05 March 2019
Some of our readers might remember visiting a wonderful exhibition James Cook: The Voyages , which was on show at the British Library last summer. Recently, I have come across a book that will I think would be an interesting continuation of Cook’s story.
Several months before captain James Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay on 14 February 1779, Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen was born on the opposite side of the globe, on Saaremaa Island (now in Estonia). Ethnically a Baltic German, Bellingshausen was a subject of the Russian Empire, which had owned the island since 1710. At the age of ten the boy was sent to study at the Naval Cadet Corps in Kronstadt and soon started using the Russified version of his name and became Faddei Faddeevich Bellinsgauzen.
His career in the Russian Imperial Navy was progressing as expected, until in 1803 lieutenant Bellinsgauzen was recommended by his commander as an officer and cartographer to participate in the first Russian circumnavigation of the Earth. The expedition headed by Adam Johann von Krusenstern took place from August 1803 to August 1806. Having established himself as a prominent cartographer, 13 years later Bellinsgauzen was appointed a leader of another circumnavigation expedition that discovered the continent of Antarctica. On his return, he became Counter Admiral, and later was promoted to Vice-Admiral after the Russo-Turkish Wars of 1828-1829.
Cook had categorically denied the existence of the mythical fertile great Southern Continent. He thought that there was nothing beyond the ice, which blocked the way for his ships. As a result of Cook’s authoritative opinion, further attempts to find a new continent were put on hold for the next 50 years.
‘Ice Islands’ from the Atlas k puteshestviiu kapitana Bellingauzena v IUzhnom Ledovitom okeane i vokrug sveta v prodolzhenii 1819, 1820 i 1821 godov (‘Atlas for the Voyage of Captain Bellingshausen to the Antarctic Seas’) (St Petersburg, 1819-1821) 14000.h.9
In July 1819 the two ships Vostok and Mirny, led by Captain Faddei Bellinsgauzen and Captain Mikhail Lazarev, travelled from Kronstadt to Copenhagen, and then on 29 July arrived in Portsmouth. During their one month’s stay there, the expedition obtained chronometers, sextants, telescopes and other nautical instruments, which at that time had not been manufactured in Russia. The supply of provisions with canned food and some special products was also replenished. Thus, the two explorers were preparing for their circumnavigation expedition and heading to the Southern hemisphere. Bellinsgauzen and his second-in-command Lazarev became the first explorers to see the land of Antarctica on 27 January 1820. They circumnavigated the continent twice, disproving James Cook's assertion that it was impossible to find land in the southern ice-fields.
The expedition collected many ethnographic, zoological and botanical specimens that later found their way into major museum collections in Russia. Pavel Nikolaevich Mikhailov (1786-1840), an artist and draughtsman, travelled on board one of the ships, documenting the voyages. In his scrap albums, he recorded the newly discovered islands, views of cities and settlements, portraits of aboriginal peoples, and carefully depicted samples of exotic flora and fauna. Mikhailov's watercolours and drawings are seem quite reliable. He faithfully followed the instructions received from both the Maritime Office and the Academy of Arts, demanding that “everything that was represented on paper ... was the true image of an object.”
On his return from the trip, Bellinsgauzen tried to publish a book about the expedition and its findings, supplemented by plentiful images and drawings. The publication was meant to be dedicated to the Emperor Alexander I and published ‘by the highest order’. Bellingsgauzen took a considerable effort to achieve this publication as soon as possible, but it was carried out only ten years after the return of the expedition, when he received the rank of vice-admiral. It took him three years to complete the two-volume Dvukratnye izyskaniia v IUzhnom Ledovitom okeane i plavanie vorkug sveta, v prodolzhenii 1819, 20 i 21 godov (‘Double Studies of the Southern Ocean and circumnavigation, in 1819, 20 and 21’). The manuscript was delivered to the Admiralty Department in 1824. Bellinsgauzen asked for 1,200 copies to be printed, but no decision was made about it. In 1827, he resumed his request, proposing to reduce costs by printing only 600 copies. By the way of explaining his desire to get his work published, Bellinsgauzen wrote that he did not see any benefit in this publication, “but only wished [his] works to be known”. The Science Committee at the Naval Headquarters allocated 38,052 Rubles for the publication of 600 copies of the book, making it a collector’s item from the very beginning. The British Library acquired two copies of this rare and wonderful publication (shelfmarks 1047.m.1. and 10496.w.3.).
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
22 August 2018
Newsletters can be wonderful things. In March of this year ‘Focus On Belgium’ had an item about father and son Isaac and Jacob Le Maire. Jacob was one of the first Europeans to reach Cape Horn and to find an alternative shipping route to Asia, circumventing the monopoly held by the Dutch East Company, or VOC in Dutch.
This ties well in with our exhibition on James Cook: the Voyages, now in its last week (must end 28 August). As you enter the exhibition you’ll see a very large map hanging off the wall. This forms part of the Klencke Atlas and It shows part of the coastline of Australia and surrounding archipelagoes, such as Papua New Guinea, named ‘Terra dos Papos a Iacobo Le Maire , dicta Nova Guinea.’ Who was this Iacob Le Maire and how had he ended up so close to Australia?
Portrait of Jacob Le Maire form De Ontdekkingsreis van Jacob le Maire en Willem Cornelisz. Schouten in de jaren 1615-1617. Werken uitgegeven door de Linschoten-Vereeniging. dl. 48, 49. (The Hague, 1945). Ac.6095.
Jacob Le Maire had been sent on an expedition by his father Isaac, who was convinced there had to be a different route around South America into the South Pacific and on to South East Asia. He set up a trading company entitled ‘The Australian Compagnie’, and secured funding from wealthy merchants in Hoorn. From the same place he contracted Willem Corneliszoon Schouten to be captain on the expedition.
Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten did find the passage, which Jacob named ‘Cape Horn’ after the city of Hoorn. Mission accomplished? In a way yes, but Jacob then went off script and followed his own plan to find the almost mythical Southern continent Terra Incognita Australis. He passed in between Australia and Papua New Guinea, which is why the strait still carries his name.
Jacob LeMaire’s route from Cape Horn to the north coast of Australia, with inserted maps of Cape Horn and New Guinea, from Joris van Spilbergen, Speculum Orientalis Occidentalisque Indiae Navigationum (Leiden, 1619) 1486.gg.27.
From then on things went downhill for Jacob.
Having arrived in Batavia, they were promptly arrested by the governor, the notorious Jan Pieterszoon Coen for breaking the VOC’s monopoly. They were sent back to the Netherlands. Tragically, Jacob died eight days into the voyage. He received a seaman’s burial.
The VOC had confiscated Lemaire’s ship and all documents on board, including Jacob’s journals. They came back to Hoorn with Schouten but were not given to Isaac Lemaire. This gave Willem Schouten the chance to publish his own account of the voyage, using his own journals. These had also been confiscated, but with the help of Willem Jansz Blaeu, who had connections within the VOC he published the first account of the voyage. Isaac Le Maire tried to stop publication by suing Blaeu. He won the case, but Blaeu appealed on the basis that if he did not publish the journal someone else would. He finally got permission to publish Jacob’s Journal, which appeared in 1618. Willem Schouten takes the credit for the discovery; Jacob Le Maire barely gets a mention.
Title page of Iovrnal ofte beschryvinghe van de wonderlicke reyse ghedaen door Willem Cornelisz Schouten van Hoorn, inde Jaren 1615, 1616 en 1617. (Amsterdam, 1618), reproduced in: De Ontdekkingsreis van Jacob le Maire en Willem Cornelisz. Schouten.
How right Blaeu had been in his protest against the publication ban is shown in the record of the flurry of publications that appeared between 1618 and 1622.
In particular the Leiden printer Nicolaes Van Geelkercken was very active. He issued several translations in 1618, in French, German, and Latin of Oost ende West-Indische Spiegel, which included the journal of Joris (George) Spilbergen’s voyage around the world in 1614-17 and Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten’s explorations as described above. There is a connection here, because LeMaire and Schouten had travelled back to Hoorn on Spilberghen’s ship.
It wasn’t until 1622 that Jacob’s papers were released and a more accurate and balanced account could be published. This has since been reprinted many times, including in 2000 by the Australian National Maritime Museum in a facsimile edition ‘to celebrate the harmonious relationship that exists between the Netherlands and Australia.’
In 1906 the Hakluyt Society published an edition of the various journals of Le Maire and Schouten, as well as Spilbergen, including a bibliography of the various editions over time, running to 17 pages. Interestingly it also includes a list of ‘Works Quoted in this Volume or Bearing on its Subject, with the British Museum Press-marks’. Now that should make life a lot easier for anyone wanting to research the Le Maires further, at least up to 1906. What it won’t include is the lovely find I made in the course of my research for this post, Octave J.A.G. Le Maire’s L’Origine anversoise des célèbres navigateurs Isaac et Jacques le Maire (Antwerp, 1950; 0761.g.41).
In this slender publication, Octave Le Maire, apparently a descendant of the Le Maires, makes a passionate case for Antwerp and not Amsterdam as the origin of the Le Maire family. It has a dedication in it, which roughly translates as: ‘In honour of the Library of the British Museum, where a precious discovery about the I and J Le Maire was made, during the war 1914-1918.’
The discoveries one can make in The British Library without having to go out to sea!
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.
Dirk Jan Barreveld ‘Tegen de Heeren van de VOC : Isaac le Maire en de ontdekking van Kaap Hoorn, (The Hague, 2002) YA.2003.a.31803.
Henk Schoorl, Isaäc Le Maire. Koopman en bedijker. (Haarlem, 1969) X.800/4479.
27 June 2018
When the naturalist Joseph Banks withdrew at short notice from James Cook’s second expedition to the South Seas in 1772 on HMS Resolution, the expedition’s sponsors needed to find a replacement quickly. The post was offered to the linguist, scientist and philosopher Johann Reinhold Forster, who accepted on condition that he could take his 17-year-old son Georg with him as an assistant.
