FROM

 

ESTIEAUX

 

     TO

 

ESTURE

         

Searching for Alfred Restieaux
By Jane Resture

Once in a while one wonders

What your life was all about   
From a land so far you started to roam
And never once did you ever go home. 
 
You were but a lad when you went to sea
To Australia, America and the Pacific Isles    
In search of excitement and adventure
Across those vast and distant miles.  
 
Why you started to wander we will never know
Did the lure of the Pacific Islands not let you go?
Perhaps your home was somehow amiss?
These are the things that we can only guess.
 
The places you saw on your worldwide jaunt   
Perhaps your memory would always haunt
So you died away on a distant shore   
Among the family that you did adore. 
 
The sweet memory of you will always remain   
Where the sea breezes blow with gentle refrain 
And gentle waves lap on sandy shores
You will be remembered forever more.
 
Yet we still wonder about your life
The things you did and what you were like
Perhaps one day our souls will meet
And all will be told at the end of the street.

ALFRED RESTIEAUX

A

lfred Restieaux (later abbreviated to Resture) was a soldier of fortune who travelled the world, including South Africa, Australia, South America and the United States before settling in the Islands of the South Seas.

Alfred was a modest, unassuming and hardworking man who led an amazing life. The story of his life needs to be remembered and told. The following is a short summary of the life of this amazing man. This story is only possible because Alfred had the foresight to keep a record of his life. This record is now held on microfilm at the National (Alexander Turnbull) Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

My great grandfather Alfred Restieaux was born 7th February 1832 in Somers Town, London. Alfred’s grandfather was a French nobleman who barely escaped the guillotine during the French Revolution; penniless, he had left to England with his young wife. Alfred’s father was born during a very low ebb in the family fortunes; he grew up in poverty, was forced to house painting for a living and finally married an English girl far below his social standing.

Hard luck, however, still dogged the expatriate family. Alfred’s father died young and Alfred, at the age of twelve was apprenticed to the master and owner of a brig. The captain was a distant cousin of Alfred’s mother – a brutal giant of a man who flogged and abused Alfred unmercifully. Finally, the brig touched at Cape Town and Alfred took his chance and escaped. From Cape Town, he secured passage on a ship sailing for Australia and when he reached Adelaide in August 1848, he was again at a loose end. Alfred and a companion with meager swags on their backs started north looking for work. Alfred stayed on at a large sheep station seventy miles away where he signed on as a hut-keeper at thirty-two shillings a month.

Six months later, the news of the first gold strike at Kapunda ran through the country like wild fire. Alfred gave up hut keeping and headed for Kapunda to make his fortune. Unfortunately, the gold was not as plentiful as rumour made it and Alfred was able to gain employment with a Mr. Whittiker, a publican who also conducted a peddling business. On his very first peddling expedition, Alfred was rushed by a band of aborigines bent on spearing him to death and stealing his trade. However, luck was with Alfred and he was rescued at the last moment by three bush rangers who were in a great hurry and they took along Alfred as an unwilling and yet not ungrateful guest. He was given a swift horse and rode with them at a smart pace for some twenty miles where they were joined by two more bush rangers. Without pause, the six went onwards to another hiding place. Alfred gleamed from their conversation that they had robbed a mounted gold escort some weeks before and were being hotly pursued by government officials.

Alfred stayed with these men for two weeks and despite their lawless profession, he found them good-hearted chaps. When he asked to join their band, they refused him saying it was too risky for a young lad and that he should seek some worthwhile employment. After a month, they proceeded to another colony and Alfred was allowed to depart.

For a time, Alfred wandered in the Australian gold fields and was lured by the yellow metal to every new rush. After one fair strike, he sailed for South America. There he joined in the usual Latin Revolution and served in a Peruvian battery during two years of fighting. However, he grew tired of South American uncertainties primarily that the gold field had run out of gold so he sailed to San Francisco.

