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Cook Museum Whitby

The South Seas

On the first voyage, Joseph Banks brought with him two artists, Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan, to record respectively plants and landscapes. Buchan however died at Tahiti, throwing the whole burden of recording on Parkinson, who himself died on the homeward journey. Many of Parkinson's superb drawings of plants survive, though these ended up not being published until the 20th century.

William Hodges on the Second Voyage, and John Webber on the Third, were artists appointed by the Admiralty, and therefore answered directly to Cook. They worked hard, and many of their paintings and drawings were reproduced as prints for the official accounts of the voyages.

Between them, the artists produced an unrivalled account of peoples, places, ceremonies, canoes, the material culture and natural history of the South Seas. Their work was naturally influenced by European artistic conventions, and perhaps by public expectations of lush tropical scenes and apparently carefree lives. But without their careful detailing and depiction we would know much less about the peoples of the Pacific at the time when no or few Europeans had ever been there.

By the end of the Voyages, Cook had filled in most of the map of the central Pacific, discovered numerous island groups and located them accurately on the map.

Right: The young woman is not wearing a crinoline! She carries bundles of tapa cloth to which are attached two semi-circular breast-ornaments made from feathers, plant fibres, shark teeth and pearl shell. These were highly valued objects which signified high status.

Maori Lady in traditional dress

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