London: H. Humphreis [sic], Jan. 4, 1791. Handcolored etching, 14 x 21 inches. Cropped within plate borders, with no loss to image or text. Remnants of older paper pasted to verso. Color bright and fresh. Near fine. Item #WRCAM51520
In 1789 and 1790 Nootka Sound, in the Pacific Northwest, looked to be the spur of a major conflict between then kingdoms of Britain and Spain. The inlet was an important outpost for maritime fur trading and had therefore become the focus of the centuries-old struggle for advantage in the New World. Courtesy of explorer and trader John Meares, news of Spanish indiscretions reached Britain in 1790 and intensified the growing anti-Spanish rhetoric and call for war. Meares (whose credibility was famously contested in two remarkable pamphlets by George Dixon) claimed not only that the Spanish had seized British ships, but that they had removed his settlement at Nootka and replaced it with their own. After debate in the House of Commons, it was decided that the British Navy would be mobilized. While Spain initially sought to go to war, they could not attain the essential support of France and thus required a diplomatic solution to the problem. This came in the form of the first Nootka Convention, which was signed on Oct. 28, 1790. The convention guaranteed Britain the right to have outposts on Nootka Sound and to practice whaling in waters beyond the "Ten-League Line" off the coast. The Convention eventually resulted in the seminal voyage of George Vancouver to survey the Pacific Northwest. This print is a satire on the British Tory government's handling of the crisis. Its central critical point attacks part of the convention concerning fishing rights, which Pitt's opposition latched onto as evidence of underhanded dealings. They noted that the original importance of Nootka Sound was not for whaling but rather for fur trading, and that the whaling industry had surely re-directed political attention toward their interests. Thus the print shows Pitt and Henry Dundas in the Pacific, off the west coast of North America, hopelessly fishing with millions from the treasury. As Pitt expresses worry over the spending, Dundas soothes him with the knowledge that ..."the Gudgeons we caught in England will pay for it all." In saying so, Dundas declares the Britons who supported the war to have been bait for his and Pitt's political maneuvering. The coastline is shown from southern Alaska to Mexico, likewise making this an early map of California, Alaska, and the west coast. In all, it is a lively expression of disbelief and anger at the amount expended on preparing for war set against the eventual prize - namely, the indeterminate profitability of whaling.