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Charles Praval – New Information


Image removed for copyright reasons
Fortification in Mercury Bay” by Charles Praval
Shelfmark: Add. 7085, Folio 25
By permission of The British Library




I must thank the British Library for inadvertently stimulating this article.  The British Library was one of the partners involved in establishing an excellent website devoted to “Captain James Cook, celebrated north country navigator” [see Cook’s Log, page 29, vol. 27, no. 3 (2004)]. 


The British Library had provided the website with a number of digital images of Cook’s charts, and had listed James Cook and Charles Praval as the co-authors of these documents.  This was a new attribution as the charts had previously been assigned to the hands of James Cook and Isaac Smith1.  The new attribution suggested that Praval deserved more attention than had been afforded him in the past, so I started sifting the sands of time for any sign of him.  It was only later, when I asked the British Library what had prompted them to change the attribution of the charts, that they realised that they had made a mistake in listing Praval as a co-author.  But by then the hunt for Praval was underway and early signs were looking promising. 


The Dublin connection


I have CCS members John Robson (New Zealand) to thank for finding the first lead, and Keiran McGovern (Dublin) for undertaking local research.  Together we tracked Charles Praval down to Dublin where had settled in the 1770s and established himself as a French teacher2


Questions as to whether or not this might have been a different Charles Praval became unnecessary when it was found that he had submitted several works to the 1773 Society of Artists Exhibition in Dublin3.  His entry in the exhibition catalogue stated that he was “Drawing master at Mr Keane’s, Glover, Dame Street.  Late draftsman to Mr Banks during his expedition round the world.” 


The subject of two of his three exhibition entries also confirmed that this was the Charles Praval who had sailed on the Endeavour, the catalogue listing his works as follows

71  A drawing of an Indian fortification built on an arched rock seven miles off the shore of New Zealand.

72  Drawing of an arched rock in New Holland

73  Ditto of a view in Cheshire


Drawings 71 and 72 are similar to drawings in the collection of the British Library and illustrated in Joppien and Smith 4.  Item 71 can be compared with Praval’s drawing entitled “View of an Indian Fortification built upon an Arched Rock in Mercury Bay”, which is a copy of an original by Sporing. 


Although item 72 refers to a scene in New Holland, topographical views of New Holland are few and far between, presumably as a result of Parkinson devoting his time to drawing natural history specimens.  No arched rocks from New Holland are recorded as being drawn, however a second arched rock in New Zealand was drawn by Sporing.  Praval’s copy of Sporing’s original is entitled “A view of the Great Natural Arch at Tolaga” and is also in the British Library. 


The two drawings in the British Library are thought to have been amongst those drawings that Cook submitted to the Admiralty at the end of his voyage.  As Cook submitted his drawings to the Admiralty in 1771, the presence of Praval’s drawings in Dublin in 1773 suggests that he may have made copies for himself in addition to those he made for Cook.  If this is so, one wonders if Praval had made duplicate copies of any other drawings from the voyage?  If he did then they are still waiting to be found. 


A growing importance


Whilst Praval’s rather naïve drawing style leaves much to be desired, his drawings have survived.  In contrast, the whereabouts of some of the drawings that he copied are no longer known.  Hence Praval’s work is of some importance regardless of its artistic quality.


In 1985, Joppien and Smith first identified Praval’s role in copying drawings that had been made by other artists on board the Endeavour.


In 1988, Praval’s significance increased further when David identified Praval as the artist of many of the coastal views recorded during Endeavour’s voyage, although they were copies of views that had been drawn by other artists. 


The Batavia nineteen


The Muster Book of the Endeavour lists nineteen men that Cook took on board at Batavia5.  These men were originally listed as supernumeraries, but one by one they were transferred to the ship’s complement to replace those members of the crew who died on the voyage home.  Charles Praval was one of the men taken on at Batavia.  How he arrived at Batavia and in what capacity is not known, but his subsequent career suggests that he may have been more than an ordinary seaman. 


Praval in Dublin


Praval taught French in Dublin for 16 years, both in schools and with private students.  He even found time to write several textbooks on French grammar that were published in Dublin.  But he does not appear to have exhibited any more of his drawings after his works were displayed in 1773. 


In 1785 he established a boarding school for young ladies in Dublin, which his wife and daughters maintained for over 20 years after Charles Praval’s death in 1789.


Praval’s presence on board Endeavour did not merit a mention in Cook’s journal.  Nevertheless, in recent years Praval’s contribution to the records of the voyage have assumed a greater importance.  Now we know a little more about him, and it is hoped that further research into Praval’s background may help complete our picture of this man.


Cliff Thornton



  1. The Charts and Coastal Views of Captain Cook’s Voyages, Volume one: The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768-1771. Ed. Andrew David. London, 1988.
  2. Kennedy, M., Charles Praval: An Eighteenth Century French Teacher in Dublin, Dublin Historical Record, Volume LII, No.2, pp 126-137, 1999.
  3. Society of Artists in Ireland Index of Exhibits 1765-1780, compiled by George Breeze, Dublin, 1985.
  4. Joppien, Rudiger and Bernard Smith, The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages. Volume One: The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768-1771. Melbourne,  1985.
  5. Cook, James, The Journals of Captain James Cook, Volume One: The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768-1771. Ed. J.C.Beaglehole. Cambridge, 1955.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 37, volume 27, number 4 (2005).

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