"James Cook: The Voyages" Opens at the British Library

a-view-endeavour-watering-place-alexander-buchan copy.jpgMarking 250 years since James Cook’s ship Endeavour set sail from Plymouth, James Cook: The Voyages (27 April to 28 August 2018) explores Cook’s three world-changing voyages through stunning artworks, original maps and handwritten journals.

From iconic depictions of people and landscapes by expedition artists Sydney Parkinson, John Webber and William Hodges to an evocative collection of drawings by Polynesian high priest and navigator Tupaia, which are going on display together for the first time, James Cook: The Voyages will take visitors on a journey of discovery, from the Pacific Ocean to the Antarctic.

The exhibition will chart Cook’s three voyages, from the Endeavour setting sail from Plymouth in 1768 to the Resolution and Discovery returning to Britain in 1780 after Cook’s death in Hawaii. It will explore different perspectives on the voyages, from those on board the ships to those who saw them arrive on their shores, and will consider their legacy and relevance today.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Paintings depicting Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia by the Polynesian high priest and navigator Tupaia, which are going on display as a group for the first time
  • The first chart of New Zealand by James Cook
  • The first artworks depicting the Antarctic by William Hodges on loan from the State Library of New South Wales, which will be reunited with James Cook’s handwritten journal entry describing the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle, for the first time in 100 years
  • Specimens from the first voyage, including the mouth parts of a squid, on loan from the Royal College of Surgeons
  • Expedition artist John Webber’s watercolour landscapes, including the first European illustrations of Hawai’i
  • Jewellery and musical instruments, including a necklace from Tierra del Fuego, ceremonial rattle from Nootka Sound (Vancouver Island) and bamboo flute from Tahiti, on loan from Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge 
  • Natural history drawings, including the first European depiction of a kangaroo by Sydney Parkinson on loan from the Natural History Museum

The British Library holds pre-eminent collections from the voyages, including many original maps, artwork and journals produced on board ship, which will be displayed alongside films exploring contemporary views on Cook’s legacy in Australia, New Zealand and other places visited by the expeditions. Contemporary perspectives on the voyages, including people from the Pacific communities Cook visited, will also be explored through the Library’s accompanying web space (www.bl.uk/the-voyages-of-captain-james-cook) and public events programme.  

William Frame, co-curator of James Cook: The Voyages at the British Library, said:

‘The British Library holds many iconic artworks, charts and handwritten journals from James Cook’s voyages and the exhibition displays the most famous of these together, alongside key loans, for the first time in a generation. Through the exhibition and accompanying public programme visitors will be able to consider different perspectives on the voyages and to reflect on their meaning today.’ 

Laura Walker, co-curator of James Cook: The Voyages at the British Library, said:

‘In the exhibition, visitors will be able to follow the course of each voyage through eyewitness accounts, hand-drawn charts and stunning artwork created on board ship. Alongside these sources, recently commissioned films allow visitors to consider contemporary perspectives on the voyages and to examine their legacy, much of which remains highly contested today.’

The accompanying web space, which will be added to throughout the exhibition run, hosts a range of newly digitised collection items, audio-visual content and articles by academics, artists, journalists and community historians who present their views and responses to the Library’s exhibition and collections.

The British Library will also be hosting a series of photographs by Crystal Te Moananui-Squares, which present a contemporary encounter with Pacific communities in the United Kingdom as a creative response to the exhibition. The free display, entitled Tūhuratanga - Voyages of Discovery, will be located in the Library’s Second Floor Gallery from 6 July to 23 September 2018.

There will be a full programme of events, including talks, discussions and film screenings, inspired by the exhibition. April to June events can be found on the British Library’s What’s On pages, with a full programme of events available on request. Highlights include:

James Cook: The Voyages is supported by PONANT Yacht Cruises & Expeditions and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Image: 'A View of the Endeavour’s Watering Place in the Bay of Good Success’ by Alexander Buchan, 1769 (c) British Library Board.

 

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