Atlas to Captain Cook's Voyage (London, 1784)
Sydney Parkinson was the original artist on Cook's ship, Endeavour. He made about 1300 sketches and kept detailed notes on Pacific languages. He died of fever on Java. On Cook's last voyage the ship's artist was John Webber.
The atlas accompanies A voyage to the Pacific Ocean by James Cook and James King (published in three volumes). The above illustration shows a group of sailors hunting an animal described as 'Sea Horses'. As new animals were discovered they were often given names based on creatures already known to Europeans.
Images of unusual animals caused a sensation in Europe. Artists were important people on any voyage of discovery. It was through their drawings that the people of Europe were able to see the exotic plant and animal life of strange, distant lands. This image was drawn by an artist on board one of the ships involved in Captain James Cook's famous voyages.
James Cook (1728-1779) was an English ship's captain, navigator, and Pacific Ocean expedition leader. He was selected to lead a 1768 expedition to observe the transit of Venus, and to explore new lands in the Pacific Ocean.
In his first Pacific voyage, James Cook rounded Cape Horn in the Endeavour and reached Tahiti on 3rd June 1769. After recovering a necessary scientific instrument stolen by the natives, the transit of Venus was successfully observed. The Endeavour then spent six months charting New Zealand.
Cook next explored and claimed possession of eastern Australia. Returning to England, on 12th June 1771, via New Guinea, Java and the Cape of Good Hope, the crew suffered an appalling forty-three percent fatality rate. James Cook understandably became very concerned about the health and wellbeing of his crews on subsequent voyages, instituting compulsory dietary reforms that were copied by many other ship captains.
The object of Captain Cook's second Pacific Oceanvoyage was to confirm the existence of a theorised Great Southern Continent. His ship the Resolution, accompanied by the Adventure, departed Plymouth on 13th July 1772 and sailed around the Cape of Good Hope. Beset by ice, he was unable to reach Antarctica. Although its existence was suspected, James Cook demonstrated, by traversing large areas of the south Pacific, that it would have to be a frigid wasteland, and not an economically productive addition to the British Empire.
James Cook charted many of the South Pacific islands to an incredible accuracy of three miles, an accuracy made possible by a new and highly accurate clock. The two ships returned to England, via Cape Horn, on 29th July 1775. The experimental diets and close attention to cleanliness had a miraculous effect and out of a crew of one hundred and eighteen, only one man was lost to disease! Since public interest was high, the many paintings by the ship’s artists were widely displayed and published as engravings. James Cook was also awarded the Copley Gold Medal and elected as a fellow of the Royal Society.