This is the first scientific publication relating to Captain Cook’s first voyage on HMS Endeavour (1768-1771) to the Pacific. Officially it was to observe the transit of Venus in the South Pacific but secretly it was to search for the mythical Southern Continent. In the process Cook became the first European to set foot on New Zealand and the east coast of New Holland or Australia. Of all the works associated with the First Voyage, this is one of the rarest. Only two examples of this work are recorded at auction on Rare Book Hub since 1985. It was not in the Parks collection, arguably one of the finest in living memory on the works of Cook. It was also not in the libraries of Davidson or Parson’s. It includes two large charts representing the east coast of Australia and New Zealand, much improved from those published in John Hawkesworth’s official account of the first voyage.
William Wales (bap.1734-96) was an English mathematician and astronomer. In 1768 the Royal Society sent him to Hudson Bay to observe a transit of Venus in June 1769. His observation were the first scientific measurements to be made in Canada and were taken at the Prince of Wales Fort. Whilst there he computed a series of tables for calculating longitude using chronometers. In 1772 he was appointed to the second voyage (1772-75) of Captain James Cook. He replaced his brother-in-law, the astronomer Charles Green (1735-71), who had died on the return leg of the first voyage. His meticulous attention to detail is noted in his frustration ‘I begin to despair …of doing any thing to the Purpose here, and yet I am such a slave to it that I have scarce time to eat’. Suarez noted that in Malekula he took 32 sets of observations and at Tanna, 45! He was able to correct the longitude of the South Island of New Zealand placing it 40 minutes further west, an error at Cook Strait of about 34 miles. Cook himself wrote in his journal that ‘Mr Wales, whose abilities is equal to his assiduity, lost no one observation that could possibly be obtained’ (ODNB).
This resulted in the more often found ‘The Original Astronomical Observations’, 1777, publishing the findings. Of that book Davidson wrote in 1970 that it was ‘as important as it is rare … I have not noted a copy for sale in recent years and should a copy become available it would certainly arouse great competition between collectors …’. He then became responsible for publishing the same from the results of Cook’s first voyage, based on the observations of Cook, Clerke, and Green. Wales would become Master of Mathematics at Christ’s Hospital in 1775 and served on the Board of Longitude until his death in 1798.
This example appears to be an unrecorded early issue as pages 94-95 are omitted, 93 and 96 are printed back-to-back. The signature of this leaf is Bb and there is no Bb2. The next leaf paginated 97 bears the signature Cc as expected. The two charts are engraved by James Basire (1730-1802) who was the son of Isaac Basire (1704-68), also an engraver. He was clearly regarded in some standing as he was named engraver to the Society of Antiquaries in 1759 and to the Royal Society in 1770. That of the east coast of New Holland extends from Point Hicks in the south to the tip of Cape York with accompanying track of the ‘Endeavour’. The book records the observation not only of Cook, but his predecessors in the Pacific; John Byron on the Dolphin (1764-66), Samuel Wallis on the Dolphin (1766-68), and Philip Carteret on the Swallow (1766-69). The final third of the book is on ‘Deductions from the Observations’. An extremely rare work of great significance. Beaglehole (1955-67) I, p. cclxiv; Beddie (1970) 719; Davidson (1970); ESTC T141525; not in Ferguson (1975); not in Hill (1974); Holmes (1952) 71; Howgego (2003) W3; ODNB; Sabin (1868-1936) 101029; Suarez (2004) pp. 133-5; not in Tooley Australia (1979); Worms & Baynton-Williams (2004).