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This fascinating folio engraving is from Captain James Cook & James King’s A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, for making Discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere. To determine the Position and Extent of the West Side of North America; its Distance from Asia; and the Practicality of a Northern Passage to Europe. Performed under the Direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore, in His Majesty’s Ships the Resolution and Discovery; in the Years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780. The work was published in London by H. Hughs for G. Nicol and T. Cadell in 1785. It is the official account of Cook’s 3rd and last voyage, during which he explored Hawaii and the west coast of America, Canada, and Alaska.
James Cook was already a celebrated Captain by 1776, having completed two scientific expeditions for the Admirality and Royal Society. He embarked on this third voyage on the HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery in hopes to find the Northwest passage. The passage was blocked by ice, but it resulted in Cook’s discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, the charting of Alaska’s coastling, and the exploration of the North Specific up to 70° N. The expedition returned South to Hawaii where Captain Cook met his untimely demise over a fight over the theft of a cutter in Kealakekua Bay. His second lietenant, James King, made a second attempt at the Northwest passage before returning to England via China and the Thames. King completed the third volume from which these engravings are offered.
“The famous accounts of Captain Cook’s three voyages form the basis for any collection of Pacific books. In three great voyages Cook did more to clarify the geographical knowledge of the southern hemisphere than all his predecessors had done together. He was really the first scientific navigator and his voyages made great contributions to many fields of knowledge” (Hill).
“Cook’s third voyage was organized to seek the Northwest Passage and to return [the islander] Omai to Tahiti. Officers of the crew included William Bligh, James Burney, James Colnett, and George Vancouver. John Webber was appointed artist to the expedition. After calling at Kerguelen Island, Tasmania, New Zealand, and the Cook, Tonga, and Society Islands, the expedition sailed north and discovered Christmas Island and the Hawaiian Islands, which Cook named the Sandwich Islands. Cook charted the American west coast from Northern California through the Bering Strait as far north as latitude 70 degrees 44 minutes before he was stopped by pack ice. He returned to Hawaii for the winter and was killed in an unhappy skirmish with the natives over a boat. Charles Clarke took command and after he died six months later, the ships returned to England under John Gore. Despite hostilities with the United States and France, the scientific nature of this expedition caused the various governments to exempt these vessels from capture. The voyage resulted in what Cook judged his most valuable discovery – the Hawaiian Islands” (Hill).