Exciting news! The museum announced today that it has acquired three amazing historical treasures from James Cook’s second Pacific voyage.
The three artefacts – two carved wooden clubs and a rounded hand club made of whalebone – were collected from Polynesian communities during Cook’s 1772-1775 exploration of the Pacific, giving them a direct link to the great explorer.
They are also significant because of their association with the Polynesian Omai who joined the expedition and became the first Pacific Islander to be taken to England.
There were two ships travelling together on the voyage – HMS Resolution (commanded by Cook) and HMS Adventure (commanded by Tobias Furneaux). Omai joined Furneaux on the Adventure and they became close friends.
He accompanied Cook and Furneaux when they landed at Tangatapu (Tonga) in October 1773 and was there when the two wooden clubs were gifted by the islanders to the commanders.
In December of that year, Furneaux received the whalebone hand club when the expedition visited Queens Charlotte Sound in New Zealand.
On arriving back in England at the end of the expedition, Furneaux took Omai to his home at Swilly, near Plymouth, to meet his family. He also took great pleasure in bringing home with him his South Seas treasures. The three clubs, now widely known as the Omai relics, remained in the Furneaux family collection until 1986 when they were sold.
The museum purchased the clubs from a private vendor for $622,750 with funding assistance from the Australian Government’s National Cultural Heritage Account of $100,000.
But what makes these objects particularly significant is their unquestionable provenance. It is extremely rare for objects dating back to this era to remain in private ownership.
We’re delighted these objects are now part of the National Maritime Collection, adding to our existing collections relating to Cook and the European exploration of the Pacific. They will be going on display in the museum in time for the Christmas holiday season.
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