In San Francisco he joined the party of teamsters who planned to cross the plains and mountains to Salt Lake City. This was some years before the Trans-Continental Railroad was built. The journey was long and perilous. Indians beset them on one occasion and they lost eighteen of their company with Alfred himself being wounded by an Indian arrow. When the worn and weary caravan finally reached its goal, Alfred was greatly charmed by Salt Lake City. He stayed there for some time, never mentioning that he was a gentile if he could avoid it. The Mormons invariably called him "Brother", and he regarded them as most exemplary and admirable people. Brigham Young and many of his apostles were intimate with him during this period when polygamy was still in vogue. The man with whom Alfred sheltered was a cockney tanner who had four wives who seem to get on quite well together.

For a time, Alfred went to Nevada City and he prospected in the silver country. However, his luck was not good and he finally drifted back to the city by the Golden Gate. There he took passage on a ship bound for Honolulu from where he intended to return to his family in England and settle down.

Alfred had not been in Honolulu four days before a firm trading in the South Seas approached him. Two months later, he was landed with his trade, on the Island of Milli in the Marshall Islands. Alfred traded there for nine months before his firm sold out to a Shanghai organization. The representative of the new company was Captain Ben Pease who was almost as notorious as Bully Hayes. Pease transferred Alfred from Milli to Ponape in the Caroline Islands. Alfred would have done quite well there if the firm had not failed as was expected of a company placing its trust in a tiger of Captain Ben Pease’s stripe.

To Ponape came Captain Bully Hayes with letters of administration that were probably forged along with alleged orders to wind up the business. He took Alfred aboard the ill-famed Leonora and gave Alfred promissory notes for wages due to him. A few days later, Hayes landed Alfred on Pingalap to buy coconut oil. Eventually Alfred boardered the Leonora for the voyage back to Samoa where he hoped to get passage back to Honolulu. Alfred was very relieved when he walked off the Leonora at Apia, Samoa. Needless to say, he never got his promissory notes cashed. He was soon employed by the John Caesar Godeffroy Company that was taken over in 1879 by the big "German Firm" of Samoa, Der Deutschen Handels-und-Plantagen Gessellschaft der Sudsee-Islen zu Hamburg, commonly dubbed the "Long Handled" firm to trade for them in the Ellice. In a short time, he was also successfully in business on Nukufetau Island.

In 1881, George Westbrook who traded for Henderson and Macfarlane joined Alfred at Funafuti Island. Westbrook, described by Julian Dana in "GODS WHO DIE" as Samoa's Greatest Adventurer also hailed from Brixton, in London.  He and Alfred became firm friends during their time as traders in Funafuti, being the only two white men on Funafuti. In spite of the limited amount of copra on the Island, there was never any enmity between the two traders. In 1888, Westbrook left Funafuti intending to return to London, and a few years later Alfred went to settle in Nukufetau.

The last five years of Alfred’s life in Nukufetau, he sat in darkness; daily his sightless eyes looked out on the remembered blue of his lagoon. Alfred died in November l911. George Westbrook remembered Alfred Restieaux as a dearest friend of his whole life. He described him as honourable, loyal, generous and kind, adding that there is little more that one can find in a friend.

Alfred Restieaux had six children – three boys and three girls. The boys were Robert, Frank and Fred and the daughters were Ilaisa, Emily and Lise. With the exception of my grandfather Frank, the rest were brought up, lived and stayed at Nukufetau until old age.

FRANK RESTIEUX

M

y grandfather Frank, one of three sons of Alfred and Litia was born in Nukufetau, one of the Islands of Tuvalu, formerly the Ellice Islands. He was one of the first boys selected to go to the Mission School for boys which was established at Amatuku Islet on Funafuti Island.

Afterwards, my grandfather was selected with some other boys to go to the Mission Theological College in Samoa where he was ordained as a Missionary.

