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Natives of Oonalashka, and their Habitations


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Gallery locationNot on display

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Object ID PAI4182
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. 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, who apparently belong to two different families. 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 sametime. 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. Concerning the appearance and dress of the Unalaskans, Cook says: "These people are rather low of stature, but plump and well shaped, with rather short necks, swarthy chubby faces, black eyes, small bears, and straight long black hair, which the men wear loose behind and cut before...their dress...both, men and womens are made alike, the only difference is in the materials, the womans frock is made of Seal skin and the Mens of birds skin and both reach below the knee...some of them wear boots and all of them a kind of oval snouted cap..." Samwell provides a longer description of the Aleut women than Cook: "They are of a copper complexion with a strong red in their Cheeks, their hair is black and coarse which they tye behind in a large Club; they have their Cheeks and chins tattawed or marked and likewise their arms, their cheek bones are high like a Scotchman's with this difference that they are all well covered with Flesh, which makes their faces broad & plump; their eyes are black & small and not at right angles with the Nose but slanting obliquely upwards. They are all cloathed in a seal skin Frock which reaches from their Necks down to their Feet & the Sleeves reach to the Hand, so that they are entirely covered except their Faces and hands, they wear nothing on their Heads. They sometimes wear boots & have always a piece of Seal Skin tyed round the small of their Legs." Mounted in album with PAI4078-PAI4181, PAI4183-PAI4214.; Page 226.; Plate No. 57.
Date made 1779

Artist/Maker Webber, John
Hall, John
Middiman, Samuel
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials engraving & etching
Measurements Sheet: 400 x 570 mm; Plate: 257 x 415 mm
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