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Sterndale, Handley Bathurst
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Dates of existence
1 November 1833 - 25 December 1878
Handley Bathurst Sterndale was born in India in 1833, where his father worked as an indigo planter. He was educated in Britain, but ran away to sea at the age of 16. He travelled to the Americas, where he undertook a variety of employment, including labour in Panama and as a mercenary in Nicaragua. Sterndale probably first arrived in the Pacific in the 1850s where he worked in the trade of shell and beche-de-mer. He also worked for plantations in the labour trade, also known as blackbirding. He married Helen Matilda Caulton in Melbourne, Australia in 1867.
In 1870, Sterndale spent some months working as a surveyor for the German trading company Goddefroy & Sohn who sought to establish plantations on the island of Upolo, Samoa. During this time, he made the journey across Upolo - likely in his capacity as a surveyor – and made notes and sketches of the expedition. In 1871, on Motu Kotawa on the islet of Pukapuka atoll in the Cook Islands, he wrote the manuscript ‘Upolu; or, A Paradise of the Gods’ and worked his sketches into finished drawings. In that same year, Sterndale published the first of what became regular articles under the title, ‘My Adventures and Researches in the Pacific’ in the ‘Australian Town and Country Journal’. He wrote under the pseudonym ‘A Master Mariner’. Sterndale also wrote for the New Zealand newspaper ‘The Daily Southern Cross’ and ‘The New Zealand Herald’.
In 1872, Sterndale worked as an agent for King Cakobau of Fiji and in 1874 entered a joint venture with Thomas Henderson, of New Zealand company Henderson and Macfarlane, to develop the Cook Islands atoll of Suwarrow. This ended in a dramatic conflict between the two, with the Sterndales forced to return to New Zealand. He later moved to San Francisco, probably to remedy his poor health, but he died there on Christmas Day, 1878 at the age of 45.
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Overell, J.J. (eds). 2020. A Paradise of the Gods. Writings and Drawings of Handley Bathurst Sterndale.