Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894

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Island 7: In the South Seas

The schooner Casco

The Stevensons chartered this yacht in San Francisco in June 1888 from Dr. Samuel Merrit. A physician and native of Maine (the city of Portland is situated on Casco Bay), Merrit arrived in San Francisco just as the gold rush began, made a fortune in real estate, and eventually served as mayor of nearby Oakland in the late 1860's. Though he expected Stevenson would be "a kind of crank," Merrit was impressed when he met the author in person and agreed to a seven-month lease of the yacht at $500/month plus expenses.

Father Damien: An Open Letter to the Reverend Dr. Hyde of Honolulu
London, Chatto and Windus, 1890.

Stevenson had visited the leper colony on Molokai in May 1889, shortly after Father Damien himself died of leprosy. In Samoa that December, he learnt that a Protestant missionary in Hawaii had attacked Damien's reputation; this outraged defense was first privately printed in Sydney, Australia, in March 1890, and subsequently published in Henley's Scots Observer.

In the South Seas
New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1914.

This volume was originally published in a limited edition, for copyright purposes, in London in 1890, and then serialized in The Sun (New York) and Black and White (London). It collects Stevenson's account of his cruises on the Casco and Equator in 1888 and 1889-90; the later Scribner's reprint, displayed here, shows in its colored map the extraordinary distances Stevenson covered in his quest for a healthy climate.


The Stevensons built this house outside Apia on the island of Upolu, which today is part of Western Samoa, the first island nation of the South Pacific to have achieved independence. The Stevenson purchased a 300-acre tract in 1890 and began building soon thereafter. What at first was merely a house developed into an extensive estate with Stevenson playing the role of lord of the manor. It was at Vailima that Stevenson died, aged 44, on December 3, 1894, and on the hill above it that he was buried. On December 5, 1994, exactly one hundred years after Stevenson's funeral, Vailima was opened to the public as the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. (Use the "Back" button to return to this exhibit.) The image here is from a relatively early stage of the building's development; Stevenson can be seen on the upstairs verandah.

A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa
London, Cassell & Co., 1892.

During the 1890s, Stevenson became deeply involved in Samoan-European politics, and this book, in effect a short history of Samoa, traces the competing influence of German, British and American interests in the strategically-important islands. Stevenson romantically sided with the traditional ruler against the Great Powers' puppet-kings, and his letters back to The Times in London led to threats of deportation.

R.L.S. to J. M. Barrie, a Vailima Portrait
San Francisco, The Book Club of California, 1962.

The text of this book is a letter dated April 2/3, 1893, from Stevenson to J.M. Barrie (1860-1937), a fellow Scot and author of Peter Pan. The book was printed for the Book Club of California by the Grabhorn Press of San Francisco, America's pre-eminent mid-century "fine" press. The expansive, slightly eccentric approach to design and layout is typical of West-coast fine printing of the period.

Island Nights' Entertainments
London, Cassell & Co., 1893.

This collection of South Sea stories includes an important novella, The Beach of Falesá, an ironic depiction of a white man imposing his culture on a more primitive civilization, an interesting anticipation of (and influence on) Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899). It originally appeared as a serial in The Illustrated London News, where its frank depiction of sexuality was partially censored, leaving what Stevenson called "slashed and gaping ruins."

The Ebb-Tide: A Trio and Quartette
London, William Heinemann, 1894.

This thriller, written in a long-drawn-out collaboration with Lloyd Osbourne but finished by Stevenson alone, traces the adventures of a penniless man of letters hunting treasure among the Pacific Islands, reflecting Stevenson's own move to the South Pacific. It was originally serialized in To-day and McClure's magazine.


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