Mai

Between Worlds

Mai arrived in England on 14 July 1774 on board the Adventure, one of the ships that was part of Captain James Cook's second voyage to the South Pacific. He soon acquired patrons including Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty and Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society. Banks introduced Mai to London society, installed him in his London house, paid his bills and presented him at court.

Mai was an able mimic and, according to the writer Fanny Burney, his performance of gentlemanliness exceeded that of many English gentlemen. He was also able to perform a double bluff and represent himself as coming from the highest class in his native land, the ari'i, when in fact he came from the middling classes.

Mai had his own agenda: to gain support from the British so that he could return home with firearms and conquer his enemies, the Bora-Borans. On 12 July 1776 Cook set off on his third voyage with instructions from the King to repatriate Mai. In Tahiti, he had a house built for Mai so that he could store the sought-after weapons. The continuing British fascination with Mai's story is reflected in the staging of John O'Keefe's adult pa ntomime Omai: or a Trip around the World in London in 1785, some eight years after he had left England.

Four Kings | William Ansah Sessarakoo| Mai| Joseph Brant| Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne| Sake Dean Mahomed| Sara Baartman| Raja Rammohun Roy| Maharaja Dalip Singh


Omai (Mai), Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Charles Solander, by William Parry, circa 1775-1776 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London / National Museum Cardiff / Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Whitby

Omai (Mai), Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Charles Solander
by William Parry
circa 1775-1776
NPG 6652

Omai's Public Entry on his first landing at Otaheite from Rickman's Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage , 1781 Printed book, page 170 x 100mm

Omai's Public Entry on his first landing at Otaheite
from Rickman's Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage , 1781
Printed book, page 170 x 100mm