Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Cook-Voyage collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

I’m Jeremy Uden, a conservator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, and for the next two years I’ll be blogging here about my investigations into the museum’s Cook-Voyage collections.  

This two-year fellowship has been funded by the Clothworkers’ Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the Clothworkers’ Company (
Although the project began on the 3rd January, I’ve been conserving the Tahitian Mourner’s costume (1886.1.1637), collected on Cook’s second voyage in 1774, for over a year now. The costume will be displayed later in January in a temporary exhibition.  Each part will be mounted separately, so that all the components can be seen clearly, including the amazing feather cape.

The costume as displayed in 2010

Today I have been working on the bindings that wind around the headdress of the costume.  These are made from a core of finely plaited human hair, wound with barkcloth strips.  More plaited hair is wrapped around the barkcloth.  There is a section made up of three cords, which is over 12m long, and two much shorter pieces.

In this photo you can see the bindings, as they appeared when we took the costume apart in 2010.  The hair had become very brittle and was in poor condition. 

The bindings after conservation

I spent over 100 hours securing the hair to the barkcloth using very small amounts of adhesive.  This has made the bindings far easier to handle, and earlier today we were able to coil them up to form a turban, using the smaller length of cord as a tie at the front.  The Pitt Rivers has a second headdress from a Mourner’s costume, (1886.1.1637 .9) and the bindings on that one are tied in the same way.  The coils of the turban were tied together with silk thread, which allows us to lift it on and off of the headdress – necessary because the turban will be displayed separately in the current exhibition.