Dr Susannah Helman gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the development of the exhibition, Cook and the Pacific.
*Speakers: Guy Hansen (G), Susannah Helman (S)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: 17 October 2018
G: Just a couple more people are wandering in now. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Guy Hansen, I have the great pleasure of being Director of Exhibitions here at the National Library of Australia which I think is one of the best jobs you can have. As we begin I’d like to acknowledge and celebrate the first Australians on whose traditional lands we meet, I pay my respects to the elders of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call our home.
It’s a great privilege to welcome you to the Library today and to our new major exhibition, Cook and the Pacific. We’re very lucky today, we’ve got our – one of the curatorial team, Dr Susannah Helman, is going to give us a behind the scenes glimpse about the development of this exhibition. I think many of you will know Susannah well, she’s worked on many of the exhibitions here at the Library over the years including the very successful, Mapping Our World and The Sell and she’s had the great luck over the last couple of years of I think putting a fair amount of her life into this exhibition, Cook and the Pacific. So I hand over to Susannah to tell us about how we developed this exhibition. Thank you.
S: Thank you very much, Guy, good afternoon. I too would like to acknowledge the local custodians on the land on which we meet today, their elders past, present and emerging.
I called my talk, Looking At Cook, because apart from the appeal of a rhyming title which is always hard to resist I think it sums up what we’re trying to do in the exhibition, look at Cook’s voyages with fresh eyes thorough different lenses from those that had often been used in the past. First, I want to summarise the exhibition’s scope and rationale and second, look at some of the connections between objects and peoples featured in the exhibition. So first to the overview.
The three voyages James Cook led to the Pacific between 1768 and 1779 were extraordinary. They are also among the most documented and studied in world history. Each of these voyages had different aims and outcomes. On the first, the Endeavour voyage, Cook observed the transit of Venus at Tahiti, he completed the map of New Zealand and mapped the east coast of Australia. On the second he proved that there was no great southern land, on the third he attempted to find the northwest passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic. His were the first European ships to reach Hawaii where he and others were killed on Valentine’s Day, 1779.
Over these three voyages for the Royal Navy Cook’s converted Whitby colliers, The Endeavour, Adventure, Resolution and Discovery made landfall in countless places. The men aboard these ships traded for supplies, collected botanical and zoological specimens and objects and documented landscapes they saw and people they met. In this way Cook and those who sailed with him met a vast array of people of the Pacific. These meetings changed people on both sides and these effects had consequences.
Cook’s voyages unlocked the Pacific for Europeans. Though Europeans had long been to the Pacific they had had unreliable maps. Cook’s better maps and the many voyage accounts and objects that then circulated in Europe opened doors that could never be closed. Relationships formed between people of the Pacific and the Europeans also changed Pacific lives, Pacific politics, society, technology and health. Europeans brought exotic technologies such as metal tools and western diseases and disrupted the dynamics of Pacific domestic politics and life.
In 2018 250 years on from when The Endeavour set sail from Plymouth it feels right to revisit the legacy of Cook himself and his three Pacific voyages but with fresh eyes looking through different lenses. Over time Cook has become a symbol, as much man as myth. Why? The National Library of Australia has long had a strong collecting interest in Cook’s voyages, offering rich pickings to investigate these questions. This is its first full scale international exhibition about Cook.
Cook and the Pacific on display at the Library between the 22nd of September 2018 and the 10th of February 2019 explores Cook’s Pacific voyages as meetings of peoples and their knowledge systems, of places experienced, cultures shared and exchanges made. The exhibition brings to the fore the stories of the many people and voices of the voyages from both ship and shore, both direct and mediated. There are records of relationships between people, of friendships, misunderstandings and instances of violence. Accounts also survive of often extraordinary conversations, exchanges and characters.
Indeed many of the peoples, objects and works of art featured in the exhibition are known from the detailed journals of Cook and the men who sailed with him. People are not just names on a page but characters with known appearances and histories. Objects have uses and significance. Many of the objects and accounts also have and equally have ongoing resonance for and value to first nations communities visited by Cook. You can read some of the statements we’ve gathered about objects in the exhibition on our website. They’ve very generously shared their thoughts with us. For many their way of life, language and culture were changed forever as a consequence of the age of colonialism and cultural dispossession that Cook’s voyages prefigured.
