Collection MS 1209 - Fiji diary and narratives

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AU PMB MS 1209


Fiji diary and narratives


  • 1870-1892 (Creation)

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1 reel; 35mm microfilm

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Edwin James Turpin (1842-1917) an early British settler in Fiji. Edwin Turpin was born in Devonshire, England on 7 Nov 1842. Variously described as a settler, planter, lawyer and beachcomber, Turpin migrated to Fiji in 1866 where he initially prospered as a land agent during the Fijian cotton boom of the late 1860s/early 1870s. In 1872, however, Turpin's prosperity began to unravel following the rejection of his application for admission to the Fijian Bar Association. With the end of the cotton boom, Turpin went from one job to the next with brief attempts to establish himself in business as a planter and hotelier. By 1886 massive debts had forced him and his family into bankruptcy. Turpin and his family lived in extreme poverty. He was frequently in court over disputed debts and at times faced near starvation. Despite these pressures, Turpin wrote articles and short stories for Fijian newspapers, gazetteers and almanacs. In 1901 or 1902 Turpin and his second wife May Lempiere moved to Auckland where they stayed until 1912. Turpin continued to make plans to return to Fiji, but never did so. In 1912 Turpin and his wife moved to Sydney. Turpin died there intestate on 31 May 1917. Mary Lempiere survived him by four years and died in February 1921.

The Volume was used originally as a personal diary which Turpin kept between December 1870 and January 1875. After discontinuing his diary Turpin seems to have put the volume aside for a while. When he picked it up agaion it was to write a draft of a book which he first intended to publish under the title of A Programme of Anecdotes, Narratives and Legends of Fiji. The draft occupies 193 pages of small close writing, averaging 50 lines to the page. It was never completed, and stops abruptly in the middle of a note on Fijian fruits. After this Turpin used the volume again as a diary for a brief period towards the end of 1892, when he was clearing land for the CSR Company at Lakena, near Nausori.
The purpose of the Programme was to provide readers with an idea of what life was like in Fiji in the colourful and often violent years between the arrival of the first European settlers in about 1804, and the comparatively tranquil seventies. Turpin’s method of doing this was to string together narratives and anecdotes drawn from his own experience, or that of others – many of whom were “old hands” even in his time. His list of “authorities” must be one of the strangest ever cited for a book: “Harry, the Jew” Danford, “Bill the Blacksmith” Beddoes, James McGoon, “Cannibal Jack” Diapea (alias Damper), Thomas Hazelman, “New York Butcher Boy” Valentine, “Brown Boots” Oliver Brown, Johnny Paipai, Stork Jack, James McClure (or Jimmy Lasulasu) and so on. “All of whom”, Turpin sadly remarks, “have gone to that home from which no traveller returns.”
From A I Diamond, “The Search for Edwin Turpin”, a paper read to the Fiji Society on 9th August 1965, in Transcations and Proceedings of the Fiji Society, Vol.10, 1964-1972.
See also PMB 1183 DIAMOND, A. I. (1924- ): Biography of Edwin James Turpin, an early settler in Fiji, 1971.

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Fiji National Archives

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Access this title at PMB Member Libraries or by purchasing it directly from the Bureau:

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