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Humanitarianism, imperial commerce, and colonial hegemony : Quaker 'testimonials to suffering' in Tahiti and Hawaii in the 1830s 'age of reform'

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posted on 2023-05-28, 08:54 authored by Peyper, AJ
This thesis examines Quaker humanitarian concern for Pacific peoples in the early nineteenth century through interrogation of the published and archival material of the prominent British Quaker Daniel Wheeler. Wheeler and his son Charles travelled on a humanitarian 'voyage of concern' through the Pacific from 1833-1838, and acted within an established Quaker religious and publishing tradition, and offer a historically unique moment in Pacific reportage during the 1830s 'age of reform'. Through examination of this rare archival and published material, this thesis argues that humanitarian endeavour and capitalist expansion operated as coproductive forces of imperial cultural hegemony in Indigenous Pacific kingdoms, which were subject to nascent forms of European imperialism in the 1830s. This study utilises the rich archival material of Daniel and Charles Wheeler, which is to date understudied by modern historians, to advance understandings of British and American Quaker humanitarianism in the 1830s and its relationship with empire and commerce relating to whaling in Tahiti and sugar plantations in Hawaii. Methodologically, this thesis takes an innovative transnational approach through engaging a synthesis of discursive analysis of Quaker humanitarian texts with economic materialist theoretical frameworks. Building upon important scholarly research into imperial and humanitarian networks in settler-colonial regions and the ideological function of capitalist 'modernity' in non-Western societies, this thesis demonstrates the importance of dialectic positioning of historical sources towards postcolonial objectives of exposing critical questions about the origins of racial and cultural inequities in the absence of formal imperial structures. This thesis is the first critical examination of Daniel and Charles Wheelers' Quaker 'testimonials to suffering' from Tahiti and Hawaii in 1835 and 1836, and argues for the indispensable nature of these rich historical sources for our understanding of Pacific and imperial history. It offers a new perspective on the key themes of exploitative trade and unfreedom in plantation labour towards interrogating the imperial role of mercantilist trade, land acquisition, and labour policy in the 1830s Pacific.

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