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The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science

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The Age of Wonder is a colorful and utterly absorbing history of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of Science.  When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery—astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical—swi…

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When European sailors went to Polynesian (or similar) “tropical paradise” places and hung around with local women, why does there never seem to be mention of backlash from the local men?(r/AskHistorians)

Your question made me think me think of James Cook and Joseph Banks’ experiences as described in Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder. I went back to it looking for some insight.

Most conflicts between the islanders and the ship’s men seemed to revolve around theft. Sex, on the other hand, seemed to be an amicable form of trade:

> Much time was spent in bargaining for sexual favors. The basic currency was any kind of usable metal object: there was no need for gold or silver or trinkets. Among the able seamen the initial going rate was one ship’s nail for one ordinary fuck, but hyper-inflation soon set in. The Tahitians well understood a market economy. There was a run on anything metal that could be smuggled off the ship – cutlery, cleats, handles, cooking utensils, spare tools, but especially nails. It was said that the Endeavour’s carpenter soon operated an illegal monopoly on metal goods, and nails were leaving the ship by the sackful.

Their queen, Oborea, allowed Banks to sleep with her personal servant, Otheothea, and later offered herself as a companion (though Banks wasn’t interested). He also describes a Tahitian man bartering with him for the use of a woman. So it seems like the trading of sexual favors was acceptable within the Tahitian community. But I doubt the Tahitians were happy with their women acquiring “the British disease” – the STD – that became rampant during the ship’s stay.

Edit: In response to u/359RP’s question, another excerpt from Holmes’ book:

> The only Tahitian practice that Banks found totally alien and repulsive was that of infanticide, which was used regularly and without compunction as a form of birth control by couples who were not ready yet to support children. Banks could scarcely believe this, until he questioned several couples who freely admitted to destroying two or three children, showing not the slightest apparent guilt or regret. This was a different kind of innocence, one far harder to accept. Banks pursued the question, and found that the custom originated in the formation of communal groups in which the trading of sexual favors were freely exchanged between different partners.

Source: The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes (2010, Kindle edition)

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$4.95

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Paperback

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ABIS_BOOK

Book Author

Richard Holmes

Book Edition

1st

Book Publisher

Vintage

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The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science

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When European sailors went to Polynesian (or similar) “tropical paradise” places and hung around with local women, why does there never seem to be mention of backlash from the local men?

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