Captain Cook Special Stamps, courtesy of Royal Mail

Captain Cook Special Stamps, courtesy of Royal Mail

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Endeavour art collection highlighted on Royal Mail stamps

This month marks 250 years since HMS Endeavour, one of the most important voyages of discovery, set off from Britain under the command of Captain James Cook. 

A crew of almost 100 people including marines, astronomers, artists and scientists set sail from Plymouth in 1768.

After nearly three years at sea, the vessel returned in July 1771. Its crew had circumnavigated the globe, discovered more than 1,300 species previously unknown to Western science and mapped more than 5,000 miles of coastline including New Zealand and the east coast of Australia.

According to Philip Parker, Head of Stamp Strategy at Royal Mail, the 10 stamps commemorate 'one of the most important voyages of discovery of all time, which returned thousands of specimens and illustrations which amazed London society'.

For Andrea Hart, Library Special Collections Manager at the Museum, these collections are having a moment.

'The Museum is home to one of the greatest treasuries of natural history specimens and artworks from the Endeavour voyage, amassed by the acclaimed naturalist Sir Joseph Banks.

'This collaboration with Royal Mail is incredibly exciting, offering us a way to bring the story of the Endeavour voyage to new audiences.'

Five items from the Museum's collections will appear on the new commemorative stamps, including works by illustrators Sydney Parkinson and Frederick Polydore Nodder.

A selection of Captain Cook Special Stamps, courtesy of Royal Mail

A selection of Captain Cook Special Stamps, courtesy of Royal Mail

The featured works include two botanical illustrations - Parkinson's kaka beak (Clianthus puniceus), collected in Tolaga Bay, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, between 8 October and 4 December 1769 which appears alongside a portrait of a Māori chief, and Nodder's red passion flower (Passiflora aurantia), which appears with a portrait of Joseph Banks.  

After Parkinson's tragic death on the Endeavour's return voyage, Nodder was commissioned by Banks to complete a number of Parkinson's unfinished works.

Other works chosen include a zoological illustration featuring a blue-black grassquit (Volatinia jacarina) as well as Parkinson's self-portrait, the only known oil painting by the artist.

The commemorative stamps will be available from 16 August.