Wednesday, 25 July 2012

First voyage barkcloth

This post was written by Misa Tamura, our conservation intern from University College, London.

1886.1.1258 (left), 1886.1.1259 (right)

These two fragments of barkcloth were brought back from Cook’s first voyage to the South Pacific between 1769-1771. These pieces were provenanced to the Society Islands/Tahiti, where James Cook, naturalist Daniel Solander and astronomer Charles Green observed the Transit of Venus in 1769.

Tahitian barkcloth, or ‘ahu was typically made from the bark of the paper mulberry, and the breadfruit tree  as well as two types of Ficus. Barkcloth made from the paper mulberry, characterised by its soft, fine quality with white colour, was worn by people of high rank. According to the museum’s records it is possible that these fragments were obtained in Batavia, Java, Indonesia, during Cook's stopover there in late 1770.  The barkcloth was given to Oxford University in 1883 by Captain D.E.E Wolterbok Muller, of the Dutch Royal Navy Service, who had seen other Cook-voyage objects from Oxford at the 1883 International Exposition in Amsterdam.

Beater marks visible under magnification 1886.1.1258 (left), 1886.1.1259 (right)

The fragments appear to be previously stored folded, perhaps in a similar way the to pile of barkcloth in this image from Tahitian section of the exhibition 'From the Islands of the South Seas 1773–4' held at the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1970.

As a result, the objects now have creases along the folded areas. There were also folds along the edges, which were also a result of the previous storage.

After surface cleaning with a gentle vacuum and a soft brush followed by very gentle application of Smoke/Chem sponge, the creases and folds were humidified using a humidifier and Preservation Pencil at 40 degrees Celsius.

After the humidification treatment, the objects were re-housed into custom-made folders made of acid-free card.