The exhibition brings together some of the best Cook material from around Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Hawaii. I’ve got a list of lenders here. I realised I’d just quickly cut it out just – but I’ve just listed all of them here and it’s quite long. The British Library, the National Archives of the UK, Royal Museums Greenwich, the Natural History Museum in London, the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby, the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, in Wellington, the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. And Michael Tuffrey himself, the artist.
Domestic lenders include the National Museum of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery, the State Library of New South Wales, the State Library of Victoria, the Kerry Stokes’ Collection in Perth, the Herbarium in Sydney, the Australian Museum, the Australian National Maritime Museum and one private lender.
The Library’s collections, both their strengths and their [licuni] 7:37 have inspired what we’ve sought to borrow so our own collections can be seen in a broader context. Together the objects tell stories from Cook’s voyages through written and pictorial records and objects that show how the voyages have been remembered and reinterpreted.
While most of the exhibition is arranged by place there is a significant prelude and a coda which envelop these geographical core. Members of the local Ngunnawal and - Nganbury and Ngunnawal communities provide a virtual welcome to country. Then people from the Pacific communities greet visitors in richly diverse ways. Then images of Cook and Cook-like figures ask the question, who is Cook? They explore how people continue to respond to Cook’s image reflecting discussion about his role in history and the effect of his Pacific voyages.
References to Cook’s humble beginnings in Yorkshire and the Whitby coal trade, his experience in the Royal Navy in North America during the seven years’ war morph into the next section about European and Pacific navigation traditions. It explores the map of Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, and the depictions of Pacific watercraft and lunar distance and instrument navigation. Nearby is a scale model of The Endeavour, original Endeavour ship plans and Cook’s handwritten journal from his second voyage in which he critiques the running of the chronometers they were testing.
At this point the voyages begin. The first place is [Totiatama] 9:12, the Society Islands, now part of French Polynesia, which Cook’s voyages came to know well. First going there to observe the transit of Venus of the 3rd of June 1769 it considers people met and customs such as tattooing and funerary rituals. A highlight which I’m sure you can’t miss, is a chief mourner’s costume. In Aotearoa, New Zealand, Cook’s ships spent more time than anywhere on the three Pacific voyages. Cook came over successive voyages to use an inlet he called Ship Cove at Totaranui, Queen Charlotte Sound. He used that as a base for venturing further into the Pacific.
Interactions between the British and Maori involved trade and genuine cultural respect ‘though also miscommunication and violence. Cook’s ships visited the east coast of New Holland, Australia, on all three Pacific voyages. The most exhaustive account – encounter being The Endeavour’s passage northwards between April and August 1770. The local people managed the land in ways mostly unseen by the Europeans. Interactions at [Walumbiri] 10:28, Endeavour River, where the voyage remained for 48 days repairing the ship were most sustained and involved a dispute about resources, green turtles. And a gesture of reconciliation by an old [Guguyimithia] 10:40 man. This is where it happened, in Cooktown. We went there earlier this year. They call this place Reconciliation Rocks.
Cook’s voyages reached both the very south of the Pacific and the very north and these and brief visits to islands around the equator such as Tonga, New Caledonia, Tanna and Easter Island are explored. On the third voyage they visited Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island and Kamchatka in Siberia. The final geographical section is about Hawaii where Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay in 1779. It’s explored through George Carter’s large oil painting of the scene, the swordfish dagger reputedly used to kill him, Cook’s last log and the log of Charles Clerke who took over only to die months later from tuberculosis.
The last parts of the exhibition look at responses to Cook in the years since his death. They examine how Cook’s voyages were written up, memorialised and reflected in art, politics and humour. To some the voyages led to events that undermined sovereignty and initiated human tragedy. To others Cook’s legacy has been woven more readily into national histories and identities. The question of how perceptions of Cook have evolved since the 1770s continues to inspire artists and fuel debate.
