[London: George Baxter, 1841]. Two oil-colored "Baxter prints," 8 x 12 inches each (visible dimensions within the mat). Matted and in contemporary burnished wood frames. A bit of light spotting, mostly in the sky of the second print, else in fine condition. Item #WRCAM41732
A remarkable pair of rare and interesting prints depicting the mission to the South Seas by the Rev. John Williams, and his murder at the hands of natives on the island of Erromango. The prints were produced through an unusual oil-colored process invented by pioneering British print-maker George Baxter, who was a close friend of Rev. Williams and who created these prints as a memorial to his friend, and as a way of raising funds for Williams' family. Rev. John Williams (1796-1839) was a member of the London Missionary Society, and was in the third group of missionaries to visit Tahiti, arriving there in 1817. He then went on to Australia, where he helped conduct the first Evangelical service in Van Diemen's Land. He also preached in Raiatea in French Polynesia. In 1838, Williams sailed aboard the missionary ship Camden for the South Seas, visiting the island of Erromango, in what is now a southern province of Vanuatu, in late 1839. He was initially greeted warmly, but shortly after his arrival the natives of the island turned on him and his colleagues, killing Williams and one other. Those events are shown in these two prints. The first image shows Williams and his cohorts coming ashore in a small boat and being greeted - with a welcoming curiosity - by the natives. A chief of the natives urges his people to welcome the visitors, while Williams stands at the front of the small boat and another missionary displays colored cloths and a looking glass. The faint outline of the Camden and a few other small landing boats can be seen in the right side of the image, though it seems that Baxter never fully colored them in this copy of the print. The second print is a scene of violent mayhem as the Rev. Williams, waist deep in the surf, is clubbed to death by natives. Dozens of natives are shown running from the shore into the water in an effort to kill Williams and his colleagues, who attempt their escape by boat. Mr. Harris is seen on shore, being speared and clubbed to death. George Baxter, who produced these prints, was among the most innovative of British print-makers and a close friend of the Rev. Williams. Much of Baxter's output in the early 1840s was devoted to illustrations of missionary activities abroad, and Courtney Lewis says that "this period includes Baxter's best and most original work." Baxter (1804-67) is credited with creating a method of using woodblocks to produce color prints, thereby making color prints commercially viable for the first time in Great Britain. Later he pioneered a printing method using colored oils, which is the method used to produce this pair of prints. Baxter produced a portrait print of Rev. Williams in 1837, and others followed, and the two men became good friends. Lewis notes that when Williams left the Thames aboard the Camden, Baxter was one of the last people to see him off. When Baxter heard the news of Williams' death, he produced these prints and donated the proceeds to the missionary's family. Baxter drew the scenes based on the testimony of Mr. Leary, one of the survivors of the mission. He offered the prints as a pair, as they are here, or as a "book" accompanied by seven pages of descriptive text and called TWO SPECIMENS OF PRINTING IN OIL COLOURS.... The prints could be purchased in sepia, or fully colored, as here. The DNB says that Baxter produced some of his most powerful work for the missionary societies, and calls the print of the massacre of Rev. Williams "his most celebrated print in this context." OCLC locates only five copies of this pair of prints, at the National Library of Australia, State Library of New South Wales, National Library of New Zealand, University of Toronto (Victoria University), and University of Hawaii at Manoa. Rare and fascinating images of a little- known event in the missionary history of the South Pacific. Lewis, GEORGE BAXTER (COLOUR PRINTER) HIS LIFE AND WORK 82a, 82b, p.93. OCLC 154637564, 16336100. AUSTRALIAN DICTIONARY OF BIOGRAPHY (online), Vol. 2, pp.599-600.