Resolution: Captain Cook's Second Voyage of Discovery. Aughton, Peter. 2004

Resolution: Captain Cook's Second Voyage of Discovery. Aughton, Peter. 2004

Aughton, Peter. 
Resolution: Captain Cook's Second Voyage of Discovery.
Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
ISBN 0 297 83077 5.

I warmed to read this book when I read in the Preface the following explanation of the relationship between Banks and Cook: "It was not surprising that the public came to call the recent voyage of discovery 'Joseph Banks's Voyage'. It was not that he deliberately tried to overshadow the achievements of James Cook: he was doing no more than enthusing about his experiences and promoting the great success of the voyage to London society… James Cook was relegated to no more than the chauffeur who had driven the famous Joseph Banks with his entourage and menagerie around the world."

This analogy is one that I have used many times.

This book is not a biography of Cook and there is little mention of his earlier life. However, his visit to Yorkshire with his wife in December 1771 is cleverly used to describe some of his past life. Aughton distinguishes between the known facts of the Cooks' visit and the legends that abound.

The writing is lively with great descriptions of the events during the voyage and how the officers, supernumeraries and crew felt about it. It is not a re-hash of the individuals' journals, though there are some quotes from them, usually quite long. I particularly liked the description of their first encounters with ice in 1772: "Soon the first icebergs appeared. They were a novel sight to most of the crew, creating great excitement as the men thought that they had discovered islands. The mountains of ice were drifting north from the Antarctic and were over two hundred feet tall, towering high above the ships, but they left a wake behind them and it was soon obvious that they consisted only of great floating masses of ice. Forster made some calculations to try to ascertain how much of each iceberg was under water."

A year later in the voyage they have encountered more ice and Aughton decides it is "necessary to pause at this point and put the achievement of the Resolution into perspective, to stand back and see a tiny wooden vessel surrounded and dwarfed by hundreds of great floating icebergs." Then follows a neat summation, with references to later explorers and a quote from one of Cook's famous passages where "Cook dropped his guard and let his emotions appear in his journal".

The Burney family makes several appearances, becoming almost a running theme through the book. Aughton uses James' interest in music (developed by his father Charles) to show the variety of cultures the explorers' found and the difficulty the Europeans had in understanding them.

I spotted two errors. Aughton says the Forsters "joined the ship at Sheerness with all the baggage and paraphernalia of two avid collectors of flora and fauna", whereas Johann Forster records in his journal "my baggage was sent on board the Resolution by the Sheerness paquet" and they "took a post-chaise for Plymouth, the Resolution having left Sheerness". Later, after a good description of how the two ships became separated in stormy weather at New Zealand and how Furneaux handled the discovery that Cook had left before him, Aughton says the Adventure "set sail westwards for the long journey home" whereas they went eastwards. No book is ever perfect, and the second error matters little.

I was impressed with the description of the "method used to chart the coast", given during the exploration of the New Hebrides, sorely lacking in other books, and the selection of some little known events, such as the marriage of seaman Richard Grindal hours before the Resolution had left England and revealed to the others only when the ship arrived back in Plymouth.

The 14 maps spread throughout the book are more than expected and helpful to the story. The 16 illustrations are fewer than I would have liked, but they are all in colour and include some natural history ones by George Forster that rarely appear. This book is one of the few that tells the story of only Cook's Second Voyage. It is a welcome addition.

Ian Boreham

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 29, volume 27, number 2 (2004).

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