Arthur Palmer - Aboriginal, Oceanic & Tribal Art

Monday, June 22, 2009


Appraisal of a C1770 Embroidered Silk Waistcoat property of a gentleman purportedly from or by the hand of Elizabeth, wife of Capt. James Cook RN. & a comparative analysis with the Mitchell Library Cook Tapa Waistcoat example.


A. Establish that this silk waistcoat was of the period i.e. Late C18 – circa 1770-90.
B. Conduct a comparative in situ analysis with the Cook tapa waist coat held by the Mitchell Library Sydney & the silk waistcoat for stylistic & technical evaluation of the embroidery on both items.
C. Evaluate the oral history provenance associated with the English Lord Leverhumle & Australian Rich family acquisition, ownership & stewardship of the silk waistcoat.
D. Positive botanical taxonomic identification of the flora displayed in the embroidery design of both articles.
E. Utilise macro digital photographs of both articles for comparative analysis & identification of evidence.
F. Seek specialist & professional opinion on all of the above terms of enquiry.
G. Interview key persons involved in the recent acquisition of the silk waist coat & professionals in the discipline of period costume & material, botany, material culture & Pacific history.
H. Consider other Cook waistcoat examples held in public & private collections.


In late 2008 the McLean family invited the author to appraisal a silk waistcoat held in the McLean family collection known as the Capt. Cook waistcoat.
Apart from an airfare to Sydney for inspection this is sans any other consideration.


Provenance: Elizabeth Cook Collection d of d 1835. Hence by decent through relatives. In 1886 one of Elizabeth’s inheritors, John Mackrell, organised a display of Cook material at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. The then N.S.W. Agent-General in London Sir Saul Samuel (1820-1900), who had a keen interest in Australian history and the exploration & discovery of the Pacific, negotiated to purchase most of the items from this display. On return to Australia this tapa waistcoat spent some time in the Australian Museum collection before being transferred to the Mitchell Library.

This waistcoat was part of the Mackrell display and was acquired directly by Samuel. He also independently purchased & picked up many other items of historical significance for the official collections of N.S.W.
It would be extremely interesting to know if Samuel was ever a client of the Woollan sisters’ antique shop in London, or indirectly sourced any of his items though them.

By the time of Cook’s death, Pacific artifacts were fashionable vogue in Europe and had fast become valuable collectors’ items (Moorehead 1966:72, Smith 1992:109). The Cook Tahitian tapa waistcoat falls into this period. The tapa was reputedly brought back by Cook from his second 1772-1775 voyage and embroidered by his wife while he was away during the fateful third voyage. As Cook did not return the waistcoat could not be fitted and was never tailored or finished (Ellis p18). This places the manufacture between 1776-1780.

Elizabeth Cook could not have thought of any material more exotic, in vogue or fittingly symbolic as a present for her husband. It is possible that the embroidered flora design on this waistcoat was also considered with similar deliberate intent. There remains the intriguing possibility that the flora design is based on Parkinson’s botanical drawings from the 1768-1771 Endeavor voyage and provided to Elizabeth by Joseph Banks (see botanical ID section). It is uncertain if the tapa cloth was actually embroidered by Elizabeth or, as was de rigueur, a professional seamstress (pers com Heather Mansell & Margot Riley ML Nov 2008).

Waistcoats were embroidered on a flat frame which made the embroidery very neat and even. The waistcoat was later cut out from the flat pieces according to the required measurements of a tailor’s client. The tapa cloth one has a home made feel about the motifs and if either were made by Cook’s wife it would be this one. The tapa cloth waistcoat is not of the same pattern/shape as the silk one and the embroidery is considerably different in style. I suggest this was not sewn by the same person but could have been home made. The side seam has a look of around 1770 with its pronounced shaping beyond the waist. Obviously this one was never made up so would date to around 1770-1780. What a crime that the ink was spilt on it!
Lindie Ward Curator Design, History and Society Powerhouse Museum e mail 03 03 2209.

Detail of front section unmade Tahitian tapa cloth waistcoat C 1779. Backed with linen, decorated by Elizabeth Cook with tambour work and embroidery in silk polychrome silks, also silver spangles, now tarnished. ML R 198.

