Biographical entry: Renton, John


John (Jack) Renton was a Scottish seaman who was the only survivor among five deserters from an American guano boat Renard in 1868. He and his companions drifted almost two thousand kilometres in one of the Renard's boats, finally landing at Maana'oba Island, off the northeast coast of Malaita. His four companions were killed but Renton became a 'guest' of Lau Lagoon bigman Kabbou and lived from 1868 until 1875 on Sulufou islet. It was during this period that labour recruiting vessels started to venture to Malaita, the first arriving in 1871. Renton was finally rescued by the crew of the Bobtail Nag in August 1875. Unfortunately, although he learnt the Lau language and generally participated in life on the lagoon for eight years-the first European to live for a long period on Malaita-the account he left us is disappointingly shallow. Renton returned to Malaita as an interpreter on a recruiting ship later in 1875 (when Kwaisulia [q.v.] enlisted), but never again visited the island. He later became a Queensland Government Agent employed to accompany recruiting ships on their voyages. His account of life on Malaita and the logs of these voyages were published in The Adventures of John Renton. He was killed in 1878 at Aoba Island in the New Hebrides while a Government Agent on the ship Mystery. Two books have been written about his life. (Moore 1985, 35-36; Marwick 1935; Holthouse 1988; Randell 2003)

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Published resources


  • Holthouse, Hector, White Headhunter, Angus and Robertson, North Ryde, NSW, 1988. Details
  • Moore, Clive, Kanaka: A History of Melanesian Mackay, Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies and the University of Papua and New Guinea Press, Port Moresby, 1985. Details
  • Randell, Nigel, The White Headhunter, Constable, London, 2003. Details

Edited Books

  • Marwick, J.G. (ed.), The Adventures of John Renton, Originally published in the Brisbane Courier 1875, Mackintosh, Kirkwall, 1935. Details