Markus Brandes discovered James Cook letter

on Dienstag, 01 Mai 2007. Posted in In the media

exceptional finding at the Darmstaetter Collection Berlin

Captain James Cook R.N., F.R.S. (1728-1779)

James Cook is best known for his three voyages of exploration in the late 1700s which completed the map of the world by filling in the hitherto blank space that was the Pacific Ocean. By the time of his unfortunate death in Hawaii in 14 February 1779 he had sailed further than any man, venturing south into Antarctica and north into the Arctic, and in between he had charted and mapped hundreds of islands both large and small.

Cook is best known for his navigation and discoveries at sea, but he is also well known for his extensive writing. For each voyage he maintained a detailed journal in which he described the indigenous peoples that he met, their customs and way of life, and the nature of their lands. Cook’s original journals are now in libraries and museums around the world.

Cook undertook extensive preparations for his voyages and this generated a lot of correspondence with the Admiralty and others as he finalised his crew, prepared his ships, and arranged for supplies to be taken on board. Most of this correspondence is held by The National Archives at Kew, London, however in recent years other letters have come to light showing that some correspondence, originally held by the Admiralty, somehow managed to find its way into the hands of private collectors.

I am very grateful for the diligence of Markus Brandes (one of the founders of of Konstanz, Germany for bringing two of Cook’s letters to my attention. The first was a letter of 7th May 1772 which in 1925 was in the autograph collection of Karl Geigy-Hagenbach in Basle, Switzerland. That collection was dispersed at auction in 1961 and the current location of the letter by Captain Cook is not known. More recently Markus kindly drew my attention to a letter by Cook dated 2 January 1776 which was on display in an exhibition in the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. This is a letter of historic importance as it documents Cok’s inspection of a ship that was to accompany him on his third voyage of exploration.

Both of these letters were hitherto unknown to Cook scholars, so their “discovery” is quite significant. The fact that both of these letters came to light on mainland Europe makes me wonder how many more of Cook’s letters might still be out there, either held privately or in public institutions? I would be delighted to hear of any more Cook letters that people might encounter whilst in their search for autographed correspondence.

Cliff Thornton
President – The Captain Cook Society
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