The Mitchell library caption for the full lay out of the tapa waistcoat ;
Waistcoat of Tahiti cloth for Captain Cook to wear to court, had he returned from his third 1779/ embroidered by Mrs Cook.

Perhaps Mrs. Cook was anticipating an audience with George III and a Knighthood for her returning husband and national hero. If so this was a very special garment for her.

Mrs Cook: The Real and Imagined Life of the Captain’s Wife is structured around objects. Of all the different forms of research, examining the objects most strongly brought the past into the present. In the excellent collection of Cook memorabilia in State Library of NSW is an unfinished waistcoat, consisting of two uncut pieces of tapa cloth. It is the lines of embroidery that take the shape of the garment. Each stitch seemed to be a pulse of hope and anticipation, a promise of Cook’s return. I imagined Elizabeth working on it at her home in Mile End, London. Was she embroidering the waistcoat on Valentine’s Day, 1779, when her husband was killed, or in January of the following year when news of his death finally reached London? The poignancy of the piece is that it remains unfinished. We know now what Elizabeth could not have known then—that her husband would not return from that fatal third voyage, would never wear the waistcoat that she so lovingly stitched. James travelled lightly through his life, leaving in his short will ten guineas to his father, and £10 a piece to his two surviving sisters, Christiana and Margaret, and two friends. The rest of his estate went to Elizabeth and the children. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was a hoarder, the house in Clapham where she spent most of her widowhood, ‘crowded and crammed in every room with relics, curiosities, drawing, maps, and collections’. Her will runs to more than ten pages of closely written script. It gives us an inkling of the many friends and relatives who were important in Elizabeth’s life. As well as detailing how her £60,000 should be distributed, the will also takes into account specific items—her husband’s Copley Medal to the British Museum, the contents of the kitchen, washhouse and scullery to one of her servants, bedroom furniture to others. Other items had already been distributed. Elizabeth lived long enough to see her husband pass into history, and knew the value of Cook memorabilia. She gave her doctor a first edition of James’s last voyage. She would peel off pages of her husband’s journal and present them to people for services rendered or as a ‘mark of her esteem’. One set of papers that is lost to history is the private correspondence between Elizabeth and her husband. She burnt all those letters, considering them ‘too personal and sacred’. Marele Day Mrs Cook.

Stain: The stain on the tapa cloth is apparently ink spilled on the waistcoat whilst in the care of the Australian Museum Sydney shortly before hand over to the Mitchell Library. (per com Heather Mansel & Margot Riley ML Nov 2008).

For a good indication of just how quickly London was enamored with Oceanic material culture, we only have to look at the 1771 official portrait of Sir Joseph Banks by Benjamin West. (Usher Art Gallery Lincoln 234cm x 166cm) (Smith 1992:42).There Banks stands, full length, the great and celebrated botanist surrounded by, not plant specimens, but artifacts from his
Endeavor voyage, and lots of them. He looks to be cloaked in Maori ngore dress cloak (or Tahitian high rank white tapa cloth?). To his right a Maori Taiaha and paddle hoe, and at his feet a woven Tahitian dancing headdress cap, an axe or birds head club, also a tapa beater or club. A small set of dried botanical specimens lie, as almost an after thought, on the floor behind these last two artefacts.

Engraving for publication based on West’s Original
West, Joseph Banks, Oil on Canvas 234x160cm 1771, Usher Gallery

The Usher Gallery notes to Bank’s portrait are revealing.
“Banks wears a Maori cloak & stands beside other trophies from N.Z. and Polynesia as if in rebuke of his more conventional contemporaries who were portrayed in Rome with their new purchases of classical antiquities”. Banks wanted to be known, by this painting, as the first great ethnographic Pacific field collector and indeed he has every right to this proud claim.

The island and natives of Otaheite Parkinson.

Dr. Solander, Mr. Banks, and several others, went to visit Tootahau, to see if they could obtain any hogs; and, after going much farther than where he usually resides, they met with him, and queen Oboreah: they treated them with fair promises, and invited them to stay the night with them, which they accepted; but, in the morning, some missed their stockings, others their jackets and waistcoats, amongst the rest, Mr. Banks lost his white jacket and waistcoat, with silver frogs, in the pockets of which were a pair of pistols, and other things: they enquired for them, but could get no account of them, and they came away greatly dissatisfied, having obtained but one pig.


