The South Seas

On the first voyage, Joseph Banks brought with him two artists, Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan, to record respectively plants and landscapes. Buchan died at Tahiti, throwing the whole burden of recording on Parkinson, who himself died on the homeward journey. Many of Parkinson's superb drawings of plants survive, and were published by Alecto Prints in the 20th century.


William Hodges on the Second Voyage, and John Webber on the Third, were artists appointed by the Admiralty, and therefore answered directly to Cook. They worked hard, and many of their paintings and drawings were reproduced as prints for the official accounts of the voyages.


Between them, the artists produced an unrivalled account of peoples, places, ceremonies, canoes, the material culture and natural history of the South Seas. Their work was influenced by European artistic conventions, and perhaps by public expectations of lush tropical scenes and apparently carefree lives. But without their careful detailing and depiction we would know much less about the peoples of the Pacific at the time when no or few Europeans had ever been there.