At the exhibition’s heart are four manuscripts at four points of a compass-like structure. These are open to pages presenting voices from the voyages. In the Library’s copy of Cook’s secret instructions are the voices of the Lords of the Admiralty in 1768 instructing Cook to search for the great southern land on his Endeavour voyage. In Joseph Banks’ journal, and you’ll all know that Banks was the young, wealthy naturalist on the Endeavour voyage, in this we have a word list, a Guugu Yimithirr, from Endeavour River in 1770. This is actually the version that doesn’t have the word, kangaroo but you can see that in Parkinson’s journal which is also on an exhibition touchscreen.
The third one along is David Samuel’s journal and you’ll see here a transcription of a haka recorded at Totaranui, Queen Charlotte Sound in 1776. It’s the earliest substantial record of Maori language. And finally in Cook’s own voyage journal from the third voyage is a long word list from Nootka Sound recorded in 1778. In what’s really been a very rewarding and enriching process the Library has reached out to all the first nations’ communities from places featured in the exhibition. Some have kindly agreed to be filmed and have recorded words from these word lists. In all there are seven manuscripts that we’ve recorded. They’ve shared their insights and their opinions on them which is fantastic and incredibly interesting. They can pinpoint miscommunications as well as genuine moments of connection and they’re all very different. They’re available for you to see on two touchscreens in the exhibition. Nearby a spinning 1790 Cassini globe traces Cook’s three voyages in a half globe multimedia projection. I’m sure you can’t miss it.
Now to the second part of my talk. I think that what best encapsulates the approach of the exhibition is connections and so this will be my focus for the rest of my time today. These connections can be connections between peoples, between lands, cultures, knowledge, systems, languages, bodies, voices, objects, connections between first nations peoples and their ancestors.
Now obviously in any exhibition there has to be a connection between objects or otherwise the exhibition just won’t hang together. But I think in this exhibition these connections have been amplified. At its essence this exhibition is about those moments of connection. This is work from our collection that I’ll talk about at any opportunity I have and it’s displayed in the first room of our exhibition. It’s bound into a book. It was most probably done quickly by John Webber, the voyage artist on the third voyage, and it was done in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in May 1778. You see two types of boats with people in them, one of whom has his arms extended.
Cook in his journal gives an evocative account of what I think is this. They would not venture alongside but kept talking to us at a distance, not one word of which we understood. They were clothed in skins made into a dress like a shirt or rather more a wagoner’s frock. It reached nearly as low as the knee and there was no slit either behind or before. The canoes were not built of wood like those of King George’s Sound. The frame only was of wood or slender lathes and the outside seal skin or the skin of some such like animal. When these people first came to the ships they displayed a white dress and unfolded their arms to the utmost extent. This we understood to be a sign of friendship and answered them in the same manner.
So here you have a meeting where there is an acknowledgment of the different clothes they were wearing and the different technologies they had but also communication and connection. They were trying. And so I want to talk about some of these connections as examples of connections between peoples in the exhibition. To start with an obvious one, portraits. By nature they offer if done from life moments of connections between sitter and artist.
We know much about many of the portraits made by William Hodges, artist on the second voyage, and the circumstances in which they were made. We know more about some of the people than others. The Library has 18 chalk portraits by William Hodges which I’ll show you in just a second. Now Hodges was actually a landscape artist, he had trained under Richard Wilson and this is some of his best work, this one from Greenwich and he wasn’t a bad portraitist at all. All of the chalk drawings in the Library’s collections are developed drawings ‘though likely done on the voyage. We know that preliminary sketches survive for a number of them.
These drawings were developed to then be engraved to illustrate the published account of the second voyage. We’ve got 10 of these chalk drawings in our exhibition so 10 of our 18. The fact is though that there are in the collection four from New Zealand and six from the Society Islands and I think that this reflects the fact that the voyage spent more time in these places than elsewhere. It also follows perhaps that the connections were perhaps stronger and this is certainly the case with some of the portraits.
