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Cartes et cartographies dans le monde anglophone aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles

The Ship, the Map, the Chart, and the Book

The Role of the Royal Navy in the Publication of Pacific Geographic Knowledge in the Long-Eighteenth Century
Katie Parker


S’appuyant sur quatre études de cas, cet article met en évidence les évolutions caractérisant les liens entre la Royal Navy, l’exploration du Pacifique et les modalités de publication durant le long XVIIIe siècle. Il s’intéresse au processus de publication, aux textes en tant que productions matérielles ainsi qu’aux cartes afin de souligner les différents changements induits par les connaissances géographiques telles qu’elles étaient diffusées auprès d’un public lettré. Alors que la Royal Navy se mit à publier des récits de voyage afin de promouvoir son image auprès du public et de légitimer les prétentions impériales, la manière de construire des récits de voyage efficaces fit l’objet d’expérimentations constantes. Ces études de cas comprennent les publications issues de l’expédition menée par le capitaine Narbrough (1669-1671), du périple de William Dampier à bord du Roebuck (1699-1701), du troisième voyage de James Cook (1776-1780) et de l’expédition dirigée par le capitaine Vancouver (1791-1795).

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Notes de la rédaction

This paper was given as a plenary lecture for the 2021 conference of the Société d’Études Anglo-Américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles on “Maps and Mapping in English-Speaking Countries in the 17th and 18th Centuries.”

Texte intégral

1On 12 May 1798, Captain George Vancouver died. This may be an incongruous and dismal way to start but, for Vancouver, the three years leading to his death had been a particularly incongruous and dismal time. Since returning from his four-year circumnavigation during which he surveyed hundreds of miles of rugged coastline and disproved the existence of the Northwest Passage between 30° and 60° N latitude, Vancouver had found nothing but grievance. Settled on half-pay, the ill-health that had begun during the gruelling survey seasons on the northwest coast of North America returned. A disgruntled midshipman, Thomas Pitt, Lord Camelford, at first challenged Vancouver to a duel and then tried to attack his former commander in the street, inspiring a cartoon by James Gillray (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: James Gillray, “The caneing in Conduit Street, Dedicated to the Flag Officers of the British Navy” (London: Hannah Humphrey, 1 Oct. 1794).

Fig. 1: James Gillray, “The caneing in Conduit Street, Dedicated to the Flag Officers of the British Navy” (London: Hannah Humphrey, 1 Oct. 1794).


As is typical of Gillray, the cartoon is rife with details that offer a window into the wider issues surrounding the event. In this case, they show how the British public viewed Pacific voyages and their commanders. Behind the men is a South Sea Fur Warehouse, which sells “Fine Black Otter Skins” and, supposedly, abhors the sale of contraband goods. Speaking of contraband, on Vancouver’s back is a feather cloak; the inscription explains that this was a present from the King of Hawai’i to George III which Vancouver “forgot to be delivered.” Behind Vancouver are sets of shackles, with a label that reads, “For the NAVY.” Unfurling out of Vancouver’s pocket is a “List of those desgraced during the Voyage” which includes “Put into Irons every Gentleman on Board.” In the pocket of Charles Vancouver, George’s brother (although it may actually have been his brother John), is a letter that says, “Letter to be published after the Parties are bound to keep the Peace.” Finally, under Vancouver’s foot is a notebook with a letter to Lord Granville, then Foreign Secretary, with the words, “Every Officer is the Guardian of his own Honour.” The cartoon suggests that the South Seas were understood through the prism of the large-scale naval expeditions and, increasingly, the trade vessels that plied the waters of the antipodes – the British public consumed the Pacific via word of mouth, second-hand reports published in accounts, newspapers, and maps, as well as in cartoons like this. These voyages were often contentious and accompanied by accusations of brutality, as in the case of Vancouver, and shady dealings, as in the case of the nascent fur trade.

2While it would be easy to focus solely on a close reading of this cartoon, I instead wish to draw attention to the textuality of the naval captain as presented here. Vancouver’s pocket is stuffed with a list, one of the many paper records a commander kept while at sea and on shore. Logbooks, journals, disciplinary records, reports to the Admiralty, letters to relatives and colleague – all of these were part of the routine duties of a naval officer. Additionally, officers interacted with print as well as manuscript; they consulted previously-published voyage accounts, pored over printed charts, and consulted lunar tables to calculate longitude. Officers who visited the Pacific had an additional paper possibility, and in some cases a responsibility: the writing and publication of a voyage account complete with maps and charts of the seldom-seen South Seas. Vancouver, as the commander, would transform his journal and draughts, and those of his officers, into the official published account of the voyage that would intrigue armchair travellers but also guide mariners. Indeed, Vancouver was preparing the text of his account when he died; it was finalized by his brother, John, and published in the summer of 1798 in three quarto volumes with an accompanying folio atlas (Vancouver).

3As Adriana Craciun, Michael Bravo, and others have explained, by the early-nineteenth century, state-sponsored voyages to previously uncharted areas were subject to a print monopoly upon return (Craciun 82-123; Bravo 512-38; Keighren et al. 23-25, 64). The Admiralty seized logs and charts, preparing them to be published as expensive, single-author, large-format narratives by their official bookseller, John Murray. The authorized accounts were then reviewed by Murray’s Quarterly Review, which was edited by John Wilson Croker, First Secretary to the Admiralty, with some reviews by John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty.

