a k e the natives suspect 'the earthly origin o f the Kaaram-
tamo'—Maclay seemed to fall into the European error o f l u m p i n g all
dark m e n together. T h e matter could n o t be so simple f o r his
neighbours. Saleh and M e b l i came f r o m countries t o o distant to be
distinguishable f r o m Russia, w h e r e beings like h i m w e r e c o m m o n p l a c e .
W h i l e the Javanese and the Palauan did not look like tamo-Russ, they
w e r e as different f r o m each o t h e r and f r o m the people o f Bongu. As
adjuncts o f Maclay, they walked confidently in and o u t o f his house and
handled his w o n d e r f u l property. T h e darker o f the strangers even used
the ktabu\ the w e a p o n sacred to Maclay. In m a n y ways, these t w o w e r e
as inexplicable as a m a n f r o m the m o o n .
But Mebli o f t e n failed to kill the birds at which he aimed the 'tabu.
T h o u g h he and Saleh w o r e clothes, they w e r e less covered than Maclay.
T h e y could be seen to consist o f flesh, the same colour all over, neither
black n o r white. T h e i r minds, too, w e r e less r e m o t e than Maclay's.
Mebli was haunted by ghosts f r o m B o n g u , spirits o f the dead w h o came
by night to strangle him, like those o f his native land. H e and Saleh
believed as strongly as their neighbours in the p o w e r o f sorcery. For all
their outlandishness, they w e r e closer to m e n than the Kaaram-tamo.
Familiar, confidential, s o m e t h i n g b e t w i x t and b e t w e e n , they bridged
the magical distance separating B o n g u f r o m the tal-Maklai. N o w they
secretly b r o u g h t beautiful and useful things to exchange f o r food.
T h e Papuans kept secrets better than Mebli and Saleh. W h e n Maclay
learned that his servants w e r e stealing his goods f o r barter in the villages,
the revelation e m e r g e d f r o m their o w n feud. Each accused the other.
Maclay f o u n d b o t h guilty. H e did not m a k e allowance f o r their h u n g e r ,
or excuse t h e m as victims o f European corruption. H e c o n d e m n e d their
'conscienceless behaviour', as t h o u g h they had been white.
W h a t e v e r happened to the thieves, the damage was done. Either the
villagers k n e w , and did not care, that the things they b o u g h t w e r e stolen,
or they fancied Maclay's c o m p a n i o n s as rich and p o w e r f u l as he.
H o w e v e r they decided, the result looked fatal f o r his ascendancy. W h i l e
he w r o t e o f the deep friendship and perfect trust he had inspired, the
godlike authority with which he was invested, his servants cast d o u b t
208 The Moon Man

on his p o w e r to frustrate w r o n g d o e r s , u n d e r m i n e d his security,


corrupted his people. T h e r e had been n o greater threat to the illusions
on which his reputation rested. But there was n o t i m e f o r the urgent,
exemplary action. Early in N o v e m b e r , while the g r o u n d continued to
shiver and distant artillery r u m b l e d , a ship d r o p p e d anchor in the bay.
12: Descent into Hell

W H I L E MACLAY I M A G I N E D a distant
b o m b a r d m e n t , or watched f r o m the ship the origin o f that o m i n o u s
sound—volcanic activity on the islands o f M a n a m and B a m — g u n s had
been t h u n d e r i n g in Bulgaria and Asia M i n o r . T h e skipper o f the Flower
of Yarrow was w r o n g in reporting that Russia had taken Constantinople.
O n l y British p o w e r , the British believed, could t h w a r t that age-old
ambition. As the Russo-Turkish war d r e w to a close, the w o r l d feared
w a r b e t w e e n Russia and Britain.
T h e n e w s was merely interesting to Maclay. His English acquain-
tances w e r e not the kind o f people w h o roared, ' W c don't w a n t to fight,
but, by Jingo! if w e d o . . . ! ' T h e vulnerable trading port f o r w h i c h he
was b o u n d could not afford warlike enthusiasm. A n y hostility in
Singapore w o u l d c o m e not f r o m inflamed patriots b u t f r o m enraged
creditors.
Landing there in January 1878, he was suffering f r o m f e v e r and
anaemia. D u r i n g the t w o - m o n t h voyage via the E x c h e q u e r and
Anchorite groups, M i n d a n a o and n o r t h Borneo, he had developed
scurvy and bcri-bcri. But S c h o m b u r g o f Singapore was o n the doorstep,
d e m a n d i n g the costs o f Maclay's o u t w a r d voyage and his stay in N e w
Guinea. W h e n n e w s o f his r e t u r n reached Batavia, Ankersmit began to
write d u n n i n g letters. Civilization c o n f r o n t e d Maclay with fiercer
enemies than any he f o u n d a m o n g wild beasts and savages.
H e w r o t e at once to the m o t h e r w h o had not responded for years.
A n o t h e r cry f o r help w e n t to Semyonov-Tianshansky. In these early
days, Maclay felt able to refuse anything that smacked o f 'relief or
'donations'. By b o r r o w i n g half the sum he o w e d , he w o u l d preserve his
independence, f r e e himself f r o m creditors and f r o m Singapore. Already
granted his passage, he w o u l d m a k e his w a y to Japan and await a w a r -

209
210 The Moon Man

ship f o r the Baltic. At times he believed himself 'on the way to Russia*.
H e was c o n d e m n e d to spend f o u r m o n t h s in Singapore, his creditors
unbearably importunate, his m i n d shrill with persecution, his physical
state causing grave fear. A 'chronic catarrh o f the stomach and intestines',
chronic diarrhoea and the threat o f dysentery increased his suffering.
Hyperaesthesia tortured him into ' e x t r e m e n e r v o u s irritability'. C o n -
fined to bed f o r m o n t h s on end, he sank beneath anaemia and general
exhaustion, 'almost constant giddiness' and 'frequent, sudden bouts o f
unconsciousness', until it was again time to prepare his m o t h e r 'for the
worst (or the best)'.
From his letters to St Petersburg, he seemed utterly alone. H u m a n i t y
haunted the background, source o f the footsteps and voices that b r o u g h t
him to an 'almost hysterical state'. All hearts w e r e dead or inaccessible
to Maclay. Delivered o v e r t o Malay servants f r o m w h o m he expected
nothing, he e n d u r e d w i t h o u t c o m f o r t or care. It was plain to distant
friends that w i t h o u t their i m m e d i a t e aid he must die wretchedly,
abandoned by the h u m a n race.
At the same time, he lived in the house o f a medical friend, w h e r e
o t h e r doctors visited him quite frequently. His o w n servants had
accompanied him t o Singapore, Mebli and Mira remaining there f o r
three months. M r W h a m p o a and o n e o f the doctors lent him e n o u g h
f o r immediate needs. People came t o discuss things in general and the
international situation in particular, predicting w a r n o w that Russia had
imposed on T u r k e y a treaty unacceptable to the great powers, and
Maclay was concerned e n o u g h to feel he must see Russian newspapers.
H e enquired about the situation at Sarimbun, a n n o y e d to hear that
n o t h i n g had been d o n e about a zoological station. H e enjoyed a talk
with O d o a r d o Beccari about N e w Guinea plants. H e heard accounts of
a volcanic eruption on N e w Britain, observed at almost the same time
as the display at M a n a m . T h e Straits branch o f the R o y a l Asiatic Society
elected him an h o n o r a r y m e m b e r .
N o n e o f these diversions relieved him o f the sense that his last days
w e r e passing, u n d e r the shadow o f the duns. T h e n , almost incredulously,
he had p r o o f that he was not forsaken. M o n e y f r o m the Russian
Geographical Society released him f r o m S c h o m b u r g . H e could send
Mebli and Mira back to Palau, m o v e to J o h o r Baharu. H e almost
enjoyed the t h o u g h t o f Ankersmit, 'incensed because he was not m a d e
Russian vice-consul', impatiently waiting to be paid.
Sickness and despair n e v e r prevented him f r o m planning a future.
T h e basic scheme was that f o r returning to Russia and paying his debts
f r o m the proceeds of his b o o k of travels. H e soon added an intention to
visit the Maclay Coast again in 1881. But then the f u t u r e took a n e w
direction. Having regained his health and published his w o r k , he w o u l d
Descent into Hell 211

spend a f e w years in Africa, clearing up the relationship b e t w e e n its


tribes and the Papuans.
All these plans f o u n d e r e d on news that n o warship w o u l d return to
the Baltic that year. Yet Maclay could n o t stay in Singapore. H e agreed
with the doctors that the only cure in his case was a change o f climate.
H e refused to waste his remaining f u n d s on b u y i n g a passage that the
Russian navy w o u l d eventually provide f r e e o f charge. Japan, close to
naval headquarters and the Sea o f Okhotsk, was suggested and rejected.
T h e r e remained a c o u n t r y that had been o f t e n in his thoughts over the
years, a land o f interesting animals w h o s e brains had never been
properly investigated and native tribes w h o s e relationship to the
Papuans was not finally determined. Its climate was kinder to Europeans
than that o f Singapore, and its principal c o m m u n i t i e s lay farther f r o m
Ankersmit's Batavia. T o w a r d s the end o f J u n e 1878, he left f o r H o n g
K o n g , to join a steamer f o r Australia.

Maclay felt he was received v e r y kindly' in Australia. From the first


colonial port of call he attracted journalists, as a devoted m a r t y r to
science' and an i n f o r m a n t on N e w Guinea. H e was recognized well
b e y o n d the scientific c o m m u n i t y as a dedicated naturalist, a fearless and
unwearied traveller. H e was k n o w n as o n e w h o w e n t alone and
u n a r m e d a m o n g savage tribes, b r o u g h t criminals to justice, forced
hostile warriors to lay their weapons at his feet, and received h o m a g e as
divine Kaaram-tamo o f the Maclay Coast. All m a n n e r o f m e n wished to
help and h o n o u r a visitor w h o c o m b i n e d w i t h the prestige o f science
an almost-legendary heroism and p o w e r .
T h e voyage to Sydney had so i m p r o v e d his health that he n o longer
t h o u g h t it necessary to enter a hospital. Living at the Australian Club,
the stronghold of the upper classes, he quickly got to k n o w e v e r y o n e
interested in science. W i t h i n a w e e k o f his arrival he had been elected
an h o n o r a r y m e m b e r of the Linnean Society o f N e w South Wales,
perhaps the most active scientific organization in the colonics. H e began
to use his p o w e r s o f leadership and persuasion to i m p r o v e w h a t he
found. Alert to the possibilities o f a wealthy b u t raw c o m m u n i t y that
was d e t e r m i n e d to be inferior to none, he immediately opened a
campaign to establish a zoological station near the city.
Maclay had already experienced the need w h e n he told the Linnean
Society h o w science had gained f r o m stations in E u r o p e and N o r t h
America. T h e Australian C l u b provided no facilities f o r anatomical
research; he suspected that using the r o o m s f o r that purpose m i g h t
infringe t h e rules. T h e same m i g h t be true in a rented apartment, and
he could not afford to set up in a cottage. After nine m o n t h s o f enforced
abstinence, impatience to start w o r k in comparative a n a t o m y added
212 The Moon Man

f e r v o u r to his advocacy of a zoological station. T h a t project d e p e n d e d


on the conclusions o f the inevitable c o m m i t t e e , and the public support
obtained. Maclay's situation was eased by an invitation f r o m William
Macleay, guiding spirit o f the Linnean Society and m e m b e r of the
Legislative Council o f N e w South Wales.
William Macleay could fairly be called a 'self-made man', having
c o m e to the colony as a w e l l - b o r n but impoverished y o u t h to make his
f o r t u n e f r o m sheep. His b a c k g r o u n d and intellect e x e m p t e d h i m f r o m
the crudities by w h i c h colonial self-made m e n grated on fastidious
visitors. Having shed nearly all o t h e r interests, he was approximately
what M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y wished to be, a wealthy, independent man o f
science. His life centred on his private m u s e u m and the learned society
he had founded. Its m o s t i m p o r t a n t and only desired events w e r e the
receipt o f specimens f r o m collectors, the arrival o f journals and
correspondence f r o m Europe, and the meetings at w h i c h he read
zoological papers.
Yet five years b e f o r e he had been dissatisfied with his life and
uncertain h o w to change it. It had been temporarily changed, at the age
o f f i f t y - f o u r , by the w o r d s that had inspired the t w e n t y - f o u r - y e a r - o l d
Miklouho-Maclay, J. B. Jukes's evocation o f enchanted N e w Guinea.
William Macleay had b o u g h t a ship and equipped an expedition with
everything foresight could provide. And he had spent m a n y hours in
regret. T h e r e had been sickness, mistakes and mishaps, never a chance
to approach that magical interior. Entangled with the annexation
fantasy, the expedition was declared a failure because it f o u n d n o
mineral wealth or fertile lands with vacant possession. William Macleay
consoled himself w i t h a cargo o f specimens, the real object o f the
j o u r n e y . T h e r e was n o d e n y i n g that he, so impatient with ignorance and
i n c o m p e t e n c e in others, had been publicly treated as a fool.
H e kept up his interest in N e w Guinea, t h o u g h he w o u l d certainly
never go there again. Since he regarded non-scientific conversation as a
waste o f time, he f o u n d in M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y the perfect guest, a quiet,
solitary man w h o lived and breathed science, with the added advantage
o f a f a m o u s name. Besides, it was believed that Miklouho-Maclay's
Scottish ancestors belonged to the same stock as those o f William
Macleay.
Living together still callcd f o r tact. A religious man, and in all things
conservative, William Macleay inclined to the anti-Darwinian side. It
seemed to h i m that w i t h evolutionary t h e o r y biology was a t t e m p t i n g
to pass 'the utmost range of the h u m a n intellect'. A c o m p r e h e n s i v e
distrust of 'barren theories', and a taste f o r the Scottish legal verdict o f
'not proven', helped to soften the outlines o f his opposition. H e
co-operated w i t h scientists w h o s e Darwinism m a d e that o f his n e w
friend look faint and tentative. T h e Linnean Society o f N e w South
Descent into Hell 213

Wales w e l c o m e d m e n o f the most advanced opinions. But they had to


leave their opinions outside. U n d e r William Macleay's influence, the
Society adhered to a biology that described and classified w i t h o u t
a t t e m p t i n g to explain.
M i k l o u h o - M a c l a y had long been o u t o f touch with the masters
w h o s e e x u b e r a n t Darwinism had d o m i n a t e d his student years. His only
scientific correspondent in G e r m a n y was Professor R u d o l f V i r c h o w ,
w h o s e attitude a p p r o x i m a t e d William Macleay's. At any rate, he had
seen e n o u g h o f theorists to f a v o u r principles like those his host
advocated—exact observation, patient collection o f facts, resistance to
any kind o f speculation. H e f o u n d himself at h o m e in the Linnean
Society, and w o u l d never seriously deviate f r o m its ideals.
Physically, he seemed well placed. Elizabeth Bay House, quiet and
secluded, c o m m a n d e d a splendid v i e w d o w n the h a r b o u r to Sydney
Heads. Its grounds, almost a botanic garden, ran d o w n to the water's
edge. W h e n he considered the a c c o m m o d a t i o n , the outlook, the
interesting m u s e u m and fine zoological library, he felt able to spend
m o n t h s there V e r y c o m f o r t a b l y and with advantage f o r science'. At
first, his one complaint was that a b o d y habituated to the tropics p r o v e d
'remarkably sensitive' to the chilly end o f a Sydney winter.
H e c o n v e r t e d part o f Macleay's m u s e u m into a laboratory. Fishermen
e m p l o y e d by his host b r o u g h t sharks and rays that had n e v e r been
available elsewhere. H e arranged to receive the brains o f Melanesians
and Polynesians w h o died in the hospitals. H e sought the brains o f
Australian Aborigines and such l o w e r f o r m s as the platypus, spiny
antcatcr, d u g o n g and Queensland lungfish. N o t e v e r y t h i n g he w a n t e d
was obtainable in Sydney. 'Regulations, traditions, superstitions, etc.,
etc.,' m a d e it difficult to receive h u m a n corpses in a private house, and
the hospital dissecting r o o m p r o v e d quite inadequate. But e n o u g h
material arrived o n his table to keep h i m busy f r o m d a w n to dusk. H e
was writing papers f o r presentation to the Linnean Society, ethnological
notes to be sent to Berlin, a c o m m u n i c a t i o n to the Russian Geographical
Society. Days in Australia, organized like those at B u g a r l o m , p r o v e d as
m u c h t o o short for all he had to do.
M u c h e f f o r t in these early m o n t h s was aimed at establishing a
zoological station. For the Linnean Society, he w r o t e a detailed
exposition o f the objects and advantages, published first in newspapers
to enlist public interest. H e guided a c o m m i t t e e that seemed to approve
all his ideas. Little that he said could be n e w to a scientific c o m m u n i t y
that f o r six years had seen reports o f A n t o n D o h r n ' s undertaking and
evidence o f its influence. T h e idea o f Australia as a place f o r zoological
stations had been p u t f o r w a r d in D o h r n ' s first c o m m u n i c a t i o n to the
British scientific press. T h e n e w factor was the presence o f a distin-
guished visitor with strongly-felt personal needs. Maclay still w a n t e d a
214 The Moon Man

r e f u g e f o r the solitary student of nature. H e first proposed a small


cottage on the shore, close to the m u s e u m and library o f Elizabeth Bay
House and supervised by William Macleay. T i m e and discussion altered
the plan to something m o r e like a public institution. T h e rules remained
true to the T a m p a t Senang'.
Maclay's influence f o l l o w e d naturally f r o m his f a m e and his standing
as a f u l l - t i m e researcher in a c o m m u n i t y w h e r e 'professional' scientific
w o r k e r s w e r e n u m b e r e d with digits to spare on the fingers o f t w o
hands. Had his reputation been u n k n o w n on his arrival, his n a m e w o u l d
have d r a w n attention. It headed the passenger list, as that o f the only
titled traveller.
T h e habit of calling him 'Baron Maclay' had developed in Singapore
and J o h o r , w h e r e neither the press n o r the highest authorities could
accept that a Russian 'hereditary n o b l e m a n ' b o r e no particular title.
Maclay had t h o u g h t such errors u n w o r t h y o f correction, p e r m i t t i n g
himself to be introduced as 'baron' to guests at G o v e r m e n t House and
the maharaja's palace. H e also m a d e allowance f o r the p r o b l e m s o f
port officials. Since the Russian 'dvorianiri became a w k w a r d in trans-
lation, and the 'Monsieur and ' H e n on other leaves o f his passport
w e r e disregarded, he had allowed the use o f the simple 'baron'.
In Australia, the press unanimously used the title, varying it only by
the 'doctor' that was current in European scientific journals. H e was
'baron' to the consul f o r the Russian Empire, colonial officials and the
compilers o f passenger lists. H e eventually received the title f r o m the
c o m m o d o r e o f the R o y a l Navy's Australia squadron, the British high
commissioner f o r the western Pacific, and the successive g o v e r n o r s o f
N e w South Wales. N o t h i n g could eradicate the habit in the scientific
c o m m u n i t y . N o b o d y was m o r e d e t e r m i n e d to call him 'baron' than his
closest associate, William Macleay.
H e t h o u g h t it unnecessary to issue a public correction, once he had
tried to m a k e matters clear to friends. In any case, he considered the rank
o f 'baron' in n o way superior to that o f 'hereditary nobleman'. Since
early 1875 he had used, f o r ccrtain letters, a special writing paper bearing
his m o n o g r a m s u r m o u n t e d by a coronet. His visiting card displayed
only the n a m e 'de Maclay'. H e n o m o r e claimed to be a baron than to
be a god, but in colonial cities, as on the Maclay Coast, silence and
symbols w e n t far to c o n f i r m an established belief
T h e respect and consideration he received never influenced him in
f a v o u r of Sydney and its inhabitants. Like any visitor, he admired 'vast
and beautiful Port Jackson'. T h e s u r r o u n d i n g country lacked e v e r y t h i n g
that m a d e nature lovely in his eyes. T h e city itself, s m o t h e r i n g its ridges
and p r o m o n t o r i e s w i t h a crust o f industry and c o m m e r c e , raw
ostentation and p r e m a t u r e decay, w o n f r o m him, at best, a forbearing
The telum in the men's house, Bongu, 1877
The men's house in Bongu, Maclay Coast

