WEBBER, John (1751-1793) Views in the South Seas, from Drawings by the late James Webber, Draftsman on Board the Resolution, Captain James Cooke [sic], From the Year 1776 to 1780. London: Boydell & Co., 1808 [but 1820]. Collection of sixteen hand-colored aquatint plates printed on paper watermarked 1819-1820 (21 x 16 1/4 in.), handsomely framed with accompanying descriptive text.
The best British color plate book devoted to the Pacific, and the only color-plate production relating to Cook’s third and fatal voyage to the Pacific from 1776 to 1780. The expedition consisted of two ships, the HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, and 182 men whom the British Admiralty had charged with searching for a Northwest Passage from the western coast of North America.
The crew sailed to Cape Town, Kerguelen Island in the southern Indian Ocean, Adventure Bay in Van Diemen’s Land, and Queen Charlotte Sound in New Zealand. They then revisited the Friendly and Society Islands. Sailing northwards, Cook discovered the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and reached the North American coast in March 1778. The ships followed the coast northwards to Alaska and the Bering Strait and reached 70°44’N, before being driven back by ice. They returned to the Sandwich Islands and on 14 February 1779 Cook was killed by Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay. Clerke took over the command and in the summer of 1779 the expedition again tried unsuccessfully to penetrate the pack ice beyond Bering Strait. Clerke died in August 1779 and John Gore and James King commanded the ships on the voyage home via Macao and Cape Town. They reached London in October 1780.
Webber was on board with Cook on two voyages and is responsible for most of the engraved images in the atlas which accompanies the narrative of the third voyage. In the present independent production, the artist produces “one of the finest visual statements of the South Seas as a romantic Eden” (Hordern House). Webber was more fully trained than any of the artists of the previous voyages, and he and Cook worked closely together to illuminate "the unavoidable imperfections of written accounts, by enabling us to preserve, and to bring home, such drawings of the most memorable scenes of our transactions, as could only be expected by a professed and skilled artist." (J. Cook & J. King, Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, London 1784, Vol I, p.5). Because he was there with Cook in the field, his paintings "constituted a new visual source for the study of history." (Smith, Bernard, Art as Information. Sydney, 1978). The lovely views, arranged chronologically (with one exception), include five of Tahiti, two each of Kamchatka and Macao, one of New Zealand, one of Tonga, and the remainder of tropical vegetation. It is the perfect complement to the more formal presentation of the official voyages.
This work has an odd publication history. On his return Webber was appointed by the Admiralty to supervise the production of engravings that were made from his originals to illustrate the official account of 1784, these 12 plates were first published separately by Webber between August 1788 and August 1792, and Boydell first reissued the plates in their present form, with an additional four plates and with descriptive text in 1808, fifteen years after Webber's death. Copies with varying watermark dates are known, but Abbey does not distinguish them as separate editions, nor do other bibliographers: "The title page is dated 1808 in all copies, but the plate imprints are dated April, 1809, and the water mark dates vary widely copy by copy, apparently a feature peculiar to Boydell's color plate books" (Hill). Most copies, as in the present one, have paper with 1819-20 watermarks, suggesting that the bulk of the edition was actually issued then.
The plates are as follows:
1. View in Queen Charlotte's Sound, New Zealand
2. Boats of the Friendly Islands
3. A Sailing Canoe of Otaheite
4. The Plantain Tree, in the Island of Cracatoa
5. A View of Oheitepeha Bay, in the Island of Otaheite
6. Waheiadooa, Chief of Oheitepeha, Lying in State
7. View of the Harbour of Taloo, in the Island of Eimeo
8. A Toopapaoo of a Chief with a Priest making his offering to the Morai, in Huahine
9. The Resolution beating through the Ice, with the Discovery in the most eminent danger in the distance
10. The Narta or Sledg for burdens in Kamtchatka
11. Balagans or Summer Habitation, with the method of drying fish at St. Peter and Paul, Kamtchatka
12. View in Macao, including the residence of Camoens, where he wrote his Lusiad
13. View in Macao
14. A View in the Island of Pulo Condore
15. View in the Island of Cracatoa
16. The Fan Palm in the Island of Cracatoa
Plate I. View in Queen Charlotte's Sound, New Zealand
This is the only view of New Zealand included in Webber’s “Views in the South Seas,” although Captain Cook sheltered in Queen Charlotte Sound at various points during each of his three voyages of exploration. Having set off in July 1776, Cook and his crew sailed via the Canary Islands, Cape Town, and across the South Indian Ocean, then sailed east and arrived at Van Diemen’s Land/Tasmania in January 1777 and Queen Charlotte’s Sound, New Zealand in February. At first the Maori were wary, expecting Cook to take revenge for the killing of members of the Adventure’s crew in 1773, but instead Cook befriended the leader of the attack. The ships stayed for nearly two weeks in New Zealand, restocking with wild celery and scurvy grass and trading with the local Maori who set up a small village in Ship Cove. In Webber’s view, the Maoris in the foreground have a regal bearing and some tattooing on their faces. Two of their boats are quite close to shore and some men carry caught fish to be consumed. Cook’s two ships, HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, are seen moored in the distance.