Prior 1880s unknown; Cook Family C 1770-1835? Or direct Capt. Cook Resolution 14th Feb 1779?
Accepted oral history: Helen & Isabel Woollan Antique dealers London C 1880-1910.
Purchased prior to 1912 by Viscount Leverhulme.
In 1912 the Viscount presented this Cook vest in London to Dr. Ruby Rich of Sydney.
Hence by descent to her nephew Charles Rich Esq. of Sydney.
In 1985 Mr. Michel Frost antique dealer of Sydney was commission by Charles Rich to negotiate within strict caveats the sale of this vest. The vest was acquired through private treaty by the McLean family of Sydney via Mr. Frost’s agency.

In 2008 Mr. Michel Frost provided the following signed provenance post sale:
To whom it may concern,
In approx 1985, Mr Charles Rich of Darling Point, offered our company a heavily embroidered vest to be sold on behalf of his family. We were told by Mr. Rich that this vest had always been known, in the Rich Family, as the “Captain Cook vest”. Mr Rich was given the vest by his late Aunt, Dr. Ruby Rich. We were advised that Dr. Ruby Rich was presented the vest in 1912, by her long time friend, Lord Leverhulme. We were informed the vest was originally purchased by the Leverhulme family from the West London antique dealers, Helen and Isabel Woollan. The Leverhulme family were told by the afore mentioned firm that that the vest was acquired from the Cook family. It was sold to them as an historical Australian piece, as it had previously been owned by Captain James Cook. The above information to our knowledge is true and correct.

In February 2009 I interviewed Mr Michel Frost at his premises in Sydney. He is a well known and respected long term Australian antique dealer with a wealth of knowledge in the profession and a clear & demonstrated commitment to historically important material. He does not have a background which allows hopeful articles of faith to cloud his judgment on matters deciding probability, provenance & value. His firm acceptance of the Rich family provenance & associated oral history is based on the simple fact that neither the Rich family nor Viscount Leverholme were likely candidates to have invented or embellished this background or any other item in their collections. At no time did either family seek any gain from the possession the Capt. Cook vest; indeed quite the contrary. Leverholme presented the Cook waistcoat as a gift, sans any known consideration, presumably as a fitting token of admiration to Rich, a colonial emancipationist & musical genius he admired. Dr. Ruby Rich at some stage had the waistcoat altered for her figure and apparently regularly wore it to society gatherings & Sydney parties, hence the wine stains. This has to be also seen in the wider context that she also slept in Napoleon’s bed in her Sydney house & presumably did what most healthy adults do in bed when the occasion is right.

Silk Waistcoat The silk waistcoat has had the pocket flaps taken off and attached to the neck for some strange reason.

The style of the waistcoat did not change much and the English designs were much more subdued than the French ones which had large curvaceous motifs. But you can see in the book you have photographed this with that the earlier waistcoats were longer and fell to below the waist whereas the early 19th century waistcoats were worn shorter just below the waist.
It looks as if the waistcoat was considerably longer before alterations took the pocket flaps away and the lower edge was sewn onto the body higher up. A wedge shaped piece has been removed or folded up (I can’t see) as the grain on the silk is different above and below the pocket marks. This would originally have been all in one piece. Of course the many alterations on this piece and the date suggest this must have been worn by someone else since Cook died in 1779.

The style of this piece suggests an expensive garment and the alterations made imply that it was treasured and worn for several years. This could be from the 1770s until the 1820s. The copious stains on the front – wine or drinks - confirm this.
The voided shapes where the embroidery threads are missing are where the silk has rotted - probably from a dye that destabilised the silk. ie It was not unfinished. The back seam and darts have been let out and the back seam appears to be machine sewn seam where silk has been added for extra width. The buttons are not original - they would have had a central embroidered motif to match the vest embroidery.
Lindie Ward
Design, History and Society

owerhouse Museum

What neither Ruby Rich or Leverholme had was a history of entertaining deluded grandiose fantasy about objects in their collections or a desire to treat these items as do Museums. They lived with & enjoyed their collected objects as they saw fit.

