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Pacific exploration as religious critique.

Contact with the Pacific provided Europeans with a distant laboratory in which to test some of their assumptions about the nature of humanity and, in particular, the forms of religion with which they were familiar. In the era before Cook, the scantily explored Pacific provided a colourful backdrop for those contrasting a universal simple religion with European clericalism. Elements of such an approach continued to colour Hawkesworth's edition of Cook's first voyage. The tendency to idealize Pacific societies and their religious practices diminished, however, in the late eighteenth century with a growing emphasis on the superiority of Christianity and the need for missionary action. (1)

The vast remoteness of the Pacific provided a screen on to which eighteenth-century Europe could project its own concerns and dilemmas--and one of the most pressing of these was the nature of religious belief and its political underpinnings. To the extent that the Pacific remained unknown it could serve as a blank canvas on which European preoccupations could be played out. At the beginning of the century very little was known about that vast ocean beyond the Spanish possessions in the New World. The Dutch had provided some sketchy information (notably that drawn from the voyages of Abel Tasman in 1642-43) but it was the publication of Dampier's A New Voyage Round the World (1697), with its account of a voyage across the Pacific from Peru to the west coast of Australia and to New Guinea, which helped to make the Pacific part of the early eighteenth-century literary imagination. The Pacific seemed real enough to give substance to a genre of fictional voyaging accounts, yet far enough away for the Pacific to seem a never-never land which could provide ample scope for poetic licence. (2)

It was Dampier who provided much of the imaginative stimulus for those two great works of fictional travel, Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), both located in a vaguely Pacific setting. In Defoe's case, along with the background influence of Dampier's work, there was another more immediate influence which also intersected with Dampier's career: the case of Alexander Selkirk who sailed with Dampier and was subsequently marooned on Juan Fernandez Island off the South American coast from 1704 to 1709 before being rescued by a vessel on which Dampier was the pilot. (3) Both these works offered an opportunity to [right arrow] use the forms of a travel narrative to hold a mirror up to the foibles of their own society. Among such topical concerns were the conflicts engendered by religious conflict which had become particularly acute during the reign of Queen Anne when the position of the established Church was challenged by the greater religious freedom extended to Protestant Dissent under the terms of the Act of Toleration of 1689.

As a champion of the Dissenting cause, Defoe used the immensely influential literary conceit of a lone Briton encountering the 'Other' in the form of Man Friday to provide a critique of the forms of religion in his own society. Robinson Crusoe provided a platform to criticize what he considered were the overweening claims of a priesthood (overtly those of the Church of Rome but also by implication those of the Church of England). Man Friday's description of the seemingly devious ways of the priests in his society and their claims to have access to his god 'Benamuckee' prompted the pointed reflection:
   By this I observed, that there is priestcraft even among the most
   blinded ignorant pagans in the world; and policy of making secret
   religion, in order to preserve the veneration of the people to the
   clergy, is not only to be found in the Roman, but perhaps among all
   religions in the world. (4)


Crusoe's catechetical endeavours in winning over Man Friday to the Christian faith with the aid of one of his few possessions, a Bible, prompted further reflection on the basic simplicity of religion if it was not needlessly complicated by a priesthood overly concerned with nice points of doctrine and church government:
   As to the disputes, wranglings, strife, and contention, which have
   happened in the world about religion, whether niceties in
   doctrines, or schemes of church-government, they were all perfectly
   useless to us; as, for ought I can yet see, they have been to all
   the rest of the world: we had the same guide to heaven, viz. the
   Word of God. (5)


Though a Dean of the Church of Ireland--the established church of the few per cent of the Irish population who subscribed to the Church of England Jonathan Swift also used his great travel narrative to point to the absurdities of doctrinal disputes with his account of the way in which in Lilliput war had broken out between the Big and Small Endians over the interpretation of the text in the sacred work of the 'great Prophet Lustrog which stipulated 'That all true Believers shall break their Eggs at the convenient End'. (6)

Defoe's references to Christianity were, however, much more explicit and, in some respects, much more troubling than those of Dean Swift. For, along with such well-worn barbs at priestly prerogatives, the encounter between West and East in the persons of Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday also raised some other issues which were to be further pursued as the Pacific came to be drawn more securely into the European map of the world. The Pacific vantage point meant a perspective on Christian beliefs which did not always promote orthodoxy. To Crusoe's embarrassment, Man Friday starts to ask awkward doctrinal questions. Why, he questioned, 'if God much strong, much might, as the devil, why God not kill the devil, so make him no more wicked?' For Crusoe it provided a salutary warning of the limits of human enquiry for 'the mere notions of nature, though they will guide reasonable creatures to the knowledge of a God ... yet nothing but Divine Revelation can form the knowledge of Jesus Christ'. (7)

It was an issue about which many of Defoe's contemporaries had pondered deeply. The burden of Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), for example, had been the extent to which Christianity and reason were consonant apart from the key doctrine that Christ was the Messiah. One of the impetuses for downplaying the extent to which Christianity was based on reason was the same concern that Defoe had made manifest in Robinson Crusoe: the need to limit the claims of a priestly class that they had a special place and special position of custodians of a revealed tradition which lay beyond human speculation. It was this hostility to the claims of the clergy that provided much of the fuel for the English Deists' attacks on the established order in Church and State--attacks which gained public attention in large part because of the Anglican clergy's reluctance to abandon their nostalgia for the Stuarts' divine right notions of monarchy.

