Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Episode 6 - Here comes the cavalry

John Brander - a drawing from a lost photograph 
Alexander Salmon returned to Tahiti discouraged and disheartened, but his fortunes were about to change as a result of a personal and business association with another British trader with an entrepreneurial spirit equal to his own.
John Brander was the illegitimate son of a landowner in Morayshire, Scotland. The laird of Pitgaveny recognized the boy as his son and paid for him to be educated. As a young man, John saved his older half-brother from drowning, and the brother gave him £400 in gratitude. Ambitious and eager to escape the stigma of his birth, John Brander used this money to sail to Tahiti where he founded the House of Brander, which soon became the biggest and most successful trading house in the South Pacific.
Brander had a finger in every commercial pie in Tahiti – on the island itself he grew coconuts, coffee, cotton, and oranges and ran a sugar refinery. In the Tuamotus (an archipelago of 76 coral atolls, most uninhabited, scattered across the eastern Pacific Ocean), he ran a pearl fishery business, and he raised sheep on Easter Island. With his large fleet of schooners, he dominated inter-island trade within the Society Islands (now French Polynesia) and exported oranges, mother of pearl, and copra as far afield as Sydney, Valparaiso, and San Francisco.
In Papeete, he maintained vast warehouses on the wharf and held the lease on the wharf itself and charged other commercial vessels to load and unload there. His business was based in his chandler’s shop on the quay where he sold a vast array of goods and extended credit in the form of both money and merchandise. A visitor from Scotland wrote in a letter home, “the owner of a South Sea store... has not only to provide for the island population, but must be ready to supply any ships that happen to come into harbor with whatever they require. Fresh meats and preserved meats, New Zealand beef, Australian mutton, condensed milk and tinned butter, Californian ‘canned’ vegetables and fruits, candles and lamps, oils of various kinds, firearms and gunpowder, hair-oil and brushes, wines and spirits, letter-paper and ledgers, books and framed pictures, cutlery of all sorts – from a penknife to a cutlass, or from a hairpin to a harpoon – wine-glasses and tumblers, necklaces and brooches, crockery and physic; these, and a thousand other items, are all on hand and appear at a moment’s notice.”
Within the small community of Papeete, Salmon and Brander recognized each other as kindred spirits. They had in common not only their humble origins but also their energy, drive, and enterprising spirit. The Salmon-Brander business partnership soon came to dominate trade not only on Tahiti itself but throughout the entire South Pacific.
In 1856, the two men cemented their alliance when 38-year-old Brander married Alexander's oldest daughter Titaua, who was only 14 years old. Although this age gap may seem extraordinary by modern Western standards, it was not unusual for Tahitian girls to be married in their early teens during this era and often to much older men. Even in Britain, the age of consent for girls was only 13, and Parliament did not raise it (to 16) until 1885. Queen Pomare had wanted Titaua to marry one of her own sons, but Alexander Salmon refused as the Pomare boys were well-known for excessive drinking and other riotous behavior.
John Brander and Titaua Salmon were married on Valentine’s Day in the British Consul’s office by the minister of the Protestant church of Tahiti. Their marriage certificate looks as British as if they had been married in a plain Scottish kirk rather than in the Consul’s pandanus-roofed house with a clear blue Pacific lagoon just beyond the door.


  1. I so enjoy reading these episodes. May i enquire, as the picture above is a drawing of John Brander from a lost photograph, do you know if there is any actual photo's of John Brander to be found today ?

  2. Thank you! I'm very glad that you're enjoying this brief version of the Children of Eden story. Regarding images of John Brander, I have so far found nothing other than the drawing that you see above, but I haven't lost faith that one day I might be able to unearth one somewhere. If anyone knows of such a photograph or portrait, I would be thrilled to hear about it.