Discoveries in the South Sea

A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean. BURNEY, J. 1803.

This book is presented to the 'Right Honourable Sir Joseph Banks Bart KB. One of his Majesty's most Honourable Privy Council, President of the Royal Society'. The author James Burney was a Captain in the Royal Navy during the reign of George IV (1762-1811). He also wrote 'a modem history source book the Maoris1773-77'. This was a time of great change: there were numerous battles between opposing political parties; the Napoleonic Wars; and a transition from philosophy through technology towards science. This can be seen on the title page of the book where it states...

'The book is intended as a contribution towards the advancement of a plan for a Digest of Maritime Geographical Discovery'.

A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean. BURNEY, J. 1803.

The map that unfolds in the front cover communicates that the voyage documented in the book is one of the first long distance journeys, and the book starts with the earliest discovery of the Pacific Ocean by Europeans. The annotation explains that this is...'A chart of the discoveries made in the south sea, or Pacific Ocean, previous to AD 1579, and showing the opinions entertained by the geographers of that time period concerning the existence of lands in parts which had not been explored'.

The book was published according to an act of Parliament in May 1803; the Royal society to which it was presented had been established since the 28th September 1660 following a lecture by Christopher Wren at GreshamCollege. Initially it had twelve members; those included were Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle and Robert Moray. Today members have swelled to 1300 from varying scientific disciplines.

This publication illustrates clearly the desperation at the time to further knowledge and discovery. This book clarifies the different ways of classing and describing voyages, and criticises previous voyages for not logging every

'…incidence, remarks and observations and to share everything remarkable or extraordinary however useless or incredible'.

The prestige of this publication at the time was attached to the Royal Society; nearly every Western scientist would welcome the association with it. The book provides great insight into the development of the modern sciences and evokes the need to progress from the uncertainty of philosophy to the realisation of fact with science.

The details of this book represent many voyages that occurred also at this time, and naval missions of war were increasing. The task of James Burney as Captain was to locate new places and describe them in great detail logging geographical, historical and topographical information. The book ends with an account of Sir Francis Drake in 1579.

Karen George

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