Cook's voyages

Library materials from Captain James Cook's voyages reflect a period of intellectual enlightenment and scientific discovery in the 18th century.


Cook first circumnavigated across the Pacific aboard the HMS Endeavour in 1768-1771. The initial aim was to observe the transit of Venus across the face of the sun, but surveying natural history was a priority of on-board naturalist Joseph Banks.

Banks and Daniel Solander, a pupil of Carl Linnaeus, commissioned an artist to produce images of zoological and botanical specimens. Initially Sydney Parkinson produced completed watercolours of each new discovery, but he later resorted to sketching as the sheer number of new specimens became overwhelming. 

When Parkinson died on the return leg of the voyage, Banks commissioned London artists to produce finished watercolours of his sketches. 

Mobula mobular, devilfish.

Mobula mobular, devilfish. By Georg Forster, artist on board the HMS Resolution.

View Endeavour artworks

Resolution and Discovery

Following the success of the Endeavour expedition, Cook embarked on a voyage the following year to find landmass in the southern seas. He proposed a west to east route to take advantage of the prevailing winds, sailing as far south as possible. 

They set sail from Plymouth in July 1772, with naturalists Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg on board. Cook commanded the Resolution and Tobias Furneaux led the Discovery.

View Resolution and Discovery artworks

Georg’s artwork, along with the sketches and completed Parkinson drawings from Endeavour were donated to the British Museum in 1827 as part of the Banksian collection, and are now preserved in the Library.

Find out more about the Cook voyages