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Captain Cook’s 250-year-old waistcoat to auction in Sydney

A waistcoat once owned by pioneering British explorer Captain James Cook is heading for auction later this month.
The 250-year-old embroidered silk waistcoat was reportedly worn by Cook in 1770, during his first expedition to the South Pacific Ocean aboard HMS Endeavour.

It is now set to cross the block at Aalders Auctions in Sydney, Australia – just a few miles from where Cook first landed at Botany Bay.

It was during this first expedition that Cook and his crew became just the second European party to set foot on the islands of New Zealand, where they spent six months exploring the coast and gathering botanical specimens.

They then set sail westward, and became the first European crew to discover the eastern coast of Australia, which was then merely a hypothetical land mass known as ‘Terra Australis’ (the South Land).

It’s believed that the embroidered plants and flowers depicted on the waistcoat were based on the native flora encountered during Cook’s exploration of Australia.

Cook returned to England in 1771, and the waistcoat remained with his family when he returned to sea the following year. It was during Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific in 1779 that he met his end, killed by local natives whilst attempting to kidnap the native chief of Hawaii.

The waistcoat later passed through the hands of the renowned 19th century London antique dealers Helen And Isabel Wollan, who then sold it to the English industrialist William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme.

Lord Leverhulme in turn gifted to his friend Dr Ruby Rich, an Australian pianist and campaigner for women’s rights who served as a volunteer nurse during WWI, and was an active member of suffragette meetings in London.

Rich had the vest altered to fit a female figure, and was known to wear the vest at social gatherings. Having lived to the age of 99, Rich (who also famously slept in a bed owned by Napoleon) passed the vest to her family, who later sold it privately in 1991.

Now the historic artefact is expected to fetch AU$800,000 – $1.1 million (US$606,600 – $909,900) when it goes up for sale on March 25.

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