Jack Renton (1848-1878)
Jack Renton was the son of a Stromness tailor. He left Orkney in 1867 and trained as an able seaman.
The following year he and four other sailors were shanghaied (forcibly conscripted) in San Francisco.
Deciding to escape in an open boat had dire consequences for them. Several of the men starved to death before coming ashore on the Solomon Islands – an area that was avoided by other mariners because of its headhunting tribes.
It is not clear how Renton avoided being eaten, but the grim truth is that he survived his encounter with the brutal tribes by becoming like them – a headhunter. He lived among them for eight years before returning to Orkney.
The spear he brought back with him still has pride of place in an Orkney collection. An important symbol of his acceptance in the Solomon Isles was the necklace of 64 human teeth which he was given. This is now part of the collection of the National Museum of Scotland; the necklace is displayed at Stromness Museum, which is very pleased to be in receipt of this loan from the NMS.
According to Mike McCoy, an Australian biologist familiar with the tribes, Renton was remembered as a strong warrior. He would need to have been, in order to secure his safety.
McCoy said: "Renton was accepted into male society and lived in the men’s long house. He apparently killed several people from inland and, by his own admission, took heads.
"His warrior prowess and closeness to the salt-water people chief, Kabou, led to the bush people putting a bounty on his head. When he went to his favourite spots – one was an idyllic-looking natural swimming pool on the main island – he always had an armed guard to protect him."
Renton returned to the Solomon Islands as a government agent recruiting islanders for labour in Queensland, Australia. He was later murdered.