The tattooed Omai comes to England

On Captain Cook’s second voyage to the pacific (sailing from Plymouth, England, July the 13th 1772).

The commander of Cook’s second ship “Adventure” Captain Tobias Furneaux returned to England in 1774 with the Polynesian Omai, who he placed into the care of the Earl of Sandwich, first Lord of the admiralty and Joseph Banks who gave Omai lessons in the art of manners.

Omai soon became the wonder of the age. He met royalty and many of England’s most fashionable citizens; he even became a frequent visitor to most of London’s theatres and was regarded as one of the capital’s most exciting figures.

Omai was tattooed, but there is not much on record about his body markings. Although a beautiful painting by the celebrated English artist Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) in 1775-76, shows Omai with lines and dots tattooed on his left hand – as did the splendid drawing that the painter Nathaniel Dance (1735-1811) did of Omai in 1774.

After much success Omai was to return home to the Island of Huaheine with Cook on the “Resolution” in 1776.

And it was later on this trip in 1779 that Cook recorded in his log. That he was amazed when he landed on the Sandwich Islands (Lord Sandwich commissioned the expedition to the Islands, later to be known as Hawaii) that the inhabitants were darker then the Tahitians but spoke in a similar language and were a handsome race with the men being variously tattooed.

Now this was to be the last mention of tattooing in the official records of Captain Cook. As it was on this voyage (the third) on the 14th of February 1779, the brilliant career and life of James Cook ended when he was killed by the natives of Hawaii.

Copyright…Paul Sayce.

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