Cook’s General World Chart, from his Third—and Final—Voyage, with Tracks of all Three Voyages
Fine general chart of the world from the official voyage account of James Cook’s third, and fatal, expedition.
It was initially drawn during the voyage and prepared for publication by the Resolution’s master’s mate, Henry Roberts.
The map centers the Pacific, the ocean where Cook made his reputation as an explorer. Snaking across the map are the routes of his three expeditions, which observed the Transit of Venus in Tahiti and visited New Zealand and the east coast of Australia (1768-1771), disproved the existence of a vast Southern Continent (1772-5), and sought the Northwest Passage (1776-1780).
The expedition routes cross at Tahiti and New Zealand, both locations to which Cook returned several times. In the extreme north and south are notes about vast fields of ice.
The east coast of Australia is peppered with the place names Cook gave while he sailed northward from Botany Bay. The western part of the continent is derived from Dutch East India Company encounters with the shore, a result of the tempestuous winds of the Roaring Forties and the Dutch drive to find more trade and resources.
This map was drawn from first-hand experience and in consultation with the latest maps and travel accounts by Henry Roberts, who served on the second and third voyages. His sources would have included charts of Southeast Asia by Alexander Dalrymple, as well as maps of the Russian expeditions of Vitus Bering (1725-30, 1733-43).
Henry Roberts and the publication of the charts of Cook’s third voyage
Henry Roberts served on the Resolution during Cook’s second voyage as an Able Seaman. He proved to have a knack for drawing charts and coastal views and served as a draughtsman throughout the voyage. Roberts returned as master’s mate on the Resolution for the third voyage, when he again was tasked with preparing maps, charts, and views.
Upon returning to England, Roberts was made lieutenant and asked to prepare the charts for the official voyage account of the third voyage, which was being edited by James King and Canon John Douglas. Many of the maps had already been drawn while at sea, including this general chart, but then were further revised on land. Of this chart, Roberts wrote in a letter of May 15, 1784:
Soon after our departure from England, I was intrusted by Captain Cook to complete a map of the world as a general chart, from the best materials he was in possession of for that purpose; and before his death this business was in a great measure accomplished; That is, the grand outline of the whole was arranged, leaving only those parts vacant or unfinished, which he expected to fall in with and explore. But on our return home, when the fruits of our voyage were ordered by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to be published, the care of the general chart being consigned to me, I was directed to prepare it from the latest and best authorities; and also to introduce Captain Cook’s three successive tracks, that all his discoveries, and the different routes he had taken might appear together, by this means to give a general idea of the whole. This task having been performed by me, it is necessary, for the information of the Reader, to state the heads of the several authorities which I have followed in such parts of the chart as differ from what was drawn up immediately under the inspection of Captain Cook and when the Public are made acquainted, that many materials, necessary to complete and elucidate the work, were not, at the time, on board the Resolution, or in his possession, the reason will appear very obvious, why these alterations and additions were introduced contrary to the original drawing.
Roberts’ appointment annoyed William Bligh, who has also served on the voyage, performed many of the original surveys, and had worked closely with Roberts on the manuscript draughts. Roberts’ slow pace of work exasperated others, including John King, Joseph Banks, and Alexander Dalrymple. The voyage account’s maps and charts were finally ready in 1784, when the work was published by the Strahans and Cadell.
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.