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2008-03, 357, Art, Helen Kenny., South Sea Artist

‘Tupaia and the “Endeavour” Journals’

Helen Kenny

I BROUGHT four books to the Show & Tell meeting and would have brought more, had I been able to carry them. Three were: Sydney Parkinson, Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas in His Majesty’s Ship, the Endeavour, a 1972 Libraries Board of South Australia facsimile edition of the orginal, which was first published in 1773; Anne Salmond’s The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas (London: Penguin Books, 2004); and Historical Sites of Jakarta by A Heuken, SJ, published by Cipta Loka Caraka, Jakarta, in 1982. The fourth was Before the First Fleet: The European Discovery of Australia 1606–1777 by my late husband, John Kenny, who died in December 1987. John Frost wrote the Foreword, and the book was published in 1995 by Kangaroo Press of Kenthurst, NSW.

Jack, as my husband was usually called, had left no instructions about illustrations, but the publisher asked me to provide about 120 from which they would make a selection. I sought—and bought—illustrations from libraries and museums in Australia and New Zealand, from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, and from Britain.

From the British Library in London came the pencil and watercolour illustration captioned “Australian Aborigines in bark canoes, April 1770”, said to be by “The Artist of the Chief Mourner”. It was with great surprise that I found the same illustration in The Trial of the Cannibal Dog… by the New Zealand historian-anthropologist, Dr Anne Salmond. Now the artist had a name: the caption read “Tupaia’s sketch of Gweagal fishermen at Kamay (Botany Bay)”, the place now also being identified.


In her list of acknowledgements, Dr Salmond wrote: “Harold Carter, the biographer of Joseph Banks, despatched copies of Banks’s letters, and shared with me the thrill of his discovery that some of the sketches from the first voyage had been painted by Tupaia, the Ra’iatean high priestnavigator.” I, too, was thrilled to read this. Jack and I had visited England in 1986, both of us doing research at the Public Record Office, Kew, at Greenwich, the British Library and the British Museum of Natural History.

Jack spent a day with Harold Carter, whose book on Banks was yet to be published. H B Carter, a graduate of the University of Sydney, former research scientist with the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the Linnean Society of London, spent 25 years working on his biography of Banks. It was first published in 1988 by the British Museum (Natural History) and reprinted in 1991. The 671-page biography lists many illustrations—but none by Tupaia. This magnificent discovery of Tupaia as artist must have come later, at a date unknown to me. It came too late for Jack’s book.

When compiling illustrations for the book and in my reading of the journals of Cook, Banks and Parkinson, I had searched for a portrait of Tupaia, who came aboard the Endeavour at Tahiti (then known as King George’s Island). With Tupaia was his servant, the 12-year-old flute-playing child Taiyota. Sydney Parkinson’s journal has a sketch of Taiyota “in the Dress of his country”. He holds his flute, blowing into it not with his mouth, but with breath from one nostril. (The spelling of “Taiyota” varies in the different journals: sometimes he is “Tarhoto” or “Tioto”. The spelling of “Tupaia” can appear as “Tobia” or “Tupia”.)

No portait of Tupaia seems to exist. This high priest of the god ‘Oro 1 had become friendly with Banks in Tahiti. He had shown the visitors from the Endeavour holy places, and he had even strangled and cooked an island


dog for them. Banks wrote: “A most excellent dish he made for us who were not much prejudiced against any species of food; I cannot however promise that an European dog would eat as well, as these scarce in their lives taste animal food.”

Tupaia joined the Endeavour at his own wish. Robert Molyneaux (Molineaux) of the Endeavour kept a journal which is contained in The Journals of Captain James Cook—The Voyage of the Endeavour, 1768–1778 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the Hakluyt Society, 1955, reprinted 1968), edited by J C Beaglehole. In it Molyneaux wrote: “Tobia [Tupaia] … has appeared always to be infinitely superior in every Respect to any other Indian we have met with, he has conceiv’d so strong a Freindship [sic] for Mr Banks that he is determined to visit Britannia.”

