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Australia's 1970 Cook Stamp Issue


The original intention of the 1970 issue was for four stamps, each depicting one important aspect of Cook's voyage along the east coast of Australia.

The designs were to be records of the historic events and not modern social implications of them. The aim was to tell a simple visual story without asking the viewer to seek hidden meanings.

The four events selected for portrayal were Landfall, Landing, Recording and mapping, and Possession.

It was soon decided to link the events in sequence both pictorially and physically. It was also realised that Cook himself was missing, and a fifth stamp was agreed to lead off the story.

The stamps were designed by Robert Ingpen of Hawthorn, Victoria.

A description of each stamp now follows:

Stamp One Stamp Cook

Cook's likeness is from the portrait by John Webber. The original is now in the National Art Gallery of Wellington. In the stamp, Cook is likened to a "Gulliver" in the Pacific, a giant who led Europeans to the colonisation of the South Pacific through the accuracy of his records and mapping.

Stamp Two Stamp Landfall

This stamp depicts the essential measurement devised and made by Cook to help determine where he was, that is, his longitude. By observation of the angular distance between the sun and moon and with regard to prediction tables Cook was able to tell the time at Greenwich, and so determine how far east or west he was of that point. It is the measurement of angular distance that the stamp depicts.

Stamp Three Stamp Landing

This stamp of Cook's landing at Botany Bay illustrates his first encounter with the Australian aborigine on the one hand, and the native fauna on the other. The drawing of Cook and his colleagues is an adaptation from the painting by E. Phillips Fox, which is in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. The kangaroo is the Eastern grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus). The two aborigines are from a drawing attributed to Sydney Parkinson, of which the original is lost.

Stamp Four Stamp Mapping and Recording

On the left of this stamp is Sydney Parkinson. Below him is a reproduction of Banksia serrata or red honeysuckle, one of the hundreds of new plants found by the botanists which induced Cook to name the place Botany Bay. The second figure is Joseph Banks from the painting by Joshua Reynolds. Charles Green, the astronomer, is in the green jacket. Dr. Solander is shown above a copy of the original map of Botany Bay. The ancient dividers symbolise the span of intensive recording undertaken along the Australian coast.

Stamp Five Stamp Possession

Although Cook's journals are quite specific about the possession ceremony historians disagree on many details. It is depicted less formally here than most imagine it to have been, mainly because the climate and terrain of the area seem to discourage much formality and enthusiasm.

The 30c Stamp Stamp

This design is a précis of the 5c series, and contains selected elements of the series to form a Cook "Coat of Arms". The portrait of Cook is the central motif, and is flanked by the Endeavour on the left, and on the right by the sextant and longitude measurement which determined where Australia was, and the kangaroo and aborigines show what was found as a result.

Richard Hindle

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 479, volume 9, number 4 (1986).

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