Mrs. Elizabeth Cook is reported as always dressed in black satin (Rienits p150). So perhaps a silk waistcoat or two as a gift for her husband is not out of character? As Cook is often described as plain in address and appearance, a modest man… it may be that this article and any other rococo items were from Elizabeth or gifts from others rather than choices based on his personal taste?

Dear Arthur
Many thanks for the CD

The images are very clear although I am not sure what conclusions I could draw from them.
The embroidery on the silk? Waistcoat appears to be very typical of late 18th century embroidery on men's jackets and waistcoats. The embroidery is of a high standard but also in a style that was very formulaic so I could not venture to say whether it was professional or by a lady.

Interestingly, this waistcoat has been altered to fit a woman. The pocket flaps have been used as a collar and the whole thing shortened.

To be frank, I do not see that much similarity with this embroidery and that on the one mounted on the tapa cloth although to make a call on this would require closer examination.

Feel free to call me during the week if you'd like to discuss this some more. I must say it was fascnating to see both items in such detailed photos.


Roger Leong

Curator, International Fashion and Textiles

National Gallery of Victoria

Helen & Isabel Woollan Antique Dealers London
The Woollan sisters were seminal, well known & socially well connected antique dealers in London C 1880s -1910? They are recorded as having traded in Art needle-work, a category within which this embroidered silk waistcoat falls. They were pedantic in a manner extinct after the Victorian era closed. Witness not selling the tea service until the last original piece was included. They also were most likely to be very particular about provenance. The Woollans overlap with Leverhulme in time and place. As Leverhulme was one of the largest collectors of antiques the English speaking world has seen it is most unlikely the Viscount was not a regular client of the Woollan antique shop.

This aprofios of. the fascinating wares of those two1 charming ladies, the sisters Helen and, Isabel Woollan, ' at 28, Brook Strek't, Grosvenor Square, which comprises four, rooms, in which., most, artistically arranged, beautiful 'things of all'descriptions are to be found-genuine antique furniture, miniatures (amongst them a life-like :portrait :of Mr. Rhodes, by Mary Carlisle), old.prints, lace, china, glass, and art needle-' work.

delightful reunion took place on Tuesday evening in the artistic showrooms of the Misses Helen and Isabel Wollan, in Brook Street, to meet Professor Geddes and Mr. Rider .Haggard, when a special display of the industries of the Island of Cyprus were on view
The Nursing & Hospital World Oct 30, 1897 p.360.

The Misses Woollan 'sell on commission, so that the greatest variety of articles are crowded into these lovely 'rooms; here to the, right, on a "real old Chippendale" table, is to be found.and a now complete tea service, of genuine Bristol china. (One lady deposited every item ,minus the teapot); another customer happened , to have .picked :up in East Anglia the veritable teapot .belonging to the service, so that 'after long separation the whole party was again united- dainty cream jug, saucier and basin; .and quite a dozen little twinkling tea cups and. saucers. That was a happy hour, and no doubt the confidences, exchanged were of; an entertaining. Character-one,'always gossips over .tea. .Now- the-complete set can be procured for a fiver pound note, and please, whoever, buys, don’t separate the sweet, things again.

William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme (19 September 18517 May 1925) was an English Industrialist, philanthropist and colonialist He was created Baron Leverhulme on 21 June 1917, and Viscount Leverhulme on 27 November 1922 - the hulme section of the title being in honour of his wife, Elizabeth Hulme. Upon his death, of pneumonia, in 1925, the Leverhulme viscountcy passed to his son William Hulme Lever. It became extinct on the death of the third viscount, Philip William Bryce Lever, in 2000.
Lever, the first Viscount Leverhulme, filled several homes with paintings, furniture and objets d'art. The collections were later merged in Thornton Manor, the family home in the village of Thornton Hough, Wirral. Lord Leverhulme died in 1925 and was succeeded by a son and a grandson, Philip Lever, who left three daughters when he died last July. His death prompted the sale of Thornton Manor and all of its contents. Sotheby's set the UK record for a house contents sale last year when they raised £8.3m from an auction at Benacre Hall, Suffolk.

