||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.
John Webber was the artist on Cook’s third voyage from 1776-1780.
Cook was in the Friendly Isles from in May of 1777. The ships then went to Tongatapu, Tonga from June 10-July 10, 1777. Tongatapu (also known as Amsterdam) was the largest of the Tongan islands.
Poulaho was the King of the Friendly Isles. He was one of two important men who assisted the British on Tonga. Paulaho came to visit the ships at Lifuka and accompanied Cook to Tongatpu, entertaining him and his men for the rest of their stay.
In Hawkesworth’s account, a description of Paulaho is:
“If weight of body could give weight in rank or power Poulahao was certainly the most eminent man in that respect we had seen, for though not very tall he was of monstrous size with fat which render’d him unwieldy and almost shapeless.” Cook, too, had called Poulaho ‘the most corperate plump fellow we had met with.’
In this portrait, Poulaho is adorned with a necklace and a large, radiant head-dress. He is fleshy, with strong, full cheek-bones and a broad, fattish nose. Here, he is not presented as fat and unwieldy, but rather muscular. Webber’s figures had a general tendency toward elongation and were usually lean and tall.
The bonnet Poulaho wears was one of a kind which was fabricated from feathers from Tonga as well as from Fiji. There are several remarks in the journals about the Parroquet of Fiji as a trading commodity which was avidly sought by the islanders.
Mounted in album with PAI4078-PAI4140, PAI4142-PAI4214.; Page 185.; Plate No. 18.