Box icon Herman Melville (1819-1891)

South Sea adventurer

Portrait of Herman Melville

American Herman Melville travelled on whaling boats in the South Seas of the Pacific Ocean between 1841 and 1844. He had many adventures during these journeys, including deserting his ship and living among the natives.

His first popular account of these travels was published jointly in America as 'Typee' (1846) and in Britain as 'A Narrative of a Four Months Residence among the Natives of a Valley of the Marquesas Islands; or, a Peep at Polynesian Life' (1846).

It was an immediately success. All though based on actual experiences many readers did not at first believe that it was a true story. 'Typee' had been rejected by a publisher on the grounds that it was too fantastic to be true.

However, Melville's brother Gansevoort, while in London, had persuaded John Murray to publish it. As Murray did not publish fiction at the time, he demanded further factual information to prove the story.

Murray published 'A Narrative of a Four Months Residence' as part of his 'Home and Colonial Library (volumes 30 and 31). It was so successful that it was followed by the sequels 'Omoo' (1847) and 'Mardi' (1849). However, these were not as popular as the original work.

Murray was not involved in publishing Melville's most famous work, 'The Whale' (1851), which was re-issued as 'Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale' (1851). Despite its recent critical and popular success, it sold far fewer copies than 'Typee' during Melville's lifetime.

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NRA name: N/A Melville, Herman (1819-1891), American writer.

The National Register of Archives (NRA) contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records that relate to British history in archival holdings in the UK and overseas. You can find more information on the National Register of Archives name authority catalogue.


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'Let me say that my inclinations lead me to prefer the imprimatur of "John Murray" to that of any London publisher.'
– Letter from Melville to Murray, 29 October 1847 (Ms.42477).


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