4If an exclusive publication stream had developed by the early nineteenth century, it begs the question: how were previous voyage publications produced? What networks of individuals and institutions, if any, governed how expeditions would be marketed? From their first commissioned expedition to the South Seas in 1669 to the voyage of George Vancouver in 1791, the Admiralty increasingly involved themselves in the publication of voyage accounts and charts. They did so to manage their public image, but also to authenticate imperial claims. By the 1770s, exploration had become dependent on publication for its legitimation in the eyes of international diplomacy and the intellectual community. However, precisely how to create the optimum voyage account for diverse audiences was still a matter of considerable debate (Parker 325-30).

5In this paper, I want to defamiliarize the association of the voyage and the voyage account. Historians look to published voyage accounts as some of the most important, and sometimes the only, extant sources for an expedition, but the process by which a voyage account and its accompanying charts came to publication is often overlooked. During the long-eighteenth century, the Pacific remained a starkly daunting, and later an exotic, locale visited by few. Those that did visit could expect a receptive audience for their adventures, making the Pacific as a particularly rich laboratory for the development of printed travel writing and mapping in this period. Unlike its fellow European imperial nations, England and later Britain lacked a centralized geographic repository; Spain protected its journals and updated its master chart, the padrón real, in the Casa de la Contractación, and Portugal had a similar institution (Padrón 8, 40; Portuondo 95-108; Rodríguez et al.). The Dutch East India Company closely guarded their sailing directions, maps and charts that they needed to maintain and expand their trade, although their official hydrographers also maintained private businesses (Schilder, “From Secret to Common Knowledge” 71-84; Schilder, “The Dutch East India Company’s Hydrographic Office” 61-78; Sutton 26-27, 49-55). France had a lively map trade, yet also had a censorial system in place via state-sponsored royal geographers who could be required to suppress information for King and country (Petto 53-78, Konvitz 1-20, 63-70). While Britain’s mapmakers were certainly supportive of the Royal Navy and the Crown, they did not work directly for them in an official capacity (Tyacke xi-xxiv). Even those who carried the title of Geographer to the King had only that, a title which might attract customers and included little financial support. Some of the mapmakers’ most important clients were naval officers, as the Royal Navy did not provide charts for their ships until the very late-eighteenth century. Thus, British sailors and government officials by and large depended on geographic knowledge that was available on an open market, making the publication and circulation of travel accounts, maps and charts of particular importance in the British case. This importance was compounded for a remote region like the Pacific, which had little in either manuscript or print for consultation.

6Over the course of four examples, I will examine the constellation of actors and outputs involved in the sharing of the geographic information gathered on ship. These case studies are selected in order to contrast approaches to the publication of geographic knowledge; they are not intended to offer a complete portrait of the development of naval or cartographic publication in this period, but rather to highlight certain trends in the format, authorship of, and audience for Pacific geographic knowledge. All of the voyages discussed here will be state-sponsored naval expeditions, yet the involvement of the Royal Navy in publication will prove to be variable and inconsistent. By the time of our final case study, that of Vancouver, the Admiralty dependably required the creation of official voyage accounts with useable charts, yet the preferred format and editing process was still unsettled.

John Narbrough

  • 1 This folio, part of the manuscript volume BL Add MS 88980 A, is without folio or page numbers, unli (...)

7On August 30, 1669, James, Duke of York and lord high admiral, ordered Captain John Narbrough, “to make a discovery Boath of the seas and Coasts in that parte of the world and if it be possible to lay the foundation of a Tread [trade]” (Narbrough, “Instructions” in Add MS 88980 A).1 That part of the world was the coasts of Patagonia, in what is today Chile and Argentina, an area nominally controlled by the Spanish and assumed to be as rich as Peru to the north. Narbrough’s orders were prepared by the future James II, then Duke of York and Lord High Admiral; Prince Rupert, privy councillor and naval officer; the first Earl of Arlington, Secretary of State of the South; and the first Earl of Sandwich and the sixth Earl of Ossory, both politicians and experienced naval officers. In addition, King Charles II was well aware of the venture and his Majesty “was pleased to guive homeige to the voyage” (Narbrough, “jornall” in Add MS 88980 A, 8). Narbrough sailed out of the Downes in September 1669, reached Valdivia, Chile in December 1670, and returned to England via the Straits of Magellan in June 1671.

8“Discovery” in Narbrough’s instructions referred to the need to take careful navigational measurements. Whereas every experienced naval officer was expected to keep a log and perhaps sketch charts, the unknown geography of the Straits of Magellan and the South Seas made the careful recording of hydrographic and geographic information all the more important. Indeed, as Narbrough had no luck in furthering trade with either indigenous Patagonians or Chilean settlers, his charts and journals became the most valuable outcomes of the voyage. Upon his return, the first thing Narbrough did was to show his patrons his draughts (Narbrough, “jornall” 230, 232). Some of these presentation charts still exist and their examination reveals how Narbrough and others refined the size and content of his hydrographic imagery over time (BL K.Top.124.84; Add MS 5414.29; Add MS 88980 B, C, D). However, although he was trained in taking measurements and rough sketches, Narbrough was not schooled in creating luxurious cartographic manuscripts fit for display. Thus, it is likely that Narbrough turned to, or was ordered to work with, chartmaker John Thornton, who in turn converted the manuscript to a smaller print edition published in 1673. Thornton’s engraved chart offered a wider audience than Admiralty administrators and royals one of the first detailed glimpses of the Straights of Magellan.

