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The Travels of Hildebrand Bowman (1778) tells the story of a fictional midshipman abandoned in Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand, after a battle with Maori that claims the lives of ten of his shipmates. Inspired by an actual event on Captain Cook’s second voyage, Bowman’s adventures take him to increasingly sophisticated cultures—hunter/ gatherer, pastoral/nomadic, agricultural, and commercial—that dramatize stadial history in a Pacific setting. The work provocatively weaves together popular fascination with Cook’s voyages, sensational conceptions of the newly charted Pacific, contemporary ideas on human development and culture, topical satire on London life, and a fanciful castaway story. As an introduction to the cultural connections linking Pacific studies, the Scottish Enlightenment, and eighteenth-century English society and politics, The Travels of Hildebrand Bowman is unique in literary history and unsurpassed as a teaching text. Of equal importance, it marks the birth of a national literature. It is the first New Zealand novel.
Historical appendices provide an exceptionally broad range of materials on the Grass Cove “massacre,” the eighteenth-century stadial theory of historical development, cannibalism, and contemporary depictions of the South Pacific and its indigenous peoples.