prmlogo2Cook-Voyage Collections
at the Pitt Rivers Museum

The Collections

Tahitian display 1970View of the Tahitian section of the Museum's special exhibition 'From the Islands of the South Seas, 1773–4', which opened on 1 May 1970 (PRM neg. no. R6.8).The Banks collection at Oxford consists of twenty-seven objects from Tahiti and New Zealand that Joseph Banks collected on Cook's first famous Pacific voyage on the Endeavour in 1768–1771 and sent to his old Oxford college, Christ Church, some time before 16 January 1773. On that date, Banks's friend Thomas Falconer (1738–92), classical scholar and Recorder of Chester, wrote to Banks: 'I was highly entertained at Oxford with a sight of some curiosities you sent from Otaheita & new Zealand'. The collection was presumably housed at the college's Anatomy School, for which Banks's old undergraduate friend John Parsons had responsibility. In 1860, most of the collection was transferred on loan to the newly founded University Museum and thence to the Pitt Rivers Collection where it arrived in the mid-1880s. The other part of the collection was transferred later. No documentation linking the objects to Banks or the Endeavour voyage survives at Christ Church, and it was not until 2002 that the collection was rediscovered. As one of only two attested collections from Cook's first voyage, its 'rediscovery' was of major importance for the study of Cook-voyage collections.

The Forster collection at Oxford was selected by Reinhold Forster and his son George from a much larger number of objects that they acquired during Cook's second famous Pacific voyage in 1772–1775. The collection was sent to Oxford in January 1776, along with a manuscript 'Catalogue of Curiosities sent to Oxford', and housed at the Ashmolean Museum until 1886 when it was transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum. The Forster collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum is one of the world's greatest collections of eighteenth-century Pacific art and material culture and because of the quality of its original documentation it is one of the most important collections from Cook's three voyages. The collection includes ornaments, clothing, utensils, weapons, and musical instruments from the islands visited on the voyage: Tahiti, Tonga, New Zealand, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), the Marquesas, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Tierra del Fuego.