The History of  
Hinchingbrooke House  

the Hart of Hinchingbrooke

hyncel

wylton

oliver cromwell

edward montagu

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fourth earl

5th-7th earls

Eighth Earl

ninth earl

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Omai

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In 1774, the first Polynesian to visit London, travelled to England with the crew of Captain Cook's second Pacific voyage and became an overnight sensation. Seen as a living example of the 'Noble Savage', Omai as he was known, was discussed by scientists and philosophers, celebrated in all the best circles and written about in everything from poetry to pornography.

The Fourth Earl of Sandwich was a great supporter of Cook’s Pacific exploration, and supplied Admiralty funds for the purchase and fit-out of the Resolution, Adventure and Discovery. Cook named the Sandwich Islands, discovered in 1778, in his honour.

Omai arrived at Portsmouth on 14 July 1774 as a crew-member on board HMS Adventure, captained by Tobias Furneaux. He was taken immediately to meet Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty. Captain Cook described Omai as "dark, ugly and a downright blackguard" but this did not prevent Omai from becoming the fashionable exotic person to be seen with. (188kb) (1.3Mb)
Sandwich hosted him at Hinchingbrooke, where Omai's native barbecue cooked over hot stones proved a popular novelty.

Captain Cook knew Omai well: he brought him back to England after his second voyage to the south seas, and returned him to Tahiti on his fatal third trip, which ended in his murder. Here is a copy of a letter from Sandwich to Joseph Banks expressing his concern that Omai has been ill.
Omai's end was not much better. When it was decided that he should leave (1Mb) he returned loaded with presents, but within 18 months he was dead, and his house ransacked.

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Omai met King George III, the actor David Garrick, and Samuel Johnson, who said "he had passed his time while in England only in the best company; so that all he had acquired of our manners was genteel". (924kb)

The picture left shows Omai with the botanist Sir Joseph Banks and Swedish scientist Daniel Carl Solander.

In 2003 the BBC made a programme about Omai from which the QuickTime clips on this page, with permission, were taken. They portray Omai and high society in about 1775

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Find out what is meant by a "noble savage".

What does it say about an Englishman who describes a foreigner as being "dark and ugly" but who has acquired "genteel" manners while staying with English people.

Why would people want to be painted with Omai? Why would they want to draw and paint him?

Other Links

National Library of Australia Exhibition 2001