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10 posts categorized "Captain Cook"

09 August 2018

James Cook for Children: Juvenile literature of the 18th and 19th centuries

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By the end of the 18th century a number of publications had been produced for children that discussed the Pacific voyages led by James Cook.  He appeared most regularly at this point in juvenile literature concerning geography, where he featured amongst other voyagers who had opened up the ‘known world’.  In Richard Turner’s A New and Easy introduction to Universal Geography, Cook was described as an important captain in the first edition of 1780, but by later editions he was presented as a significant national figure.  This change reflected a broader trend in the image of Cook that resulted from the news of his death, the publication of the third voyage account and the subsequent development of his status in Britain.  Abridged versions of the three Pacific voyage accounts were produced for juvenile readers, in which stories and appealing characters were extracted to entertain and instruct.

McMahon 1

Richard Turner, A New and Easy Introduction to Universal Geography; in a Series of Letters to a Youth at School (London, 1797), Eighth Edition.

While these early publications included moralising elements, these became ubiquitous in juvenile literature relating to Cook in the 19th century.  He continued to be represented as an adventurer and explorer for the entertainment of the young, but significantly he became a moral exemplar with the stories including ethical and religious social codes for readers to learn from.

Juvenile editions of Cook’s Three Voyages round the World continued to be popular and were regularly printed in the 19th century.  They were offered at a range of price points that depended on the number and quality of illustrations included.  Images from Cook’s voyages became familiar to young audiences as depictions of islands, maps and Pacific peoples were repeated in illustrated publications and picture books.

Mc Mahon 2Meredith Jones, The Story of Captain Cook’s three voyages round the world (London: Cassell, Petter, & Galpin, 1870).

Cook was referenced in Juvenile Missionary magazines of the 19th century, acting as a well-known figure through which children were introduced to the actions and locations of missions in the Pacific.  Here, descriptions of the first engagement of Europeans with Pacific Islanders were normally accompanied with a 19th-century commentary on the perceived nature of different peoples, with views which are now considered highly problematic.

In the opening of the popular account of the voyages by R. Ballantyne, The Cannibal Islands, Cook was described as ‘a hero who rose from the ranks’ and this image of Cook as a self-made man was seen as part of his appeal.  He was regularly touted as a figure of patriotic celebration and presented as one of the greatest navigators of the 18th century, celebrated beyond Britain with juvenile volumes produced in Australia and America.

Cook was a regular subject for boy’s own stories and he featured in boy’s magazines and comics.  By 1894, when producing several additions to its Household Edition of juvenile books, Routledge placed the story of Captain Cook’s Voyages alongside Gulliver’s Travels, the Adventures of Don Quixote, and Robin Hood.

Mary McMahon
AHRC CDP PhD Student, Royal Holloway, University of London, and the British Museum

Further reading:
Richard Turner, A New and Easy Introduction to Universal Geography; in a Series of Letters to a Youth at School (London: S. Crowder, 1780). Later editions between 1786 and 1805.
Robert Davidson, Geography Epitomised; or a Tour Round the World (London: T. Wilkins, 1786).
James Lindridge, Tales of Shipwrecks and Adventures at Sea: … with celebrated voyages, amusing tales … and… anecdotes… (London, 1846).
William Mavor, LL.D. and assistants, The British Nepos; or, youth’s mirror: being select lives of illustrious Britons… Written Purposely for the Use of Schools, and Carefully Adapted to the Situations and Capacities of British Youth, (London: printed for R. Phillips, 1798), pp.420-428. Later editions between 1800 and 1820.
James Bonwick, Geography for the Use of Australian Youth (Van Diemen’s Land: sold by S.A. Tegg, Hobart Town; James Dowling, Launceston; and at Sydney, by W. A. Colman, 1845). 
Meredith Jones, The Story of Captain Cook’s three voyages round the world (London: Cassell, Petter, & Galpin, 1870).
William Henry Giles Kingston, Captain Cook: his life, voyages, and discoveries. [With illustrations.] (London: Religious Tract Society, 1871).
R. M. Ballantyne, Tales of Adventure. Selected from Ballantyne’s Miscellany. With illustrations by the author (London: J. Nisbet & Co., 1873-75).

