First Map: How James Cook charted Aotearoa New Zealand. Tessa Duder. 2019.

First Map: How James Cook charted Aotearoa New Zealand. Tessa Duder. 2019.

Duder, Tessa.
First Map: How James Cook charted Aotearoa New Zealand.
ISBN 9781775540946.
112 pages.


For me this book has the “wow” factor for many reasons, not least the dust cover being just superb with Cook's original map of New Zealand printed on the inside of it—measuring in all 71 cm × 58 cm.  The quality is so good I am considering having it framed.  The size of the book at 32 cm × 22 cm gives it a grandiose feel, enhanced by the quality of paper it is printed on.


The illustrations are informative, hand drawn, large and clear in very detail.  There is a bit of a personal story with David Elliot the illustrator, as I had the pleasure of meeting him when he presented the prizes at the Oamaru Steampunk Tea Pot racing, and was fortune enough to receive one of his original drawings of his now famous “Snarks”, but that is another story.


This book is so life-like you feel right there with Cook in London on 12 July, 1771, visiting the Admiralty after the Endeavour voyage.  Duder writes, “After so many months at sea, he’s aware his general appearance is scruffy.  The uniform frock coat, dragged from the back of a closet in his tiny cabin, is hot and uncomfortable.  His shirt and underclothes smell of salt.  His dress shoes are tight.  The wig, little worn for many moons, is scratchy.  He feels all of his forty- two years”.


There are ten chapters in this book.  In the first chapter we learn all about Endeavour, such as her specifications, together with many drawings of her.  In the next chapter, “Bound for Tahiti”, there is a detailed map of Tahiti as well as a two full-page map of the islands around Tahiti as drawn by Tupaia.  The third chapter covers the first sighting of NZ (Young Nicks Head) and the landfall at Turanganui-a-Kiwa.  This chapter includes a large map of the east coast of the North Island including Cape Kidnappers, Hawke’s bay, Poverty Bay, Tolaga Bay, East Cape, Cape Runaway and White Island.


Chapters four, five and six cover the voyage south to Cape Turnagain, and then northwards, with maps of Bay of Plenty, Mercury Bay, Cape Colville, the River Thames, Cape Brett, the Bay of Islands, Doubtless Bay, North Cape, and then down the west coast to Woody Head, Mount Egmont and Cape Egmont.  The next chapter completes the voyage down the west coast of the North Island, then across the top of the South Island (with maps showing Queen Charlotte's Sound, Admiralty Bay and Cape Stephens), and down the east coast of the South Island to Gores Bay and Banks Island.  Chapter eight, “Deep South” covers Endeavour’s voyage around the rest of the South Island, with maps  of Cape Saunders, South Cape, Solanders Island, Cape West, Dusky Sound, Cascade Point, Cape Foulwind, and Cape Farewell.


The penultimate chapter, “Beyond New Zealand”, takes us to Australia, and then Cook’s Second and Third Voyages.  In the final chapter, “The Legacy”, we are told how Cook’s great and very accurate map of New Zealand was prepared and drawn.  In the Postscript a full page map of present day New Zealand is laid over Cook’s map to show the differences, and how accurately Cook calculated the longitude and latitude of the places around these islands set in the vast Pacific Ocean.


The chapters make you feel right there with Cook and his assistants in mapping New Zealand for the first time, and so accurately.  Some of the facts about the drawing of the map I had not read about before, especially the point that Cook had some talented midshipmen who helped in recording the coast line.  I was particularly interested that Isaac Smith, 16 years old and a cousin of Mrs Elizabeth Cook, had done a lot of the work on the map—a nice family connection.


The chapters are well presented with sections for the map drawings.  Overall, they go a long way to explain why there were a few gaps in the mapping of the coast line, mainly due to storms forcing Cook out to sea.  The book has a good bibliography and an index.


You have to marvel at Cook’s powers of observation.  For example, in chapter eight he describes what he saw along the West Coast of the South Island, “No Country on Earth can appear with a more rugged and barren Aspect than this doth; from the sea for as far inland as the Eye can reach nothing is to be seen but the Summits of rocky Mountains, which seem to lay so near one another as to admit any Vallies between them... it is very probable that great part of the land is taken up in Lakes and Ponds etc”.  Cook was spot on in describing the coast and inland South Island.


Overall, I found this book to be very informative, a very pleasant read, and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Captain Cook.


John Freeman

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 15, volume 42, number 4 (2019).

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