First, in the morning, the group toured the Hawai`i-focused exhibition accompanied by Ulrich Menter, oceanic curator at Stuttgart’s Linden Museum, and renowned Cook scholar Adrienne Kaeppler, curator of oceanic ethnology at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, USA.
Menter gave the group a personalized tour of the exhibits explaining the significance of a wide variety of unusual historical objects, with Kaeppler speaking up from time to time to add her insights on particular items.
The exhibition brought together some 215 items, including a feathered image of a god, six feathered cloaks, tapa cloth, weaponry and tools—objects that are normally housed in museums in England, Scotland and Denmark, but most particularly in Germany. Menter said about 40 to 60 pieces in the show were specifically associated with Cook.
Menter said he believes the Stuttgart show was the first such exhibition in Europe to focus specifically on Hawai`i and its antiquities. The exhibition also contained a number of modern Hawaiian artworks selected to illustrate the continuity of Hawaiian culture.
Adrienne Kaeppler, known for her pioneering work as an ethnographic detective tracking down the artifacts from Cook’s travels, was particularly impressed with a rare green-feathered cloak. It was noteworthy because most cloaks that have survived are red or yellow, or a combination of both.
Another unique item was a brilliantly-feathered tabooing wand of the kind used by Hawaiian priests to point to objects or places that became off-limit on pain of death, as described by Cook and James King in the official journal of the voyage. The wand was acquired by John Ledyard, the American explorer who served as a marine on Cook’s Third Voyage, who got it from a Hawaiian priest he had befriended. The wand is privately owned and seldom seen by the public.
Some of the bird species used in making the cloaks have since gone extinct, making the items irreplaceable today.
Many of the earliest and most valuable Hawaiian artifacts were given as gifts to ships’ captains or were traded for western goods.
Cook himself famously received a gift of a richly feathered cloak from paramount chief Kalaniopu`u, which the Hawaiian chief ceremoniously removed from his own shoulders and draped upon Cook, as well as what he said were “five or six cloaks more, all very beautiful and to them of the greatest value”.
In the afternoon, German members of the CCS gave lectures on specific aspects of Captain Cook history.
Helene Nymphius gave a talk on the successful post-voyage career of Heinrich Zimmerman, a German sailor on Cook’s Third Voyage, who surreptitiously kept a journal of the four-year trip, which he later turned into a popular book. The acclaim he received in Germany led to him being appointed to supervise a fleet of gondolas on the lake at Nymphenburg Palace, and to the command of the personal ship of the Prince Elector of Bavaria, Karl Theodor. Zimmerman’s efforts to spark German investment in foreign exploration, however, ultimately failed.
Andrea Siegling-Blohm spoke about the tumultuous life of the American explorer John Ledyard, whose tabooing wand was on display in the exhibition. Orphaned in childhood, Ledyard attended Dartmouth College, but running out of money, he made a famous getaway from the campus by paddling off in an Indian-style dugout canoe he had built himself.
From that start Ledyard set out on world journeys, often traveling on a shoestring.
Ledyard joined the British marines, where he managed to get himself assigned to Cook’s third expedition. He made two memorable excursions on the voyage, helping to establish contact with the Russians at Unalaska, and making an exploratory trip toward the summit of Mauna Loa on Hawai`i.
Ledyard’s role became uncomfortable upon his return to Europe, because the United States had rebelled and broken away from England while Cook and his men were away on the voyage, and Ledyard decided his loyalties lay with the United States. Once home, he hastily wrote a book about his travels with Cook that proved to be controversial because a portion of the published manuscript contained many pages copied from a book written anonymously by another member of Cook’s expedition. Moreover, according to Siegling-Blohm, Ledyard’s version of events was “different to the official report”, and “showed a different perspective” that placed Cook’s behavior in Hawai`i in a more negative light than the official account published under government auspices.
Highly regarded in the United States, however, Ledyard moved in powerful circles and was admired by Thomas Jefferson and Sir Joseph Banks. Far-sighted about commercial prospects in Asia, Ledyard urged American financiers to consider expeditions to China, which eventually helped spur the inauguration of the U.S.-China trade. Ledyard later traveled to Russia and Africa. “He led a truly extraordinary life… resilient and resourceful”, Siegling-Blohm said.
Irmtraut Koop reported on research that has allowed her to state with some certainty that Cook personally chose both Resolution and Discovery, the ships used on the Third Voyage. She discovered writing on the back of a letter held in the state archives in Berlin, dated January 2, 1776. The letter concerned the inspection of ships at Deptford that enabled her to reach that conclusion. She said the letter had belonged to an autograph collector, who specialized in correspondence written by scientists.
Michael Spiekien gave a photo presentation on his visit by land and sea to the North Pacific, where he visited some of the sites that Cook and his men explored, of which some are still remote, bitterly cold and undeveloped: Nootka Sound (Vancouver Island), Prince William Sound (Alaska), Anchorage, Unalaska Island and Petropavlovsk. Spiekien also visited Barrow, at the top of Alaska (which Cook did not quite reach). Using modern engine power, his journey was considerably more comfortable than what Cook and his men endured. Spiekien said he enjoyed knowing he was standing and cruising in the places Cook had gone.
The centerpiece of the Stuttgart exhibition, which ended on May 13, was a group of items from the ethnological collection at Göttingen. They have particular importance because of their unquestioned and well-document association with Cook’s visit to Hawai`i. The objects were once owned by King George III, who subsequently transferred them to the University of Göttingen, a university he sponsored, according to Menter.
The Göttingen collection is seldom on display and is “always locked away,” Menter said, because “light is such a dangerous thing” for historic artifacts, particularly the feathered objects. And indeed, the colors in the tapa cloth were surprisingly vivid, and the feathers looked as bright as if they had been plucked from the birds yesterday.
Many Hawaiian antiquities ended up in German museums because of the craze for “curiosities” among German aristocrats in the 19th Century, Kaeppler explained. “These Germans were going all over the world, collecting everything”, she said.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 people attended the exhibition, Menter said. Visitors from Hawai`i were among the most enthusiastic attendees at the Stuttgart show because the items gathered by Cook and his men in Hawai`i are important to the state’s cultural heritage but are seldom available for viewing, and are almost never brought back to the Islands once they leave.
Kirstin Downey and Neil Averitt, Cook aficionados from Hawai`i, made the trip to Germany expressly for the show and the CCS conference.
A catalog, available through the museum, provides information about the exhibition.2 It is written in German but the illustrations permit people who were unable to attend to see the images for themselves.
The group ended the fabulous day in the German way—by jovially hoisting mugs of cold beer at a popular pub in downtown Stuttgart, and offering hearty thanks to conference organizers Andrea Siegling-Blohm and Anke Meissner.
- Menter, Ulrich, de Castro, Inés and Walda-Mandel, Stephanie. Hawai'i - Königliche Inseln im Pazifik: Eine Austellung des Linden-Museums Stuttgart vom 14 Oktober 2017 bis 13 Mai 2018. Sandstein. 2017.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 18, volume 41, number 3 (2018).