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A Human Sacrifice, in a Morai, in Otaheite (before title)

PAI4149

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Collection
Gallery locationNot on display

Object details:

Object ID PAI4149
Description 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. This is a depiction of a sacrifical ceremony that Cook observed. Here is Cook's account: "They now took the bundles of feathers and the Sacrifice to the great Morai, the two first were laid against the pile of Stones, and at the foot of them the latter was placed round which the Priests seated themselves and ebgan their prayers, while some of their attendants dug a hole at the foot of the Morai in which they buryed the victim. As it was puting into the Grave a boy squeaked out aloud, Omai said it was the Eatua. In the mean time a fire was made, the Dog... produced and killed, the hair was got off by holding over the fire, the entrails taken out and thrown into the fire where they were left to consume; the hart liver kidneys etc were laid on the hot stones for a few minutes and the blood was collected into a cocoanut shell and afterward rubed over the dog which was held over the first for about a minute, then it together with the heart kidnies &c were carried and laid down before the Priests who were seated round the foot of the grave praying, and which they continued over the dog for some time, while two men beat at times on drums very loud, and a boy squeeked out as before in a long shrill voive thrice, this as we were told was to cal the Eautua to what they had prepared for him.' This drawing became one of the most deeply remembered and an enduring image that never failed to arouse missionary fervor. The visual presence of Cook as the friend of Tu seemed to show Cook as complicit in the rite. Both Cook and Anderson had been deeply shocked by the ceremony. 'During the ceremony we were silent but as soon as it was over we made no scruple in giving our sentiments very freely upon it and of course condemned it.' Webber's drawing represented a dark blot on Tahitian customs, and served as tangible evidence to some Europeans as the lurking barbarity of the peoples of the South Seas. This is the first of two such engravings. Mounted in album with PAI4078-PAI4147, PAI4149-PAI4214.; Page 193.; Plate No. 24.
Date made 1777

Artist/Maker Webber, John
Woollett, William
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials engraving & etching
Measurements Sheet: 387 x 570 mm; Plate: 282 x 490 mm
Parts
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