Ruby Rich-Schalit (23/6/1888 - 10/5/1988)

Pianist, Feminist and Patron of the Arts

Ruby Rich, once pronounced in her youth (when she was 23) by musical critics as the most accomplished pianist that ever visited the Commonwealth (San Francisco Post August 1911), was born in Walgett, in 1888, the fourth of six children. Ever a diminuitive figure, she had a clear ringing voice, even in her nineties. She died one month before her one hundreth birthday. An active campaigner for the rights of women, she was one of the founders of the New South Wales Council of Action for Equal Pay, which was established in 1937. Ruby's first interest in life was music. A talented performer, she gave her first concert performance on the piano in 1899, at the age of eleven at the Sydney Town Hall. Although she had wanted to play professionally, her father, who owned a considerable fortune, had refused. However, he permitted her to study music under the best teachers in Sydney and abroad. In Sydney she studied under Joseph Kretchman and furthered her studies in Berlin with Arthur Schnabel and in Paris under Raoul Pugno. During the First World War, she was a volunteer nurse. After a number of years attending suffragette meetings in London, she returned to Sydney and joined the International Alliance of Women. Papers pertaining to these activities are kept in the National Library, Canberra and at some other locations. Ruby played an active role in the Jewish community, and attended many overseas conferences. Her husband, Dr Maurice Schalit, whom she married when she was in her fifties, died in 1961. He founded the Friends of the Hebrew University in Australia. In 1971 a scholarship for students to study at the Hebrew University of in Jerusalem was launched in Mrs Rich-Schalit's name. She was also a founder of the Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the first federal President of W.I.Z.O (Women's International Zionist Organisation). She was awarded an MBE for her work for the advancement of women in culture, the Anzac Memorial Peace Prize and the Torch of Learning by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


The scope for the botanical avenue of enquiry is both limited in one sense & overly broad elsewhere. The central rub is that of appearance verses reality i.e. an artistic design may well resemble a specific flora species however this is unintentional and accidental. Also even if Banks had provided the ebauches of Parkinson’s drawings for Elizabeth Cook for the Tahitian Tapa example, which I happen to consider a very good & obvious possibility – certainly a possibility worth exploring, then the embroidered product may not accurately represent the scientific sketches sufficiently well to allow for taxonomic identification. This requires & is deserving of much further research. If these repeated design elements appear pre Cook on embroidered garments in England then there is no connection & it is eliminated, however if they are post Cook then the Banks Floriegium may hold some interesting answers for determining if the designs owe anything to Cook’s Pacific discoveries of the first & second voyage.

The following letter, together with some tight shots of specific elements of the floral designs of both waistcoats, was sent to initiate some preliminary research response from both the Aboriginal & European Scientific community close at hand.

Hello, Many Thanks for being so generous with your resources & expertise. Have compressed the JPG’s from 2+MB’s to a more manageable size. If you need larger res please just let me know & will send a bigger file shot. These embroidery design elements come from two vests held here in Australia purportedly made in the 1770’s for Lt. James Cook from his wife Elizabeth’s estate. The major illustrator for this first voyage was Sydney Parkinson, and his botanical work of 1768-1771 is probably of the most interest at this stage of the investigation if we can positively or even vaguely id the flora depicted in the embroidery to species & location. Any comments you or your colleagues may have on this material is gratefully received as the start of the analytical & elimination process which will eventually lead to a determination on provenance. Would be particularly interested in any views botanically inclined T.O’s may have? Many Thanks for your kind consideration. Best regards Arthur





Dear Arthur,
I am afraid that I can't come up with many positive identifications, as the embroidery patterns are very stylised and not made with botanical accuracy in mind. However the small pink flowers I would suggest are modelled on Boronia species. The larger notched flowers are possibly Epilobium species. Unfortunately the largest flowers in the motif I can't track down with any certainty. The green solitary foliage is probably a sprig of cedar (Cedrus sp.). The vine with three petals of differing colours is unknown to me.
The Boronias correspond with 418, 505 and 510. The Epilobium corresponds with no 418. The cedar corresponds with no 514.
I will be very interested to hear what others come up with.
I hope this has been of some help.
Kind regards, Phil
Philip M. Cameron
Senior Botanic Officer
Brisbane Botanic Gardens
Mt Coot-tha Rd., Toowong 4066

