The Endeavour botanical illustrations


The Endeavour

The Botany Library at the Natural History Museum holds all of the surviving botanical artwork from Captain James Cook's first Pacific voyage.

Represented are works of the artists Sydney Parkinson (1745-1771), John Frederick Miller and Frederick Polydore Nodder, among others. These artists' works feature in the finished watercolours made during and after the voyage, between 1773 and 1784. Of the three, only Parkinson sailed on the ship and it was he who made the first sketches of the plants which were encountered and collected.

The illustrations were once in the famous Banksian Collections of the British Museum. Joseph Banks, the scientific organiser behind the expedition, had bequeathed this material to Robert Brown, his Librarian, who in turn transferred them to the Museum's Trustees in 1827. The plant and animal specimens with their directly associated artwork and documents were moved as part of the collections when the Museum's Department of Natural History relocated to South Kensington in the late nineteenth century.

The Voyage

Venus FortThe ship chosen for this voyage of circumnavigation was a merchant ship named Endeavour. It had 94 people aboard when it set sail from England in August 1768. The voyage lasted 1,051 days, travelling from west to east, Cook returning the ship to England on 12 July 1771. Accompanying Joseph Banks as assistants were Daniel Solander (1733-1782), a naturalist and pupil of Carl Linnaeus; natural history and landscape artists Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan; secretary and artist Herman Sporing; plus four servants and field assistants. Two of these assistants died of exposure during the fieldwork on Tierra del Fuego. Buchan died of epilepsy in Tahiti. Sporing died at sea in January 1771, followed two days later by Parkinson, both from fever contracted in Java.

The main account of the voyage was recorded by Cook and Banks in their personal journals, which were later published. Hawkesworth used both accounts to produce the official record of the voyage in his work of 1773. Parkinson had also made a diary of his voyage, ignored by Hawkesworth, and that also appeared in print in 1773, published by his brother. That was then revised and enlarged in 1784. Banks's full and complete journal was not published until 1962, after much research by John Beaglehole. He had also published Cook's complete journal in 1955. Next page...