This small book produced by Alexander Shaw in 1787 contains 38 samples of tapa cloth collected on the three voyages of Captain Cook to the South Pacific 1768-1779.
It is a rare example of items known to have certainly been on Cook's ships. It also contains anecdotes of early encounters with Indigenous peoples.
Shaw, Alexander (1749-1807), Book of tapa cloth samples collected on Capt. Cook's three voyages 1768-1779.
The full title of this book is as follows;
"A catalogue of the different specimens of cloth collected in the three voyages of Captain Cook, to the Southern Hemisphere; with a particular account of the manner of the manufacturing the same in the various islands of the South seas; partly extracted from Mr. Anderson and Reinhold Forster, observations, and the verbal account of some of the most knowing of the navigators: with some anecdotes that happened to them among the natives 1787
Now properly arraigned and printed for Alexander Shaw, No.379, Strand MDCCLXXXVII"
This book is of historical significance for its direct connection to James Cook (1728-1779) and his Pacific voyages , with additional value as it contains 38 swatches of tapa cloth . The catalogue of cloth specimens collected in the voyages to the Southern Hemisphere were later compiled and printed by Alexander Shaw. One piece (specimen 34) was said to have been unwound by a girl from her body and given in gratitude to one of the officers supposedly as the redemption price for a little boy who had been exchanged by another for a piece of old iron.
There were 75 copies of the Catalogue produced the location of 63 of which are currently known.
RGSSA rgsp 677.54 S534 Rare Book Room
The Catalogue’s significance was well described by book collector James McCourt, in response to a display at the State Library of Queensland;
"Cook’s three Pacific voyages (1768–1779) created new interest in the Pacific. The large harvest of flora and fauna reshaped the scientific landscape, an insatiable thirst for tales and illustrations of Pacific cultures developed, and there were far-reaching geopolitical implications. This small work, rather like a trade catalogue, was issued in 1787 by Alexander Shaw who dealt in curiosities in The Strand, London and is a very unusual publication relating to those voyages. Large quantities of tapa cloth were brought back on Cook’s ships. This work contains small samples of cloth cut from the edge of large rolls to show patterns and colours available for sale."
Reference: In Cook's Wake - Tapa Treasures from the Pacific, NLA Publishing 2018.
RGSSA rg746.410996 W725b 2018
Alexander Shaw was originally from Aberdeen and was connected with Leys, Masson & Co. one of the largest flax spinning and linen works in Scotland. This may explain his interest in tapa cloth. In about 1776 he became a dealer in whatever he could buy and sell including -"books, maps, charts, prints, coins, medals shells and minerals". Shaw is thought to have purchased the tapa cloth from Cook's voyages at an auction of the Duchess of Portland's collection in 1786.