Banks, too, was delighted. In his Journal (July 12, 1769) he wrote (spelt here exactly as written): “He is certainly a most proper man, well born, cheif preist of this Island, consequently skilld in the mysteries of their religion; but what makes him more than anything desireable is his experience in the navigation of these people and knowledge of the Islands in these seas….” He added that he resolved to take Tupaia, because he had a “sufficiency” (i.e. could pay for him although the Government might not), then wrote: “I do not know why I may not keep him as a curiosity, as well as some of my neighbours do lions and tigers.” So, Tupaia, a lion of a man, became a supernumerary aboard the Endeavour. He drew a chart of the islands for Cook, predicted weather, taught his language to some, and learnt enough English to communicate.


Originally, there had been three artists/draughtsmen with Banks’s party on this scientific voyage: Sydney Parkinson, expert delineator of scenery, plants, animals, insects and fish; Alexander Buchan, chosen for his ability as a portraitist; and Herman Sporing, naturalist. Poor Buchan, an epileptic, died at Tahiti and was buried at sea. In Tahiti, the 25-year-old Parkinson and Tupaia sat together sketching the arioi, dancers dedicated to the god ‘Oro.

Aboard the Endeavour, Tupaia, as touched on already, drew a chart of islands in the Pacific and told Cook their names. He predicted the weather (often successfully) and pointed out the stars. This proud navigator-priest sometimes seemed haughty to the Endeavour’s men, but he was valued.

When the Endeavour reached New Zealand, the Maori could understand what Tupaia was saying and he could understand them. This did not prevent clashes because of cultural differences and misunderstandings.Nevertheless, Tupaia’s name, I am told, is remembered in that country, and children are sometimes called after him. In New Zealand there is a place called Uawa. There, as shown in a surviving painting, the 25-year-old Banks stood on the beach, looking very much the eighteenth-century gentleman (coat, knee breeches, hat) and exchanged crayfish with a Maori, who offered him a sample of bark cloth. That painting, with the bright red crayfish, has been known for centuries, but only in the late 20th century was it credited to Tupaia.

And so, they reached New Holland—Australia—,sailing up the coast, seeing smoke by day, fires by night, and an escarpment likened by Banks to “the back of a lean cow, covered in general with long hair, but nevertheless where her scraggy hip bones have stuck out farther than they ought … intirely bard [bared?] them of their share of covering.” A mile or so north of the present Bulli, Cook attempted a landing. A yawl was launched. Cook, Banks, Solander and Tupaia with four rowers set off for the beach, but a great surf drove them back. They did not meet the black people who watched.

On April 29, 1770, the Endeavour anchored in the Bay to be known as Botany. Again Cook, Banks, Dr Solander and Tupaia set off. Tupaia, as in New Zealand, was to be the interpreter. A crowd watched, but most of the men, women and children “made off”. Cook wrote: “I ordered the boats to lay upon their oars in order to speak to them, for neither us nor Tupia [sic] could understand one word they said.” Nails and beads were thrown ashore as presents. Two natives of New Holland, drawn by Parkinson, were shown advancing to combat. The New Hollanders cried “Waara, warra, wai” (Go away). Muskets were fired, stones thrown.

Tupaia was to draw some of the Botany Bay natives in their canoes. He was never able to communicate with them.3 The tragedy of Tupaia is Australia’s tragedy. From the first there was no communication; even today there is difficulty.

The Endeavour sailed northward. The crew was healthy, taking antiscorbutics to fend off scurvy. Tupaia, it was recorded, did not like “medicine”. The journey is well known: the coastline was mapped, places named. The diligent Parkinson drew and painted, trying to capture the shape and sheen of fish before the heat putrefied them. Flies tormented him.

The Endeavour, sailing on a calm night, struck the coral of what was to be called Endeavour Reef. The damage was great: men went to the pumps, cannon were thrown overboard. They packed a sail with oakum and wool, placed this beneath the Endeavour, allowing all of this to be sucked up, plugging the hole. So they reached what we know today as the Endeavour River and Cooktown. There the ship was repaired.

