REVIEWS OLD AND NEW
The more outrageous Hayes’ behavior became, the better editors and the reading public
liked it. Separating fact from fiction about the master mariner never got in the way of a good yarn.
To research The Notorious Captain Hayes, New Zealand maritime historian and novelist Joan Druett spent fifteen years poring through the recorded flotsam and jetsam left in the wake of Hayes’ remarkable life to get at the truth about the character many called the “consummate scoundrel.”
Hayes was believed to have been born in Cleveland, Ohio, about 1828 or 1829. As a young man, he initially learned seamanship sailing the Great Lakes during the schooner era. Arriving in the Pacific in the 1850s, he left his mark in seemingly every port he visited.
“Wherever he went,” writes Druett, “a tsunami of headlines seethed in his wake . . . ‘THE HISTORY OF A CONSUMMATE SCOUNDREL’ blared a Honolulu paper in September 1859, just months after he had arrived in Hawaii . . .”
Among the dastardly deeds attributed to Hayes was murder, serial debt-dodging, piracy, bigamy (he loved women), swindling, plain thievery, and engaging in the infamous “coolie trade” and slavery. Journalists were inescapably drawn to these crimes, often imaginatively embellishing reality, which romanticized the rogue and further aroused interest in him from one end of the Pacific to the other.
Despite his black-hearted ways, Hayes was considered to be a competent shipmaster and a strict authoritarian aboard the vessels he commanded. An Englishman named Hines, sailing as an ordinary seaman in the barque C. W. Bradley, recalled: “Every man aboard was afraid of him, and his discipline was almost as strict as a man-o’-warsman.”
By the time Hayes met his maker in 1877 at the hands of an enraged Norwegian sailor, stories from his life had been documented in newspaper archives and books. The Bully Hayes saga was alive well into the twentieth century.
Joan Druett’s lively and salty chronicle, which is as fresh as a sea breeze, brings to life a bygone maritime era that was reigned over by a generation of stalwart men and women – for better or worse.
GEORGE JEPSON, editor, QUARTERDECK
Abigail is a spirited young woman who was born at sea in his father's whaler and was brought up in a small settlement in New Zealand. She knows far too much about ships and sailors and salty sea shanties and not enough about being a lady. Her father decides she needs polishing and sends her off to New England to learn "patient obedience and the ways of True Womanhood."
Abigail doesn't leave the sea behind, however, because her life in America is lived among those whose fortunes are bound up in trading vessels and whalers. She owns a ship herself, given to her by her father, and she is caught up in the thrust and parry of seafaring politics. She also learns about what used to be called Women's Rights from the enchanting and wickedly modern Martha Cady.
Then comes news of the death of her father, back in New Zealand. There is a mystery, and a riddle, and a desperate attempt to get back to Mangonui to solve it. There is romance with fierce, grumpy ships' captains. There is plenty of action of the whaling and sailing kind, and lots of hearty Long John Silver language that sounds remarkably authentic and not at all absurd.
This is a colourful, fast-paced story that will appeal to all the romantics who like their adventures set in the days of the tall ships, and laced with the heady air of the open sea, bellying sails, rugged men and mettlesome women. The book is cheerful and entertaining, and extremely well written, with the narrative skimming over a background based on carefully researched and skillfully introduced detail.
-- Joan Curry, Christchurch Press 15 April 1989
Five years ago the very talented Joan Druett made a non-fictional splash with Exotic Intruders, a lively and impressively comprehensive account of the introduction of non-native plants and animals to New Zealand which won the P.E.N. First Book of Prose prize and the Hubert Church Award.
Having left her Hamilton teaching job in the interim for the uncertain financial rewards of writing full time, Druett is now surpassing her earlier success (and pleasing her bank manager) with an historical novel with a strong New Zealand flavour ...
The slightly unusual background to Abigail is whaling; more precisely the experiences of the convention-defying mid-19th-century women who accompanied their ship-owning husbands to sea.
Druett was inspired to write the novel by seeing the 1850 grave of one such woman, Mary-Ann Sherman, in Rarotonga. Her subsequent researches took her to archives around the Pacific and to New England, and at one stage had her ploughing through 11 miles of microfilm.
A sense of learning worn lightly, characteristic also of Exotic Intruders , gives Abigail much more substance than most books of its kind. Its pages are a mine of fascinating information: you learn in detail how to put a 19th-century sailing ship out to sea, and exactly how whalers caught and processed whales.
-- Frank Corbett, North & South February 1989
Biking around Rarotonga one day, Joan Druett and her husband Ron saw a young man tidying an overgrown grave. Unkempt graves are a rare sight there, and when the Druetts got talking to the grave-cleanr he said he had been told in a dream to do the work.
The Druetts looked at the gravestone and could not believe what it told them. Below it lay the 24-year-old wife of an American whaling captain who had died while on a whaling expedition with her husband.
Whoever, they thought, had ever heard of women on whaling ships?
Since then the dream-driven Rarotongan the the whaler's dead wife have changed Joan Druett's life.
She was then a Hamilton schoolteacher and was the author of Exotic Intruders, the indispensible but specialised history of all animal introductions to New Zealand.
Now she is also author of one of those great doorstop American novels, Abigail -- "love, mutiny and peril on the world's most lonely ocean," says the blurb on one paperback edition...
Abigail, though, is only a pre-publication spinoff from the real book about women who sailed on board whaling ships, Petticoat Whalers it is called: a history which Collins will publish next year.
Getting the facts for Petticoat Whalers led Joan Druett to the old New England whaling ports -- New Bedford, Mystic and nantucket -- and while she was collecting the facts the novel started to be born in her mind.
So Abigail and Petticoat Whalers occupied four years of her life, into which she also squeezed the editing of a whaling journal and the writing of the jubilee history of New Zealand's connection with Fulbright scholarships.
Somewhere along the way she also ran into the life story of the first actress to work in California. The lady's style turned out to be too baroque for Joan Druett's taste, but the circumstances of her life set off the idea for another novel.
It is about a woman running away from New Zealand who falls in with what the publisher's contract calls "a gang of roustabouts" in the Californian goldfields.
The title is A Promise of Gold.
--Ted Reynolds, New Zealand Herald February 17, 1990
Well-presented history of the international education exchange set in motion in the US in 1946 as an agent for social interaction to promote international understanding and peace. The anecdotes scattered throughout from recipients of awards bring [the] "for the record" text to life -- such as the New Zealander in New York who ate her failed pavlovas for breakfast until they were perfect enough ... or the American in Hamilton who needed a panelbeater and, upon asking for directions to a body shop, found himself steered towards the town's sex emporium.
Dale Williams, The Listener 3 June 1989