At the behest of the Royal Society, London, and underwritten by John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, James Cook set out on a series of three monumental voyages, between 1768-1780, to explore uncharted territories of the Pacific. He was accompanied by noted naturalists (chief amongst whom was Sir Joseph Banks, FRS), astronomers, botanists, physicians and artists as well as a crew of 100 men (including William Bligh, later to become notorious as Captain of HMS Bounty.) In addition Cooks small ships carried goats, sheep, two horn players, one bagpiper and a fife player.

Cooks's team of experts collected biological and botanical specimens, kept detailed written records and produced documentary drawings and maps from Tierra del Fuego to the northernmost regions of the Bering Straits. Much of this data had never been reported to the Western world: the novel and often anomalous specimens fueled a passion for taxonomy which was to become the main characteristic of 18th century science.

Cooks's expeditions were also the most profusely illustrated of any trips before the advent of photography. This expedition focusses on the images produced by the artists on Cook's three voyages of exploration. The show also celebrates a recent donation to the MBLWHOI Archives of the three volume "Account of Voyages to the Southn Hemisphere", 1773. Many of the written descriptions have been taken verbatim from these eyewitness accounts.


Curated by Ann Weissman
  Exhibitions Curator, MBLWHOI Archives

Special thanks to PhotoArk Digital Archving, Jean Monaghan, Kurt Fuglister, Cathy Norton and John Furfey

Contacts:
  Cathy Norton, MBLWHOI Library Director
  Diane Rielinger, MBLWHOI Archives

Direct general correspondence to



The Life of James Cook

Born the son of a Yorkshire laborer, poorly educated and scientifically unsophisticated, by the time Cook met his untimely death he had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and was eulogized by the scientific elite of countries around the world. Cook's life at sea began early. He joined the Royal Navy at 17 and served in Canada where he charted the St. Lawrence River and surveyed the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland. He published his methods and findings in "Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society" and this publication put him on the academic map.

He was chosen by the Admiralty to head the planned explorations of the Pacific, beating out more established professionals in the process. The results of his four voyages were phenomenal. The Pacific was opened up to exploration and commerce and Charles Darwin years later noted that Cook "helped to add a hemisphere to the civilized world." Cook's written records and specimens transformed the Western world's image of nature and man, raised important issues in the field of taxonomy and led to the creation of anthropology as a new scientific discipline.

In addition, Cook made a great contribution to medicine. In 1853, James Lind, a Scottish physician, proposed that citrus fruit was a cure for scurvy, a disease that was a scourge of seamen, with the loss of 1/3 of a ship's crew not uncommon. Cook decided to do a Phase II trial of Lind's hypothesis. He mandated that the crew on his ship, the Endeavor, consume large quantities of raw sourkraut, a vegetable with an extremely high vitamin C content. While unpalatable, not a single man was lost on this voyage. Cook published a paper on his results and was awarded the prestigious Copley Medal from the Royal Society, catapulting him to the top of Britain's intellectual establishment.

Cook died in the line of duty. On the third, most arduous voyage to determine whether there was a northwest passage connecting America and Russia, Cook's ships returned to Hawaii for some necessary repairs. A scuffle with hostile natives erupted, Cook was slain and his body was never recovered. Rumor has it that he was eaten by cannibals.

Portrait of Cook by Nathaniel Dance, 1776

Nathaniel Dance (1734-1811), oil

This portrait was painted the year that Britain lost her American colonies and the year James Cook set sail on the last of his three epic voyages to explore the Pacific, voyages that are among the great geographic and scientific adventures of all time. Note Cook's chart of the Southern Hemisphere resting on his knee and his journal on the table. The original painting is in the National Maritime Museum, London.

Reprinted by permission of the Hakluyt Society.

Account of Voyages to the Southern Hemisphere

Map of Cook's Tour of the Southern Hemisphere

Chart of the Southern Hemisphere shewing the track and discoveries made by the Resolution under the command of Js Cook

James Cook (1729-1779)
Henry Roberts (c. 1757-1796)
William Hodges (1744-1797)

November 1772 - March 1775, ink, wash

This maps shows the area from the South Pole to the Equator, the area traversed by Cook on his second voyage. Surrounding the cartouche at the bottom are the figures of Labor and Science holding up the hemisphere, the former with great effort, the latter with ease. Above the cartouche is a quote from Viril's Aeneid, "I will carry you upon my shoulders; for me this task is no burden"

Reprinted by permission of the Hakluyt Society.

