My Opinion On Various Books

Review of The Notorious Captain Hayes: The Remarkable True Story of The Pirate of The Pacific – Joan Druett

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The incredible true story of William ‘Bully’ Hayes, the so-called ‘Pirate of the Pacific’: a story that separates the myth from the man.

Famous throughout the Pacific, from the US to Australia and all points in between, Captain Bully Hayes has been the inspiration for writers ranging from Robert Louis Stevenson to James A. Michener and Frank Clune. Rousing films have been based on his life, and his name adorns bars and hotels all over the Pacific.

But the truth is both less noble and more intriguing than the myth. The Hayes of legend was a product of the popular press at the time, the construction of editors who were determined to create a romantic figure to feed their readers’ appetites. This, the first proper biography of this legendary nineteenth-century figure, simultaneously sorts the facts from the fantasy and recounts an amazing true story of a genuine rogue and adventurer, against the backdrop of the Pacific during the great age of sail and trade.

HarperCollins New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

William Henry Hayes, better known as Bully Hayes. A name famous, or infamous, across the Pacific. It’s hard to go far out there without tripping over some reference or other to him, sly asides of piracy, shonky deals, and the whiff of romance and swashbuckling. Every ocean has its ne plus ultra bounder, and the Pacific’s is Bully Hayes.

 The problem with any detailed account of Hayes is that there is a paucity of detail surrounding much of his life. Druett does the best she can with material, cross-checking gossip with known facts, weaving a tale that is both greater and less than the romantic melodrama attached to the name. It is likely he was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1828 or 1829 and served for a period in the US Navy. He is first reported regarding the capture of a notorious American pirate Eli Boggs near Hong Kong. The two salient features that remain are his charm, which many commented on, and his ability to escape creditors and have his shipping business arise like the phoenix when all seemed lost. Even his death was barely attested.

This is not to say that he always operated as a rogue, nor a seafarer. Hayes spent a considerable period in the New Zealand colonies, engaged in inn-keeping and entertainment before the fickleness of fortune drove him back to merchant shipping. He also had a number of wives. However, as divorce was a simple affair in the mid-nineteenth century, several of these relationships were probably bigamous. That said, he was no different to many in the colonies.

Druett writes with style and tries to keep the known facts foremost. Where this is not possible, she presents the accounts, discounts obvious contradictions before offering the most probable explanation. By keeping to this formula, Druett’s methodology is transparent, and we are informed of the hazards of biography where solid data is deficient.

I found this an enjoyable read and hope to see more of Druett’s work in future.

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