9Despite the interest of the naval elite in Narbrough’s charts, these men were not sufficiently connected to the print industry to influence how publications portrayed the Narbrough expedition. Nor did they seem too interested in the task at the time. Such work was left to entrepreneurial publishers and printsellers, like Thornton and his contemporary, John Seller. In Atlas Maritimus (1675), Seller dedicated a map of Brazil and the South Atlantic, “To that Valient and Worthy Com̄ander, Capt. John Narborough, who Passed & Repased the Streights, of Magellan, in the year 1670.” Seller was basing his own reputation as a maker of useful, updated charts on the achievements of Narbrough, whose exploits would have been known by 1675. Narbrough’s voyage, traced clearly via soundings and measurements on various charts, portrayed the Straits as particularly, and recently, English. His drawings and charts brought a little-known region to diverse audiences in different forms: presentation manuscript charts for a small, elite audience and Thornton’s sheet map, for an audience of the middling sort.

10Narbrough had also kept a journal while in the South Seas, but neither the naval elite nor publishers seemed to think it prescient, or profitable, to publish it during his lifetime. Eventually, though, others would see value in the journal. Whereas the Admiralty focused on discovering trade routes and ports, the Royal Society was interested in collecting and cataloguing a more complete understanding of the globe (Sprat 20; see also Fontes de la Casa and Carey). The Royal Society not only collected information, but disseminated it, albeit usually to a restricted audience of social and intellectual savants (Wigglesworth 17-40). Their findings were discussed at meetings, circulated in private letters, and printed in the Philosophical Transactions, the world’s first natural philosophy periodical.

11Individual Fellows could pursue publications using the Society’s printer. This was the case with Narbrough’s journal. In 1694, printers to the Royal Society Samuel Smith and Benjamin Walford released an octavo volume, An Account of Several Late Voyages & Discoveries to the South and North. Behind the compilation and publication of the book were three prominent Fellows of the Royal Society: Tancred Robinson, John Ray, and Hans Sloane. Their 1694 work set its sights on the latest discoveries in the extreme north and south, two to each region (Pollock 25-69). Narbrough was given primacy in the table of contents not only for the geographical spaces he traversed, but also for the types of knowledge he brought back; his status as a trustworthy, and English, observer, never before published, made him the major draw of the title and subject of the largest map included with the text (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: John Narbrough, “To the Honble. Sam: Pepys Esqr. This Mapp of the Streights of Magellan Drawn by Sr. Ion. Narbrough is humbly Dedicated by Sam Smith and Benj: Wallford,” An Account of Several Late Voyages (London, 1694).

Fig. 2: John Narbrough, “To the Honble. Sam: Pepys Esqr. This Mapp of the Streights of Magellan Drawn by Sr. Ion. Narbrough is humbly Dedicated by Sam Smith and Benj: Wallford,” An Account of Several Late Voyages (London, 1694).

Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.,​gallery/​detail/​50399

12This map, to be bound prior to the title page according to the printer’s instructions, was not entirely new. Rather, it was a revised state of Thornton’s 1673 map, rendered even more precisely than the previous printed version. The new version is stripped of practically all ornamentation, with the exception of a large cartouche bearing a dedication to Samuel Pepys. Pepys had been a naval official and was a prominent member of the Royal Society, serving as its president from 1684-86. In addition to his service, the last phrase of the dedication from the publishers, “No Revolution, no Storm, no Time, can shake such Foundations,” points to a political rationale for the text and map dedication. As a naval secretary in the government of King James II, Pepys lost his position at the Admiralty in the wake of the Glorious Revolution. He had been arrested several times and was only beginning to recover his formerly prodigious public profile in 1694, the year of publication. The map therefore serves a purpose beyond conveying navigational information, it is a political tool which those behind its publication could use to highlight the careers of those they wished to support.

13In an added twist, the map was included when the book was republished by Smith and Walford in 1711. The map was unchanged except for the title cartouche, which now read, “To the R. Hon/ble Robert Earl of Oxford & Mortimer, Baron of Wigmore, Ld High Treasuer of Great Britain Ld Lieten/t of ye County of Radnor & one of her Maj/ties most Hon/ble Privy Council.” Pepys died in 1703, making a dedication to him empty in terms of political capital. In rededicating the chart to Oxford, Smith and Walford hoped to attract a vibrant patron who was involved in contemporary debates surrounding the South Sea Company and a possible expedition to the Pacific. Altering the cartouche effectively erased Pepys’ legacy, reorienting the book from a Royal Society project to a more general account of voyages positioned to sell copies at a time when the South Seas were once again of particular cultural salience.