 

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02 August 2018

James Cook and Adam Smith

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The art historian Bernard Smith famously described Cook as ‘Adam Smith’s global agent’.  Cook’s voyages certainly promoted commerce as a civilizing activity, a key theme in Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776), published the same year Cook departed on his final voyage.  Commerce is often illustrated in John Webber’s images of the expedition.

  Nootka Sound c07546-04John Webber, The ship, ‘Resolution’, at anchor in Nootka Sound, 1778, pen, wash and watercolour, British Library, Add. 15514, no. 10 Images Online

In their eagerness to trade with the British, the Mowachaht are here exercising what Adam Smith terms ‘the most sacred of human rights’ – to make a profit from what they have produced, particularly sea-otter furs which were highly prized by the British – and in doing so, are sharing in the benefits of ‘civilization’.

Like Smith’s own public image, however, the man on the £20 note extolling the virtues of the division of labour, the realities of the encounter were more complicated than that.  Less often quoted are his comments on the impact of this division of labour on individuals’s lives: ‘The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations… becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to become’.

Smith was equally sceptical of European intrusions into the New World, motivated by ‘the dream of Eldorado’ or the equally fantastical ‘discovering a north-west passage to the East Indies’.  As for what he terms ‘colony trade’, this, he argued, tended to serve the interests of merchants above either those of the colonies or of the ‘mother country’. The ‘blankets, fire-arms, and brandy’ that the nations of North America traded for furs did little if anything to improve their lives, nor in Britain did those new imported products ‘consumed by idle people who produce nothing, such as foreign wines, foreign silks, &c’.

Smith was not alone in holding such critical views.  Some even stuck to the figure of Cook himself who was accused of being ‘amongst the pursuers of peltry’.  The accusation was not without some justification.  Soon after his death in 1779 a number of commercial expeditions were launched on the back of reports from Cook’s voyage of the abundance of sea-otter furs on America’s north-west coast and the huge prices they fetched in China.  Several of these trips were led by former crew members of Cook.  In 1792, George Vancouver, a midshipman on the Resolution, sailed to Nootka Sound to negotiate with Spain the rights of the British effectively to take possession of the region for purposes of trade.

In the background to Gillray’s caricature of Vancouver is ‘The South-Sea Fur Warehouse from China!’ selling ‘Fine Black Otter Skins.  The assertion: ‘No contraband goods sold here’ is hardly to be believed.  Instead, Gillray, like Smith, casts doubt on the benefits to the ‘mother country’ brought by ‘colony trade’, a point emphasised by the inscription on Vancouver’s cloak: ‘This present from the King of Owyhee to George IIId forgot to be delivered’.  Such criticisms of course take little, if any, account of the injurious impact the trade had on the Mowachaht themselves.

James Gillray  The Caneing in Condiut StreetJames Gillray, The Caneing in Conduit Street, dedicated to the Flag Officers of the British Navy, 1796 - hand-coloured etching British Museum

So it may be true that Cook’s promotion of trade was ‘the diplomatic hallmark of his command’.  But the suggestion that he did so with a particular economic theory in mind, Smith’s or anybody else’s for that matter, would be to credit him with a far greater clarity of purpose than all the evidence would imply he possessed.

Ben Pollitt
PhD Candidate, Department of History of Art, University College London

Further reading:
Bernard Smith, ‘Cook’s Posthumous Reputation,’ in Robin Fisher and Hugh Johnston (eds), Captain James Cook and his Times, Vancouver and London, 1979, pp. 159-186
Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776
James Cook and James King, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1784
George Vancouver, A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World, London: G.G. and J. Robinson, 1798
MacLaren, I.S., ‘Narrating and Alaskan Culture: Cook’s Journal (1778) and Douglas’s Edition of A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1784)’ in J. Barnett and D. Nicandri (eds.), Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2015) pp. 231-261

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24 July 2018

Myths about James Cook

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In 1930, Australian politician Sir Joseph Carruthers published Captain James Cook R.N., 150 Years After.  Despite being riddled with inaccuracies and overstatements the book was well received by reviewers and included a foreword by former Australian Prime Minister William ‘Billy’ Hughes.  Amongst other claims, Carruthers posits that: the spread of disease by Europeans had little to do with the devastation wrought on Pacific Islanders; that Cook diligently respected the rights of Indigenous peoples; and that he has a claim to have started building Britain’s Empire in the Pacific.

