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Captain Samuel Wallis and the DOLPHIN attacked by Otahitians

Date: c 1800
Dimensions:
Overall: 1840 x 2192 mm, 17.1 kg
Medium: Casein and paint on canvas attached to a wooden framework.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Art
Object Name: Painting
Object No: 00006125
Related Place:Taïti,

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    Description
    The painting on this folding screen was copied from an engraving in John Hawkesworth's 1773 book of Pacific discoveries. It is inscribed - Captain Wallis attacked in the DOLPHIN by the Otahitians. In June 1767 the British exploration ship DOLPHIN anchored at Tahiti for five weeks and on returning to England the crew's descriptions and images depicting Tahiti as a Pacific Eden captured popular imagination in Europe. Wallis is credited as the first European to discover Tahiti, and a result of his glowing descriptions, the Royal Society selected it as a suitable place to observe the transit of Venus in 1769.
    SignificanceThis four-leaved painted folding screen may have been used in a travelling display. It is a rare example of one of the varied means of communicating Pacific voyage images to broad public audiences in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It is part of what was a wide currency of popular reproductions of Pacific voyages of exploration and, for Europeans, exotic Pacific island cultures.


    HistoryDuring the late 18th century the British Admiralty organised a number of expeditions to navigate and explore the Pacific. In 1766 Captain Samuel Wallis (1728-1795) was given command of HMS DOLPHIN on a voyage to search for unknown lands and islands in the southern hemisphere.

    The DOLPHIN sailed in company with the HMS SWALLOW under Philip Carteret, but the two ships became separated after passing through the Straits of Magellan, at the southern extreme of South America. Wallis headed the DOLPHIN northwest across the Pacific Ocean.

    In June 1767, the crew saw a cloud covered mountain on the horizon and initially thought they had discovered a great southern continent. On the 24 June the DOLPHIN anchored in Matavai Bay, Tahiti, with Wallis naming it King George Island.

    The Tahitians launched an assault on the DOLPHIN, throwing stones from their canoes. The DOLPHIN's crew were suffering severely from scurvy and Captain Wallis was keen to gain fresh provisions. He responded to the Tahitian attack with musketry and cannon fire, forcing them to recommence trading with the Europeans.

    The DOLPHIN expedition did not find the supposed Great South Land, but it was the first European ship to encounter the Tahitian islands. Wallis's reports led to later voyages including Cook's 1769 ENDEAVOUR expedition where Tahiti was chosen as a site to view the Transit of Venus across the sun.

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