Bilbil Island, with beached iwigs


William John Maclcay, the
traveller's principal associate in
Sydney

Miklouho-Maclay, aged about


thirty
Descent into Hell 215

silence. In w i n t e r it was cold and boring, in s u m m e r 'hot, dusty and


boring'. It s w a r m e d with a m o n e y - g r u b b i n g European population
w h o s e presence in that country o f f e n d e d his principles. T h e i r political
attitudes also repelled him. A m o n g his acquaintances—mostly wealthy
conservatives w h o m i g h t have f o r m e d a local aristocracy had their
fellow colonists allowed it—he discovered real or pretended 'democrats'
w h o coloured his v i e w o f the w h o l e society. Altogether he gave thanks
that t h r o u g h absorption in scientific w o r k he was 'saved f r o m close
acquaintance with the w o r t h y "Australians" \
For the m a n w h o called himself 'the w h i t e Papuan', w h i t e 'Austra-
lians' could only be enemies. Despite rebuffs f r o m the British g o v e r n -
m e n t , m a n y colonists still talked about annexation o f eastern N e w
Guinea. W o u l d - b e exploiters desired the m o v e as a key to the idle land,
labourers and resources they imagined to exist there. Missionary
societies f a v o u r e d it as a means o f excluding such people and preserving
the natives uncontaminated to receive the gospel. A n o t h e r school o f
t h o u g h t emphasized the island's strategic position, insisting that if Britain
did not claim it s o m e other p o w e r w o u l d , with consequent danger, in
time o f war, to colonial trade and communications. This accidental
coalition o f the greedy, the godly and the uneasy had r o o m for the
arrogant idealism that cloaks a lust f o r p o w e r . T h e r e was n o lack o f
voices to proclaim Britain's duty to protect and civilize N e w Guineans.
Even William Macleay, w h o derided the idea o f w h i t e colonization,
believed some European c o u n t r y w o u l d assume the civilizing mission,
and preferred that it should be Britain.
T o Maclay, the aims o f missionaries w e r e as pernicious as those o f
traders, and o t h e r stated Australian purposes m e r e l y disguised the will
to grab his c o u n t r y and enslave his people. H e recognized n o o t h e r
threats. W h i l e discussing botany in Singapore, O d o a r d o Bcccari had
been inwardly preoccupied w i t h m o v e s f o r Italian annexation o f eastern
N e w Guinea. G e r m a n traders w e r e m o v i n g into s u r r o u n d i n g islands in
sufficient force to revive the old idea o f a G e r m a n colony. In France a
B r e t o n n o b l e m a n planned settlements proportionate to his self-
bestowed sovereignty o v e r a realm that included the Maclay Coast.
Maclay saw only the enemies b e f o r e his eyes, the brazen annexationists
o f Australia. H e had never felt m o r e strongly that m a n is the wickedest
o f animals.
H e was nevertheless lucky t o m e e t n o m o r e direct and personal
'unpleasantness'. F r o m his first day in Australia, he declared his
opposition to w h i t e incursions into N e w Guinea. H e was still widely
regarded as an agent o f Russian imperialism. A n d recent n e w s
c o m b i n e d these apparently incompatible ideas. Maclay's proposed
'Papuan U n i o n ' had been c o m m e n d e d in the Journal de St Petersbourg,
216 The Moon Man

m o u t h p i e c e o f the Russian ministry f o r foreign affairs. T h e fact had


been transmitted to Australia, w h e r e anything a p p r o v e d by that
ministry was automatically suspect.
T h e times w e r e u n c o m f o r t a b l e f o r a Russian in a British colony, with
war constantly o n the horizon, s o m b r e editorials in newspapers and
anti-Russian speeches at public meetings. T h e alarming Russian m o v e s
occurred in Central Asia, not the Pacific. T h e Russian press talked o f
invading India, not Australia. But transplanted Englishmen in Australia
felt as strongly a b o u t India as did those at h o m e . Events o f 1870 had
taught t h e m that Europe's wars could disrupt Pacific O c e a n trade and
shipping. Looking at N e w Guinea and s u r r o u n d i n g islands, they m o r e
than e v e r feared a hostile n e i g h b o u r .
If Maclay k n e w they suspcctcd him o f trying to establish Russia in
N e w Guinea, he could not blame the Australians. T h e same mistake had
been m a d e in Russia. A letter almost t w o years old, received o n his
arrival at Singapore, had i n f o r m e d h i m that the tsar rejected his appeal.
T h e official reason—the remoteness o f N e w Guinea f r o m Russian
interests—was accompanied by Semyonov-Tianshansky's reflections on
the non-success o f Russian colonization nearer to h o m e . As well as
r e m i n d i n g his c o u n t r y m e n that enlightened and h u m a n e g o v e r n m e n t s '
should place 'the general interests o f h u m a n i t y ' a b o v e purely national
concerns, Maclay had to point out that he did not advocate colonization.
' W h a t appeared . . . desirable to me', he explained, 'was a "protectorate"
o v e r part o f N e w Guinea, w h o s e inhabitants w o u l d be, t h r o u g h m y
mediation, the subject o f some international guarantee, having legally
p o w e r f u l protectors in case o f violence o n the part o f whites'.
Since the highest decision was 'No', Maclay could only watch events
and explore possibilities. T h e r e was n o better observation post than
Sydney, w h e r e he proposed to spend five or six months. Materials f o r
research c o n t i n u e d to f l o w to him and openings for investigation
constantly appeared. H e collaborated with William Macleay in w o r k o n
sharks. Preparing for the ultimate fifth part o f his w o r k on vertebrate
neurology, he studied Melancsian and Polynesian brains. At the
Australian M u s e u m he f o u n d Aboriginal skulls and skeletons, and
i m p o r t a n t collections in Melanesian ethnology. W i t h o u t the occasional
attacks o f fever, his days w o u l d still have been t o o short f o r w o r k and
his nights f o r rest.
H e nevertheless began to practise another t i m e - c o n s u m i n g skill. In
N e w Guinea he had decided that p h o t o g r a p h y was essential f o r
ethnological research. In Sydney it p r o v e d equally necessary to illustrate
the comparative study o f the brain. Maclay obtained the use o f studio,
e q u i p m e n t and p h o t o g r a p h e r at the m u s e u m , and f r o m this m o v e d to
learning the art himself
Trips b e t w e e n Elizabeth Bay and the m u s e u m , about t w e n t y minutes
Descent into Hell 217

each w a y if he walked, soon seemed an absurd waste o f time. H e had


also discovered, after the first delight w o r e off, that William Macleay's
premises w e r e unfit f o r serious scientific w o r k . Noisy servants caused
'constant interruptions and inconveniences'. T h e private m u s e u m , a
t e m p o r a r y building w i t h sheet-iron walls, became unbearably hot. A n d
bad as it was, William Macleay and his m u s e u m curator w o r k e d there.
T h e guest needed a place to himself.
M o r e c o m p l e x reasons also impelled him to leave Elizabeth Bay. T o
live in a private house rather than an official palace placed h i m in a
' d e p e n d e n t position', contributing to fits o f depression that hindered his
w o r k . William Macleay, a kind but rather d o m i n a t i n g man, perhaps
imposed a strain o n an i n d e p e n d e n t and d o m i n a t i n g guest. Maclay
accepted an invitation f r o m Edward Ramsay, curator o f the institution,
to o c c u p y a r o o m at the Australian M u s e u m . H e continued to
collaborate w i t h William Macleay in the friendly but distant fashion
b o t h preferred.
N o t h i n g could be less congenial to Maclay than life in a great,
echoing building, open to the public six days a w e e k , b o u n d e d o n t w o
sides by streets and situated next d o o r to a large school. T h e very best
v i e w f r o m the m u s e u m e m b r a c e d the eastern fringe o f the business
district and the untidy acreage o f h a l f - f o r m e d parks. His w o r k r o o m was
a 'cold, badly-ventilated basement'.
H e had n e v e r b e f o r e been cxpected to w o r k in such a place. T h e
advantages—space to himself, a b e d r o o m u n d e r the same roof, p r o x -
imity to specimens and p h o t o g r a p h i c studio—did n o t compensate f o r
bad air and the chill that damaged his health in the middle o f s u m m e r .
W h e n f e v e r attacks seemed m o r e f r e q u e n t and violent, he did not
hesitate to blame the w r e t c h e d quarters. A n d the basement b r o k e the
o n e promise a basement could make. Instead o f being quiet, it
resounded with voices—cows, dogs, people and cockatoos.
W h e n a n n o y e d by cockatoos o n his coast, Maclay simply shot t h e m .
H e could not adopt that solution here, m u c h less slaughter the rest o f
the 'zoological garden' that r o b b e d h i m o f t h o u g h t and reduced him to
a 'very nasty state o f mind'. T h e 'good people' clucked and fluttered,
astonished to find he had 'such w e a k nerves'. H e was obliged to be
grateful f o r w h a t a m o u n t e d to t o r t u r e and insult.
H e had t o stay, f o r the reason that had m a d e him d e p e n d e n t o n
William Macleay. Sydney m a t c h e d his idea o f European colonies b y
being expensive as well as boring. H e had very little m o n e y , w i t h n o
prospect o f getting m o r e , and a strong distaste p r e v e n t e d his asking help
f r o m 'these democrats'. N o t least a m o n g the costs o f i n d e p e n d e n c e was
the increasing difficulty o f keeping alive.
W i t h all this w o r r y and distress, he probably suffered blows to his
scientific prestige. For seven years he had published n o t h i n g in zoology,
218 The Moon Man

a silcnce that m i g h t have put paid to that side o f his career. His fame, in
the event, had been maintained not only by his travels and e t h n o g r a p h -
ical w o r k but by the controversies he left behind in Europe. Maclay had
n e v e r s h o w n the slightest interest in the o u t c o m e o f these disputes, b u t
the effect o f his early zoological contributions must have been nearly
inescapable in Sydney.
It was obvious in 1878, if not before, that he had wasted the pages in
which he insisted o n a h o m o l o g y b e t w e e n t h e 'gastro-vascular appar-
atus' o f sponges and the digestive system o f corals. In a quiet f o o t n o t e
to his m o n o g r a p h o n calcareous sponges, Ernst Haeckel had settled f o r
m e r e analogy. It had also t u r n e d out that supposed radially symmetrical
segments in sponges, discovered by Maclay and enthusiastically c o n -
f i r m e d by Haeckel, w e r e n o real counterpart o f antimcrs' in corals and
sea-anemones. O n top o f that, Haeckel had subjected his f o r m e r pupil
to criticism a m o u n t i n g to attack. Partly unfair, partly less than honest, it
contained e n o u g h truth to be damaging. W h i l e the general t e n d e n c y o f
Maclay's w o r k was miraculously preserved, its details w e r e d e m o l i s h e d
T h e 'coelenterate t h e o r y o f sponges' survived in m o d i f i e d f o r m , kept
going by Haeckel's imaginative agility. N o t h i n g could sustain Maclay's
version o f the fish brain. H e had carefully e x a m i n e d the brains o f
thirty-seven species o f 'primitive' fishes. H e had studied the w o r k s o f
m o r e than t w o dozen authors, finding m u c h confusion and error. Yet
his conclusions e m b o d i e d a mistaken approach, some failures o f
observation, and a misinterpretation verging o n eccentricity. H u x l e y
and several p r o m i n e n t G e r m a n anatomists had rejected t h e m . An
embryologist had s h o w n that Maclay 'misinterpreted the facts o f
d e v e l o p m e n t ' in sharks. By 1878 G e g e n b a u r had been persuaded to
abandon his lonely position. T h e interpretation o f the fish brain was put
back w h e r e Maclay f o u n d it, enriched by the n e w research that
accompanied opposition to his views.
H e had continued to collect and study sponges, but he published n o
m o r e o n that subject. His opinions o n the fish brain had not changed
w h e n he reached Sydney. In collaborating with William Maclcay, lie
had seen their j o i n t w o r k as an 'illustrated catalogue' o f sharks, to
accompany an expansion o f his earlier book. But the contents o f Sydney
libraries left n o d o u b t that his t h e o r y had fallen. H e published n o t h i n g
f u r t h e r o n fish brains, and b e c a m e noticeably less enthusiastic about the
catalogue o f sharks.
S o m e h o w he struggled into 1879, oppressed by doubts concerning
the f u t u r e and certainty that his Batavia debt continued to g r o w . His
days, w h e n t h o u g h t was possible, w e r e passed in dissection and d r a w i n g
and the tedious processes o f wet-plate photography. H e studied the
m u s e u m ' s ethnological collections or inspected Pacific islanders visiting
Sydney. W i t h visitors f r o m the outback he discussed Australian
Descent into Hell 219

Aborigines, converting hearsay i n f o r m a t i o n on sexual customs into


articles f o r publication in Europe. H e joined the m u s e u m staff f o r s o m e
dredging trips about the harbour, but could not spare time for their
longer voyages. T h e free pass entitling him to travel a n y w h e r e on N e w
South Wales railways remained unused, a symbol o f concentration and
self-denial.
H e sometimes escaped in t h o u g h t to Japan, to Russia, to an Italian
villa w h e r e he w o u l d live harmoniously with his sister. T h e r e was n o
closer prospect o f relief His colleagues agreed about the desirability o f a
zoological station, but saw its urgency less clearly. O t h e r w o r t h y causes
cried o u t f o r support—an u n d e r e q u i p p e d and understaffed m u s e u m , a
university w i t h o u t a biological laboratory. S o m e felt reservations about
an establishment intended purely f o r the rare scientific visitor. O t h e r s
raised questions about its o w n e r s h i p and control, points ' o f n o m o m e n t
f o r science', as Maclay put it, but real e n o u g h to those contemplating a
p e r m a n e n t financial responsibility. Six m o n t h s o f discussion and caution
left Maclay n o nearer to occupying a T a m p a t Senang.
His third appeal to the Linnean Society called f o r i m m e d i a t e action
supported by 'eveiy friend o f biological science in Australia'. T h e time
required to carry o u t his proposal became a g o o d test o f the degree and
intensity o f scientific life in Australia—at least in Sydney'. But discuss-
ions had taken a dangerous turn. S o m e people w a n t e d a smaller version
o f A n t o n Dohrn's establishment, research facilities associated with and
supported by an aquarium open to the public.
N o t h i n g could be farther f r o m Maclay's m i n d than an institution
built in the botanic garden f o r popular instruction and amusement'.
Faced w i t h this proposal, he could n o t await the result o f any test. H e
d r e w up plans f o r a building, f o u n d a suitable site, and took steps to
obtain the land f r o m the g o v e r n m e n t . Finally he began to collect s u b -
scriptions, on the understanding that if half the necessary sum w e r e
raised the g o v e r n m e n t w o u l d provide a matching grant. T h e land
selected had been e a r - m a r k e d f o r military use. T h e donations hurriedly
obtained a m o u n t e d to less than £ 1 0 0 . T h e proposed building, if practic-
able, threatened to be expensive. But the project was set in m o t i o n , by
Maclay's initiative and in tolerable h a r m o n y w i t h his ideal.
H e had recently seen m o r e important p r o o f o f his p o w e r to influence
events, an official letter f r o m Batavia advising h i m that the Dutch w e r e
m o v i n g at last to abolish slavery in the Moluccas. H e had n o such
e n c o u r a g e m e n t in his struggle f o r the Maclay Coast.
All the n e w s about N e w Guinea reached him. H e could f o l l o w the
comings and goings o f explorers, missionaries and official visitors to the
island. H e saw the proposal and rejection o f annexation schemes, the rise
and fall o f colonization societies, and the collapse o f a miniature gold
rush to the Port M o r e s b y area. But the most p o w e r f u l m o v e s for
220 The Moon Man

annexation w e r e m a d e in London. T h e syndicates w e r e organized in


Queensland, Victoria and N e w Zealand. T h e expeditions sailed f r o m
C o o k t o w n , M e l b o u r n e or Wellington. T h o u g h always interested in
N e w Guinea, Sydney people did n o t actively threaten the island. By the
end of 1878, Maclay had f o u n d that his most dangerous enemies w e r e
b e y o n d his reach.
N e w s published in Sydney o n the first day o f 1879 illustrated his
near-helplessness. T h e barque Courier had returned to N e w Zealand
after a brief visit to Astrolabe Bay. W i t h o u t finding the trading
opportunities they sought, her c o m p a n y had m e t with friendly,
intelligent natives and fertile country. T h e y had also seen, carved on a
tree, the n a m e of the schooner Dove, which had left M e l b o u r n e in
August. In the course o f t w o months, Maclay's unguarded people had
m e t t w o groups o f w h i t e m e n and, as it turned out, had got on well
with both of t h e m .
Maclay's m i n d raced ahead to w h a t he considered the inevitable
o u t c o m e — i n t r o d u c t i o n o f liquor and firearms, confiscation of the land,
finally the extermination of the people. In imagination he saw the
massacre o f w o m e n and children, ' m u r d e r and war without end% as the
coastal people, driven f r o m their villages, w e r e caught b e t w e e n the
rifles o f invaders and the spears o f mountain-dwellers. H e saw less
clearly the steps he must take to prevent these horrors. His o n e appeal
f o r official intervention, addressed to the e m p e r o r w h o s e h o n o u r e d
viceroy in Turkestan had o r d e r e d the extermination of recalcitrant
tribes, had been misunderstood and rejected. T h e British g o v e r n m e n t
b o r e responsibility f o r the disappearance o f Australian Aborigines. H e
t h o u g h t it equally ready to p e r m i t destruction o f o t h e r peoples. Yet he
was prepared to believe this g o v e r n m e n t m i g h t try to be a just
adversary', to shield natives against e x t r e m e s o f oppression. In the faint
h o p e that f o r once action m i g h t be taken in time, Maclay decided t o
appeal to London.
H e r e m e m b e r e d a passing acquaintance o f nearly f o u r years standing.
W h e n they m e t at Singapore, Sir A r t h u r H a m i l t o n G o r d o n had been
o n his way to Fiji, as first g o v e r n o r o f that n e w British possession and
first high commissioner f o r the western Pacific. T w o or three
conversations had not changed Maclay's prediction that u n d e r Sir
A r t h u r the Fijians w o u l d be enslaved or exterminated. By 1879 he
k n e w better. G o r d o n ' s efforts to protect Fijians and uphold traditional
authority had aroused such resentment a m o n g European settlers that
they petitioned for his removal. As Maclay n o w understood, G o r d o n
'did not regard a w h i t e skin as any guarantee o f the lawfulness o f a claim
or the justice o f a cause', indeed opponents complained that he treated
it as prima-facie evidence o f crime. M o r e o v e r , he had considerable
authority o v e r British citizens a m o n g the independent islands of the
Descent into Hell 221