 CarruthersSir Joseph Carruthers  Photo: Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW - Call no PXE 1104 /1/ 7.

Here are some of Carruthers’ claims regarding Cook and Australia, and what’s wrong with them.

1. Australia is the Great Southern Continent Cook was searching for

It is commonly believed that Cook was tasked with ‘discovering’ Australia.  Carruthers had no small part in establishing this myth, using the fact that Cook was issued with secret Admiralty orders to search for the fabled ‘great southern continent’; however, this was not Australia.  The Admiralty’s secret orders instructed Cook to search southward of Tahiti between 40 and 35 degrees latitude ‘until you discover it, or fall in with the Eastern side of the Land discover’d by Tasman and now called New Zeland’ (sic).  The great southern continent was expected to be east of New Zealand.

2. Cook Discovered Australia

Carruthers also bolstered the claim that Cook discovered Australia based on an interesting definition of discovery:

‘Captain Cook is the real discoverer of Australia in the sense that he stands alone as the one man who made good his discovery and founded an indisputable title to possession for the British race.  No new fact was needed to prove that’.

It is a perception that downplays the Dutch, Spanish and other English sailors (to name but a few) who sighted and even landed on Australia’s shores before Cook; and more importantly denies the fact that the continent was already populated by the Indigenous peoples, estimated to have arrived there over 60,000 years ago.

3. Cook was an example to the Union movement

Carruthers was writing in the wake of the Great Depression, when the Union movement was in full swing.  In his book he took the opportunity to advise that:

‘It is just as well in these days, when the Union wage in Australia and America varies from one pound to three pounds per day, to remember that the greatest discoverer and navigator of all time did his job magnificently on ‘five bob’ a day and never made a murmur about his pay’.

4. Cook’s Divine Grace

Cook as a man of destiny is a recurring motif in many books.  For Sir Joseph, Cook was ordained to land in Australia under divine providence. His book contains many biblical allusions and calls to God.  Perhaps most bizarrely though, he recounts that when Cook’s father ‘went to live in Yorkshire, the grandmother said to him: “God send you grace.” At his new home he [Cook’s father] met his future wife and her name was Grace’.  Thus, for Carruthers, Grandma Cook’s prayer was fulfilled.

Peter Hooker
PhD candidate with the University of Newcastle (Australia)

Further reading:
Carruthers, Joseph and Hogan, Michael, 2005 A Lifetime in Conservative Politics: Political Memoirs of Sir Joseph Carruthers 1856-1932. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press
Carruthers, Sir Joseph 1930. Captain James Cook, R.N., One Hundred and Fifty Years After, London: John Murray.
Ward, John M. Carruthers, Sir Joseph Hector (1856–1932) Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979.

 

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19 July 2018

The Adventures and Vicissitudes of Captain Cook

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A penny dreadful account of  James Cook’s boyhood titled The Adventures and Vicissitudes of Captain Cook, offers an unusual example of 19th-century literature concerning this figure.  Published in 20 parts from 1 November 1869, the author of the account remained anonymous, but its publisher was E. Harrison, known for his “sensational fiction” and creation of cheap weekly periodicals aimed at children and adults.  Each part opened with a striking illustration, often of the young figure of Cook embroiled in a physical struggle or in the process of escaping danger.

Adventures and Vicissitudes of Captain CookThe Adventures and Vicissitudes of Captain Cook, Mariner. Showing how by Honesty, Truth, and Perseverance, a Poor, Friendless Orphan Boy became a Great Man.  Beautifully illustrated (London: E. Harrison, 1870) available online

This work is notable for the inaccuracies and embellishments in its description of Cook’s childhood.  Though it is not acknowledged as fictitious in the volume itself, this may have been presumed by the readership.