My grandmother Nasaleta, comes from a family known as "Matailima" on Funafuti Island. She had three brothers, Pele, Setema and Filemoni and two sisters, Vaipage and Teniko. Her father, Siale Vaekau married a part Vaitupu woman Miliama, my great grandmother. Siale was a pastor/carpenter who was contracted by the London Missionary Society to build the school at Rongorongo, Beru, in the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati). In fact, two of his children were born at Rongorongo, during the time he was building the houses for the school.

Nasaleta started school at the Mission Village School on Funafuti, after which she was selected to go to the Mission Girls’ School at Atauloma in American Samoa. She was then married to my grandfather in Samoa. After a short holiday at Funafuti, they proceeded to Papua New Guinea to take up their post there as missionaries of the gospel. They were posted to a village called Auti up in the Fly River district in the Torres Strait.

There was a plentiful supply of food in the village and they had yam, potatoes, taro, tapioka, oranges, limes and many other things in their garden. My grandfather used to cut toddy and there were plentiful supplies to drink each day. My grandmother also made molasses out of the fresh toddy. There was also a plentiful supply of wild animals such as pigs, ducks and pigeons. There were also chickens in the chicken run and they were always well fed. In addition, there was a plentiful supply of fish in the Fly River.

My grandparents had five children, Pasefika, Flyriver, Alieta, Robert and Fred. During my grandparents' time as missionaries in Papua New Guinea, their worst enemies were sickness and epidemics. Malaria and blackwater fever took an especially heavy toll. My own dear grandmother Nasaleta was also a victim of malaria and died shortly after the birth of her youngest son Fred. Nasaleta was buried at the Mission Headquarters in Daru.

It was after the loss of Nasaleta that the family returned home to Tuvalu from Papua New Guinea. They immediately had to adapt to the Tuvaluan way of life including learning the language because my father, Robert and all his brothers and sister spoke the Auti language.

ROBERT FRANK RESTURE

M

y father Robert Frank Resture was born at Auti up in the Fly River district in the Torres Strait, Papua New Guinea (see above). A most personable and popular man he is an enthralling storyteller who was educated in Tuvalu. He is also a natural athlete being both an outstanding boxer and soccer player.

My dear father met and married my dear mother in Hull Island (Orona), Phoenix Group, Republic of Kiribati, and  travelled extensively throughout Oceania as a wireless operator, allowing me my first lasting and fond memories of the many islands and atolls of Oceania including the Republic of Kiribati: Ocean Island (Banaba), the Phoenix Group, the Line Islands, mainly Christmas (Kiritimati) and Fanning (Tabuaeran) Islands, along with Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands.

 

OBITUARY OF ALFRED RESTIEAUX
FROM THE SAMOANISCHE ZEITUNG
( BY GEORGE EGERTON LEIGH WESTBROOK )
DEATH OF AN OLD TRADER
APIA, DECEMBER 27TH, 1911

The Samoa Shipping and Trading Company Steamer "Dawn" returned from a trip to the Ellice and Tokelau Islands on Saturday, the 24th inst. with the news that Alfred Restieaux, one of the oldest traders in the South Seas, and a long time resident of Nukufetau, in the Ellice Group, had passed in his checks and joined the great majority: he died in November.

Alfred Restieaux was born in Somers Town, London.  His grandfather was a French Grandee, who had to clear out of France during the time of the French Revolution.  He settled in England where he married a lady far beneath him in social standing. 

When Alfred was twelve years of age, he was apprenticed to the Master and owner of a brig, a relation of his mother's.   Whilst serving on board he was subjected to all kinds of tyranny and ill-usage from the Captain, who abused and thrashed him on every occasion, so much so, that the crew who took pity on the young lad mutinied and nearly killed the brutal Captain.  Whilst still a lad, he emigrated to Australia, landing in Adelaide.  He joined company with the man who advised him to go up country with him where plenty of work could be found, and where he, although a lad, would receive men's wages;  the few pounds that Restieaux landed with was to be shared in common.

