Captain Cook’s Final Voyage: the untold story from the journals of James Burney and Henry Roberts.  James K. Barnett.  2017

Captain Cook’s Final Voyage: the untold story from the journals of James Burney and Henry Roberts. James K. Barnett. 2017

Barnett, James K. (ed.). 
Captain Cook’s Final Voyage: the untold story from the journals of James Burney and Henry Roberts
Washington State University Press.  
ISBN 978-0-87422-357-6. 
321 pages. 

Jim Barnett, the Alaskan attorney, is on a roll.  In the last few years, he has organised excellent Cook-themed exhibitions and conferences, and written interesting books about James Cook1 and George Vancouver covering their times and achievements in Alaska.  Now, he adds this title to his portfolio. 


While researching in Sydney, Barnett located the journals of James Burney and Henry Roberts from Cook’s Third Voyage, and has edited them for publication.  The existence of the journals was already known; Beaglehole made use of both journals when editing the Hakluyt edition of the Third Voyage with excerpts from them appearing occasionally as footnotes.2  Beaglehole also describes the journals positively in the chapter called “Textual Introduction”.  While still not being able to see the whole journals, we can now read major parts of them and enjoy the extra information and perspectives that they offer.


Many of the journals written by men on board Cook’s ships were not particularly original or enlightening; often the midshipmen and master’s mates just copied the journals of senior officers or each other.  Barnett, though, has chosen well to work with these two journals as they are better written and more distinctive than most.


James Burney3 has been long known for his literary output: two multi-volume works on exploration of the Pacific published in his lifetime; and two works have been published in Australia based on his journal from Cook’s Second Voyage.4  Having the musicologist Charles Burney as his father and the author Fanny Burney as his sister would have ensured Burney grew up in a home environment where reading and writing were encouraged.  Now we have Burney’s take on the Third Voyage, for most of which he sailed in HMS Discovery—certainly until the death of Cook.  His journal, therefore, often presents a different view­point from the official narrative written by Cook and James King in Resolution.


Henry Roberts5 was still only a young junior officer (master’s mate to William Bligh) when Resolution sailed.  Coming from a sailing family in Shoreham, Sussex, he had entered the navy as a boy so he had received little formal education.  However, he also had Pacific experience, having been in Resolution as an able seaman (AB) and a midshipman during the Second Voyage.  His journal dwells far more on routine matters to do with sailing and navigation.  It is, though, by no means devoid of interest. 


The differing content of the two journals probably reflects the ships the men were in at the time as well as their ranks.  When two men of Discovery went missing on Christmas Island in December 1778, Burney provided their names and a description of the efforts made to recover the men.  Roberts in Resolution mentions the event only in passing, but he does include a full description of the island—Burney writes only two brief sentences.  Roberts’ description is similar to that in the narrative of the voyage written by King but varies many times in details suggesting he was making observations for himself, not just copying.



Barnett has organised the work into four broad sections for which he has written separate introductions.  He includes excerpts from the two men’s journals relating to each section, Burney first, Roberts second.  As might be expected given Barnett’s Alaskan background and interests, the expedition’s time on the Northwest Coast of North America and in the North Pacific (before and after Cook’s death) receives the largest number of pages.  The period at Kealakekua Bay and Hawai`i is also covered in some detail. 


A third important part of this book is the use of illustrations, all but two of which are in colour.  Many of Roberts’s own original charts have been used.  Barnett has also provided a large number of John Webber prints to enhance the narratives sig­nificantly.  If there is a gripe with the illustrations, it lies in the total absence of any by William Ellis, especially his bird paintings. 


It is good to see Glyn Williams contributing an introduction for the book.  He was greatly missed at Jim Barnett’s Arctic Ambitions conference at Anchorage in 2015.6 


Barnett is to be congratulated on a valuable addition to Cook scholarship. 


John Robson


  1. Barnett, James K.  Captain Cook in Alaska and the North Pacific.  Todd Communications.  2008.  Reviewed in Cook’s Log, page 27, vol. 32, no. 2 (2009). 
    Barnett, James K. and Nicandri, David L. (ed.).  Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage.  University of Washington Press. 2015.  Reviewed in Cook’s Log, page 18, vol. 38, no. 3 (2015). 
  2. Beaglehole, JC. (ed.).  The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery.  Vol. 3: The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery, 1776–1780.  Hakluyt Society.  1967. 
  3. Cook’s Log, page 28, vol. 40, no. 2 (2017).  
  4. Rickard, Suzanne.  Sailing with Cook: Inside the Private Journal of James Burney RN.  National Library of Australia.  2015.  Reviewed in Cook’s Log, page 44, vol. 39, no. 3 (2016). 
  5. Cook’s Log, page 6, vol. 39, no. 1 (2016). 
  6. Cook’s Log, page 33, vol. 37, no. 4 (2014). 

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 6, volume 41, number 2 (2018).

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