The story begins with James Cook at the age of ten, living in the village of Marton with his sick and widowed mother.  While this was the correct location of the real Cook’s birth, on 27 October 1728, at the age of eight his family had moved to Great Ayton.  His parents in the Adventures are named as James and Mary Cook, and his father had died while working for a Farmer Gripman.  In reality Cook’s mother was named Grace.  James Cook Senior worked for a Mr Mewburn in Marton and a Mr Thomas Skottowe on Ayton and he was still very much alive at this stage in the younger Cook’s life.

A key plot point of the early chapters of the volume is the death of Cook’s ailing widowed mother, leaving him behind as an orphan with no siblings.  The real Cook was the second of eight children, four of whom died young.  Through this constructed context the series introduced the 19th-century literary trope of the impoverished orphan.  By opening the fictional story of his life in this manner the events that followed could address Cook going out into the world alone and navigating its trials and tribulations.

The events that ensued are filled with action and adventure, childhood companions both kind like Ichabod ‘Ikey’ Mangles, and cruel like Octavius Challoner.  Mysterious strangers act as defenders and draw the hero into new environments.  Together they guide the fictional Cook to his ultimate purpose and allow him to display his moral worth.  His values of honesty and kindness are always rewarded.

While connections to the facts of Cook’s early life are few, these tales create an origin story for the idealised vision of the James Cook that had become well-known in juvenile literature of this period.  In the final scene, as the vessel enters Whitby harbour, where the real Cook learnt his trade and his ships like the Endeavour and Resolution were built, the writer states ‘that with honesty and integrity for a motto, the most unpromising commencement of life may have the brightest finish’.

Mary McMahon
AHRC CDP PhD Student, Royal Holloway, University of London, and the British Museum

Further reading:
Beaglehole, J. C. The Life of Captain James Cook (London: A. and C. Black, 1974).
The Adventures and Vicissitudes of Captain Cook, Mariner. Showing how by Honesty, Truth, and Perseverance, a Poor, Friendless Orphan Boy became a Great Man.  Beautifully illustrated (London: E. Harrison, 1870) - available online.

 

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Open until 28 August 2018

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13 July 2018

Tyau mate oee – My friends, I am dying

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On 9 November 1770, a Tahitian boy about twelve years of age died, probably of tuberculosis, in Batavia, now Jakarta.  In the 18th century Batavia was a Dutch East India Company base, and so plagued by disease that it acquired a reputation as a ‘cemetery’. 

Taiato ‘The Lad Taiyota, native of Otaheite, in the dress of his country.’ from A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty's Ship the Endeavour (London, 1784). 10497.ff.6, plate IX Images Online

Taiato is among those in the shadows on our historical stage; sadly not unusual for indigenous people.  He made nine appearances in the records, between 13  July, when he joined Captain Cook’s Endeavour with the Tahitian navigator and priest Tupaia, and 26 December 1770, when Cook noted his death alongside others.  He burst into the limelight in one of these appearances which took place off the coast of New Zealand on 15 October 1769.  The Endeavour had only sighted land a few days before, but already a great deal had happened. Banks described  9 October as ‘the most disagreable day My life has yet seen’.  An estimated nine Māori had already been shot dead, and the Endeavour had acquired virtually no fresh supplies of food and water in the nearly two months since they left the Society Islands.

As the crew started to trade for fish with Māori in canoes alongside the ship, a many-layered event unfolded.  Cook tried to trade some red cloth for a Māori cloak, but no sooner was the cloth in the trader’s hand, than he sat down in the canoe, which calmly withdrew.  After a brief discussion amongst themselves, the Māori approached again.  This time however they had other ambitions.  As the ship’s surgeon Monkhouse recorded: ‘we were attending to the coming up of the great war Canoe when all on a sudden an Alarm was given that one of the fishermen had pulled Tupaia’s boy into the boat – they instantly put off, and the great Canoe, as if the scheme had been preconcerted, immediately put themselves in a fighting posture ready to defend the other boat and stood ready to receive the boy from them.  Our astonishment at so unexpected a trick is not to be described’.  The Endeavour’s crew, and particularly Tupaia, were outraged and shots were immediately fired at the Māori, fatally wounding several, and securing Taiato’s escape.