western Pacific, recently used to put d o w n colonization schemes


originating in Victoria. Shortly b e f o r e Maclay appealed to him, Sir
A r t h u r G o r d o n , o n leave in England, had b e e n asked to advise the
imperial g o v e r n m e n t on the question o f a n n e x i n g eastern N e w Guinea.
Maclay's open letter m a d e it clear that the most desirable o u t c o m e
w o u l d be exclusion o f w h i t e m e n f r o m N e w Guinea. As a m i n i m u m ,
he w a n t e d a declaration that the British g o v e r n m e n t , 'recognizing the
rights o f the natives on their o w n soil', w o u l d not uphold whites in
conflict w i t h those d e f e n d i n g their land, families and possessions.
Initially the measures proposed, including prohibition o f guns and
alcohol, w e r e to apply to the Maclay Coast. Later, they should be
e x t e n d e d to the rest o f independent N e w Guinea and Melanesia.
T h o u g h newspapers assured him Sir A r t h u r was a kindred spirit,
Maclay n e v e r quite realized he was preaching to the converted. W h e n
his plea had been f o r w a r d e d to L o n d o n by the g o v e r n o r o f N e w South
Wales, he still felt that the justice o f his proposals w o u l d cause t h e m to
be ignored. But the one practical difficulty he r e c o g n i z e d — t h e absence
o f p o w e r to e n f o r c e laws in N e w G u i n e a — w o u l d soon be r e m o v e d ,
he believed, by annexation. Distasteful as this idea was, his one h o p e lay
in a rule that m i g h t be a degree less evil than uncontrolled invasion.
H e took it f o r granted that the authority w o u l d be British. In fact the
imperial g o v e r n m e n t , reluctant as ever to take responsibility f o r N e w
Guinea, had just shelved G o r d o n ' s proposal f o r limited annexations.
T h e r e w e r e signs that o t h e r p o w e r s m i g h t be m o r e interested. G e r m a n
officials had purchased harbours in the D u k e o f Y o r k group, a natural
centre f o r trade in N e w Britain, N e w Ireland and the Maclay Coast. It
was reported that three thousand m e n , led by M e n o t t i Garibaldi, w e r e
organizing an Italian colony for N e w Guinea. T h e r e was even a r u m o u r ,
said to emanate f r o m Russian official circles, that Russia w o u l d soon
occupy some Pacific island as a naval base. Imperialist and colonialist
ideas w e r e afloat e v e r y w h e r e , a f r o t h u p o n the troubled waters o f
international politics. Maclay's fears concentrated o n the colonies w h o s e
vessels had twice reached his coast and m i g h t easily d o so again.
Fuller reports on these visits b r o u g h t him n o c o m f o r t . H e had tried
to put his friends on their guard, speaking o f violence, kidnapping and
enslavement, w a r n i n g t h e m to keep their distance if w h i t e m e n came,
w e a r n o ornaments, and hide their w o m e n and most valued possessions
in the bush. Instead, they had c o m e f o r w a r d confidently, paddling their
canoes out to the ships, exchanging pigs and garden p r o d u c e f o r beads
and h o o p iron, o f f e r i n g even their w e a p o n s f o r barter. T h e y had let
themselves by photographed. A f t e r a week's acquaintance they had
allowed their wives to m e e t the visitors. W i t h o u t cither party u n d e r -
standing a w o r d the o t h e r said, friendly relations had been established
b e t w e e n Maclay's people and their natural enemies. His c o u n t r y had n o
222 The Moon Man

reliable guardian but the fever that attacked the intruders. In defiance
of that, the N e w Zealanders m e a n t to return. T h e y believed these
sensible natives w o u l d soon grasp the idea o f trade on a commercial
scale. T h e y also claimed to have provisionally 'secured' land at Astrolabe
Bay.
It was t i m e f o r Maclay to return to his people, but in February 1879
he s h o w e d n o sign of leaving Sydney. H e spoke, it is true, of visiting
Europe late that year. H e enquired about the chances of the Russian
Geographical Society's paying his passage to Japan. T o his sister, that
distant princess, handmaiden and near-stranger, he w r o t e o f h o w , w i t h
Beccari's help, they w o u l d spend next N e w Year's Eve in a villa near
Florence. But it w o u l d be 'a crime against science' to leave a c o u n t r y
w h e r e he f o u n d so m a n y u r g e n t tasks. N o b o d y could have guessed that
within a f e w weeks he w o u l d undertake a n e w voyage, as fervently
convinced that his duty was t o travel, not to stay.
13: Clause Two

M ACLAY'S POSITION
intolerable early in 1879. W i t h a pile o f w o r k ' b e f o r e him, he was
became

t h w a r t e d by impossible w o r k i n g conditions. A n y gains to health f r o m


a change o f climatc had been dissipated. H e was sometimes so exhausted
b y illness that he w a n t e d to sleep for days o n e n d His nerves w e r e in
tatters, his nasty m o o d s nastier. For physical and mental survival, he had
to escape f r o m the Australian M u s e u m .
T h e Sadie F. Caller, a smart three-masted American schooner, was
loading general cargo f o r N e w Caledonia and preparing for a trading
and trepang-fishing cruise. H e r r o u t e m i g h t have been planned to suit
Maclay. H e r o w n e r and skipper, Captain W e b b e r , seemed an honest
man. T h e mate was a qualified shipmaster. O n e o f the traders, an
e x - o f f i c e r o f the Italian army, b o r e the title o f cavaliere. T h e a c c o m m o -
dation was m u c h superior to w h a t the R o y a l N a v y offered, a b u n k in
the officers' cabin o f a o n e - g u n schooner. T h e captain was prepared to
aid Maclay's researches and spend at least t w o w e e k s o n his coast.
T o r lack o f anything better', Maclay decided to sail on the S. F. Caller.
H e needed to see m o r e o f the Melanesians to solve the basic p r o b l e m s o f
e t h n o l o g y in this part o f the world. H e feared that if he delayed he
m i g h t n e v e r again be able to undertake the voyage. H e hinted that
'special circumstances' m a d e the decision at once m o r e difficult and
m o r e urgent, and deplored the sacrifice o f o t h e r plans to this. W h a t e v e r
the cost in terms o f ambition and c o m f o r t , he could not allow personal
interests to o v e r s h a d o w the needs o f science.
T h e cost in cash was harder to pay. H e had almost nothing left, and
Captain W e b b e r asked thirty shillings a week. Meshchersky gave a
g l o o m y account o f the family finances. Relations with the Russian
Geographical Society w e r e complicated by the old question o f studies

223
224 The Moon Man

in n o r t h e r n seas and the Society's suspicion that Maclay placed


philanthropy b e f o r e science. T h e Batavia mail put the last touch to his
predicament. Ankersmit had discovered his w h e r e a b o u t s and b e g u n to
write d u n n i n g letters.
Maclay d r e w up a bill on the Russian Geographical Society and
obtained £ 1 5 0 f r o m William Macleay. T h e n he told G e r m a n collea-
gues w h a t he had been forced to do. His patrons, w h e n they heard o f
it, could choose b e t w e e n p r o m p t p a y m e n t and e x t r e m e embarrassment.
Released f r o m his o w n embarrassing dilemma', Maclay concluded his
bargain w i t h W e b b e r and b o u g h t photographic e q u i p m e n t
Publicity for the voyage s h o w e d that his fellow travellers had gained
prestige f r o m his name. It also s h o w e d they attached m o r e importance
than he did to one clause o f the written agreement. In return f o r help
in his o w n activities, he u n d e r t o o k to assist the expedition by his
k n o w l e d g e of the islands and their inhabitants. T o the syndicate this
meant that Baron Maclay's experience w o u l d help t h e m gather the 'rich
harvest' o f trade he predicted. T h e y told the newspapers so, and Maclay
had to write to the press, d e n y i n g any part in the commercial side o f
the cruise. H e continued to emphasize privately that n o trader w o u l d
receive his help in approaching N e w Guineans. It remained to be seen
h o w he m i g h t reconcile the promise given Captain W e b b e r w i t h this
promise to himself

After I had left Sydney in March, 1879,1 visited the following islands:
N e w Caledonia, Lifu; o f the N e w Hebrides: Tana, Vate [Efate|,
T o n g o a , Mai [Emae], Epi, A m b r i m , Malo, Vanua Lava; the Admiralty
Islands; the groups Lub (or Hermit), N i n i g o (Exchequer), Trobriand,
the S o l o m o n Islands, the islands at the south-east end o f N e w Guinea,
and the islands o f Torres Straits.

In total, during this voyage o f 409 days approximately 237 days w e r e


spent ashore or at anchor, and about 172 days at sea.

^ T h e language o f d u t y and scientific reticence disguised f r o m strangers


theT%elings with which Maclay returned to his tropical homeland. O n l y
letters to Olga-revealed his delight in 'these parts o f o u r joyless planet
w h e r e it is still bearable to live'.
N o u m e a was not such a place, a dull little official t o w n , d o m i n a t e d
by the prison that explained b u t did n o t excuse its existence. As t h e scene
o f a recent native uprising, w i t h bloodshed and brutality on both sides,
N e w Caledonia was nevertheless useful subject-matter for articles he
had promised a St Petersburg newspaper. H e saw the g o v e r n o r and
obtained the use o f an official steam launch. H e visited the prison o f lie
N o u and the settlement of communards, favourably impressed but finally
Clause Two 225

b o r e d by these 'institutions f o r exiles'. H e m e t o n e 'very interesting


man', the Marist Pere Xavicr M o n t r o u z i e r , w h o had been a t t e m p t i n g
to evangelize these islands w h e n Maclay was born. T h e i r conversations
apparently did not reveal the attitude o f that e m b i t t e r e d priest towards
the people w h o had rejected his message yet denied him m a r t y r d o m .
Like m o s t casual acquaintances, Maclay m e t only the observant,
w e l l - i n f o r m e d g e n t l e m a n w i t h a great taste f o r science, ever ready to
aid a fellow naturalist.
W h i l e the Sadie F. Caller unloaded essentials o f civilization—every-
thing f r o m flour and sugar to newsprint, rifles and sewing machines—
Maclay sought w h a t was native and u n s p o i l e d His darkest fears w e r e
c o n f i r m e d . People w h o hardly differed physically f r o m his N e w Guinea
friends had surrendered their dignity t o an assortment o f European
garments. T h e i r huts, n o longer built in native style, contained chairs
and tables and cheap religious prints. T h e second-hand d e c o r u m o f
villages u n d e r mission control was still a shade less degraded than scenes
at a plantation w h o s e o w n e r especially tried t o please a f a m o u s guest. In
despair, Maclay watched h a l f - d r u n k natives cavorting to the t h u n d e r o f
kerosene tins in a 'caricature' o f traditional dance. Heartsick, he retreated
t o measure heads beneath t h e eyes of the Virgin and saints. H e did not
leave e m p t y - h a n d e d . Besides b u y i n g w e a p o n s and utensils, he had
managed to steal s o m e interesting skulls.
F r o m the south coast anchorage w h e r e she r o d e out bad weather, the
schooner was sent on her w a y at last by n e w s that a g r o u p o f convicts
had escaped. T h r o u g h days at sea, heading towards the Equator, Maclay
sketched the realm o f islands. R o u n d e d h u m p s o f coral rock, p a l m -
fringed shores and sharp backbones o f volcanic peaks, islands like
b r o k e n spires and islands w i t h the profiles o f pancakes—his sketch b o o k
gathered t h e m all into a g r o u p portrait. W i t h n o island in sight, he read
and w r o t e in his cabin, i m p r o v i n g his reports o f past journeys,
explaining his intentions, ranging over all his scientific and humanitarian
concerns. But he spent m o s t o f May and J u n e ashore in the Loyalty
g r o u p and N e w Hebrides, while the vessel collected w o r k e r s f o r
trepang fishing and supplies f o r about fifty men.
S o m e t i m e s as guest o f missionaries, Maclay lived f o r t w o days or a
w e e k in villages, inspecting and measuring the people and d r a w i n g their
portraits. His pencil caught the martial stance o f an Efate warrior in full
array, the minimal aprons and elaborate tattoos o f w o m e n on T o n g o a ,
an Epi m a n in dance-costume, like a h u t o n legs, and a b o y ingeniously
dressed in o n e piece o f string. O n T o n g o a and A m b r y m he f o u n d
groups o f vertical slit gongs, standing like sacred groves a m o n g the trees.
H e walked o n coral beaches, landed on t w o - t r e e islets and scrambled on
the m o u n t a i n sides o f Vanua Lava. H e enjoyed better health than he had
f o r years. Life was bearable, as long as he stayed ashore.
226 The Moon Man

N o r t h o f Vanua Lava, he was c o n d e m n e d to a life afloat. T h e Sadie


F. Caller sailed swiftly f o r the isolated D u f f group, b u t f o u n d n o reef
suitable f o r trepang fishing. She retreated to the Santa C r u z Islands,
w h e r e Maclay expected an interesting stay in a practically u n t o u c h e d
field o f research. But they f o u n d n o safe anchorage; natives appeared in
such numbers, so obviously hostile, that even Maclay t h o u g h t a landing
inadvisable. T h e voyagers came to rest in the lagoon o f the Candelaria
or R o n c a d o r reef, s o m e 160 kilometres east o f the Solomons and as
r e m o t e f r o m Maclay's interests as a crater on the m o o n .
For a m o n t h the schooner lay at anchor within a loop o f rock and
coral that almost disappeared at high tide. Fifty m e n w o r k e d like
demons, gathering and preserving leathery creatures like half-animated
cucumbers. Day and night an iron smokehouse on deck palpitated with
the o u t p u t o f t w o stoves, blasting m o r e heat into the o v e r - c h a r g e d air
so that dried and cured sea-slugs m i g h t fetch large sums at m a r k e t and
m a k e soup f o r g o u r m e t s in China. This crazy i n f e r n o in the middle o f
the ocean was almost t o o m u c h f o r Maclay. H e m i g h t have b o r n e
s m o k e and heat, the stench in the cabins, drinking water that must be
filtered and boiled. H e could n o t e n d u r e being caged in a ' h u m a n
menagerie', a m o n g these 'nonsensically chattering, drinking, whistling,
singing bipeds'. A n d he saw n o escape short o f j u m p i n g overboard. W h e n
the reef reappeared at low tide, n o boat was available f o r excursions. H e
was virtually a prisoner in the cabin, w h e r e at least he f o u n d space, light
and privacy.
H e sketched stray birds that alighted on the vessel. Lories u n k n o w n
to science w e r e caught in the rigging. T h e m e n hauled in a shark he
believed to be new. For most o f his w a k i n g hours he struggled to read
and write, o f t e n w o n d e r i n g w h y he bothered. Already on this voyage
he had rediscovered letters m o n t h s old, read t h e m t h r o u g h and asked,
4
Why did I write this?', a question almost guaranteeing that the missive
w o u l d n e v e r be sent. H e had sat pen in hand, asking 'For what? W h a t
about?', and received no answer but groans f r o m timbers and rigging
and the smack of waves against the hull. Even Olga, the o n e person
w h o s e sympathy he had always relied upon, m i g h t n o longer wish to
read his ' u n c o u t h ' messages. 'I so little k n o w m y Olga o f the year 1879',
he confessed, 'that at this very m o m e n t there appears the question:
" W h y d o I write these lines?" T h e i r meaning, perhaps, will either
remain half-understood or lead only to misunderstandings...'. Yet he
continued to write, w i t h o u t faith in c o m m u n i c a t i o n , deserted and
f o r g o t t e n by those w h o c o u n t e d in his life. H e added to the hundreds
of letters that w o u l d n e v e r be answered, polished reports b e g u n in N e w
Guinea, drafted notes on Australian native customs f o r publication in
Berlin and described the ' n e w ' shark f o r William Macleay. S o m e day
these c o m m u n i c a t i o n s m i g h t be sent, b u t he did not k n o w h o w .
Clause Two 227

