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Gift of the Lords of the Admiralty, 1771

AOA Oc 1771,0531.1


    Nukutavake, Tuamotu Islands, Pacific
    Mid-18th century AD

    This canoe is one of the earliest documented surviving artefacts to have been brought to Europe from the islands of the eastern Pacific Ocean. It was the first object from the region to be acquired by the British Museum.

    No account has been given of its collection, but it was acquired at Nukutavake in the Tuamotu Islands archipelago in June 1767 by Captain Samuel Wallis during the voyage of HMS Dolphin. Wallis and his crew preceded Captain James Cook whose first eastern Pacific voyage was in 1768.

    The Tuamotus are low-lying islands with few forests, or trees large enough for a hull to be crafted from a single trunk. Instead the hull is composed of forty-five wood sections bound together with continuous lengths of plaited coir, a coarse fibre made from the seed of the coconut palm. It probably had an outrigger (a parallel hull) to balance it in the waves.

    A single plank seat survives to suggest the manner of its use and on the upper edge of the left side there are burn marks made by fishing lines.

    Polynesian islanders were immensely skilled boat builders and equally accomplished navigators. They travelled great distances across the Pacific Ocean in sailing canoes, navigating by reading wave patterns, the stars and cloud formations.

    Wallis brought this particular example back to England lashed to the deck of HMS Dolphin. Given this treatment it is in remarkably good condition.

    Dr S. Hooper, Pacific Encounters: Art and Di (London, The British Museum Press, 2006)

    P. Snow and S. Waine, The People from the Horizon (London, McLaren, 1986)


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