A Human Sacrifice in a Morai in Otaheite (Tahiti) 1784 by John Webber is from the First Edition Atlas Accompanying Capt. James Cook and King; Third and Final Voyage of Captain James Cook. John Webber (1752-1793) was the official artist for the third voyage of Captain James Cook (1728-1779). The purpose of this voyage was to discover the Northwest Passage and to explore the Pacific Ocean north of the Equator.
Cook arrived at Matavia Bay, Tahiti on 24th August,1777 and stayed until the 30th of September, 1777. While there Cook witnessed a human sacrifice at the great Morai at Attahouroo ( Utuaimahurau ), Tahiti. In the center foreground we see a bound figure. Behind him we can see men digging a hole and the Whatta which contained the sacrificed bodies of three pigs and two dogs. On the left are two drummers, the chief priest and several other priests around him. Standing on the right we can see Otoo (Tu), Captain Cook and several of his officers including William Anderson and Omai. This drawing became one of the most deeply remembered and an image that never failed to arouse missionary fervor. The visual presence of Cook as the friend of Tu seemed to show Cook as complicit in the rite. Both Cook and Anderson had been deeply shocked by the ceremony. ‘During the ceremony we were silent but as soon as it was over we made no scruple in giving our sentiments very freely upon it and of course condemned it. Webber’s drawing represented a dark blot on Tahitian customs, and served as tangible evidence to some Europeans as the lurking barbarity of the peoples of the South Seas. These engravings were published in 1784-85 by G. Nichol and Thomas Cadell of London in the four large format atlas, Voyage to the Pacific Ocean. Captain Cook was an extraordinary explorer known for discovering and mapping unknown territory and for his many contributions to the scientific world. These original engravings from Webber’s drawings and paintings are only a glimpse into this great man’s historical contributions that make him one of the greatest explorers of all times. This engraving is in good condition. There is some foxing and a few small tears in the margins.