D u r i n g the frustrating weeks at Candelaria R e e f , Maclay was also


occupied with the western Pacific's most b u r n i n g p r o b l e m , the l a b o u r
trade' carried on b e t w e e n the islands o f Melanesia and plantations in
Queensland, Fiji, Samoa and N e w Caledonia. H e could not expect to say
m u c h that was n e w about activities that had been d e n o u n c e d f o r almost
t w e n t y years. T h e so-called Tree labour trade' was already a b h o r r e d by
missionaries, naval officers, administrators and unofficial humanitarians
in Britain and the colonies. It stimulated a stream o f revelatory books,
pamphlets, reports and newspaper correspondence exposing the crimes
c o m m i t t e d f o r m o n e y by Europeans in the South Seas. T h e traffic
continued, and Maclay m e a n t to add his voice to the m a n y that
c o n d e m n e d the 'blackbirders' and their customers.
It was not that he actually witnessed kidnapping, violence, or the
purchase o f islanders f r o m their chiefs and relatives. O n labour vessels
in the N e w Hebrides, he had seen n o t h i n g that could be treated as an
illegal act. G o v e r n m e n t agents w h o accompanied Queensland vessels,
t h o u g h t o o ignorant and badly paid to be a b o v e suspicion', could n o t
be s h o w n to permit abuses. Natives w h o described crimes c o m m i t t e d
in the past could n o t give names or dates. W h i t e i n f o r m a n t s w i t h h e l d
details about o f f e n d e r s w h o m i g h t retaliate. R a t h e r than questioning
those w i t h m o s t to tell, the r e t u r n e d labourers, he had tried to avoid
t h e m , finding t h e m V e r y o f t e n i m p u d e n t , m o r e inclined to lie and
cheat, . . . far less to be trusted than others w h o never had intercourse
w i t h whites'. T h e m o s t he could say w i t h certainty was that m a n y
islanders collected by labour vessels w e r e t o o y o u n g f o r plantation
w o r k , and that a chief:s son w h o had shipped on a Sydney steamer a year
b e f o r e had not r e t u r n e d to his island.
Dearth o f n e w facts did not shake Maclay's resolve to expose a traffic
long equated w i t h the slave trade. Iniquities existed, and his could be an
influential voice in campaigns against them. H e had gained a general
v i e w o f disruption and hardship causcd by the departure o f y o u n g m e n
f r o m their villages and of damage d o n e to native character and customs.
H e had learned h o w recruits w e r e collcctcd, and saw n o t h i n g to choose
b e t w e e n kidnapping and the e n g a g e m e n t o f people fleeing f a m i n e and
war. W h e t h e r they w e r e handed over by bribed chieftains or deserted
their people to f o l l o w the lure of adventure, all the recruits w e r e t o o
ignorant and gullible to be f r e e agents. But recruiting f o r m e d only part
o f the story Maclay m e a n t to tell.
E v e r y t h i n g he heard about was noted, f r o m the lies and violence o f
blackbirdcrs to the price a w h i t e m a n charged f o r a b o x o f matches,
f r o m the i m p u d e n c e of f o r m e r labourers to the m u r d e r o f 'wealthy'
returned w o r k e r s by their covetous kin. It w o u l d all have its place in his
indictment o f the European in the South Pacific.
H e had f o u n d o n e o p p o r t u n i t y f o r intervention. T h e Sadie F. Caller
228 The Moon Man

was equipped to collect and carry the largest possible quantity o f


trepang, turtle and pearlshcll. H e r a c c o m m o d a t i o n and her long,
c o m p l e x route ruled out a h u m a n cargo. But she needed m a n y hands,
needed t h e m f o r an indefinite time, and had to find t h e m w h e r e recruits
w e r e already scarce. Even at Lifu and Tanna, islands policed by
missionaries, the doings o f J o h n Leeman the mate had alerted Maclay. At
Efate, the mate had b r o u g h t Captain W e b b e r an o f f e r f r o m a N o u m e a
recruiter ready to sell a f e w men. A f t e r refusing the deal, the skipper
was frank or foolish e n o u g h to tell his passenger.
A n o t h e r visitor to Efate was a m a n with a professional interest in such
matters—the n e w c o m m o d o r e o f the Royal Navy's Australia station,
making his first inspection tour and harrying w r o n g d o e r s w h e r e v e r he
f o u n d them. W h e n Maclay reported the Sadie F. Caller, C o m m o d o r e
Wilson w o u l d gladly have taken strong action. U n f o r t u n a t e l y , an
American ship and an American captain cscapcd his jurisdiction. H e
could not find that Leeman, a British subject and of bad repute, had
c o m m i t t e d any punishable offence. At best, the C o m m o d o r e could n o t e
the i n f o r m a t i o n and perhaps deliver a warning.
Maclay was not disheartened by failure to cause positive action. H e
was feeling his way, b e c o m i n g familiar w i t h restrictions that h a m p e r e d
justice in the Pacific. His m e e t i n g with J o h n C r a w f o r d Wilson also had
personal value. T h e n c e f o r t h he counted on the friendship o f a g o o d and
just m a n ' w h o wielded i m m e n s e p o w e r . T h e f e w opinions they did not
share—like Maclay's belief that naval officers w e r e unfit to administer
justice to natives, and Wilson's conviction that the Vindictive and
treacherous' islanders w e r e 'the most degraded people u n d e r the
s u n ' — n e v e r intruded on w h a t became a long and useful association.
It was uncertain h o w the incident affected Maclay's position aboard
the schooner. W i t h o u t it, he lived on bad terms with his fellow
travellers. H e still talked w i t h W e b b e r , a knowledgeable Yankee
businessman w h o s e sharp practice at sea was n o w o r s e than w h a t others
did respectably in cities. H e hardly exchanged t w o w o r d s a day w i t h
other 'specimens o f the rabble', and never spoke to s o m e of t h e m at all.
But there was n o escaping their raucous presence at Candelaria R e e f
H e vaguely r e m e m b e r e d and heartily endorsed D o c t o r Johnson's last
w o r d on shipboard life: 'A m a n in jail has m o r e r o o m , better f o o d and
c o m m o n l y better company'. W h e n the anchor was raised, towards the
e n d o f July, he had decided to leave the Sadie F. Caller.
Captain W e b b e r tried to free his prisoner. For a w e e k he struggled
towards the D u k e o f Y o r k group, w h e r e Maclay h o p e d to find a vessel
for Australia. C o n t r a r y winds and currents always thrust t h e m back.
Maclay had to release the captain f r o m his promise and resign himself
to revisiting the Admiralty Islands. A m o n g islands previously u n k n o w n
to him, there had been n o question o f his helping the expedition. N o
Clause Two 229

other m a n aboard had visited the Admiralty group, and clause t w o o f


his a g r e e m e n t b o u n d Maclay to give the syndicate the benefit o f his
knowledge.
H e took pride in piloting the schooner to an anchorage at Andra.
W h e n islanders came aboard he m a d e a speech in f e w w o r d s and m u c h
p a n t o m i m e , explaining w h a t the traders wanted and what they w o u l d
give. H e held a n o t h e r m e e t i n g in the village men's house, delighting his
audience by reading o u t the names o f people he had m e t there three
years before. Dispensing beads and scraps o f ribbon to w o m e n and
children, he exercised a repertoire o f charms. T h e natives soon
recognized an old friend w h o w o u l d do t h e m no injury. As f o r the
trading, he was sure they k n e w he had n o t h i n g to d o with it.
T r c p a n g and pearlshell started piling up on deck at daybreak. Scores
o f canoes plied b e t w e e n schooner and shore. Captain W e b b e r shook
hands w i t h himself, and v o w e d to take the last sea-slug f r o m the reef
Visits by trading vessels, Maclay realized, had r o b b e d life on Andra o f
its 'primitiveness', its soothing m o n o t o n y , replacing it with trashy n e w
desires and the pursuit o f gain. He was saddened to see h o w the people
c o m p e t e d f o r beads, red cloth and h o o p iron, angry t o see h o w little
they got. T h e shouting and o u t w a r d l y cheerful bustle gave him b o t h
hcadachc and heartache. But he need not regret having introduced the
traders to people w h o w e r e already c o r r u p t e d A lovely girl-child took
his head on her knees and massaged his hcadachc away. Captain W e b b e r
gripped his hand and thanked him f o r bringing the syndicate to Andra.
W h e n the s m o k e h o u s e began to f u m e , c r a m m e d w i t h first-class
trepang, Maclay m o v e d to the village. Shady nooks o f f e r e d him peace.
Freshness and innocence survived a m o n g the children splashing in the
shallows and the giggling w o m e n w h o e x a m i n e d him as he inspected
them. A gang o f youngsters accompanied his walks, waiting on him
hand and foot. W h e n he w e n t to bathe, dressed only in short Malay
trousers, the white skin and long hairs o f his chest caused a sensation.
W h i l e he lolled in the w a r m , transparent sea, w o m e n and children
waited to give him a freshwater s h o w e r f r o m large seashells. A G e r m a n
steamer called, the vessel Maclay had hoped to m e e t at the D u k e o f
Y o r k Islands, but he did not take the o p p o r t u n i t y to leave with her.
Despite friendly relations and the avalanche o f trade, W e b b e r was
anxious, repeatedly s u m m o n i n g his passenger back to the ship. Maclay
sent reassuring messages and refused to go. H e openly dismissed the
skipper's worries as 'groundless'. H e privately spurned the weakness o f
'putting t o o high a value on this fine existence'. S o m e t i m e s he r e m i n d e d
the captain o f clause f o u r in their agreement, w h i c h provided that if
Maclay w e r e killed by natives n o p u n i s h m e n t w o u l d be attempted. 'In
m y opinion', he explained to a scientific colleague, 'the guilt o f the
whites in their relations with the islanders . . . is so e n o r m o u s that this
230 The Moon Man

so-called " p u n i s h m e n t " only increases the n u m b e r o f attacks against


them'. As he saw it, the islanders w o u l d n e v e r o f their o w n accord attack
visitors. T h e y merely responded to European crimes. If he died, it w o u l d
be as a n o t h e r victim o f w h i t e m e n .
By Maclay's reasoning, Andra was unlikely to p r o d u c e an e x e m p l a r y
death. R e c e n t m u r d e r s o f whites in that locality—those o f traders left by
the Sea Bird in 1876—had g o n e unpunished. T h e S. F. Caller syndicate
was not inviting destruction. In any case, Maclay relied o n his o w n tact,
g o o d faith and k n o w l e d g e o f native ways, and the islanders' perception
that he was not like o t h e r w h i t e m e n .
Disturbing incidents occurred. H e was sure his s i l v e r - m o u n t e d knife
had been stolen, but neither enquiries n o r offers o f r e w a r d b r o u g h t it
back. N o t i n g this first instance o f t h e f t a m o n g these p e o p l e — h e did n o t
c o u n t the pillage that f o l l o w e d the m u r d e r o f traders—he sensed the
decay o f native morality. H e felt it again w h e n the villagers rented his
a c c o m m o d a t i o n to Captain W e b b e r f o r use as a smokehouse. Maclay
m a d e the best o f it, refusing to be ruffled by eviction or tricked into
returning to the ship. T h e incident did cast d o u b t o n his ascendancy.
T h e islanders nevertheless t h o u g h t m u c h o f the w h i t e m a n w h o lived
ashore. T h e traders paid f o r their w h o r i n g , and after hasty f u m b l i n g s in
dark huts they f o u n d their gifts decorating scrawny arms and w r i n k l e d
necks. O n his first night in an old friend's house, Maclay was visited f r e e
o f charge by a succession o f temptresses, f r o m a 'rather old' w o m a n t o
a girl o f ten. T h o u g h he s h o w e d t h e m all the d o o r , he was n e x t night
o f f e r e d t w o beauties at once, one o f t h e m the y o u n g girl w i t h the
p a i n - r e m o v i n g fingertips.
By then, W e b b e r had noticed m a n y canoes gathered in an inlet o f
the main island. T h e Italian e x - o f f i c e r had f o u n d the exits f r o m the
village blocked by t h o r n y barricades. Maclay m a d e light o f the skipper's
fears, declined to retreat to the schooner, dismissed the Cavaliere
Bruno's pictures o f a m b u s h as products o f ' f e v e r e d imagination'. O n l y
the appearance o f the temptresses convinced him a trap was prepared.
Despite Maclay's hints that he was not wanted, B r u n o insisted o n
staying ashore w i t h several Lifu m e n and a small arsenal. But at the
crucial m o m e n t Maclay t o o k charge. A d r u m in the darkness a n n o u n c e d
the arrival o f canoes. Villagers raised the cry o f ' E n e m y ! ' Maclay w o u l d
n o t allow the firing o f a signal flare. 'Let the skipper sleep', he told the
cavaliere. 'We'll manage w i t h o u t him. I'll tell you w h a t to do.'
At his orders the sailors built u p the fire. T h e village square, w i t h its
hushed c r o w d , was lighted like a stage set. In the centre stood Maclay,
grasping a flaming torch.
' T h e e n e m y are coming!' he shouted. 'Maclay and the m e n f r o m the
schooner need light—lots o f light—so they can see w h o to shoot. Tell
'Tamate-tambuna', skull shrine and T h e R e v e r e n d James Chalmers, London
ancestral figure, Solomon Islands, 1879 Missionary Society

T h e yam house at Tunic, Trobriand Islands, 1879


1
A&pt* <f

Tupislei village, south-eastern N e w Guinea, 1880

l o L .
uto.

Kalo village, south-eastern N e w Guinea, 1880


Clause Two 231

the w o m e n and children to get out o f the huts! Maclay is going to b u r n


them!*
Perhaps he mangled the language; he had spent, in all, less than ten
days o n Andra. But the villagers understood the intention. B r u n o and
his m e n grasped it too, a r m i n g themselves with firesticks. S o m e o f the
people hastily rescued their valuables. O t h e r s ran to w a r n the 'enemy'.
T h e leading m e n s u r r o u n d e d Maclay, begging h i m n o t to fire the
h u t s — t h e e n e m y was a long w a y o f f and m i g h t n e v e r come. By the
t i m e he let himself be placated, the barricades had been cleared away.
D a w n was breaking and a boat full o f a r m e d m e n had left the schooner,
t o o late to be needed.
W h e n he t h o u g h t things over, Maclay f o u n d himself calling his old
friends 'the enemy'. As he later c o n f i r m e d , a strong alliance had been
f o r m e d to kill the visitors living ashore. T h e r e had even been talk o f
seizing the ship. H e did not believe the Andra people had m u c h stomach
f o r fighting. H e pictured t h e m standing aside, then rushing in to finish
o f f the victims and share the plunder. But his impression o f their
cowardicc and treachery was m i x e d with affection. T h e y had paid a kind
o f c o m p l i m e n t by treating h i m as the m a i n obstacle. T h e y had given
h i m the satisfaction o f detecting their plot and springing a m o r e
p o w e r f u l trap. T h r o u g h t h e m , he had again experienced those
m o m e n t s w h e n inspiration told h i m h o w to d o m i n a t e m e n f o r their
o w n g o o d and w i n a bloodless victory.
Still, they had s h o w n themselves u n w o r t h y o f trust. Maclay m o v e d
o u t o f Kochem's h u t — h i s old friend had been a ringleader—and
pitchcd a tent on the outskirts o f the village. Fascinated Andrans still
watched his every m o v e m e n t . O n e faithful b o y remained to attend him.
T h e o t h e r children only appeared w h e n they w a n t e d something, and
he n e v e r again saw the girl with the healing fingertips.
O t h e r w i s e , e v e r y o n e seemed inclined to f o r g e t the episode. T h e
c r e w w e n t o n boiling and curing trepang. Maclay collected artefacts and
continued his research. H e soon had his fill o f 'primitivencss'. An old
man's death unleashed a t u m u l t o f m o u r n i n g that m a d e Maclay feel he
was living a fantastic dream. H e had n e v e r b e f o r e witnessed such a
display o f Melanesian passion and ritual. H e noted it all, p o w e r f u l
symbols and petty competition, theatrical posturing and quiet grief H e
could not watch w i t h o u t nausea the self-laceration o f the widows. In
interludes o f general exhaustion he saw w o m e n and children g n a w i n g
h u m a n bones. His head whirled and t h r o b b e d to the frenzy o f the dance,
the h o w l i n g o f w o m e n , the ceaseless t h u n d e r o f drums. H e had to take
m o r p h i a in o r d e r to sleep.
In the quiet m o r n i n g , the warriors assembled f o r their last duty to
the dead man, an expedition to compensate f o r his death by taking a life
232 The Moon Man

in another village. R e f u s i n g an invitation to j o i n t h e m , Maclay f o u n d


himself involved in a m i n o r incident o f the one-day war. At a well in
the centre o f the island, he surprised a g r o u p o f w o m e n engaged in
beating t w o female neighbours w h o happened to have been b o r n in the
' e n e m y ' village. H e strode into the melee, fired over their heads and
doused the most obstinate w i t h water until the r e g i m e n t o f w o m e n f l e d
By some miracle their husbands, returning f r o m a 'martial c o m e d y ' in
w h i c h n o b o d y was hurt, decided to overlook the incident.
Maclay f o u n d other opportunities to d o g o o d on Andra. H e
prevented o n e o f the sailors f r o m teaching the natives to m a k e and use
the deadly Lifu slingshot. Inspecting the metal blades with w h i c h they
replaced the traditional shell or obsidian, he tried to explain the
difference b e t w e e n iron and steel and the reasons w h y they should
prefer the latter. H e had n o time to see t h e m p e r f o r m the Lifu dance
he proposed as a substitute f o r the weapon, or to hear t h e m ask the
traders f o r steel knives and axes. T h e islanders had b e c o m e t o o absorbed
in their o w n affairs to keep up the supply o f trepang and pearlshcll. A f t e r
eleven days in w h i c h Maclay seemed to have lived years, the Sadie F.
Caller raised anchor.
T h e y spent s o m e t i m e in the N i n i g o or E x c h e q u e r group, a
Micronesian outpost w h e r e the people so feared strangers that during
his previous visit Maclay had seen only o n e inhabitant. R e t u r n i n g
eastward, they called at the H e r m i t Islands, w h e r e his experience could
again be useful. Early in O c t o b e r some days w e r e lost in attempts to
shape a course f o r N e w Guinea, in the teeth o f the south-east trades.
W e b b e r eventually settled f o r Sori in the Admiralty group, w h o s e
emissaries had promised vast quantities o f sea-produce.
T h e British expedition in H.M.S. Challenger had investigated this
island five years before, but Maclay expected to find plenty o f w o r k left
f o r him. H e w o u l d live ashore, 'afraid neither o f fatal (?) fever n o r o f
treacherous, cruel savages', m o r e likely to learn significant details than
g e n t l e m e n w h o probably n e v e r left their ship. In the event he suffered
n o t h i n g worse than difficulty in finding suitable lodgings and f o o d
acceptable to his upset stomach. But the study o f native life p r o v e d far
f r o m easy. Its most noticeable feature n o w was the islanders' taste f o r
trade with Europeans and the skill and self-interest they b r o u g h t to it.
Maclay could n o t collect so m u c h as a vocabulary w i t h o u t paying a
small fee in beads f o r each ten words. A n d that abruptly e n d e d T h e
traders and islanders quarrelled Captain W e b b e r did n o t try to impose
the white man's will. T h e schooner returned w i t h o u t delay to her old
anchorage at Andra.
Maclay's private object in first taking the S. F. Caller to Andra had
been to find a Malay deserter f r o m the Sea Bird. This t i m e he quickly
learned the man's whereabouts. W h i l e the skipper was ' r u b b i n g his
Clause Two 233

hands with delight' o v e r the trading, Maclay slipped away in a native


canoe to the dark and dangerous mainland.
Negotiations f o r release o f the ex-sailor w e r e tedious, and the ransom
high. Maclay was b u y i n g m o r e than a man's f r e e d o m and pathetic
gratitude. Back o n the schooner, he eagerly questioned the Malay, sure
that an intelligent person w h o had lived three years a m o n g the islanders
must be fully i n f o r m e d about their customs.
A h m a d the r u n a w a y had not been badly treated, but a m a n kept in
semi-slavery and constant fear a m o n g people he considered treacherous
savages was not the best possible observer. His t h o u g h t s w e r e o f safety
and clothing. Maclay nevertheless f o u n d o u t s o m e t h i n g a b o u t native
polygamy, the purely private administration o f justice, the exercise o f
p o w e r in a society with n o f o r m a l system o f authority. Like Maclay,
t h o u g h for d i f f e r e n t reasons, A h m a d had been interested in cannibalism.
H e could tell h o w o f t e n the natives ate h u m a n flesh and h o w they
cooked a dish they p r e f e r r e d to pork. H e k n e w h o w it was obtained,
usually by the slaughter o f w o m e n and children f r o m the m o u n t a i n s
w h o visited the coast to collect shellfish. H e also k n e w w h e r e the
islanders d r e w the line. T h e disgust with which they m e n t i o n e d the
flesh o f light-skinned people had always been a c o m f o r t to him.
For this reason the people farther south had been unable to use the
trader Paldi. His b o d y had been prepared f o r cooking, but w h e n it came
to the point, n o b o d y w a n t e d to eat it. Maclay learnt n o t h i n g m o r e about
the m u r d e r . H e had to fall back o n his old t h e o r y that the Italian's h o t
southern blood, ignorance o f native ways and stock o f attractive goods
m a d e such a death inevitable.
H e was o n surer g r o u n d in explaining the death o f the o t h e r trader
f r o m the Sea Bird. O ' H a r a had o f t e n been drunk. H e had lived with a
native w o m a n . His over-familiarity w i t h the Andra people had
alternated w i t h rage or obvious fear b e f o r e their increasing aggressive-
ness. Following every possible blunder and offence, his fate clearly
b e l o n g e d to the class o f deaths that Maclay s u m m e d u p as 'one worthless
w h i t e m a n the less'. T h e strange and inspiring thing was that s o m e o n e
had valued O ' H a r a for being h u m a n .
Maclay sought out the aged native w h o in the face o f ridicule and
abuse had sheltered the w r e t c h e d white man. W h e n presented with gifts
in m e m o r y o f O'Hara, old Mana-Salayaoo was deeply m o v e d . Perhaps
he w e p t f o r his solitary condition and the death that could not be far
away. Perhaps he simply m o u r n e d a friend. T o Maclay he was p r o o f that
'compassionate people are to be f o u n d even a m o n g cannibals', the o n e
just m a n w h o r e d e e m e d all the rest.
N o just m a n r e d e e m e d the S. F. Caller syndicate. A f t e r seven m o n t h s
o f their singing, whistling and inane chatter, Maclay flinched f r o m m e r e
signs that they w e r e alive. H e was irritated by curiosity and advice about
234 The Moon Man