At the high point of religious dispute in the reign of Queen Anne the Deist, Matthew Tindal, a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, had, in his Rights of the Christian Church Asserted (1706), argued forcefully for the view that the Church had no authority except that conferred on it by the State. As the established clergy was indeed made ever more subject to the State, particularly after the ascendancy of the Hanoverian regime following the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the Deist movement lost much of its force and public profile.

In one of the last major works of the movement, however, Tindal turned to a theme which was to provide part of the intellectual baggage of some of the more questioning Pacific voyagers. For in his Christianity as Old as the Creation: or, the Gospel, a Republication of the Religion of Nature (1731) Tindal provided a lengthy and reasoned statement of the view that all religions including Christianity, should be valued according to the extent to which they approximated to the religion of nature. This meant, in effect, that what was primary was not revelation but reason and that Christianity then had no particularly privileged position except in so far as it conformed to the dictates of reason: 'Natural and Reveal'd Religion', he insisted, 'differ in nothing, but the manner of their being convey'd to us'. From this followed the distinction, on which he placed a great deal of emphasis, between religion (the path of reason) and superstition based on tradition. Returning to the concern which lay at the heart of the Deist movement, Tindal warmly asserted that superstition was the breeding ground of priestcraft: 'after People once gave themselves up to believe in their Priests, there was nothing too absurd to be receiv'd as divine'. Once this had happened 'the Christian world was enslav'd, and Religion forc'd to give way to destructive Superstition'. By contrast, true religion could be readily recognized since it was 'plain, simple, and natural, as design'd for all Mankind, adapted to every capacity, & suited to every condition and circumstance of life'. (8)

When the European voyagers ventured into the Pacific, then, one of the key questions in the minds of the more intellectually curious was the extent to which there were at least vestiges of a universal simple religion. Allied to this was a concern to distinguish religion from superstition and a preoccupation with the forms of priestcraft. Such ruminations proved influential since accounts of Pacific voyaging were among the most popular forms of literature in an age hungry for information of distant lands and especially 'the new world' of the Pacific.

Just how popular were such Pacific travelogues is borne out by the publishing history of John Hawkesworth's An Account of the Voyages undertaken by the order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere ..., a compilation of Pacific voyages based on the accounts of the voyages of Byron, Wallis, Carteret, and, most importantly, Cook's first great Pacific voyage aboard the Endeavour. The work was first published in London in 1773 in 2000 sets of three volumes. This publication was followed, three to four months later, by another issue of 2500 sets. Soon afterwards publishers in Dublin and New York were cashing in on its popularity by issuing cheaper if unauthorized editions. Two further editions followed within sixteen years bringing the total number of English-language editions to eight. It also attracted readers across Europe and was published in a French translation (which went through six editions by 1796) as well as in German (three editions), Dutch, and Italian. Many of those who could not afford to buy the work borrowed it from circulating libraries - at the Bristol library it was the most frequently borrowed book between 1773 and 1784, being lent 201 times in twelve years. (9) Another economy option was to purchase it in shilling parts when it was published in sixty weekly numbers. (10) The publisher, anticipating such popularity, gave Hawkesworth the then enormous sum of 6000 [pounds sterling] for the copyright. (11)

In an age so much preoccupied with religion, Hawkesworth did not shy away from making plain his belief that it was the task of the travel chronicler to rely on natural rather than Providential explanations for events. Such was the burden of his controversial preface, which asked his readers not to 'censure me for not having attributed any of the critical escapes from danger that I have recorded, to the particular interposition of Providence', arguing that he was entitled to such a position on the grounds of 'private judgement'. He did qualify this with the rather guarded statement--which conveniently covered either Christian or Deistic belief (or, as he had put it earlier, the views of 'christians or philosophers')--that 'I have, however, paid my homage to the Supreme Being, consonant to my own ideas of his agency and perfection'. (12) Such affirmations did not, however, disarm a critical public which regarded the preface as tinged with Deism. Hence the response of the Public Advertiser of 17 July 1773, for example, that 'It would be highly criminal to remain silent, when a Dr Hawkesworth makes an open Profession of a Sentiment, the favourite Theme of [the free-thinking] Bolingbroke and Hume.' (13) Hawkesworth's criticism of the notion of a particular Providence which watched over sailors concerned Boswell. When he was sailing in tempestuous weather to the Isle of Sky off the Scottish coast, Boswell did not, however, abandon his faith and affirmed that 'Dr Ogden's excellent doctrine on the efficacy of intercession prevailed'. (14)

Hawkesworth evidently was familiar with Deist literature and appears to have read Tindal. Thus, one of the examples that Tindal had used of popular superstition in his Religion as Old as Creation recurs in Hawkesworth where, as with Tindal, it becomes an instance of the need to view one's own society through the eyes of another culture--what became known as 'cultural relativism'. 'What reason has a Papist, for instance,' asked Tindal, 'to laugh at an Indian, who thinks it contributes to his future happiness to dye with a Cow's tail in his hands, while he lays as great a stress on rubbing a dying Man with oil.' (15) Hawkesworth again invokes the example of the Indian and the cow's tail but seeks to make Catholic practice even more absurd and superstitious by paralleling it with the belief of some Catholics that 'they shall derive the same advantage from dying with the slipper of a St. Francis upon their foot'. When describing some of the superstitious beliefs held in Batavia, Hawkesworth again drew a parallel with some of the practices of Christianity and particularly Catholicism: 'And the averring what is known to be false, in order to produce in others the belief of what is thought to be true, must ... be imputed to many, otherwise venerable characters, through whose hands the doctrines of Christianity passed for many ages in their ways to us'--in particular, 'the silly fables related to the Romish saints'. (16)

