Hidden treasures

Peter Somerville-Large recounts the history of the National Museum of Ireland’s significant ethnographic collection, last displayed over thirty years ago

What we know today as the Cook Collection was mostly brought back to Ireland by two Irishmen who sailed with Captain Cook on his second and third voyages to the Pacific Ocean. Dr James Patten and Captain James King, a naval officer and astronomer, were the children of Anglican clergymen living in Ireland. Like so many of a similar background, they were well educated, but had little money behind them.

Of Cook’s three voyages, the second, from 1772 to 1775, has been considered the most important because of the material that was brought back to Europe. Such artifacts were made by what were considered primitive people, who lived on islands, without iron or proper tools. Items like headdresses and cloaks made of feathers and shells, carved wooden bowls and ceremonial paddles soon became part of the lost world of the Romantic movement.

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