Strait Through: Magellan to Cook & the Pacific. Delaney, John. 2010

Strait Through: Magellan to Cook & the Pacific. Delaney, John. 2010

Delaney, John. 
Strait Through: Magellan to Cook & the Pacific. 
Princeton University Library.

This magnificent book was written "to accompany an exhibition of the historic maps and rare books, held in the main gallery of Firestone Library from 19 July 2010 through 3 January 2011".

It is a catalogue of the maps and books that were displayed in the exhibition. The first three sections describe the discovery and mapping over 250 years of the Straits of Magellan (with nine maps), the Pacific Ocean (eight maps) and the Spice Islands or Moluccas (ten more maps). Each section begins with a short introduction about the discovery of the area followed by a catalogue-style description of each map. The maps all appear in colour, each usually appearing on its own page or across two pages, so you can see quite a bit of detail.

The fourth section has chapters on individual explorers covering: Magellan, Mendana and Quiros, Drake, Le Maire and Schouten, Tasman, Dampier, Roggeveen, Wallis and Carteret, Bougainville and Cook.

For each person Delaney summarises the expedition undertaken that is relevant to this exhibition, the charge or reason for going, the accomplishments of the voyage, and how the names of the people live on as places, plants, parks, islands and even galaxies. Before reaching Cook there are 23 maps and 10 books listed, described and illustrated.

Cook takes 55 of the 200 pages, over a quarter of the book! The chapter begins with one of the best short descriptions of his early life I have ever read, and "A Plan of the River St. Lawrence, from the Falls of Montmorenci to Sillery; at the Operations of the Siege of Quebec" published in 1759 in the London Magazine. Then his three voyages are covered with 16 maps, including one of my favourites spread large across two pages: "Sketch of Dusky Bay in New Zeeland, 1773". Several of these maps are from the official accounts of Cook's voyages, with some from the French editions. Many have been subsequently coloured.

In addition there are several engravings from the published accounts. One of the best is "Possession Bay in the Island of South Georgia" from A Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World: Performed in His Majesty's Ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the Years 1772, 1773, 1774 and 1775. It is followed with a description from that publication, "[Tuesday, January 17, 1775] I landed in three different places, displayed our colours, and took possession of the country in his Majesty's name, under a discharge of small arms... The head of the bay, as well as two places on each side, was terminated by perpendicular ice-cliffs of considerable height."

One great surprise is the original letter by James Cook to William Hodges (artist on the Second Voyage) written on 5 November 1776, while Cook was at Cape Town (on his Third Voyage) awaiting the arrival of Clerke in Discovery. I'd quite forgotten it is held by the Princeton University Library.

The book ends with some descriptions of the first encounters between European explorers and the inhabitants they came across. Although there is a list of books exhibited and source consulted, I was very disappointed to find no index and no list of illustrations, not even of the maps. Although it is a catalogue, a summary of them would prove useful to any reader.

John Delaney, curator of the Historic Maps collection of the Princeton University Library is to be congratulated on the book, the website and the exhibition. Two years of planning well spent.

Ian Boreham

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 47, volume 33, number 4 (2010).

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