State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 5 April 1970


The Cook Exhibition

The La Trobe Library's first exhibition for 1970 commemorates the bicentenary of the discovery of the east coast of Australia by Captain James Cook. The exhibition contains some of the Library's rarest material, including original drawings and water-colours, not previously exhibited, by William Ellis, surgeon's second mate on the third voyage with Cook. The printed matter on display consists mainly of contemporary accounts of the voyages. The official accounts published by the Admiralty on the completion of each voyage contain the fine engravings taken from the original drawings and water-colours done at the time by the ship's artists, who were engaged by the Admiralty to accompany Cook. Surreptitious accounts of the three voyages also appeared, contravening the Admiralty's orders, prior to the publication of the official accounts. The Admiralty had issued instructions that all logs and journals kept on board were to be handed over at the end of the voyage. These surreptitious accounts are all rare and valuable to the historian for the extra light they throw on the voyages. In addition, there are on display certain unique items, such as the celestial globe and atlas used by Cook on his voyages; a manuscript chart showing the east coast of Tasmania, said to be in the handwriting of Captain Tobias Furneaux; and Captain Cook's waistcoat.
Among the other rare publications related to Cook's voyages is Sir John Pringle's Discourse upon some late improvements of the Means for Preserving the Health of Mariners, London, 1776, which contains the first appearance in print of Cook's paper on the preservation of the health of the crew on the Resolution during the second voyage, for which he received the Royal Society's Copley medal. Other rare items of note are: A catalogue of the different specimens of cloth collected in the three voyages of Captain Cook to the Southern Hemisphere, London, 1787; P. L. Paris's Eloge de Cook, Riom, Landriot, 1790; and Samuel Engel's Remarques sur la partie de la relation du voyage du Capitaine Cook, qui concerne le détroit entre l'Asie et l'Amérique …, Berne, F. S. Fetscherin, 1781. Two rare pamphlets by Georg Forster are exhibited: Reply to Mr. Wales's Remarks, London, 1778; and A Letter to the Right Honourable the Earl of Sandwich, London, 1778 (see page 5).
Ellis's Sketches.
William Ellis was surgeon's second mate on the Discovery until 16 February 1779 when he was transferred to the Resolution. The Admiralty had not engaged professional botanists for the third voyage so that William Anderson, surgeon's mate on the Resolution, became the naturalist while Ellis acted as natural history draughtsman. Ellis is described by David Samwell as ‘a genteel young fellow and of a good education’.1 Whilst he was nowhere near as prolific as John Webber, the official artist, he produced delicate water-colours and accurate bird drawings.
On his return from the third voyage Ellis found himself in need of money and, despite the prohibition, published an account of the voyage in two volumes in 1782, before the official account had
appeared. As a result he lost the favour of Sir Joseph Banks and ruined any prospects he might have had in the Navy. On his death in 1785 the following obituary appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine:
‘Mr. Ellis, formerly of Cambridge. His death was occasioned by a fall from the mainmast of a ship at Ostend. He was on his way to Germany, where the Emperor had engaged him on advantageous terms to go on a voyage of discovery. Mr. Ellis accompanied Captain Cooke [sic] on his last voyage; and, soon after his return, published an account of it in two volumes.’2
Ellis is represented here by a pencil sketch, ‘A Woman of New Zealand’, 1777 (15″ × 10 ¾″) (see page 7) and a water-colour, ‘A View of the Fluted Cape Van Diemen's Land’, 1777 (10 ½″ × 14 ¾″) (see page 9). Professor Beaglehole describes his work as ‘sometimes rough and even hurriedly crude in execution, at other times marked by a charming sense of the design in a landscape and by a gift for delicate colour’.3 An unfinished water-colour (10 7/16″ × 14 ½″), also thought to be by Ellis but unsigned and undated, is on display in the exhibition along with two pencil sketches of native heads (entitled ‘Tongataboo or New Amsterdam I. S. Seas’) on one sheet (12″ × 7 ½″), on the verso of which is a pencil sketch of a native canoe. The original Ellis material was presented to the Library on 23 September 1913 by Walter Astley, Esq., of Colac.
Three other institutions are known to hold original drawings, etc.. by Ellis. They are The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich — 10 water-colours; The National Library, Canberra — 16 water-colours and other drawings in the Rex Nan Kivel collection; and the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, has 2 wash drawings and one other.
Surreptitious Accounts.
The first of the surreptitious accounts, A Journal of a Voyage round the World, In His Majesty's Ship Endeavour … appeared in 1771, a little over two months after the completion of the voyage, published anonymously in London by T. Becket and P. A. De Hondt. G. Arnold Wood attributed it to James Magra, an American midshipman who later changed his name to Matra,4 and on an examination of the Journal, Beaglehole concludes that the case for Magra is stronger than for anybody else. Despite its rarity, it is ‘a poor but fluent production obviously thrown off in a hurry’5, but it is of interest because it contains the first printed reference to the sighting of the east coast of New Holland.
Two surreptitious accounts appeared after the second voyage. The first, Journal of the Resolution's Voyage, In 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775 …, was published anonymously at London by Newbery in 1775. It is established that it is the work of the Irishman, John Marra, gunner's mate on the Resolution. A second edition of Marra's work published at Dublin by C. Jenkin in 1776 is also on display. The second unofficial account published anonymously at London in 1776 is entitled A Second Voyage round the World, in the years MDCCLXXII. LXXIII, LXXIV, LXXV (see page 11). This is not a reliable account and at the time the Monthly Review listed fifteen alleged incidents pronounced on the authority of Cook to be false.6
Three surreptitious accounts of the third voyage are on display. The first of these, Journal of Captain Cook's last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, on Discovery …, was published at London by Newbery in 1781. Judge F. W. Howay has proved beyond doubt that the author was Lieutenant John Rickman.7 Rickman was second lieutenant on the Discovery until August 1779 when he was discharged into the Resolution. The second unofficial account of the third voyage published in England is William Ellis's An authentic Narrative of a Voyage performed by Captain Cook and Captain Clerke …, London, printed for G. Robinson, etc., 1782. Beaglehole finds it ‘inadequate but interesting’ and quotes David Samwell: ‘… there is no spirit in the Narrative … We all agreed that the greatest part of it was written from Memory, he tells no lies ‘tis true but then he does not tell you half the odd adventures we met with …’8 Finally, Reise um die Welt, mit Capitain Cook by Heinrich Zimmermann, published at Mannheim in 1781, was the first account of the third voyage to appear in Europe.9 Zimmermann, who was coxswain on the Discovery, made notes of the principal events of the voyage. His account frequently contains errors, but his assessment of Cook's character from the standpoint of a common sailor and of a foreigner is valuable.
‘The general consternation caused by the death of our Commodore is the finest tribute to Captain Cook. Everyone on the ships was stricken dumb, crushed, and felt as though he had lost his father; and it will readily be seen by this narrative of our travels with him that the spirit of adventure, the energy and steady courage were lost after his death.’10
At the end of his introduction to Zimmermann's Captain Cook,11 Howay lists four libraries which hold copies of the 1781 Mannheim edition. He does not include the La Trobe Library in this list, nor does he list the Library as possessing one of the rare 1783 editions of Zimmermann. A revised list was published subsequently, listing nine German editions (1781 and 1782) and ten French editions.
Globe, Atlas and Waistcoat.
The celestial globe and atlas were acquired by the Library, together with Furneaux's chart of Van Diemen's Land, in October 1882. They had been in the possession of Ann Elizabeth Smith who swore an affidavit to the effect that she was the widow of James Cook Smith who was born in London in 1813, the son of Captain John Smith, R.N., whose services are detailed in Volume XII, page 407 of Marshall's Naval Biography; that Captain Smith was first cousin to Mrs. James Cook, the widow of the circumnavigator; that Mrs. Cook bequeathed to Captain Smith certain charts, instruments, etc.; and that this fact is noted in Marshall's Naval Biography, Volume XII, page 419.
Cook's waistcoat was acquired by the Library from the Hon. Mrs. N. Diane Cook after lengthy negotiations involving the Agent-General in London, the Premier's Department and Sir Keith Murdoch, then chairman of the Trustees. Mrs. Cook produced as evidence of authenticity a family tree showing her connection with Cook's family through a sister of Captain Cook.
Samwell's Pamphlet
David Samwell's very rare pamphlet, A Narrative of the Death of Captain James Cook. To which are added some Particulars concerning his Life and Character. And Observations respecting the Introduction of the Venereal Disease into the Sandwich Islands, 1786, is of great interest. Apart from giving details of Cook's death which did not appear in the official account, Samwell gives a valuable assessment of his character. Samwell, surgeon's first mate on the Resolution, was promoted to the rank of surgeon on the Discovery in August 1778. The son of a Welsh clergyman, he was an educated man who took an active part in the Welsh literary circle in London.12 His account of Cook's death was intended for Kippis's Biographia Britannica which did not appear until 1789, but Samwell published the account separately in 1786, adding the sketch of Cook's character and remarks on venereal disease in the Sandwich Islands. In the discussion of Cook's character he includes a striking description of Cook's physical appearance:
‘His person was above six feet high, and though a good-looking man, he was plain both in address and appearance. His head was small, his hair, which was a dark brown, he wore tied behind. His face was full of expression, his nose exceedingly well-shaped, his eyes, which were small and of a brown cast, were quick and piercing: his eyebrows prominent, which gave his countenance altogether an air of austerity.’13
Samwell, an open — hearted, genial character, who idolised Cook, took the trouble to collect detailed reports and information relating to Cook's death after the event. After the voyage he made a pilgrimage to Staithes where Cook had been apprenticed to a shopkeeper before he went to Whitby. ‘His great Qualities’, wrote Samwell, ‘I admired beyond anything I can express — I gloried in him — and my Heart bleeds to this Day whenever I think of his Fate.’14
Mary Lewis.