Plate II. Boats of the Friendly Islands
In this scene, two early Fijian twin hulled boats with Tongan sailors are vividly depicted off a palm-fringed shore. A smaller boat being rowed by three men and two more sailing boats are seen in the distance, suggesting the bustling activity among the choppy waters. Tonga became known in the West as the Friendly Islands because of the congenial reception accorded to Captain James Cook on his first visit in 1773. On the third voyage the expedition reached the Friendly Islands (Tonga) by May and spent two and a half months (until July 17) among them.
Plate III. A Sailing Canoe of Otaheite
From the Friendly Islands Cook’s expedition moved onto the Society Islands, part of French Polynesia, where they lingered from August to December. This close-up view of an early Tahitian sailboat distinctly differs from the Fijian boats illustrated in the companion print. Here the sail is a vertical oblong shape, tightly lashed to masts on two sides and perpendicular platforms allowing closer access to the water. When the explorer Samuel Wallis arrived in Tahiti in 1767 he recorded the name as “Otaheite”; linguists later realized that the “O” was in fact an article in the Tahitian language and thus not to be considered part of the name.
Plate IV. The Plantain Tree, in the Island of Cracatoa
This view of Krakatoa is remarkable for its depiction of the lush vegetation on the Indonesian island. It was actually done towards the end of the voyage, when Webber’s choice of subject matter seemed to shift: "More than ever now Webber recorded the botanical production of the tropics, depicting many markedly different plants in the same view. This new bent may be noted in "The Plantain Tree"... and "A Fan Palm"… Both drawings are remarkable for the density and plastic handling of the organic forms. These slices of exuberant nature differ from all of Webber's previous work.” (Joppein & Smith, "The Art of Captain Cook's Voyages," Yale UP, 1998, vol. 3 text, p150-1).
Plate V. A View of Oheitepeha, in the Island of Otaheite
This view is of Vaitepiha Bay in Tahiti. The terrain was described as high and mountainous and covered with trees and shrubs. Jagged peaks of mountains rise up in the distance of a majestic landscape, and a small canoe sits on a placid river. To the right are Tahitian houses and a Tahitian couple is pictured in the left foreground. A banana palm and coconut trees, along with other native trees can be seen.
Plate VI. Waheiadooa, Chief of Oheitepeha, lying in State
This arresting image is of the Tahitian chief Waheiadooa (Vehiatua) lying in state. Cook recorded in August 1777 that his curiosity had taken him to view what his fellow officers had described as a "Roman Catholic Chapel," but which he discovered was actually a Tupapau in which the remains of Vehiatua were laid; the body, Cook was told, had been there for some twenty months. The structure, beautifully realized in Webber's view, resembled a small neat house decorated with colored cloth and mats, including a large piece of scarlet broad cloth which had been given to the Tahitians by Spanish missionaries.
Plate VII. View of the Harbour of Taloo, in the Island of Eimeo
Although Cook had already visited Tahiti twice on his second voyage, this was the first time he would spend time at the neighboring island of Mo’orea (formerly Eimeo). This view of the island’s Taloo Harbor (Opunohu Bay) includes several small vessels and canoes on a lake, surrounded by steep, craggy mountains covered with trees. Three of Cook’s crewmembers can be seen on the shore in the left foreground, where boats are being put in, and the HMS Resolution and Discovery are also included at anchor.
Plate VIII. A Toopapaoo of a Chief with a Priest making his offering to the Morai, in Huahine
This view is of a chief's raised burial chamber in Huahine, part of the Society Islands. It was in Huahine four years earlier that Omai, a young Ra’iatean man had embarked on Cook’s Adventure and travelled to Europe, arriving in London in October 1774. Having been introduced into society by the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, Omai became a favorite curiosity in the city. The motivation for the third voyage, as advertised to the general public, was Omai’s return to Tahiti, and the expedition left in Huahine before setting sale for Bora-Bora in early December. A few weeks later, Cook became the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands, naming the archipelago “Sandwich Islands” after the fourth Earl of Sandwich, the acting First Lord of the Admiralty.
Plate IX. The Resolution beating through the Ice, with the Discovery in the most eminent danger in the distance
Going northward, Cook explored the coast of California, Oregon, and Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, from which he would map and explore the coast all the way to the Bering Strait, on the way identifying what came to be known as Cook Inlet in Alaska. The Bering Strait proved impassable: in this incredible view of the HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, the latter is seen nearly trapped in the Arctic ice. Trying to clear ice fields off Alaska, the Resolution, upon which Webber had sailed, finally succeeded in getting clear, although the Discovery was nearly trapped and in great danger in the summer of 1778. As recorded in the official account, “To add to the gloomy apprehensions which began to force themselves on us, at half past four in the afternoon, the weather becoming thick and hazy, we lost sight of the Discovery; but, that we might be in a situation to afford her every assistance in our power, we kept standing on close by the edge of the ice” (Vol. III, pp. 257-258).
