Papers of the Board of Longitude : Captain Cook's journal of voyage to the South Seas

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p>This significant volume demonstrates the range of astronomical observations made by <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20Cook'>Captain Cook</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/14102.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] and <a href='/search?keyword=James%20King'>James King</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/107078.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] on the first part of their voyage on board HMS <a href='/search?keyword=Resolution'>Resolution</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/13374.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . Cook's third and final voyage of discovery left <a href='/search?keyword=England'>England</a> in 1776 and returned, without its Captain in 1780. Entries in this journal come from navigational observations and variations of the ship's compasses. They run from 18 June to 21 November 1776 and encompass the journey from England to <a href='/search?keyword=Cape%20Town'>Cape Town</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/13258.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . The observations for the rest of the voyage continue in [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00061/1'>RGO 14/61</a>].</p> <p>The purpose of this voyage was ostensibly to return <a href='/search?keyword=Omai'>Omai</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/153974.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] to the <a href='/search?keyword=Society%20Islands'>Society Islands</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/13852.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . Omai was a Raiatean who travelled to England from <a href='/search?keyword=Huahine'>Huahine</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/13893.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] on board HMS <a href='/search?keyword=Adventure'>Adventure</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/86374.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] , which had sailed as part of Cook's second voyage to the Pacific. This was not the primary purpose of the voyage, however. HMS Resolution was under instructions to travel alongside HMS <a href='/search?keyword=Discovery'>Discovery</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/13374.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] to find and chart the elusive <a href='/search?keyword=North-West%20Passage'>North-West Passage</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/540935.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . This imagined trading route connecting the North Atlantic with the North Pacific was much sought after, to the extent that the <a href='/search?keyword=Admiralty'>Admiralty</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/archive/objects/531512.html'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] extended their long-standing award for its discovery just before this voyage, in 1775.</p> <p>A range of entries record latitudes, by means of dead reckoning and lunar observations. Longitude was also recorded and was measured by lunar observation, timekeeper, lunar observation combined with dead reckoning, and lunar observation combined with use of the timekeeper. Alongside these observations, the journal contains entries noting the 'variation' of the compass. The variation is the difference between the direction shown by the magnetic needle and true north. Many voyages of discovery noted this constant deviation. <a href='/search?keyword=Captain%20Matthew%20Flinders'>Captain Matthew Flinders</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections.html#!csearch;authority=agent-7692;makerReference=agent-7692'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] is said to have described the cause after his 1801 voyage on HMS <a href='/search?keyword=Investigator'>Investigator</a> [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections.html#!csearch;authority=vessel-320960;vesselReference=vessel-320960'><img title="Link to RMG" alt='NMM icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] . The range of navigational and astronomical instruments and tasks documented in this journal highlights the complexity of developing a solution for finding longitude and accurately surveying coasts. An extensive range of instruments were developed and deployed and neither the timekeeper nor the Nautical Almanac provided a solution in themselves. Furthermore the entries for longitude and latitude show Cook and King often used different instruments and techniques used in conjunction to produce a collaborated result.</p> <p>Not present in these lists of quantified entries is an account of the effort that went into the use and deployment of these instruments. Significantly, however, as in many logbooks and journals from voyages of discovery in the late eighteenth century, the volume contains a section entitled 'Explanation of the Table of Days Work and Observations', which gives a clear description of the method through which the instruments were used. Cook and King's entries do not always relate to observations made on board the ship. The role of land-based observing was crucial for Cook's voyages, and the many voyages of discovery of the period. It required the construction of a temporary land-based observatory but was vital for accurately checking the rates of the ship's timekeepers, and for calibrating the many instruments. The notes on observing for the voyage contained in RGO 14/59 provide a valuable insight to the lists of entries and 'Explanations of the Tables' in this volume. Cook and King relay the problems that could occur when setting up the astronomical observatory on land in a few brief notes interspersed in this volume. They describe the problems of strong winds blowing the observatory to pieces [<a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00059/1'>RGO 14/59:14v</a>] and the continual effort through which they sought to keep the expensive instruments used on the voyage working. On November 4th, Cook notes that when the astronomical clock stopped, he brought a clockmaker on board to repair it.</p> <p>Cook's three voyages have become famous for their various encounters with land, from the extensive early ethnographic descriptions of Pacific islanders, to Cook's death on <a href='/search?keyword=Hawaii'>Hawaii</a> during the third voyage (see Marshall Sahlins, How "Natives" Think: About Captain Cook, (Chicago, 1995) for example). But what should not be forgotten is the degree to which the navigational and astronomical aspects of the voyages also relied upon, and were challenged by, the dependence on contact with land.</p> <p>Eóin Phillips<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /> </p>


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