William Dampier

14The Pacific took shape for Britons not in isolation, but with reference to the concerns of an expanding commercial empire. The cultural salience of the Pacific at the turn of the eighteenth century was potent because it was connected to larger issues which characterized the Atlantic world: commerce, finance, warfare, and piracy. One of these pirates was William Dampier. Dampier would eventually circumnavigate the world three times, the first person to do so, but it is the first, and the longest at twelve years, circumnavigation that gained him his fame as a buccaneer naturalist. Somewhat miraculously, Dampier was able to keep at least some notes during his transfer to several ships and made use of other modes of transport. In 1697, James Knapton, who specialized in the publication of voyage accounts, published Dampier’s A New Voyage Round the World, with maps by Herman Moll. It was received with great fanfare, due in part to Dampier’s thrilling, and dubious, status as a buccaneer, but also because he included numerous and detailed descriptions of the flora and fauna he encountered, not to mention the Moll maps. It was quickly followed by second, third, and fourth editions, and Dampier rapidly penned a second volume to profit off the interest in his travels (Dampier Voyages and Descriptions).

15Some of those most impressed by the New Voyage were Fellows of the Royal Society and, more important for our purposes, naval and government officials. The Royal Navy had not ventured into the South Seas again after the dubious results of Narbrough’s voyage, but they were still interested in learning as much about the Pacific as possible. The Earl of Halifax, a Fellow of the Royal Society, introduced Dampier to the Earl of Orford, First Lord of the Admiralty. Dampier was then invited to craft a proposal for a voyage of exploration in the South Seas and the Admiralty accepted in 1698. They furnished him with a ship, crew, and commission as a captain (Williams, Naturalists at Sea 21)

16Dampier had assured luminaries like John Evelyn “that the Maps hitherto extant, were all false as to the Pacific-sea” (Evelyn 295). Unfortunately, Dampier did not ever definitively correct those maps. His Royal Navy voyage in the Roebuck was plagued by conflict with his crew, but it did result in new observations about Australia, even if many of Dampier’s papers were lost when the ship disintegrated on the homeward journey. Dampier salvaged enough information to write A Voyage to New-Holland, published by Knapton in 1703.

17After the sinking of the HMS Roebuck and a dispute with his first lieutenant, a court martial found Dampier “not a Fitt person to bee employ’d as comd/r of any of her Maj/ts Ships” (TNA ADM 1/5262/287r). After another circumnavigation as a privateer, which was similarly beset with squabbles and leaky ships, the very medium that had vaulted Dampier to prominence proved his downfall. After he returned, two of his crew, William Funnell and John Welbe, raked Dampier over the coals in print (Funnell; Welbe). Dampier countered with his own pamphlet (Dampier, Capt. Dampier’s vindication), but its disorder and incoherence only proved his detractors’ points.

18Although Dampier’s reputation as a commander was blackened, he nevertheless still demanded at least some respect as Britain’s most experienced navigator in the South Seas (Williams, The Great South Sea 146; Beattie 45-47). In his next, and final, South Seas voyage, Dampier would serve as pilot in a Bristol-financed venture led by Woodes Rogers. Two publications resulted from the voyage, Woodes Rogers’ A Cruising Voyage Round the World (1712) and Edward Cooke’s Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World (1712). Rogers’ account reveals the extent of Dampier’s international reputation, both good and bad. A captured French captain told Rogers that the Spanish were aware that an English privateering fleet was on its way, which they assumed was commanded by Dampier. Rogers also noted his waning trust in Dampier’s skills, as Dampier miscalculated the distance to the Galapagos by over two hundred miles (Williams, Naturalists at Sea 150-52). Despite pejorative insinuations, Dampier’s status was again underlined when, upon the expedition’s return to Amsterdam in July 1711, a British agent wrote to Lord Treasurer Robert Harley, “Dampier is alive” (qtd. in Williams, The Great South Sea 156).

19What Dampier thought of this final voyage is unknown. Perhaps afraid of another print battle which could harm his public image further, or maybe because Rogers and Cooke released their accounts too quickly, Dampier did not write an account of the Rogers’ expedition. Instead, he retired to St. Stephen’s Parish, London. There he died in 1715 (Baer). More than anyone else, Dampier represents the advantages one could gain from sharing Pacific knowledge. He used the geography and natural history of the region as a screen to obscure his buccaneering activities and to gain the support of the Royal Society, Admiralty, and merchants alike. The success of Dampier’s works was enduring; every navigator to the Pacific who followed would study his books. However, his personal reputation was less impervious, especially when faced with rival publications from crewmates.

James Cook

20During the 1760s, three separate voyages sought to expand what was known of the Pacific. Byron, followed by Wallis with Carteret, returned the Pacific to quotidian discourse in Britain, but it was the voyage to observe the Transit of Venus from 1768 to 1771 that would bring the region to stellar prominence. As the Transit voyage was to have a significant natural philosophical component, the Royal Society suggested Alexander Dalrymple, Fellow of the Royal Society and hydrographer to the East India Company, as commander. Dalrymple surely had much experience at sea and with surveying, a skill important to an expedition that would likely find previously uncharted islands, but the Admiralty refused to issue a commission to a civilian – they had learned from their mistakes with Dampier. Instead, they chose Lieutenant James Cook, who had gained significant hydrographic experience in Newfoundland after the Seven Years War.