They started for the north with their swags on their bags.  Restieaux soon found out that his companion was nothing more than a "sundowner", one of those fellows always looking for work and praying not to find any.  After tramping some seventy miles, they arrived at a large sheep station where Restieaux signed on as hut keeper for 32 shillings per month;  his companion disappeared, together with the few pounds he had landed in the colony with.   A few months after he gave up hut keeping and made for Kapunda, a mining town, where he was engaged by a Mr. Whittiker, a publican who ran a peddling business as well.   It was while he was out with his pack on one of these peddling expeditions, that he was rushed by the blacks, and would have been speared to death if it had not been for a company of three bushrangers who came to his rescue.  One of the blacks was shot dead, the others managed to get away, taking a wounded companion with them.  The bushrangers decamped taking Restieaux as their unwilling but not ungrateful guest.   He was placed on a spare horse and rode with them at a very fast pace for some twenty miles, where two more of their company joined them.  After another long ride, they arrived at their hiding place.  The hue and cry was out after them, the whole country being patrolled by mounted police, as they were suspected of having waylaid and robbed a mounted gold escort some few weeks previously.  Restieaux was so pleased with his new companions who, he said, were not a bad lot of fellows, inspite of their profession, that he felt as if he would like to join them.  Two of them were undoubtedly old lags, and thought nothing of shooting on the least propagation.

One of the bushrangers was a gentleman by birth and breeding, and showed it upon every occasion.  He never heard him used a profane expression.  Restieaux remained with them some weeks, when he was allowed to depart, they having made up their minds to proceed to another colony.  One of them was afterwards hanged at Melbourne jail, another he saw some three years later, mortally wounded, brought into Ballarat for indentification.  After wondering about the Australian goldfield, attending every new rush, he got some money together and left for South America where he remained for two years serving in the battery at Peru during one of the revolutions.  From there he went to San Francisco and joined a party of teamsters going across the plains to Salt Lake City: ( This was some years before the cross continent railway was built ) a very long journey indeed, full of adventure, as the Indians were always out on the war path looking for scalps;  woe betied any stragglers from the main party, as they were always sure to be found dead and scalpless.   On one occasion the team of which he had charge lost more than half their numbers in a brush with the Indians, he himself being wounded.  He lived at Salt Lake City for some time, and spoke very well of the Mormons who used to call him brother.  He never let on that he was a gentile if he could help it.  He knew Brigham Young and some of the other apostles intimately, and looked upon them as very nice people indeed.   In those days polygamy was in full swing.  The man he stayed with was a tanner, and a native of London, who had four wives.  They all appeared to get on in unity together. 

After knocking around Nevada city, and the silver country, he joined a vessel at San Francisco, bound for Honolulu.  He left Honolulu under engagement to a firm that was trading in the South Seas, and was landed to trade on the island of Milli, in the Marshall Group where he remained some nine months, when the firm he was doing business with sold out to a firm in Shanghai.  Captain Ben Pease ( nearly as notorious as Bully Hayes ) was the representative.  Restieaux was transferred from Mill to Ponape in the Carolines, and would have done well if the firm had not failed. 

Captain "Bully" Hayes arrived at Ponape with letters of administration, ( forged or otherwise ) and orders to wind the business up.  Restieaux was taken on board of the brig "Leonora",   together with a worthless promissory note that the Captain had given him for wages.   A few days afterwards Captain Hayes landed him on McAskill's Island, with the excuse that he was going to Samoa to see his wife and promised to call for him upon his return, and take him on to China.  All he left him to trade with was a small box of tobacco, and a bag of very weavily rice.  Hayes was away for 18 months.  When he returned he upbraided Restieaux for not buying more coconut oil from the natives, and also for having bought a few neccessaries from a parting whale ship.  Restieaux found himself again a passenger on board Bully Hayes's famous brig bound for Samoa, as Captain Hayes said it was no good to go to China where he hoped to get a passage in a vessel sailing for Honolulu.  The crew of the brig consisted of Captain Eldridge of Ponape, who was mate, Johnny Kummerfeld second mate;  Kai Sau, well known to all the residents of Apia, was cook and steward; Frank  Benson interpreter;  Bill Hicks, ( grandfather of the present Willie Hicks ) boatswain;  Aleck Strickland;   Johnny Coe;  and some Manila men were the crew.  Traders on board were William Lowden ( Billy the steward ), Jim Garstand, Harry Mallond, the three Jack Smiths, viz., scandalous Jack, whistling Jack and lying Jack.  Mr. Alvord, of Apia was also a passenger.  Most of the traders had their wives and concubines with them.  There was nothing to eat on board, except bad rice, coconuts, or any other native provisions the Captain could get hold of. 

