I spent a few evenings trying to decipher the handwriting in the diary itself without any luck and finally gave up and put it away as a curious keepsake. About six months later I went to Monterey for the weekend and discovered the Robert Louis Stevenson house and found a watercolor done by my journal writer. He was Stevenson’s son-in-law. I then realized that, besides the letter, I probably had something of historical importance in my possession. With this information and some additional research, I found that I had Joe Strong’s journal from around 1891 to 1894 when he and his wife and son lived with the Stevensons in Samoa and was present for the native war and Robert Louis Stevenson’s death. He returned to San Francisco in 1895 and remarried and died shortly after, which would explain how it ended up in the city. Joe didn’t enter any dates in the journal, so it’s a bit difficult to identify when things actually happened.

I’ve worked on it forever with a magnifying glass and a lot of patience and have slowly transcribed it. The letter turned out to be a Rosetta stone for the journal, when totally lost I could return to compare how he formally shaped his t or e to figure out the correct spelling. I found it necessary to add a few words here and there to make the narrative make sense, but for the most part this is Joe Strong’s tale of the time in his own words.

Oh, there’s some back story to tell too. You really have to dig to find out this stuff.*

In the first part of 1889, Stevenson and his wife and mother and step-son, Lloyd, arrived in Hawaii where Joe and his wife and son were living. Stevenson convinced Joe to go with them on their next sea voyage, with the idea of Joe taking photographs and doing artwork that could be used to create a diorama of the South Pacific that they could take on a lecture tour around the world, Lloyd giving the lectures. Joe’s wife and son were to go to Sydney, Australia and wait for them. Stevenson was going to pay all expenses and take care of their debts in Hawaii before leaving. At first, Joe and his wife were hesitant about accepting this offer, but Stevenson soon had them convinced.

*The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (edited Booth & Mehew) Vols 6 & 7, 1995, Yale University Press

The Robert Louis Stevenson House in Monterey California

Louis and Fanny on the bridge of the steamer The Equator