Beaglehole, J. C., ed., The Journals of Captain James Cook (3 vols. and charts, Hakluyt Society, 1955–1967), vol. 3, part i, p. Ixxxvi.


Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lv, part ii, 1785, p. 571.


Beaglehole. op cit.. vol. 3, part i, p. ccxxii.


Wood, G. Arnold, The Discovery of Australia (London, 1922), p. 385.


Beaglehole. op. cit., vol. 1, p. cclvii.


Monthly Review, vol. xxviii. October 1776. p. 270. quoted in Sir Maurice Holmes, Captain James Cook, R.N., F.R.S. A bibliographical excursion (London, 1952), p. 22.


Howay, F. W., ‘Authorship of the anonymous account of Captain Cook's last voyage’, Washington Historical Quarterly, vol. xii, No. 1, January 1921, pp. 51-58.


Beaglehole, op cit., vol. 3, part i, p. ccvii.


Ibid., p. ccvi.


Zimmermann. Heinrich, Zimmermann's Captain Cook, ed. F. W. Howay (Toronto, 1930), p. 102.


Ibid., p. 17.


Samwell, David. Captain Cook and Hawaii, Introduction by Sir Maurice Holmes (San Francisco. 1957), pp. ii-iii.


Samwell. David. A Narrative of the death of Captain James Cook … (London, 1786), p. 26.


Samwell to Gregson. 26 February 1781. quoted in Beaglehole, op. cit., vol. 3, part i, p. lxxxvi.