Mānoa Heritage Center founder Sam Cooke had a passion for collecting rare books related to the period of Western exploration of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. His first purchase was a copy of Cook’s Third Voyage that he bought as a Freshman at Cornell.
But this is a story about a French voyage: Jacques Arago was the official artist on the Freycinet voyage (of 1817-20). While most of his drawings are in public collections in Europe and Australia, a group of his original land views of the Hawaiian Islands has been added to the collection at Kūaliʻi. One of these, an 1819 coastal view of the island of Maui, was purchased by Sam Cooke in 1993 and is one of the earliest drawings of the island of Maui done by a westerner.
Published for the first time in “Paintings, Prints, and Drawings of Hawaii from the Sam and Mary Cooke Collection” in 2016, David Forbes wrote of Arago’s drawing:
Prise du Mouillage de Lahaina (1819): “A land view by the artist on the Freycinet voyage. It is a “near shore” image and shows considerable detail of land features. Scattered across the landscape are coconut palms and kou or milo trees under which are nestled thatched houses. The jagged peaks behind are of the West Maui Mountains. The location of the site is Ukumehame, on the coast of west Maui. Perhaps a bit of the Olowalu district is included at the extreme left, but Lahaina is far out of sight at the left. If there was ever a continuation of this drawing showing the latter spot, it cannot be located now…”
Over the years, Sam worked with three established book dealers to put together his collection. One of the three dealers, Derek McDonnell of Hordern House in Sydney, purchased a case of the David Forbes book last year and learned about the Arago drawing. He had not known Sam had it in his collection. A few months later, the second half of the Arago drawing came up for sale. Derek contacted a good friend of Sam’s and the friend purchased the drawing as a gift for MHC in honor of Sam.
In mid-August of this year, a small group of individuals gathered in Sam’s Library for the “unveiling” of the second Arago drawing. Matching up the drawings side by side for perhaps the first time in over a hundred years brought tears to David Forbes’ eyes as he stated: “I think these drawings have been separated for a very long time. It’s almost unheard of that drawings that are separated are reunited. It’s an extraordinary coincidence.”