This is a wax portrait medallion of Captain James Cook in high relief and hand painted. Souvenirs including medallions were popular with 19th century society, keen to recognise the achievements of Captain Cook and his exploration of Australia's east coast in 1770. Cook's death in Hawaii in 1779 produced in an out-pouring of grief in Britain and Cook memorabilia became 'hot property' for collectors.
SignificanceCaptain Cook is one of the most celebrated figures in maritime history and his tragic death resulted in the production of many prints, paintings, books and souvenirs. This wax medallion from the Victorian era represents Cook's continuing appeal and the manufacture of commemorative medallions, initially in silver and later from cheaper materials such as wax.
HistoryWax portrait medallions were popular in the 19th century due to their relatively cheap production cost and ability to be printed multiple times from a mould. In a period prior to photography, portraiture was an attractive way of capturing a person’s likeness. Artists mainly received commissions for family members but popular celebrities such as Captain Cook always appealed to a broader audience.
Captain James Cook was born at Marton, North Yorkshire on 27 October 1728. He gained his skills in seamanship at Whitby while undertaking an apprenticeship with John Walker, a coal shipper. In 1755 Cook joined the Royal Navy and was made master's mate on HMS EAGLE. Soon after he was promoted to Master of the PEMBROKE and conducted survey work on the St Lawrence River in Quebec, and the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
In 1768 the Admiralty chose Cook to command HMB ENDEAVOUR in their first expedition to the Pacific to view the transit of Venus and locate the Great South Land. Cook commanded two more voyages to the Pacific for the Admiralty, in command of RESOLUTION and ADVENTURE with the hope of finding the elusive Great South Land and then in command of RESOLUTION and DISCOVERY to locate the Northwest Passage. It was during his third voyage that Cook visited Hawaii, then called the Sandwich Islands and was killed on 14 February 1779 in an altercation with the local Hawaiians.