Bully Hayes.

I was in Hawaii on vacation. The wife was reading James Michener’s Hawaii. That reminded me that when I was a kid I read Michener and A. Grove Day, Rascals in Paradise (1957). One chapter was about the “blackbirder” Bully Hayes. Who was he?

William “Bully” Hayes (1827-1877) grew up the son of a tavern-keeper in Cleveland, Ohio, but ran away to sea (OK, the Great Lakes) while still a boy. He shipped from New York for the Far East in March 1853, but arrived in Singapore in July 1853 as the captain. Must have been an interesting voyage. He promptly sold the ship (which he did not own). Between 1853 and 1866, more frauds, voyages, criminal charges, escapes, a ship-wreck, the loss of an ear when caught cheating at cards, several marriages, and an extended tour as a blackface minstrel followed in Australia, New Zealand, and the islands of the South Pacific.

Hayes combined considerable ability as a ship’s captain with ruthlessness and a criminal bent. Oceania in the 1860s and 1870s offered opportunities to such a man. Far to the East, Chile and Peru were expanding the guano-mining industry. (See: White Lung.) In Fiji and in Queensland, Australia, the large-scale plantation of sugar cane and cotton had begun. These all were labor intensive industries under a tropical sun. Atlantic Americans had solved this problem by importing African slaves. Now slavery was being destroyed. What to do? Recruit “indentured servants” on remote Pacific Islands! Sail to some place, lure the locals on board with offers to trade, sail away to Fiji or Australia, force the captives ashore at gun-point, and collect a fee from the plantation owners. Repeat as necessary.[1] Brilliant! In the racist lingo of the time, this was called “blackbirding.” “Bully” Hayes excelled at it.

Between 1866 and 1877, Hayes made a series of voyages through the islands on a series of ships. He recruited labor all over, but also traded in copra and coconuts.   As before, narrow escapes from disaster followed Hayes like his shadow. Ships were wrecked in remote atolls, but he sailed away in home-made boats; he quarreled with business partners, but they disappeared under odd circumstances; British and American navy officers arrested him, but no crewmembers would testify against him; he talked a San Francisco merchant into buying him a new ship, then sailed away with the merchant’s wife still on board. Hayes became a legendary figure among the peoples of the South Pacific. Islanders used to threaten unruly children that Bully Hayes would come for them in the night. Europeans often regarded him as a charming rascal. His crew felt differently: he was called “Bully” for a reason. In March 1877, at Kosrae[2], one of them had had enough. He shot Hayes and threw his body overboard.

Most of what we know about Hayes comes from two sources.

Alfred Restieaux (1832–1911) was an English kid with a taste for adventure. He left England one step ahead of the law; had some adventures in Australia, Peru, and the American West, then “settled down” as a trader in the South Pacific. Here he knew Hayes. He kept a diary

Louis Becke (1855-1913) was an Australian kid with wander-lust. When he was sixteen, he stowed-away on a ship bound for Samoa. He spent the next fifteen years wandering the South Pacific, often working as store-keeper and trader on remote islands. Along the way he crewed for Hayes. Later, he returned to Australia to write short-stories and novels based on his experiences.

Once upon a time, the far Pacific was a frontier just like the American West: a land of opportunity for visionaries, thieves, and refugees from the boredom of ordinary life.

[1] About 60,000 Pacific Islanders were transported to Australia in this fashion.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosrae

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