100 days that mapped a Nation. Graeme Lay. 2019.

100 days that mapped a Nation. Graeme Lay. 2019.

Lay, Graeme.  
100 days that mapped a Nation: Captain James Cook 250th commemorative edition 1769-2019.  
New Holland.  
272 pages.  
ISBN 9781869665128. 


Graeme Lay is a well-respected New Zealand author and journalist.  His journalism has appeared in many reputable magazines and newspapers, and he has written many short stories, a form of literature popular in New Zealand.  He has also gathered other writers’ stories into anthologies.  When I assembled an index of New Zealand short stories, I can state that he gave me plenty of work.  His anthologies, though, provided a platform for young writers and a young friend, who has gone on to have two novels published, appeared first in one of Lay’s books.


A few years ago, he started down a new path when he wrote a novel based on James Cook’s First Voyage in Endeavour.1  Mixing fact with a little make believe, he presented a new telling of the voyage.  Since then, he has quickly become a much-published author and champion of Cook.  Two other novels followed in the style of the Endeavour book, one for each of the Second and Third Voyages, before he moved into guide books.  These later books showed people where they could find places, monuments, etc., associated with Cook in Australia and New Zealand.2  And, of course, he has contributed to Cook’s Log

So, to this new book, intended and planned, no doubt, to be part of the celebrations in 2019 marking 250 years since Cook arrived in New Zealand—the sub-title makes that very plain.  The book reminds me strongly of the nicely illustrated work detailing Cook’s time in these islands produced by the Begg brothers in 1969.3  Lay’s new book is well illustrated, blending modern photographs with images from Cook’s time, supporting a text that tells the story of Cook’s time in New Zealand, together with background on such varied topics as scurvy, longitude and the food of the Māori.


With J.C. Beaglehole’s editions of Cook’s journals and his biography of Cook,4 it seemed all that could be written about Cook had been written.  It would not prove to be the case and, in fact, huge amounts of information have come to light since the 1970s.  Lay has been able to benefit from this new research, using some of it in his book, such as the role and contribution of Tupaia.


Writing as someone for whom maps are very important, one of my few quibbles concerns maps.  A few of Cook’s originals are reproduced, for example New Zealand, Cook Strait and Tahiti.  But there is little, or no, mention of the acts of surveying and charting.  Cook’s use of running survey around New Zealand is one of the great pieces of charting of all time.  This omission is strange given that the word “mapped” is used in the book’s title.  With regards to that title I remain puzzled as to what is meant by “100 days”.  Cook was in New Zealand waters for more than that time on the First Voyage alone—close to six months, approximately 180 days.  I would have also appreciated a map (or two) showing where the incidents described took place.  Not everyone will know where Cape Runaway is, for example, especially overseas readers.


These are minor quibbles.  The design qualities of the book are very high.  The layout (no pun intended) is good, with a readable font on high quality paper.  Lay’s own photographs are extremely good, and they add considerably to the work.  He has travelled widely both in New Zealand and across the Pacific to gather these images.  Many other pictures are beautifully reproduced throughout the book, though a few suffer by being spread over two pages and the gutter interfering. 


The text is organised chronologically, describing Cook’s progress through the islands on all three voyages.  This flow is interrupted occasionally by asides, such as one about Captain Cookers, the pigs he released that have thrived and gone feral, and that are now the basis of recreational hunting by some Kiwis.  Lay has also included potted biographies of some of the more significant players on the voyages, such as the officers Gore, Clerke and Burney, the naturalists Solander and the Forsters, the artists Parkinson and Hodges, and the Pacific Islanders Tupaia and Mai (also known as Omai).


Overall, it a good and interesting book, and a welcome addition to the Captain Cook library.


John Robson




  1. Lay, Graeme.  The Secret Life of James Cook. Fourth Estate.  2013.
    Lay, Graeme.  James Cook’s New World, A Novel.  Fourth Estate.  2014.
    Lay, Graeme.  James Cook’s Lost World.  Fourth Estate.  2015.
    Published by Sharpe Books as a trilogy in 2019. 
  2. Lay, Graeme.  A Travel Guide to Captain James Cook’s New Zealand.  New Holland Publishers.  2017.  
    Lay, Graeme.  A Travel Guide to Captain James Cook’s Australia: exploring significant locations from Cook’s voyages of discovery.  New Holland Publishers.  2018. 
  3. Begg, A. Charles and Neil C.  James Cook and New Zealand.  A. R. Shearer, NZ Government Printer.  1969.
  4. Beaglehole, JC. (ed.)  The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery.  Hakluyt Society.  Three volumes in 1955, 1961 and 1967. 
    Beaglehole, J. C.  The Life of Captain James Cook.  Hakluyt Society.  1974.  Pages. 7-27.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 11, volume 43, number 1 (2020).

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