Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Catalogue of Curiosities

The cover of the 'Catalogue of Curiosities'

The Cook-Voyage collections at the Pitt Rivers are from the first and second voyages.  The second voyage collection is the largest, and was donated by Reinhold and George Forster, father and son, who were the naturalists on board the Resolution.  The collection was given to Oxford in January 1776, and was accompanied by a document, the ‘Catalogue of Curiosities sent to Oxford’, which has been identified as being in George Forster’s hand. 
The catalogue divides the collection geographically, starting with Otaheitee (Tahiti) and the Mourner's costume.

The object numbers in the Catalogue correspond to labels attached to objects from the collection, although these have been lost in many cases. This is the Forster number on the Mourner's costume cloak, and the corresponding entry reads 'The feathered Coat, or Ahow-roope, consisting of strings in form of a Net, covered with bunches of feathers, and worn on the back.'

This documentary evidence is of vital importance in studying Cook-Voyage material.  Adrienne Kaeppler, a leading specialist in Oceanic ethnology, described the Catalogue and the Forster collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum as ‘the key to understanding all collections from the second voyage.’  
(Adrienne L. Kaeppler, ‘The Göttingen Collection in an International Context / Die Göttinger Sammlung im internationalen Kontext’, in Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin and Gundolf Kr&euuml;ger (eds.), James Cook: Gifts and Treasures from the South Seas—The Cook/Forster Collection, Göttingen / James Cook: Gaben und Schätze aus der Sudsee—Die Göttinger Sammlung Cook/Forster (Munich, 1998), p. 87)

You can read more about the Catalogue of Curiosities and see a digital version of the original manuscript here: