Untold lives blog

12 posts categorized "Captain Cook"

29 June 2018

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

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.

  Colour picture of Mr Lunardi making an experiment on the Thames - rowing a contraption with a Union flag flying from itMr 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.

  Advert for 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.

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

Advert used for Cook exhibition - ship surrounded by small boats

18 June 2018

Captain Cook and the ‘Friendly Islands’?

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.

'Entertainments at Lifuka on the reception of Captain Cook' '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 ʻUlukālala I (or his brother) on Vavaʻu in 1793Fīnau 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

Advert used for Cook exhibition - ship surrounded by small boats

 

12 June 2018

Sauerkraut, sugar, and salt pork – the diet on board Cook’s 'Resolution'

In May 1775 Captain James Cook called at St Helena in the Resolution on his voyage back to England.  Cook sailed away with eight East India Company soldiers who had been granted a discharge after serving their contracted time. The Royal Navy sent the Company a bill for the soldiers’ food and drink, detailing exactly what they had consumed over the course of three months.

Drawing of the Resolution made during Cook's Third VoyageDrawing of the Resolution made during Cook's Third Voyage British Library Add.17277, No. 2 Images Online

St Helena was administered in the late 18th century by the East India Company and there was a garrison of soldiers based there.  The eight men who took their passage home in the Resolution were Thomas Green, John White, Samuel Clare, David Grant, John Jones, Thomas Rhodes/Roades, Richard Spite/Spight, and Michael Kerry/Carey.  The Royal Navy Victualling Office submitted a bill for supplying the men from 16 May to varying dates in August when they left the ship.  This was computed to be the equivalent of the cost of 701 men for one day, a total of £36 9s 11¼d.  So the cost of victualling each man was about 12½d per day.

  Document showing the diet on ResolutionIOR/E/1/59 f.483

The Company was charged for –
Bread 701 pounds
Wine 43⅞ gallons
Brandy 21⅞ gallons
Salt beef 37¾ pieces
Salt pork 25 pieces
Fresh beef 200 pounds
Flour 112½ pounds
Raisins 37½ pounds
Pease 3¼ bushels
Wheat (for oatmeal) 4 bushels 5½ gallons
Sugar 75 pounds
Vinegar 6¼ gallons
‘Sour Krout’ estimated at £1
'Necessary money' 13s 5d

Lack of vitamin C in the diet of sailors on long voyages resulted in the disease scurvy which could prove fatal.  The symptoms of scurvy are swollen gums that are prone to bleeding, loose teeth, bulging eyes, easy bruising, scaly skin, and very dry hair.  To counter this, James Cook replenished supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables for his crew whenever the ship made a land call.  He also took with him ‘Sour Krout’, that is sauerkraut, cabbage fermented with lactic acid bacteria.  On Cook’s first Pacific voyage in 1768, the Navy wanted to trial the efficacy of sauerkraut in combatting scurvy.  The Endeavour was provided with 7,860 pounds of sauerkraut, a ration of 2 pounds per man per week.  Cook reported back to the Victualling Board in July 1771 that no ‘dangerous’ cases of scurvy had occurred and that he, the surgeons and the officers believed that the sauerkraut had played a large part in achieving this.

Cook’s second voyage with the Resolution and Adventure lasted three years and, although there were outbreaks of scurvy, only one man died from the disease.  The Victualling Office bill shows that there was still some sauerkraut left towards the end of the voyage.  Let’s hope that the Company soldiers enjoyed their ration, perhaps washing it down with some of their 43⅞ gallons of wine and 21⅞ gallons of brandy!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/59 ff.482-483v Account from the Royal Navy for victualing eight soldiers in the Resolution 1775
IOR/G/32/36 St Helena Consultations May 1775
Egon H. Kodicek and Frank G. Young, ‘Captain Cook and scurvy’ in The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, vol. 24 no. 1 (1969)

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

Advert used for Cook exhibition - ship surrounded by small boats

11 May 2018

Captain Cook's house – a space in memory

Long before the East End became London's working-class quarter, it had a different character.  Walk along the Mile End Road today, you can spot surviving signs of elegance.  By the 1760s the area was becoming built up, with the City spreading its tentacles towards it, but it was still a semi-rural district for comfortably-off people.

It was convenient for those whose interests lay in ships, with the wharfs along the Thames not far off.  A property developer acquired a strip of land in between Mile End Green, and what would later become Jubilee Street, and called his new terrace Assembly Row.  In 1764 a sixty-one year lease on the eight-roomed end house was bought by James Cook.

Portrait of  Captain James CookPortrait of  Captain James Cook British Library Add MS 23920 Images Online

He had been living in then-rural Shadwell, with his young wife Elizabeth and their first child, a son who had been born while he was away on his exploratory voyage round Newfoundland.  Now, four years and three more children later, and well established with the Royal Society, he was preparing for the first of his great journeys to the Pacific.  He insured the house for £250, his household goods for another £200, and the family's clothing and silver for additional amounts.  Since £50 a year was then a sufficient income for a modestly respectable family lifestyle, with a servant, these sums suggest considerable comfort.

The voyage Cook set out on in 1768 did not bring him back to the house in the Mile End Road for three years.  He was off again in 1772 and again in 1776, which was the journey that finally carried him to an inglorious death off Hawaii.  His wife did not get the news of this till 1781, by which time their eldest son, a teenage midshipman, had tragically drowned.  She inherited the house and contents and received a pension for life from the king of £200 a year.

Portrait said to be Elizabeth Cook aged 81 Portrait said to be Elizabeth Cook aged 81 by W Henderson  - image courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (recent research has challenged whether this is Mrs Cook).

When Elizabeth herself died, over fifty years later, she had long since moved away from the Mile End Road, which had become entirely urban.  In the 19th century the Cook house, like the neighbouring ones, had a shop built out on the ground floor - women's clothing, with `corsets a speciality', later a kosher butcher. 

Captain Cook's house c.1940Captain Cook's house c.1940- image courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives 

An LCC plaque commemorating Cook was put up in 1907, but the house was pulled down in 1958 under the Greater London Plan, when two-thirds of Stepney was demolished in the name of Progress. 

The site of Captain Cook's house today The site of Captain Cook's house today  - image courtesy of Spitalfields Life

Yet the rest of the terrace survived, and is there, protected, to this day.  Sixty years on, with the old London boroughs long superseded, one can only speculate on this bizarre circumstance.  It is thought there was an intention to widen the alley alongside the house, but this never happened.  Nothing significant has ever come to occupy the empty plot.

Gillian Tindall
Writer and historian

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

 

Image from The Life of the Buddha

Untold lives blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs