The son of a farm labourer, James Cook (1728–1779) was born at Marton in Yorkshire. In 1747 he was apprenticed to James Walker, a shipowner and master mariner of Whitby, and for several years sailed in colliers in the North Sea, English Channel, Irish Sea and Baltic Sea. In 1755 he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy and was appointed an able seaman on HMS Eagle. Within two years he was promoted to the rank of master and in 1758 he sailed to North America on HMS Pembroke. His surveys of the St Lawrence River, in the weeks before the capture of Quebec, established his reputation as an outstanding surveyor. In 1763 the Admiralty gave him the task of surveying the coast of Newfoundland and southern Labrador. He spent four years on HMS Grenville, recording harbours and headlands, shoals and rocks, and also observed an eclipse of the sun in 1766.
In May 1768 Cook was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and given command of the bark Endeavour. He was instructed to sail to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus in 1769 and also to ascertain whether a continent existed in the southern latitudes of the Pacific Ocean. The expedition, which included a party of scientists and artists led by Joseph Banks, left Plymouth in August 1768 and sailed to Brazil and around Cape Horn, reaching Tahiti in April 1769. After the astronomical observations were completed, Cook sailed south to 40°S, but failed to find any land. He then headed for New Zealand, which he circumnavigated, establishing that there were two principal islands. From New Zealand he sailed to New Holland, which he first sighted in April 1770. He charted the eastern coast, naming prominent landmarks and collecting many botanical specimens at Botany Bay. The expedition nearly ended in disaster when the Endeavour struck the Great Barrier Reef, but it was eventually dislodged and was careened and repaired at Endeavour River. From there it sailed around Cape York through Torres Strait to Batavia, in the Dutch East Indies. In Batavia and on the last leg of the voyage one-third of the crew died of malaria and dysentery. Cook and the other survivors finally reached England in July 1771.
In 1772 Cook, who had been promoted to the rank of captain, led a new expedition to settle once and for all the speculative existence of the Great Southern Continent by ‘prosecuting your discoveries as near to the South Pole as possible’. The sloops Resolution and Adventure, the latter commanded by Tobias Furneaux, left Sheerness in June 1772 and sailed to Cape Town. The ships became separated in the southern Indian Ocean and the Adventure sailed along the southern and eastern coasts of Van Diemen’s Land before reuniting with the Resolution at Queen Charlotte Sound in New Zealand. The ships explored the Society and Friendly Islands before they again became separated in October 1773. The Adventure sailed to New Zealand, where 10 of the crew were killed by Maori, and returned to England in June 1774. The Resolution sailed south from New Zealand, crossing the Antarctic Circle and reaching 71°10’S, further south than any ship had been before. It then traversed the southern Pacific Ocean, visiting Easter Island, Tahiti, the Friendly Islands, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island and New Zealand. In November 1774 Cook began the homeward voyage, sailing to Chile, Patagonia, Terra del Fuego, South Georgia and Cape Town. The expedition reached England in July 1775.
A year later Cook left Plymouth on an expedition to search for the North West Passage. His two ships were HMS Resolution and Discovery, the latter commanded by Charles Clerke. They sailed to Cape Town, Kerguelen Island in the southern Indian Ocean, Adventure Bay in Van Diemen’s Land, and Queen Charlotte Sound in New Zealand. They then revisited the Friendly and Society Islands. Sailing northwards, Cook discovered the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and reached the North American coast in March 1778. The ships followed the coast northwards to Alaska and the Bering Strait and reached 70°44’N, before being driven back by ice. They returned to the Sandwich Islands and on 14 February 1779 Cook was killed by Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay. Clerke took over the command and in the summer of 1779 the expedition again tried unsuccessfully to penetrate the pack ice beyond Bering Strait. Clerke died in August 1779 and John Gore and James King commanded the ships on the voyage home via Macao and Cape Town. They reached London in October 1780.
