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The Astrolabe under the command of Jules-Sébastian-César Dumont d’Urville departed from France on 28 March 1826, returning on 1 April 1829. Amongst other places the voyage took in the western, southern and eastern coasts of Australia (referred to as Nouvelle Hollande), the upper South Island and east coast of New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Just over two months of the expedition were spent in New Zealand, from 10 January 1827 when landfall was made off the West Coast to 19 March when the ship set sail from the Bay of Islands for Tonga.
De Sainson as official artist to the voyage made numerous illustrations, as described by his Captain on return to France ‘His portfolio contains no fewer than 182 views, landscapes, scenes and pictures; 153 portraits, 112 plates of dwellings, monuments, costumes, arms and utensils, and 45 coastal profiles, sketches of trees, etc.’ (Collins, 1997, p.13) From these, selections were made for the Atlas Pittoresque to accompany the official account, which included 32 illustrations of New Zealand.
While the publishing model for voyages of exploration of the Captain’s official account and an atlas of illustrations was established by Cook’s third expedition, the Atlas to the Voyage de la corvette l’Astrolabe was unique in that it was the first such publication to use lithography to reproduce the plates. Indeed this innovative usage of the, relatively new, medium was used to promote the publication in its Prospectus.
Academic Roger Collins recognises the skill of the lithographers involved in the project, remarking that de Sainson’s original sketches demonstrate he ‘was not an outstanding draftsman’. Indeed his ‘reputation owes much to the skills of his interpreters.’ (Collins, 1991, p23)
[25.] Enlevement du canot de L'Astrolabe par les naturels de Tonga-Tabou (Iles des Amis), plate 87
D’Urville attempted to leave Tonga a day early to foil the likely desertion of a number of his crew. All was going to plan: d’Urville farewelled the many canoes gathered around the boat, settled his debts to Chief Tahofa and sent a small boat to shore to pick up a crew member. On reaching the beach however, the boat was seized and its crew kidnapped. They were hopelessly outnumbered and there was little d’Urville could initially do. This sense of helplessness is conveyed in plate 87 which records the event from the deck of the boat. The calm of the water is contrasted with the violent physical movements of the bodies that edge the shore in the middle distance.
Over the following week d’Urville negotiated with the Tongan chiefs, discovering that Tahofa bore primary responsibility having conspired with the would-be deserters. D’Urville sought to create dissent amongst the chiefs. He ordered his crew to set fire to huts, with the message that as soon as the prisoners were released the conflict would cease. As shown in plate 91 this was done under heavy guard, no doubt for fear of reprisals. With the crew members still not returned d’Urville threatened to bombard the sacred burial site of Maufanga, which he proceeded to do rather unsuccessfully as the Tongans had built huge sand fortifications. Throughout this time, a number of envoys were received including Vadodai, who had befriended one of the crew. He was sympathetic to the Frenchmen’s cause and upset by the actions of Tahofa and his followers. He explained that the chiefs were attempting to return the prisoners and asked for more time. Not long after his visit, the crew were returned with the exception of two whose original intent had been to desert.
- Enlevement du canot de L'Astrolabe par les naturels de Tonga-Tabou (Iles des Amis)
- Production date
- 328 x 494 mm
- Credit line
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2010
- Accession no
- No known copyright restrictions
- International Art
- Display status
- Not on display
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