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Curiosity, Wonder, and William Dampier's Painted Prince
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Curiosity, Wonder, and William Dampier's Painted Prince

William Dampier, buccaneer turned natural scientist, modelled himself on Sir Francis Drake in his narrative of the twelve-year sequence of voyages (1679–1691) that took him "cleer rownd the globe."1 Drake brought back a fortune in gold and spices, but all that Dampier had to show for his circumnavigation was, as he says in an annotation to the account of those travels in the British Library manuscript Sloane 3236, "this Journal and my painted prince" (fol. 232v). Published by James Knapton as A New Voyage Round the World (1697), that journal—reworked, amplified,2 and reviewed in the Philosophical Transactions (19: 426–33)—took Dampier into the circle of the Royal Society (Gill 231–32, 237–39). Financial exigency on his return to England in September 1691 had, however, forced him to relinquish all claims to his "painted prince," Jeoly, a tattooed native of the Spice Islands.

Despite his efforts to construct himself as scientific observer in A New Voyage, it was Dampier's reputation as a buccaneer and his association with Jeoly that were uppermost in John Evelyn's mind when they met at a dinner party in August 1698: "I din'd at Mr. Pepys, where was Cap: Dampier, who had ben a famous Buccaneere, brought hither the painted Prince Jolo, printed a Relation of his very strange adventures, which was very extrordinary, & his observations very profitable" (De Beer 295). Evelyn had previously nominated both Dampier and Jeoly as worthy of commemoration in medallion effigy in his Numismata (1697): Dampier "and the rest of the Buccaneers" in the category of "Great Travellers" and "the painted Prince Giolo, lately shew'd in [End Page 31] Public" as the last in a long list of "Men of Name or Merit for something Extrordinary and Conspicuous" (263, 268).

Recent research has uncovered some of Dampier's activities between the time of his return to England and the publication of A New Voyage (Baer), but the last days of Jeoly, who died probably in 1692, remain something of a mystery. The solving of that mystery is the ultimate concern of this essay. Its more immediate aim is to examine the multiple narrative constructions of Jeoly— by Dampier, by his London exhibitors, by Thomas Hyde, and by John Pointer—as a case study of the shifting meaning(s) of curiosity and wonder, and their contingent values, in the early modern period.

The medieval sense of "curiosity" as that "morally excessive and suspect interest in observing the world, seeking novel experiences, or acquiring knowledge for its own sake"(Zacher 4) began to be contested in the first half of the seventeenth century, when curiosity began its rehabilitation as impetus to the pursuit of useful knowledge (Harrison 279–82). By the early 1700s some of its opprobrium had been transferred to "wonder" as the handmaid of gawking ignorance rather than stimulus to scientific enquiry (Daston and Park 321–28, 348–50). Curiosity had also become more or less synonymous with consumerism for seventeenth-century amassers of the collections of imported objects and local artefacts—zoological, botanical, ethnological, mineral—known as "cabinets of curiosities" (Daston and Park 310).

What was the point of this objectified assemblage of curiosity? John Pointer, sometime chaplain of Merton College, Oxford, prefaced his four- volume catalogue to the cabinet that he left to St John's College,3 the Musæum Pointerianum (ca.1740), with a defence of charges by "some of the Ignorant & Illiterate Part of Mankind (that only look upon the Out-sides of Things without examining their real & intrinsic Value)" that they were purely for show and sensation (Gunther 455). Individually, Pointer argued, curiosities might have medicinal properties. Taken as a whole, they offered a microcosm of God's creation: "they lead us to the Great Author of Nature, & not only serve to puzzle the Philosopher, but also to admonish (if not convince) the Atheist" (456–57).

Dampier justifies the broad scope of his undertaking in similar terms in the Preface to A Voyage to New Holland, the narrative of his 1699–1702 expedition to Terra Australis Incognita, sponsored by the Admiralty in the name...