Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000

James Cook's first voyage around the world 1768-1771

Captain James Cook's journal of his first voyage around the world 1768-1771 in HM Bark Endeavour, published 1893. 

It was during this voyage that James Cook (1728-1779), then Lieutenant Cook, was the first to map the east coast of Australia. This rare limited edition has wooden covers said to have been made from "Cook's tree" on Clapham Common, London.

Cook Voyage 1 Wharton 00004

James Cook (1728-1779) was born in Marten-in-Cleveland Yorkshire, England and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. From 1763-1768 he sailed on HMS Pembroke surveying the St Lawrence River, Canada and the coast of Newfoundland.

In 1768 Lieutenant Cook was appointed commander of the first scientific expedition to the Pacific sailing in HMS Endeavour. The ship's company included a number of members of the Royal Society including scientists and artists such the wealthy (later Sir) Joseph Banks, the Swedish botanist Daniel Solander as well as astronomers and artists.

Departing on 26 August 1768 they sailed via Rio de Janiero and Cape Horn to Tahiti - where they observed the transit of Venus. Endeavour then sailed southwest to New Zealand where it prepared the first detailed chart of the coastline. Then sailing southwest, on April 19 1770, Endeavour sighted the east coast of Terra Australis later to be named Australia. These were the first Europeans to make landfall on the east coast of Australia, landing at Botany Bay, and to make contact with the indigenous population. Cook then sailed north up the east coast charting the coastline as he went. This voyage was a triumph of early navigation as while Cook had early nautical almanacs and sextants, he did not have a marine chronometer essential to accurately establishing longitude.

In addition the voyage was a great scientific success as the botanists Banks and Solander amassed a huge collection of plants previously unknown.

Wharton's wooden cover
Cooks first voyage around the world

RGSSA reference : rgsp 910.41 C771 c

  • Why was this journal not published until 1893 well after Cook's return in 1771 from his voyage around the world and his charting of the east coast of Australia?

In the Preface Captain Wharton provides the explanation. He lays the blame squarely with Dr. John Hawkesworth an editor who was originally given the journals of, not only Cook, but also those of Banks and Solander on the basis that "What could be better than to combine these accounts". The result, however, was "-not altogether happy" and Wharton's explanation is that Hawkesworth not only interspersed reflections of his own, but managed to impose his own ponderous style upon the many extracts from the united Journals; and, moreover, as they were all jumbled together, the whole being put into Cook's mouth, it is impossible to know whether we are reading Cook, Banks, Solander or Hawkesworth himself.

Because of this, Wharton was given the job of transcribing Cook's journal from scratch and the result is this volume.

  • How is it that this journal has such very unusual wooden covers? This was explained in a Public Lecture by Henry Whitehead Curate of Clapham, April 1859

"There was a tree on Clapham Common known by tradition as 'Captain Cook's Tree'. There were also adjacent oak trees referred to as 'Captain Cook's Trees', but there is also no proof that he planted them in memory of his three sons. However, his widow Elizabeth lived in Clapham High Street from 1788 until her death in 1835. (City of London – Lambeth Archives: Ref: IV/188/4/CA 077) As for the great tree I confess that it seems to me too old to have been brought here by Captain Cook at any time of his life, though, as I have said, trees evidently grow much faster than I once supposed; and Captain Cook, although his widow died so recently, was born in 1728. Mr. Cooper, of the Wandsworth Road, who is now about ninety years old, informs me that when he first came to Clapham, in 1790, the seat tree was about as big round as his body — I forgot to ask him though whether he meant his body as it was then or as it is now — and that it formed one of an avenue between the two rows of which he used to hear the Clapham fair was formerly held."

James Cook's interest in the sea began when he became an apprentice in a general store in a village near Whitby on the north west coast of England. When he was 18 years old he was apprenticed to a prominent Quaker shipowner John Walker of Whitby. At 21 he became an able seaman in the Walker collier-barks sailing in the North Sea trade. In the worst of the winter months, while the ships were laid up for refitting, Cook studied navigation and mathematics at night. Sailing in the North Sea with rough seas and unpredictable weather was good preparation for Cook's later career sailing in uncharted waters on the other side of the world.

In 1752 Cook was promoted to mate and three years later he was offered command of a bark but in 1755 elected to join the Royal Navy which he thought that would offer him more opportunities.

He rose up through the ranks of non-commissioned officers and was made master of HMS Pembroke in 1757 aged 29. In 1758 he crossed the Atlantic in her and after took part in the siege of Louisburg and the survey of the St Lawrence River which was crucial in Wolf's capture of Quebec. Transferring to HMS Northumberland he began surveying the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. He returned to England in 1762 and married, but soon returned to the Newfoundland survey being promoted to his first command in 1764 in HMS Grenville.

The reputation Cook had developed in Canada for reliable service and meticulous charting made him the choice by the Admiralty (the Royal Society had recommended Alexander Dalrymple) as commander of a scientific expedition to the South Seas. The aim was to observe the transit of Venus at Tahiti which could be used to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun, but Cook also had secret instructions to search for the "unknown southern land" or Terra Australis.

Cook was promoted to lieutenant and given command of HMS Bark Endeavour , 368 tons. She sailed from Plymouth 26 August 1768 with a complement of ninety-four. There were nine civilians on board among them the young, wealthy, naturalist (later Sir) Joseph Banks, renounced astronomer Charles Green, Swedish botanist and student of Linnaeus Daniel Solander and artist Sydney Parkinson. As well there were servants, a secretary and two dogs.

Sailing via Madeira and Rio de Janiero - where they were treated with suspicion by the Portuguese - they sailed around Cape Horn and on to Tahiti which they reached 13 April 1769. Here they made their astronomical observations on 3 June and during their stay, collected numerous botanical specimens and reprovisioned the ship.

Leaving Tahitii in July, Cook sailed west and south until he reached New Zealand 6 October 1769 - only the second group of Europeans to do so after Abel Tasman in 1642. He spent six months sailing around New Zealand expertly charting the coastline and establishing that there were two main islands.

They then sailed westwards sighting today's Point Hicks on the southeast coast of Australia on 19 April 1770 - the first known Europeans to reach the coast east coast of Australia. Sailing north up the coast they made first landfall 29 April 1770 at Botany Bay so named because of the many plants never before seen by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.

Cook continued to sail up the east coast of Australia facing many navigation challenges particularly in the Great Barrier Reef. It was here, on 11 June, that the Endeavour ran aground on the coral. But with considerable effort and expert seamanship she was refloated and then spent seven weeks near today's Cooktown while extensive repairs were made to her hull and rigging.

Cook continued northwards and around the northern tip of Australia which he named York Cape - now Cape York.

They continued westwards and stopped at Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies for refitting and reprovisioning. However, due to the unsanitary conditions in the town, a number of the crew- including Charles Green and Sydney Parkinson - contracted malaria and died.

Cook rounded the Cape of Good Hope 13 March 1771 and reached the port of Deal, England 13 July. The voyage lasted nearly three years and had been very successful locating and charting New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. From the scientific point of view the voyage had also been very successful. A great deal of information had been gathered including astronomical observations, hydrological recordings, details of native cultures and a huge collection of previously unknown plants made by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander including an estimated 100 new families and 1,000 new species.

Cook however was still not convinced he had found the great southern land. This led to his second voyage around the world 1772-1775 this time as commander of HMS Resolution and with Tobias Furneaux captain of HMS Adventure.