Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"Portrait of a Lady" by Stephanie Pain. New Scientist. 5 February 2005

In 1770, an English trader named George Cartwright set up a series of trading posts in Labrador. Cartwright believe in building good relations with the native population. When he returned to England for a visit in 1772, he brought a party of five "Esquimaux" with him. These were Attuiock, and Inuit priest; Attuiock's youngest wife, Ickongogue, and their daughter, Ickenuna; Attuiock's brother, Tooklavinia; and his brother's wife, Caubvick. The Inuit were a hit in London society, "even the king doffed his hat to them."

Among the flood of invitations, in January 1773 they dined at the home of John Hunter, anatomist, surgeon, and collector. Attuiock accidentally stumbled over a room containing a glass case filled with human bones, and returned to his companions in fear that Mr. Hunter intended to eat them and add their bones to his collection. With some difficulty, Cartwright managed to convince them that the bones had come from executed English criminals and were in Hunter's possession for medical study. A sketch of the four adult Inuit was found among John Hunter's papers, and a portrait of a Labrador woman is included in the collection of anthropological portraits at the Hunterian Museum. The portrait is believe to be of Caubvick.

Sadly on their return voyage home to Labrador, all the Inuit fell ill with smallpox. Only Caubvick survived. Cartwright had cut off her scab-matted hair during her illness, and tried to persuade her to throw it away. Her refusal appears to have led to the deaths of her entire settlement within a year of her return.