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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.