James Cook: The Voyages opens at the British Library

Tahitian Scene by Tupaia (c) British Library Board
  • New major exhibition marks 250 years since James Cook’s ship Endeavour set sail from Plymouth
  • Featuring original maps, artworks and journals alongside contemporary films, the exhibition allows visitors to follow the course of his voyages and consider their legacy
  • Accompanying website and events programme further explore the different perspectives and competing narratives surrounding the voyages

Marking 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.


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Notes to Editors

A-roll and b-roll footage of James Cook: The Voyages at the British Library can be downloaded from here: http://wearetnr.isebox.net/james-cook-exhibition

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

PONANT is the world leader in luxury expeditions and the only French-owned cruise line. Over the last 30 years, PONANT has taken passengers to remote locations where others do not go, following in the footsteps of the great explorers, accompanied by experienced naturalist guides. Today, PONANT leads the way in innovative sea exploration and luxury expedition cruises with the launch of the world’s first ever multisensory underwater lounge, the Blue Eye, which will be featured onboard the new small luxury expedition vessels, the PONANT EXPLORERS. Through partners such as the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), dedicated to managing responsible, environmentally friendly and safe tourism in these regions, PONANT is committed to being a leader in environmental protection. All ships are ‘CLEANSHIP’ certified and ensuring environmental regulatory compliance in all operations as well as anticipating new regulations. www.ponant.com

The United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) exists to advance the preservation, enhancement and promotion of Antarctic heritage and to engage, inform and inspire a global audience.  The UKAHT is a UK based charity dedicated to promoting Antarctic heritage and this is achieved through the care and conservation of historic buildings and artefacts and delivering and supporting a range of innovative programmes.  All sale proceeds from the shop enable the UKAHT to continue its conservation and awareness programmes. Find out more: www.ukaht.org


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Alice Carter
The British Library
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e: alice.carter@bl.uk

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