WILLIAMS, John (1796-1839) - BAXTER, George (1804-1867). A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands; with remarks upon the Natural History of the Islands, Origin, Languages, Traditions, and Usages of the Inhabitants. London: for the Author, by J. Snow, 1837.
8vo., (8 4/8 x 5 inches). Vignetter title-page. Folding lithographed map of Polynesia. Colour printed in oils frontispiece portrait of Williams, 6 full-page wood-engraved plates and numerous illustrations in the text by George Baxter. Contemporary half black calf, gilt, cloth (detached).
First edition, fourth thousand. "Through his violent death, at the peak of his missionary career, so soon after his successful visit to England, Williams became a heroic figure among English nonconformists and the subject of a huge popular literature. The Revd Dr John Campbell of Moorfields Tabernacle reflected that 'for the purposes of history, he died in the proper manner, at the proper place, and at the proper time' (Campbell, 228)... Williams was indeed a 'remarkable all-round missionary' (Garrett, 86) and a chief-like figure, but his image was greater than his actual achievements. From 1844 until 1971 a succession of LMS ships in the Pacific were named after him" (David Hilliard for DNB).
Williams first embarked on his mission to the Pacific on behalf of the London Missionary Society in 1816. On arriving in Hobart in Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), the LMS missionaries conducted the first dissenting service in the colony, and at Sydney in New South Wales, in 1817 they reached the Society Islands. "He claimed to have discovered Rarotonga, the largest island, though he already knew of its existence and was not in fact the first European to land there, ...supervised the building, with ingenious use of local materials, of a 50 ton two-masted schooner. Named the 'Olive Branch', it was more familiarly known as the 'Messenger of Peace'. In this vessel he sailed further afield. In 1830 he set out on a missionary voyage that was intended to reach Fiji and the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). Calling first at Tonga, he learned of the dangers for Europeans in the 'dark islands' of southern Melanesia and decided to go instead to Samoa... Williams's account of his missionary voyages to the Cook Islands and Samoa, 'A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands', was published in 1837. In an imaginative bid to boost its impact, he persuaded the directors of the LMS to send copies to fifty members of the nobility, with a letter soliciting a donation. Money and commendations flowed in. Williams, conscious of his humble background and lack of education, delighted in aristocratic and royal patronage. His book, illustrated by the printmaker George Baxter (as here), was to become the most popular work on the Pacific islands since the 'Voyages' of Captain James Cook; within six years 38,000 copies had been sold. In 1836-7 Williams gave evidence to the parliamentary select committee on Aborigines, and by the time he left England in 1838 he had become a celebrity... Having settled on Upolu in Samoa, Williams was eager to be on the move again. For him the next missionary frontier lay in the islands of Melanesia, and in particular the New Hebrides group which, he believed, was the key to the evangelization of the region. On his first missionary voyage in the Camden, on 20 November 1839 he landed with two companions at Dillons Bay on Eromanga in the southern New Hebrides. While walking inland the party was attacked by a party of islanders. James Harris was killed on the spot; the rest of the party fled to the ship's boats, but Williams was clubbed to death in the shallows. It was believed that their bodies were subsequently eaten. Baxter was a celebrated colour printer, who produced his first coloured print, 'Butterflies' in 1829. In 1834 he produced the coloured plates for 'Feathered Tribes of the British Islands' by Robert Mudie, and by 1844 had illustrated thirteen of his books.
"His technique was innovatory, combining an engraved metal plate with as many as twenty engraved wooden blocks, each printed in a separate colour. The prints combined quality and cheapness and were produced in vast numbers. For the next twenty-five years Baxter dominated colour printing, branching out into a variety of publishing areas, including decorated music sheets, notepaper, pocket-books, and his famous needle cases. He claimed to have produced 20 million prints by the end of his career. Baxter's subjects were remarkably varied and included sentimental treatments of religious and romantic themes, prints of typical London figures, and newsworthy events. His piety led him to produce some of his most powerful work for the immensely influential and prosperous missionary societies. In collaboration with John Snow, Baxter worked for the London Missionary Society from 1837 to 1843, and in 1844-5 with the Baptist and Wesleyan missionary societies. His most celebrated missionary print was "The Massacre of the Lamented Missionary, the Rev. J. Williams and Mr. Harris at Erromanga" (1841)" (Marcus M. G. Wood for DNB).
In 1836 Baxter received a royal patent for his printing process. He was awarded the great gold medal of Austria (1852), and medals for his exhibits at the Great Exhibitions in New York (1853) and Paris (1855), was elected a member of the Royal Society of Arts (1855), and received the grand gold medal of Sweden (1857). One of his prints 'The Madonna', sold more than 700,000 copies.