Jean-Baptiste Dutrou-Bornier — arms dealer, gambler, bigamist, murderer, slave dealer, encourager of apostasy and and alleged ship wrecker — was to have a long lasting impact on Easter Island. He set up residence at Mataveri, aiming to cleanse the island of most of the Rapanui and turn the island into a sheep ranch. He married Koreto, a Rapanui, and appointed her Queen, tried to persuade France to make the island a protectorate, and recruited a faction of Rapanui whom he allowed to abandon their Christianity and revert to their previous faith. With rifles, a cannon, and hut burning, supporters ran the island for several years.[1]

Dutrou-Bornier bought up all of the island apart from the missionaries' area around Hanga Roa and moved a couple hundred Rapanui to Tahiti to work for his backers. In 1871 the missionaries, having fallen out with Dutrou-Bornier, evacuated all but 171 Rapanui to the Gambier islands[2] . Those who remained were mostly older men. Six years later, there were just 111 people living on Easter Island, and only 36 of them had any offspring.[3]


In 1876 Dutrou-Bornier was killed in an argument over a dress, though his kidnapping of pubescent girls may also have motivated his killers.[4]

From that point on and into the present day, the island's population slowly recovered. But with over 97% of the population dead or left in less than a decade, much of the island's cultural knowledge had been lost.

Neither his first wife back in France, who was heir under French law, nor his second wife on the island, who briefly installed their daughter Caroline as Queen, were to keep much from his estate. But to this day much of the island is a ranch controlled from off-island, and for more than a century real power on the island was usually exercised by resident non-Rapanui living at Mataveri. An unusual number of shipwrecks had left the island better supplied with wood than for many generations, whilst legal wrangles over his land deals were to complicate the island's history for decades to come.[5]


  1. Steven R Fischer The island at the end of the world. Reaktion Books 2005 ISBN1 86189 282 9 pages 106-122
  2. Katherine Routledge The mystery of Easter island page 208
  3. Collapse of island's demographics in the 1860s and 1870s
  4. Steven R Fischer The island at the end of the world. Reaktion Books 2005 ISBN 1-86189-282-9 page 120
  5. Steven R Fischer The island at the end of the world. Reaktion Books 2005 ISBN1 86189 282 9 pages 106-122

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