||This engraving after a drawing by John Webber comes from the official account of Cook's third voyage, 'A voyage to the Pacific Ocean', published by Scatcherd and Whitaker in 1784.
Captain James Cook (1728-1779) made three separate voyages to the Pacific (with the ships Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure, and Discovery) and did more than any other voyager to explore the Pacific and Southern Ocean. Cook not only encountered Pacific cultures for the first time, but also assembled the first large-scale collections of Pacific objects to be brought back to Europe. He was killed in Hawaii in 1779.
Cook was in Nomuka (Annamooka), Tonga or Friendly Isles from May 1-14, 1777.
As part of the reception of Captain Cook, afternoon boxing took place. Webber's depiction of the boxers is that they are naked to the waist and wear long skirts that reach down over their knees. Their hands are bandaged with cord, their arms and legs at places punctured with tattoo marks. Standing with legs apart they have both lifted their left arms, while their right arms are being held behind their bodies, as Anderson observed. Webber's success here lay in rendering correctly the fighters' movements, and in contrast to his usual manner, he concentrated on the anatomy of the half-naked body in order to provide a convincing representation of the physical energy expended in the sport.
This drawing is of particular interest as it provides us with the rare chance of seeing Webber using a source or model. Both boxers bear considerable resemblance to two plates in Bernardino Genga's Anatomia per uso et intelligenza del disegno (1691), a book which, from a remark that Samwell makes regarding the boxers of Hawaii, we know was on board the Resolution.
Webber may have used Genga's prints to express the idea that the Tongan combatants, like the boxers of antiquty, deserved to be depicted in a noble manner.
Mounted in album with PAI4078-PAI4135, PAI4137-PAI4214.; Page 180.; Plate No. 15.