Inside Captain Cook’s journal

By Elizabeth Arrigo | October 17, 2018

Held in the collection of the National Library of Australia.

FOUNDING TREASURE of the National Library of Australia (NLA), James Cook’s Endeavour journal gives Cook’s personal account of his journey from England to Australia, which began 250 years ago.

Officially, this journal was meant to document Cook’s observation of the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. Unofficially, it was to become a record for Cook’s top-secret mission to sail south in search of the mythic ‘Unknown Southern Land’ and claim it for Britain – a mission he completed on 29 April 1770 when he landed at Kurnell, in Botany Bay.

Written between 1768 and 1771, the journal consists of 753 pages that started out life as a series of folios, or individual books (they weren’t bound together until the 19th century). Its very fabric tells its own story: for example, when Endeavour ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef and was nearly wrecked, Cook must have been too busy trying to save the ship to write up the incident at the time, and had to stick in a piece of paper later that recorded the event.

The NLA (then the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library) bought the key historical document at auction for £5000 in 1923. One of the earliest written records of the Indigenous people of Polynesia, New Zealand and eastern Australia, it’s the only document of the voyage in Cook’s own hand.

See the Cook and the Pacific exhibition at the National Library of Australia from the 22 September 2018 until 10 February 2019.