The small European population of the island of Mayou, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, is intrigued to see a yacht approaching the island. The two passengers appear to be respectable 'gentleman', but the trader Blount soon recognises the captain of the ship as one Captain Sykes, a notorious blackbirder who has served time in prison in Sydney for his activities. The chief of the island, Banderah, has his own grievance against Sykes and plots revenge. Blount uncovers a conspiracy between the visitors and the other two traders living on Mayou and he and Banderah devise a scheme to expose them. However, the plan goes hideously wrong and leads to bloodshed and death.
Becke claims the work of sailors in colonising Australia has been overshadowed by tales of the outback and the goldfields. He argues that the ocean is integral to the early history of Australia and points out that the first four governors of Australia were were Navy captains and that much of the outback was peopled by runaway sailors, whom he claims were more skilled and adaptable than ticket-of-leave convicts and free emigrants. He also tells the stories of sea explorers such as Bass and Flinders and the whalers who charted the seas around eastern Australasia and the Pacific, as well as some remarkable tales of survival.
Relates the story of Riou, one of Nelson's captains, whose ship, the Guardian, was badly damaged by an iceberg off the Cape of Good Hope while carrying provisions to N. S. W. The ship appeared doomed and the crew was given permission to leave, but Riou, three officers and a handful of men, including twenty convicts, remained on board. Against all odds they brought her back to the Cape of Good Hope nine weeks later. At Riou's request the twenty convicts were pardoned.
An account of the violent mutiny on the Sydney-bound brig, the Indefatigable in September 1828. The chief officer, Loftgreen, was kept aboard to act as navigator, while the other survivors of the mutiny were cast adrift in a longboat under the leadership of Todd, the second mate. All eventually reached Sydney, Todd and his party via Tahiti and Loftgreen via Guam, where the mutineers were tried and executed.
Captain Charles Foster of the whaler, Policy, is much taken with Dorothy, the daughter of a Sydney official. He is planning to propose when, to his disgust, he discovers he has a rival. Foster and Dorothy quarrel and he sails away, not returning for two years. Again they quarrel and he leaves again, but when he returns he brings a prize that wins him honours and Dorothy's hand.
When the narrator and his two companions are caught in a storm they seek shelter in a small cave. They discover a young girl sitting in the mouth of the cave singing softly in a strange dialect. She is Susani, believed by the local inhabitants to walk with, and have special protection from, God.
Tavita, an elderly and respected native missionary, tells the story of Carter and West, two traders who had married Portuguese sisters, Luisa and Serena, and came to the island known as Peru to set up trading posts. Carter is discontented in his marriage to Serena and bitterly jealous of West, who married Luisa, the sister who had refused Carter. When Carter savagely beats Serena one night the village people rise up in her defence.
The narrator and his friend, Temana, are sleeping in the boatshed to escape the heat. They are joined by an old man, Pakia, who tells them of earlier times, the changes he has seen and the many places he has been, from Liverpool to New Zealand to Chile.