||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.
The Resolution and the Discovery had a second visit to Samgoonoodha, English Bay, Unalaska between October 3-26, 1778.
The people encountered were ready to trade and invited the English into their houses. The countryside provided many herbs such as wild peas or celery and plenty of fowl. Most of Webber's field drawings of Alaskan subject matter can be dated to Cook's first stay at Samgoonoodha harbour. With his portraits, Webber concentrated on the physiognomy, the broad cheek bones and slanting eyes, bringing out some of the facial characteristics of Mongolian people.
The houses of the Alaskans varied in size according to the rank of the owner. The more important persons lived in smaller houses of their own, whereas the common folk habited rather large huts. The place which Webber depicts is such a family hut, a feature indicated by the presence of children. Webber thus depicted a social aspect of native life, which also held an emotional appeal, for both the baby in the cot, tended by its mother, and the young child next to her kneeling mother add a warm human note to the scene. The arched and well strutted roof prevented Webber with a problem in representation: how to depict the interior as widely as possible, showing a kind of panorama of the room, and solving the room’s perspective at the same time. In his first drawing taken on the spot of from a field-sketch now lost Webber adopted his viewpoint from as far back as possible inside the hut, but as a result had to cut off the edges of the roof creating a kind of cross-sectional view. This problem arose again, in Webber’s drawing of the interior of a balagan in Kamchtaka.
The cross-section was not at all unfamiliar at that time, particularly in drawings for scientific purposes. They were used generously in the Diderot/d’Alembert Encyclopedie and were quite common in drawings and engravings of a didactic nature during the second half of the eighteenth century.
For Webber, the trip to the Indian village was of further use, for on his way back to the ship, he and his party met with an Aleut woman, who was willing to be sketched. Not only was she ‘prettily dressed’ and good natured enough to comply with the directions of the artist: ‘she stood up or sat down according as she was desired, seeming very much pleased in having an opportunity to oblige us.’ Webber’s full-length study of her is now in the National Maritime Museum, London, from which the artist developed a charming watercolour drawing, now in the British Library.
Mounted in album with PAI4078-PAI4182, PAI4184-PAI4214.; Page 227.; Plate No. 58.