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Object: Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound

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Title Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound
Production Webber, John (artist), circa 1788, England
Medium summary oil on canvas
Materials oil paint, canvas
Classification paintings
Dimensions Sight: 584mm (Height) x 762mm (Width)
Frame: 774mm (Height) x 951mm (Width) x 100mm (Depth)
Credit line Purchased 1991 from the Bishop Suter Art Gallery, Nelson, with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds; gift of Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell to the Bishop Suter Art Gallery, 1931
Registration number 1991-0005-1

Ship Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound was an important staging post on Captain James Cook's voyages. When the Resolution and Discovery arrived in February 1777 it was Cook's fifth visit there. It was not a completely welcome prospect, however, as several members of the Adventure's crew had been killed by Maori at nearby Grass Cove on the second voyage. Initial interactions between the two peoples were cautious, with Maori expecting that utu or recompense would be sought for the deaths. No reprisal was issued, however, and the tensions soon abated. The sailors were able to cut timber, make astronomical observations, brew beer from what they called spruce (probably rimu) and engage in commerce with local iwi. While the crew had come prepared for this, they were surprised to find that prices had increased since their last visit: what used to cost a nail now had to be paid for with an adze.

Documenting all of this was John Webber, official artist for the third voyage. The Admiralty had instructed Cook that Webber's task was 'to make Drawings and Paintings of such places in the Countries you may touch at in the course of the said Voyage as may be proper to give a more perfect Idea thereof than can be formed by written descriptions only'.(1) The images produced by Sydney Parkinson and William Hodges on the previous voyages had already shown that the role of artist was vital to the public success of the expeditions. In his account of the fortnight spent at Ship Cove, Cook confirmed this, writing in his journal that 'Mr Webber has made a drawing of one of these Villages that will convey a better idea of them than any written description.(2) Painted following his return to London after a number of such sketches produced at the scene, Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound was probably exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1789, where it would have found an audience with a burgeoning appetite for images of exotic scenes and peoples.

William McAloon

This essay originally appeared in Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2009).

1. Admiralty to Cook, 24 June 1776, cited in JC Beaglehole (ed.), The journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of discovery, vol. III, part 2: The voyage of the Resolution and Discovery, 1776-1780, Hakluyt Society, London, 1967, p. 1507.

2. Cited in ibid., part 1, p. 61.

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