Endeavour journal

At the National Library we saw Treasures from Australia’s Great Libraries, which is also represented in a fine online exhibition. As a travelling exhibition, it is modest in scale, but includes some intriguing and fabulous things. Most interesting to me was the original manuscript of Lt. James Cook voyage in H. M. Barque the Endeavour, 1768-1771, of 753 pages, which rightly holds pride of place as Manuscript 1 in the Library’s collection. It’s Cook’s personal account of the voyage. It may be viewed online in full. It has been transcribed and moost recently republished as a Penguin Classic Journals of Captain Cook: Prepared from the Original Manuscripts by J.C.Beaglehole for the Hakluyt Society,1955-67, edited by Phillip Edwards (Penguin, 1999)

Purchased for the Australian nation in 1923, before the National Library was founded, the Endeavour journal of James Cook is described as "the founding treasure of the National Library" Officially, Cook was to observe the transit of Venus. He was also under secret orders to search for the great south land and claim it for Britain. The manuscript of the orders was also in the exhibition, in meticulous handwriting. By the end of the voyage, the coastlines of New Zealand and eastern Australia had been charted, and the tally of the world’s known plant species increased by a staggering 10 percent.

The Journal has been nominated for inclusion in the UNESCO memory of the World International Register. The description notes that "This is the key document which foreshadows British colonisation of Australia (which actually began in 1788) and presaged the tragic consequences for Australia’s indigenous peoples—the oldest surviving culture on Earth—who, under British law, were effectively deemed not to exist (the ‘terra nullius’ doctrine)."—But Cook is not to be blamed for any of that.