Robson, John "Captain Cook's World: maps of the life and voyages of James Cook, R.N." University of Washington Press, Seattle. 164 pp + maps + gazetteer. Hardbound, $40.00
Captain James Cook is one of those people who
doesn't need a first name. Almost anywhere in the world a simple mention of "Captain Cook" will identify arguably the greatest explorer England and the world have produced.
His first two voyages encompassed charting
parts of Australia and New Zealand and bringing them to the public's attention
(there are many arguments about which Europeans actually got there first, but
no one denies Cook's accounts made them famous), disproving the myth of the
Great Southern Continent, and voyaging further into Antarctica than any previous
explorer. His third voyage, in quest of the Northwest Passage, encountered Hawaii
and produced the first modern outline of the Alaska coast as far
north as the Chukchi Sea.
The laudable object of this book is to place before the public maps of Captain Cook\'d5s voyages of exploration around the world. The author notes many place names have been changed over the past 200 years, and in some cases, such as in the foggy Bering Sea, by Cook himself.
The plan was to reconstruct the maps in
a simple form so the reader can easily follow the ship\'d5s track, and accompany
However, a few problems occurred. Given the space limitations in the layout and oblong format, sometimes the maps are in reversed order. The track, shown in dotted red lines with dates added, helps, but at first glance the maps are confusing. There are clear overall maps of the first two voyages, but the one of the third has Alaska running north and south. This makes it difficult to view, although it would seem the object was to place it in a circumpolar perspective. If so, it is not very successful. The addition of the tracks of earlier and later explorers is not helpful.
There are a few minor errors; Bering's
1728 trip did not prove Asia and America were not joined. In fact, he was so
dissatisfied with the results (the fog was so thick he never saw the Alaskan
shore) Bering returned to St. Petersburg and requested the voyage of 1741.
The M'fller and S'ahlin charts Cook had
with him on the third voyage are not reproduced. In particular the highly erroneous
St'ahlin chart in which the Alaska Peninsula is reduced to an island and the
Aleutians moved north to surround the Diomedes would have been interesting to
the reader. Cook, a perfectionist, not only quickly discovered he was in Siberia,
not the island of Alashka, but rather than dismissing the rest of the map, which
had already proved highly unreliable, planned to concentrate the next season
on proving or disproving each and every one of the islands.
However, the author is most familiar with
the South Pacific and we would expect those area to be error-free, although
there again, Plancius or Ortelius or like maps of the great Polar continents
of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries would have been interesting
for comparison. The short textual inserts accompanying the maps are very helpful.
Overall, it is clear a great deal of work and time has gone into producing this
volume. The modest price makes it easily affordable for the person who always
meant to learn more about the great Captain Cook.
The biography of Cook that precedes the
maps is a nice introductory piece and the maps of his childhood home and first
sailings was a charming idea.