Sketches in North America and the Oregon Territory
Lithographs with original hand-coloring.
This is a beautifully record of the northwestern territories during the first years of colonization. The work owes its existence to an undercover expedition which was prompted by a crucial border dispute between the United States and Britain: "Captain Warre and Lieutenant [Mervin] Vavasour of the Royal Engineers were agents of the British government who were sent out [as spies] to Oregon at the height of the controversy between the United States and Great Britain over the sovereignty of that territory. The two officers crossed Canada by the Hudson's Bay Company's route as far as the Rockies, where they turned south to cross the mountains, probably through Crow's Nest Pass, to Kootenai Lake. They reached Fort Vancouver on August 25, 1845, and visited the Willamette Valley, the mouth of the Columbia River, Puget Sound and Vancouver Island before returning to England, where they found that the territorial dispute had been settled during their absence" (Wagner-Camp).
During the expedition the officers, disguised as young men of leisure visiting the west "for the pleasure of field sports and scientific pursuit," had been assigned to assess American military capabilities in the Oregon territory. Warre, who had no mean talents as a painter, made over eighty watercolor drawings, many of which included subjects of military importance. When the agents' espionage reports turned out to be superfluous, he decided to publish a selection of his drawings as a book of views. The Sketches were issued two years after the expedition, with an accompanying narrative in which Warre avoids any mention of the true nature of his journey or even the name of his partner, designated as "Lieutenant V----".
Copies were issued with the plates either uncolored or colored. The subjects include dramatic vistas of the Rocky Mountains, Puget Sound, the Columbia River, and Mount Hood, most peopled with small figures of Native Americans in the foreground. A few scenes, such as the view of Fort Vancouver, depicted on the same plate with the scene of an "Indian tomb" (a canoe about to be launched on its final voyage), delicately evoke the poignancy of colonization. In an unusually laudatory note, Howes called these "the only western color-plates comparable in beauty to those by Bodmer accompanying Maximilian's Travels".