Lot 254
  • 254


600 - 900 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • 12 cm long, 4 1/2 in and 10.5 cm, 4 1/10 in long
Two Tahitian adze blades, together with two accompanying written documents, one by W.S. Davidson, Canton, dated 1819


WS Davidson, given to him by Queen of Tahiti
Onorato Martucci (1774-1843), given to him by WS Davidson
Archduke Rainer, Vice King of Lombardo-Venice (1783-1853)
Thence by descent

Catalogue Note

The first document by Davidson reads: A native stone chisel given by the queen dowager (Ideah) to W.S.Davidson at Otaheite in the twenth of May 1807 as the identical one used to construct a boat for Captain Cook in the year 1769.

Canton, 22nd May 1819


The second document reads:

No.12. Pietra che servi per accetta a costruire il Canò per il Captain Cook. La Regina Ideah la regalo a W.S.Davidson in Maggio 1807 a Otaheite; e questo a O.Martucci in Maggio 1819 a Canton – Vedi biglietto di Davidson qui accluso

Stone, used to start the construction of the canoe's for the Captain Cook. The Queen Ideah has given this to W.S. Davidson in May 1807 on Tahiti; (and Davidson in turn) to O.Martucci in May 1819 in Canton

At first glance, these two stone tools look to be nothing out of the ordinary; however they conceal a remarkable history. These stones would originally each have been tied with coconut fibres to a T-shaped wooden handle to form an adze and, according to the accompanying documents, was used in the construction of a canoe for Captain James Cook while he was on the Island of Tahiti.

Adzes were among the most important tools within Polynesia. They were used for all manner of construction, including the building of canoes which long pre-dated the arrival of Europeans. The present blades have been modelled with a finely polished upper side, ground down at the front to create a cutting edge, with a lowered back for the binding.

Cook first arrived on the Island of Tahiti in April 1769 where, along with his crew, he set up base at Matavai Bay for the purpose of tracking the transit of Venus and secret orders to search for the Great Southern Continent. Cook visited Tahiti again on his two subsequent voyages, making anchor at Tautira Bay, sometimes known as “Cook’s Anchorage.” It is during the first visit that the canoe was constructed using the present tools.

These stone tools were given to Walter Stevenson Davidson, a landowner, ship-merchant and banker, in 1807 by Queen Ideah, Queen of the Kingdom of Tahiti alongside King Pomare I. They were passed on to Onorato Martucci, an Italian merchant, adventurer and collector, on May 22 1819 while on a trip to Canton, a place Davidson also often travelled for trade reasons. Martucci had the intention of setting up a public museum to display his extensive collection of Chinese art. When these plans fell through he sold most of his collection to King Ludwig I of Bavaria, which provided the basis for the first ethnographic museum in Munich, established in 1868.