Robert Adrian Langdon

Robert Langdon (1924–2003) was an Australian scholar known for his work as the executive officer of the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, a part of the Australian National University.[1]


Langdon was born in Adelaide, served in the Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War, skipped university in favor of a writing career, and spent six years exploring South America. He undertook many different jobs prior to making his way to Tahiti to escape a cold Canadian winter. This journey changed his life. Because he couldn't find a single book that told the story of Tahiti, he returned home to Adelaide and write his own; Tahiti, Island of Love. After some time reporting for The Advertiser in Adelaide, Langdon took on a role at Pacific Islands Monthly in Sydney. During his six years at the magazine his reputation for original and high quality research on forgotten aspects of Pacific history caught the attention of Professor Henry Maude who was setting up the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau (PMB).[2]

One of the first major projects he supervised as the executive officer of the PMB in the 1970s was the microfilming of more than 2,100 logbooks of American whaling, trading and naval ships active in the Pacific in the 19th century. Copies of these 420 reels of microfilm were then distributed to a number of participating libraries in Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. To increase their utility, he supervised a team of researchers to index the microfilmed logbooks and the results were later published in two volumes.[3]

Alternative historyEdit

Langdon's research on the history of Amanu island and the possible origin of antique Spanish ship cannons discovered on the atoll in 1929 resulted in his book The Lost Caravel.[4] In this book Langdon presented evidence for his controversial theory that the cannons were from the San Lesmes, a ship of the Spanish Loaisa Expedition. Langdon proposed that the San Lesmes had foundered on the atoll, thrown off the cannons to refloat, sailed to Tahiti where some members of the crew remained, and then onward to discover New Zealand. This theory had all but been forgotten until Greg Scowen published his novel The Spanish Helmet in 2011, basing much of the story on the presumed journal of the captain of the San Lesmes, Francisco de Hoces.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gunson, Niel (2004). "Robert Langdon: The fervour for truth burned strong in him". The Journal of Pacific History. 39 (1): 123–132. doi:10.1080/00223340410001684895. JSTOR 25169676.
  2. ^ Inder, Stuart (1 November 2003). "More than one way to approach Pacific history". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  3. ^ Robert Langdon (ed.) American whalers and traders in the Pacific: a guide to records on microfilm, (1978) Canberra, Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, ISBN 0-909596-19-0, &, Where the whalers went: an index to the Pacific ports and islands visited by American whalers (and some other ships) in the 19th century, (1984), Canberra, Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, ISBN 0-86784-471-X.
  4. ^ Langdon, Robert (1975). The Lost Caravel. Pacific Publications. ISBN 978-0-85807-021-9.
  5. ^ Scowen, Greg (2011). The Spanish Helmet. Whare Rama Books. pp. 364 pp. ISBN 978-1-4635-5848-2.