Schooners were first used by the Dutch in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries and were popular in North America from the eighteenth-century onwards. They were prized for their sleekness and speed and were used in the trades that required swiftness of transportation e.g. slaving, pirating, privateering (hired war ships), blockade running (transporting food or arms to a blockaded city) or offshore fishing. They typically carried a crew of around seventy-five, although the Prophetess could cater for a crew of ninety.
The Moriori are a people indigenous to the Chatham Islands. They developed their own primitive culture and lived by a strong pacific code. Their ethical policy of non-violence rendered them vulnerable to the brutal assaults visited upon them by the Māori, their lighter skinned neighbours. These unneighbourly visits are documented, with as much accuracy as can be historically determined, in the next few pages of the novel. Mitchell's interest in the Moriori was sparked by a reading of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, and a visit to the Chatham Islands led to a discovery of A Land Apart by the New Zealand historian Michael King. This book helped plant some of the imaginative seeds of the novel in Mitchell's mind.
More's Of the Best State of a Republic, and of the New Island Utopia (1516) describes what he believed to be a near ideal society, one in which equality and happiness is experienced by the greatest number of people. The qualities it shares with Old Rēkohu are a communist and primitive mode of living, a strong emphasis on peace and an isolated setting. More's coinage 'utopia' comes from the Greek meaning 'no place', although its second homophonic meaning is 'good place', thus revealing More's intended pun.
Dendroglyphs are unique to the Moriori people who, possibly to create a kind of momento mori, carved living creatures into the trees.
Chatham Island Tree Carving
The Californian Gold Rush (1848-1855) drew thousands of fortune seekers worldwide. The population of California increased by around 300,000, of whom around half had travelled from overseas. They became known as the 'forty-niners'. The majority would return home worse off than when they arrived.