Captain Cook’s Hawaiian cape on display after 120 years in storage

Posted October 13, 2017 13:13:48

A famed feather cape gifted by a Hawaiian chief to Captain Cook on his fateful final voyage has been put on display at Sydney’s Australian Museum after more than a century in storage.

The cape — or ‘ahu’ula — was given to Cook in 1778 or 1779 and has been part of the museum’s collection since 1894.

It was supposed to provide physical and spiritual protection to those who donned it, however, that did not prove true for the explorer, who was killed by Hawaiians in February 1779.

And it has now been unveiled as part of the museum’s 200 Treasures exhibition.

Other artefacts on display include the body of a Tasmanian tiger, a prehistoric Irish elk skeleton and a 10 kilogram gold nugget discovered during the Gold Rush.

Despite being part of the museum’s collection for more than a century, Cook’s cape has seldom been seen by visitors, apart from during a brief appearance in 2015.

However it now has a permanent home.

The heritage-listed gallery itself is also being hailed as a unique treasure.

After almost two years of restoration, conservation, and design at a cost of $9 million, the Long Gallery at the Australian Museum will finally reopen to the public.

Exhibition Designer Aaron Maestri said reviving the gallery, built between 1846 and 1855, was full of challenges.

“There are so many things that are a little bit out, or a lot out, or things that I would just like to replace but you can’t because they are heritage,” Mr Maestri said.

“Being sensitive to heritage requirements is really important and worthwhile but can also be a big difficulty.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the exhibition would be an excellent addition to NSW’s arts and culture facilities.

“The Australian Museum, the first museum in the nation, has an unrivalled collection … I commend everyone involved in bringing such a remarkable gallery and exhibition to the people of Australia,” she said.

The gallery will house the 200 Treasures exhibition which shows off some of the fossils, scientific specimens and Indigenous artefacts amassed by the nation’s oldest natural history museum.

It also recognises 100 people who have helped shape the nation through contributions to history, science, nature or culture.

Topics: library-museum-and-gallery, history, art-history, community-and-society, arts-and-entertainment, sydney-2000