Herman Melville and Adoption

Herman Melville, 1870. Oil painting by Joseph Eaton.


Melville was born into a comfortably well-off merchant family in New York, but his father went bankrupt and insane, and died when he was 12 (other sources say 14), leaving his mother a widow with eight children. At 15 he was working, variously as bank clerk, farm laborer and teacher, before going to sea at 19 (or 18).

During a voyage in 1842 to the Marquesas in the South Pacific he and a friend jumped ship and for the next few years lived there among the Typee people, then "notorious cannibals." He was adopted by a chief and married his daughter, Pe'ue.

His experiences formed the background for his novel Typee (published 1846), but were generally believed to be fictional until a century later, when anthropologists working in the Marquesas found the entire incident corroborated in Typee oral history. Melville's other novels include Omoo, and Moby-Dick, often considered the finest novel ever written by an American.


Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, 1993-97 Melville, Herman. Typee. Numerous editions Sacks, Oliver. The Island of the Colour-Blind; and Cycad Island. (London: Macmillan, 1996), p. 250 Parker, Hershel. Herman Melville: A Biography. (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1996)