This brief moment in the limelight hints at significant relationships, clearly between Tupaia and Taiato, but also between Taiato and others on the Endeavour.  This invites speculation as to what happened off-stage in the shadows.  According to Druett among others, Taiato was popular with many of the crew. His last, painful, dying words were addressed to his friends, and we have some reason to believe that they were genuine friendships.

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager, Modern Maps

Further reading:
Beaglehole, J. C., 1955-1969. The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery. Cambridge: Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press. (For Monkhouse's account.)
Druett, J., 2011. Tupaia: Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator. Oxford: ABC-CLIO, LLC.
South Seas Voyaging Accounts   

 

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04 July 2018

James Cook and Benjamin Franklin

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James Cook departed on his last voyage eight days after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence (4 July 1776).  The official account of that voyage was published on 4 June 1784, less than a month after the final ratification of the Treaty of Paris (12 May 1784), which concluded the American War of Independence.

The coincidence of these two historic events converged in the public sphere on 10 March 1779 with the publication of Benjamin Franklin’s open letter ordering American sea captains, if they happened to encounter him, to treat Cook and his crew ‘with all civility and kindness … as common friends to mankind’.

  Franklin 1 Franklin 1ACopy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779 State Library New South Wales, Dixson Library, MSQ140

The letter received considerable press coverage at the time.  Opinions about it were sharply divided. On 26 May 1779, after summarizing its contents, Lloyd’s Evening Post ends with a quotation from Swift: ‘See, Brothers, how we Apples swim’.  The line, spoken by a ball of ‘horse’s dung’, clearly implies that Franklin’s support for Cook’s voyage is nothing but a vain attempt to share in its glory.

The Whig-leaning Public Advertiser, in contrast, used the letter to voice anti-war sentiments.  On 7 June 1779 a whimsical article imagines Cook being captured by an American ship.  On discovering his identity, the Americans follow Franklin’s orders and present him with ‘Half a hundred Weight of right Virginia Tobacco, three Bags of Rice’, and other produce plundered from ‘a Portugueze Vessel’.  In referencing their highly profitable trading relations and their shared enemy, the ‘Portugueze’, the article stresses the economic and political importance of the relationship between Britain and America.

  Franklin 2
Public Advertiser [London, England], 7 June 1779; Issue 13935

A similar note is struck by the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser’s response to news of Cook’s death, communicated in a letter from Charles Clerke from Kamchatka, a place that in the 18th century was used as a metaphor for distance and coldness:

‘Had we been born in an island in the South-Seas, we should perhaps have called [Cook] an invader, a pirate. …The most striking circumstance surely is, that Captain Clerke should sit down in the Bay of St. Peter and Paul at Kamschatka, and write a letter to Mr. Stephens, at Charing-cross, which, in about half a year, reaches him as safely, as if it had been put into a penny-post-office… This is civilization; nor should we forget the friendly assistance of the Russians, any more than the French order, respecting Captain Cook’.

The greatest achievements of the voyage, the article suggests, were not so much Cook’s discoveries but the co-operation and free lines of communication between potentially warring powers that enabled these discoveries to happen and to be so promptly reported on.

As a counterpoint to the hostilities between Britain, France and America in the Atlantic, therefore, Cook’s voyages in the Pacific were seen, by some at least, as a way of promoting unity between so-called ‘Enlightened’ countries – les états bien policés (well-governed states) – whose destinies were presented as increasingly more entwined by commercial links and shared mœurs or ‘polite manners’.

