We live in interesting times. As recently as two or three years ago if you had wanted to inspect one of the original volumes pertaining to one of Cook’s voyages you would probably have had to make a journey to a venerable library, archive or museum in a large city somewhere. For some of us, that could even mean a possible journey to the other side of the world!
Suddenly though, we have had a surge of digitisation, whereby documents and books have been scanned and the results placed online. Now everyone can read them from the comfort of their homes—provided, of course, that they have reasonably powerful computers and broadband connections to the internet.
Material is presented in a variety of ways and to different levels. For example, some institutions scan the original work, and then undertake optical character recognition (OCR) to enable keyword searching. A scanned image from the original document is seen on the computer screen. Other bodies have completely transcribed books, and presented them in a new format that also allows keyword searching.
A good starting point is The Online Books Page—Online Books by James Cook (Cook, James, 1728-1779) as many of the titles discussed below, and several others, can be accessed from it. http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=Cook%2C%20James%2C%201728%2D1779
Cook’s Second Voyage (perhaps the greatest single voyage of exploration) has been treated very well. Cook’s own narrative, published in 1777, has been made available by more than one institution.
The zoological and botanical works of the Forsters that have appeared in various publications by them have now appeared online—as well as some unpublished documents. One drawback is that most of these online versions contain only text, omitting the images. Another drawback is that the Forsters used Latin throughout their scientific material (not just for the genus and species), making it difficult for those of us without a reading knowledge of that language.
Project Gutenberg has produced Cook’s Voyage Towards the South Pole, published in 1777, in several formats, including a transcribed one. It is available in two parts.
A Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World: Performed in His Majesty's Ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the Years 1772, 1773, 1774 and 1775. Volume 1. www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15777 Volume 2. www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15869
The University of Pittsburgh’s Digital Archives and Pacific Cultures Department has also made this book available in a transcribed version. http://pacific.obdurodon.org/cookSecVoyageAll.html
Pittsburgh has also made available George Forster’s Voyage Round the World (as edited by Thomas and Berghof and published in 2000). http://pacific.obdurodon.org/ForsterGeorgComplete.html
The Forsters continued to work on the material and information they acquired in the Pacific for several years after their return and move to Germany. Johann Reinhold Forster, after his disputes with the Admiralty, published his Observations in 1778. It is now available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
Forster, Johann Reinhold. Observations made during a voyage round the world [in H.M.S. Resolution] on physical geography, natural history, and ethic philosophy, especially on Organic bodies. www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/50538#/summary
George Forster worked extensively with the botanical material resulting in several works. Project Gutenberg and the Biodiversity Heritage Library have now made some of them available.
Florulae Insularum Australium Prodromus; De Plantis Esculentis Insularum Oceani Australis Commentatio Botanica. 1786. www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36186 www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34914 www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/10725#/summary Characteres generum plantarum, quas in itinere ad insulas maris Australis: collegerunt, descripserunt, delinearunt, annis 1772-1775. 1776. www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/4448#/summary
Meanwhile, Johann Forster continued to study the zoological specimens, though his Descriptiones animalium was not published until 1844, when Heinrich Lichtenstein released his edited version, now available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
Descriptiones animalium quae in itinere ad Maris Australis terras per annos 1772, 1773 et 1774 suscepto. www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/63900#/summary
George Forster drew and painted many of the botanical and zoological specimens collected or seen on the voyage. Many of these paintings can be seen through the Picture Library service from the Natural History Museum in London. www.nhmimages.com
Lists of the zoological specimens drawn by Forster have been included in journal articles which are now available online.
Averil Lysaght included a detailed list of the birds depicted.
Some eighteenth century bird paintings in the library of Sir Joseph Banks [1743-1820]. Bulletin of the British Museum [Natural History] Historical Series. 1959. Vol. 1. No. 6. Pages 251-371. www.biodiversitylibrary.org/part/92313#/summary
Peter Whitehead covered the other animals, including fish.
The Forster collection of zoological drawings in the British Museum [Natural History]. Bulletin of the British Museum [Natural History] Historical Series. 1978. Vol. 6. No. 2. Pages 25-47. https://archive.org/details/cbarchive_54919_theforstercollectionofzoologic1953
Various museums now have websites that carry images of, and information about, ethnographic material stemming from the Second Voyage. There are also websites that carry images of the cartographic output of the voyage. One such is the David Rumsey Map Collection. www.davidrumsey.com
It just keeps getting better. All of these links were active in November 2017.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 32, volume 41, number 1 (2018).