From the 18th June to the 4th August, 1770, they were there. Carpenters toiled, men worked the forges. Tupaia, extremely ill with scurvy, received medicine from the ship’s surgeon, then, recovering, caught fish to eat, roasted “Coccos” (taro), and met four “Indians”—Aborigines. He made signs that they should lay down their “lances” and come forward. They sat down with him. Presents were given, also fish, which delighted them. Soon they brought more of their fellows to Tupaia’s tent, and to the ship. The crew had been gathering turtles, some weighing 200 to 300 pounds. These lay upon the deck. Banks went “botanizing”, and was amazed when his greyhound, Lady, chased an animal that “went only upon two legs”, making “great bounds”. This mysterious animal, later drawn by Parkinson, was a kangaroo. The scientists observed everything that was animal, vegetable or mineral. Notes were taken of the local language.4

Trouble came when some of the “Indians” who’d been aboard the Endeavour tried to haul a turtle from the ship’s deck into their canoe. It became a tug-of-war between crewmen and the natives. Furious at being repulsed, some of the natives took up arms, others ran to the tent put up for Tupaia and, taking fire from under a kettle, set fire to the dry grass around, which was four to five feet high. Banks wrote that in that hot climate the grass burnt with a fury. The ship’s linen and seine lay nearby. These were saved, but the incident led to musket fire, which wounded one Aboriginal man.

At last the Endeavour got away and, after many hazards, being once “one wave” from destruction on a coral reef (as Cook wrote), reached Possession Island, Cape York, New Guinea and eventually Batavia (now Jakarta) in Java. There the VOC, the United Netherlands Chartered East India Company, ruled its trade empire. It was Amsterdam in the east: great buildings, water-filled canals, churches, and the shipyard on Onrust Island, where the Endeavour could be finally repaired.

The men of the Endeavour were healthy on arrival, tanned brown, amazed at the sickly white skins of the Europeans in Batavia. But that place was notorious for fever, dysentery and what we now call malaria. Parkinson described it all: the multi-racial community, the bewigged Dutchmen in elegant dress, the chariots, carriages and sedan chairs, the horses, the food, the slaves.

Tupaia wore his native dress ashore. People said they had seen someone like this before. It was the Tahitian, Ahuturu, who had visited Java with the French navigator Louis Antoine de Bougainville several years before. Beaglehole records that Ahuturu called Batavia “fenua mate”, the land that kills. Ahuturu survived that place, but died later in a strange country. Now the land that kills was to strike again.

Parkinson wrote: “When Taiyota was seized with the fatal disorder he frequently said …Tyau mate oee … my friends I am dying.” Tupaia, ill at the same time, “gave himself up to grief, regretting that he had left his own country. When he heard of Taiyota’s death, he was quite inconsolable, crying out frequently, ‘Taiyota! Taiyota!’ They were both buried in the island of Eadem.” No trace remains of theirt graves (as I was told in the ‘90s).

The death toll mounted. Several of the crew died; the surgeon died; Cook had malaria aboard the ship; Banks had agonising pain. On the voyage to Cape Town, 24 men died. Parkinson was among them, dying on January 27, 1771. Sporing had died two days before. All the artists, including Tupaia, were gone before the Endeavour anchored in the Downs, and Cook, the great navigator who did so much to care for the health of his men, landed.

The issue of Navigation, the journal of the Australian Institute of Navigation, for December 1991 (Vol. 8, No. 4), edited by Sheila Cohen, contains an article by Rosemary Coleman, a pilot and at the time President of the Institute. In part of her speech given at an international conference in Cairo, she said: “For many centuries, the only European and Asian navigators who visited Australia came in flocks through the skies”—arctic terns from North West Russia heading for Antarctica, swifts flying from Japan to Australia, and many others. And ultimately sailors and ships were to come.

It is strange, though, that a rainbow lorikeet, caught at Botany Bay in 1770, was to reach England. It had been Tupaia’s pet. It was painted by Peter Brown and the engraving published in 1776. The Austalian Museum in Sydney provided the colour illustration of this lorikeet for John Kenny’s book.

Editor’s notes

1. The apostrophe in the god’s name ‘Oro indicates that the o-sound was preceded by a glottal stop, the sound that replaces tt in the Cockney pronunciation of bottle: bo’le.

2. Tahitian and Maori are related Polynesian languages, but they are nevertheless different languages.

3. Australian Aboriginal languages are, of course, totally unrelated to Polynesian languages.

4. And so it was that the first Australian Aboriginal word made permanent entry into the English language: kangaroo, from the local Guugu Yimidhirr word gangurru.



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