Ben Pollitt
PhD Candidate, Department of History of Art, University College London

Further reading:
Copy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779, State Library New South Wales, Dixson Library, MSQ140
Lloyd's Evening Post (London, England), 26 May- 28 May 1779; Issue 3421
Jonathan Swift, ‘On the words Brother-Protestants, and Fellow-Christians, so familiarly used by the advocates for the Repeal of the Test Act in Ireland,’ [1733] in The Works of Dr. Jonathan Swift, Vol. VII, London: T. Osborne et al., 1766, p. 206
Public Advertiser (London, England), 7 June 1779; Issue 13935
Sophie Forgan, ‘A note on the ‘Afterlife of Kamchatka,’ in Smoking Coasts and Ice-Bound Seas: Cook’s Voyage to the Arctic, Whitby: Captain Cook Memorial Museum, 2008, pp. 33-40
Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (London, England), 17 January 1780; Issue 3327

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Open until 28 August 2018

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29 June 2018

Sarah Sophia Banks’s Ballooning Scrapbook and the Science of Popular Spectacle

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Sarah Sophia Banks was the sister of Joseph Banks, botanist on James Cook’s first voyage and later president of the Royal Society.  Her scrapbook on ballooning displays the importance of spectacle to scientific endeavour at the end of the 18th century.

The Cook voyages were linked in the popular imagination to the science of exploration, as well as to the sensational and the spectacular. This convergence of science and spectacle was similarly present in the mania for hot air ballooning which captured the public’s imagination. Balloons became reflective of fashionable excess, flightiness of manner, and sexual exploits in a way that echoes the reflective spectacle surrounding exploration narratives and fiction following the Cook voyages.

Sarah Sophia Banks’s ballooning scrapbook contains satire, informative illustrations, and discussions of ballooning from a number of angles, including political, militaristic, artistic, and fashionable. There are newspaper clippings and depictions of the major figures in aeronautics at the time. The famous aeronaut Lunardi was known for his spectacular feats of aeronautics that engaged in both the science of experimentation and in the spectacle of performance.

  Mr LunardiMr Lunardi making an experiment on the Thames. The British Library. Sarah Sophia Banks Collection. L.R.301. h.3.

This image depicts Lunardi ‘making an Experiment on the Thames of his invention to save persons from drowning’.  It displays the drama and the spectacle of ‘experiments’ which attempted to use the science of aeronautics for the benefit of the public.  However, it also highlights the sensational, nationalistic, and Romantic aspects of this seemingly benevolent effort.

The angles of the image, from that of Lunardi’s oar to the Thames’s waves, convey a sweeping sense of motion.  Amidst this, however, Lunardi remains graceful and undisturbed by the wind that blows the flag behind his head.  His face serene, his chin held high, Lunardi is the image of the Romantic, both amidst and above the elements surrounding him, contemplating, yet unfazed by, the dangers of aeronautic experimentation.  The United Kingdom’s flag attached to his small vessel, and the boats flying the Cross of St. George in the background, display the nationalistic undertones of the mania for ballooning, in spite of the foreign spectacle that Lunardi and other Italian aeronauts had come to represent.

Overall, the print, though illustrating Lunardi’s ‘experiment’ more effectively illustrates its sensational value as a popular spectacle. Lunardi’s handsome appearance as he paddles his small craft nobly and bravely over the turbulent waters of the Thames is illustrative of the inextricable nature of science and spectacle in the mania for ballooning and its representation in mass media culture.

  A Real Apple‘A Real Apple’. The British Library. Sarah Sophia Banks Collection. L.R.301. h.3.

Sarah Banks’s scrapbook becomes increasingly interesting as she brings in other forms of spectacle in the latter portion.  The account of the ‘wonderful and astonishing apple’ blurs this line between spectacle and science.  The advertisement for this apple that bears resemblance to the head of an infant garners a sort of authority and scientific status by claiming to have been shown to Joseph Banks.  Sarah Banks’s scrapbook as a whole demonstrates that the spectacular is of particular importance to the science of ballooning and other forms of exploration and discovery.

Kacie Wills
University of California, Riverside

Further reading:
Clare Brant, “The Progress of Knowledge in the Regions of the Air?: Divisions and Disciplines in early ballooning,” ECS 45.1 (2011): 71-86.   
Richard Gillespie, “Ballooning in France and Britain, 1783-1786: Aerostation and Adventurism” Isis 75. 2 (1984): 248-268.   
Arlene Leis, “Cutting, Arranging, and Pasting: Sarah Sophia Banks as Collector,” Early Modern Women 9.1 (2014), 127-140.
Arlene Leis, Sarah Sophia Banks: Femininity, Sociability and the Practice of Collecting in Late Georgian England, PhD Thesis, (University of York, 2013),  http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/5794/.
Gillian Russell, “Sarah Sophia Banks’s Private Theatricals: Ephemera, Sociability, and the Archiving of Fashionable Life” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 27.3-4 (2015): 535-55.

