Last chance to see: James Cook: The Voyages at the British Library

Sir David Attenborough in James Cook: The Voyages at the British Library (c) Krisztian Sipos

**** ‘eye-opening records of colliding worlds’ – The Guardian

‘A remarkable exhibition’ – Sir David Attenborough


Marking 250 years since the Endeavour set sail from Plymouth, James Cook: The Voyages (open until 28 August 2018) explores Captain James Cook’s three world-changing voyages through stunning artworks, iconic maps and original journal accounts created on board ship.

Bringing together the most important surviving records of all three voyages for the first time in a generation, the British Library exhibition features:

  • James Cook’s journals and logbooks, including his account of his landing at Botany Bay in Australia and the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle
  • 80 stunning original artworks by exhibition artists including Sydney Parkinson (first voyage), William Hodges (second voyage) and John Webber (third voyage)
  • The only surviving drawings by Tupaia, the Polynesian high priest and navigator who joined the first voyage at Tahiti, displayed alongside his iconic chart of the islands of the Pacific
  • Cook’s hand drawn first charts of New Zealand and of the east coast of Australia and his completed map of the Southern Hemisphere
  • A stunning shell necklace from Tierra del Fuego and a Hawaiian mirror made from a disc of polished basalt
  • Cook’s final journal entry before going ashore at Hawaii, displayed alongside two original journal accounts of his death and strongly contrasting artistic portrayals of the famous episode

Following the course of each voyage through original journals, maps and artworks, visitors to James Cook: The Voyages will observe history as it unfolds, from the islands of the south Pacific, to the coastlines of Australia, New Zealand and North America, through to the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. 

Featuring interviews with descendants of the people who saw Cook’s ships arrive on their shores, the exhibition examines the impact of Cook’s voyages today, addressing contemporary controversies over the colonial legacy in Australia and New Zealand, the environmental impact of the opening up of the Antarctic seas and the role of exploration in ushering in the beginnings of globalisation.

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. A highlight for me has been the visitor response to William Hodges’s large-scale drawings of Pacific scenes, which are being displayed alongside his drawings from the Antarctic for the first time in decades.’

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

‘In the exhibition visitors are able to follow the course of each voyage through eyewitness accounts, hand-drawn charts and stunning artwork and to see history as it unfolds. A particular highlight for me are the first voyage drawings from Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia by Tupaia and Sydney Parkinson. This is the first time for many years that the Library has displayed so many of these together and the visitor response to them has been amazing.’

An accompanying website 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 British Library’s exhibition and collections.

The British Library is also hosting a free display entitled Tūhuratanga: Voyage of Discovery by New Zealand Māori photographer Crystal Te Moananui-Squares, which is a response to the historical context and interpretation of images, objects and text currently on display in James Cook: The Voyages and is open until 23 September 2018.

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


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Notes to Editors

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


For more information:

Alice Carter
The British Library
t: +44 (0)20 7412 7126
e: alice.carter@bl.uk

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