Despite his comparative youth, Georg Forster was already an experienced traveller. Born into a German-speaking family in what is now Poland, he had first accompanied his father on an expedition at the age of ten when Johann Reinhold accepted an invitation from the Russian government to visit and report on new settlements in the Volga region. The trip did not have its desired effect of boosting the Forster family’s fortunes – instead, in a pattern to be repeated, Johann Reinhold fell out with his sponsors – but it did teach Georg how to conduct scientific research and left him fluent enough in Russian to publish a translation of Mikhail Lomonosov’s history of Russia in 1767 when he was just 13.
More impressive still, the translation was not into the boy’s native German but into English. By this time the family was living in England, Forster senior having taken a teaching post at the Dissenting Academy in Warrington. When, once again, his short temper led to his dismissal he moved to London where he and Georg made a living teaching and translating until offered their place on the Resolution. Georg’s primary role on the expedition was as an artist, and the British Libray’s current exhibition, James Cook: The Voyages, displays four of his pictures: one (on loan from the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales) shows the phenomenon of the ‘ice blink’, and the others (on loan from the British Museum) are of seabirds.
Forster’s painting of the ‘ice blink’ effect (Image © Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)
As well as making drawings, Georg soon began to assist with his father’s scientific studies, and to study in his own right the cultures, arts and languages of the peoples they encountered. His observations show a nuanced understanding for a man of his times of cultural differences and similarities, and he would later argue against the philosopher Kant that ‘race’ could not be defined merely by skin colour but had to take into account linguistic and cultural aspects of different peoples.
One of Georg Forster’s botanical drawings, from Characteres generum plantarum, quas in itinere ad insulas maris Australis, collegerunt, descripserunt, delinearunt … Joannes Reinoldus Forster ... et Georgius Forster (London, 1776) IOL.1947.c.103
When the Resolution return to London, the plan for Johann Reinhold (who had, inevitably, fallen out with Cook) to publish the official account of the voyage became mired in argument when he refused to have his text edited, and in the end it was Cook’s own account that was published. However, Georg felt unobliged by any formal agreements made between his father and the Admiralty, and published his own description of the voyage, based on the journals kept by both Forsters.
Māori artefacts from Georg Forster, Dr. Johann Reinhold Forster’s und seines Sohnes Georg Forster’s Reise um die Welt ... während den Jahren 1772 bis 1775. in dem vom Capitain J. Cook commandirten Schiffe the Resolution ausgeführt. (Berlin, 1778) 981.e.1-2.
Georg’s work was a success, especially in Germany where it made his name in both popular and academic circles. He went on to hold teaching posts in Kassel and Vilnius, was made a member of several prestigious Academies, corresponded with the major intellectuals of the time, and continued to publish on exploration, including an account of Cook’s last voyage (on which, after his difficulties with Banks and the Forsters, Cook had refused to take a scientist).
In 1785 Georg married Therese Heyne, later one of Germany’s first professional female writers. The marriage was not a success and two years later, unhappy with both domestic and academic life in Vilnius, Georg agreed to join a planned Russian expedition to the Pacific. When the expediton was abandoned he accepted the position of Librarian at the University of Mainz. Therese joined him there, and began an affair with Ludwig Ferdinand Huber, a mutual friend of the couple whom she would marry after Georg’s death. Georg seems to have accepted this relationship and continued his friendship with Huber.
Portrait of Georg Forster from Jacob Moleschott, Georg Forster der Naturforscher des Volks (Frankfurt a. M., 1854) 10705.c.12.
A journey through parts of Germany, the Low Countries, England and France gave rise to Georg’s most famous book after the account of Cook’s voyage. Ansichten vom Niederrhein, von Brabant, Flandern, Holland, England und Frankreich... describes the culture and history and policitcal and socuial conditions of the countries and regions in question. In the aftermath of the Storming of the Bastille, these were matters of great concern.
Like many German intellectuals, Georg welcomed the French Revolution. When French troops occupied Mainz in 1792 he joined the newly-founded Jacobin Club along with Huber, and was among the founders of the short-lived Mainz Republic and an editor of the revolutionary newspaper Die neue Mainzer Zeitung.
By the time the Mainz Republic fell in July 1793, Forster was in Paris where he witnessed the early months of the Terror but, unlike many early supporters of the Revolution, refused to denounce the violent turn that it had taken. He remained in Paris until his death in January 1794, a victim not of the Terror but of a sudden illness.
Forster’s unwavering support for the Revolution affected his posthumous reputation. Later commentators tended to be more interested in his political views – whether to praise or condemn them – than his scientific work. Nonetheless, his account of Cook’s voyage remained popular, and today he is recognised for the whole spectrum of his scientific, literary and political activities as a significant figure in late 18th-century scholarship.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies
On Monday 2 July author and biographer A. N. Wilson will be discussing his 2016 novel Resolution, based on Forster’s life and his travels with Cook, at an event in the British Library Knowledge Centre. For further information and how to book, see https://www.bl.uk/events/a-n-wilson-resolution