Captain Hayes, although bound for Samoa had neither trade nor cargo on board, and, being homeward bound, he started at once to get some cargo and provisions from the natives free of expenses.  He seized a couple of native chiefs belonging to the islands, on some very frivolous charges and told the islanders that he would not let the chief go until they filled his vessel with coconuts.  This they did.  He then let one of the chiefs go, the other he took with him to Strongs Island where he had all hands making copra.  He then returned to McAskill's Islands and let the other chief go after the natives had given him a lot of coconuts and provisions for his voyage.  After this he cruised around some time looking for Providence Island, a place not then marked on the charts and which Captain Ben Pease had discovered some two years previous.  He entered the lagoon, where he found a very fine harbour, surrounded by a number of islands.  The islands were loaded with coconut trees, nuts being strewed all over the ground and rotting.  No trader had ever done business with the natives, who did not understand the commercial value of any of their products.  The first thing that was done was a man hunt.  All the islanders, men and women, were caught and brought on board the brig.  They were then divided among the passengers and crew, who formed themselves into shore parties, each gang working a different island;  everybody worked except Captain Hayes and his friend, Mr. Alvord who remained on board the brig.  Nearly 50 tons of copra was made in six weeks.  Hayes then sent out fishing parties to collect together a sea stock, in addition to the fish caught and dried, some hundreds of robber crabs were taken on board and let loose among the copra.  During his return trip to Samoa, he called at several of the Line Islands, and managed to get rid of Benson, Billy, and the three Jacks, to each of which he gave promissory notes, payable three months after date.  Restieaux used to say that every sin, except murder, was done on that ship, and if the native had died, whom Hayes had struck with a belaying pin and broken his jaw, then murder would have been added to the list. 

In coming through the Ellice Group, he called at the island where C. Howard of Rotuma had a trader.   He made the trader drunk, showed him a forged letter from Howard in which he was told to hand over his copra over to Captain Hayes to carry to Samoa as freight.  There was a Catholic teacher on Funafuti, who did not get on well with the King, Captain Hayes very generously offered him and his family a free passage to Samoa, the native was very grateful, and brought a lot of taro and other native provisions on board.

On Vaitupu the L.M.S. native teacher's wife was sick.  Hayes told her she would surely die if she stayed on the island, he also offered her and her husband a free passage to Samoa.  And it was quite a large item that the Catholic and London Missions had to pay for the few days passage of their teacher's families for the saloon accommodation and first class food provided. 

Restieaux left the "Leonora" at Apia, he never got his P.N. cashed.  He afterwards saw the manager of John Ceasar Godefroy and Co. and was engaged by that firm to trade in the Ellice Group.  He was married to a native of Nukufetau, and left a large family.  For the last five years of his life he was blind and died at the ripe age of 79.

This obituary on the last of the old school of traders was written by one who knew him well, and was able to appreciate his good qualities.

G.E.L.W.             

You are listening to a MIDI of Sad Songs (Say So Much) by Elton John!

The Alfred Restieaux  Manuscripts Parts 1 & 2

In Memory of Alfred Restieaux

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JANE'S OCEANIA HOME PAGE

    

Jane Resture (jane@janeresture.com - Rev. 6th October 2009