Le mûrier et l'épée: le Cabinet de Charles Daniel de Meuron et l'origine du Musée d'ethnographie à Neuchâtel.
[The mulberry tree and the sword: the Cabinet of Charles Daniel de Meuron and the origin of the Ethnographic Museum in Neuchâtel.]
Musée d'ethnographie, Neuchâtel.
ISBN 2 88078 025 X.
The ethnographic items brought back on Cook's voyages by the officers, crew and supernumeraries were kept by some and sold by others. Some became part of museums (such as the famous Leverian Museum) and others were lost. In almost all cases, they were poorly documented and became mixed up with other artifacts brought back by other voyagers to the Pacific, including those of whalers and fur traders.
Roland Kaehr has researched the collections at the Ethnographic Museum in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland and believes that some of them may well be from the Cook voyages. Adrienne Kaeppler, the great expert in such matters, wrote to him on 24th February, 1990:
How exciting that you have found what appears to be another Cook voyage collection!
It is not known how Colonel Charles Daniel de Meuron (1738-1806) collected the many items that formed his "Cabinet of Curiosities", but he gave them to the town of Neuchâtel in 1795.
The title of the book was inspired by Meuron's coat-of-arms, which includes a mulberry tree and a sword. The first part of the book deals with the history of the collection. The second is an inventory of the collection, with an illustrated description (some in colour) of each item with supporting evidence of the items' possible origins together with notes on similar examples in other museums.
The whole book is the result of a huge amount of research undertaken by Kaehr "from London to Leningrad for the purposes of comparison" to enable him to verify the authenticity of these wonderful pieces. He warns of the dangers of yielding "to the passion for the celebrated captain, which causes many false attributions" but for many items "Cook affiliation appears nevertheless highly probable, which allows us to add the Neuchatel items to the roughly 2000 known specimens of the three voyages". He found "the geographic origin of the whole of this series of artifacts corresponds in a surprising way to the various key points of Cook's third voyage (1776-1780): New-Zealand, Tonga, Tahiti, Hawaiian Islands, North West coast of America, and Alaska. There are some analogies with the material brought back by the painter and draughtsman John Webber and given to the Library of Bern between 1787 and 1791".
One basket appears in the collection as item 28. The description includes: "The braiding, in particular on the base, and the decoration is characteristic of those from North West America. Possibly collected during Cook's Voyage in the summer of 1778. The extremely tight braiding made it possible for it to hold water, which could be heated by plunging in very hot stones."
I found both skimming through the book looking at the beautiful pictures and later studying the descriptions of the items and the research quite exciting as the Cook connections are so many and so compelling. An index to the people and places mentioned would have improved the book greatly. However, the bibliography is one of the most extensive (30 pages) ever published.
The original text is in French and I am responsible for all translations, good and bad.
The website is at http://www.ne.ch/neuchatel/men/
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 15, volume 26, number 4 (2003).