Elsewhere there are hints in Hawkesworth's account of a muted critique of religion which owed much to the journal of the anticlerical Joseph Banks, the naturalist-gentleman on board the Endeavour--a journal on which Hawkesworth drew freely (along with that of Cook) in constructing his own account of the Endeavour voyage. If anything Hawkesworth used Banks's material to make the Tahitian religion appear closer to Deism. Banks's remark about the lack of connection between Tahitian religion and concepts of morality becomes for Hawkesworth an instance of disinterested love of virtue (with an implied critique of Christian conceptions of eternal rewards and punishments):
   Their religion, therefore, if it has no influence upon their
   morals, is at least disinterested and their expressions of
   adoration and reverence, whether by words or actions, arose only
   from a humble sense of their own inferiority and the ineffable
   excellence of divine perfection. (17)


Tahitian religion Hawkesworth described as being 'like the religion of most other countries, involved in mystery, and perplexed with apparent inconsistencies'. (18) Such sentiments were, too, very much in line with Cook's own comments on Tahitian religion in his unpublished journal, in which he wrote that 'the Mysteries of most Religions are very dark and not easily understood even by those who profess them'. Cook also praised Tahitian society for keeping in check the power of what he called 'Priest craft' (a favourite term of opprobrium of the Deists). (19)

As with the Deists, such reflections on the extent of 'superstition' in the Pacific (and indeed in Europe and particularly Catholic Europe) did not preclude a firm belief in a Creator God. Hawkesworth was at pains to affirm that the belief in the existence of a Deity had both a firm philosophical foundation and the support of a wide array of cultures which extended to the Pacific. His reflections on Tahitian religion prompted the remark: 'Nothing is more obvious to a rational being ... than that the universe and its various points ... were produced by some agent inconceivably more powerful than himself'. (20)

Other published accounts of Cook's voyages also touched on such matters. From the safety of his anonymous authorship the American-born midshipman, James Matra, included in his account of the Endeavour voyage a distinctly Deistically tinged account of Tahitian religious practice: 'They have however no religious establishment, or mode of divine worship. Neither the dictates of nature or of reason having suggested to them the expediency or propriety of paying external adoration to the deity.' (21) John Ledyard, another American who travelled with Cook, in his account of Cook's third Pacific voyage viewed Tahitian religion less favourably as a familiar example of the power of priestcraft: 'their priests who alone pretend to be informed of it have by their own industrious fabrication and the addition of its traditional fables rolled themselves up in endless mazes and inextricable labyrinths'. Pursuing the theme of the extent of the divide between religion and superstition with which eighteenth-century theorists such as Tindal were much preoccupied, Ledyard questioned whether in fact one could draw such a distinction in the Pacific--or, indeed, in regard to other cultures. The Tahitians' veneration of animals he attributed to 'religion or superstition, which are indeed synonymous terms when applied to these people'. (22)

The official account of Cook's third voyage also alluded to the nature and extent of superstition, referring to the New Zealand Maoris' practice of cutting their hair and tying it to bushes as being linked to 'superstitious notions'. The subject of human sacrifice on Tahiti prompted reflections on the 'power of superstition to counteract the first principle of humanity'--especially striking 'amongst a people, in many other respects, emerged from the brutal manners of savage life'. But superstition, it was acknowledged, could be found at home as well as abroad and so the Tahitian fears of burying places were likened to 'many of our ignorant and superstitious people ... at the sight of a churchyard'. (23) The parallel between the worlds of the Pacific and that of Cook's England was heightened by the way in which Cook, while in the Society Islands on the second voyage, gave as 'the name of my Marai (burial place) ... Stepney the Parish in which I lived when in London' with the result that 'Stepney Marai no Tootee was echoed through a hundred mouths at once'. (24)

After the controversy about Hawkesworth's work, in which the journals of explorers such as Cook had been refashioned by another hand, the published accounts of the second and third of Cook's voyages were based much more directly on Cook's own journals (supplemented, in the case of the third voyage, by that of James King to cover the period after Cook's death in Hawaii in February 1779). Such journals did, however, pass through the hands of a generally discreet and unobtrusive clerical editor, the Reverend Dr John Douglas, a critic of Hume. This accounts for the inclusion of warmly Christian sentiments which are not to be found in the journals of Cook, who himself showed little interest in the practice of religion. It appears, for example, to have been Douglas, rather than Cook, who wrote in relation to Tahitian views about the afterlife that they were 'far from entertaining those sublime conceptions of happiness, which our religion, and, indeed reason, gives us room to expect hereafter'. (25) Though in the account of the third voyage Douglas acknowledged his debt to the journal of Surgeon Anderson, along with that of Cook, some of Anderson's more anticlerical reflections were filtered out of the published account. Absent, for example, is Anderson's reflection on human sacrifice on Tonga, which he saw as a 'strong monitor against admitting superstition into the religion and policy of a whole nation or even particular sects'. (26)

The accounts of Cook's voyages provided a rich source of reflection on the theme of the extent of cultural difference and on the ways in which religious observance could take on forms quite at variance with the received wisdom of the Christian West. The vigour with which material was employed as a weapon against the established order in Church and State could vary across Europe. By and large in Britain any Deistic capital to be derived from the Pacific voyages was expressed in a muted and not very confrontational form. In France, however, hostility to the institutions of the Old Regime led to the philosophes of the Enlightenment producing highly embroidered accounts of Tahitian society as a less than subtle attack on the Church.

