On March 4-5, 2016, a meeting with the theme “Nootka Connections” was held in Victoria, BC. Day 1 included behind-the-scenes visits to two Victoria museums with material from Cook’s, Vancouver’s, and other expeditions to the northeast Pacific. Day 2 included five excellent presentations on those and related topics, including discussion of treasures held in local and far-flung museums; members of Cook’s companies; and a chance to rethink just when “contact” begins and ends.
This March 2016 meeting, organized by CCS members Leona Taylor and Don Reksten, was a follow-up to three previous related gatherings of BC-based (and some other) CCS members. The previous gatherings, organized by Randy and Maggie Komar, were meetings in March 20141 and March 2015,2 and a boat trip in September 2014 to Cook’s landing site at Nootka Sound, western Vancouver Island.3
Our attendees in March 2016 included members of the Captain Cook Society, the Old Cemeteries Society4 and the Victoria Historical Society.5 Attendees included professional and amateur historians, museum curators, exploration enthusiasts, and interested amateurs. It was a grand mix that blended well
On Friday March 4th, our first visit was to the Maritime Museum of BC (MMBC), where we were welcomed and enlightened by Brittany Vis, Archivist, and Jillan Valpy, Collections & Exhibits. They were immensely kind in letting us don gloves and touch various charts and plans, but not the most valuable original early-edition books of course.
Brittany also explained the conservation processes applied to some of the original volumes. Jillan and Brittany joined our group for the rest of the two day event, a welcome addition.
The Royal BC Museum (RBCM) is within walking distance of the MMBC, so for the afternoon we all trooped down the slope past Victoria’s Captain Cook statue,6 still without dividers,7 to the RBCM. Our behind-the-scenes hosts were Dr. Lorne Hammond, History Curator, and Claire Gilbert, Archives Manager.
We had asked for various items to be shown and they delivered those, and more, which we were allowed to photograph and admire:
The RBCM’s copy of the tapa cloth book, with 38 original specimens of tapa cloth, was one of those published by Alexander Shaw in 1787 based on samples collected during Cook’s travels.8 The book was acquired by the RBCM in 1913.9 Our RBCM visit also included a visit to the Discovery Gallery to see the permanent displays there. These include a partial replica of Captain Vancouver’s ship Discovery, replica uniforms, the original “Cook’s Dagger”, a 1772 Resolution and Adventure medal found in BC, a 1784 Royal Society medal commemorating Cook’s explorations, and copies of early charts of the BC coast.
A tray commemorating the bicentennial of Cook’s 1778 exploration of the northeast Pacific was presented to the Museum on behalf of our group.
The Saturday programme was held at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club (RVYC) in the Main Lounge.
The day started with setting up a table with displays of “Nootka Connection” books and magazines, handing out name tags, and the sale of raffle tickets. Leona Taylor welcomed the 35 registrants to the RVYC and laid out the order of proceedings for the day. Speakers were warned of her determination to “run a tight ship” and keep to the schedule. All speakers were awarded a name tag, a souvenir gift, a Friendly Cove card, and lunch for their efforts.
The first presentation of the morning got everyone’s attention with a title of “Thomas Manby and the Sexploration of the Pacific”. Dennis Flewelling, a student of history at University of Victoria (UVic) and a retired police officer, based his talk on the unpublished journal of Thomas Manby, Captain Vancouver’s 21 year old lieutenant on his 1791 voyage to New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii, and the northwest coast of America. Manby took delight in writing of his dalliances with the island women and provided insight into the relationships with inhabitants that developed when the crews reached ports of call―details generally omitted or downplayed in the published expedition accounts.
Michael Layland, a maritime historian specializing in cartography who has written a book about the area,10 talked about “Cook’s Precursors in the Waters off Nootka”. He described with fascinating historical maps and journals the known and suspected explorations in the northeast Pacific from 400 AD to the mid-1700s.
After a delicious buffet lunch prepared and served by Royal Victoria Yacht Club, Dr. John Lutz, chair of the History Department at UVic, spoke on the topic “First Contact, Second Thoughts: Indigenous Stories of Cook and his Contemporaries on the Northwest Coast”. He compared the accounts of first contact by Europeans and indigenous peoples. based in part on oral history accounts from the local people.
Dr. Pablo Restrepo-Gautier, also at UVic, is a professor of Spanish literature who has been studying exploration of the northeast Pacific (especially by the Spanish) from 1774 to 1793. His topic was “The Last Spaniard at Nootka: Jose Tobar y Tamariz Sails to the Pacific Northwest in 1796”. Tobar sailed to Nootka in the schooner Sutil and endangered international affairs by taking with him five escaped Botany Bay prisoners “loaned” to him by an American captain. Among them was the scoundrel revolutionary* Thomas Muir.
After a coffee break and raffling of a number books and memorabilia relating to Captain Cook, Robin Inglis spoke about “Cook’s Curiosities: artifacts collected at Nootka Sound in 1778, then and now”. He is an internationally respected expert on the Spanish presence in the North Pacific, with many books to his credit. Robin showed us a slide presentation of a fascinating selection of Cook artifacts from Nootka Sound that are held by museums all over the world. These artifacts included clothing, masks, ceremonial pieces, tools, containers, toys, and items used for warfare, fishing and hunting.
One unique item was modelled by a participant, Deidre Simmons, who wore a Captain Cook sweater that she had purchased at an auction several years ago. It was hand dyed wool and knitted to show a map of Cook’s voyages, even including an “X marks the spot” of his demise.
The symposium finished at 4:00 pm as scheduled. All the speakers were thanked for their extremely well-prepared presentations and the Canadian Agent for the CCS, W. John Richardson, said a few words on behalf of the CCS. Randy Komar, our informal BC branch coordinator, thanked Leona and Don, and invited people to suggest a location for next year’s gathering. Ideas included Courtenay, Vancouver and Washington State. Wherever it may be, we all look forward to an enjoyable visit with our many friends brought together by Cook and his fellow men of the sea.
Leona Taylor and Don Reksten
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 14, volume 39, number 2 (2016).
* Thomas Muir was not so much a “scoundrel” as a revolutionary, fugitive, or reformer, depending on the perspective. He did get convicted and sent to Botany Bay. That said, he wasn’t a scoundrel, but rather a lawyer and man of letters who happened to have his own ideas about the place of Scotland within United Kingdom.
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