Fine Map of the World with Explorer’s Routes
Detailed map of the world, showing the tracks of recent explorers by Thomson, who was renowned for his atlases.
The map, on a Mercator projection, shows vast expanses in the high latitudes. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Arctic was beginning to be the main focus of European exploration. Vessels set out in an attempt to find the Northwest Passage. They were also interested in the Antarctic; although Cook had proven that there was no temperate southern continent, explorers still wanted to known what was near the South Pole.
The continents appear familiar to the modern reader, with a few important exceptions. Greenland and Baffin Bay are connected, as they appeared to be so due to ice floes and glaciers. The northern coast of North America is left unfinished; it was to be filled in by the Arctic expeditions of the nineteenth century.
Australia is separated from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), a result of the circumnavigation of Tasmania by Matthew Flinders and George Bass in 1798. There are several Dutch expeditions noted on the Australian mainland; these were Dutch East India Company voyages that encountered Australia as part of the Indian Ocean trade.
Several ship tracks criss-cross the world’s waters. These are the latest state-sponsored exploratory expeditions that accelerated in number in the late-eighteenth century. Those included here are the three voyages of James Cook. On the third voyage, Cook died in Hawai’i. His second-in-command Charles Clerke took over, hence his track on this map. However, Clerke also died on the voyage, leaving Charles Gore to take command, and adding his track as well. Interestingly, Gore circumnavigated the world four times.
The other tracks are those of Jean-Francois de Galaup, comte de La Perouse, a French explorer, and George Vancouver, a British naval officer trained in hydrography by Cook.
The Transit of Venus is one of the rarest predictable astronomical phenomena, occurring twice in eight years and then not again for over one hundred years (in a 243-year cycle). Observing the time it takes for Venus to transit across the sun can help to calculate the size of the solar system and the distance from the Earth to the Sun. In 1761, scientific societies sought to record the Transit from posts around the world. However, many of the observations were flawed or thwarted by the weather, especially those arranged, in haste, by the Royal Society of London. Determined to not repeat the same mistake, the Royal Society planned a South Sea voyage to view the 1769 Transit in concert with the Royal Navy, as the southern Pacific would be one of the places where the Transit was visible.
The Admiralty chose Lieutenant James Cook to command the expedition, based on his aptitude for charting and instrumentation. He was joined by Joseph Banks, a wealthy young botanist, and his retinue of scientists and artists. In addition to observing the Transit, Cook was secretly instructed to seek out and claim any potentially-useful territory or resources that his ship, Endeavour, came across.
Cook and his crew sailed from Plymouth on August 25, 1768. It sailed south, to Tierra del Fuego, and then to its destination for the Transit: Tahiti. There, three groups observed the Transit, although their results were imprecise. When the Endeavour left Tahiti in July 1769; on board was a new member of the party, the Rai’aitean priest and navigator Tupaia, along with his servant, Taiato.
The ship headed south, arriving in New Zealand in early October. There, Tupaia found that he could understand and speak with the local people, the Māori. However, this did not prevent several violent incidents that resulted in deaths. While charting the coastline, Cook and the voyage astronomer, Charles Green, observed the Transit of Mercury. The ship sailed round the southern tip of the South Island, proving it was not connected to a southern continent.
Next, the Endeavour set out east, encountering the east coast of Australia in April 1770. They were the first Europeans to do so. After stopping at a place they called Botany Bay, the ship turned north, skirting the coast. Endeavour ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef; while the ship was saved, they had to stop for repairs at Waalumbaal Birri, or Endeavour River. Here, the Europeans saw their first kangaroo and learned its name from the local people, the Guugu Yimithirr. They nearly ran aground again, but narrowly averted disaster and made for Jakarta, then known as Batavia.
In Batavia, many members of the crew became ill. More than two dozen men, including Sydney Parkinson, the voyage artist, the aforementioned Charles Green, and Tupaia, died in Jakarta or at sea soon thereafter. Weakened, the Endeavour called at the Cape of Good Hope and returned to the Thames in July 1771.
Cook’s first voyage was considered a success. The Admiralty chose to send him to the Pacific again, this time to focus on finding and charting Terra Australia incognita, if it existed. This time, Cook was in command of the Resolution and accompanied by the Adventure, captained by Tobias Furneaux.
The ships departed Plymouth on July 13, 1772. They made for the Cape of Good Hope and then sailed south, in search of land. They reached an ice sheet and could not find a break to sail through. The crew melted ice for fresh water and the expedition artist, William Hodges, drew eerie pictures of looming icebergs. On January 17, 1773, the ships crossed the Antarctic Circle, the first ships known to have done so.