I’d like to focus on a couple of quotations relating to two of them that we have in the exhibition. In both instances there’s an immediacy about the meeting and this comes through in the quotations. You’re there in the moments they were taken. So first to [Tinami] 19:10 who’s on the left. George Forster who was the naturalist on the voyage said her eyes were full of fire and expression and an agreeable smile sat in her round face. Mr Hodges took this opportunity of drawing a sketch of her portrait which her vivacity and breathless disposition rendered almost impossible.
With Anders – the one on the right, we have a quotation from Anders Sparrman who was a Swedish naturalist on the voyage and he records the making of this portrait and gives his opinion very freely. He says Hodges did not choose the most beautiful model as an example of this country’s female physiognomy yet neither was this one of the ugliest. What made the appearance of the women unpleasant was their lips which were often tattooed until they were blue. They just didn’t know why this was done.
Language difficulties at first gave rise to a misunderstanding between the girl and the painter for she, having been well paid to go down into the saloon, imagined that she ought to give satisfaction. She was astonished when signs were made for her to sit on a chair to the wonderment and the entertainment of herself and those with her. She quickly saw her likeness appearing in a red crayon drawing. You can only imagine what she was thinking.
About one man whose portrait we have in the exhibition we know a lot. I want to start with this portrait of Tu or Otu by Hodges. It was finished on the second voyage. Some years after Cook died this man rose to be king of all Tahiti and he ruled as Pomare I from 1788. Cook’s voyages coincided with a revolution in Tahiti. The rulers met by Wallace’s voyage of 1766 to 68 were no longer in power. There was turmoil. Tu was one of those who took advantage of the confusion. Cook and others thought he was more important than he was. You see here that Hodges’ portrait bears the title, Otu, King of Otaheite. In his account of the voyage naturalist, George Forster, described him this way, his head notwithstanding a certain gloominess which seemed to express a fearful disposition had a majestic and an intelligent air and there was great expression in his full black eyes.
Well on the next voyage Cook and Tu met again. This portrait on the right by John Webber was the result. It was completed in 1777 and it’s now in the National Library of New Zealand, the Alexander Turnbull Library. An account of it based on information from John Webber was published in 1789. Otu, by the captain’s particular desire, sat to Mr Webber in order to furnish such a memorial of his features as may serve for the subject of a complete whole length picture on the return of the ship to England. When the portrait was finished and Otu was informed that no more sittings would be necessary he anxiously enquired of Captain Cook and Captain Clerke what might be the particular meaning and purpose of this painting. He was informed that it would be kept by Captain Cook as a perpetual memorial of his person, his friendship and the many favours received from him.
He seemed pleased with the idea and instantly replied that, for the very same reason a picture of Captain Cook would be highly acceptable to him. This answer, so unexpected and expressed with such strong tokens of real attachment, made both Captain Clerke and Mr Webber his advocates and Captain Cook, charmed with the natural sincerity of his manner, complied with his request much more readily than on any other occasion he would have granted such a favour.
When the portrait was finished it was framed and with a box, lock and key by which it was secured was delivered to Otu who received it with an expressible satisfaction. He readily, and as the event has proved, most faithfully promised that he would preserve it always with the utmost care and would show it to the commanders of such ships as might in future touch the Society Islands.
Now Tu kept his promise but the portrait did disappear in the late 18th century, it was seen on later voyages. But it would have been a version of this. We have borrowed the version on the right from the National Portrait Gallery here in Canberra. This version is known to have been in Webber’s estate at his death. He likely used it to advertise his wares as Cook’s left hand is pointing to Webber’s signature. The other two are held by the National Portrait Gallery in London. The one on the left is said to have been painted at the Cape of Good Hope on the way out to the Pacific, that is while they were waiting for Charles Clerke who was in command of the other ship, he was waylaid as he was in prison, serving time for his brother. The one in the middle is held by Te Papa Tongarewa and we know that Mrs Cook owned it during her lifetime.
