The Captain Cook Encyclopædia. Robson, John. 2004

The Captain Cook Encyclopædia. Robson, John. 2004

Robson, John. 
The Captain Cook Encyclopædia.
Chatham Publishing
ISBN 1 86941 665 1.

This is a most attractive book. From its colourful and well designed dust jacket, brown hard covers, robust binding, yellow end papers, an eye catching Endeavour Replica frontispiece, to its high quality paper, clear typeface, and many illustrations, it gives the immediate impression of a polished and professionally crafted example of bibliographic skill.

The Encyclopaedia is (largely) written, and edited by John Robson, a member of the CCS, who is much to be congratulated; he in turn pays a compliment in his Foreword to the Commissioning Editor, Julian Mannering, of Chatham Publishing. "Realising his knowledge was limited", Robson approached several experts, who have contributed essays on topics in their field, and their excellent credited pieces are scattered through the Encyclopaedia.

The published contents, arranged alphabetically by subject, cover virtually every aspect of Cook's life and voyages as they impacted on the world that he knew, and as his legacy has affected the world that we now live in. The topics are necessarily compressed, but in themselves will always prove to be a most useful first point of reference to anyone who already has some knowledge of Cook, but wants to widen its scope. The Encyclopaedia will also be a marvellous research tool for students in bringing the whole Cook story between the covers of one book - which includes a fulsome bibliography of other books and journals for those seeking more detailed information, complete with several website references. There are six detailed appendices - Logs and Journals; Libraries Archives and Museums; Cook's Crews; Cook Chronology; Places named after Cook, his ships and men; and Royal Navy ships on which Cook served. Finally, there is an Index, where care had been taken to show the main Encyclopaedia headings in bold type, references to the captions of illustrations in italics, and minor references in plain type.

There is a colour plate section with seventeen plates in all. They are a mixture of contemporary and modern images, with superb colour throughout, and they benefit from the quarto page size. Of the modern plates, Playing on Lono's Island (Raymond A Massey), and Captain Furneaux for Breakfast (Robin Brooks), are particularly well done. Also worth a mention is the Cook Coat of Arms, which Beaglehole described as a ‘fantasy'. Clearly visible is the correction, by hand, of a spelling error by the original artist in the Latin word intentatem,to intentatum. It is also evident that the (right) ‘arm embowed' is double jointed!

The black and white illustrations have been selected with care. Two charts of the Bering Sea dated 1761 (Müller) and 1784 (after Cook), give a clear view of the misinformation that Cook was able to clarify.

All in all, it is hard to imagine the huge administrative effort involved in pulling together so much information (textual and graphic) from so many different sources, all completed in a relatively short time span.

The Editor mentions in his Foreword that "errors and spelling mistakes that have sneaked through" may be reported to a website, for future correction, which is an encouraging use of modern technology. There are indeed a few minor errors. The possessive of Banks is treated much as would be an uncertain answer to a multi-choice question - about half are shown as Banks's, and the other half as Banks'. One of each appears in a single short paragraph - p39.

There is occasional duplication of factual text; it is a matter of editorial balance to maintain the context of the entries, rather than have excessive jumps to related entries - and helpful cross references are available as a suffix to many headings. But if duplication is preferred, it is important to achieve consistency, which is not always the case. For instance: Under Endeavour H M Bark, we are told that "She was termed a bark on account of the shape of the hull." While under Cook's ships the information changes: "The Navy classed the Endeavour as a bark". And under Cats (Barks) there is another version: "Cat was the name given to a type of vessel used in the North Sea in the eighteenth century. The name Bark was sometimes used for the same type of vessel... They were noticeable for not carrying a figurehead in the bow. The word bark was used (by the Navy)... to differentiate the vessel from an existing HMS Endeavour."

But these are minor quibbles, which will no doubt be dealt with in future editions. Overall, and in Cook's own words, the Encyclopaedia "will make the results of his voyages entertaining to the generality of readers, as well as instructive to the sailor and scholar".

John Allan

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 34, volume 28, number 1 (2005).

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