21The journals of Byron, Wallis, Carteret, and Cook were published together in 1773. The Admiralty, wishing to make the most impact, kept the earlier commanders from publishing at all and demanded that the men turn over all notes and materials from their voyages. This moratorium marks the most-sustained engagement of the Royal Navy with the publication of voyage accounts to date. Coordination of the combined account fell to the recently re-appointed Lord High Admiral, Lord Sandwich. One of Sandwich’s first duties in 1771 was to find someone to edit the work. Sandwich broached the subject with musician and newspaper collector, Charles Burney. According to Burney’s daughter, Fanny, Sandwich “should be much obliged to any one who could recommend a proper person to write the Voyage” (Burney 133-34). Charles Burney suggested Dr. John Hawkesworth, a literary editor and writer best known as a member of Samuel Johnson’s circle. Having confirmed Hawkesworth’s reputation with his friend, the actor David Garrick, Sandwich commissioned Hawkesworth to take on the task (Abbott 144). The decision to employ a literary rather than a nautical writer is best explained by the editor of Cook’s journals in the twentieth century, J. C. Beaglehole. He states, “literary men wrote the prose of the polite world; seamen did not” (Beaglehole, Cook the Writer 10).

22Whether qualified or not, Hawkesworth took on the task with gusto. Anticipation of the collection’s imminent popularity was high, as evidenced by the massive £ 6,000 Hawkesworth received from publishers William Strahan and Thomas Cadell (Abbott 147). An Account of the Voyage undertaken by order of the Present Majesty for making discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere was advertised in early May, 1773. Despite last-minute delays due to problems with the engravings, Hawkesworth had seen the collection through to publication in barely twenty months, a monumental feat (Abbott 151). On June 9, 1773, the first edition was available to readers in a three-volume quarto set. Even though the account was priced at a steep three guineas, the 2,000-copy run soon sold out, with a 2,500 second edition print run released in August (McMullin 15). A Dublin and New York edition appeared in 1773, with French and German editions in 1774.

23In addition, there were several new charts, including a general chart of the world. Cook was a dedicated and careful hydrographer, not to mention a very skilled one. He taught these skills to all the young officers on his eventual three expeditions, including George Vancouver. The account also featured plans of the entrance to Botany Bay and the Entrance to Endeavour River, as well as a map of “Otaheite”.

24The account proved popular, but also controversial. Some objected to Hawkesworth’s writing in the first person, when no one had been on all the vessels. Others took umbrage with his seeming denial of the role of Divine Providence and the salacious descriptions of Tahitian women. Voyage accounts were expected to inform about geography – faraway lands and peoples – not to interfere openly in moral battles within Britain, something that Hawkesworth seemed to have misunderstood fundamentally. Whereas the moral and religious objections to Hawkesworth were contentious enough, there was a further line of critique that lambasted not only Hawkesworth, but the Admiralty’s approach to publishing. In a letter in Baldwin’s London Weekly Journal, a pseudonymous Navalis vented about the process by which the collection was created, arguing that the captains had been cheated in light of the huge sum Hawkesworth received for the work, money better given to the captains or to lowering the price of the book for consumers. Navalis laments that the book diverged from earlier accounts, from the “plain honest Language of our old Voyagers.” In a testament to the enduring circulation of these earlier voyage accounts, Navalis asks, “are not Dampier and Wood Rogers still read and understood?” (qtd. in Wallis vol. II: 497-98). Again, it is clear that Hawkesworth’s interpretation of a voyage account was not delivering what was desired by audiences: geographic knowledge presented along with the progress of a ship in time and space.

25A final category of critique focused on the geographic information shared in the book. The captains had supposedly reviewed and signed off on the work, but Cook denied ever seeing the manuscript. Carteret repeatedly expressed incredulity at the liberties Hawkesworth had taken with regard to location, chronology, and description – especially of indigenous peoples (Wallis vol. II, docs. 129-132). Carteret explained a compulsion to rewrite his journal:

I find myself under the disagreeable necessity lest my Silence should be construed into consent & approbation of publishing it myself not only in Justice to my own character that the whole of my voyage should appear together, but for the good of the Service, & Security of future navigators that they may have all the observations I made, many of which have been omitted. (qtd. in Wallis vol. I, p. 3)

Carteret was distressed not only for his own reputation, but because the collection was unusable by other navigators who depended on such accounts to list accurate coordinates and descriptions, not moralized approximations.

26Another person who agreed that Hawkesworth’s presentation of geographic information was flawed was Alexander Dalrymple, the Royal Society’s rejected choice of commander. Dalrymple prepared an all-out assault on Hawkesworth’s Account, which he delivered in the form of a 35-page “Letter from Mr. Dalrymple to Dr. Hawkesworth,” dated June 22, 1773. Amongst personal attacks were focused criticisms of the inclusion of geographic descriptions in the text. Dalrymple next turns to the discrepancies between the charts and the narrative. Ignorance of nautical matters is no excuse for inconsistency, for “a man who presumed to write a Book of Architecture, when he hardly knew the difference between the pedestal and capital, would scarcely be excused by pleading his ignorance” (Dalrymple 25). Worse, Hawkesworth committed the sin of substitution, preferring words when views existed which convey “a more exact idea of the appearance of the Country than any words possibly can.” Dalrymple fumed:

I will take upon me to say that no man can lay down a tolerable chart, even of the Ship’s track, from all the nautical observations you have inserted. Had you reduced the Logs at sea to daily Tables, as Dampier and other Navigators have done, very few pages would have shewn the courses, winds, weather, signs of Land and other circumstances for the information of Navigators, who at present must be entirely disappointed, and also been satisfactory to such of your readers as take up your book for amusement, or instruction of a different kind, who at present erroneously suppose what is so very disagreeable to them, must be useful to the Navigator. (Dalrymple 25)

Dalrymple recognizes that different readers come to a voyage account hoping to gain various experiences. However, those that would use this book for navigation, or even those who enjoy charting the voyages as they read, would be “entirely disappointed” in this case. In trying to appeal to a general audience, Hawkesworth had snubbed more specialized readers. He also insulted the general audience, by underestimating their tolerance for a few extra crucial pages of text. Like Carteret, Dalrymple felt that Hawkesworth had misunderstood the task he had been set in creating a voyage account – to convey useful information that could both amuse and instruct, speaking to multiple audiences at once.

27While Dalrymple openly criticized the amount of geographic information included in the text, he and others had little to disdain when it came to the charts themselves. The most famous map to be included in the first edition was Cook’s vaunted map of New Zealand, which continued to be referenced and used until the early-twentieth century (Figure 3).

Fig. 3: James Cook, “Chart of New Zealand explored in 1769 and 1770,” An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere (London, 1773).

Fig. 3: James Cook, “Chart of New Zealand explored in 1769 and 1770,” An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere (London, 1773).

Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.,​gallery/​detail/​70604

28Cook gathered the information for the map with a running survey and drafted it with the help of Isaac Smith; it was engraved by John Abraham Bayly. Cook wrote of the map in his journal, an entry which was included in the published account:

The Chart which I have drawn will best point out the figure and extent of these Islands […] beginning at Cape Palliser and proceed round Aehei no mouwe (North Island) by the East Cape &ca. The Coast between these two Capes I believe to be laid down pretty accurate both in its figure and the Course and distance from point to point. The oppertunities I had and the methods I made use on to obtain these requesites were such as could hardly admit of an error […] some few places however must be excepted and these are very doubtfull. (Beaglehole, The Journals of Captain James Cook vol. I: 275-76)

The map is remarkably detailed, especially as it is based on a single running survey, although there are of course omissions, as Cook explained. For example, the portion of coastline near Bankes Island is but a dotted line because Lieutenant Gore had thought he sighted land to the southeast. Upon sailing toward it, the promontory proved to be clouds. Cook’s “Banke’s Island” is in fact a peninsula, a part of the South Island. Further south, what looks like a possible peninsula is actually Stewart Island, with the “Isle Solander” to the west. Despite these issues, the map was celebrated and immediately embraced by navigators and integrated by other mapmakers. It was later adopted and adapted by the Hydrographic Office, Britain’s centralized cartographic repository, founded in 1795.

George Vancouver

29This high standard of hydrographic skill would be continued after Cook’s three voyages, thanks, in large part, to those Cook himself trained. George Vancouver sailed with Cook on his second and third voyages to the Antarctic Circle and the Pacific Northwest respectively. Cook had been tasked on that third expedition with seeking out the Northwest Passage; he did rule out an ocean-going passage and encountered Hawai’i, where he died, but did not have time to explore the numerous inlets and rivers sighted during the expedition. Coincident with the need to exhibit naval power on the Northwest Coast due to disagreements with the Spanish over Nootka Sound and the fur trade, the Admiralty ordered the Discovery, with the Chatham in consort, on a surveying expedition to seek out any likely routes for an inland waterway across North America. Vancouver was selected to command the voyage, thanks to his accomplished hydrographic work with Cook and while serving in the Caribbean (Williams, Naturalists at Sea 136; Rigby et al. 170-83).

30Vancouver departed Falmouth on 1 April 1791 and sailed round the Cape of Good Hope. He cruised along the southwest coast of Australia, where he named King George Sound. During a visit to New Zealand, he made minor improvements on Cook’s map near Dusky Sound. On his working charts, Cook had written “Nobody knows what” on a small inlet. Vancouver, in his own chart, wrote “Somebody knows what” (David). This was characteristic of the expedition; painstaking survey work to fill in the still-unknown (to Europeans) pockets of Pacific coastline. For three years, Vancouver wintered in Hawai’i and spent the summer in small boat expeditions – neither ship proved fit for survey work – charting every curve and twist of the Pacific Northwest over thirty degrees of latitude. The work was exhaustive and exhausting, often causing Vancouver’s temper to fray and explaining the complaints of some of his officers and men.

