From June 12-14, 2013, I attended the Sea Stories: Maritime Landscapes, Cultures and Histories Conference at the University of Sydney. The presentations were excellent with a distinctly, but not exclusively, Australian perspective. More than that, kangaroos, koalas and the bush – for once – took a back seat! For some time, I have been aware of how little my research, thus far, has crossed over into Australian, Tasmanian, Indonesian and South Asian spaces. British and American vessels were certainly active in these waters and I have noted at least one mariner in New London from the Philippines and one from Calcutta.
The presentations at Sea Stories opened up new lines of inquiry and new record groups to explore in my pursuit of understanding the global movement, activities, and social networks of New England Indian mariners. While whaling has dominated the narrative through most of the nineteenth century, it is evident that other threads are present.
One earlier thread that will be worth examining is the legacy of the voyages of Captain James Cook. Admittedly, I am less interested in Cook and more so in his crew. In particular, on Cook’s third voyage, Groton, Connecticut resident and famed explorer John Ledyard was aboard. During and after his 1776-1780 voyage with Cook, Ledyard developed a deep interest in the Pacific otter pelt trade with China. The extent to which the local Pequots, Mohegans, and Narragansetts (and others) may have been involved in this or in the development of the China trade is not yet known.
As much as whaling and, more recently, sealing (more on this soon) in the south Atlantic and Antarctica have inspired my work, Australia has not been on my radar…until now. Heather Goodall’s presentation “Transnational Aboriginal Pasts and Futures” and Lynette Russell’s presentation and recent publication “Roving Mariners: Australian Aboriginal Whalers and Sealers in the Southern Oceans, 1790-1870 (Tribal Worlds: Critical Studies in American Indian Nation Building)” will be an exciting new area for me to explore with New England’s Indian mariners in mind. I am certain that Australian Customs records and Crew Lists will turn up interesting leads…
Other presentations I was able to attend and that I found inspiring were by Ben Maddison (University of Wollongong) “Dispossession in Antarctica:penguins, ‘native giants’ and explorers,” Takahiro Yamamoto (London School of Economics) “No Gain in Owning, No Harm in Losing: The territorial status of the Ogasawara Islands,” Kevin McDonald (Loyola Marymount University) “Pappo and the breadfruit: trans-oceanic exchanges in the Atlantic and Pacific worlds, ca. 1798,” and Steven Vasilakis (University of Sydney) “The Illawarra sea country: sea stories of place and memory.” I would have also enjoyed a number of papers on indigenous Australian watercraft and the pearl fishery as well as those I missed on Wednesday morning due to a late plane arrival and lost luggage. I will be sure to catch up with David Haines (Waitangi Tribunal, New Zealand) who presented on Ngai Tahu shore whaling and Trevor Armstrong (University of Melbourne) on “Oswald Brierly and the art of whaling in Australia.” A final note – it was good to catch up with Kevin Dawson who was a participant with me in the 2006 Mystic Seaport Conference “Gender, Race, Ethnicity and Power in Maritime America.” Our work appears in the 2008 publication of the same name, edited by Glenn S. Gordinier.