The earliest acquisitions by the Library of original works concerning Cook’s voyages were the papers of Sir Joseph Banks and a painting of John Webber, which were acquired from E.A. Petherick in 1909. In 1923 the Australian Government purchased at a Sotheby’s sale in London the Endeavour journal of James Cook, together with four other Cook documents that had been in the possession of the Bolckow family in Yorkshire. The manuscripts of Alexander Home were purchased from the Museum Bookstore in London in 1925, while the journal of James Burney was received with the Ferguson Collection in 1970. A facsimile copy of the journal of the Resolution in 1772–75 was presented by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.
The 18 crayon drawings of South Sea Islanders by William Hodges were presented to the Library by the British Admiralty in 1939. They had previously been in the possession of Greenwich Hospital. The view from Point Venus by Hodges was bought at a Christie’s sale in 1979. The paintings of William Ellis were part of the Nan Kivell Collection, with the exception of the view of Adventure Bay, which was bought from Hordern House in Sydney in 1993. The painting of the death of Cook by George Carter and most of the paintings of John Webber were also acquired from Rex Nan Kivell. The painting by John Mortimer was bequeathed to the Library by Dame Merlyn Myer and was received in 1987.
The Endeavour journal of James Cook (MS 1) is the most famous item in the Library’s collections. It has been the centrepiece of many exhibitions ever since its acquisition in 1923, and in 2001 it became the first Australian item to be included on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO’s) Memory of the World Register. While there are other journals of the first voyage that are partly in Cook’s hand, MS 1 is the only journal that is entirely written by Cook and covers the whole voyage of the Endeavour. The early entries in 1768, as the ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean, are brief but the passages describing Cook’s experiences and impressions in Tahiti, New Zealand and New South Wales in 1769–70 are very detailed. The journal, which is 753 pages in length, was originally a series of paper volumes and loose sheets, but they were bound into a single volume in the late nineteenth century. The current binding of oak and pigskin dates from 1976.
Two other manuscripts, also acquired in 1923, relate to the first voyage. The Endeavour letterbook (MS 2), in the hand of Cook’s clerk, Richard Orton, contains copies of Cook’s correspondence with the Admiralty and the various branches of the Navy Board. Of particular importance are the original and additional secret instructions that he received from the Lords of the Admiralty in July 1768. The other item (MS 3) is a log of the voyage, ending with the arrival in Batavia. The writer is not known, although it may have been Charles Green, the astronomer. Other documents concerning the voyage are among the papers of Joseph Banks (MS 9), including his letters to the Viceroy of Brazil in 1768 and the ‘Hints’ of the Earl of Morton, the president of the Royal Society.
The Library holds a facsimile copy (MS 1153) of the journal of HMS Resolution on the second voyage, the original of which is in the National Maritime Museum in London. It is in the hand of Cook’s clerk, William Dawson. It also holds the journal (MS 3244) of James Burney, a midshipman on HMS Adventure, covering the first part of the voyage in 1772–73. It includes a map of eastern Van Diemen’s Land and Burney’s transcription of Tongan music. In addition, there is a letterbook (MS 6) of the Resolution for both the second and third voyages. Documents of the third voyage include an account of the death of Cook (MS 8), probably dictated by Burney, and two manuscripts of Alexander Home (MS 690). They contain descriptions of Tahiti and Kamtschatka and another account of Cook’s death.
The earliest manuscript of Cook in the collection is his description of the coast of Nova Scotia, with two maps of Harbour Grace and Carbonere, dating from 1762 (MS 5). The Library holds original letters of Cook written to John Harrison, George Perry, Sir Philip Stephens and the Commissioners of Victualling. There is also in the Nan Kivell Collection a group of papers and letters of the Cook family, 1776–1926 (MS 4263).
MS 1 Journal of the H.M.S. Endeavour, 1768-1771
MS 2 Cook's voyage 1768-71 : copies of correspondence, etc. 1768-1771
MS 3 Log of H.M.S. Endeavour, 1768-1770
MS 5 Description of the sea coast of Nova Scotia, 1762
MS 6 Letterbook, 1771-1778
MS 8 Account of the death of James Cook, 1779
MS 9 Papers of Sir Joseph Banks, 1745-1923
MS 690 Home, Alexander, Journals, 1777-1779
MS 1153 Journal of H.M.S. Resolution, 1772-1775
MS 3244 Burney, James, Journal, 1772-1773
MS 4263 Family papers 1776-1926
Many records relating to the voyages of Cook have been microfilmed at the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) in London and other archives and libraries in Britain. They include the official log of HMS Endeavour and the private journals kept by Cook on his second and third voyages. The reels with the prefixes PRO or M were filmed by the Australian Joint Copying Project.
