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The voyages of Captain James Cook round the world; comprehending a history of the South Sea Islands &c. &c. 1825

Navigator and explorer, James Cook, was born in 1728 at Martin-in-Cleveland, Middlesbrough, England.  The second of eight children, he moved with his family to Great Ayton in 1736, where his father arranged for his apprenticeship to a shopkeeper on the North Sea coast.[1]  Perhaps it was this seaside location that inspired Cook to seek a new post after eighteen months under coal-shipper, John Walker of Whitby.[2]  Here he learnt a great deal about navigation, and in 1755 Walker offered him command of a collier.  This Cook declined, volunteering instead for service in the Royal Navy, and by 1758 was promoted to master of the Pembroke.[3]  In her, he sailed across the Atlantic and took part in the siege of Louisburg and the survey of the St Lawrence River which led to the capture of Quebec.[4]  This voyage, and that on-board HMS Northumberland, in which Cook began surveying the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, solidified his reputation as an outstanding surveyor.  He was eventually assigned his own small schooner, the Grenville, and tasked with surveying Newfoundland’s extensive coastline and southern Labrador.  The acquaintances he made during this time, including the Governor of Newfoundland, plus the publication of his charts and observations of a solar eclipse, brought him to the attention of both the Admiralty and the Royal Society.[5]

The Royal Society had been keen to learn more about inter-planetary distances, and began petitioning the British government and the Admiralty to send astronomers via ship to record the 1769 transit of Venus.  They felt that if the Planet could be observed as it passed across the sun at the same time and from different locations, it might then be possible to calculate the actual distance of earth from the sun.[6]  The Society suggested Alexander Dalrymple as a potential leader of an expedition to the South Seas to observe the transit but the Admiralty chose Cook instead, promoting him to Lieutenant and giving him command of the bark Endeavour.[7]  He sailed from Plymouth in August 1768 with a crew of ninety-four, one of whom was naturalist and botanist, Joseph Banks.  For Cook, it would be the first of three major expeditions.

It was almost eight months later, on 13 April 1769, that they reached Tahiti, making their observations on 3 June.  Cook toured the island for some three months, making topographic notes and detailed descriptions of its inhabitants.  Along the way, they chartered islands, collected specimens and searched for a ‘supposed’ great southern continent.   Failing to find the southern land mass, they headed for New Zealand, circumnavigating it and establishing that there existed two principle islands.  By April 1770, they landed at Stingray Bay, where Banks and his naturalists collected so many specimens that it was later renamed Botany Bay.[8]  They sailed on to Bustard Bay and Cape Townshend (Queensland), and through the Barrier Reef where the Endeavour become stuck on a reef.  The crew reportedly had to throw guns, ballasts and stores overboard before the ship could dislodge and make its way to Endeavour River for repairs.[9]  Those repairs, coupled with bad weather, delayed the crew for seven weeks but on 22 August 1770 Cook took possession of Australia’s east coast for Great Britain, later adding the name ‘New South Wales’, to his journal.[10]

Now satisfied that New Guinea and New Holland were not connected, Cook set sail for Cape York, through Torres Strait and on to Batavia.  It was here that the Endeavour lost a third of its crew to malaria and dysentery.[11]  It would be another year before Cook and the survivors arrived back in England on 13 July 1771.

The importance of Cook’s achievements, and those of his crew, should not be understated.  Though their discoveries were not new, aside from New South Wales, they had chartered some 5,000 miles of coast with incredible accuracy.  Cook, however, lamented the fact that they had not discovered a great southern continent, and in 1772 was given a second opportunity to find it.  Taking two ships this time, the Resolution and the Adventure, the expedition’s primary importance for Australian discovery lay in the latter’s journey to Van Diemen’s Land.[12]  Its captain, Tobias Furneaux, renamed Adventure Bay on Bruny Island, sailed around the Tasman peninsula and up the east coast to Flinders Island, whilst Cook, on-board the Resolution, explored the Friendly and Society Islands, sailed south of New Zealand and crossed, for the first time, the Antarctic Circle.  Crossing the Pacific without sighting land, he was again satisfied that the myth of the great southern continent was exactly that – a myth.[13]