As part of his campaign to 'ecrasez l'infame' Voltaire wove a highly coloured fable directed against Christianity out of the material provided by one of the most celebrated and controversial episodes in Hawkesworth's work--a ritualized public copulation in Tahiti. Though much embarrassed by the uses to which Hawkesworth put his account, Cook had provided the basis for the scene when he wrote in his journal for Sunday 14 May 1769 that: 'This day we perform'd divine Service' and that the 'day closed with an odd Scene ... where a young fellow above 6 feet high lay with a little Girl about 10 or 12 years of age'. (27) When Hawkesworth reworked this he much augmented the ritual and indeed religious parallel: 'Such were our Matins; our Indians thought fit to perform Vespers of a very different kind. A young man ... performed the rites of Venus with a little girl'. (28) From this germ, Voltaire developed in his small fable, The Ears of Lord Chesterfield and Parson Goodman, written in 1775 (two years after the publication of Hawkesworth's work), a highly pointed contrast between Christian gloom and the Tahitian love of the pleasures of Nature. The public coupling now becomes a form of liturgy presided over by the Tahitian queen described by a fictitious Dr Grew who had allegedly travelled with the naturalists Banks and Solander on Cook's Endeavour voyage. After Cook and his men had conducted their religious rituals 'with all the Pomp we could' the Queen invites them to the Tahitian rite based on 'a Necessity more natural--more sweet--more universal--which the Religion of Otaheitie ordains for the public Good, and universal Gratification of all religious Ceremonies'. Indeed, urges Voltaire, what could be a more appropriate way to honour the Deity since 'Labouring to produce a reasonable Creature is an Action the most Noble, and the most Holy'. In his impish way Voltaire, with a whiff of his customary anti-Semitism, even suggests that such practices could be found among the 'miserable little Nations of the Jews' some of whom 'worshipped Priapus'. (29)

Along with Hawkesworth, another influence on Voltaire was, no doubt, the French traveller Louis-Antoine de Bougainville and his popular account of his Pacific voyage, Voyage autour du Monde par la Fregate du Roi, La Boueuse et la Flute L'Etoile en 1766-1769 (Paris, 1771). Bougainville's idealized depiction of his visit to Tahiti in 1768 did much to entrench the myth of the sexually blissful South Pacific in the Western psyche. Bougainville was himself more restrained than his naturalist, Philibert Commerson, who, in 1769, wrote of Tahitian sexual mores that:
   Some censor with clerical bonds may perhaps see in this only the
   breakdown of manners, horrible prostitution, and the most bald
   effrontery; but he will be profoundly mistaken in his conception of
   natural man, who is born essentially good, free of every prejudice,
   and who follows, without defiance and without remorse, the gentle
   impulses of instinct not yet corrupted by reason. (30)


Famously, Diderot drew on such material in his Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville to construct, in a manner similar to Voltaire, a contrast between Christian doctrines and precepts and the sexual freedom of the Tahitians (though the work was not to appear until 1796 well after Diderot died in 1784). Thus, he bewails the way in which 'shame, punishment, and dishonor have been made the consequences of actions that are innocent in themselves'. If the true dictates of nature had been followed 'how many vices and errors would man be spared!' Diderot did, however, go further than Voltaire in attacking Christian theology. The Judeo-Christian Creator God becomes from the viewpoint of Diderot's Tahitian mouthpiece, for example, the 'great workman without a head, without hands, and without tools'. This is linked with an attack on the institutions which religion has served to sanction. In its conclusion the work thus reflects on the need to examine 'our political, civil, and religious institutions' and the way in which 'mankind has been forced to bow, century after century, beneath a yoke that a mere handful of scoundrels has conspired, in every age, to impose upon it'. (31)

One of the main protagonists in Diderot's work is a Catholic chaplain who succumbs to the charms of the Tahitian maidens. The Spanish missionaries on Tahiti from 1774-75 did not do so which, if Diderot had known it, would have probably only further heightened his outrage. The remarks of Cook's libidinous surgeon and son of a clergyman, David Samwell, did, however, highlight a point on which Diderot dwelt: that there was often a great gulf between Christian moral precept and the actual practice of many who called themselves Christian. The behaviour of the Spaniards, wrote Samwell archly, meant that the Tahitians' 'female Pride, the conscious Dignity of Beauty, were most sensibly touched by this outrageous insult ... of the flesh-subduing Dons. We gave them every consolation in our power.' (32)

