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A Representation of the Interview between Commodore Byron & the Patagonians
An unsigned late-eighteenth-century watercolour of one of the most fascinating subjects in the history of eighteenth-century voyages: Commodore Byron's meeting with the supposed "giants" of Patagonia. The legend of the strikingly tall Patagonians has its origins in Magellan's voyage in the 1520s. According to Pigafetta's account, Magellan encountered a race of giants whom he referred to as "Patagons" because of their large feet. Hence the southern tip of South America came to be known as Patagonia. Further sixteenth-century reports of the giant Patagonians came from Francis Fletcher, the chaplain serving with Sir Francis Drake, and from Anthonie Knivet, who had sailed with Sir Thomas Cavendish, who claimed to have seen dead bodies in Patagonia measuring 'over twelve feet in length'. In the early-eighteenth century Captains Harrington and Carmen in 1704 both corroborated the story. The story gained popular currency after the return of Byron's ship Dolphin from her circumnavigation. While the ship lay in dock, a rumour leaked out that the crew had encountered a tribe of 'nine-foot giants' in Patagonia in 1764. The account of Byron's meeting with the giants first appeared in print on 9 May 1766 in the Gentleman's Magazine, and was followed by other newspaper reports. Byron's own account, with its well-known engraved frontispiece of European officers standing waist-high to enormous Patagonians, was published in 1766. As Bernard Smith points out, Byron did not have the luxury of an artist on board the Dolphin to record this meeting. Instead it was left to an artist in London to furnish the illustration from Byron's description of events: 'one of them, who afterwards appeared to be a Chief, came towards me: he was of a gigantic stature, and seemed to realize the tales of monsters in a human shape...'. Yet despite the presence of skilled artists and observers on the Endeavour voyage of 1764, which put the height of male Patagonians at between 'five feet eight inches to five feet ten inches', the myth persisted. This was in large part due to Hawkesworth's combined narrative of the voyages of Byron, Cook and others published in 1773, which concluded that the giants did indeed exist. An engraved plate depicting the "interview" with Byron shows the Patagonians towering head and shoulders above the Englishmen. This is an interesting contemporary watercolour version of the giants, based on the engraving from Hawkesworth. The popular myth of the Patagonians continued to loom large in the public imagination and as a topic for furious philosophical debate. It was emblematic of the excitement of discovery of the New World and its strange inhabitants. An extensive discussion of the Patagonian Giants myth by the late Helen Wallis appears in Gallagher, R., ed., Byron's Journal of his Circumnavigation 1764-1766, Hakluyt Society, 1964. For the Patagonian Giants question in general, see Helen Wallis's article "The Patagonian Giants", Appendix 1, 185-96, in Robert E. Gallagher (ed.), Byron's Journal of his Circumnavigation 1764-1766 (Hakluyt Society, 1964). A good summary of the literary aspects of the myth is to be found at Princeton University's Department of English site
      [Bookseller: HS Rare Books]
Last Found On: 2017-07-09           Check availability:      Direct From Seller    


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