31After four-and-a-half years at sea, Vancouver returned to England, an episode with which this talk began. For the next three-and-a-half years, Vancouver toiled on his voyage account. This proved tough going. First, the Admiralty made clear upon his return that the journals and charts were intended for public consumption, yet the higher echelons of the Royal Navy were stingy with funds for the publication. Second, and more alarmingly, prior to departing, Vancouver had angered the naturalist aristocrat Joseph Banks, the famous naturalist supernumerary on Cook’s first voyage. Banks was an exploration kingmaker by the 1790s and not someone a naval officer could afford to alienate. Part of the disagreement stemmed from the presence of Archibald Menzies, the naturalist on the Discovery. Vancouver objected to Menzies’ request to also be the surgeon on the voyage, preferring his own candidate, Alexander Cranstoun, although Menzies would come to fill that role due to the incapacitation of Cranstoun at sea. Vancouver, like Cook before him, was incensed by the addition of a greenhouse to his quarterdeck for botanical samples; the removal of a similar structure had led Banks to quit Cook’s second voyage. Vancouver, who had less clout in the Royal Navy than he would like to admit, and certainly less than the civilian Banks, had to endure the greenhouse which ultimately failed on the homeward stretch of the voyage (Williams, Naturalists at Sea 133-38).

32Banks had ordered Menzies to keep a journal which was to be delivered to the Home Secretary upon his return. This caused a further problem. When the Discovery returned to England, Menzies refused to turn over his journal with the other officers, as was by then required by the Admiralty. Banks, who carried a grudge, decided to undermine Vancouver’s official journal with that of Menzies, an extraordinary step considering that Banks had respected the increasingly streamlined publication process until this point. Instead, Banks badgered Menzies to hurry his journal to publication. Although superseding Vancouver’s account to press “is what I most ardently wish, for more reasons than one,” Menzies was a self-admitted “slow hand at the pen” and his sluggish progress was eclipsed by Vancouver’s more diligent and efficient editing (qtd. in Williams, Naturalists at Sea 148).

33Most of the text was already set in type when Vancouver died in May 1798. His brother, John, finished the final details posthumously. One thing Vancouver always had that Menzies did not were the maps and charts from the expedition, a major advantage in a market that had come to expect the inclusion of cartographic materials with voyage accounts. While on ship, rough sketches from all of Vancouver’s officers were consolidated and transferred to a master chart which was then redrawn and engraved when Discovery returned to England. Both the transferal to the master chart and the preparation of the final printed works were overseen by Joseph Baker, Vancouver’s third lieutenant. However, this work was conducted under Vancouver’s exacting eye, both on ship and on shore. As his brother John writes in his “Advertisement from the Editor,” “Captain Vancouver had finished a laborious examination of the impression, and had compared it with the engraved charts and headlands of his discoveries, from the commencement of his survey in the year 1791, to the conclusion of it at the port of Valparaiso” (Vancouver, no page number).

34The fruits of this labour were borne in the folio atlas that accompanied the three quarto volumes of the text, which features ten folding charts and six plates of profiles. There is also a general chart included with the text volumes. This is the first time that we have seen the charts of an Admiralty voyage presented as a separate atlas, a practice that was experimented with in the second and third Cook voyage accounts. There is also a departure in the style of the charts themselves. Their large size and generous insets mark them as intended for navigational use and consultation primarily; they are far from the illustrative maps of Dampier or the celebratory cartouches of the Narbrough maps, although a land-based reader could also conceivably appreciate their painstaking detail and rendering. This contribution to geography was certainly what John Vancouver considered as his brother’s most important legacy:

Nothwithstanding that it pleased the Divine Providence to spare his life until he had been able to revise and complete the account of the geographical part of his late Voyage of Discovery, a circumstance which must ever be regarded as most fortunate by all the friends of science, and especially by those professional persons who may hereafter be likely to follow him, through the intricate labyrinth which he has so minutely explored; yet it will ever be a consideration of much regret, that he did not survive to perfect the narrative of his labours. (Vancouver, “Advertisement from the Editor”)


35To conclude, what, then, can we infer from this whistle-stop tour of Pacific voyage accounts? I would like to answer that question with regard to three inter-related issues presented by these case studies: authorship and authority, audience, and format. First, in terms of authorship, the voyage commander, while almost always associated with the corresponding account, was not its sole author. Narbrough certainly wrote the log upon which An Account of Several Late Voyages was based, but it was edited extensively for publication and framed by a lengthy editorial introduction by Tancred Robinson. Narbrough’s maps also went through several rounds of editing and repackaging. Dampier rose to fame because of his writing skills, and surviving manuscripts show he did edit his own work for press, but he could not always control that narrative for every voyage, as shown with the responses and works of Funnell, Welbe, Cooke, and Rogers. However, tarnished as his reputation as a commander may have been, his general standing as a navigator gained him an additional circumnavigation, even in the diminished role of pilot as opposed to captain; that standing was forged through his profile in print. Cook did not edit the first voyage for publication, although he did do so, with assistance, for the second and third voyages. Vancouver too had support, from his brother at least, as well as from those who helped to prepare the charts. The printer and publisher would also have made changes that are harder to track, as few business archives of these establishments survive. The voyage account is a compilation of primary documents, memories, and labour from a variety of people. This variety is elided not only by the production process, but by our nineteenth-century conception of a voyage account as a single-authored object written by the Explorer (Craciun, “What is an Explorer?” 29-51). As these examples show, that single-author façade is just that, a front, but also that it is the result of a long process of trial and error on the part of those who sought to bring these voyages to a public readership.

