I have been reading Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire in preparation for our exhibition, Oceania, which opens next month. It’s written by Nicholas Thomas, the Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge and co-curator of the exhibition, together with Peter Brunt of Victoria University in Wellington NZ. The book is fascinating, but horrific, telling the story of how Europeans and, most especially, the British, discovered, appropriated, ruthlessly exploited, and pretty well destroyed the complex and polymorphous cultures of the Pacific islands during the nineteenth century. Captain Cook’s first expedition which set off from Plymouth in August 1768, 250 years ago, was relatively scientific, interested in exploration more than exploitation. It was mostly welcomed by those they met. But the narrative thereafter is of traders and missionaries, many of them vastly much more savage, arrogant and uncouth than the peoples they met and killed. It’s a history of which one can only be ashamed.