On the third voyage Webber’s orders were to make drawings and paintings of such places in the countries you may touch at in the course of the said voyage as may be proper to give a more perfect idea thereof than can be formed by reading descriptions only. He was working therefore directly to Cook and there is no doubt that Cook was happy with it. And we know that Webber completed just under 200 works on or just after the voyage as we have a list of all of them in our Manuscripts Collection. It’s on display and the digitised version is available through our catalogue. It’s a really invaluable record of Webber’s [erve] 25:10 and working out how many paintings actually survive. It was no doubt completed for Banks who has annotated it.
The novelist, Fanny Burney, and sister of James Burney who served on both the second and third voyages recorded, we went to Mr Webber’s to see his south sea drawings. Here we met Captain King who chiefly did the honours in showing the curiosities and explaining them. He is one of the most natural, gay, honest and pleasant characters I have ever met with. We spent all the rest of the morning here much to my satisfaction. The drawings are extremely well worth seeing, they consist of views of the country of Otaheite, New Zealand, New Amsterdam, Kamchatka and parts of China. And portraits of the inhabitants done from the life.
Now you can see some of those upstairs in the exhibition.
We do know that Webber continued to produce and exhibit work related to the voyage over the course of his life. Two of the murals in the exhibition derive from aquatints he published after the voyage.
Next we have direct connections between objects by provenance and subject matter. Highlights amongst an embarrassment of riches include the exhibition of all three of Cook’s major voyage journals in his own handwriting, the National Library of Australia’s Endeavour Journal and its counterparts from the second and third voyages both on loan from the British Library. We cannot find any evidence that they have ever been displayed together before now and we went through records from the 19th century as well.
The exhibition brings together many of the major records relating to the Endeavour voyage, most from the British Library and the National Archives. The Library’s Endeavour Journal is displayed beside the version submitted to the Admiralty at the end of the voyage. Other manuscripts include The Endeavour’s official log and masterbook, artist, Sydney Parkinson’s voyage sketchbook and Officer, Richard Pickersgill’s maps of Botany Bay and Endeavour River, artist, John Frederick Miller’s drawing of Five Spears and a Shield from New Zealand, Australia and New Guinea collected on the voyage. A highlight is this watercolour by Tupaia of Aboriginal people fishing at Botany Bay in late April 1770.
Tupaia was the Polynesian navigator who joined the Endeavour voyage in 1769 in Tahiti and travelled to New Zealand and up the east coast of Australia. Endeavour voyage botanical specimens from the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney join a pencil drawing, watercolour and a copperplate, [aliva grevillea terra de folia] 27:58 from the Natural History Museum in London. This is a grevillea growing in the botanical gardens of Cooktown that we saw in June earlier this year.
Then there are connections between people and place. We have borrowed these coastal profiles from the British Library. By Cook’s time producing coastal profiles of landmarks was a well-established part of the mapmaker’s craft. They made marks on maps easier to recognise for those who followed. These are in the hand of Charles Praval, later a French teacher in Dublin but in his youth he was somehow in Batavia in late 1770. He joined The Endeavour and you can see that in the masterbook we have in the exhibition – I’ve circled it in red – he’s called Chas Provel. It shows when he joined.
He was employed to copy the work of voyage artists who had all died unfortunately so that works could be used to illustrate the official voyage account. All the artists had actually been paid by Banks so Banks could fairly claim ownership over their work. These coastal profiles had been made as The Endeavour progressed up the east coast, the originals don’t survive. We see at the top a pigeon house. To the Murramarang people of Ulladulla this is known as [Didfull] 29:41. We went down to Ulladulla and this is what they told us.
Pigeon house or [Didthall] 29:50 as we call it is a very sacred place to us, it has men’s sites and women’s sites, it has art sites. It’s not a site that we visit constantly but it is a place that we hold very dear to our heart. That’s Shane Carriage from Ulladulla. They see it as a mother’s breast. After seeing [Didthall] we walked back the way we came and we saw this beach. In Richard Piskergill’s journal which we’ve borrowed from the National Archives of the UK are numerous records of seeing smooks as he spells it as they were going up the shore. In his journal entries for the 21st and 22nd of April 1770 Pickersgill writes, saw a remarkable peaked hill with a tuft of tall trees resembling the top of a pigeon house. Saw some smooks onshore. As we stood along shore we saw five of the Indians sitting by the fire. They appeared to be naked and very black which was all we could discern at this distance.