his o w n doings. H e had long b e f o r e passed j u d g e m e n t on their drinking


and w h o r i n g and rapacity in trade, and k n e w that such m e n w e r e unfit
to m e e t the Maclay Coast people. H e desired only to escape f r o m 'these
beasts' and return to Sydney.
W e b b e r himself p r o v e d reluctant to violate the Maclay Coast. H e
hesitated to take his ship t h r o u g h poorly-charted waters. H e pointed t o
the dangers o f sharp squalls alternating with sudden calms. W i t h secret
relief, Maclay released him f r o m the obligation and agreed t o be set
d o w n at the south-eastern tip o f N e w Guinea.
T h e y sailed away f r o m idyllic Andra, w h e r e prisoners taken in recent
fighting w o r k e d as slaves while waiting to be eaten. T h e y left behind
the m o u n t a i n o u s bulk o f the main island, w h e r e the A n d r a n captives
had already been eaten. R e t u r n i n g on her old route, the schooner
ploughed southward along the east coast o f N e w Ireland, s u r r o u n d e d at
e v e r y anchorage by swarms o f canoes. W e b b e r was m a k i n g f o r the
Louisiade Archipelago, h o p i n g to add n e w assets to his stake in the
g u a n o business.
T h e y landed n o w h e r e on N e w Ireland. At the little-known
T r o b r i a n d Islands, wild w e a t h e r prevented trepang fishing. Maclay had
only three days to savour life in the single village o f T u m e and sketch
its elaborate yam houses. Early in D e c e m b e r the schooner j o i n e d battle
w i t h high winds and seas in an a t t e m p t to reach the r u m o u r e d guano.
She ended up m o r e than 500 kilometres north-east of her destination,
at Sim bo or Eddystone Island in the Solomons. Maclay spent t w e n t y
days ashore while the c r e w repaired the damage.
Despite boisterous winds, pelting rain and attacks o f fever, he enjoyed
Sim bo. H e never tired of v i e w i n g and sketching the island w h i c h within
six kilometres contained t w o m o u n t a i n regions linked by a l o w isthmus.
T h e r e w e r e h o t springs, f u m a r o l e s and solfataras to inspect. Volcanic
peaks and glistening beaches, broad reefs and e x u b e r a n t v e g e t a t i o n —
this gemlike isle encapsulated all that delighted him in the South Seas.
Even after half a century's contact with w h i t e m e n , its inhabitants w e r e
sufficiently n u m e r o u s and unspoiled to maintain their o w n versions o f
religion, witchcraft and war.
Maclay's pencil was busy w i t h views o f the S i m b o mountains, h u m a n
ears pierced and distorted f o r o r n a m e n t , the intricately-carved p r o w
boards of canoes. Drawings o f skull houses and shrines caught s o m e t h i n g
o f the p o w e r these objects held f o r his imagination. H e visited nearby
islands and saw e n o u g h o f the people to f o r m conclusions about their
general 'habitus' and affinities. But he abandoned an impulsively-
f o r m e d plan f o r spending several m o n t h s in the Solomons. Early in
1880 he reached the islands o f f south-eastern N e w Guinea with the
Sadie F. Caller.
Clause Two 235

H e spent the end o f January and half o f February aboard a very


d i f f e r e n t vessel. At W a r i he rejected the chance o f a quick passage to
Q u e e n s l a n d and j o i n e d the L o n d o n Missionary Society steamer
Ellangowan f o r a leisurely voyage to Port Moresby.
T h e c o m p a n y o f the missionaries', he noted, ' f o r m e d a great contrast
to the c o m p a n y to w h i c h I had to resign myself o n the schooner'. T h e
trip itself was u n c o m f o r t a b l e e n o u g h , w i t h the tiny Ellangowan already
o v e r c r o w d e d b y missionaries and crew. At the first p o r t o f call they
picked u p t w o o f those unsaved w h i t e m e n w h o w e r e almost as dear to
the reverends as their native charges. Maclay slept o n deck, s o m e t i m e s
suffering f r o m fever, as part o f a ' h u m a n m e n a g e r i e ' almost comparable
w i t h that o f the Sadie F. Caller.
T h e sense o f i m p r i s o n m e n t was gone. A f e w days w e r e lost at sea or
at anchor o f f uninhabited shores while the steamer, pitching and rolling,
t o o k o n loads o f w o o d as fuel. Maclay passed most o f his t i m e a m o n g
the natives, taking photographs, measuring heads and copying the
patterns o f profuse tattoos. H e inspected pile villages built out f r o m the
shore, sketched their spindly outlines and walked their paths, w o n d e r i n g
if babies w e r e lost by falling t h r o u g h holes in the floor. H e tested a
fish-trap and f o u n d it w o r k e d well, tasted snake meat and p r o n o u n c e d
it good. T o gauge the pain involved, he acquired t w o small tattoos,
disappointing several female artists w h o wished to display their skill on
a larger scale. His language was that o f duty; he still had to p r o v e he
n e v e r wasted time. A certain holiday spirit nevertheless crept into his
account o f the voyage.
T h e missionaries w e r e o n an inspection tour, assessing progress and
bringing supplies and moral support to the teachers at outlying stations.
Maclay sometimes accompanied t h e m and m a d e his o w n inspection.
H e was a critical observer o f activities that perverted native life and
destroyed its customs. M o r e o v e r , the exchange o f European goods f o r
food, a necessity in his o w n case, looked like trading u n d e r disguise'
w h e n practised by missionaries. H e learned to m a k e an exception f o r
the L.M.S. people, w i t h w h o m he was to have a w a r m and lasting
association. But all missionaries, willy-nilly, 'prepared the w a y f o r the
trader'. T h e y w o u l d n e v e r have his help or approval in contacting N e w
Guineans. H e had n e v e r quite faced the fact that the missions, established
in s o u t h e r n N e w Guinea and n e i g h b o u r i n g islands, could reach the
Maclay Coast w i t h o u t his help.
In the Loyalty Islands and the N e w Hebrides he had learned m u c h
a b o u t the w o r k o f missions. N o w he saw, in the island he called ' m y
country', the crowds assembled to greet the w h i t e m e n , the trust and
respect granted the Melanesian and Polynesian teachers. H e saw little
boys w h o k n e w the alphabet, f o r m e d their letters well, and w e r e
236 The Moon Man

learning to read f r o m the first b o o k printed in a N e w Guinea language.


T o copy tattoos w o r n by a y o u n g girl, he had to enlist the influence o f
a missionary.
T h e r e w e r e cheering m o m e n t s . H e noticed that f e w m e n attended
church services. W h i l e a teacher delivered a b o r i n g sermon, m e m b e r s o f
the congregation yawned, giggled and w i n k e d at each other. W h e n the
missionaries w e r e absent, w o m e n almost besieged Maclay, eager to
exchange a v i e w o f their tattoos f o r sticks o f tobacco. S o m e o f t h e m
w e r e 'not at all prudish' w h e n the doors o f the mission house w e r e s h u t
In some respects, the mission seemed to have 'great success'. In others,
the people held their o w n . As Maclay hinted to the R e v e r e n d James
Chalmers, s o m e Buddhist teacher, visiting that coast after a f e w h u n d r e d
years, m i g h t find 'traces o f Christian m y t h o l o g y ' m i x e d with native
legends.
Chalmers readily adopted Maclay as a great scientist and a personal
friend. This large man, w h o s e expansive manners made him seem larger
than life, was n o m o r e m a d e to the measure o f ordinary people than his
visitor. H e was restless, m o o d y , explosive, a lover o f danger and strong
sensations. W i t h his eccentricities and taste for disreputable c o m p a n y , he
fitted nobody's idea o f a typical missionary. M a n y people, black and
white, instinctively f o u n d in him their ideal o f the legendary h e r o or
demi-god.
H e had ambitions t o match. H e wanted to be the first w h i t e m a n to
reach the summits o f the O w e n Stanley R a n g e . H e wanted to f o l l o w
the Fly R i v e r b e y o n d the point reached by D'Albertis. H e w a n t e d n o t
only to thrust deeper than any o t h e r European into the interior o f the
great island but to cross its ultimate m o u n t a i n s and descend to the shores
of Astrolabe Bay. H e also k n e w w h a t he w a n t e d f r o m men. W h e n he
rejected ideas of returning to Europe, it was n o t m e r e l y because he felt
himself b e c o m i n g 'a sort of savage', unfit f o r civilised society. H e could
see James Chalmers in E n g l a n d — ' n o b o d y — l o s t — u n k n o w n ' . In N e w
Guinea, he could b e c o m e 'a king with great p o w e r — f a r m o r e than any
other'.
As long as they avoided the subject o f Christian missions, he and
Maclay w e r e natural allies. Both regarded themselves as N e w Guineans.
T h o u g h they interpreted it differently, b o t h placed the welfare o f the
natives first. So they had the same e n e m y . D u r i n g the voyage and his
visit to Port Moresby, Maclay came to k n o w the missionary as a m a n
to be relied u p o n in any fight to protect N e w Guineans f r o m
Europeans.
W h e n Maclay decided to stay at the principal mission station, it was
not f r o m admiration for the surroundings. Approaching Port Moresby,
he received a 'far f r o m favourable impression'. Parched b r o w n hills,
coarse grass, a sprinkling of stunted g u m trees—this landscape t o o
Clause Two 237

150°E

Saint Matthias
Group tt
larmit Is
lew Hanover
A0Mi«4<.ry
ISLAHOS

Britain y\\2)L SOLOMON

//r i ^Bouga.nv.,,*^. Cantfa,a„a


'

Trobr^jsJ
^ Port ^ S
rOflftfS S, '**IT Moresby I ^ ^ ^ Guadalcanal^^ ° »©•
Thursday I. TC York Z.LOUISIADE f* . Sanfa Cfu/ /$
ARCHIPELAGO %

Torres is • .V
Vanua Lavto•
I yBinks Is
15 S £ooktown Espinlu Santo • — 15 S

Malekula\^o Amt>rym
E
NEW HEBRIDES JT* P'
[VANUATU] fo Elate
AO Eromanga
Tanna
NEW \ <Pou*Anaityum
CALEDONIA o LOYALTY IS
Noumea
TfODK of Ctpr>corn

Slkii

30 S 30 S
r. h '.«l,i< •

Sydney

Maclay's travels, 1879-80


238 The Moon Man

clearly resembled the continent that pleased him least. But he s h o w e d


n o revival o f interest in the hypothesis that had helped bring h i m to the
Pacific. If not a r e m n a n t o f lost Lemuria, this corner o f earth remained
primitive e n o u g h to be bearable. Maclay saw it as a base f o r f u r t h e r trips
with the Ellangowan and expeditions into the mountains w i t h horses left
by departed gold-seekers.
Instead, he spent three weeks at the mission house, immobilized by
fever. B e t w e e n bouts, he drafted a report o f his voyage. H e visited
Hanuabada, the c o m p l e x o f pile villages on the shore. W i t h the help of
a girl the missionaries considered a 'lost sheep', he m a d e considerable
additions t o his records o f decorative art—she was tattooed all over.
Tired o f sketching people w h o s e features w e r e less c o m e l y than their
decorations, he relaxed by e x a m i n i n g a large and interesting frog, the
brain o f a G o u r a pigeon, wallabies that m i g h t be n e w to science or the
beautiful little sugar gliders w h o s e piercing screams diminished their
charm. W h e n the Ellangowan w e n t back along the coast f o r timber,
Maclay seized the chance to rid himself o f fever by a sea voyage. It was
also with the Ellangowan that in April he left N e w Guinea f o r the f o u r t h
time, returning to Australia after m o r e than a year a m o n g the islands.
14: The Hairless Australian

I 7AnFNi WITH INFORMATION a b o u t


native life in half a d o z e n island g r o u p s , M a c l a y landed at T h u r s d a y
Island late in April 1880. Again h e had c o n f i r m e d , in the face o f
'difficulties and sacrifices', that e v e n t h e briefest personal o b s e r v a t i o n
p r o d u c e d ' t r u e r o p i n i o n s a b o u t t h e natives o f Melanesia than repeated
study o f all t h e literature'.
H e had satisfied h i m s e l f that, c o n t r a r y t o t h e r e p o r t s o f o t h e r
travellers, n o distinct race o f light-skinned p e o p l e lived in s o u t h - e a s t e r n
N e w Guinea. H e had seen m a n y skins m u c h lighter than t h e ' P a p u a n '
n o r m . In s o m e areas m o s t o f t h e p o p u l a t i o n had curly rather than frizzy
locks, and a f e w heads o f hair w e r e 'definitely straight'. C o n s i d e r e d in
relation to language and tattoos, these traits b o r e ' u n d o u b t e d witness' t o
a n o n - P a p u a n presence. B u t h e had always rejected t h e careless
description o f these p e o p l e as a ' y e l l o w ' o r 'Malay' race. H e ascribed their
origins to a relatively small i n f l u x o f Polynesians.
T h e largest o f his p r o b l e m s was that raised b y his old insistence that
t h e negritos o f t h e Philippines and the M a l a y Peninsula w e r e 'Papuans'
o r 'Melanesians'. Despite s o m e observations published in 1874, e m i n e n t
m e n in E u r o p e still d o u b t e d his c o n t e n t i o n that tribes h e had described
as brachycephalic should b e classified w i t h a p e o p l e generally r e g a r d e d
as dolichocephalic. M a c l a y g r a n t e d n o final a u t h o r i t y t o head f o r m , b u t
felt t h e n e e d f o r m o r e evidence. N o w h e had t h e answer. M e a s u r e m e n t s
taken d u r i n g t h e v o y a g e , s u p p o r t e d b y a u t h e n t i c skulls, s h o w e d that
b r o a d heads had 'a far greater distribution in Melanesia than h i t h e r t o
believed'.
A f t e r visiting several T o r r e s Strait islands w i t h t h e mission vessel,
M a c l a y had felt ready t o r e t u r n to Sydney. As t h e s t e a m e r Corea m a d e
h e r w a y south, a c c u m u l a t i n g mishaps that m a d e h e r the subject o f a
m a r i n e b o a r d e n q u i r y , h e saw n o n e e d to h u r r y back.

239
240 The Moon Man

N o T a m p a t Senang awaited him; those left in charge during his


absence had failed to raise the m o n e y . H e had long contemplated a
j o u r n e y in Queensland to obtain brains o f lungfishes and Australian
Aborigines. A f t e r inspecting those w h o h u n g about the hopeless
settlement o f Somerset, at the tip o f Cape Y o r k Peninsula, he wished to
m e e t the Aborigines in regions w h e r e they w e r e comparatively
numerous. A n d an acquaintance o f J o h o r Baharu days, A r t h u r H u n t e r
Palmer, stood high in the Queensland g o v e r n m e n t . H e had, it was true,
a bad record o f opposing r e f o r m in the labour traffic. His influence in
other respects promised irresistible opportunities.
T h e first o p p o r t u n i t y came because three m e n w e r e to be h a n g e d If
Maclay waited in Brisbane, he could claim f o r science the brains o f a
Chinese, a native o f the Philippines, and an Australian Aborigine.
In advocating internal a n a t o m y as a better guide in the study o f race
than m e r e comparison of o u t w a r d traits, Maclay gave priority to the
brain. T h e investigation o f the brains of representatives o f different
races o f men', he claimed, 'shows that there occur peculiarities o f by n o
means trifling import, w h i c h o n e cannot regard as individual variations'.
F r o m preliminary studies, he predicted that science w o u l d s o m e day
establish 'definite types o f cerebral convolutions corresponding to the
principal varieties of mankind'. P r o o f or disproof called f o r an e n o r m o u s
a m o u n t of research. H e h o p e d that his findings on the criminal
population o f Queensland w o u l d encourage o t h e r anatomists to w o r k
in the same field.
H e enjoyed 'instructive and pleasant c o m p a n y ' as guest o f Augustus
Charles G r e g o r y , f o r m e r surveyor-general o f Queensland and an
e m i n e n t explorer. This courtly old bachelor c o m b i n e d w i d e scientific
k n o w l e d g e w i t h mastery of the roughest f o r m s o f travel. Even political
opponents f o u n d him disarmingly nice. A n d in Gregory's house Maclay
n e v e r m e t the 'democrats' w h o m a d e him u n c o m f o r t a b l e in Sydney.
His host, instinctively and rigidly conservative, opposed majority rule
and any kind o f social r e f o r m . But he showed, as explorer and as
m e m b e r o f the Aborigines Commission, a sympathetic interest in the
natives. W h e n threatened by Aborigines in the wilds, he had always
tried to d o t h e m as little harm as possible. T h o u g h he insisted that
Melanesian labourers w e r e essential to Queensland's tropical industry,
he believed in treating t h e m well. H e m u c h preferred t h e m to the white
w o r k i n g class.
G r e g o r y was a trustee o f the Queensland M u s e u m , which had
acquired a n e w h o m e in the most extravagant blend of architectural
styles. Maclay easily obtained a r o o m in the old building as a laboratory.
T h e g o v e r n m e n t as readily gave him access to photographic facilities,
and the help o f the colony's analytical c h e m i s t H e still f o u n d himself
handicapped, b u t he could begin the m o s t pressing work.
The Hairless Australian 241