Plate X. The Narta or Sledg for burdens in Kamtchatka
With the ice preventing them from sailing either east or west, the vessels returned to the Pacific and called briefly at the Aleutians before retiring towards Hawaii for the winter. After a time during which Cook, and his crew were feted, the atmosphere changed and Cook moved away from the island to continue his quest of discovery. He soon suffered damage to his ship and had to turn back. On his return, conflict arose which resulted in Cook's death and command of the expedition was assumed by Charles Clerke. Sailing north, they landed on the Kamchatka peninsula on the east coast of Russia where the local people helped the crew with supplies and ship repairs.
Plate XI. Balagans or Summer Habitation, with the method of drying fish at St. Peter and Paul, Kamtchatka
This plate depicts native inhabitants of Kamchatka and their method of drying fish during summer season. The city of Kamchatka is considered to be founded by Danish navigator Vitus Bering in the service of the Russian Navy, although the foundation was laid by navigator Ivan Yelagin a few months earlier. Bering reached Avacha Bay in late 1740 and as superior, named the new settlement "Petropavlovsk" (Peter and Paul) after his two ships, the St. Peter and the St. Paul, built in Okhotsk for his second expedition. The town's location on the sheltered Avacha Bay and at the mouth of the Avacha River saw it develop to become the most important settlement in Kamchatka, and was certainly an important area for the crew during the summer months. After a final attempt to pass beyond the Bering Strait, it was near the Kamchatkan coast that Clerke succumbed to his tuberculosis and died on August 22nd 1779.
Plate XII. View in Macao, including the residence of Camoens, where he wrote his Lusiad
After Clerke’s death the Resolution and Discovery turned for home commanded by John Gore, a veteran of Cook's first voyage (and now in command of the expedition), and James King. All the officers consulted and agreed to return via the little-known eastern Asian coast and Japan, visit Canton (China) for supplies, avoid Batavia, and then proceed directly to the Cape of Good Hope and home. While they ultimately missed Japan because of gales, they did reach the Portuguese colony of Macao, in China, where they landed the first week of December, 1779. Webber’s subject matter in this view is entirely apt: the Portuguese epic poem Os Lusíadas (first printed in 1572) was written by Luís Vaz de Camões in Homeric fashion and focuses mainly on a fantastical interpretation of the Portuguese voyages of discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Plate XIII. View in Macao
Cook's ships were the first Western contact with the natives of Nootka Sound and the furs they traded with them were sold at a vast profit in Macao. Soon American and English ships were making annual trips to the Northwest Coast in search of "Sea Beaver" pelts. Of Webber’s sixteen views, two are of Macao, indicating something of its significance in the East.
Plate XIV. A View in the Island of Pulo Condore
From Macao the expedition continued onto the Vietnamese island of Pulo Condore. This early view of Vietnam shows a tranquil scene of open fields leading to water, with a boy leading an ox by a string through his nose, with several other oxen in the background. The encounter with the natives and the oxen is described as anything but tranquil in Cook's Voyage. A much larger group of oxen threatened Webber and his compatriots, and the situation was brought under control by these boys, "ox whisperers" if you will, who were able to quiet them. (Joppien & Smith) A dwelling with several inhabitants sits at the foot of a lush tropical mountainside.
Plate XV. View in the Island of Cracatoa
In February 1780 the crews of HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, on the way home after Cook's death in Hawai’i, stopped for a few days on Krakatoa where they found two springs, one fresh water and the other hot. Indeed, Krakatoa, or Krakatau, is a volcanic island situated in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra in the Indonesian province of Lampung. The name is also used for the surrounding island group comprising the remnants of a much larger island of three volcanic peaks which was obliterated in a cataclysmic series of massive explosions over August 26–27, 1883. This was among the most violent volcanic events in recorded history, unleashing huge tsunamis (killing more than 36,000 people) and destroying over two-thirds of the island. The most recent eruption prior to Webber’s visit, however, had been in 1680, such that upon their arrival crew members found a friendly place whose vegetation was dense and lush.
Plate XVI. The Fan Palm in the Island of Cracatoa
In "A Fan Palm" Webber heralds a new approach to landscape, closing the background and renouncing open vistas to present the viewer with a close-up of a kaleidoscopic array of stems, leaves, and branches. While he includes a young native woman, this seems almost to serve as merely pictorial embellishment or to stress the grand scale of the lush surroundings. In January 1780 the expeditions left for home, crossing the Indian Ocean, calling at Cape Town (April-May) and arriving back in Stromness, Orkney, in August but not returning to London until October 1780.
Provenance: The Estate of David Spinney; Skinner’s October 30, 2016 Lot 404.
ABBEY 595. BEDDIE 1872. DAVIDSON, p. 67. HILL 1837. HOLMES 79. DU RIETZ 1341. JOPPIEN & SMITH III, p. 192. TOOLEY 501. HILL, p. 611. MITCHELL LIBRARY “COOK” 1872. HOLMES 79. FORBES HAWAII 140.