A Collaboration

One of Robert Gibbings’s diversions in ‘Trumpets from Montparnasse’ was his recounting of the request of his friend, Charles Ede of The Folio Society to produce a series of engravings for ‘The Discovery of Tahiti’ by George Robertson. This was a joint project with Gibbings’s publisher, J. M. Dent, published in 1955.

Naturally, this led me to my own copy of this work, in fact a 1973 reprint. I finished reading it this morning.

The transparent jacket to this slender volume reveals the embossed designs on the front and back boards and the spine.

Here is the frontispiece. Oliver Warner’s editing and his introduction are exemplary. He has modernised the spelling of his 18th century source, and interspersed summaries of sections from other seamen’s diaries when they provide amplification of the narrative. His explanatory footnotes and occasional correction of Robertson’s assumed facts are enlightening.

But, of course, my major interest was in the illustrator.

In order to produce reasonably large images of the woodcuts, I have scanned sections of the pages, with a little of the text by way of explanation.

Here is the dramatic opening paragraph,

and what was soon revealed to the crew’s delighted eyes;

and yet more.

This paragraph reflects the difficulty of establishing trust with no common language.

Sailors and islanders were fascinated by each other’s artefacts. In particular the nails of various sizes carried on board became the most valuable trading items.

Robertson never established the purpose of this place.

What nails could buy is suggested here.

Fresh food was also essential to the traders.

The artist’s final illustration admirably encapsulates what was clearly a very sad day for both parties of this 6 weeks’ acquaintance. The paragraph in square brackets is one of the editor’s additions.

I watched the last three matches of this year’s Six Nations rugby tournament. Before the England versus Scotland game we dined on pork spare ribs and a selection of Chinese starters, with which I drank Doom Bar. Jackie now has the cold as well, so this finger food suited us both.


    1. I try not to spoil it for those who haven’t yet seen it. In truth it was the best Calcutta Cup match ever – with a fair result. Thanks a lot, Jessie X

  1. You have the most beautiful books, Derrick!
    It is strange now to think in terms of these men who thought they were “discovering” already inhabited places and thought it was perfectly fine to rape the women. Then again, some things haven’t changed.

  2. Mmmm – men and their view of women as lesser beings …….. Still I am more interested in the intriguing man made building. There is so much evidence coming to light that structures around the planet are older than the text books still insist on admitting to, that there are many more pyramids than are found in Egypt and the one in Gobekli Tepe is far older to boot – and that there were advanced civilisations living long before the last great global catastrophe. Our planet is a fascinating place and your book holds a tiny hint of something mysterious that exists or existed on Tahiti.

      1. Oops! πŸ™‚ Thanks for your thoughts Derrick, they are much appreciated. We have of course been stunned and shocked and knocked off course by the events. The response though has been stunning and uplifting on so many levels – even from those most directly affected by this madness.

  3. Dear Derrick,

    I have enjoyed your blog for several years now. How I was introduced to it I’m not quite sure…except that I have , for several years, been trying to find information about Phyllis Holman Richards. I think, you once the made reference to her in your blog and so the amazing internet connection was made. I believe you worked in Social Services which would have led you to a connection with PHR.

    I would be so grateful if you could get in touch and tell me more or lead me to more information about PHR who handled my adoption.

    Best Wishes,


    Sent from my iPad

  4. I was interested in the value of the nails as trading items. Friends presently on their third (!) circumnavigation have found that tee-shirts do rather well today.

  5. Sorry to hear of Jackie’s lurgy, while it is cheering to hear you are getting over yours.

    I wonder if Messers Robertson and Cook happened to meet with each other at some time and exchange ‘notes’? Our Dear Captain landed in Botany Bay, New South Wales in 1770 and recorded the Transit of Venus from Tahiti, i believe?

    Seems there is a universal ‘commodity’ of trade between all civilisations. πŸ˜‰

    I think Mr Robertson nailed it.

    (Sorry!) πŸ™‚

      1. πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

        Good Point Sir!

        (I shall regain my reputation with tomorrow’s offering i can assure you) πŸ˜‰

  6. What a beautifully illustrated and interesting book.. I hope you are both recovering from the cold.. Lots of virus type bugs flying around.. Thankfully we have avoided them.. πŸ™‚

  7. Wow – I love the cover of that book – I’l like to have some fabric just like that! Wonderful illustrations, and an interesting point of view from way back when.

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