Celebration Edition #423:
The mystery of Easter Island : the story of an expedition.
By Mrs. Scoresby Routledge, 1866-1935.
London: Printed for the author by Hazell, Watson and Viney : Sold by Sifton, Praed & Co., .
For anyone who has felt the fascination of Easter Island, or the fascination of travel accounts, I recommend Katherine Routledge's The mystery of Easter Island. It feels a bit like a cross between Nevil Shute and an Amelia Peabody Emerson novel, with Katherine Routledge and her husband building a ship to explore ancient sites and eventually reporting on their work to the Royal Geographical Society.
In fact it is a serious account including both scientific and personal details of traveling to and studying the culture of Easter Island. In 1910 the Routledges organized an expedition to Easter Island, commissioning a state-of-the-art 90-foot (27 m) long wooden schooner which they named Mana. They left Southampton Water on February 28th, 1913, and sighted Easter Island on March 29th, 1914, 13 months later. During the voyage Katherine took on the duties of Steward to the ship, managing its provisioning and supervising whatever cooking staff they were able to obtain (or train). Her help in sailing the ship under difficult conditions, however, was less appreciated:
"It has been made painfully clear to me that my presence on deck when things are bad is an added anxiety; this is humiliating, and will not, I trust, apply to the next generation of females."
Routledge had a number of hair-raising experiences during her stay on Easter Island. At one point there was an uprising among the native inhabitants against the company representative who raised cattle on the island. In October 1914, her expedition learned that World War I was underway, after a dozen German warship took harbour in Cook's Bay. Those on the ships kept to themselves, but eventually word leaked out, via a German tobacco planter, that there was a great European war. On a later occasion, a German ship, the Eitel Friedrich left a crew of prisoners from a British warship on shore at Easter Island. Routledge's husband was away with the Mana for significant periods of time while Katherine remained on the Island.
"My thoughts, while I sat there with eyes glued to the horizon, went back to academic discussions... on the right in war-time to capture private property at sea, and how little it had then occurred to me that the matter would ever become so vitally personal."
Nonetheless, Katherine Routledge managed to record an already-disappearing legends and oral history of the culture of Easter Island and to extensively map and photograph its statues.
"We were always accompanied by native guides in order to learn local names and traditions, and it was soon found necessary to make a point of these being old men; owing to the concentration of the remains of the population in one district, all names elsewhere, except those of the most important places, are speedily being forgotten."
"In Easter Island the past is the present, it is impossible to escape from it; the inhabitants of to-day are less real than the men who have gone; the shadows of the departed builders still possess the land."
The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs of the island and its people.