Separated in fog, the ships headed toward New Zealand. They rendezvoused in Queen Charlotte Sound, where they traded with the Māori. The Māori inquired as to location of Tupaia and were sad to hear that he had died.
The ships returned to Tahiti, where they found the politics of the island had shifted and there was a new leader, Tu, to consult. Mai, a Rai’atean man, joined the Adventure, while Hitihiti joined the Resolution. The former became the first Polynesian to visit Britain, while Hitihiti returned home after sailing to Tonga, the Antarctic, New Zealand, and Easter Island.
Cook and his men next sailed to Tonga and then back to New Zealand. En route, the ships were separated again. Resolution left for southern waters without Adventure; Furneaux decided to return to Britain, leaving Cook in the Antarctic.
In December 1773 and January 1774, Resolution crossed the Antarctic Circle for the second and third times. They reached 71°10’ South, the farthest south any ships had sailed; the record would stand until 1823. He had decidedly proven that the great southern continent was nothing more than a myth.
Returning north, Cook called at Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, and his men marveled at the Moai, large statues that stand guard on the island. The Resolution returned to Tahiti, and then called at Niue, Nomuka, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Norfolk Island. After another visit to New Zealand, they sailed east to Tierra del Fuego. In the Atlantic, Cook named South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. On the homeward stretch, Resolution visited St. Helena and then anchored in Portsmouth on July 30, 1775.
After two Pacific cruises that observed the Transit of Venus, charted New Zealand, the eastern coast of Australia, and many islands; and disproved the existence of a vast southern continent, Cook’s third voyage focused on searching for the Northwest Passage. It was also tasked with the return of Mai, a Ra’iatean man and the first Polynesian visitor to Britain, who had joined Cook’s second voyage.
Cook in the Resolution was joined by Charles Clerke in the Discovery. Resolution sailed in July from Plymouth, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, visited the Kerguelen group in the Southern Indian Ocean, then called at Tasmania before heading to New Zealand.
In the spring of 1777, the ships sailed north, first to Tonga, and then to Tahiti. They left Mai on Huahine in a wooden house built for him by the crew. Cook continued north and became the first European to encounter the Hawaiian Islands, in January 1778.
During the warm months (in the northern hemisphere) of 1778, Cook and his crew charted the northwestern coast of North America, calling at Nootka Sound and Prince William Sound. They went up the Cook Inlet, which they thought could be a Northwest Passage, but it proved to be a false start. Heading west, they skirted the Aleutians and sighted the Asian coast. In January 1779, they returned to Hawai’i to resupply and rest.
In Kealakekua Bay, Cook was greeted warmly by the Hawaiians. They stayed for three weeks, enjoying the considerable hospitality of the people. In early February, the ships set out for another northern tour, but only a few days from Hawai’i the Resolution’s mast was damaged, forcing their return.
This time, they were not welcomed by crowds. During a dispute over a stolen boat, a scuffle broke out. When it was over, sixteen Hawaiians, four marines, and Cook were dead.
Clerke took command. He forced the Hawaiians to give him Cook’s remains, which were buried at sea. He then led the ships north, passing through the Bering Strait before turning back due to ice. In August of 1779, Clerke too died, of consumption, while near Kamchatka. A third commander, John Gore, then had to lead the ships home.
The ships sighted Japan on their southward journey before calling at Macao. There, they made sizeable profits by selling sea otter pelts, kickstarting a new industry. By April 1780, the Resolution and Discovery were back at the Cape of Good Hope. They returned to Britain via the Orkneys, anchoring in the Thames on October 7, 1780.
Inspired by the success and popularity of James Cook’s three voyages, the French planned their own expedition of Pacific discovery in 1785. The commander chosen by Louis XVI to lead the voyage was Jean-Francois de Galaup, comte de La Perouse (1741-ca. 1788). At fifteen, La Perouse had joined the French Navy as a marine and he enjoyed promotion during the actions of the Seven Years’ War. In the 1770s he served in the Indian Ocean and, in the early 1780s, in Hudson’s Bay during the American Revolution.
La Perouse was to carry on where Cook left off, exploring the western Pacific and continuing to look for a Northwest Passage. He set off from Brest in August of 1785 in command of the Boussole, with Paul-Antoine-Marie Fleuriot de Langle accompanying in the Astrolabe. They headed across the Atlantic, round Cape Horn, with stops at Easter Island and Hawaii. From there, La Perouse navigated to the coast of what is now Alaska, where La Perouse agreed with Cook that there was no Northwest Passage entrance along that coastline.
