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Dumont d’Urville’s third voyage to the Pacific was on board the Astrolabe, accompanied by the corvette Zélee. The ships departed from Toulon in September 1837 returning to France in November 1840. En route from Samoa in October 1838 d’Urville stayed for a week at Vava’u Island, which is today part of the Kingdom of Tonga. While there, he became reacquainted with Mr John Thomas, who had been chief Methodist missionary on Tonga during d’Urville’s previous visit in 1827. D’Urville’s impressions, paraphrased by Helen Rosenman, were that Mr Thomas ‘had grown heavy and fat. Methodism was firmly established but d’Urville noted with some satisfaction that the not very likeable Mr Thomas treated the paramount chief of the island and his wife with deference. They were a handsome, gentle and dignified couple, wearing the traditional chief’s dress, which looked far better on these tall good looking people than the European rags the natives on the other island under the control of the missionaries wore.’ (Rosenman, 1987, p 365).
Depicted is the Methodist missionary compound which was overseen by Mr John Thomas. The structures appear to be built using a mixture of Pacific and European methods. Notable are the roofs thatched with palms, and the windows which appear to be glazed – presumably imported at great cost. The variety of the surrounding foliage is very impressive. It not only demonstrates the observational skills of the artist, but also the shift from a generalised portrayal of a place (seen in Cook’s artists) to the interest in recording the particularities of place accurately. The pineapple patch in the foreground especially adds exotic interest.
- Établissement de Master Thomas (Ile Vavao)
- Production date
- tinted lithograph
- 219 x 337 mm
- Credit line
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2010
- Accession no
- No known copyright restrictions
- New Zealand Art
- Display status
- Not on display
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