WILSON, James.

The Life and Dreadful Sufferings of Captain James Wilson, In various Parts of the Globe,

including a Faithful Narrative of Every Circumstance during the Voyage, to the South Sea Islands, In the Missionary Ship Duff, for the Propagation of the Gospel; with an Authentic and Interesting Account of the Sufferings and Calamities of the Missionaries; from the Year 1797, to the Present Period.

Portsea: Printed for, and published by G.A. Stephens, 1810 Stock Code: 70373
Reserve Ask us a question

The last important British voyage to the Pacific during the 18th century

The highly uncommon first edition of the first biography of James Wilson, captain of the Duff on her first missionary voyage to the South Seas. None of the four copies listed at auction in the last 40 years has had the attractive frontispiece.

"Although there are several accounts of James Wilson's life, sufferings and missionary voyage, this was the earliest biography of him to appear. Written anonymously, this lively telling follows Wilson's life from his birth in 1769 and early employment with the East India Company. The account relates the popular tale of his imprisonment by the French in India, his escape, and his subsequent recapture by soldiers of the maharajah of Mysore, then a bitter enemy of England. After his release, he quickly acquired considerable wealth and retired from trade in 1792, while still a young man. Wilson settled in Portsea, Hampshire, married, and in 1795 converted to an evangelical Christianity. He took notice of the London Missionary Society and offered his services to captain its ship, the Duff, on a voyage to deliver missionaries to South Pacific Islands. Four short chapters at the end of this volume deal with the progress of the various missions on Tahiti, Tongatabu, Port Jackson, and the Marquesas" (Hill).

Sir Peter H. Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) describes the expedition as the "last important British voyage to the Pacific during the eighteenth century," remarking on the "great changes in the native culture of the Polynesians" that the success of the mission wrought (Explorers of the Pacific, p. 47), results that did not attend earlier Spanish efforts, "because the Spanish authorities had failed to provide the missionaries with an armed guard to enable them to deliver their message of peace in safety."

Uncommon: Library Hub records only the SOAS copy, WorldCat locates 12 other copies worldwide, five of them in Australia and New Zealand and five in the USA, two of these in Hawaii.

Confused? Read our glossary


Octavo (202 x 126 mm). Attractively bound in half calf to style, red morocco label, gilt roundels to triple ruled compartments, marbled sides.


Fine folding engraved frontispiece of "The Duff going out on her first Missionary Voyage" under a near full press of sail.


Frontispiece torn without loss, now professionally repaired and laid down, near contemporary ownership, and subsequent gift inscription to the title page, title page slightly browned and with off-setting from the frontispiece, light toning to the text, 2 pages with spatter of ink-splashes, spill-burn to a couple of leaves, but overall a very good copy.


With the exception of framed items*, Peter Harrington offers free delivery on all UK orders of rare books, maps and prints placed through this website. Delivery to USA and the rest of the world is similarly free for orders over £200.

View Full Delivery Details



Established in 1969, Peter Harrington is one of the leading rare book firms in the world. It is a proud member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association – along with ILAB, the PBFA and Lapada – and from shops in Mayfair and Chelsea, London, sells rare books, prints and ephemera to customers across the world.

Email: mail@peterharrington.co.uk

Tel: +44 (0)20 7591 0220

ABA Antiquarian Bookseller Association ILAB International League of Antiquarian Booksellers LAPADA The Association of Art and Anatique Dealers PBFA Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association

Our Guarantee Page

Ask us a question


Contact us with details of the book you are interested in or selling and we will contact you

Sell Old Books Help me find a book