Written by Joan Druett, biographer of Bully Hayes
As the writer of “The Notorious Captain Hayes,” the story of Captain Henry “Bully” Hayes as told by the newspaper reporters of his time.
A blackbirder was a man who tricked Pacific Islanders into selling themselves as indentured labour. Hayes was a part-timer, being officially recorded just twice. In December 1868 the British consul, George Miller, recorded that he had carried “about 150 natives” from Nauru to Tahiti, adding, “They have not, to my knowledge, complained of having been deceived in their engagement or ill-treated during the voyage hither.” A year later, Hayes carried natives he had kidnapped from Manihiki and Pukapuka to Tutuila, Samoa, where he was foiled by Chief Mauga, the true hero of the story. The nasty details of this were published in the Queensland Government Gazette, 28 August, 1875.
While terrible stories were told about him, there was much admiring stuff, too. Though a conman, a thief, and a predator of women, as a blackbirder Hayes was not on the same level of evil as the Australians Ross Lewin and J.P. Murray — or Edward Colston of 17th century Bristol, who oversaw the enslaving of over 80,000 Africans, and also had an eating establishment named after him, presumably because he had brought so much money into the port.
Hayes can be considered the trumpian figure of his era. A serial liar with a compelling personality who captured headlines wherever he went, he had a bigger reputation than he actually deserved. Many of the stories about him were told by himself; others were the product of entranced journalists who stole their stories from other papers, or listened to local gossip. The naming of the Akaroa cafe is a bow to this flamboyant reputation, and not a glamorisation of his misdeeds in the Pacific.
Also worthy of a listen the song ‘William Henry Hayes’ by Skyscraper Stan and the Commission Flats, available on spotify.