The aim of Cook’s third voyage was to return a Raiatean by the name of Mai to his homeland, who had been brought to Britain by Furneaux, and to search for the North West Passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic.[14]  Two ships were taken again, the Resolution and the Discovery, the latter captained by Charles Clerke.  They departed Plymouth in July 1776, sailing to Cape Town, Kerguelen Island in the southern Indian Ocean, Adventure Bay in Van Diemen’s Land, New Zealand, the Cook Islands and Tonga.  They journeyed to the Hawaiian Islands, surveying the north-western coasts of America from Oregon to Alaska and returning to the Sandwich Islands, where Cook was killed on the 14 February 1779 by Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay.[15]

The voyages of Captain James Cook around the world… provides a detailed account of these three voyages, including important, first-hand information about the people, flora and fauna encountered along the way.  Essentially two volumes in the one book, it contains illustrated plates of Cook; Joseph Banks; Tierra del Fuego; war canoes of Otaheite; the inside of a house in Nootka Sound; Terreeoboo, King of ‘O Whyhee’, plus many more.  It is a rich source of knowledge for anyone interested not only in discoveries, (for some of Cook’s legacy lies in the fact that he discovered where land did not exist), but also in coastal charting, and Cook’s charting was some of the finest.  He set extraordinary standards, and his accuracy when defining ocean boundaries greatly assisted future navigators, and ultimately helped to create a second British empire.[16]

In April 2019 The Voyages of Captain James Cook... was restored through the generosity of an anonymous donor.  To learn more about the conservation process and to see some interesting 'before' and 'after' photographs, visit the Adopt-a-Book webpages to view the book's condition report.

Footnotes:

[1] Curtin University Library, ‘Project Endeavor Jon Sanders’ triple circumnavigation of the world: Captain James Cook and his voyages’, 2 Nov 2009, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://john.curtin.edu.au/endeavour/cook.html

[2] 'Cook, James (1728–1779)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-james-1917/text2279

[3] James Cook and his voyages, National Library of Australia, undated, accessed online 10 May 2019, https://www.nla.gov.au/selected-library-collections/james-cook-and-his-voyages

[4] 'Cook, James (1728–1779)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-james-1917/text2279

[5] Curtin University Library, ‘Project Endeavor Jon Sanders’ triple circumnavigation of the world: Captain James Cook and his voyages’, 2 Nov 2009, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://john.curtin.edu.au/endeavour/cook.html

[6] Curtin University Library, ‘Project Endeavor Jon Sanders’ triple circumnavigation of the world: Captain James Cook and his voyages’, 2 Nov 2009, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://john.curtin.edu.au/endeavour/cook.html

[7] 'Cook, James (1728–1779)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-james-1917/text2279

[8] 'Cook, James (1728–1779)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-james-1917/text2279

[9] James Cook and his voyages, National Library of Australia, undated, accessed online 10 May 2019, https://www.nla.gov.au/selected-library-collections/james-cook-and-his-voyages

[10] 'Cook, James (1728–1779)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-james-1917/text2279

[11] James Cook and his voyages, National Library of Australia, undated, accessed online 10 May 2019, https://www.nla.gov.au/selected-library-collections/james-cook-and-his-voyages

[12] 'Cook, James (1728–1779)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-james-1917/text2279

[13] Curtin University Library, ‘Project Endeavor Jon Sanders’ triple circumnavigation of the world: Captain James Cook and his voyages’, 2 Nov 2009, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://john.curtin.edu.au/endeavour/cook.html

[14] Curtin University Library, ‘Project Endeavor Jon Sanders’ triple circumnavigation of the world: Captain James Cook and his voyages’, 2 Nov 2009, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://john.curtin.edu.au/endeavour/cook.html

[15] 'Cook, James (1728–1779)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-james-1917/text2279

[16] 'Cook, James (1728–1779)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 10 May 2019, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-james-1917/text2279

 

Lee Hayes
May 2019

 

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