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Recent Acquisitions

John Webber, A Man of Krakatoa Pencil on paper, 1780

Acquired in 2022, this sketch by official artist, John Webber, is most likely to be an ‘on the spot’ sketch of a figure that Webber might include in a more finished watercolour later. The figure’s posture, the swiftly drawn lines and the forward leaning stance are particularly characteristic of sketched figures in Webber’s work. This was part of his normal working practice.

Webber was the first professional European artist to visit this area and make first-hand drawings of the coasts of south China, Indochina and Indonesia, significantly earlier than artists such as William Alexander or George Chinnery. Webber’s drawings of Krakatoa therefore provide a unique record of the island at that period.

Acquired with the help of ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund


William Ellis, A view of Discovery Island [Mangianooa]

Pen, pencil and wash on paper

William Ellis (1751-1784) was a crew member as Surgeon’s second mate on Captain Cook’s third voyages. He was a gifted amateur artist.

This previously unknown watercolour is a ‘running coastal profile’, in other words, a sketch taken of a coastline while the ship was passing to complement any chart and help later mariners recognise the main features of that particular shoreline. Coastal profiles were often included in published versions of charts.

While interest often centres on the more exotic locations, the business of the voyage was above all charting unknown places in a vast ocean. This picture is an example of the results of the workaday business of the ship and crew, in which others besides the cartographers and officially appointed artist might be involved.

Acquired March 2020 with the help of the Normanby Trust, The Art Fund and ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund


Imprest document, issued by Captain Cook, June 1777

This document is a receipt for a bill of exchange issued by Cook payable to Abraham Chiron at the Cape of Good Hope for supplies taken on board Resolution. Chiron was an important business figure in Cape Town at that time. The document is signed off by officials of the Victualling Office in London, including Jonas Hanway, the founder of the Marine Society (1756) which took destitute boys and gave them rudimentary training for the Royal Navy and merchant marine.

The ‘imprest’ accounting system refers to the sum set aside to cover expenses, which would then be topped up once depleted. Trusted captains such as Cook could therefore negotiate for supplies with the confidence that the debt incurred would be redeemed. Such documents are rare and only two others survive from those that Cook issued at the Cape on this voyage.

Acquired 2021 with the help of The Friends of National Libraries and ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund


John Webber, The Island of Pulo Condore. Pen and grey ink and watercolour over pencil

Pulo Condore, now known as Con Son, lies off the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. It is typical of Webber's depiction of tropical scenes which delighted 18th century viewers. It was also engraved and included in Webber’s posthumously published Views in the South Seas, 1809.

The painting depicts a moment in January 1780 when the two ships stopped at Pulo Condore to refresh their supplies. This allowed them to sail through the Strait of Sunda, pausing only briefly at Krakatoa, and avoiding the fever-ridden port of Batavia (modern Jakarta) before heading homewards across the Indian Ocean.

Webber accompanied Captain King on an excursion across the island, past 'cultivated spots of rice and tobacco, and groves of cabbage-palm trees, and cocoa-nut trees. We here spied two huts, situated on the edge of the wood'. At one point the visitors were threatened by buffaloes, which were pacified by boys who put a rope through their nostrils, as appears in the painting. The voyagers also bought some eight buffaloes as supplies for the ships' crews.

Acquired with the help of The Art Fund, ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Normanby Trust and a private donor


William Hodges, 'Matavai Bay Otaheite', 1774

William Hodges, the 'draughtsman' or official artist on the Second Voyage, had a crucial role - to record the places and peoples seen for later publication. He was the first professional European artist to visit Tahiti and made several major paintings of Matavai Bay.

This previously unknown painting, uniquely, shows Matavai Bay looking westwards towards the island of Moorea, faintly depicted on the horizon. It completes our knowledge of that part of the island at the time, and has all the hallmarks of Hodges careful descriptive work which later fed into his atmospheric oil paintings.

Acquired with the assistance of the Art Fund, Normanby Charitable Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Sir George Martin Trust, Pilgrim Trust and individual donors.


Thomas Gosse, Transplanting of the Bread Fruit Trees from Otaheite, 1796

Hand coloured mezzotint

This rare print was created by the artist to celebrate Captain Bligh’s return from his second voyage in 1791-93 which successfully took breadfruit from Tahiti for transplantation in the West Indies. This was part of Joseph Banks’ project to encourage cultivation of ‘useful crops’ in different parts of the British Empire.

No doubt the artist hoped to benefit from the publicity surrounding Bligh after the mutiny on his earlier voyage. Bligh is shown overseeing the operation with the Tahitian King Tu (or Otoo). King Tu had known Cook well and had become his taio or ceremonial friend. His dress seems more to resemble the Oriental style used in portraits of Mai, rather than what Tahitians actually wore.

Acquired with the help of The Art Fund

We show here only a selection of acquisitions. If you are interested in our collection, please contact

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