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A Guide to the Autobiography of William H. Raynes

Finding aid created by Robert N. Lauriault

University of Florida Smathers Libraries - Special and Area Studies Collections
January 2013

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Raynes, William H., 1838?-1914
Title: Autobiography of William H. Raynes
Dates: Circa 1906
Abstract: Autobiography of William H. Raynes, the first person to successfully grow the Tung tree in Florida. He describes his activities as a ship surgeon, including experiences in the Crimean War and sailing various places including New Zealand, South America and Africa. He also describes his efforts working with citrus and tung trees in Florida in the later years of his life.
Extent: 0.08 Linear feet. 138 pages.
Identification: MS Group 112 3/1
Language(s): English

Biographical/Historical Note

William H. Raynes, the first to successfully grow the Tung tree in Florida and thus the progenitor of the ephemeral Florida tung-oil industry, was born in Morgley-on-the-Hull, Nottinghamshire, England in about 1838. His life, as revealed in this autobiographical sketch, was replete with characteristic nineteenth century adventure in the tradition of Conrad, Dana, and Twain.

Raynes determined to follow in his father's footsteps and become an army surgeon. While in apprenticeship the call went out for dressers for the Crimea. He describes his experiences on a medical ship transporting casualties back to English hospitals from the Dardanelles.

After the war, he completed his training and passed at least some of the required examinations before shipping out to New Zealand aboard an emigrant ship as ship's surgeon. The colorful Neptune ceremony is described as the ship crosses "the line." Arriving in New Zealand the ship's company hears of a gold strike down the coast and the author's account of the wild rush into the hills is reminiscent of Twain and Brett Harte.

After a few twists of fate Raynes sails for Chile where he offers the reader a colorful portrait of Valparaiso, Santiago, and the Maipo Valley. On the return to England we have a classic sailor's rendering of the voyage around the Horn.

Raynes sailed next to West Africa and though his descriptions are in some respects uninformed, we are, nevertheless, given a firsthand account of the last of the slave trade and the coastal comprador trade with the interior in cheap Manchester rifles for palm oil. Here one discerns the intricate commercial relations between Europeans and coastal traders, each employing their own deceptions to gain the better deal. Interesting also is Raynes' account of the yellow fever epidemic of the River Bonney region with the typically high European mortality which so molded African history in the pre-colonial period of commercial trade.

Once again the author returned to England only to sail almost immediately for San Francisco where he planned to enlist as a U.S. army surgeon. After yet another account of the passage round the horn in which his ship was disabled and would have sunk but for the aid of a French brig, he finally arrived in San Francisco where he enlisted. Always the man on the spot, he was in time for a destructive earthquake (1870s?). He roamed the desert Southwest, describes primitive San Diego, and finally, after a short but successful military career, resigned to go to sea again shipping as an able-bodied seaman on a clipper for Liverpool. During his third rounding of the horn he was thrown from a yard and suffered multiple injuries which laid him up for several months.

Raynes returned to America, this time to Nova Scotia where he worked for a local fisherman/farmer. Later he wound up in New York City working in a large hospital emergency room. On one occasion he was called out of the city to the scene of a major train wreck.

The final chapters of Raynes' life were concluded in Florida. The year 1885 found Raynes in Starke budding 10,000 sour orange seedlings. The great freeze of that year killed virtually every orange tree in Bradford County. He then settled in Tallahassee working as superintendent of a small absentee estate and it was there that he became interested in the tung tree as a possible commercial crop for North Florida.

Raynes died near Tallahassee on November 12, 1914, eight years after writing this sketch. He was seventy-six.

Access or Use Restrictions


The collection is open for research.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Autobiography of William H. Raynes, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Selected Subjects and Access Terms

Tung oil industry -- Florida
Voyages and travels

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