First edition print from Cook’s first voyage, in which the explorer was commissioned to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun and seek evidence that postulated Terra Australis Incognita, or “unknown southern land.” This print depicts a view of the perforated rock in Tolaga Bay, New Zealand. This arched rock is described in a crew member’s journal: “We saw also an extraordinary natural curiousity. In pursuing a valley bounded on each side by steep hills we on a sudden saw a most noble arch or Cavern through the face of a rock leading directly to the sea, so that through it we had not only a view of the bay and hills on the other side but an opportunity of imagining a ship or any other grand object opposite to it. It was certainly the most magnificent surprize I have ever met with so must is pure nature superior to art in these cases.”
This fascinating, first edition folio engraving is from Captain James Cook & James King’s An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere. The work was published in London by Strahan and Cadell in 1773. It is the official account of Cook’s first voyage.
Cook’s first voyage of three, taking place between 1768 and 1771, was a combined Royal Navy and Royal Society expedition to the South Pacific aboard the HMS Endeavour. Departing from the Plymouth Dockyard in August 1768, the expedition crossed the Atlantic and reached Tahiti in time to observe the transit of Venus before setting off into the largely uncharted ocean to the south. In 1769, the crew reach New Zealand, and spent six months charting the coast before resuming their journey westward. In 1770 the crew became the first Europeans to reach the east coast of Australia before rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1771 and returning to England the summer of that year.
“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 earned his place in history by opening up the Pacific to western civilization and by the foundation of British Australia. The world was given for the first time an essentially complete knowledge of the Pacific Ocean and Australia, and Cook proved once and for all that there was no great southern continent, as had always been believed. He also suggested the existence of antarctic land in the southern ice ring, a fact which was not proved until the explorations of the nineteenth century.” (Printing and the Mind of Man p.135)