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18 June 2018

Captain Cook and the ‘Friendly Islands’?

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Captain Cook first landed in the Tongan islands on 2 October 1773, during his second Pacific voyage. In 1774 he returned for four days and received such a warm welcome that he named Tonga the “Friendly Islands”.  However, it is now widely thought that the Tongan chiefs had planned to attack Cook and his crew and seize the Resolution and Adventure.

Cook Add MS 15513 (f.8)'Entertainments at Lifuka on the reception of Captain Cook' by John Webber 1777 British Library Add MS 15513 (f.8) Noc

The first account of the supposed plot against the Resolution was given by William Mariner, a young man serving on the British privateer Port au Prince when it was attacked in Lifuka in 1806.  Twenty-six of the crew survived.  Mariner was adopted by the chief Finau ‘Ulukalala-‘i-Ma‘ofanga and lived in Tonga for four years.  Finau told Mariner that the “Feenow” Cook had known was his father, who had been instrumental in planning an attack on Cook.  The plan was called off when the chiefs disagreed about whether to attack under cover of darkness or during the day.

When Mariner returned to London, he was contacted by John Martin, an ethnographically-minded doctor.  Together they authored An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands (1817), one of the most accurate accounts of Tongan life in the early 19th century.  In the opinion of most scholars, Mariner’s account is accurate.  So was the plot to kill Cook in Tonga real, and was Cook so naïve as to be oblivious to the danger?  There are some factors to take into account.

When the Port au Prince was attacked in 1806, Tonga had been in the grip of civil war for seven years.  The prosperous and scattered people Cook had observed were corralled inside guarded fortresses and slowly starving as harvest after harvest was destroyed by neglect and attacking armies.  The different island groups were controlled by warring chiefs, each aware of the advantage which possession of European firearms and iron goods would afford them in their political and economic struggles.

The outbreak of the civil war had very little to do with European arrivals.  Tensions between the three chiefly lineages holding spiritual, administrative and political authority had been mounting for nearly two decades, and came to a head with the assassination of chief Tuku‘aho in 1799.  By the time Mariner was living with Finau ‘Ulukalala-‘i-Ma‘ofanga, it was deemed expedient to have a European or two to assist in battles, and as a kind of status symbol.

  Fīnau ʻUlukālalaFīnau ʻUlukālala I (or his brother) on Vavaʻu in 1793, in Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardiere, Voyage in Search of La Perouse Wikimedia Commons

Whether or not there was a plot to attack the Resolution and kill Cook, the “Friendly Islands” epithet stuck, defying those like George Hamilton who insisted that “with the greatest deference and submission to Captain Cook … the name [is]… a perfect misnomer” (in Suren, 2004: 218).

Emma Scanlan
AHRC researcher, University of Sussex

Further reading:
Beaglehole, J. C. The Journals of Captain Cook on his Voyages of Discovery: The  Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780. Hakluyt Society Extra Series no. 36. Cambridge, 1967.
Bott, Elizabeth, Tavi and Queen Salote Tupou. Tongan Society at the time of Captain Cook's Visits: Discussions with Her Majesty Queen Salote Tupou.  Wellington: The Polynesian Society, 1982.
Mariner, William. John, M.D Martin ed. An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, with an Original Grammar of their Language. Vol I and II. London: J. Murray, 1817.
Rutherford, Noel ed. The Friendly Islands: A History of Tonga. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Suren, Peter. Essays on the History of Tonga. Vol. 2. Nuku'alofa, Tonga: The Friendly islands Bookshop, 2004.
Thomas, Nicholas. Discoveries: The Voyages of Captain Cook. London: Penguin Books, 2004.

Visit our exhibition James Cook: The Voyages
Open until 28 August 2018

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