''Woman of Ounalaskha'' home after 223 years away

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2001

UNALASKA (AP) --The Woman of Ounalaskha left town 223 years ago with a dashing sea captain. Now, she's back home.

The pencil drawing is one of just two known portraits that were done here during Capt. James Cook's famous third world voyage, said Rick Knecht, director of the Museum of the Aleutians, which arranged for the final payment to a rare book dealer in Sydney who represented the sale of the drawing.

The portrait was done by John Webber, a London-born landscape painter chosen to serve as chief draughtsman on the voyage. Cook's expedition set sail from England on July 12, 1776, spending the next two years exploring the oceans of the South Atlantic and South Pacific before turning north from Kauai, an island they discovered in January of 1778.

By midsummer of that year, they were exploring Prince William Sound. Fogbound, they slowly made their way down the western side of Cook Inlet. The ships put in at English Bay on July 1, 1778.

Webber went in search of local people. On a trail overlooking English Bay, he encountered a young woman and her husband. He was taken with their good looks and the decoration of their clothing. Webber asked them to pose for a quick study.

Thinking they were still following the eastern side of the single landmass, Webber mistakenly titled his sketch ''A woman of Cook's River.''

''Of all the drawings made during Cook's voyage, we know more about when and where this one was drawn than any of the others,'' Knecht said. ''The trail still exists today, and we can say within 20 to 30 feet of where it was done.''

The return of the drawing was made possible by contributors, ranging from schoolchildren to large corporations. They raised more than $70,000 to purchase the portrait.

''The community really came together to obtain this world-class piece of art,'' Knecht said.

Just where the portrait went between 1780 and 1932 when she showed up as part of a collection with a London bookseller is a mystery. What is known is that she was acquired by Francis P. Farquhar in 1932 and remained in his family's collection until last year.

Cook learned from the woman that the island he had christened Providence was really Sedanka, and the bay was known as Samgoonoodha Bay. Cook would later changes his charts to reflect the local names.

Cook steered the Discovery and the Resolution out of English Bay and spent the next three months exploring the Bering and Chukchi seas. The expedition was turned back by ice floes and with one ship leaking, they made their way back to the harbor at Unalaska and then on the English Bay for repairs.

Cook sailed past the harbor at Unalaska Bay for the last time on Oct. 24 and took the portrait with him. He would be killed just months later in the Hawaiian Islands.



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