Captain Cook’s Journals Are Now Available Online

Read a remarkable piece of Australian history.

Captain James Cook was one of the greatest navigators, explorers and cartographers of the Age of Enlightenment.

Now, after more than two centuries, the observations of Cook and his companions during their much-heralded journeys in the South Seas are enjoying a rebirth under a project to make these and similar records of early explorers available online.

Read the complete text of the holograph manuscript of Cook's Endeavour Journal available here, along with the full text of the journal kept by Joseph Banks during the voyage and the text of all three volumes of John Hawkesworth's Account of the Voyages Undertaken…in the Southern Hemisphere (1773).

Cook had humble beginnings as a farm boy. Born on 27 October 1728 to a local Yorkshire lass and a Scottish immigrant labourer, Cook was a bright, hardworking student. He left school at 16, became an apprentice sailor at 18 and joined the navy nine years later.

In 1768 Cook was chosen to lead an expedition on Endeavour Bark to the South Seas to observe the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. Naturalist Joseph Banks was on board.

The Endeavour Journal [Image: Australian Screen]

In Tahiti, with observations complete, Cook opened secret orders to continue south in search of the fabled ‘Unknown Southern Land’. After charting parts of New Zealand, he reached New Holland (Australia), where he landed, made contact with Aboriginals, mapped parts of the east coast and claimed it for England. Briefly shipwrecked on the Great Barrier Reef, he sailed north and west to complete the first of his two global circumnavigations.

A year later he again set off in search of the Unknown Southern Land. He spent much of 1772–75 sailing the high southern latitudes fighting pack ice and storms. He came within 240 kilometres of Antarctica and, though he never saw it, continued to believe in its existence.

Cook visited Adventure Bay on Tasmania’s Bruny Island during his third voyage, sailing first to the South Seas, then north to the Pacific coasts of North America and Siberia. While returning to England via Cape Horn, he stopped in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), where he was killed on 14 February 1779 during a confrontation between his crew and the locals. In an honour ritual believed to express how highly regarded he was by the Hawaiians, his heart was eaten by the four most powerful chiefs.

Significant as Cook's journeys were geographically, they were matched by achievements in other fields of scientific inquiry.

The detailed cultural and astronomical observations of Cook and his companions answered many questions, and raised some new ones, back in Europe. Joseph Banks – whose own journal often found him "in the woods, botanizing as usual" – catalogued an array of flora and fauna that was staggering in both scope and scientific value.

The records describe a world that has been forever altered, and peoples whose unique identities would not long remain unchanged.

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The South Seas Project is a collaborative effort to democratise this knowledge so that interested people can tap into it.

Academic and scholarly organisations involved in the project include the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research at Australian National University, the National Library of Australia, the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre at the University of Melbourne, the State Library of New South Wales, H-Net, Humanities and Social Sciences Online, and James Cook University.

The Death of Captain James Cook, 14 February 1779, an unfinished painting by Johann Zoffany

The goal is to produce an online "companion" to James Cook's momentous first voyage of discovery, the organisers say. The effort entails much more than reproducing Cook's journals in digital form.

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The material will include a vast amount of contextual information that gives readers a much greater understanding of the culture and conditions surrounding the famous expeditions.

Members of the project say they chose the word "companion" to describe the approach because they want the online resource to serve as a "trusted guide" for users, providing not only basic information but also critical reflections on the original writings and other major works of the period.

"Our goal is to bring together, virtually, this wealth of cultural heritage," said team member Paul Turnbull of James Cook University and Australian National University.

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