As the Endeavour spent considerably more time in Far North Queensland Cape York, nearly eight weeks as opposed to the 6 days in Botany Bay, it is very interesting to read the Kowanyama initial response from Viv Sinnamon and the Traditional Owners Colin & Pricilla. (Banks collected the entire voyage including South America on the voyage out & extensively on Pacific islands).I.D is further complicated by seasonality – Banks & Cook were on Australian soil May to early August 1770.
Colin has had a look over the vest pix and thinks the same way I do that the bud looks like a hibiscus. Worth noting that plant is endemic to many of the Pacific islands and used as lashing, rope fibre etc for canoes/dugong ropes etc.
Can you have a look in the Wildlife of Brisbane publication where I believe you will find the small star shaped flower that is similar to the vest. It is found on the eastern seaboard amongst the boronia, midjim and slightly higher bits of wallum country.

Priscilla and I had another look at the vest last night.

Priscilla says that the vine like image crocheted along each side of the buttoning looks like a vine growing on the coast and she also believes the bud I was talking about to be hibiscus.

The bottom panels also appear to have what looks like banksias seed cases and the usual serrated leaf
Hope this is useful Cheers Viv
Viv Sinnamon

Kowanyama Aboriginal Land and Natural Resources Management Office
Gilbert White Street Kowanyama

North Queensland 4871 Australia

Empirical Comparative Analysis of both Waistcoats

Photo: L. Silk Embroidered. R. Tahitian Tapa Mitchell Library.

Both garments are waistcoats of the period late 1700s.
Both are formal highly decorative civilian dress not Naval.
Both have floral embroidered designs as the main decorative feature.
Both claim Elizabeth Cook provenance.
Both are unlikely to have been embroidered by Elizabeth Cook, however the Tapa example is the most likely to have been by her hand.
Both were sourced in England around the same time i.e. late1800s.
The design styles differ.
The embroidery differs in style and technique.
The main materials are different i.e. Tahitian Tapa backed with linen the other of silk & linen.
The silk waistcoat is tailored (original to Cooks physique? & later much altered for a woman).
The tapa waistcoat is untailored.

A comparison between the altered Sydney silk example and the unaltered embroidered Cook silk waistcoat in the Wellington Museum of New Zealand Te Papa could be a very productive exercise. They appear to be very similar in decorative appearance and some of the elements may be identical.


Hi Arthur
Just in Wellington at Te Papa I noticed a postcard of a Cook waistcoat that is the ‘before the alterations’ version in their collection. Did you know about this? They must have a valuation for that.
Regards Lindie Ward
Curator Design, History and Society Powerhouse Museum

High resolution shots Te Papa Cook Mathews Waistcoat.
Sydney Mclean Cook Waistcoat

Captain Cook’s Waistcoat
This waistcoat is reputed to have belonged to Captain James Cook: it is said to have come from a house where Cook stayed at one time. Whether that is, or is not, so it is certainly the style of garment worn by respectable gentlemen under their coats in Cook’s time. In the portrait of Cook painted by John Webber, the captain is wearing a waistcoat of similar style, though somewhat less decorative.

For men in the eighteenth century, the waistcoat was the most decorative item of clothing. The front of this one is made of silk. Its back made of silk with a silk and linen lining. You could adjust the fit by lacing it up through the eyelets at the back. The sprigs of flowers on the front have been embroidered with silk, spangles, and threads of gold and silver.

Waistcoats then were much longer than today’s waistcoats, though this one was shorter than waistcoats in the earlier part of the of the eighteenth century. The latter had skirts – almost as long as overcoats – and long sleeves. Coat, waistcoat, and breeches were the three main items of men’s clothes – a combination of dress that has endured in men’s clothing to this day, in the form of the three-piece suit.

Mrs Matthews, who donated this waistcoat to the museum in 1967, reported that it originally had a label attached confirming that the waistcoat had belonged to Cook. But as this was mislaid before it came here, we have no way of authenticating the claim.
(Downloaded 22nd April 2009).
1755 - 1765?? Label? State Library of Victoria.

