Hunt for the Southern Continent. Edwards, Philip. 2007

Hunt for the Southern Continent. Edwards, Philip. 2007

Edwards, Philip (editor).
Hunt for the Southern Continent.
Penguin Books. 
ISBN 978-0-141-02543-8.

James Cook's journal of his Second Voyage was edited by JC Beaglehole and published by the Hakluyt Society in 1961 in 696 pages.1 Philip Edwards produced an abridged version covering all three voyages. It was published by Penguin Books in 1999 in 657 pages.2

Now we have some extracts from the abridged version covering the period 24 November 1773 to 17 December 1774 in 116 pages. This pocket-sized book (jacket pocket not shirt pocket - I checked) is number 7 in a new series of paperback books called "Great Journeys".

I spent an enjoyable couple of hours reading Cook's great journey in Resolution from New Zealand through the Antarctic to Easter Island, the Marquesas, Tahiti and other Society Islands, Niue, Tonga, New Hebrides, back to New Zealand and on to Tierra del Fuego. A handy map of the ship's route appears on the inside front cover; there are none of Beaglehole's footnotes to distract you, but as a result none of the birds, etc., are identified.

If you have read biographies of Cook and descriptions of his voyages, but never read his actual words, this book is a great introduction. During the Second Voyage Cook was writing for not just the Admiralty, but also for possible publication to the public, and his writing shows an improvement over that of the First Voyage.

Being extracts, not every day is covered, so where there are large gaps in the entries, Edwards has inserted brief comments on what was taking place to maintain the flow of the story. While the ship is among the ice islands, Edwards has included in the journal entries the temperature, winds, distance sailed, latitude and longitude that Cook recorded. Elsewhere, these are dropped.

I enjoyed reading again Cook's words, including:

  • "According to the old proverb a miss is as good as a mile, but our situation requires more misses than we can expect".3
  • The Marquesans "would very often exercise their tallant of thieving upon us, which I thought necessary to put up with as our stay was likely to be but short among them".4
  • I saw "upward of Sixty Canoes, we were told the people in them were Arioe's... one may almost compair these Men to free masons, they tell us they assist each other when need requires and they seem to have Customs amongest them which their either will not or cannot explain".5
  • "Here seems to be [a] feild open for some Philosophical reasoning on these extraordinary Phenomenon's of nature, but as I have no tallant that way I must content my self with stateing facts as I found and leave the causes to men of more abilities".6

Ian Boreham


  1. Cook's Log, page 45, vol. 30, no. 1 (2007)
  2. Cook's Log, page 1694, vol. 23, no. 1 (2000)
  3. 15 December 1773 amongst the Ice Islands
  4. 8 April 1774
  5. 21 May 1774 at Huaheine
  6. 18 August 1774 observing volcanoes in Vanuatu

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 35, volume 30, number 3 (2007).

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