Print. Mezzotint, hand coloured.

Thomas Gosse. 1796.

Central figure apparently based on the 1775 portrait of Omai by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

The print was published to celebrate the safe return of William Bligh. London (No. 212 High Holborn).

SKU SF001055 Category


The famous and well documented stories of William Bligh’s two voyages to transfer breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indian plantations of St Vincent and Jamaica form the subject of Thomas Gosse’s mezzotint ‘Transplanting of the bread fruit trees from Otaheite’, produced on 1 September 1796. Bligh and a member of the Arreoy, representing two societies, Britain and Tahiti, are shown sharing a common goal as they direct the sailors and natives who together load the potted breadfruit into the ship Providence’s launch.

The engraving is about the translation of an insular plant into a globalised commodity, and memorialises that moment of cultural contact and exchange. It took two tries for the breadfruit to reach Jamaica and St Vincent; the first boatload of plants got only as far as the Friendly Islands, after which they were thrown overboard by Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers on the ship Bounty.

Omai was a young South Sea islander who went to England in 1774 aboard Tobias Furneaux’s HMS Adventure. Omai’s arrival coincided with a long running intellectual debate, stimulated by the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, as to whether man in his natural state was superior to civilised man. Epitomising the ‘noble savage’, Omai was the embodiment of an anthropological experiment; to observe and to learn how a ‘savage’ might behave in a civilised environment. Often described as a Prince, Omai was actually not part of the aristocracy but a commoner. His sponsors inflated his status to that of either priest or prince, and he went along with the ruse. However the experience spoiled him and when he returned home he was unable to settle back into society, antagonising the chiefs by giving people gifts of highly prized objects the chiefs themselves coveted.

Omai became a sad and lonely figure, dying in his late twenties.

Additional information



Thomas Gosse


Ink, Paper