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Poulaho, King of the Friendly Islands
, 1784

by John Webber

engraving, printed in black ink, from one copper plate (image: 23.5 cm x 18.2 cm, sheet: 62.6 cm x 38.7 cm)

On loan to the National Portrait Gallery

Tu‘i Tonga Pau (d. 1791) was the royal leader of the Tongan Islands when Cook visited during his third Pacific voyage in 1777. Born into one of the three royal family lines, Pau represented a break in tradition by becoming king over his older brother even though he was the second born. A strong character and curious by nature, Pau was a warrior and trailblazer, actively seeking out knowledge from Cook and his men during their visit. Cook respected his eminence by clearing the decks of the Resolution when Pau dined with him in his cabin, knowing it would be tabu for anyone to walk above such a leader. Cook also thought his physical size the most commanding he had encountered in the Pacific. Pau conversed with Cook about his maps, understanding how they represented all the Islands the British captain had seen.

In this portrait Pau wears the Palatavake headdress, prized by other Islanders throughout the region, which he later gifted to Cook as a sign of respect and friendship. John Webber, one of two official artists on board Cook’s third voyage, produced a number of detailed portraits of Pacific Islander people, yet remained more famous, all the same, for his landscape work.

Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2013
Accession number: LOAN2018.21.5