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An Offering before Capt Cook, in the Sandwich Islands (first state)


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Gallery locationNot on display

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Object ID PAI4184
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 visited for the second time the Hawaiian Islands, Hawaii, Kauai, Niihau between 17 January-14 March 1779. Cook was greeted by a ‘Chief named Terryaboo’ (Kalani’opu’u), the King of Hawaii, who came out to the ships in several canoes. Later, when the ships entered Kealakekua Bay on the west side of Hawaii, Cook reckoned that about 1000 canoes surrounded the two ships, King estimated 800, many of them filled with up to 10 or 12 Hawaiians. Nowhere before had the reception of Cook’s ships been so impressive as here. After Cook’s reception by the priests at the heiau of Waipunaula it had become evident that some god-like status was attributed to him. Kalani’opu’u’s meeting of the ships on 26 January 1779 was intended as homage to Cook. Two large images made of basket work and feathers as well as a magnificent feather cloak in the two front boats give proof of the sacral character of his mission. Very soon Cook was given to understand that he should follow the King to the shore, where a festive ceremony took place. Kalani’opu’u took his cloak from his shoulders and put it around Captain Cook’s. In King’s words, he also ‘put a feathered cap upon his head, & a very handsome fly flap in his hand: besides which he laid down at the Captains feet 5 or 6 Cloaks more, all very beautiful, & to them of the greatest value.’ This scene not only demonstrated the profuse adoration of the Hawaiians, it also served to ratify a friendship between the parties. A related scene, depicted in this engraving, was witnessed by Webber probably on January 19. Cook and three of his officers are in front of a sacred hut surrounded by about fifteen Hawaiians. Cook is shown taking part in a ritual ceremony. A piece of red cloth has been hung around his shoulders; a man in front of him offers a roasted pig, while a crowd of priests and servants attend. The scene of action is close to the hikiau or temple area and set among some coconut trees. The pile of stones on the left (in the engraving also on the right) could well allude to the hikiau itself or what seems more likely, a funeral pile. What Webber does not show – and this was frequently mentioned in the journals – is the heiau itself. To Cook’s men, the most remarkable element about the place was the number of carved ‘idols’ and the skulls stuck on poles (about twenty) which originated from earlier sacrifices. Webber may well have felt unsympathetic towards the subject or else his drawing of the scene has disappeared. In the absence of any such drawing, it is interesting to point to an engraving after a drawing by William Ellis, which exhibits a semicircle or carved wooden figures, and in the background a rail with several skulls on sticks. There is no doubt that Ellis’s picture is an important addition to our knowledge of Cook’s Hawaii. This is the first of three such engravings. Mounted in album with PAI4078-PAI4183, PAI4185-PAI4214.; Page 228.
Date made January 1779

Artist/Maker Webber, John [engraver]
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials engraving & etching
Measurements Sheet: 382 x 500 mm; Plate: 263 x 410 mm
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