The views made during Captain Cook’s third expedition are John Webber’s best-known works. After being spotted by the famed botanist, Daniel Solander, who recommended him to the Admiralty, Webber was given the task of compiling a visual record of the voyage of the Resolution and the Discovery from 1776–80. A number of the drawings were later engraved and published in A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean in June 1784.
The Resolution anchored at Vaitepiha (Tautira) Bay, Tahiti in August 1777. It was not the first encounter with this area for Cook and several of his crew, who had previously landed in Tahiti during the first voyage (April–August 1769) and second voyage (August–September 1773). On the latter occasion a view of the bay had been made by William Hodges. The composition of Webber’s view is similar to Hodges’, looking towards the Tautira Valley and presenting an Arcadian scene. A version of this view in oil on canvas was submitted by Webber to the Royal Academy as his Diploma Work in 1791.
Cook’s third voyage reached Nootka Sound in April 1778 while searching for the Northwest Passage. Webber’s view shows the native residents of Yuquot in canoes surrounding the Resolution. Cook’s log records: ‘A great many canoes filled with the Natives were about the ships all day, and a trade commenced betwixt us and them, which was carried on with the strictest honesty on both sides. Their articles were the skins of various animals, such as bears, wolves, foxes, deer, raccoons, polecats, martins and in particular the sea beaver, the same as is found on the coast of Kamchatka.’
In May 1778 the ships anchored in present-day Prince William Sound, Alaska, to make repairs. Trade took place for furs and provisions in return for iron and beads.
The journals record that the local people had blue and green beads of European manufacture. The sight of western goods led to speculation about the Northwest
Passage, although David Samwell, the surgeon, thought it more likely the beads had come from ‘the Russians of Kamchatka’.