mfm PRO 3268 Letters of Capt. James Cook to the Admiralty, 1768–79 (Adm. 1/1609-12)
mfm PRO 1550–51 Captain’s log books, HMS Adventure, 1772–74 (Adm. 51/4521-24)
mfm PRO 1554 Captain’s log books, HMS Discovery, 1776–79 (Adm. 51/ 4528-9)
mfm PRO 1554 Captain’s log books, HMS Resolution, 1779 (Adm. 51/4529)
mfm PRO 1555–6 Captain’s log books, HMS Discovery, 1776–79 (Adm. 51/4530-1)
mfm PRO 1561–3 Captain’s log books, HMS Endeavour, 1768–71 (Adm. 51/4545-8)
mfm PRO 1565–70 Captain’s log books, HMS Resolution, 1771–79 (Adm. 51/4553-61)
mfm PRO 1572 Logbooks, HMS Adventure, 1772–74 (Adm. 53/1)
mfm PRO 1575–6 Logbooks, HMS Discovery, 1776–79 (Adm. 53/20-24)
mfm PRO 1580 Logbooks, HMS Endeavour, 1768–71 (Adm. 53/39-41)
mfm PRO 1590–4 Logbooks, HMS Resolution, 1771–80 (Adm. 53/103-24)
mfm PRO 1756 Logbook, HMS Adventure, 1772–74 (BL 44)
mfm PRO 1756 Observations made on board HMS Adventure, 1772–74 (BL 45)
mfm PRO 1756A Logbook, HMS Resolution, 1772–75 (BL 46)
mfm PRO 1756 Observations made on board HMS Resolution, 1772–75 (BL 47)
mfm PRO 1756 Journal of Capt. J. Cook: observations on variations in compass and chronometer rates, 1776 (BL 48)
mfm PRO 1756 Astronomical observations, HMS Resolution, 1778–80 (BL 49)
mfm PRO 4461–2 Ship’s musters, HMS Endeavour, 1768–71 (Adm. 12/8569)
mfm PRO 4462–3 Ship’s musters, HMS Adventure, 1769–74 (Adm. 12/7550)
mfm PRO 4463–4 Ship’s musters, HMS Resolution, 1771–75 (Adm. 12/7672)
mfm PRO 4464 Ship’s musters, HMS Discovery, 1776–80 (Adm. 12/8013)
mfm PRO 4464–5 Ship’s musters, HMS Resolution, 1776–80 (Adm. 12/9048-9)
mfm PRO 6119 Deptford Yard letterbooks, 1765-78 (Adm. 106/3315-8)
MAP mfm M 406 Charts and tracings of Australian and New Zealand coastlines by R. Pickersgill and Capt. James Cook, 1769–70 (Hydrographic Department)
mfm M 869 Letters of David Samwell, 1773–82 (Liverpool City Libraries)
mfm M 1561 Log of HMS Endeavour, 1768–71 (British Library)
mfm M 1562 Journal of Capt. Tobias Furneaux on HMS Adventure, 1772–74 (British Library)
mfm M1563 Drawings of William Hodges on voyage of HMS Resolution, 1772–74 (British Library)
mfm M 1564 Log of Lieut. Charles Clerke on HMS Resolution, 1772–75 (British Library)
mfm M 1565 Journal of Lieut. James Burney on HMS Discovery, 1776–79 (British Library)
mfm M 1566 Journal of Thomas Edgar on HMS Discovery, 1776–79
mfm M 1580 Journal of Capt. James Cook on HMS Resolution, 1771–74 (British Library)
mfm M 1580–1 Journal of Capt. James Cook on HMS Resolution, 1776–79 (British Library)
mfm M 1583 Journal of David Samwell on HMS Resolution and Discovery, 1776–79 (British Library)
mfm M 2662 Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, 1768–1819 (Natural History Museum)
mfm M 3038 Letters of Capt. James Cook, 1775–77 (National Maritime Museum)
mfm M 3074 Drafts of Capt. James Cook’s account of his second voyage (National Maritime Museum)
mfm G 9 Journal of voyage of HMS Endeavour, 1768–71 (National Maritime Museum)
mfm G 13 Journal of voyage of HMS Resolution, 1772–75 (National Maritime Museum)
mfm G 27412 Journal of Capt. James Cook on HMS Endeavour, 1768–70 (Mitchell Library)
The only manuscript maps drawn by Cook held in the Library are the two maps of Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia, contained in MS 5. The map by James Burney of Van Diemen’s Land, contained in his 1773–74 journal, is the only manuscript map in the Library emanating from Cook’s three Pacific voyages.
