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Few Pacific history books have stood the test of time as well as They Came for Sandalwood. Dorothy Shineberg’s book, first published in 1967, has never been bettered. This fascinating account of the sandalwood trade describes the first regular contact between Europeans and the Melanesians of New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands and the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). Dr Shineberg studied the relationships and rivalries between European traders and European missionaries, between trader and trader, and between tribe and tribe among the indigenous peoples. Her book documents the details and colour of these interactions. Unseaworthy ships, bloody battles, the hazards of sea and reef, and the firepower and inadequacies of European weapons all provide a gripping picture of the 1830s to 1860s. Valuable appendixes list the ships involved, their cargoes and the location of the sandalwood stations.
They Came for Sandalwood remains the only detailed account of the sandalwood trade, its routes, marketing problems and profits, and of the ships, merchants and seamen involved. It is a sharp, perceptive analysis of the confrontation of the two cultures, approached from the standpoint of Pacific history rather than a mere extension of European history into the Pacific Islands. Professor R. Gerard Ward when reviewing the book for the Journal of Pacific History in 1968 said that it would “remain of prime importance for historians, anthropologists, geographers and other students of the Pacific for many years.” His forecast has proved correct.