An Otago Storeman in Solomon Islands reaches from inland South Island of New Zealand across to the Solomon Islands during the 1880s. William Crossan’s Otago experience as a versatile storeman with a solid work ethic helped him survive on the Melanesian frontier where he encountered conflicting clans, cannibalism, cheating traders, and co-operative entrepreneurial big men. His diary provides many glimpses into Makiran society as it encountered new ideas, new employment, and western technology. It is a welcome addition to the sparse record of these cryptic copra traders seeking fortunes on the cusp of indigenous tradition and incoming colonialism.
In the Journal of Pacific History, Michael W. Scott reviews An Otago Storeman in Solomon Islands: The diary of William Crossan, copra trader, 1885–86, edited by Tim Bayliss-Smith and Judith Bennett.
Scott explains that, while it is thought that between 12 and 20 Euro-American traders lived and worked in Solomon Islands every year during the last quarter of the 19th century, little is known about their lives. In An Otago Storeman in Solomon Islands, Scott finds “a rare first-hand source for the day-to-day life of one such trader”, thanks to the fact that Crossan, the trader in question, kept a diary during his time on Solomon Islands.
Scott finds that, as “Crossan’s diary contains a wealth of data pertaining to the micro-dynamics of colonial encounter and indigenous life at the time”, the book will “be of particular interest to historians, anthropologists and Solomon Islanders”.
Scott goes on to say that the book’s editors, Tim Bayliss-Smith and Judith Bennet, have “created an excellent critical apparatus essential to the reader’s appreciation of Crossan’s distinctive position, voice and idiosyncrasies”. He concludes by saying that “this is a highly valuable tool to be welcomed as a model for and incentive to bringing other such texts to light”.
(Michael W. Scott, review of An Otago Storeman in Solomon Islands: The diary of William Crossan, copra trader, 1885–86, edited by Tim Bayliss-Smith and Judith A. Bennet, Journal of Pacific History, 48:2, pp. 241–242.)