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Watering pool, Solomon Islands, taken by JB Thurston, 1868–72. A keen amateur botanist and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Sir John Bates Thurston embarked on a botanical voyage around the South Pacific during the 1860s, but became shipwrecked on the island of Rotuma in 1865. Following his rescue 18 months later, he settled in Fiji and worked for the British consulate. In 1874, he was instrumental in persuading the Fijian chief Seru Epenisa Cakobau to cede his kingdom to Britain, and he eventually became governor of the country and high commissioner for the Western Pacific in 1888 – a role in which he remained until his death in 1897. This photograph, apparently taken by Thurston shortly after his rescue, shows three smartly dressed Caucasian girls sitting beside a pool surrounded by lush vegetation in the Solomon Islands, while a group of indigenous men look on. Interestingly, the islands didn’t come under British control until 1893, four years before Thurston’s death. Before then, its population had a reputation among colonialists and missionaries as headhunters and cannibals, and would be victims of ‘blackbirding’: the recruitment – by kidnap or deceit – of Melanesians by white people to become labourers on the sugar plantations of Fiji and Australia
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