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French Edition of the Official World Map Showcasing the Voyages of James Cook

Striking French edition of a detailed world map including tracks of all three voyages of Captain James Cook, expeditions that redrew the map of the Pacific Ocean.

The map centers on the South Seas, where Cook spent most of the years 1768 to 1779, when he was killed in Hawai’i. A general chart, it is meant to highlight Cook’s achievements, which included the charting of New Zealand, Hawai’i, the Aleutians, the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America, the east coast of Australia, and many other Pacific islands. Cook also sailed farther south than any previous ship, proving that Terra Australis Incognita was not as vast as previous navigators and geographers had thought.

Distinctive features of the geography include the outline of Australia, which is connected to Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen’s Land. It would not be understood to be an island until after Matthew Flinders and George Bass circumnavigated the island in 1798-9.

The toponyms along the east coast of Australia were bestowed by Cook on his first voyage (1768-1771). The other toponyms are from Dutch encounters with the western and southern shores of the continent. These include Edels Land, named for Jacob d’Edel, in the Amsterdam, who sailed along with Frederik de Houtman in the Dordrecht in 1619. T. de Witts Land recalls Gerrit Frederikszoon de Witt, captain of the Vianen, which sailed in 1628. De Witt ran aground near what is now Port Hedland. He managed to free his ship by offloading cargo and coasted southward. A note in the south mentions Pieter Nuyts, a Dutch navigator who commanded the Gulden Zeepaert along the southern coast in 1627. A final toponym is Sharks Bay, a name that came from English buccaneer William Dampier in 1699.

The cartography of the North Pacific had been rewritten at mid-century by the Russian voyages of Vitus Bering (1728-30, 1733-43), as seen in the detailed outline of Kamchatka and the emerging silhouette of Alaska. Cook further defined that outline on his third voyage, in search of the Northwest Passage.

As indicated in the title, the map was drawn by Cook's primary cartographic assistant on his third voyage, Lieutenant Henry Roberts. Roberts served as the Masters Mate on the HMS Resolution.

Engraved by Robert Benard in Paris, this map accompanied the French edition of the official account of James Cook's third voyage: Troisième Voyage de Cook, ou Voyage à l'Océan Pacifique, ordonné par le Roi d'Angleterre, pour faire des découvertes dans l'Hémisphère Nord […] sur les Vaisseaux la Résolution & la Découverte, en 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779 & 1780 (Paris: Hôtel de Thou, 1785).

Cook's first voyage (1768-1771)

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 second voyage (1772-1775)

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.

Cook's third voyage (1776-1780)

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.

Reference
Thomas Melville Perry and Dorothy Francis, compilers, A Guide to Maps of Australia in Books Published 1780-1830 (Canberra: ANU, 1996); https://www.bl.uk/the-voyages-of-captain-james-cook/timeline ; Gunter Schilder, Australia Unveiled: The Share of the Dutch Navigators in the Discovery of Australia (Amsterdam: Theaturm Orbis Terrarum Ltd., 1976); R. Clancy, The Mapping of Terra Australis (Macquarie Park: Universal Press, 1995). KAP