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Across the curator’s desk: Tapa cloth collected by J. Hunt, 1847

Specimens of native paper from Tonga and Fiji, John Hunt, 1847

Specimens of native paper from Tonga and Fiji, John Hunt, 1847

What is it?

Specimens of native paper from Tongo [ie. Tonga] and Fiji sent home by John Hunt, Wesleyan missionary, 1847, published in Vewa, Fiji, Q84/18-21

Why is it important?

This rare book was published in the earliest years of the colonisation of Fiji by John Hunt, one of the first Wesleyan Missionaries to work in the islands. From 1838-1848 Hunt, with his wife Hannah, worked in Rewa, Somosomo, Lakemba, and Viwa (Vewa).

An accomplished linguist, Hunt worked on the translation of the Bible, completing the New Testament before he died of dysentery in 1848. He also used the printer and letter-press he had brought with him to publish pamphlets and print a very limited run of books similar to these 1847 booklets containing samples of tapa cloth. 

Each volume consists of 14 sheets of Tapa cloth bound together in a volume with a title-page.

Why is it on your desk?

The Library holds four copies containing these rare original samples of tapa from Tonga and Fiji. I am doing some comparative work on these volumes as it appears that each volume is unique. Each booklet contains samples cut from a larger piece of cloth. Comparing sheets across all the volumes, it is possible to see more of the original cloth patterns. The next step will be to digitise all four volumes and try to compare these samples with copies held in other collections.

How did it get here?

This volume is part of the Sir William Dixon collection. It was acquired by the Library through the Dixson bequest in February 1952.

Geoff Barker, Senior Curator, Research & Discovery

Visit the Library catalogue to view this collection item.