James Cook’s jour­nal

Held in the col­lec­tion of the Na­tional Li­brary of Aus­tralia

Australian Geographic - - Geo Buzz - EL­IZ­A­BETH ARRIGO

FOUND­ING TREA­SURE of the Na­tional Li­brary of Aus­tralia (NLA), James Cook’s En­deav­our jour­nal gives Cook’s per­sonal ac­count of his journey from Eng­land to Aus­tralia, which be­gan 250 years ago.

Of­fi­cially, this jour­nal was meant to doc­u­ment Cook’s ob­ser­va­tion of the tran­sit of Venus across the face of the Sun. Un­of­fi­cially, it was to be­come a record for Cook’s top-se­cret mis­sion to sail south in search of the mythic ‘Un­known South­ern Land’ and claim it for Britain – a mis­sion he com­pleted on 29 April 1770 when he landed at Kur­nell, in Botany Bay.

Writ­ten between 1768 and 1771, the jour­nal con­sists of 753 pages that started out life as a se­ries of fo­lios, or in­di­vid­ual books (they weren’t bound to­gether un­til the 19th cen­tury). Its very fab­ric tells its own story: for ex­am­ple, when En­deav­our ran aground on the Great Bar­rier Reef and was nearly wrecked, Cook must have been too busy try­ing to save the ship to write up the in­ci­dent at the time, and had to stick in a piece of pa­per later that recorded the event.

The NLA (then the Com­mon­wealth Par­lia­men­tary Li­brary) bought the key his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment at auc­tion for £5000 in 1923. One of the ear­li­est writ­ten records of the Indige­nous peo­ple of Poly­ne­sia, New Zealand and east­ern Aus­tralia, it’s the only doc­u­ment of the voy­age in Cook’s own hand.

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