The Discovery of Tahiti
Illustrated by Robert Gibbings
Introduced by Oliver Warner
A vivid and lively account of the HMS Dolphin's visit to Tahiti, featuring exquisite wood engravings by Robert Gibbings.
On 19 June 1767, the sea-weary crew of HMS Dolphin were the first Europeans to make landfall on the shores of Tahiti. They were in search of a large continent that was believed to exist in the southern Pacific. Instead, they had stumbled on an earthly paradise whose natural resources and inhabitants would save their life. This narrative, kept by the ship’s master, George Robertson, records an extraordinary encounter between cultures.
The crew of the Dolphin was fortunate in that the inhabitants of Tahiti received them – quite literally in some cases – with open arms. The Tahitians were eager to trade food for nails; in fact some of the English sailors later had to be disciplined for stealing nails out of the ship to barter. Early hostilities soon gave way to friendlier relations, with the sailors taking full advantage of the company of the island’s young women. The officers also befriended Purea, the island’s queen, who wept when the sailors departed; their gifts to her included: ‘two Turkeys, two geese, three guinea-hens, a cat big with kitten, some china, looking-glasses, glass bottles [and] shirts’.