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'By cruel foes oppress'd': British naval draughtsmen in Tahiti and the South Pacific in the 1840s

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 20:44 authored by Geoffrey Quilley
This paper considers little-known imagery made by mid-nineteenth century naval officers travelling in the Pacific, which has often been overlooked by art historians. In particular, it examines landscape drawings and prints made by officers travelling on a sequence of voyages through Polynesia, and argues that these need to be understood within the specific context of Anglo-French imperial rivalry in the region focused on the French annexation of Tahiti in the early 1840s. Rather than being simply a transparent set of tourist souvenirs, the views produced by the British officers were self-consciously reiterative, both of each other and also of a genre of exploration imagery deriving from James Cook's seminal Pacific voyages of 1768–1780. As such, they perpetuate and naturalize an image of the islands as tied to a positivist and teleological account of British imperial history, in which the French presence on Tahiti is presented as invasive, aberrant and despotic. Taking these drawings and prints as a case study, it concludes that the mass of similar imagery lying ignored in local and national archives needs to be reviewed as meriting serious art-historical scrutiny.


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  • Published


Journal of Historical Geography







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  • Art History Publications

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