Thursday, 12 April 2012

A Catalogue of the Different Specimens of Cloth Collected in the Three Voyages of Captain Cook...

Alexander Shaw, an army agent in London, saw a way of profiting from the interest aroused by Cook's voyages of discovery, and from the 'Artificial Curiosities' brought back to England by the participants.  He obtained pieces of barkcloth brought back from the Pacific, and cut samples from them which he bound into books. These were produced in 1787.

1908.28.1 Alexander Shaw Barkcloth Catalogue

An introduction was complied, partly from Reinhold Forster's 'Observations Made During a Voyage Round the World', in which the manufacture of bark cloth was described.  Each sample is listed, together with a description of how it was used.  These descriptions are not necessarily accurate.

Sample no. 2 'From Otaheite.  This is used to spread below the chiefs while at dinner'

Sample no. 6 'From Otaheite, used for bedding'

Some of the samples were thought to have been obtained from the sale of the Duchess of Portland's Museum, which took place in 1786.  The Duchess had a huge and diverse collection of objects, the largest in England, housed at Bulstrode Hall in Buckinghamshire, and after her death it was parcelled into over 4000 lots and sold at auction.  The sale began on Monday the 24th April, and lasted for the following thirty seven days (excepting Sundays, and the 5th of June, the King's birthday). The sale of the 'Artificial Curiosities from America, China and the newly-discovered Islands in the South-Seas' took place on the 13th day of the sale, and amongst the lots possibly purchased by Alexander Shaw were those listed in the catalogue as:

Lot 1376  Three large and two small specimens of cloth, made from the bark of the cloth tree, some of them curiously stained in a variety of figures, from Otaheite, O-why-hee! and other South Sea Islands

Lot 1377  Two large pieces of fine bark cloth, from the Society Isles

Lot 1378  Various specimens of the inner bark of the Lagetto tree (similar to the bark of the cloth tree of the South Sea Islands)…'

Sample no. 39 in many of the books is of Jamaican lacebark (Lagetta lagetto) and the description of lot 1378 explains why this material was added to the volume.

Sample no.39  'A fine specimen of the lace-bark, from Jamaica, bought at the Duchess of Portland's sale'

There are thought to be around 40 copies of this book in existence today.  Although the text in each is similar, the samples in each are different.  The Pitt Rivers volume, in addition to the 39 listed samples, has an extra seventeen pieces of barkcloth bound into the back.  A large number of the bark cloth pieces included are from Hawaii, and because of the date, it is very likely that these are from Cook's third voyage (1776-1779).
(See Kaeppler, A.L. '"Artificial Curiosities" An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook, R.N.' Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication 65, Bishop Museum Press, 1978)