William Wade Ellis made this atmospheric sketch of Mangaia, the most southerly of the Cook Islands, during Captain Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific region (1776-80).

The 1779 watercolour was recently discovered inside a box of old prints.

Ellis was a member of the ship’s medical crew, but he is now best remembered for the landscapes and natural-history drawings he made during the voyage. This watercolour is known as a running coastal profile, a type of sketch made to complement a chart and help future mariners recognise the features of a shore. Such work was essential to the official purpose of Cook’s voyages, which was to map supposedly unknown places.

Ellis died when he fell from a mainmast in 1785, at the age of just 34. This is the fifth of his watercolours to join the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, an institution which occupies a Whitby house known well to Cook during his time as an apprentice seaman there.


The provenance is stated as 'Inherited in the 1980s, from the owner of The Phoenix Gallery, Crawford Street, Marylebone, which operated until 1977'. The owner apparently died in 1982. We have as yet been unable to find further information about

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