The Webber Kamchatka drawings

A group of six drawings by John Webber (1751-1793), 'draughtsman and landskip painter', the official artist on Cook's third and final voyage. The drawings had been exported in 1932 and remained in private ownership until we acquired them in 2007.

After Cook’s death in February 1779, the voyage continued to the original plan under Captain Charles Clerke, to probe for a passage starting on the Russian side.  Hence the ships’ first visit to Avacha Bay in Kamchatka, where they arrived in April 1779.

The visitors were not impressed by Kamchatka which was still in the grip of winter.  However contacts were made with the Russians at the village of Petropavlovsk (St. Peter & St. Paul). Webber, who spoke German, was much called upon to act as interpreter as this was the only medium of communication.  He was among the party which made the journey by dog sledge to visit the Russian Governor of Kamchatka, Major Behm, at Bolsheretsk, on the other side of the peninsula.  The man sketched was probably the driver of the sledge.

Webber was talented and worked hard, producing many drawings. The drawings here form an exceptional record of the indigenous inhabitants of Kamchatka during the first British contact with the region.  What is striking is the sympathy with which Webber portrayed the Kamchatkans as individuals, rather than treating them as specimens of another strange and exotic race.  The woman in the portrait shows a serene dignity.

Webber was also interested in recording the structure and layout of the houses.  This is the only known interior view of a summer dwelling, used during the months when the people were busily engaged in drying fish for their winter stock.  They were built on stilts and reached by ladder. Smoke from the fire escaped through a hole in the roof.