W h e n J i m m y Ah Sue was hanged, at the end o f May, the b o d y was


beheaded and the brain r e m o v e d and p h o t o g r a p h e d f r o m six d i f f e r e n t
angles. T h e Cantonese brain and head w e r e preserved, the first f o r
dissection and study, the second as a test o f a n e w preservative fluid.
T h r e e w e e k s later the same p r o c e d u r e was f o l l o w e d with the head o f
M a x i m u s G o m e z , the descendant o f Tagalog head-hunters. T h e r e w e r e
almost t w o m o n t h s to wait f o r J o h n n y Campbell, the Australian.
H a v i n g 'sacrificed' t w o spiny ant-eaters he had kept u n d e r observation,
Maclay u n d e r t o o k his first long j o u r n e y in the colonies.
In E u r o p e he had read a vague account of'hairless' Aborigines living
in the Australian interior. At the Sydney m u s e u m he had f o u n d a
portrait o f a scared-looking y o u t h w h o had b e e n b r o u g h t to t o w n m a n y
years before. T h e r e was talk o f a tribe o f bald, yellow-skinned people,
so d i f f e r e n t f r o m others that n o r m a l Aborigines fled f r o m t h e m . T h e
only certainty was that the y o u n g m a n in the p h o t o g r a p h had been
inspected and p r o n o u n c e d 'hairless'. N o b o d y r e m e m b e r e d w h e n c e he
came or the n a m e o f the squatter w h o had introduced h i m t o science.
Almost e v e r y o n e Maclay consulted in Brisbane had s o m e t h i n g to say
about 'hairless blacks'. S o m e claimed to have seen t h e m ; others had
m e r e l y heard reports. O f t e n a w h o l e tribe was m e n t i o n e d , s o m e t i m e s a
single family. T h e question o f their w h e r e a b o u t s received m a n y
answers, but this difficulty was settled b y a friend w h o w r o t e a f e w
letters. If Maclay travelled some 400 kilometres n o r t h - w e s t , then 150
kilometres south-west, he w o u l d reach a sheep station w h o s e o w n e r
w o u l d help him find him the hairless Australians.
W i t h a f r e e pass presented by the colonial g o v e r n m e n t , he spent a
day o n the train b e t w e e n Brisbane and the t e m p o r a r y t e r m i n u s o f the
advancing railway. A vehicle o f sorts carried h i m by 'road' t h r o u g h the
townships o f Surat and St G e o r g e to G u l n a b e r station o n the Balonne
R i v e r . T h o u g h it was n o t a particularly arduous j o u r n e y f o r its t i m e and
place, he travelled three and a half days to sec a m o u n t a i n t u r n into a
molehill.
In the district w h e r e these almost-legendary people had been k n o w n
f r o m birth, n o b o d y claimed m o r e than a single hairless family, o f which
one m a n and w o m a n r e m a i n e d alive. Maclay f o u n d the w o m a n at
Gulnaber, p h o t o g r a p h e d her and satisfied himself that she had n o hair.
His real interest was in her b r o t h e r Aidanill, the m a n w h o s e y o u t h f u l
likeness he had seen in Sydney.
Aidanill was on holiday, a b o u t a day's j o u r n e y u p the Maranoa R i v e r ,
and native messengers failed to entice him to Gulnaber. All his life he
had provided a freak s h o w f o r blacks and whites. In middle age he n e v e r
t o o k o f f his hat if h e could help it. H e a r i n g that s o m e o n e had c o m e f r o m
Brisbane to sec him, he p r e f e r r e d to stay w h e r e he was.
At length the s t a t i o n - o w n e r w e n t u p the Maranoa to bring back the
242 The Moon Man

m a n w h o s e n a m e m e a n t ' G o back'. In the doctor's surgery at St George,


Aidanill u n d e r w e n t rigorous examination. Every possible m e a s u r e -
m e n t was taken. His hand grip was tested w i t h the d y n a m o m e t e r . T h e
colour o f his eyes was noted and skin colour in all parts o f the b o d y
c o m p a r e d w i t h the standard scale. H e was washed w i t h soap and water
and eau de C o l o g n e and inspected f r o m head to toe w i t h the lens. Apart
f r o m a f e w rudimentary eyelashes and f o u r short hairs in the left nostril,
he had n o t a hair. T h e only o t h e r feature distinguishing him f r o m the
Aboriginal onlookers was a smell that left the investigator lost f o r
words.
Aidanill e n d u r e d it, protesting only w h e n his t o r m e n t o r s wished to
take a sample o f his skin. T h e history o f the family remained rather
uncertain, since he contradicted an i n f o r m a n t Maclay t h o u g h t m o r e
reliable. As to the. future, it seemed that the hairless family m u s t
disappear. T h e sisters had married and produced well-thatched o f f -
spring. Aidanill w o u l d n e v e r have children, his grinning c o u n t r y m e n
explained N o w o m a n w a n t e d the hairless man.
A f e w shillings f r o m Maclay allowed Aidanill to drink himself
senseless. Finding him in that state, Maclay regretted his promise n o t t o
take any of the hairless skin. N e i t h e r promise n o r i n t e g u m e n t was
b r o k e n , b u t Maclay arranged that w h e n Aidanill died, or suffered a
w o u n d requiring medical attention, a piece o f his skin w o u l d be
preserved.
Maclay was in Brisbane by m i d - A u g u s t , to receive J o h n n y C a m p -
bell's b o d y and m a k e this 'specimen o f Homo australis' useful to science.
Finally the body, w i t h brain and digestive tract r e m o v e d , lay in a bath
of preservative, to be observed f o r a while b e f o r e despatch to Europe.
T h e press took a jocular interest in the idea o f the late bushranger as 'the
Baron's close companion'. H e was not a bad c o m p a n i o n at t h a t —
admirably quiet, easily kept d o w n by acupuncture. His cerebral
convolutions, Maclay announced, s h o w e d he had possessed considerable
'intellectual capacity'.
Maclay n e v e r intended to stay so long w i t h J o h n n y Campbell. An
exhibition was being organized in M e l b o u r n e , and he had seen in this
an o p p o r t u n i t y to e x a m i n e specimens o f Homo australis otherwise
b e y o n d his reach. H e did n o t propose to assemble 'a c r o w d o f blacks
w h o w o u l d put on a c o r r o b o r e e f o r the entertainment o f w h i t e
Australians'. W h a t he suggested was that families f r o m all regions o f the
continent should be collected in M e l b o u r n e , studied and p h o t o g r a p h e d ,
and displayed complete w i t h scientific descriptions.
This did not sound like m u c h j o y f o r anyone b u t the anthropologist.
A r t h u r Palmer responded with the usual colonial f o r m u l a — Q u e e n s l a n d
w o u l d assist if the other colonies d i d T h e exhibition commissioners
t h o u g h t long and hard and replied that they could not a f f o r d i t Maclay,
The Hairless Australian 243

ready to g o to M e l b o u r n e to compile the necessary descriptions,


resigned himself to the fact that he w o u l d n e v e r sec natives o f central
and W e s t e r n Australia.
By then, J o h n n y C a m p b e l l had been sent to Professor R u d o l f
V i r c h o w in Berlin, w h e r e in due time he was hailed as a great rarity,
perfectly preserved. Maclay had e n o u g h o t h e r c o m p a n y to feel the need
o f a place w h e r e he could w o r k undisturbed. H e was saved by an
invitation to revisit J i m b o u r station o n Darling D o w n s , w h e r e he had
spent a f e w days o n his w a y back f r o m the Balonne.
This f a m o u s pastoral p r o p e r t y was an ancient fief w i t h a history o f
almost forty years. Its o w n e r , Joshua Bell, was a kindly m a n o f patrician
outlook, regularly r e t u r n e d to parliament by the constituency he
practically o w n e d . H e had been a minister in several conservative
g o v e r n m e n t s , and in 1880 was acting as administrator o f the colony.
His great sandstone mansion, fully six years old, ranked as 'Mecca o f
Civilisation' in those parts, but Maclay spent a fortnight in perfect peace,
revising his travel notes and catching u p o n correspondence. T h e r e and
in the t o w n s h i p that lay at the station's feet, he collected i n f o r m a t i o n
a b o u t the Aborigines.
M u c h o f this was o f the 'curious' kind, intended f o r those w h o
appreciated notes o n the position assumed by Aboriginal couples in
coitus, or an account o f sexual intercourse b e t w e e n m e n and p r e -
pubescent girls. H e learned m o r e about the operation b y w h i c h inland
tribes supposedly p r e v e n t e d weak males f r o m b e c o m i n g fathers. F r o m a
traveller w h o had heard it f r o m a m a n w h o had lived with the blacks,
he obtained s o m e facts o n the creation o f f e m a l e 'eunuchs' to p r o v i d e
sexual satisfaction f o r y o u n g m e n w i t h o u t the risk o f u n w a n t e d
children. H e h o p e d in time to get photographs illustrating the physical
effects o f such operations.
F r o m J i m b o u r he m o v e d to Pikedale station near Stanthorpe, w h e r e
he c o m p l e t e d and annotated the r e p o r t o f his island j o u r n e y . His n e w
host Donald G u n n then invited him to Clairvaulx, near Glen Innes in
n o r t h e r n N e w South Wales. In b o t h localities Maclay sought material
f o r w o r k on the marsupial brain. T h e necessary animals p r o v e d rather
elusive, but he obtained the brains o f kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos
and koalas. W i t h less t r o u b l e he f o u n d remains o f their predecessors—
Diprotodon, Notothcrium, and the giant extinct w o m b a t s and kangaroos.
Pikedale, Clairvaulx and their like w e r e a far cry f r o m Buitenzorg,
but Maclay f o u n d s o m e t h i n g o f the same repose there. H e sketched
the m o d e s t architecture and bare paddocks o f Australian homesteads
w i t h a hint o f the e t h n o g r a p h i c interest he b r o u g h t to studies o f
dwellings in the Pacific islands. H e d r e w out elements o f grace in a
b o u q u e t o f native f l o w e r s on his table, or the u n f o r m e d profiles o f
y o u n g ladies at Clairvaulx. W h e n he accepted as scenery a line o f
244 The Moon Man

insignificant hills o r a bend in a near-dry creek, he seemed half-


reconciled to Australia.
H e remained at Clairvaulx f o r Christmas and N e w Year's Day,
enjoying a style o f life n o t hopelessly far r e m o v e d f r o m the simplicity
and m o n o t o n y that appealed to him in primitive villages. H e was full o f
praise f o r the kindness and hospitality o f the squatters. But life in the
bush could n o t g o on indefinitely. O n 19 January 1881, nine m o n t h s
after he had decided to spend a f e w days at Brisbane, Maclay took ship
f o r the south.
H e carried w i t h him m o r e than bottled brains, fossil bones and the
heads o f J i m m y A h Sue and M a x i m u s G o m e z . T h r o u g h o u t his stay, he
had gathered materials f o r reports o n the labour traffic and p r o o f that
the colonists w e r e unfit t o have any say in the f u t u r e o f N e w Guinea.
T h e r e had been n o need f o r him to witness atrocities against Aborigines
and slavery on plantations, o r e v e n to question his friends. In their
newspapers, parliamentary proceedings and official reports, these people
constantly c o n d e m n e d themselves.

M u c h had changed in Sydney, b u t not m u c h o f interest to Maclay. T h e


entrance to the city was n o w d o m i n a t e d by the building that had housed
an e n o r m o u s l y successful and exhausting international exhibition.
Steam trams plied the streets, f r i g h t e n i n g the horses and endangering
the lives and clothing o f pedestrians. T e l e p h o n e s began to appear,
trailing poles and wires that w o u l d soon b e c o m e an eyesore. And these
fanatics o f progress had m a n y pipe-dreams. T h e r e w e r e schemes f o r a
high-level bridge across the harbour. T h e law courts w e r e mentally
housed in a n e w building that, if completed, w o u l d be stupendous. T h e
visionary h o m e o f the library and art gallery w o u l d be, if possible, m o r e
so. T h e y w e r e still considering an old project f o r a c o m b i n e d parliament
house and g o v e r n m e n t office block, the size o f a small t o w n ,
incorporating elements o f the M o t h e r o f Parliaments, the Doges' Palace,
Moorish t o w n s and Gothic cathedrals. N o b o d y was building a t w e l v e -
r o o m zoological station.
N e i t h e r Maclay n o r his project had been forgotten. Publication o f
articles completed b e f o r e his departure had j o g g e d the m e m o r i e s o f
fellow scientists. H e had managed to send back letters and scientific
notes during his travels. A n y scrap of news about him had b e e n picked
u p by the press. A n d it w o u l d be unfair to say that n o t h i n g had been
d o n e about the zoological station. T h e land had been surveyed and
granted. Parliament had voted a grant in aid. Trustees had b e e n
appointed, plans d r a w n up and tenders called Circulars soliciting f u n d s
had been issued and the press in Australia and England had provided a
fair a m o u n t o f publicity. Y e t the c o m b i n e d efforts o f colonial and
English scientists had not collected e n o u g h to secure the g o v e r n m e n t
The Hairless Australian 245

grant. Early in 1881 only t w o - t h i r d s o f the necessary £ 3 0 0 had been


subscribed
Maclay t h o u g h t bitterly o f the t i m e he had lost and was losing for
w a n t o f a suitable workplace. H e lamented the useless passing o f those
hours w h e n an investigator, 'in the m o o d most suitable f o r w o r k ' , was
t h w a r t e d b y the distance b e t w e e n dwelling and laboratory. H e was
d e t e r m i n e d not to leave Sydney b e f o r e this situation had been rectified.
T h e zoological station was to be his m e m o r i a l in Australia, and he
w a n t e d it erected w i t h i n three months.
T w o m o n t h s after his return, subscriptions still lagged behind the
g o v e r n m e n t grant. For w h a t e v e r reasons, Sydney w o u l d not pay f o r its
o w n zoological station. Late in M a r c h he left f o r M e l b o u r n e , to appeal
t o the rival colony.
W i t h official authorization, he inspected Victoria's public institutions,
perhaps intending to describe t h e m f o r the Russian press. Apparently at
the suggestion o f the N e w South Wales g o v e r n m e n t mineralogist, he
m a d e a quick trip to Stawell, t o measure t e m p e r a t u r e s in the Magdala
shaft, the continent's deepest m i n e boring. At a hastily-organized special
m e e t i n g o f the R o y a l Society o f Victoria, he f o u n d the savants ready to
raise subscriptions a m o n g themselves. T h e press was not optimistic
about contributions f r o m outsiders. T h e r e w e r e t o o m a n y local
demands, too little interest in science 'as apart f r o m education'. T h e
R o y a l Society itself had just lost its small g o v e r n m e n t subsidy.
Victoria, Queensland and England eventually contributed. Fear o f
odious comparison w i t h the sister society helped enlist the R o y a l
Society o f N e w South Wales. T o appease botanists, the zoological
station became a biological station. T h e land p r o v e d t o o steep f o r
economical building, and a n o t h e r small area had to be added. T h e
architect drastically revised Maclay's plan. But in t w o m o n t h s or three
m o n t h s or six the station w o u l d be ready f o r occupation.
T h e p r e m i e r o f N e w South Wales, Sir H e n r y Parkes, arranged f o r
Maclay to have a cottage in the exhibition grounds, not the place
Maclay w o u l d have chosen b u t tolerable as a ' t e m p o r a r y zoological
station'. H e was living there in April, with his research o n m a m m a l i a n
brains begun. For the first time since leaving the Maclay Coast, he
enjoyed peace and independence, with s o m e convenience in his w o r k .
O r so it appeared o n the surface. In reality it was not clear h o w he
lived. T h e N e w Guinea missionaries and his hosts in Queensland had
not charged f o r board and lodging, and travel in those parts had cost
him nothing. Meshchersky and the Geographical Society had launched a
public subscription in Russia, raising about 6000 roubles. Yet this sum
did n o t reduce Maclay's debts or give h i m security. It had been absorbed,
he explained, b y travelling expenses incurred b e f o r e he got it. T h e
subscription left him worse o f f in a way. T h a n k s to publicity given the
246 The Moon Man

Russian efforts, the scientific w o r l d and m u c h o f the general public


k n e w that his debts w e r e large and unlikely to be paid.
For m o r e than t w o years he had k n o w n that the family finances had
collapsed in almost c o m p l e t e catastrophe'. His patrons' uneasiness a b o u t
his doings, and their wish that he should r e t u r n to Russia, had been
c o n v e y e d to the w o r l d at large. In J u n e 1881 he d e p e n d e d o n m e n he
despised—there could be n o m o r e ostentatious 'democrat' than Sir
H e n r y Parkes. H e lived alone in an uncongenial society, behind a facade
o f u r b a n e self-sufficiency that surely took e f f o r t to maintain. T h e strain
m i g h t almost be measured by the impulse that m a d e him p o u r out his
feelings to Grand D u k e Nikolai Mikhailovich.
This royal amateur, interested mainly in obtaining specimens f o r his
butterfly collection, had sweetened requests f o r unpaid service w i t h a
f e w remarks that indicated personal sympathy. In return, Maclay
confided the p e n t - u p bitterness o f eleven years. F r o m the 'very cold
reception' at St Petersburg in 1869 to his present precarious situation,
f r o m the first insulting suggestions that he should study 'Russian puddles
and ponds' to recent 'one-sided' c o m m e n t s o n his wanderings, he traced
the history o f injustice and n e g l e c t H e looked f o r w a r d to n o t h i n g
better. T o the grand duke's prediction that he w o u l d be w a r m l y greeted
in Russia, Maclay replied ' N o t so'. H e half expected 'the coldest o f
welcomes'.
T h e explanation provided the consolation. H e w o u l d suffer as o n e o f
the true scientists w h o 'go f o r w a r d o n their o w n road, not paying
attention to the opinions o f the c r o w d to right and left'. H e k n e w that
he had carried out his project 'as far as circumstances p e r m i t t e d and as
far as strength sufficed'. 'I did this', he explained, 'for the sake o f science
itself and for it alone; all sympathy, praises or censure, the hopes o f some
or misgivings o f others, could n o t change the p r o g r a m m e I set u p f o r
myself after unbiassed discussion o f the tasks'. This conviction, and belief
that c o m p e t e n t people must j u d g e him right, w o u l d sustain him in the
f u t u r e as in the past W i t h a grim exposition o f his financial difficulties,
and a w o r d o f respect and gratitude f o r the y o u n g grand duke, he
r e s u m e d his many-sided activities in Sydney.
At the first m e e t i n g o f the Linnean Society after his return, he had
presented a brief, well-illustrated r e p o r t on his travels, and exhibited
pictures o f the hairless people as well as photographs, dissections and
drawings o f the brains o f the spiny ant-eater, several marsupials, the
Chinese, the Tagalog and the Australian Aborigine. In M a y he described
the m e t h o d o f preserving J o h n n y Campbell's body, and gave results f o r
t e m p e r a t u r e m e a s u r e m e n t s in the Magdala shaft. For J u n e his principal
subject was ' T h e Practice o f O v a r i o t o m y b y the Natives o f the H e r b e r t
R i v e r , Queensland', f o l l o w e d b y remarks on the brain o f the d i n g o
c o m p a r e d with that o f the N e w Guinea dog. In July he m a d e his last
The biological station, Laing's Point, Sydney
Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon
,. 9-
Vice-Admiral N. Kopitov: memento of the
voyage of Skobelev, 1883

