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Articles

Framing the transit: expeditionary culture and identities in Lieutenant E.J.W. Noble's caricatures of the 1874 transit of Venus expedition to Honolulu

Pages 214-239
Received 26 Oct 2016
Accepted 05 May 2017
Published online: 02 Jun 2017
 

Summary

Making use of a source previously unknown to historians, this article sheds new light on the British expedition to the Sandwich Islands to observe the 1874 transit of Venus. This source, a series of caricature drawings that follow the expedition from departure to return, gives insight into expeditionary culture and the experience of a previously unremarked member of this astronomical expedition, Evelyn J.W. Noble, a career officer of the Royal Marine Artillery. It also reveals overlapping military, scientific and masculine identities, developed in dialogue with, and often deliberately subverting, more public accounts. The article explores this unique source as a product of naval, imperial and expeditionary cultures; as a contribution to the wide textual and visual culture that surrounded the transit expeditions; and as a series of drawings that united the expedition members through the use of humour and irony, by differentiating the group from others they encountered, and by reflecting or rejecting ideas about the nature of scientific work and personae. The artist represented himself not as a serving officer but as part of a (mostly) united group, dedicated to but humorously self-deprecating about their contribution to the scientific effort.

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