The First Map of Hawai’i
Fine example of the first map of Hawai’i, published with the official account of James Cook’s third voyage.
The main map shows the Sandwich Islands, the name given to the archipelago by Cook. The name honors John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who was in his third stint as the First Lord of the Admiralty during Cook’s voyages.
The Hawai’ian islands are shown with their main elevation points shown with hachures. The islands are named according the English transliteration of the Hawai’ian names. Zig-zagging around the islands are the courses of Cook’s ships, the Resolution and Discovery. The dotted line in the upper left notes when they first sailed amongst the islands in February 1778—the first European ships to have done so. The solid line is when they returned to the islands late in that year.
Nestled into the corner is a large inset of Kealakekua Bay (here Karakakooa). This is a fine harbor and a long-settled area of the Kona Coast. It is where Cook’s ship first landed and where Cook died. There are anchorages marked and there are sounding depths here and on the larger map.
The map is often credited to Cook, but the maps for the official account were prepared by Henry Roberts, a master’s mate. Additionally, William Bligh—of HMS Bounty fame but on the third voyage a master—claims to have completed the original survey which Roberts usually copied. The precise authorship of the map remains a mystery, but it is surely a combination effort of several individuals including Cook, Roberts, and Bligh.
The map featured in the official account of the third voyage, published four years after the return of the ships. The account includes three volumes of text and an atlas. There were 87 maps and illustrations across the volumes, including this important one. The map served as the basis for maps of Hawai’i well into the nineteenth century.
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.