Shane and Victor showed us the places where the smooks would have been coming from and it’s on those beaches there and the land from which the photograph was taken. You will notice that while we do have some classic Cook Isaac Smith maps in the exhibition, most notably his map of the island of Tahiti and his map of New Zealand that we’ve borrowed from the State Library of New South Wales we have put a deliberate spotlight on Richard Pickersgill, one of the lesser known mapmakers of the voyage.
Now Pickersgill was a Pacific veteran, he’d sailed on the Dolphin voyage of 1766 to ’68 under Samuel Wallace. On The Endeavour he was Master’s Mate and later Master. Pickersgill is known to have been curious about the places and peoples seen and met and we’ve already looked at that. We’ve chosen three of his maps for the exhibition. The New Zealand map is probably the most crusty and best loved. It’s actually upside down and annotated extensively probably over the decades. It was a working map over the centuries. The second is a plan of Botany Bay.
Stingray Bay was the name they – the men of the Endeavour gave it and you can see that graphically in the Library’s Endeavour journal. Here’s the detail on the left of Cook’s entry for the 6th of May 1770. It has first Stingray’s Harbour then Botanist Bay then Botany Bay. They called it this because of the stingrays they caught and ate there. See the drawing of it – of one such stingray by Hermann Sporing, the Finnish Swedish naturalist on the voyage. Because Pickersgill’s map was never destined to be used in the official account or at least an engraving of it there was no need for him to revise it so it stayed that way. And you can see it in the exhibition. And you can also see the contrast between it and the map of Botany Bay that was included.
The last map of his is this from Endeavour River known as [Wallambungbiri] 33:31 to the [Guguyimithia]. This is what Alberta Hornsby shared with us about the 48 days the men of the Endeavour spent here after striking the Great Barrier Reef. We have a special story to tell because when Captain Cook came here in 1770 to repair his ship he didn’t realise that he had landed on a neutral zone. This clan land of [Wiyumbiere] 33:53 was a place where women from surrounding clans came to give birth, marriage alliances were made here, conflicts were settled here. [Bama] 34:04 – that means people in [Guguyimithia] came here for initiation ceremonies, for celebrations. The law said that there was no blood to be spilt on this [bubu] 34:13, on this land. Not many people know that without the cultural and spiritual laws of the [Guguyimithia] [bama] Cook would not have had a successful first voyage.
Like the map of Botany Bay this map by Pickersgill is a plan view. The key shows what Pickersgill thought were interesting things to record. He’s clearly taken some time with it and care. It’s in his best writing and we can see what he’s – not his best writing looked like. The decorative elements are quite artistic, the compass throws and the cartouche. We know that Cook thought highly of Pickersgill and he also sailed on the second voyage as a third lieutenant. Being between voyages must have been hard however for men so used to being at sea. Pickersgill was discharged from the navy after the second voyage. He met a sorry end and fell into the Thames drunk in 1779.
But he’d shown signs of this on the second voyage and we have that opinion from John Elliott who was only 13 when he sailed on that second voyage of Cook’s. Many years later Elliott wrote his memoirs. We borrowed the manuscript volume of it from the British Library and one of the big reasons we really wanted to do that is that there’s a list that prefaces these memoirs and it’s quite special. In it Elliott provides not only the ages – he does get most of them wrong – but a character assessment of the men on The Resolution. Cook is described as sober, brave, humane and excellent seaman and officer. Naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster is a clever but a litigious, quarrelsome fellow and our friend, Richard Pickersgill, is a good officer and astronomer but liking the grog.
