James Cook had the distinction of spending at least thirty three months in Halifax, Nova Scotia during his service on the North American station of the Royal Navy from 1758-62.1 No one, not even Cook would know how crucial this sojourn would be as preparation for his subsequent and justly famous voyages of exploration in the Pacific.
Cook arrived in Halifax as the sailing master of HMS Pembroke (60 guns) on 9 May 1758 as part of the naval force deployed to help capture French possessions in North America. Cook was instrumental in the taking of Louisbourg (1758), the conquest of Quebec (1759) and the recapture of St John's Newfoundland (1762), returning in the intervals between to Halifax. As a skilled sailing master, Cook was engaged during these campaigns in taking soundings, marking of channels and planning routes. As might be expected, he also used the opportunities these activities afforded to make land and sea based observations that became the data for some of his own subsequent charts and plans.
All this movement with British campaigns caused Cook to encounter both navy and army professionals of considerable experience and ability who encouraged him to develop new skills. Chief among these were his captain, John Simcoe of Pembroke and Samuel Holland, the noted military engineer and surveyor. Cook demonstrated the ambition and initiative to learn from his professional associates and superiors as well as to read and study technical subjects while anchored in Halifax during the lulls in the war. Thus, Cook combined his superior skills of seamanship with an understanding of surveying, map making, mathematics and astronomy, so that by the time he finally left North America in October 1762 he had become a consummate cartographer.
Although Cook's developing expertise in cartography is not recorded in any written journals or diaries, it can be discerned from the recorded observations of those he worked with and for2 and, most obviously, from the pictorial evidence provided by his extant plans and charts from this period. Samuel Holland's interesting letter of 1792 describes how during the Halifax winter of 1758-59 he, Cook and Captain John Simcoe worked tirelessly together aboard Pembroke drawing a chart of the Gulf and River St Lawrence in preparation for the impending offensive against Quebec.3 Cook's cartographic activity in Halifax itself is fortuitously preserved in two manuscript maps of the harbour and its approaches. The earlier version, an untitled draft, is held by the British Library; the more polished version, a "neat drawing", is to be found in Cook's Remark Book in the collection of the Admiralty Library, Portsmouth, England.4 This latter manuscript, titled "A PLAN of the HARBOUR of HALIFAX in NOVA SCOTIA" affords a view of Halifax harbour through Cook's eyes.
The Admiralty in England required a sailing master to keep what was known as a "remark book". In it he recorded information under seven standard headings and thereby provided details of the coasts he sailed along and the ports he visited. Cook's plan of Halifax harbour needs to be understood in relation to this textual material which it was designed to accompany.5 Essentially, this chart shows how to navigate from the first important reference point, the Sambro lighthouse to the ample anchorage adjacent to the Halifax town site. Cook's strategy was to provide a sequence of well developed sight lines and clearing marks which enabled a mariner to line up prominent landmarks and proceed with safety into the harbour. The accompanying text provided recommended compass bearings and amplified the visual information which the sight lines conveyed.
This map is plentifully marked with soundings in fathoms organized in relation to the sight lines and the ship's passage. At relevant locations on the Plan, Cook identified hazardous rocks, using separate symbols according as they are under or above water (+ for those under water, drawn rocks for those above). Shoals were prominently detailed with gradations and indicated with green brown stippling. Moreover, Cook was observant and detailed in his representation of topographic features. Streams are shown running into the sea, such as the Clear Water Brook, which was a popular place for the navy to take on water. Brush hachures in black and grey give the impression of a steep coast line and a town located on a hill.