36While the Admiralty sponsored all of the voyages discussed here, the Royal Navy was a fickle patron when it came to publication. With Narbrough, the benefits of a printed account were not seen at the time, due in part to the lukewarm achievements of the voyage. The Royal Society, however, thirty years on, saw Narbrough’s journal and maps as valuable texts to fulfil their own intellectual agenda. The Royal Society would continue to insinuate itself in the planning and execution of voyages, as seen with the Transit expedition, but they did not participate in publication directly after Narbrough until the influence of Joseph Banks, who was also a long-standing President of the Royal Society. Dampier’s case is inverted; his printed works, with their recognizable Herman Moll maps, caught the attention of the Admiralty, who was not at all involved in his later publications and did not desire to be. After Dampier, however, the Royal Navy caught on to the importance of controlling their public image, specifically the role published accounts could play in promoting an enterprising, rational, and organized institution. Although never on a par with combat, exploration offered the Royal Navy another avenue by which to promote their profile as the defender of the empire. They had learned to harness exploration in print by the late-eighteenth century, but the precise formula for producing a voyage account was still in flux in the time of Vancouver.

37Publishing was not only about profit or fame, both of which were rare and usually fleeting; it was also about the belief that a wider audience was necessary and qualified to referee the conferral of authority about complex concepts. As the Pacific print wars of Dampier and Welbe, Dampier and Funnell, and Dalrymple and Hawkesworth show, a reading audience was thought sufficiently schooled to be the jury in disputes about reputation which rested on the interpretation of Pacific space. One of the challenges that conditioned the reception of a voyage account was its ability to have two faces: it at once needed to capture the attention of a general readership, thus necessitating an avoidance of nautical jargon, but also to speak to a specialized audience of navigators who might use the text and the all-important charts practically. The separation of Vancouver’s charts in an atlas, while the three volumes of text were populated with a general chart and illustrations, suggests that, by the end of the eighteenth century, a diversification of voyage publications was occurring. Literacy rates and book ownership and borrowing were sufficiently developed for publishers to risk the publication of specialized texts in niche topics, such as an atlas of high-resolution charts. Patrons did not need to buy the atlas volume; indeed, many surviving copies do not have the atlas at all, just the three volumes of text. Conversely, sailors could buy only the atlas.

38The format of the voyage accounts from these expeditions is also indicative of specialization. Octavos sizes were preferred toward the beginning of the century, as they would be more transportable for specialists and cheaper for the general reader. Maps and charts would be tipped into the work, including those intended as illustrations and those used as guides for navigators. From mid-century, however, a preference emerged for more upscale quarto editions with numerous engravings sold alongside cheaper octavo editions that would limit the number of charts and illustrations that could be included. This is seen with a voyage not discussed here, that of George Anson in the early 1740s, as well as with Cook and Vancouver. The advent of the folio atlas accompanying the lavish quarto texts signaled another sort of differentiation, separating prospective readers by class as well as by intended use. While more and more books included maps as illustrations, end papers, and reference materials, fewer works were produced that included charts intended for use at sea. There had long been maps intended to orient a reader, such a world map at the beginning of a text, included alongside maps intended to orient the navigator, such as plans of bays and ports. Over time, however, it made less and less sense to include these in the same text, again underlining a fissure in the use of the object by readers.

39This paper has examined voyage accounts and the maps and charts which formed an integral part of them as complex compilations prepared with a multifaceted audience in mind. Over time, this audience split; correspondingly, the format of the works evolved. While more research is certainly needed to link the publications of Cook and Vancouver to the emergence of the Hydrographic Office and the streamlined publication pipeline of the nineteenth century, it is possible to grasp the importance of the long-eighteenth century’s experimentation with format, audience, and content to the integration of the Pacific into the British printscape.

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1 This folio, part of the manuscript volume BL Add MS 88980 A, is without folio or page numbers, unlike the journal of the Sweepstakes, which is in the same volume but numbered by page.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: James Gillray, “The caneing in Conduit Street, Dedicated to the Flag Officers of the British Navy” (London: Hannah Humphrey, 1 Oct. 1794).
Crédits WikiCommons,​wiki/​File:The_caneing_in_Conduit_Street._Dedicated_to_the_flag_officers_of_the_British_Navy.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 165k
Titre Fig. 2: John Narbrough, “To the Honble. Sam: Pepys Esqr. This Mapp of the Streights of Magellan Drawn by Sr. Ion. Narbrough is humbly Dedicated by Sam Smith and Benj: Wallford,” An Account of Several Late Voyages (London, 1694).
Crédits Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.,​gallery/​detail/​50399
Fichier image/jpeg, 849k
Titre Fig. 3: James Cook, “Chart of New Zealand explored in 1769 and 1770,” An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere (London, 1773).
Crédits Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.,​gallery/​detail/​70604
Fichier image/jpeg, 1008k
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Katie Parker, « The Ship, the Map, the Chart, and the Book »XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 78 | 2021, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2021, consulté le 28 novembre 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Katie Parker

Dr Katherine Parker is a specialist in the history of the book and the map, exploration, and empire. Her research focuses on the production and dissemination of European geographic knowledge about the Pacific in the long-eighteenth century. She is the Research Officer at Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps, a Teaching Associate at Queen Mary University of London, the Administrative Editor of the Hakluyt Society, as well as the Book Reviews Editor for H-Maps.

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