The National Library of Australia Collection has a number of works in the hand of John Elliott. We have this drawing thought to have been done at the time. On the back it has inscribed this belongs to Mrs Elliott, no doubt his wife. We also have another similar drawing which came into the collection with a sample of tapa cloth and half a page from Cook’s logbook in his own handwriting. Elliott did live for some decades unlike Pickersgill and there’s a memorial to him at the Ripon Cathedral in Yorkshire. His stone refers right up top to his serving on Cook’s voyage.
Another example of connections between objects is the story of Omai. The Library has two particularly remarkable sets of items relating to the 1785 London pantomime, Omai. Omai, more properly known as Mai, was – he asked to join Cook’s second voyage in the Society Islands and he sailed back to England on The Adventure. He spent about two years in London. He met the King, he also met Fanny Burney, the novelist. He returned to the Society Islands on Cook’s third voyage. Cook’s men built him a house and an orchard on [Huahemi] 37:39. He’s believed to have died though within a couple of years. This portrait on the left is by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first President of London’s Royal Academy and one of the finest portraitists of the day. Reynolds’ portrait, and some of you may know of Omai, was recently – his portrait in oil at least – was recently bought by an Irish racing millionaire for £10.3m. Well actually in 2001.
In 1785 a blockbuster pantomime was staged at the Theatre Royal, Convent Garden. The designer was Philippe Jacques De Loutherbourg ‘though we know that he collaborated closely with the artist from the third voyage, our friend, John Webber. Webber had collected on the voyage and these collections are known to have inspired the costume designs for Omai. Indeed the costume designs for the production, most of them are actually in the Library’s collection and they are annotated by Webber himself. They came to the Library in volumes which also have proof plates from both the second and third voyages. The proof plates from the third voyage account are also annotated by Webber. Did these all belong to Webber at one point? It’s a really interesting question.
Aside from the maps it was really the information brought back, the documentation, the accounts and the collections that changed European perceptions of the Pacific. My last case study on connections is natural history. Objects collected on Cook’s voyages are dispersed right around the world and to some extent this is because of how they were distributed in the years after the voyages. There was a web of connections and collectors fuelling this. One of these was Thomas Pennant. He was a naturalist, Welsh, perhaps known for his weighty tomes on zoology.
We know that The Endeavour carried his books as references. He was a collector, traveller and a correspondent. He was one of those interested parties who did not join any of Cook’s voyages but he was vitally interested in the results. He features in our exhibition in several ways. We have his work in notes recently acquired in manuscript form by the Library. I think that he crossed things out when he’d finished transferring the information into whatever publication he was using it for. We – ‘cause it’s basically on every page.
We’re displaying it with this parrot said to have belonged to Tupaia, the Polynesian navigator whose portrait by Moses Griffith is displayed nearby. Now obviously Thomas Pennant didn’t keep Moses Griffith busy enough as Moses was advertising to take on more work as he did in 1784. Back to Pennant’s manuscript, on the page we have open in the exhibition there’s a reference to our friend, Lieutenant Gore, whose telescope and morning ring are displayed in the exhibition ‘though in different parts.
Collectors really required scouts for information and specimens. Gore and others on Cook’s voyages reported back to interested parties. We know for example that several men who sailed on the second and third voyages kept in touch with Banks who wasn’t on either of those and supplied him with cultural objects and specimens. Other objects known to have come in that way are the [Mahiolay] 41:34 or helmet that you’ll see just opposite the dagger. We’ve borrowed it from the National Gallery of Australia. It’s believed to have been collected by Charles Clerke and owned by Charles Francis Greville, a lifelong friend of Sir Joseph Banks.
My last brief example relates to the role Lord Sandwich, first Lord of the Admiralty, played as a broker for Cook voyage items. We have a letter in the exhibition from the lawyer and naturalist, Daines Barrington, who tells Sandwich that a collector called Sir Ashton Lever was expecting to receive objects collected on the third voyage by the late Captains Cook and Clerke after that voyage. So what was the eponymous Leverian Museum? Sir Ashton Lever’s London museum was the repository of many Cook items. Many objects collected on the voyages were displayed in what the catalogue that we have in the exhibition called the Sandwich Room. And this is the first page of them, it goes on for pages and pages. The museum’s contents were dispersed in a sale of 1806. Luckily many items had been documented by artist, Sarah Stone and her documentation assists in the reconstruction of this collection.