Though such great philosophes as Voltaire and Diderot might weave their anti-Christian fables out of the yarn provided by Pacific voyagers there was only a limited amount of anticlerical ore to be mined from the published journals of Bougainville or that of the other major pre-revolutionary French Pacific explorer, La Perouse, who set off from France in 1785 and disappeared in 1788. In the course of the account of his voyage from 1766 to 1769 which appeared in 1771, Bougainville did provide a lengthy, critical, but reasonably dispassionate account of the Jesuit reservations in Paraguay. These, he wrote, so regulated the lives of the Indians that they 'quitted life without regret, and died without having ever lived or enjoyed life'. (33)

In his review of Bougainville's work (a review not published until 1875) Diderot approved of this account as far as it went but, predictably, launched into a much more vitriolic attack on the Jesuits and their works accusing them of using the Indians as the Spartans used the helots. He saw the reservations as an instance of the larger and deeply regrettable tendency for civil and national institutions to degenerate into those based on 'supernatural and divine laws'. The review became a sketch of some of the themes of his Supplement and, though he admired Bougainville himself, he was fundamentally opposed to his venture and to Western intrusion into the Pacific and other indigenous cultures: 'Ah! Monsieur Bougainville, turn your ship away from the shores of the innocent and fortunate Tahitians; they are happy and you can only harm their happiness'. Bougainville's arrival, he predicted, would be the precursor of control over these people by the institutions of Church and State: 'one day they will come a crucifix in one hand and the dagger in the other.' (34)

Like Bougainville, La Perouse's account of the missionaries was critical but lacked the passion of Diderot's strident critique of Christianity and all its works. La Perouse's journal included a lengthy discussion of the work of the Spanish missionaries in California (though this was not published until 1797 after many Revolution-induced delays, the journal itself having been sent back from Sydney in 1788 before the expedition was wrecked off the Solomons with the loss of all hands). As La Perouse frankly acknowledged, he viewed the missionaries from the vantage point of one who was 'more of a defender of the rights of man than a theologian' and thus criticized the way in which the missionaries did not promote the long-term advancement of the Indians for 'everything is combined towards the rewards of the next life, and the most common crafts ... are ignored'. Such problems were further compounded by the 'unwavering policy' of the Spanish government 'of allowing no other religion and using the most violent methods to maintain it'. But, like Bougainville, he could acknowledge the idealism and indeed heroism which animated the missionaries even though he could wish that they 'were a little more philosophically inclined'. In contrast to what he regarded as the indolent and dissolute clergy he had encountered in Chile, he praised 'these truly apostolic men who have given up the leisurely life of the cloister to take up a varied burden of fatigues, responsibilities, sollicitude'. (35)

While French philosophes, if not French voyagers, might vigorously press the new world of the Pacific into the service of the assault on the established order in Church and State, in Germany there was, as in Britain, more of a tendency to assimilate the new information about the Pacific into forms more consonant with the maintenance of the established order. (36) Lacking the resources of a unified nation, Germany was in no position to mount expeditions and so relied on others for much of its contact with the non-European world. The German university system produced a plentiful quantity of trained professionals, some of whom found service with the British and the Russians, both of whom were expanding their empires into the Pacific in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Among them were that formidably learned father and son combination, Johann Reinhold and George Forster, who both travelled with Cook on the second Pacific voyage and produced, respectively, Observations Made during a Voyage round the World (1778) and A Voyage Round the World (1777)--two major works which had considerable influence in both England and Germany.

A pastor of the German reformed church, Forster pere looked at the Pacific through Christian eyes though with something of the perspective of the rationalizing theology to which he had been exposed at the University of Halle. (37) As in France, the English Deists (a strong influence on Voltaire) (38) had made an impression on German intellectuals and had been promoted at the court of Frederick II of Prussia. Tindal's Religion as Old as Creation, for example, had been translated in 1741. This led Hermann Samuel Reimarus to argue, in the manner of Tindal, that the true religion could be arrived at through reason, making Revelation (and the clergy) superfluous. Reimarus died in 1768 without publishing his works but they appeared between 1774 to 1778 under the editorship of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. George Forster was to draw more heavily on such influences than his father and his impatience with the constituted order in Church and State was to become evident in the early stages of the French Revolution when he played an active part in the formation of the revolutionary government in his city of Mainz. Indeed, George Forster acted as a Rhineland delegate to the Jacobin regime in Paris, though he was to die there in 1794 after becoming rather disillusioned with revolutionary practice if not its theory.

Running through the Observations of Johann Reinhold Forster is the concept of a universal religion which peoples of all hues and cultures shared to a greater or lesser extent--even though those who had the benefit of the Christian Revelation could enjoy its advantages more fully. Reason and nature made evident that 'the Supreme Being deserves our humble adoration, our warmest attachment' and it followed that we should 'behave in a manner becoming the many ties and relations by which the creator has been pleased to connect us with him and other subordinate beings'. Such was 'the ground work of true religion' and traces of it could be found in the South Seas. True, their understandings 'on this head, are we may suppose, less clear, perfect and refined: however they acknowledge an almighty lord and creator of the universe'. Such traces of an original religion might even be 'the venerable remains of a tradition, which may have been brought over from the Asiatic continent'. Indeed, for all its imperfections, Tahitian religion was 'not so much clogged with superstition as many others, which were or still are in use among nations who are reputed to be more civilized and more improved'. (39)

