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Place: New Caledonia
Category: War

wood, New Caledonia, l. 75–78.5 cm, Inv. Oz 1096

Humphrey No. 296 (?) (295): (‘295. a War Club made of wood from the Marquesas.’) ‘296. Another, knotted, and almost in its natural Shape, from ditto.’

Only one of the two clubs with mushroom-shaped heads described below could, in theory, be attributable to the Cook collection with any degree of certainty. Today, it is not otherwise possible to say which of the two this is. For this reason, they are taken together in the following.

Humphrey’s aforementioned entry from his catalogue must be considered to justify the somewhat peculiar circumstances which led to the two clubs being included in this catalogue at all, and thus their attribution to the Cook collection. Humphrey repeatedly listed objects as being from the Marquesas when they were certainly not from there, but possibly from the New Hebrides or New Caledonia (such as the New Hebridean arrows Oz 1263, Oz 1264, and Oz 1517). It therefore seems reasonable to assume the same for the entries 295 and 296 in Humphrey’s catalogue as well. On this assumption, these two entries may be considered correct for the clubs Oz 1095, Oz 1096 or Oz 1097, to be described separately below. None of these clubs still feature a Humphrey label, leaving the whole argument very much open to question. This means that considerable uncertainty remains, even if the assumptions above are not regarded as being sufficiently conclusive, with the only remaining alternative therefore being to consider the two objects with the Humphrey Nos. 295 and 296 as lost. At the same time, no statement could then be made regarding the origin of the clubs Oz 1095, Oz 1096 and Oz 1097, because these three clubs have apparently always been listed in the existing documentation of the Göttingen Collection as being part of the Cook Collection.

Humphrey’s description ‘knotted, and almost in its natural Shape’ is most accurate for the club Oz 1096. This consists of a relatively light wood, which in the meantime has developed long narrow crevice-like cracks along the grain, one at the rhizome end, one on the middle part of the shaft, and two at the handle end. Adjacent to the 3 to 4 mm thicker handle end is a rectangular notch, c. 2.5 x 1.0 cm. The remaining mushroom-shaped head as well as the shaft are relatively knotted and have been only roughly worked over. The surface of the club, however, has a dull, varnish-like sheen. With respect to the method for the final polishing of the carved clubs of New Caledonians, Sarasin (1919: 185) noted that, at the time of his field work (1910-12), fragments of broken glass were being used instead of the former shells and quartz fragments. Thereafter, the clubs were given their smooth polish with wet sand at a stream, and finally with a plant rich in silicic acid. The club Oz 1095 is similar in form and patina, but appears to be somewhat more carefully formed, and is also less knotted. The two clubs correspond in form exactly to those described by Sarasin (1929: 184-91, Pl. 52, Fig. 2, 3, 4, 5) as being from New Caledonia. It can therefore be assumed with relative certainty that their regional origin is, in fact, New Caledonia, while their attribution to the collection from Cook’s second voyage must remain hypothetical, as explained in the sections above.

A club similar to those described here may be found in Exeter with the inventory number E 1218 (see Kaeppler 1978a: 245, Fig. 528.). Volker Harms


Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Artificial Curiosities’ Being An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook RN [Exhibition catalogue], Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978a.

Sarasin, Fritz, Ethnologie der Neu-Caledonier und Loyalty-Insulaner, Munich, 1929.

Related artefacts

Club, Inv. Oz 1095
Club, Inv. Oz 1097


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