It’s also clear that Sandwich kept some things back for himself. There’s a letter in the exhibition by Sandwich to Banks. He mentions The Endeavour’s naturalist, Daniel Salander, who was at that time working for Banks and his own mistress, Martha Ray. I delivered a live chameleon to Dr Salander, it was in perfect health and spirits so that if you do not receive it safe and sound it is no fault of mine. One of Miss Ray’s new parakeets died of a fit and I had a great battle with her whether the corpse should go to you or to Mr Lever.
Both of these creatures were likely collected on the second voyage. As I said at the beginning Cook’s voyages are really amongst the most documented in history. Information is becoming more easily available and searchable through digitisation programs offering invaluable opportunities to look at Cook’s specific voyages and to draw out the many connections between objects, peoples and places. I’ve been through a few as I know them, I’m sure that you will have your own and I hope that this exhibition will broaden, surprise and challenge as well as fascinate in its new look at Cook and his Pacific voyages with its emphasis on the voices and places of the voyages and their many connections. Thank you very much.
G: Thanks very much, Susannah. We do have time for a few questions so if you would like to answer a question please put up your hand and we’ll get a microphone to you. So – there we go, first question.
A: You mentioned Cook’s second and third voyages as having touched New Holland. Can you shed some light on where in New Holland he visited on those second and third voyages?
S: So Cook didn’t go to Australia on the second voyage but the companion ship, The Adventure, went to Adventure Bay and - on that voyage. Adventure Bay is Bruny Island in Tasmania. On the third voyage they went to the same place again but Cook went this time.
A: My mother, Olive Margaret Flick, collected a lot of material on Cook during her life and she’s got a big folder of it with my sister in Hong Kong so I was just wondering if you’d be interested in seeing that stuff, it would be helpful to you or not?
S: Sure. I work in exhibitions but I can certainly put you in touch with some people who you could talk to at the Library but thank you very much.
A: Banks having played such a major part in the first voyage was apparently intending to travel on the second voyage until he petulantly took umbridge at the removal of the modification on the Resolution. Was that the only reason that he didn’t go then or even the third voyage?
S: On the third voyage? Well I mean I think certainly – you mean why didn’t he go on the third voyage or –
A: Well he had the opportunity to go on the second and was apparently going. He seemed to have pulled out only because the ship proved top heavy but he had a third chance presumably to go even if he didn’t go on the second voyage or the third –
S: On the third voyage I mean I think Cook was known to have been quite fed up with scientists by the third voyage after his experience on the second voyage with the people who replaced Banks, the Forsters. Cook’s known to have said – said something like curse science so yes, I think - the thing is one of the major problems, and I sort of alluded to it briefly, really is that Cook wanted to be in charge and if there were people who were paying for themselves he couldn’t be in charge of everything and I think one reason why the relationship with Webber for instance worked so well is that Cook was in charge.
G: Susannah, can I ask you the question that curators dread in these talks but what’s your favourite object in the exhibition?
S: That’s very hard. No but thank you. Well I do love the wash drawing from our own collection but I think Tupaia’s work that we have from the British Library, I think it was amazing to be able to have that in the exhibition. I think the chief mourner’s costume as well, we reali – I mean there were 10 collected on the voyage but they’re incredibly fragile and I realised when it arrived why it had been so hard to borrow one because they’re so fragile. This one had to travel with its own conservator and they’re incredibly generous to lend it to us so –
G: Well I think when you – listening to Susannah you realise what a privilege it is to go to this exhibition ‘cause I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s one of the best Cook exhibitions which has ever been done and I don’t think you’ll ever have an opportunity to see an assemblage of this sort of material, particularly in Australia ever again and I’d really encourage you if you haven’t already been to go and see it. And of course there’s a very good catalogue with an essay by Susannah and Martin who worked on the exhibition and I think that’s really worth picking up as well which is available in the shop.
Having said all of that let’s thank Susannah for that talk.
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