La Perouse returned south, to Monterey Bay, California, before heading across the Pacific to Macao, then a Portuguese colony. From there, they sailed to Manila, Formosa (Taiwan), the Ryukyu Islands, and between Korea and Japan. Then, La Perouse ventured farther north to Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
Having received word of a new British colony in southeast Australia, La Perouse sailed south, searching for the long misplaced Solomon Islands on the way. At Tutuila, in what is now American Samoa, twelve of the crew were killed in an altercation with indigenous peoples. This was not the last misfortune to befall the voyage.
La Perouse arrived at Botany Bay, now Sydney, in January of 1788. He observed the nascent penal colony and then returned to the western Pacific, near the Gulf of Carpentaria. En route he and his ships disappeared without a trace.
Two years later, in 1791, Antoine-Raymond-Joseph de Bruni, chevalier d’Entrecasteaux, was sent to find out what had happened to La Perouse and his men. He made several discoveries but not anything related to La Perouse’s ships or crew. In 1826, an Irish captain, Peter Dillon, was in the Santa Cruz group and came across several French swords which locals told him came from two large ships that had broken up on reefs.
Only in 1828 did another French expedition, commanded by Jules-Sebastien-Cesar Dumont D’Urville, locate traces of the Astrolabe near the island of Vanikoro. It seems La Perouse and his ships wrecked on the island; survivors may have tried to sail in a small craft to Australia, but none were ever found. In 1964, archaeologists located the wreck of the Boussole in the waters off Vanikoro.
Partially because of the scope of the voyage and the popularity of Pacific exploration, and partially because of his mysterious disappearance, La Perouse was the most famous French explorer then and continues to be to this day.
His voyage’s story was told based on materials he managed to send back from Macao, Petropavlovsk, and Botany Bay. These journals and manuscripts, including many charts in an accompanying atlas, made up the source material for an account of the voyage published in Paris in 1797.
George Vancouver (1757-1798) was born in Norfolk and joined the Royal Navy in 1771. Only a year later, he sailed with Captain James Cook on his second voyage to the Pacific. Vancouver would also sail on Cook’s third, and last, voyage, the expedition during which Cook was killed in Hawai’i. Although he most likely made rough sketches while with Cook, Vancouver completed his first independent surveys while serving in the West Indies in the mid-1780s. Thanks to this work, his previous Pacific service, and the influence of a powerful patron, Vancouver was selected to lead a new expedition into the South Seas, one of the last large-scale exploratory voyages to the region.
Vancouver was ordered to sail under dual purposes. On the one hand, he was to represent the British at negotiations with the Spanish at Nootka Sound in the Pacific Northwest. The Sound was the subject of a territorial dispute between the empires that threatened to erupt into a larger conflict. Vancouver’s other, and main, purpose was to survey the southwest corner of Australia, Pacific islands, and the Northwest Coast of America. If possible, he was also to find a Northwest Passage.
Vancouver sailed in the Discovery, with the Chatham as escort, in April 1791. First, he made the Australian coast near Cape Leeuwin and surveyed a considerable extent of the southern coast. Next, he sailed to Tahiti and the Sandwich Islands. Then, Vancouver and his crew charted the coast from near San Francisco all the way to Alaska. En route, at Nootka, Vancouver and his Spanish counterpart decided they could not interpret the instructions they had been given and referred the matter back to diplomats in Europe for further study. He completed three surveying seasons on the Pacific Northwest Coast, with winters in Hawai'i.
Vancouver returned to England via Cape Horn in September 1795, over four years after he had led one of the longest surveying voyages in history. He was promoted to the rank of post captain but the voyage ruined his health and he retired upon return to shore.
He turned his energies instead to producing an authoritative account of his voyage, complete with detailed charts, as the Admiralty had ordered. Vancouver died in May of 1798. He had completed nearly all of the account, half a million words in length, but it still lacked roughly 100 pages. After George’s death, his brother, John, along with Lieutenant Peter Puget, for whom Puget Sound is named, and Lieutenant Baker finished the work. It was published in 1798 in three quarto volumes and accompanied by a folio atlas. A French edition followed in 1799-1800, with another English edition in 1801.
John Thomson (1777-ca. 1840) was a commercial map publisher active in Edinburgh. He specialized in guide books and atlases and is primarily known for his Atlas of Scotland (1832) and the New General Atlas, first published in 1817 and reissued for the next quarter century. The New General Atlas was a commercial success—it was also published in Dublin and London—and it compiled existing geographic knowledge in compelling ways for a wide audience.
His Atlas of Scotland introduced new geographic information and was the first large-scale atlas of Scotland to be organized by county. It provided the most-accurate view of Scotland available before the Clearances. Work on the atlas began in 1820 and led to Thomson’s bankruptcy in 1830 due to the high costs of gathering the latest surveys and reviewing the required materials. Despite the publication of the atlas, Thomson declared bankruptcy again in 1835.