Off Beat: Vancouver’s tattoo ties traced to namesake explorer



The newest exhibit at a Vancouver museum explores the last few decades of tattoo art, as represented by a dozen or so local veterans.

It turns out there is a much longer historical link between tattoos and Vancouver.

And the Vancouver we’re talking about isn’t the Clark County city where “Vet Ink: Military-Inspired Tattoos” opened last week in the Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St.

Actually, we’re talking about our namesake 18th-century English explorer.

According to some historians, it was an acquaintance of George Vancouver’s who introduced the word “tattoo” to the English language almost 250 years ago.

Joseph Banks was part of James Cook’s first Pacific voyage, which left England in 1768 and reached Tahiti in 1769.

Banks, a naturalist, took lots of notes about the exotic cultures they encountered. He wrote about the Polynesian tribal markings in his journals, where he described the process of “tatauing.”

As part of his notes, Banks observed that getting the skin punctured with sharp pieces of bone or shell seemed to hurt a lot.

In his Endeavour journal, Banks wrote: “What can be a sufficient inducement to suffer so much pain is difficult to say.”

That didn’t stop some members of the expedition from returning to England with their own tattoos, according to online sources.

George Vancouver was part of Cook’s next two Pacific voyages, in 1772 and 1776.

Eventually, it was Vancouver’s turn to lead a Northwest expedition and Banks — who took such detailed notes during Cook’s travels — assisted Vancouver in outfitting his 1791 voyage.– Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.