|The History of||
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 Cooks 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.
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
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