Curiosities from the Endeavour: A forgotten collection - Pacific Artefacts Given by Joseph Banks to Christ Church, Oxford after the First Voyage.
Captain Cook Memorial Museum.
One of the pictures I have always liked is the portrait of Joseph Banks Benjamin West, painted when Banks would have been about 34. It is the frontispiece to this catalogue, and there is a close-up of Banks from it on the front cover. The catalogue was published to accompany the exhibition of the artefacts at the museum from 6 March to 31 October 2004 (though the catalogue incorrectly says to 30 November).
Jeremy Coote is curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, and so well placed to write about the collection. Amazingly, the museum didn’t know they had the collection until 2002! [See Cook’s Log, page 4, vol. 27, no. 2 (2004).] This collection is particularly important, as there is only one other documented first-voyage collection, held at the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. It was given by the Earl of Sandwich to Trinity College in 1771. The book starts by explaining a brief history of the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the background to their collection (and its importance). Research into the collection is ongoing, so a full account and history of it will be some time in coming. Coote then goes on to discuss Joseph Banks, the Voyage and the Christ church connection, and what is known so far of the collection.
The rest of the book is given over to describing the collection itself. The exhibition is presented in four main sections: ‘Polynesian Dress’, ‘Maori Belts’, ‘Maori Hand Weapons’, ‘Tools and Instruments of the Society Islands’, and ‘Maritime Polynesia’. This is reflected in the book. The biggest attraction for me is the fact that it is so well illustrated. Often I find with catalogues of exhibitions they are just a written list. With Coote’s descriptions and the magnificently produced photos, the fact that I have not been to see the exhibition does not seem to matter so much.
I found this book well written and easy to read. Although a catalogue will never make up for not seeing an exhibition first hand, I feel this goes someway of giving me the impression of what is on display.
I look forward to hearing more about Coote’s research.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 27, volume 27, number 4 (2004).