A set of ‘Captain James Cook’s three Voyages form the basis of any collection of Pacific Books. In three great voyages Cook did more to clarify the geographical knowledge of the southern hemisphere than all his predecessors had done together. He was the first really scientific navigator and his voyages made great contributions to many fields of knowledge’ (Hill). This is a very fine set unusually in contemporary uniform bindings. Published over a period of thirteen years, it is very rare to find the bindings matching in all. This would indicate a true bibliophile was the original owner. An examination of the bookplates confirms this. Frances Mary Richardson Currer (3 March 1785 – 28 April 1861) was a British heiress and book collector. She was the heir to the Richardson and Currer estates. Those of Richard Richardson (1663-1741) an English physician, botanist and antiquarian, her great grandfather and of Matthew Wilson (1730-84), Barrister, of Eshton Hall, Yorkshire, her grandfather. Interestingly he had married Frances Clive, sister of Robert Clive, First Lord Clive of India. Her library at Eshton Hall is described as being forty feet by twenty-four feet in size (‘A Series of Picturesque Views of Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland’). It was sold in 1916.
Frances Currer had always had an interest in books and privately printed two catalogues of her collection in 1820 and 1833. Thomas Frognall Dibdin wrote in 1838 that her library was one of the best in the country. Those at Althorp, Chatsworth and Stowe were the only libraries he thought more extensive. He estimated her library at 20,000 books.
Captain James Cook (1728-79) is one of Britain’s most famous explorers, but he was also a noted mapmaker. His charting of the St. Lawrence River was critical to the British capture of Quebec in 1759. Cook had joined the merchant navy as a teenager and the Royal Navy in 1755. Following the end of the Seven Years War Cook was given command of the ‘Endeavour’ for the first of three Pacific Voyages.
FIRST VOYAGE (1769-71).
This is arguably the most important of the three voyages and the most successful. It defined the political landscape of the Pacific into the form we still see largely today. The public objective of the voyage was to observe the transit of Venus across the sun from Tahiti. Its real purpose was to search for the mythical ‘Great Southern Continent’ believed to lie in the southern Pacific Ocean. It left Plymouth on 25 August 1768 with amongst others Joseph banks, the naturalist Daniel Solander and artist Sydney Parkinson. After his observations in Tahiti he went on to discover Bora Bora, Huaheine and Raiatea. On 8 October 1769 Cook became the first European to set foot on New Zealand. Continuing westwards he came across the east coast of New Holland on 19 April 1770, he named it New South Wales. He added 5,000 miles of charted coastline to our knowledge, mostly to Australia and New Zealand which he circumnavigated. He returned to England on 12 July 1771.
John Hawkesworth (c.1715-73) was commissioned by the Admiralty to edit Captain Cook’s papers relating to the voyage. The result is ‘An Account of the Voyages … Southern Hemisphere’ published in 1773. The official account also records the earlier Pacific voyages of Byron, Carteret and Wallis and the discovery of Tahiti. He was criticized by many for being inexact and disregarding of the interests of morality. It is thought that the criticisms hastened his death. There are two issues of the first edition, this preferred second issue has the chart of the Straits of Magellan. It is also known for the first depiction of the ‘Grand Martin Pecheur’, or Kookaburra. It is also the first of the Banksian Cockatoo, now known as the Red-Tailed Cockatoo.
Another notable achievement of the voyage was that in 3 years of travels not a single life had been lost to scurvy which was the scourge of marine life. For most of the eighteenth-century scurvy limited most voyages to about six to eight weeks. Any longer and there was a risk to life. More sailors died from it than were lost in action. Indeed 184,889 were enlisted on the Navy for the Seven Years War. Of these an incredible 133,708 died, mostly to scurvy. Only 1,512 were lost in combat!
SECOND VOYAGE (1772-75).
Now promoted to Commander, this second voyage continued the search for the Southern Continent and finally proved that it did not exist. However, they were convinced of a land mass even further south but the ice fields defeated them. Aided by better tools to determine longitude including a Harrison’s chronometer, Cook departed Plymouth on 13 July 1772 in the ‘Resolution’. Accompanying them was the ‘Adventure’ commanded by Tobias Furneaux. Pushing even further south, the voyage was the first to cross the Antarctic Circle in January 1773, which it did three times. The furthest south was reached on the 30 January 1774 at 71o 10′ south. Indeed, the maps he produced were so accurate that they were still being used into the twentieth century. Whilst in fog the two vessels became separated and the ‘Adventure’ returned home. During the winter periods he returned to New Zealand and continued exploring the more tropical waters in the South Pacific.
Cook returned to England after another three-year voyage. His record on health again was remarkable. Only one became ill but not with scurvy and three died due to onboard accidents. Cook’s rigidly applied dietary and sanitary conditions earned him a place in medical history and a coveted Copley Gold Medal from the Royal Society. Disappointed with Hawkesworth’s work on his first voyage, Cook undertook this second work himself. Entitled ‘A Voyage towards the South Pole’, it was published in 1777. Cook was promoted to Post-Captain and given an honorary retirement. He accepted based on an ability to leave if an opportunity of active duty should appear. A third voyage was planned to settle the question of a Northwest Passage and Cook volunteered for the task.
THIRD VOYAGE (1776-79).
Publicly the Third Voyage was to return the native Omai to Tahiti. It provided an opportunity for Cook to apply his skills to the northern waters of the Pacific Ocean. Two vessels were involved; Cook commanded the ‘Resolution’ again which left Plymouth on 12 July 1776. Accompanying him were John Gore, Lieutenants James King and William Bligh. The ‘Discovery’ sailed on 1 August under Charles Clerke and carried James Burney, George Vancouver and the artist John Webber. At first they further explored the waters of the South Pacific making further discoveries including a portion of the Tonga Islands. Christmas Island was discovered on that day in 1777 before making first sight of the Hawaiian Islands on 18 January 1778. They reached the coast of California on 7 March. Working their way northwards along the coast passing through the Bering Strait, they reached 70o 44′ before ice forced them back. Apart from missing the Strait of Juan de Fuca he effectively mapped the entire Northwest coastline. Sailing south to the warmer waters of Hawaii they discovered Maui before reaching Kealakekua Bay on Hawaii anchoring there on 17 January 1779. During a shoreline skirmish with natives on the 14 February Cook was famously killed.
Charles Clerke took command and headed north to the Bering Strait dying of tuberculosis on 22 August 1779. John Gore, who had been present on the First Voyage, took overall command with James King taking command of the ‘Discovery’. They reached England in October 1780, Cook himself believed its greatest achievements were the disproval of the Northwest Passage and the discovery of Hawaii.
The first two volumes of ‘A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean’ were written by Cook himself. King completed the official account which was so eagerly awaited that the entire print run sold out in three days, despite its high price at £4 14s 6d. Copies were soon changing hands at 10 guineas. This second edition includes the medal awarded to Cook on the titles and was printed by Hughs (rather than Strahan). Printed on better paper, the text was re-set and is considered superior to the first.
Provenance: bookplate of Frances Mary Richardson Currer inside cover of folio atlas; twentieth century bookplate of F. A. Barrett pasted nearby; bookplate of Carl Wendell Carlsmith (1904-82) of Hawaii. David, Andrew (ed.) (1992-97-98) ‘Charts and Coastal Views of Captain Cook’s Voyages’, The Hakluyt Society; Hill pp. 61-2 & 139; ODNB; Shirley (2004) G.Cook 1a & G.Hawk 1a.