The annual meeting of German speaking CCS members took place in February 2011 in Bern, Switzerland on the occasion of the last day of the Exhibition “James Cook and the Exploration of the Pacific”.1
Helene Nymphius and Anke Oberlies met on the evening of Saturday, February 12 and enjoyed an excellent dinner at the Klötzlikeller, with time to talk and exchange the latest news.
The next morning at 10:00 when the doors of the Historic Museum were opened we met Michael Spiekien and his wife Teija. Together we waited for Thomas Psota, curator of the museum, who was kind enough to come to the museum that day to show us around and answer our questions. He was very friendly and freely gave us the information we wanted to know, from the average time a visitor spends at the museum to the insurance value of the exhibition material.
The exhibition this time was based around Cook’s voyages with some focal points, such as the botanists and naturalists, sexuality, religion, life in Endeavour, Omai and, of course John Webber.
The great eye catchers were once again the wonderful red-feathered cloaks from Hawaii, the head of war god Ku and the big Hodges paintings.
There were also three little “cinemas” showing short, well produced videos displaying each of Cook’s voyages. I understand they may be available on DVD someday.
I especially enjoyed an original book of the Webber engravings (displayed behind glass, of course), with all of its pictures also shown in a presentation on a screen.
In 1791, shortly before his death, Webber bequeathed about 100 objects of his collection to the city of Bern, some of which were shown here. Among them was a small and fragile figure from North America that had not been shown publically before. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures of it.
In Bonn2 I specifically liked the very modern and spacious way of laying out the display so people could follow Cook’s tracks on the exhibition floor. The comprehensiveness of the items displayed was breath-taking, almost overwhelming, to see – in a positive way for me. As a mother I appreciated how the exhibitors had catered for children by giving them their own area within the exhibition containing books about Cook and, even, inflatable globes showing the ships’ tracks. And there were books for adults to read, too. I got some good ideas for adding to my own collection. Unfortunately, my mind was so occupied with organizing the CCS meeting that day that I did not have the opportunity to read and appreciate all the exhibits and their captions. I just let the sight of the artefacts and the paintings and the original Cook Journal sink in.
In Vienna3 everything was designed in a very classical way in historic halls where you could still feel the presence of the Austrian emperor and empress walking and gazing at curiosities from the antipodes. I had my little daughter with me so spent much of the time watching to see if she might fall out of her pram and become too noisy. So once again there was more looking than reading for me. The exhibition had a bit of everything. My favourite item displayed was one of the brass clubs Banks had had made from a Maori original to give away on his Second Voyage to the South Seas. Of course he didn’t go, so he gave some of them to Charles Clerke to take on the Third Voyage as barter objects. I am intrigued to know what happened to the clubs since then. Of the 40 clubs that Banks had made, the whereabouts of only six are known.
Now in Bern I could really enjoy the exhibition to the full. We spent six hours inside, and I had time to read all captions! However, looking in detail meant I kept finding mistakes. For example, Cook did not give the Cook Islands his name; it was Adam Johann von Krusenstern years later. The Endeavour model had the wrong flag. The portrait of Elizabeth Cook was captioned “an English lady” and insensitively shown opposite a portrait of a young South Sea woman in the section on sexuality. However, such errors will probably strike only aficionados like us.
The exhibition was packed with people who will neither notice nor bother. It was very well received in Bern as well as by us. Thomas Psota and his team did a great job in presenting the subject to a broad public of all age-groups.
In a way, it is sad that most of the objects displayed here will return to the private collectors, or the store rooms of the public museums, and be out of sight again.
I was told that no one in London or Sydney was interested in hosting this exhibition. There has been some interest by people in Perth but no decision yet.
Being able to see the exhibition at all of the three places it was shown was a great joy and privilege.
To all of who could not come to Bern, you definitely missed out on a great opportunity.
For the future we still have the Göttingen Collection.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 27, volume 34, number 3 (2011).
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