In contrast to his father (and most German intellectuals) Forster took such views in a considerably more radical direction which had parallels with the arguments of Tindal and other English Deists. Forster fils pushed the views of his father about a universal religion towards something approaching an advocacy of the position that there was 'a religion as old as creation'. Discussion with Tahitians about their religion led him to affirm that 'Every thing concurs indeed to convince us, that this simple and only just conception of the Deity, has been familiar to mankind in all ages and in all countries.'40 Tindal would also have been in enthusiastic agreement with George Forster's invocation of the iniquities of 'priestcraft' to explain why such initial religious purity had been lost for, argued Forster:
   only by the excessive cunning of a few individuals those complex
   systems of absurd idolatry have been invented, which disgrace the
   history of almost every people. The love of empire, or the pursuit
   after voluptuousness and indolence, seem to have inspired the
   numerous branches of heathen priests with the idea of keeping the
   minds of the people in awe, by awakening their superstition. (41)


When he reached Tonga he came to a similar conclusion, writing of it that 'the dialect of the church frequently differs from the common dialect, and thus religion is veiled in mysteries, especially where there are priests to take advantage of the credulity of mankind'--a further instance of the 'many dupes of voluptuous priest-craft'. (42)

The politically fragmented and religiously diverse character of Germany meant that it was very dificult to mount a uniied campaign against a single established Church or state structure as in France or England. In any case few German intellectuals wished to do so--most, as either clergymen or professors, were dependent on a princely state. They were also generally anxious to maintain some sense of a distinctive German culture and thus not to follow too closely French intellectual fashions and political causes. (43) Though figures such as Kant and Herder took a considerable interest in Pacific travelogues they did not seek to refashion them into weapons to use against the hold of tradition. Nor, indeed, did George Forster turn his Pacific experiences to such ends, though he and his father continued to profit from the German interest in Pacific voyaging by providing translations of key texts including the voyages of Cook.

Interestingly enough, it was in Germany where the most candid views were expressed about Cook's personal religious beliefs--no doubt since to do so in Britain was to invite criticism for besmirching the reputation of a national icon. Drawing on the close links between Hanover and Britain, the Gottingen professor and polymath Georg Christoph Lichtenberg industriously cultivated contact with those close to Cook and Banks in England. The outcome was a brief life of Cook which concludes with some reflections on his religious beliefs with information that was probably largely drawn from the Forsters. Lichtenberg portrayed Cook as a rational figure opposed to superstition and a little free in his views on some basic points of religious orthodoxy as a consequence of too much reading of modish works and a rudimentary religious education. (44) Another German work on Cook appeared a year later. This was an account of the third voyage, by one of its crew, Heinrich Zimmerman, who wrote of Cook that 'He never spoke of religion, would tolerate no priest on his ship and seldom observed the Sabbath but otherwise was a just man in all his dealings'. (45)

Another reason why Cook's religious views did not receive a great deal of prominence is that by the time he died in 1779, the ideological uses of the Pacific appear to have weakened--perhaps because the Pacific had lost some of its novelty. In England, at least, there also appears to have been something of a move back towards asserting the importance of the Christian Revelation --perhaps a reflection of the incipient Evangelical Revival and a tendency to be more defensive of the institutions of Church and State when they appeared to be under assault in the age of the American and French Revolutions.

Traces of the noble savage could still be found, as in the popular account by George Keate of the experience of Captain Wilson and his men marooned in 1783 on the Pelew (or Pelau) Islands in the Caroline Archipelago south-east of the Philippines--a work which appeared in 1788. The author of this work, George Keate, combined a devotion to the established Church with a warm epistolary relationship with Voltaire. Both strands of his thinking are evident in his account. On the one hand, the Pelew Islanders are portrayed as having been 'Born the children of Nature and secluded from the corruption of the world'. Though they did not appear to have forms of public worship 'they might, from the light of reason only, have discovered the efficacy of virtue, and the temporal advantages arising from moral rectitude'. On the other, however, the author regarded one of the purposes of his tale as 'trac[ing] the hand of PROVIDENCE guiding all things with unerring wisdom'. While the Pelew islanders might have arrived at a commendable state of virtue through the contemplation of 'the GOD OF NATURE' it remained true that Christianity alone provided 'an unerring path to happiness and peace' and the story concludes with one of the islanders accompanying Captain Wilson to England and being instructed in Christianity. (46) The widely read account by Bligh of his voyage to the South Seas and the much-discussed mutiny on the Bounty also strongly affirmed the role of Providence to which Bligh attributed his survival on the epic open boat to Timor in 1789 after the mutiny. (47)

When, in 1794, William Portlock gathered together a collection of voyages the conclusion he drew was not the existence of universal religious principles which all cultures shared but rather the gulf between the Christian and the non-Christian world. In his introduction he discoursed on the way in which such a collection of voyages
   displays the glorious work of Providence, the omnipotence of
   Heaven, and above all, the blessings of Christianity! for surely
   when we meet with the poor ignorant Natives of Desert islands, we
   must feel, or be sensible indeed, a grateful something in our
   hearts, that we by distinguished grace and favour should be so
   enlightened, while these poor Wretches walk in absolute barbarism
   and utter darkness! (48)