An English Naval Officer Bartering with a Maori, c. 1769

The Artist of the Chief Mourner, pencil, watercolor

"But above all the luxuries we met with [in New Zealand] the lobsters or sea crawfish must not be forgot... Of them we bought great quantities of the natives."  In exchange for the lobsters the natives were given iron nails and building tools.

Reprinted by permission of the British Library, London.

A Chief Mourner, Tahiti, July, 1769

The Artist of the Chief Mourner, pencil, watercolor

"There is a ceremony which they perform at or after the funerals of the dead... One of the relations dress'd himself in a very odd dress...with Plumes of feathers something in the same manner as those worn by Coaches hearses, horses at the funerals in London; it was very neatly made up of black or brown and white cloth black and white feathers and pearl oysteres shells; it covered the head face and body as low as the Calf of the leg or lower and not only looked grand but awfull likewise." Although the naive character of this drawing suggests "outsider art" the identity of the artist may be Joseph Banks. He was one of three people on the ship Endeavor who had access to watercolor pigments and the other two were more interested in natural history drawings and taxonomy than portraiture. Given Tahiti's voracious flies that "ate the painters' colours off the papers as fast as it could be laid on,"  it is amazing that any drawings survive.

Reprinted by permission of the British Library, London.

Portrait of a New Zealand Man, c. 1770

Sydney Parkinson (c. 1745-1771)
pen, wash

"Most of the Maori men had their hair tied up on the crown of their heads in a knot. Their faces were totaowed, or marked either all over, or on one side, in a very curious manner, some of them, in fine spiral directions, like a volute being indented in the skin very different from the rest."
October 12, 1769

Parkinson's portraits of Maori warriors were the first visual record of the physiognomy, tattoo patterning, dress and ornament of the New Zealand natives. This warrior chief is adorned with an ornamental comb, three feathers in a top-knot, a "heitiki" or amulet with a bone toggle hanging from his neck and a long pendant earring. A similar heitiki was given to King George III by Cook and is now in the possession of Queen Elizabeth II.

Reprinted by permission of the British Library, London.

Portrait of a New Zealand Man, c. 1769

Sydney Parkinson (c. 1745-1771)
pen, wash

This is a portrait of Otegoowgoow, the son of a chief of the Bay Islands, his face fully tatooed: lines were cut in the skin with a blunt edged iron tool and then stained with an indelible mixture of soot and soil. He wears greenstone ear pendants, a comb in his hair and a fish tooth around hi neck. Both men and women were tatooed as a sign of social eminence and to disguise signs of aging. Darvin commented on this New Zealand tradition in his Beagle Diary, December 1835: "One object of the tattowing is to prevent a change of features after middle age."   One native woman commented, "We really must just have a few lines on our lips; else when we grow old our lips will shrivel and we shall be so very ugly."   One might consider this tattooing a premature form of cosmetic surgery.

Reprinted by permission of the British Library, London.

A Man of Oonalashka, c. April 1778

John Webber (c. 1752-1798), artist
William Sharp (1749-1825), engraver
engraving

"In this wretched extremity of earth, situated beyond everything that we conceived to be most barbarous and inhospitable, and, as it were, out of the very reach of civilization, barricaded with ice, and covered with summer snow...we ment with feelings of humanity, joined to a greatness of mind, and elevation of sentiment, which would have done honour to any nation or climate".

Unalaska Island is at the tip of the Aleutians, bordering on the Bering Sea. Cook's mission in exploring this northern outpost was to find a northwest passage connecting America and Russia and to make inroads into the fur trade already established between the native Aleutians and Russians. Note the Aleut's unusual facial piercing: bones draped with beads inserted in a deep slit beneath the lower lip. "This ornament, or labret, is a very great impediment to the speech and makes them look as if they had a double row of teeth."  Teenagers today might consider such and ornament cool.

A Man of the Sandwich Islands in a Mask, c. 1779

John Webber (c. 1752-1798), artist
Thomas Cook (c. 1744-1818), engraver
engraving

The rower's mask and arborial hair give this portrait of a native hawaiian a surreal look. The helmet, crafted from Gourds with holes for the eyes and nose, has fern crests poking out the top and beard like strips of tapa hanging from the chin. None of the masks have survived; Webber's drawings are our only record.

A Young Woman of the Sandwich Islands, c. 1779

John Webber (c. 1752-1798), artist
John Kayse Sherwin (c. 1751-1790), engraver
engraving

At daybreak on January 18, 1778, Cook discovered the Hawaiian archipelago which he named for the Earl of Sandwich. Webber painted this portrait of Poeta, daughter to the chief of one of the islands. She wears a feathered lei and sports a very modern "punk" hairdo.