On the first voyage most of the surveys were carried out by Cook himself, assisted by Robert Molyneux, the master, and Richard Pickersgill, the master’s mate. Cook produced some of the fair charts, but it seems that most were drawn by Isaac Smith, one of the midshipmen. After the voyage the larger charts were engraved by William Whitchurch and a number of engravers worked on the smaller maps. The Library holds nine maps (six sheets) and five coastal views (one sheet) published in 1773, as well as two French maps of New Zealand and New South Wales based on Cook’s discoveries (1774).
Cook and Pickersgill, who had been promoted to lieutenant, carried out most of the surveys on the second voyage. Others were performed by Joseph Gilbert, master of the Resolution, Peter Fannin, master of the Adventure, the astronomer William Wales and James Burney. Isaac Smith, the master’s mate, again drew most of the fair charts of the voyage and William Whitchurch again did most of the engravings. The Library holds 15 maps (10 sheets) published in 1777.
On the third voyage, Cook seems to have produced very few charts. Most of the surveys were carried out by William Bligh, master of the Resolution, and Thomas Edgar, master of the Discovery. Henry Roberts, the master’s mate and a competent artist, made the fair charts and after the voyage he drew the compilation charts from which the engraved plates were produced. Alexander Dalrymple supervised the engravings. The Library holds five maps and five coastal views published in 1784–86.
The Library holds a number of objects that allegedly belonged to Cook, such as a walking stick, a clothes brush and a fork. A more substantial artefact is a mahogany and rosewood fall-front desk that was believed to have been used by Cook on one of his voyages. Other association items are a compass, protractor, ruler and spirit level owned by Alexander Hood, the master’s mate on HMS Resolution in 1772–75.
Three of the medals issued by the Royal Society in 1784 to commemorate the achievements of Cook are held in the Library. Another medal issued in 1823 to commemorate his voyages is also held.
The Library has several collections of tapa cloth, including a piece of cloth and two reed maps brought back by Alexander Hood in 1774 and a catalogue of 56 specimens of cloth collected on Cook’s three voyages (1787).
The Library holds a very large number of engraved portraits of James Cook, many of them based on the paintings by Nathaniel Dance, William Hodges and John Webber. It also holds two oil portraits by unknown artists, one being a copy of the portrait by Dance held in the National Maritime Museum in London. Of special interest is a large oil painting by John Mortimer, possibly painted in 1771, depicting Daniel Solander, Joseph Banks, James Cook, John Hawkesworth and Lord Sandwich.
There were two artists on the Endeavour: Alexander Buchan, who died in Tahiti in 1769, and Sydney Parkinson, who died in Batavia in 1771. The Library has a few original works that have been attributed to Parkinson, in particular a watercolour of breadfruit, which is in the Nan Kivell Collection. In addition, there are a number of prints that were reproduced in the publications of Hawkesworth and Parkinson in 1773, including the interior of a Tahitian house, the fort at Point Venus, a view of Matavai Bay, Maori warriors and war canoes, mountainous country on the west coast of New Zealand, and a view of Endeavour River.