Indeed, he continued, invoking the increasingly pervasive language of cultural evolution, such voyages confirmed the need for the British to spread the benefits of civilization:
   The Britons when first visited by the Phoenicians, are described to
   have been as savage as any of the uncivilized natives of Tongtaboo
   or Otaheite; it is therefore very likely that the Britons may, in
   due progress of time, spread those blessings of civilization which
   they themselves have thus acquired. (49)


The spread of the Enlightenment was very much connected with encyclopedias but when, in 1797, the third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica came to address the subject of religion it had little patience with ideas of the noble savage:
   In point of happiness, and in point of respectability, we cannot
   hesitate a moment, let philosophers say what they will, to prefer a
   virtuous, enlightened, and polished Briton to any of the rudest
   savages ... nowhere has civilization and useful science been
   carried to such a height as among Christians. (50)


Claims that there were universal forms of religion which could be arrived at by reason and found in all societies were dismissed equally summarily: among 'rude tribes' 'the faculty of reason is but in a very low state' and, in any case, 'Christianity is an universal religion, formed to exert its happy influence in all ages and among all nations'. (51)

Such was the climate of ideas that provided the background to the formation of the London Missionary Society in 1795 and the determination of that infant body to devote much of its early activities to the Pacific and, in particular, Tahiti. The Society dismissed unequivocally the claims of Enlightenment-tinged voyagers and commentators that Tahiti demonstrated the intrinsic goodness of natural man and the possibility of arriving at the fundamentals of religious belief without Revelation. On the contrary, wrote the Society, 'Their situation of mental ignorance and moral depravity strongly impressed on our minds the obligation we lay under to endeavour to call them from darkness into marvellous light'. (52)

Inspired by such ideals, twenty-nine missionaries set sail for Tahiti in 1796 in the Duff under the command of Captain James Wilson. And indeed the Pacific was to provide a rich harvest for the missionaries--despite initial setbacks the missionaries, emulating the practice of the medieval Church, won over the ruling house of Tahiti to its cause. For a time a virtual theocracy was to prevail there and in Tonga as well as a growing missionary presence among the New Zealand Maoris and, thanks to Americans, in the Polynesian kingdom of Hawaii.

For much of the eighteenth century the Pacific had seemed a new world which could provide a unique vantage point from which to view Europe with a fresh and often critical gaze and to speculate about the foundations of religious belief. By the turn of the eighteenth century Britain and Europe more generally were becoming more self-confident and assertive and less inclined to take instruction from others. The Pacific was being remoulded more in the image and likeness of Europe rather than Europe learning from the Pacific. Indigenous Pacific traditions might persist beneath the facade of European religious and political forms but the Men Friday of the Pacific were less and less likely to ask awkward questions of Western voyagers or, if they did, they were less likely to be listened to.

School of History and Philosophy

University of New South Wales

(1) Research for this article was supported by the Australian Research Council.

(2) Glyndwr Williams, 'Buccaneers, Castaways, and Satirists: The South Seas in the English Consciousness before 1750', Eighteenth Century Life, 18 (1994), 114-28 (p. 123).

(3) Peter Hulme has also pointed out the extent to which Robinson Crusoe was shaped by accounts of European encounters with the Caribbean, especially in regard to Defoe's portrayal of Man Friday (see Hulme, Colonial Encounters. Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492-1797 (London: Methuen, 1986), pp. 175-222).

(4) Daniel Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, 2 vols (London: Harrison & Co., 1781), I, p. 107.

(5) Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, I, p. 110.

(6) Jonathan Swift, The Works of the Reverend Dr Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's, Dublin, 20 vols (Dublin: George Faulkner, 1772), III, p. 47.

(7) Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, p. 108.

(8) Matthew Tindal, Christianity as Old as the Creation: or, the Gospel, a Republication of the Religion of Nature (London [Amsterdam]: [n. pub.], 1731), pp. 3, 82, 96, 218.

(9) W. H. Pearson, 'Hawkesworth's Voyages', in Studies in the Eighteenth Century II, ed. R. F. Brissenden (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1973), pp. 239-57 (p. 238).

(10) Helen Wallis, 'Publication of Cook's Journals: Some New Sources and Assessments', Pacific Studies, 1 (1978), 163-98 (p. 165).

(11) John Abbott, John Hawkesworth: Eighteenth-Century Man of Letters (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), p. 147.

(12) John Hawkesworth, An Account of the Voyages ..., 3 vols (London: T. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1773), I, pp. xix-xxi.

(13) Jonathan Lamb, 'Circumstances Surrounding the Death of John Hawkesworth', Eighteenth-Century Life, 18 (1994), 97-113 (p. 98).

(14) Abbott, John Hawkesworth, p. 166. The reference is to the Cambridge don, Samuel Ogden, and his Sermons on the Efficacy of Prayer and Intercession (Cambridge, 1770).

(15) Religion, p. 112.

(16) An Account, II, p. 145; III, p. 758.

(17) An Account, II, p. 240 (drawing on Banks's remark, in The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks 1768-1771, ed. J. C. Beaglehole, 2 vols (Sydney: Public Library of NSW/Angus and Robertson, 1962), I, p. 379). For further discussion of this issue see Bill Pearson, 'Hawkesworth's Alterations', Journal of Pacific History, 7 (1972), 45-72 (p. 55).

