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Front page reads Journal of Captain Cook's last voyage to the Pacific ocean, on Discovery
Voyage account

The Bestsellers of their Day

For each of the voyages he commanded, James Cook kept meticulous logs and journals. On his arrival back in England in 1771 he travelled overland immediately to London with his written observations.

The Admiralty arranged for the journals to be given to John Hawkesworth, a professional writer, who edited them for publication.

An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere was published in 1773, after Cook had set sail for the Pacific once more.

This account combined the voyages of John Byron, Samuel Wallis, Philip Carteret and James Cook.

The European public was excited and interested to hear accounts of the other side of the world, to read stories and see prints of lands and people that it was beyond their means to visit and meet.

There were some who criticised the sexual accounts included in Hawkesworth’s publication. Cook was unhappy with Hawkesworth’s editing and wanted to be more involved in subsequent voyage publications.

Cook’s accounts were often supplemented by additional publications from the voyage scientists. Other members of the crew also wanted to publish their own journals but this was often forbidden and suppressed by the Admiralty.

All accounts of events are partial and seen from the particular perspective of their authors. Examining a range of reports can help build a better, more complex, picture of events.

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Confronting Captain Cook: Memorialisation in museums and public spaces

National Maritime Museum