William Hodges was the artist on the Resolution in 1772–75. The Library holds an outstanding collection of 18 chalk drawings by Hodges of the heads of Pacific Islanders. They depict men and women of New Zealand, Tahiti, Tonga, New Caledonia, New Hebrides and Easter Island. Other works by Hodges include an oil painting of a dodo and a red parakeet, watercolours of Tahiti, Tonga and the New Hebrides, and an oil painting of Point Venus. There are also two pen and wash drawings of the Resolution by John Elliott, who was a midshipman on the ship. Among the prints of Hodges are other heads of Pacific Islanders, a portrait of Omai, the Tahitian who visited England in 1775–76, and views of Tahiti, New Caledonia, New Hebrides, Norfolk Island, Easter Island and Tierra del Fuego.
John Webber, who was on the Resolution in 1776–80, had been trained as a landscape artist in Berne and Paris. Another artist on the expedition was William Ellis, the surgeon’s mate on the Discovery, who was a fine draughtsman. The Library holds 19 of Webber’s watercolours, ink and wash drawings, crayon drawings and pencil drawings of views in Tahiti, the Friendly Islands, the Sandwich Islands, Alaska and Kamchatka. There are also oil portraits by Webber of John Gore and James King. Ellis is equally well represented, with 23 watercolours, ink drawings and pencil drawings of scenes in Kerguelen Island, New Zealand, Tahiti, Nootka Sound, Alaska and Kamchatka. Of particular interest is a watercolour and ink drawing by Ellis of the Resolution and Discovery moored in Adventure Bay in 1777, the earliest original Australian work in the Pictures Collection. The death of Cook is the subject of the largest oil painting in the Library’s collection, painted by George Carter in 1781.
Omai, the first Polynesian to be seen in London, was the subject of a number of portraits, included a celebrated painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The Library has a pencil drawing of Omai by Reynolds. A pantomime by John O’Keefe entitled Omai, or a Trip Round the World, enjoyed great success in London in 1785–86, being played more than 50 times. The Library holds a collection of 17 watercolour costume designs for the pantomime, drawn by Philippe de Loutherbourg and based mainly on drawings by Webber. The subjects include ‘Obereyaee enchatress’, ‘Otoo King of Otaheite’, ‘a chief of Tchutzki’ and ‘a Kamtchadale’.
Beddie,M.K. (ed.), Bibliography of Captain James Cook, R,N., F.R.S., circumnavigator, Library of New South Wales, Sydney, 1970.
Original Accounts of the Voyages
Hawkesworth, John, An account of the voyages undertaken by the order of His Present Majesty, for making discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, and successively performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook, in the Dolphin, the Swallow, and the Endeavour (3 vols, 1773)
Parkinson, Sydney, A journal of the voyage to the South Seas, in His Majesty’s Ship, the Endeavour (1773)
Zimmermann, Heinrich, Heinrich Zimmermanns von Wissloch in der Pfalz, Reise um die Welt, mit Capitain Cook (1781)
Ellis, William, An authentic narrative of a voyage performed by Captain Cook and Captain Clerke, in His Majesty’s ships Resolution and Discovery during the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780 (2 vols, 1782)
Cook, James and King, James, A voyage to the Pacific Ocean: undertaken by Command of His Majesty, for making discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere, performed under the direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore, in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780 (4 vols, 1784)
Sparrman, Anders, Reise nach dem Vorgebirge der guten Hoffnung, den sudlischen Polarlandern und um die Welt (1784)
Beaglehole, J.C. (ed.), The Endeavour journal of Joseph Banks, 1768–1771 (2 vols, 1962)
Beaglehole, J.C. (ed.), The journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of discovery (4 vols, 1955–74)
David, Andrew (ed.), The charts & coastal Views of Captain Cook’s voyages (3 vols, 1988–97)
Joppien, Rudiger and Smith, Bernard, The art of Captain Cook’s voyages (3 vols in 4, 1985–87)
Parkin, Ray, H.M. Bark Endeavour: her place in Australian history: with an account of her construction, crew and equipment and a narrative of her voyage on the East Coast of New Holland in 1770 (1997)
