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Andrew E. Robson
Prelude to Empire
Consuls, Missionary Kingdoms, and the Pre-Colonial South Seas Seen Through the Life of William Thomas Pritchard
Prelude to Empire is more than a biography. It tells the story of William Pritchard, who was born in Tahiti of missionary parents in 1829, who was given extraordinary power by Fijian chiefs, who changed Fijian history, and who was tried and dismissed by a British government in a gross miscarriage of justice. Drawing extensively on letters, memoranda and memoirs written by those involved, it also paints a picture of an extraordinary time when the people of Polynesia and the West were getting used to dealing with each other but when most of Polynesia remained self-governing. The region was in a fascinating state of flux in which political outcomes remained uncertain, populations declined quite dramatically, introduced technology radically affected the way wars were fought, and a new religion was gradually embraced. Chiefs and foreigners used each other to their own advantage, but relations were not scarred by the rigidities and attitudes of the later colonial period. William Pritchard's first wife was Samoan, and her identity is revealed in this book, as is the previously untold story of his relations with missionaries, chiefs, and officials in London, some of whom conspired to bring him down. Pritchard's adventurous life had more than its share of travails and sadness, but his life in Tahiti, Samoa and Fiji tells us much about an extraordinary period of Pacific history.