(18) An Account, II, p. 239 (cf. Banks in The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks 1768-1771, ed. Beaglehole, I, p.379).

(19) The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyage of Discovery, ed. J. C. Beaglehole, 3 vols, in 4, (Cambridge University Press for the Hakluyt Society, 1955-69), I, p. 84. See also p. 135.

(20) An Account, II, p. 240.

(21) A Journal Round the World in His Majesty's Ship Endeavour ... (London: T. Becket and P. A. De Hondt, 1771), p. 48.

(22) John Ledyard's Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage, ed. James Munford (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1963), pp. 57, 54.

(23) James Cook and James King, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean ... 3 vols (London: G. Nicol and T. Cadell, 1784), I, p. 138; II, p. 41; II, p. 165.

(24) The Journals of Captain James Cook, ed. Beaglehole, II, p. 425.

(25) Cook and King, A Voyage, II, p. 164.

(26) The Journals of Captain James Cook, ed. Beaglehole, III, p. 917.

(27) The Journals of Captain James Cook, ed. Beaglehole, I, p. 93.

(28) An Account, II, p. 128. On Hawkesworth's reworking of this scene and the reception of his work see Neil Rennie, 'The Point Venus "Scene"', in Science and Exploration in the Pacific: European Voyages in the Southern Oceans in the Eighteenth Century ed. M. Lincoln (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1998), pp. 134-46.

(29) Voltaire, The Ears of Lord Chesterfield and the Parson Goodman [a translation of Les Oreilles du Comte de Chesterfield et le Chapelain Goudman (1775)], trans. J. Knight (Bern: William Lavalar and Son, 1786), pp. 64, 68, 71-72.

(30) L. Davis Hammond, News from New Cythera: A Report of Bougainville's Voyage 1766-1769 (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1970), p. 53.

(31) Denis Diderot, Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage in Diderot's Selected Writings, ed. L.G. Crocker (New York: Macmillan, 1966), pp. 250, 248, 240, 250.

(32) The Journals of Captain James Cook, ed. Beaglehole, III, p.1149.

(33) Lewis de Bougainville, A Voyage Round the World ... (translation by Johann Reinhold Forster of Voyage Autour du Monde (1771)) (London, 1772), p. 101.

(34) Denis Diderot, 'Revue de Voyage autour du Monde ...', in Diderot, Oeuvres Completes. Editions Chronologique. Introductions de RogerLewinter 15 vols (Paris: Le Club Francais du Livre, 1971), IX, pp. 965-73 (pp. 967-69, 971).

(35) The Journal of Jean-Francois de Galaup de la Perouse, ed. John Dunmore, 2 vols (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1994), I, pp. 174, 187, 190, 175.

(36) John Gascoigne, 'The Pacific and the German Enlightenment', in The Anthropology of the Enlightenment eds Larry Wolff and Marco Cipolloni (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), pp. 141-71.

(37) Michael Hoare, The Tactless Philosopher Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-98) (Melbourne: The Hawthorn Press, 1976), p. 10.

(38) Norman Torrey, Voltaire and the English Deists (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930).

(39) Johann Reinhold Forster, Observations Made during a Voyage round the World, eds Nicholas Thomas, Harriet Guest, and Michael Dettelbach (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996), pp. 321-22, 339.

(40) George Forster, A Voyage Round the World, eds Nicholas Thomas and Oliver Berghof, 2 vols (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000), I, p. 171.

(41) A Voyage Round the World, eds Thomas and Berghof, I, p. 171.

(42) A Voyage Round the World, eds Thomas and Berghof, I, pp. 249, 256.

(43) Peter Reill, The German Enlightenment and the Rise of Historicism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), p. 216; Jonathan Knudsen, Justus Moser and the German Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 186.

(44) Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Einige Lensumstande von Captain James Cook (1780), in Cook der Endecker [Schriften uber James Cook], ed. Klaus-Georg Popp (Leipzig: Reclam, 1980), pp. 138-74 (p. 170).

(45) Zimmerman's Captain Cook: An Account of the Third Voyage of Captain Cook Around the World, 1776-1780 ..., ed. F. W. Howay, trans. from the Mannheim edn of 1781 by E. Michaelis and C. French (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1930), p. 99.

(46) George Keate, An Account of the Pelew Islands, Situated in the Western Part of the Pacific Ocean. Composed from the Journals and Communications of Captain Henry Wilson (London, 1788), pp. 293, 325, 97, 324-25.

(47) William Bligh, A Voyage to the South Sea (London: George Nicol, 1792), p. 238.

(48) William Portlock, A New, Complete, and Universal Collection of Authentic and Entertaining Voyages and Travels to All the Various Parts of the World... (London: Alex. Hogg, [1794]), preface.

(49) A New, Complete, and Universal Collection, preface.

(50) Anon, 'Religion', Encyclopaedia Britannica, 3rd edn, 18 vols (Edinburgh: A. Bell and C. Macfarquhar, 1797), XVI, pp. 60-77 (p. 68).

(51) Anon, 'Religion', pp. 60, 76.

(52) James Wilson, A Missionary Voyage to the Southern Pacific Ocean 1796-1798 (London: T. Chapman, 1799), p. 3.
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