Biographical Works and Related Studies
There are a huge number of books and pamphlets on the lives of Cook, Banks and their associates. The following are some of the more substantial works:
Alexander, Michael, Omai, noble savage (1977)
Beaglehole, J.C., The life of Captain James Cook (1974)
Besant, Walter, Captain Cook (1890)
Blainey, Geoffrey, Sea of dangers: Captain Cook and his rivals (2008)
Cameron, Hector, Sir Joseph Banks, K.B., P.R.S.: the autocrat of the philosophers (1952)
Carr, D.J., Sydney Parkinson, artist of Cook’s Endeavour voyage (1983)
Carter, Harold B., Sir Joseph Banks, 1743–1820 (1988)
Collingridge, Vanessa, Captain Cook: obsession and betrayal in the New World (2002)
Connaughton, Richard, Omai, the Prince who never was (2005)
Dugard, Martin, Farther than any man: the rise and fall of Captain James Cook (2001)
Duyker, Edward, Nature’s argonaut: Daniel Solander 1733–1782: naturalist and voyager with Cook and Banks (1998)
Furneaux, Rupert, Tobias Furneaux, circumnavigator (1960)
Gascoigne, John, Captain Cook: voyager between worlds (2007)
Hoare, Michael E., The tactless philosopher: Johann Reinhold Forster (1729–98) (1976)
Hough, Richard, Captain James Cook: a biography (1994)
Kippis, Andrew, The life of Captain James Cook (1788)
Kitson, Arthur, Captain James Cook, RN, FRS, the circumnavigator (1907)
Lyte, Charles, Sir Joseph Banks: 18th Century explorer, botanist and entrepreneur (1980)
McAleer, John and Rigby, Nigel, Captain Cook and the Pacific: art, exploration & empire (2017)
McCormick, E.H., Omai: Pacific envoy (1977)
McLynn, Frank, Captain Cook: master of the seas (2011)
Molony, John N., Captain James Cook: claiming the Great South Land (2016)
Moore, Peter, Endeavour: the ship and the attitude that changed the world (2018)
Mundle, Rob, Cook (2013)
Nugent, Maria, Captain Cook was here (2009)
Obeyesekere, Gananath, The apotheosis of Captain Cook: European mythmaking in the Pacific (1992)
O’Brian, Patrick, Joseph Banks, a life (1987)
Rienits, Rex and Rienits, Thea, The voyages of Captain Cook, 1968)
Robson, John, Captain Cook's war and peace: the Royal Navy years 1755-1768 (2009)
Sahlins, Marshall, How ‘natives’ think: about Captain Cook, for example (1995)
Saine, Thomas P., Georg Forster (1972)
Smith, Edward, The life of Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society (1911)
Thomas, Nicholas, Cook: The extraordinary voyages of Captain James Cook (2003)
Villiers, Alan, Captain Cook, the seamen’s seaman: a study of the great discoverer (1967).
The manuscripts of Cook and his associates are held in the Manuscripts Collection at various locations. They have been catalogued individually. Some of them have been microfilmed, such as the Endeavour journal (mfm G27412), the Endeavour log and letterbook (mfm G3921) and the Resolution letterbook (mfm G3758). The Endeavour journal and letterbook and the papers of Sir Joseph Banks have been digitised and are accessible on the Library’s website. The microfilms have also been catalogued individually and are accessible in the Newspaper and Microcopy Reading Room.
The paintings, drawings, prints and objects are held in the Pictures Collection, while the maps and published coastal views are held in the Maps Collection. They have been catalogued individually and many of them have been digitised.
Biskup, Peter, Captain Cook’s Endeavour Journal and Australian Libraries: A Study in Institutional One-upmanship, Australian Academic and Research Libraries, vol. 18 (3), September 1987, pp. 137–49.
Cook & Omai: The Cult of the South Seas, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2001.
Dening, Greg, MS 1 Cook, J. Holograph Journal, in Cochrane, Peter (ed.), Remarkable Occurrences: The National Library of Australia’s First 100 Years 1901–2001, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2001.
Healy, Annette, The Endeavour Journal 1768–71, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1997.
Healy, Annette, 'Charting the voyager of the Endeavour journal', National Library of Australia News, volume 7(3), December 1996, pp 9-12
Hetherington, Michelle, 'John Hamilton Mortimer and the discovery of Captain Cook', British Art Journal, volume 4 (1), 2003, pp. 69-77
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)