Captain Cook's Waistcoat, c.1750-79

This cream-coloured waistcoat with naval buttons is believed to have been worn by Captain James Cook. The Library acquired the English waistcoat from Mrs N Diane Cook, who gave evidence of her connection to James Cook's sister and the waistcoat's origin. The waistcoat remains in good condition and has been carefully prepared for the Travelling Treasures tour by an expert in textile conservation. Only one small alteration to the garment has been identified, where it appears Cook added some width to the back (perhaps as he rounded in the middle). Captain Cook's waistcoat is held in the Library's Pictures Collection.

Globe, Atlas and Waistcoat.

The celestial globe and atlas were acquired by the Library, together with Furneaux's chart of Van Diemen's Land, in October 1882. They had been in the possession of Ann Elizabeth Smith who swore an affidavit to the effect that she was the widow of James Cook Smith who was born in London in 1813, the son of Captain John Smith, R.N., whose services are detailed in Volume XII, page 407 of Marshall's Naval Biography; that Captain Smith was first cousin to Mrs. James Cook, the widow of the circumnavigator; that Mrs. Cook bequeathed to Captain Smith certain charts, instruments, etc.; and that this fact is noted in Marshall's Naval Biography, Volume XII, page 419.
Cook's waistcoat was acquired by the Library from the Hon. Mrs. N. Diane Cook after lengthy negotiations involving the Agent-General in London, the Premier's Department and Sir Keith Murdoch, then chairman of the Trustees. Mrs. Cook produced as evidence of authenticity a family tree showing her connection with Cook's family through a sister of Captain Cook.

Other Sources for Capt. COOK property.

“The gentlemen auctioned off Cook’s clothes in the great cabin as the chiefs divided up his bones in the Temple of Ku. They all – gentlemen and Chiefs - had some sense of how great men find resurrection in their relics. Even the lower deck had their eyes on the value of souvenirs. All the Hawaiian artifacts they had collected went up in value, and you can find them now in the museums of the world – spears, axes, feather cloaks and beads – marked with a note that they had belonged to men who had belonged to Cook and had seen him die” (Dening 1992:171).

Unfortunately, like pieces of the true cross, there may be an unaccountable over supply on today’s market.
The items referred to above distributed on the Resolution may have multiplied somewhat over the years.

Conclusions: Embroidered Silk Waistcoat Sydney

There is no evidence discovered which would rule out the possibility that the oral history provenance for this embroidered silk waistcoat once having belonged to Capt. James Cook, or having been sourced from the Cook family, is an accurate & true account of provenance. This strong oral history provenance involves three major players, Woollans, Leverhulme & Rich who all had the history, opportunity, background and the motivation to be connected in the sequence described with the waistcoat ownership transfer.

The waistcoat is of the period and of a standard fitting Cook’s station.
The floral embroidered design may possibly be of Pacific & East Coast Australian flora origin. If so then in the late 1700’s England it must be linked directly to Cooks exploration & Banks botany.
Elizabeth Cook has a history, with the Mitchell library example, of considering a waistcoat a fitting gift for her husband.
This waistcoat is very similar in decorative appearance to the unaltered embroidered Cook example in the Wellington Museum of New Zealand Te Papa.
Cook wore waistcoats for his portraits, although all are plain (he seemed to have trouble with the buttons: see Dance painting 1776 - undone buttons deliberate? possibility of some significance & meaning?).

Captain James Cook, 1728-79
Artist Nathaniel Dance
Date 1775-76
Repro ID BHC2628
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 1270 x 1016 mm
Credit line National Maritime Museum, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection

Balance of Probability:

All of the above leads to the irresistible conclusion that the silk waist coat now in the hands of the McLean family Sydney has the very distinct possibility of having being connected to Captain James Cook and Cook family estate in some direct manner prior to 1880.


Philip Cameron
Mark Blackburn
Michel Frost
Roger Leong
Heather Mansell
McLean family
Richard Neville
Margot Riley
David Said
Viv Sinnamon
Lindie Ward

All above who contributed to this appraisal were forwarded a draft for correction & comment on the 20th. April 2009. The two changes notified have now been included as amendments.

Arthur B. Palmer

07 June 2009

Approved to value the following classes for the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Programme:
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander material culture and contemporary art, Arnhem Land barks (19thC to present), Hermannsburg watercolours (1930s to present), Pacific, African, Asian, American material culture, Australian Early and Modern Fine Art, International Aviation Art, Trench Art WWI & WWII.


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