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Captain Cook

'The photojournalists of their time'

An exploration of the role of artists such as John Webber who, whilst a member of Cook’s crew over many voyages, created paintings and drawings of the situations and people the explorers encountered.

Captain James Cook portrait story
Video: 2 minutes

Images courtesy of the National Library of Australia

an7722572 - A sailing canoe of Otaheite by John Webber, 1809

an7878598 - View in Queen Charlotte’s sound, New Zealand by John Webber,1809

an7881552 - The Resolution beating through the ice, with the Discovery in the most eminent [sic] danger in the distance by John Webber

an7723663 - A view of the harbour of Taloo in the island of Eimeo by John Webber, 1809

The Narta, or sledge for burdens in Kamtchatka by John Webber, 1809
an7723669

ID2137390 - A Toopapoo of a chief, with a priest making his offering to the morai in Huoneine by John Webber, 1809

an7678378 - View in Ulietea by John Webber, 1809

an7678344 - The death of Captain Cook by John Webber, Francesco Bartolozzi; William Byrne date unknown

an7722640-1 - An offering before Capt. Cook in the Sandwich Islands by John Webber, date unknown

Images courtesy of the British Library

His Majesty’s Dock Yard by W. Fielding, date unknown

Image courtesy of Reuters

Baghdad Falls © Goran Tomasevic/Reuters/Picture Media

Captain James Cook portrait story transcript

Narrator: In order to see the people and happenings of our world, we have always relied on the images created by those who were there. Or who imagined the scene. For the past 100 years this has meant that our view of the world and its events has been through the viewfinder of photojournalism.

Long before photography, in the 1700s when Captain James Cook was chartering the open seas, the images of record were the responsibility of such artists as John Webber who, whilst a member of Cook’s crew over many voyages, created paintings and drawings of the situations and people the explorers encountered.

These were encounters with places and people which were, up to that time, unheard of and unknown, places such as Australia, and the Pacific, and Hawaiian islands beyond it.

It was through the art of men like John Webber and John Cleveley, who was also a member of Captain Cook’s crew, that the world was first able to see the tragedy of Cook’s murder by Hawaiian islanders, a sensational event that has been interpreted by many artists. Some, painting long after the incident, have brought increasing layers of imagination to the facts.

But these are the images that have formed our belief in how things really were, just as today’s photojournalism encourages us to believe that we are seeing the truth.