Maramai of Bilbil
Sir John Robertson, Margaret's father, about Alexander Miklouho-Maclay, the traveller's
1885 older son, St Petersburg, 1888
The Hairless Australian 247

contribution f o r the year—a short paper o n artificial d e f o r m a t i o n o f the


heads o f the n e w - b o r n , practised f o r the sake o f beauty in T o r r e s Strait,
and the accidental d e f o r m a t i o n o f female heads that resulted f r o m the
N e w Guinea habit o f supporting heavy loads by a band across the head.
W i t h his travel r e p o r t to the Russian Geographical Society and an article
on the hairless Australians, despatched to Berlin, his list o f substantial
publications since his return f r o m the islands was complete.
It was hard to see the difference b e t w e e n his varied subjects and those
o f the scientists he c o n d e m n e d . H e was not o n e o f those, intent o n 'the
largest income', w h o betrayed science in their scramble 'to w o o the
m o b and its tastes', but f e w o f his papers w o u l d have been out o f place
in a popular science magazine. His w o r k was o f t e n summarized in the
Sydney Morning Herald. His c o m m u n i c a t i o n s to Berlin regularly pleased
readers w h o gained sexual titillation f r o m the findings o f respectable
ethnographers. S o m e o f his articles had appeared in E u r o p e a n illustrated
papers.
T h e r e was n o h a r m in any o f it, yet the total effect disagreed with his
picture o f the misunderstood idealist, suffering f o r austere principles
that set h i m apart f r o m others. Maclay needed to impress the grand
duke, a valuable ally in any conflict with the Russian Geographical
Society. M o r e p r o f o u n d l y , he needed to reassure himself W h a t e v e r he
did, his motives must distinguish h i m f r o m the ' j o u r n e y m e n ' and
'charlatans' w h o d o m i n a t e d science. H e had b r o k e n n o promises, n e v e r
deviated f r o m his original goal. If he sank in w a n t and obscurity, these
suitors o f the rabble must bear the blame.
H e also needed publicity, and got it. N o scientist in Australia, and f e w
elsewhere, received m o r e public attention. H e had used his prestige in
the struggle for the biological station. H e intended to d o m o r e . As the
long travail that taught h i m m u c h about architects and contractors d r e w
to its close, Maclay called a public m e e t i n g to lay the foundations o f
biological science in Australia.
T h e Australasian Biological Association was f o r m e d o n 15 J u n e 1881.
Its objects w e r e to 'assist in the f o r m a t i o n and regulation o f all biological
stations which should in the course o f t i m e be established in Australia,
Tasmania and N e w Zealand', and to ' c o m b i n e in one organization all
separate efforts o f individuals in the direction o f biological research in
these regions'. T o minimize talk, Maclay introduced a set o f rules
prepared in advance. A c o m m i t t e e was elected to control the finances
and general m a n a g e m e n t o f Sydney Biological Station and to establish
principles on w h i c h f u t u r e stations w o u l d be f o u n d e d and run. Maclay
became chairman o f the c o m m i t t e e and director o f the institution f o r
w h i c h he was already a trustee. These positions w e r e h o n o r a r y — t h e
most optimistic could not imagine the Association paying its first
d i r e c t o r — b u t they o f f e r e d i m m e n s e possibilities.
248 The Moon Man

T h e c o m m i t t e e m e t f o u r times in the next six weeks, and agreed


u p o n the code o f rules. Its w o r k was d o n e under the shadow o f Maclay's
i m m i n e n t departure. T h a t he w o u l d soon g o s o m e w h e r e was certain.
His destination and the length of his absence could not be predicted.
This uncertainty arose f r o m non-scientific concerns. Maclay tended
to assume that while he travelled the rest of his w o r l d w o u l d stand still,
and events had a way o f c o n f o r m i n g to expectations. D u r i n g t w e n t y
t w o m o n t h s in w h i c h he had wandered, m o r e or less out o f touch, there
had been n o real threat to the Maclay Coast. Soon after his return to
Sydney, h o w e v e r , he had read a disturbing report f r o m N e w Zealand.
T h e adventurers w h o had visited his coast in 1878 w e r e preparing to
g o there again, and m e a n t to f o u n d a colony. T h e y reported scented
w o o d s 'in abundance', tobacco and sugar cane u n d e r cultivation. T h e
inhabitants showed a 'childish eagerness' f o r trade goods, and an
encouraging readiness to w o r k . T h e enterprise needed only m e n and
money.
Maclay was in a better position to deal with N e w Zealanders than he
had been t w o years before. Sir A r t h u r G o r d o n , while remaining high
commissioner f o r the western Pacific, had b e c o m e g o v e r n o r o f N e w
Zealand. Maclay w r o t e to him at once, repeating requests m a d e in
1879—exclusion o f liquor and firearms and protection o f native rights
o v e r the land. H e asked n o t h i n g so e x t r e m e as a ban on the expedition.
W i t h o u t Maclay's p r o m p t i n g , Sir A r t h u r was anxious to stop the
w h o l e undertaking. H e was about to issue regulations against sale of
firearms and spirits. T h e correspondence nevertheless lasted s o m e
months. Sir Arthur, feeling very ignorant about N e w Guinea affairs,
wanted Maclay to visit him f o r consultations. Maclay gladly promised
to i n f o r m and advise the high commissioner in N e w Zealand or
elsewhere. In advance, he suggested that a naval vessel be sent to the
Maclay Coast immediately, to establish friendly relations w i t h the
inhabitants and p r e v e n t b l o o d s h e d H e indicated an intention to return
t o N e w Guinea himself, and willingness t o accompany the warship.
Again, Sir A r t h u r had m a d e other arrangements. A deputy c o m m i s -
sioner had already been despatched to inspect N e w Guinea and N e w
Britain. Maclay's part in the mission was limited to giving advice w h e n
this official passed t h r o u g h Sydney. H e was n o t m u c h impressed by
H u g h Hastings Romilly, o n e o f those enthusiastic y o u n g m e n in w h o s e
hands the British placed the welfare o f thousands. H e still did his best to
i n f o r m the youth, providing him w i t h suitable speeches in the B o n g u
dialect, the names of b i g - m e n and the right to call himself (in the native
sense o f the words) 'Maclay's brother'.
R o m i l l y m a d e the most o f the acquaintance, feeling that the natives
w e r e perhaps ' m o r e civil' to him than they w o u l d be to o t h e r visitors.
H e inspected their villages, appreciated their quiet life, and assured t h e m
The Hairless Australian 249

that Maclay w o u l d soon return. His enquiries about the Couriers visit
gave satisfactory results. T h o u g h at least five ships had called there (four
o f t h e m on Maclay's behalf), the natives seemed to say they had seen
only two. Canoes had c o m e out to H.M.S. Beagle at once, but Saul o f
B o n g u assured Maclay's 'brother' that w h e n ships came the people took
to the bush. W h e n R o m i l l y asked w h e t h e r land had been sold, he
received a most emphatic denial'. Finding n o European articles in
villages w h e r e Maclay had distributed t h e m f o r years, he considered this
strong evidence that n o land had been bought. F r o m all the correct
replies that w e r e due to Maclay's brother, he concluded that the Courier
had n e v e r been there.
T h e Courier had certainly visited Astrolabe Bay. H e r c o m p a n y could
n o t otherwise have learned by 1 January 1879 about the earlier visit o f
the Dove. But the colonizing expedition n e v e r took place. It was
anyone's guess w h e t h e r it collapsed u n d e r G o r d o n ' s disapproval,
criticism in the newspapers, or the p r o m o t e r s ' inability to raise cash.
Maclay always felt that his intervention alone had saved the Maclay
Coast.
T h e invitation to visit N e w Zealand was still o p e n w h e n Maclay
u n d e r t o o k a d i f f e r e n t j o u r n e y . H e had r e t u r n e d to Australia to find
newspapers carrying n u m e r o u s stories a b o u t massacres' o f w h i t e m e n
in the Pacific. Early in 1881, the toll seemed w o r s e than ever, the
d e m a n d s f o r action m o r e likely to influence the authorities. Following
the deaths o f a R o y a l N a v y c o m m a n d e r and several o f his crew,
questions w e r e asked in the House o f C o m m o n s . Colonial writers
criticized the legal basis o f the western Pacific high commission and the
attitudes o f those responsible f o r its workings. T h e remarks o f an
intercolonial c o n f e r e n c e upset Sir A r t h u r G o r d o n and the c o m m o d o r e
o f the Australia station. It was t i m e f o r Maclay to d e f e n d his friends. H e
w r o t e to C o m m o d o r e Wilson, and published the letter in the n e w s -
papers.
T h e opinions he expressed in general terms w e r e those he always
held: if w h i t e m e n w e r e killed it was their o w n fault or that o f the o t h e r
w h i t e m e n . 'Cases occur', he admitted, 'in which the natives kill the
whites simply for the sake o f killing'. Such apparently w a n t o n deeds
w e r e either 'deplorable abnormalities' or an illusion p r o d u c e d by
difficulty in ascertaining the details. T h e acts o f islanders w e r e but
reprisals f o r 'kidnapping, slave trade and slavery . . . and shameless
spoliation w h i c h goes by the n a m e o f "trading" '.
His one specific request, 'that the Imperial G o v e r n m e n t will n e v e r
p e r m i t skippers and traders taking the law into their o w n hands', was
easily granted in theory, since imperial authorities did not k n o w i n g l y
p e r m i t any such thing. His desire f o r an international a g r e e m e n t to
c o v e r loopholes in British p o w e r was shared by all Englishmen
250 The Moon Man

concerned with law and o r d e r in the Pacific O n publication of his letter,


n o b o d y disagreed w i t h any o f this, o r denied that m a n y killings w e r e
reactions to European misdeeds.
O n the other hand, n o o n e saw m u c h point in multiplying general
accusations: ' T h e question is n o t w h o began the mischief, but h o w are
the existing evils to be abated'. T h e d e m a n d , as always, was f o r a system
providing justice f o r b o t h blacks and whites. T h e alternative, as Maclay's
principal critic pointed out, was f o r 'civilized p o w e r s ' to keep their
subjects right o u t o f the islands.
Maclay m i g h t have agreed w i t h this last solution. N o o t h e r could set
his m i n d wholly at rest. H e did not b o t h e r to c o m m e n t on c o m m e n t s .
By writing to C o m m o d o r e Wilson, he had p e r f o r m e d 'a d u t y towards
mankind'. H e was preparing to place his i n f o r m a t i o n at the c o m m o -
dore's service.' Meanwhile, relations w i t h Wilson involved him in a
borderline case that caused great moral confusion.
Early in M a r c h 1881 the people o f Kalo, in south-eastern N e w
Guinea, had killed ten Polynesian m e m b e r s o f the L.M.S. mission, m e n ,
w o m e n and children. A naval officer investigated and reported, then
m o n t h s passed w i t h o u t f u r t h e r developments. But the missionaries
themselves, while refusing to assist on this occasion, had severely
criticized the navy's earlier laxity. T h e w o r d w e n t r o u n d that C o m m o -
d o r e Wilson intended to m a k e an e x a m p l e o f Kalo.
Maclay believed that w i t h o u t his intervention great injustice w o u l d
be done. H e still called Wilson a just and g o o d man. H e did not hesitate
to assert that the c o m m o d o r e was ready to b u r n the village and
exterminate its inhabitants.
Wilson was painfully anxious not to fire a shot. As f o r b u r n i n g the
village, he w o u l d rather have b u r n e d himself But Maclay k n e w
n o t h i n g o f this. H e seemed equally unaware o f enquiries and the
missionaries' refusal to co-operate. W h e n he described the interview in
later years, he gave w o r d f o r w o r d a conversation in w h i c h he
persuaded the c o m m o d o r e n o t to punish a thousand people f o r the
deeds o f t w o or three, and convinced him that the missionaries' help
was essential. 'By means o f the missionaries and the people of nearby
villages', he explained, 'it will n o t be difficult to negotiate w i t h the Kalo
people, d e m a n d the names and the surrender o f the guilty, and
a n n o u n c e the p u n i s h m e n t they will suffer if the d e m a n d is not fulfilled'.
His scheme, in essence, was w h a t the R o y a l N a v y unsuccessfully tried
to d o t h r o u g h o u t the south Pacific.
Wilson insisted that the expedition needed Maclay. According to a
version w r i t t e n f o r a Russian audience, Maclay accepted f o r the natives'
sake a proposal 'not altogether convenient' to him. At the time, he told
a newspaper that his object was primarily scientific. Kalo was an
especially interesting locality, he told the Linnean Society, inhabited by
The Hairless Australian 251

the m i x e d race. A n d the trip he o w e d to the c o m m o d o r e s 'kind


invitation' was n o t an end in itself. An old acquaintance, M a j o r - G e n e r a l
the H o n o u r a b l e William Fcilding, had arrived in the colonics. T o give
Queensland a 'land grant' railway, w i t h vast p o w e r and profit to his
syndicate, he planned to survey a line f r o m the s o u t h - w e s t e r n interior
o f the colony to the G u l f o f Carpentaria. Maclay h o p e d to leave H.M.S.
Wolverene o n the way back f r o m N e w Guinea, join Feilding's party, visit
the gulf with t h e m , and perhaps set out on his o w n account f o r Darwin.
T h e departure o n 10 August was majestic, Wolverene being t e m -
porarily included with the squadron that was taking the y o u n g sons o f
the Prince o f Wales a r o u n d the world. Accompanied by a s w a r m o f
small craft, six warships steamed d o w n the h a r b o u r in 'single c o l u m n ,
line ahead, close order', to lively music f r o m their bands and storms o f
cheering f r o m c r o w d e d shores. O n c e at sea, h o w e v e r , Wolverene left the
p o m p and circumstance and m a d e a quick passage to Port Moresby.
C o m m o d o r e Wilson f o u n d the missionaries as s t u b b o r n as ever. T h e
w h o l e affair was anguish to t h e m . Kalo had n e v e r k n o w n traders or
blackbirders or m a r a u d i n g sailors. Despite political explanations, the
R e v e r e n d s Lawes and Chalmers feared that the massacre arose f r o m
sheer blood-lust. T h e y k n e w it m i g h t imperil the mission if allowed to
g o unpunished. Yet they resisted ideas o f associating themselves w i t h
the punitive expedition. It w o u l d destroy their reputation as m e n o f
peace, and jeopardize the mission in a different way.
T h e c o m m o d o r e insisted that he needed o n e o f t h e m as a s y m b o l o f
g o o d will and justice, to explain his purpose and secure the instigator o f
the crimes. By repeating again and again that he w o u l d be 'sorry if a
single shot w e r e fired', he o v e r c a m e the scruples o f James Chalmers.
Maclay lost interest b e f o r e discussions reached that point. U n a w a r e
that the c o m m o d o r e ' s plan was really Maclay's, the missionaries
ridiculed it. Kalo w o u l d n e v e r give u p its chief R a t h e r than interfere,
the villagers Maclay n o m i n a t e d as intermediaries w o u l d take to the
bush. T h e o n e chance o f success, C h a l m e r s maintained, was to s u r r o u n d
Kalo b e f o r e d a w n and seize the chief b e f o r e his m e n recovered their
wits.
W i t h Chalmers and the w i d o w o f a m u r d e r e d teacher, Maclay
accompanied a party o f bluejackets w h o landed at night s o m e distance
f r o m Kalo. It was a dreadful night—rainy, pitch-dark and b l o w i n g hard.
N e i t h e r Chalmers n o r the Samoan w o m a n , acquainted w i t h the district
f o r years, could find the path to Kalo. Maclay observed the mistakes and
m u d d l e keenly, but o f f e r e d n o advice. T h e y b e c a m e entangled in scrub,
swamps and plantations, w e r e forced to retreat to the shore and g o far
out o f their way to obtain a guide. W h e n they reached Kalo, with the
m e n nearly exhausted by nine hours o f h u m p i n g their e q u i p m e n t o v e r
r o u g h going, it was broad m o r n i n g .
252 The Moon Man

T h e r e had never been a chance o f surprise. T h e chief and a large


g r o u p o f warriors had been on the watch all night, and f r o m daybreak
had defied Wilson's landing party. T h e native force came face to face
with o n e d e t a c h m e n t o f sailors, and attacked at once. W h e n three
bluejackets had been w o u n d e d , the order to fire was given.
T h e villagers w e r e driven out. By the time they sued f o r peace
t h r o u g h elders o f a n e i g h b o u r i n g c o m m u n i t y , f o u r Kalo m e n had been
killed, 'several' w o u n d e d and t w o taken prisoner. W h e n the c o m m o -
d o r e d e m a n d e d the delivery of the chief, dead or alive, it turned o u t
that he had been the first to fall. His b o d y was recognized by the
teacher's w i d o w . O t h e r s w e r e identified, less reliably, as those o f his son
and n e p h e w . T h e people returned; the c h i e f s hut was set alight;
Chalmers m a d e a speech, explaining that events of the last t w o days had
n o t h i n g in c o m m o n w i t h indiscriminate Papuan revenge. Maclay
particularly w a n t e d the natives to understand that w h i t e men's justice
punished only the guilty.
Chalmers and the c o m m o d o r e m o r e or less glossed o v e r events in
Kalo. Maclay did n o t describe them. It was difficult to claim that
anything but accident had d e t e r m i n e d their course, equally hard to
believe that the natives gained m u c h understanding o f European justice
f r o m f o u r chance executions that occurred w i t h o u t a trial. T h e w h i t e
m e n nevertheless congratulated themselves. C o m m o d o r e Wilson, w h o
had agonized all the way to Kalo, sent o f f a cheer)' message f r o m the
first telegraph station: 'Results o f the cruise most satisfactory; parted
g o o d friends with the islanders'. T h e missionaries soon decided that
Wolverene s visit had d o n e only good. Maclay showed n o misgivings
about the o u t c o m e , and f o r g o t that he had had n o part in it. ' M y plan
fully succeeded', he w r o t e . 'Instead of the b u r n i n g o f the village and the
extermination o f its inhabitants, the affair was limited to a f e w killed in
a skirmish ...'.
15: A Glimpse of the Kingdom

n
V J E N E R A L
FEILDING'S expedition
was over b e f o r e Wolverene r e t u r n e d to Australia. Maclay's only n e w
inland j o u r n e y was a visit to the Lakes Creek m e a t w o r k s with naval
officers and the m a y o r o f R o c k h a m p t o n . H e was far f r o m satisfied w i t h
scientific results w h e n he reachcd Sydney towards the end o f S e p t e m b e r
1881. Yet he looked back with pleasure on those seven weeks. H e had
f o r m e d an exceptionally close relationship with C o m m o d o r e Wilson.
T h e biological station, fit for occupation at last, awaited him o n the
n o r t h e r n side o f Laing's Point, a small p r o m o n t o r y just inside South
Head. T h r o u g h the seaside resort o f Watson's Bay, it was linked to the
city by road and ferry. W i d e views in three directions e m b r a c e d most
o f the harbour. Half a kilometre to the east, b e y o n d sheltering slopes o f
almost-undisturbed bushland, the Pacific b r o k e against cliffs. Just to the
north, the surge t h r o u g h the heads b o r e ocean creatures into tranquil
C a m p Cove. T h e g l o w i n g colours in which the location was painted f o r
English scientists w e r e in n o w a y overdone.
T h e building was a different matter. Maclay had designed a t w o -
storey structure, each laboratory c o m m u n i c a t i n g by a separate stairway
with a b e d r o o m on the floor above, so that inmates need n o t m e e t each
o t h e r w h e n m o v i n g b e t w e e n workplace and sleeping quarters. A
c o m m o n r o o m was to be provided f o r those less adapted to p e r m a n e n t
solitude and silence. But funds had dictated a smaller and less original
creation. T h e six internal stairways had disappeared. T h r e e w o r k r o o m s
and three b e d r o o m s , w i t h verandas on all sides, occupied a single floor
o v e r a basement containing a n o t h e r laboratory, a b a t h r o o m and a store.
W h e n Maclay m o v e d in, only his r o o m s w e r e furnished, the l o w e r
floor was unfinished and the land unfenced.
Visitors f o u n d the place 'devoid o f anything like l u x u r y — o r some
w o u l d say o f anything like c o m f o r t ' . Maclay was well content. Across
253
254 The Moon Man