A Young Man of the Sandwich Islands with a Helmet, c. 1779

John Webber (c. 1752-1798), artist
John Kayse Sherwin (c. 1751-1790), engraver
engraving

"People of these Islands have large cloaks and caps made of feathers, which are very gay. The cloaks are made nearly square and are worn over the shoulder with the two upper corners tied under the chin. The form of the cap is a real curiosity being the exact model of the ancient helmet, especially the high plume running front to rear."

The Bird Capes, described by Cook as the finest garments in the Pacific, used over a half million bird feathers each. It remains a mystery as to how these "Roman" helmets came to exist in the Hawaiian Islands.

A Young Woman of Otaheite Bringing a Present

John Webber (c. 1752-1798), artist
Francisco Bartolozzi (c. 1725-1815), engraver
engraving

This is another Europeanized portrait of a native Tahitian woman. Her dress reflects both French and Spanish influences...a cross between Watteau and Velasquez. The artist may also be alluding to the early explorers who came to Tahiti, Louis Antoine de Bougainville in 1768 and Domingo de Boenechea in 1772. The silk, taffeta and velvet fabrics may have been imported to the island from Batavia (now Jakarta), the international trading post of the region.

A Young Woman of Otaheite Dancing

John Webber (c. 1752-1798), artist
John Kayse Sherwin (c. 1751-1790), engraver
engraving

"Upon their hips rested a quantity of cloth plaited very full which reached up to the breast, and fell down below into long petticoats...which they managed with as much dexterity as our opera dancers could have done. They shook their bodies to drum beats, setting the folds of cloth in motion. The body was thrown into various postures...a wantonness of attitudes and gestures."

This European artist cleaned up the act. This Neoclassical portrait reflects the mores and training of the artist rather than presenting a realistic picture of an erotic Tahitian dancer. As has often been the case, it is an example of seeing the New World through the eyes of the Old.

An Offering Before Captain Cook, in the Sandwich Islands, c. 1778

John Webber (c. 1752-1798), artist
John Hall (1739-1797), engraver
Samuel Middiman (1750-1831), engraver
engraving

"The Natives formed a semicircle in front of Cook who was seated with his lieutenants on each side. The priest...began to anoint the head of Cook with Cocoanut-oil infused with a milky juice that is obtained from the bread fruit. This was succeeded by a long, uninterrupted oration...in a language almost verbally the same as at Otaheite and the other islands. But the priest spoke so quickly we could not understand a word."

It is possible that the main course at the feast was roast dog, a local delicacy, which Cook described as "next to English lamb in taste."

John Ledyard's Journal
January 1779

A Canoe of the Sandwich Islands, the Rowers Masked, c. 1778

John Webber (c. 1752-1798), artist
Charles Grignion (1716-1810), engraver
engraving

"We had been approached several times by some canoes at a distance, but none of them would come near enough to converse...until we anchored and furled our sails. Those who came first were armed and appeared inexpressibly surprized, though not intimidated."

This encounter coincided with Cook's discovery of the Sandwich Islands and it is no wonder that the natives were "inexpressibly surprized." Cook's men must have been equally surprised to see the masked Hawaiians in their weird, medieval looking helmets paddling furiously towards them.

John Ledyard's Journal
January 1779

Kangaroo, 1770

Sydney Parkinson (c. 1745-1771), artist
pen, wash

"The head neck and shoulders of the Animal was very small in proportion to the other parts; the tail was nearly as long as the body, thick next the rump and tapering towards the end, the fore legs were 8 Inch long and the hind 22, its progression is by hopping or jumping 7 or 8 feet at each hop upon its hind legs only... The Skin is cover'd with a short hairy fur of a dark Mouse Colour. Excepting the head and ears which I thought was something like a Hare's, it bears no resemblance to any European Animal I ever saw."

Endeavor River, Australia
Thursday, 12th July, 1770

And indeed the kangaroo took Europe by storm. As a pouched marsupial, it sparked controversy amongst taxonomists as to how to accomodate new species into existing categories. In addition the kangaroo captivated a lay audience: the kangaroo dance, adapted from a maori ritual, swept Europe and had a lasting effect. As late as 1975 the Kangaroo Hop was danced by Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman in the film "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother."

Three Paddles from New Zealand, 1769

Sydney Parkinson (c. 1745-1771), artist
pen, wash, watercolor

"Their paddles were curiously stained with a red colour, disposed into various strange figures; and the whole was no contempible workmanship"