Go­ing south, as chron­i­cled by Cook’s helper

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Suzanne Rickard’s Sail­ing with Cook is fo­cused on James Bur­ney’s ser­vice with Cap­tain James Cook from 1772 to 1774. The 22-year-old se­cond lieu­tenant was re­quired to keep a log for the ad­mi­ralty on the events of the voy­age. This he did in ac­cor­dance with his train­ing and di­rec­tions. Be­ing an en­ter­pris­ing young man, he also kept a pri­vate jour­nal for the ‘‘amuse­ment’’ of his fam­ily and friends. It is on this en­light­en­ing pri­vate ac­count that Rickard’s book is based.

The text is ar­ranged in 13 chrono­log­i­cal chap­ters, each lav­ishly em­bel­lished with il­lus­tra­tions of the pe­riod: por­traits and paint­ings, es­pe­cially of seascapes and wildlife, some of which are by Wil­liam Hodges, the of­fi­cial artist and land­scape painter on the voy­age. Other re­ward­ing edi­to­rial flour­ishes in­clude fac­sim­ile pages ex­tracted from Bur­ney’s jour­nal and in­for­ma­tive text boxes on peo­ple and on mat­ters from ce­les­tial nav­i­ga­tion to war ca­noes.

Bur­ney was born in 1750 into a large, lively and dis­tin­guished fam­ily. He was the first son of a cel­e­brated mu­si­cian, Charles Bur­ney. His sis­ter was the noted writer Fanny Bur­ney. Rickard pro­vides a colour­ful ac­count of the fam­ily’s ups and downs: births, deaths, sick­nesses and changes in for­tune. It’s a sen­si­tive por­trait of a cul­tured and in­flu­en­tial fam­ily of the times.

Bur­ney’s naval ca­reer started as a cap­tain’s ser­vant at age 10. From this ten­der age he was in­doc­tri­nated into the cul­ture, prin­ci­ples and prac­tices of the Royal Navy. Rickard pro­vides an en­light­en­ing dis­cus­sion on naval ranks and pro­mo­tion pro­ce­dures and sum­marises Bur­ney’s early ser­vice from 1760, first in sea warfare against the French, then on du­ties around the Mediter­ranean and Euro­pean ports. He rose from cap­tain’s ser­vant to mid­ship­man by 1766. This ac­count of one man’s early naval ca­reer of­fers a tan­ta­lis­ing glimpse of his­toric events.

Bur­ney’s ser­vice with Cook be­gan in 1772 when he was se­lected to join the Res­o­lu­tion on Cook’s se­cond voy­age of dis­cov­ery. As part of his du­ties he was re­quired to keep the afore­men­tioned log.

Cook’s scrupu­lous prepa­ra­tions for the voy­age are de­scribed, par­tic­u­larly the meth­ods that en­abled him to keep his crew healthy and strong on long, ar­du­ous voy­ages, such as his then en­light­ened in­sis­tence on pro­vid­ing fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles to ward off the dreaded scurvy.

The voy­age took three years, un­der the com­mand of Cook on the Res­o­lu­tion and Cap­tain To­bias Furneaux on the Ad­ven­ture, and was in­tended to set­tle the “spec­u­la­tion sur­round­ing the ex­is­tence of the Great South­ern Con­ti­nent, or Great South Land’’. The jour­ney took them up to the Antarc­tic Cir­cle, on to Van Diemen’s Land, New Zealand’s South Is­land and to the trop­i­cal wa­ters of the is­lands and atolls of Poly­ne­sia. A map em­pha­sises the skills of the nav­i­ga­tors and the dis­tances trav­elled.

Bur­ney vividly de­scribes his ex­pe­ri­ences from the icy Antarc­tic Sea and its fan­tas­tic ice­bergs, some of which dwarfed the ships, to the shores of New Zealand and es­pe­cially the beau­ti­ful is­lands of the Pa­cific. He took a great in­ter­est in the Pa­cific is­lands and their peo­ple, writ­ing vivid de­scrip­tions of their so­cial cus­toms, food, cos­tume, re­li­gion, lan­guage and mu­sic. He made many friends among the is­lan­ders, no­tably Omai, a young Ra’iatean man who came back to Eng­land with him and re­mained there for three years, cre­at­ing quite a sen­sa­tion.

Bur­ney’s cu­ri­ous, sen­si­tive ap­proach to the strange world in which he found him­self and its peo­ple makes this book so en­joy­able. It is re­mark­able he was able to record so much, as he was fully em­ployed in his naval du­ties. His jour­nal came to an abrupt end in De­cem­ber 1773 when 10 crew from the Ad­ven­ture were killed by Maori war­riors. Bur­ney led a search party to find the men, who had not re­turned from a grass gath­er­ing ex­pe­di­tion. They found the re­mains of their ship­mates, who had been mas­sa­cred and eaten. Bur­ney did not re­sume his jour­nal af­ter this tragedy.

Rickard’s fi­nal chap­ter cov­ers Bur­ney’s last jour­ney with Cook on his third voy­age of dis­cov­ery in 1776, dur­ing which he wit­nessed and

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.