little C a m p C o v e , it was true, he faced the colony's most extensive


fortifications and biggest guns. T h e rugged slopes periodically sprouted
tents and exploded with military exercises. But most o f the time his
surroundings promised a calm and fruitful mental life. His apartment
was completely private, as nearly s o u n d p r o o f as possible. For the rest,
he looked to rules d r a w n up long before. N o resident of this building
w o u l d be permitted to 'disturb any other by singing, whistling, or any
other unnecessary noise'. Students and local scientists w e r e u n w e l c o m e ,
and w o m e n w e r e excluded.
These rules f o r a colony o f scientific hermits w e r e never tested. T h e r e
was s o m e acclaim and self-congratulation at first, predictions that
scientists w o u l d hasten to Sydney to use and i m p r o v e the biological
station. S o m e m i g h t have d o n e so if they could. T. H. H u x l e y w o u l d
gladly have returned to Australia had he been thirty years younger.
O t h e r s f o u n d themselves, if n o t t o o old, at least t o o poor, t o o busy or
t o o far away. A f t e r the first flurry o f visitors, Maclay remained sole
occupant o f an almost perfect T a m p a t Senang, w h e r e he could w o r k ,
in his favourite phrase, 'undisturbed and undisturbing'.
H e was settled there early in O c t o b e r , engaged, he told the press, in
'anatomical researches on the Australian fauna' and in sorting o u t
records of his eleven years in the Pacific. H e published nothing,
d e v o t i n g m u c h t i m e to non-scientific concerns.
O n e task g r e w o u t o f his promise to supply C o m m o d o r e Wilson
with ' N o t e s in re kidnapping and slavery in the western Pacific'. H e was
compiling a text o f m o r e than 4 0 0 0 words, with extensive footnotes,
to be added to the c o m m o d o r e ' s official report.
O n leaving the Sadie F. Caller, he had k n o w n b e y o n d d o u b t that the
A m b r y m m e n w h o had j o i n e d the vessel f o r a f e w weeks and the Lifu
sailors engaged f o r five or six m o n t h s had been cruelly misinformed.
He suspected that they w o u l d be scandalously underpaid, if paid at all,
and that they m i g h t be landed far f r o m their homes. At S i m b o he had
m e t a man, d u m p e d there by another vessel, w h o for ten m o n t h s w o r k
at sea had received articles that Captain W e b b e r valued at fifteen
shillings. H e had seen 'very serious and neglected cases o f syphilis'
a m o n g w o r k e r s recently returned f r o m Queensland and ex-sailors f r o m
vessels cruising the islands. Otherwise, six o f the eleven specific cases he
m e n t i o n e d w e r e described f r o m hearsay; f o u r w e r e stories heard about
David Dean O ' K e e f e and others in 1876, and fell outside the sphere o f
the Australia station. S o m e concerned foreigners w h o m the British
could not touch. O n l y o n e related to labour traffic with a British colony.
T h e o f f e n d i n g vessel, n a m e u n k n o w n , was believed to have c o m e f r o m
Fiji-
Like most compassionate Europeans, Maclay denied the islanders any
ability to assess their o w n situation or m a k e their o w n choices. W i t h o u t
A Glimpse of the Kingdom 255

describing h o w his figures w e r e obtained, he summarized 'how and


t h r o u g h w h a t means the labourers are collected'.

A b o u t 15 per cent are taken by means o f different artifices ...; about


15 per cent are sold by relatives and chiefs; and 10 per cent are obliged
t o leave their islands, being pressed b y victorious enemies; a b o u t 25
per cent are r e t u r n e d labourers w h o , having convinced themselves
that their p r o p e r t y was stolen by their o w n people, p r e f e r to g o away
...; a b o u t 25 per cent inquisitive, mostly y o u n g people, anxious to
travel, or wishing to get a r m s . . . ; about 5 per cent pressed b y w a n t o f
f o o d ...; about 5 per cent b y force.

W h o e v e r they w e r e , these people n e v e r understood what they w e r e


doing. T h o s e w h o fled famine or war had n o t h i n g in c o m m o n with the
refugees o f Europe. T h e youths in search o f k n o w l e d g e , a d v e n t u r e and
gain w e r e n o t like y o u n g Europeans w h o set out w i t h similar motives.
Always they w e r e victims o f w h i t e men's duplicity, if n o t violence.
Maclay had n e v e r seen conditions o n Queensland plantations. His
collection o f newspaper articles and official reports nevertheless allowed
him to indicate every abuse, f r o m p o o r f o o d and excessive w o r k i n g
hours to the prices shopkeepers charged kanakas in the towns. H e could
expose the lack o f medical attention and regular control o f living and
w o r k i n g conditions, because these deficiencies, and m a n y m o r e , had
recently been described by doctors on an official inspection tour. Long
extracts f r o m their report, published by o r d e r o f the Queensland
parliament, w e r e included with his submission.
H e also touchcd on iniquities outside the scopc o f official reports. A
newspaper cutting told h o w , in 1876, an e m p l o y e r had paid high
passage m o n e y ' f o r g o o d - l o o k i n g y o u n g w o m e n . A letter printed in a
N o u m e a journal accused French planters o f subjecting N e w Hebridcan
servants to the abominations o f S o d o m and G o m o r r a h . Maclay, sorry
to say that facts c o n f i r m this statement', could not personally assert that
it applied in Queensland or Fiji. H e significantly linked it to remarks on
the e x t r e m e y o u t h o f s o m e recruits.
M a n y o f the evils he described w e r e incurable as long as the labour
trade existed. M e n could not be taken f r o m the islands w i t h o u t
disrupting native life. T h o u g h purchase' o f recruits was illegal, it was
unlikely that any could be obtained w i t h o u t compensation to their
villages f o r the loss o f military and e c o n o m i c services. W i t h o u t
European intervention—a solution unacceptable to Maclay—absentees
w o u l d g o o n losing wives and p r o p e r t y and labourers returning h o m e
w o u l d be r o b b e d by fellow villagers. Yet after sketching a state o f affairs
he considered worse than slavery and the slave trade, Maclay stopped
short o f d e m a n d i n g its abolition. Four o f his r e c o m m e n d a t i o n s coin-
cided with those o f the Queensland medical m e n , and w o w e r e already
256 The Moon Man

e m b o d i e d in legislation. T w o m o r e o f his 'desiderata'—higher pay and


status f o r g o v e r n m e n t agents o n labour vessels, medical inspection o f
h o m e w a r d - b o u n d labourers to prevent spread o f venereal disease—
appeared in the c o m m o d o r e ' s list. H e had n o t h i n g f u r t h e r to suggest but
an 'international understanding'. It was left f o r the c o m m o d o r e to
r e c o m m e n d an end to the w h o l e business.
Wilson had long b e f o r e characterized the labour traffic as 'but a
legalized slave trade . . . aiding to depopulate these beautiful islands,
w h i l e . . . rendering m o r e miserable the most degraded people u n d e r the
sun'. H e could n o t imagine its being c o n d o n e d by a n y o n e with n o direct
financial interest T h e great necessity, in his view, was to o v e r c o m e the
prejudice and fear of white working-class voters w h o barred the entry
of Indian and Chinese labour. O n c e coolies w e r e obtained, it w o u l d be
simple to stop importation of Pacific islanders.
T h e c o m m o d o r e could d o little about the cases Maclay submitted f o r
investigation and redress. Accusations against D. D. O ' K e e f e could only
be referred to the China station. In the o n e case that gave the
c o m m o d o r e grounds and facts e n o u g h f o r enquiries within his
jurisdiction, the accused was already d e a d Wilson felt grateful, all the
same, for Maclay's 'independent evidence'. H e esteemed Maclay as 'a
gentleman o f great scientific k n o w l e d g e and research'. As their f r i e n d -
ship g r e w on the basis o f shared opinions, it was natural f o r Maclay to
seek Wilson's advice on plans he had been considering f o r s o m e time.
H e always envisaged r e t u r n i n g to his coast, to live there p e r m a n e n t l y
and shield the natives f r o m predatory Europeans. H e n o longer t h o u g h t
entirely in t e r m s o f keeping w h i t e m e n o u t As he had told the Russian
geographers in 1879, he believed that t h r o u g h patience, tact and a true
understanding o f b o t h sides he could p r e v e n t destruction o f the
Papuans. At the same time, whites m i g h t benefit f r o m his mediation.
Accepting the general belief that Europeans w e r e unfit f o r heavy w o r k
in a tropical climate, it f o l l o w e d that colonists w o u l d need help f r o m
'the fully acclimatized dark race'. W i t h an unconscious echo o f a f a m o u s
cynicism, he described extermination o f the islanders as 'not m e r e l y a
ruthless injustice but an inexcusable blunder in politico-economic
respects'. In plain words, blacks should be kept alive to w o r k f o r whites.
In his country they w o u l d w o r k only f o r a f e w whites, a h u m a n -
itarian dlite w h o s e first concern w o u l d be native welfare. T h r o u g h
O c t o b e r and N o v e m b e r 1881, he drafted his 'Maclay Coast Scheme',
devised to raise the level o f their civilization and to allow t h e m , ' w i t h o u t
being taken advantage of, to be b r o u g h t into contact w i t h the w h i t e
visitors'.
T h e scheme had s o m e t h i n g in c o m m o n with one f o r 'agricultural
missions', suggested by Luigi D'Albertis. In some respects it resembled
a French scientific-agricultural-commercial colony lately f o u n d e d in
A Glimpse of the Kingdom 257

Sumatra. Vastly m o r e ambitious, it did not d e p e n d o n public philan-


t h r o p y or e n d o w m e n t s f r o m scientific societies. Its first step w o u l d be
f o r m a t i o n o f a c o m p a n y by 'philanthropically-minded capitalists . . .
w h o will not only look for large returns but also be pleased to render
a great service to humanity, in w i d e n i n g the path o f civilization'.
W i t h £ 1 5 000 to jT30 0 0 0 put up by the c o m p a n y , plantations o f
coconut palms, sugar, sago palm, coffee and cotton w o u l d be established,
and sawmills, a brickworks and a sago refinery w o u l d eventually c o m e
into operation. W h i l e plantations w e r e m a t u r i n g — a process f o r which
Maclay allowed f o u r to seven years—the c o m p a n y was to f u n c t i o n as a
trading concern. Its steamer w o u l d regularly visit o t h e r islands and o t h e r
parts o f N e w Guinea, exchanging all kinds o f trade goods (except
firearms and liquor) f o r pearlshell, copra, b e c h e - d e - m e r , sago and
turtleshell. Shipped to Queensland ports, these products w o u l d f o r m
'the basis o f a r e m u n e r a t i v e e x p o r t trade'.
W i t h the trading v e n t u r e established and agricultural d e v e l o p m e n t
well u n d e r way, it w o u l d be t i m e f o r social and political d e v e l o p m e n t .
T h r o u g h w o r k in c o m p a n y enterprises, the natives w o u l d have
acquired 'habits o f greater industry', with k n o w l e d g e allowing t h e m to
raise their o w n standards o f agriculture. T h r o u g h Maclay's influence and
the shared experience o f w o r k and trade w i t h the c o m p a n y , villages
hitherto isolated or at w a r w o u l d be ready to unite 'for the c o m m o n
purpose o f mutual interest and judicious legislation'.
Maclay believed political progress must be based u p o n existing
institutions, but he had difficulty in defining these. H e k n e w that
hereditary or elected chiefs w e r e rare in Melanesia and that the people
o f his coast had none. D u r i n g village discussions he had f o r m e d the
impression that a n y o n e could have a say. Still, there w e r e the b i g - m e n ,
with an indefinite stratum o f people w h o w e r e respected for age or
intelligence, or o b e y e d because they shouted louder than the rest. H e
easily imagined each village with an 'existing T a m o - C o u n c i l ' in w h o s e
hands purely local matters could be left.
T h e next tier o f g o v e r n m e n t w o u l d be entirely new. Each important
village w o u l d send its most influential m a n to a 'Great o r T a m o - b o r o
Council', m o d e l l e d o n the aristocratic great council o f Fiji, and this b o d y
w o u l d dccidc matters o f general consequence. Maclay w o u l d act as
adviser and arbitrator to the Great Council, w i t h personal control o v e r
all dealings with foreigners, including relations with N e w Guineans
outside the U n i o n o f the Maclay Coast.
H e accurately described this as 'a vast plan'. T h e political entity he
defined had m o r e than 240 kilometres o f mainland coast, included
n u m e r o u s islands, and ran 80 to 95 kilometres inland. H e had n e v e r set
eyes on half the territory. Apart f r o m neighbours at Port Konstantin
and Bilbil, f e w o f its estimated t w e n t y thousand inhabitants had seen
258 The Moon Man

him m o r e that once. Y e t he fearlessly u n d e r t o o k to develop the


country, 'raise the people to a higher level' and f o r m 'a very important
centre o f tropical agriculture and o t h e r suitable industry', d e p e n d i n g o n
n o authority but his o w n .
T h e position he chose f o r himself was fraught with moral difficulties.
O n o n e hand he w o u l d serve the company, w o r k i n g f o r 'large returns'.
O n the other, he w o u l d represent, protect and rule the people w h o s e
labour was basic to e c o n o m i c success. H e evidently felt that conflicts o f
d u t y m i g h t arise. H e suggested that the capitalists, as well as paying his
salary f o r directing affairs, m i g h t have 'a representative o f their o w n ' o n
the s p o t
O n e weakness o v e r s h a d o w e d all others in his plan f o r c o m b i n i n g
native interests with those o f a plantation and trading company.
Garagassi, Bugarlom and the islet of U r e m u (Airu on Bilbil was a m e r e
house site) w e r e inadequate f o r the quantity and variety o f cultivation
he had in mind. Yet his convictions seemed to m a k e it impossible f o r
the c o m p a n y to acquire m o r e land. H e had repeatedly told Sir A r t h u r
G o r d o n that land on the Maclay Coast was 'entirely o w n e d by d i f f e r e n t
c o m m u n i t i e s engaged in tilling a soil w h i c h has been u n d e r cultivation
f o r centuries', that all natural products o f land and sea had recognized
owners. T o repel invasion f r o m N e w Zealand, he had s u m m e d u p the
position with regard to land and its transfer:
As the natives of the Maclay Coast have n o hereditary c h i e f s . . . and
the chiefs de facto . . . have only an influence o v e r others derived
f r o m their personal character . . . a sale o f land is a difficult matter. A
general consent to a sale o f land to the intruders is a very unlikely
event, and even should it take place . . . each m e m b e r o f the
c o m m u n i t y has a right to claim his o w n share o f the p a y m e n t f o r i t
Again, the natives d o n o t understand parting with their land
absolutely. (For this reason I never considered it right to attempt,
myself, the acquisition o f a f r e e h o l d property on this coast.)
T h e fact remained that u n d e r the Maclay Coast S c h e m e the
inhabitants must part w i t h large parcels of land f o r plantations, factories,
stores and wharves. Maclay did not m e n t i o n the need, and his estimate
o f capital costs m a d e n o provision f o r land dealings.
A n o t h e r certainty was that the Maclay Coast people w o u l d need all
their n e w 'habits of greater industry'. T h e y w e r e to w o r k the company's
plantations and industrial enterprises, but unlike plantation w o r k e r s
elsewhere they w o u l d not be fed by their employers, so t h e y must
continue their gardening, h u n t i n g and fishing. T h e y w o u l d w o r k to pay
an 'adequate tax' f o r public expenses. T h e y w o u l d work 1 pro bono publico',
t o build schools f o r their children and the roads, bridges and wharves
that w e r e needed only by the company. O n top o f all that, they w o u l d
w o r k abroad.
A Glimpse of the Kingdom 259

T h e Maclay Coast was planned as an e x p a n d i n g p o w e r . Maclay


expected his trading steamer to find uninhabited islands w i t h useful
c o c o n u t groves, g u a n o or sulphur deposits. H e proposed to take
possession o f such places and develop their resources. It was n o t clear
w h e t h e r they w o u l d b e l o n g to the U n i o n o f Maclay Coast Papuans or
to the c o m p a n y , b u t exploitation o f uninhabited islands presupposed
one thing: the introduction o f workers. Despite Maclay's conviction that
n o N e w Guinean w o u l d willingly leave h o m e f o r long, his people faced
an exciting f u t u r e as pioneers o f empire.
E v e r y t h i n g d e p e n d e d o n the spirit o f the enterprise, w h i c h Maclay
m e a n t to be the very highest. H e recognized the need f o r patient
t r e a t m e n t ' and a certain tact' in introducing such changes. T h e k e y w o r d
in his t h o u g h t was always 'justice'. W h e n he pleaded the case f o r Pacific
islanders generally, he d e m a n d e d 'neither pity n o r sympathy, but justice'.
It almost w e n t w i t h o u t saying that Maclay Coast people w o u l d be
e m p l o y e d 'at a reasonable r e m u n e r a t i o n and u n d e r fair treatment'.
E v e r y t h i n g t h e n d e p e n d e d on w h a t was m e a n t by 'reasonable' and 'fair'.
Since he did not state h o w m a n y natives w o u l d be e m p l o y e d in the
first year (about a h u n d r e d seemed a likely m i n i m u m ) , n o t h i n g definite
could be concluded f r o m the £ 2 5 0 allowed as total p a y m e n t f o r their
w o r k . T h e scale o f wages f o r foreign e m p l o y e e s gave a clearer idea.
Maclay h o p e d to pay his debts f r o m this undertaking and find means
to provide f o r the future. H e could n o t expect to b e c o m e rich o n an
idealist's salary o f £ 4 0 0 per a n n u m . Idealism w o u l d be necessary all
d o w n the line. T h e lowest paid o f f o u r European tradesmen (probably
the blacksmith) w o u l d have £ 7 5 , about three-quarters the w a g e o f his
counterpart in Queensland, but unlike the Australian he could n o t
expect his 'keep'. Javanese assistants, required to maintain themselves
o n £ 1 5 a year, w o u l d be far b e h i n d the experienced kanakas o n
Q u e e n s l a n d canefields, w h o received £ 2 6 with 'all found'.
Maclay described these wages as 'fair b u t n o t very high'. T h e i r effect
was to be partly offset by a 'co-operative store', indistinguishable f r o m
the less progressive ' c o m p a n y store' o f o t h e r enterprises, w h e r e
employees w o u l d b u y their needs at 'reasonable' prices. His proposal that
the foreigners' incomes be increased only by bonuses f r o m profits
suggested that the natives w e r e g o i n g to w o r k harder, to give their
overseers a living wage.
Secure in his pu