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Document Number: AJ-130c
Author: Cook, James, 1728-1779
Title: A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean [atlas--excerpt]
Source: Cook, James. A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean. Undertaken, by the Command of His Majesty, for Making Discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere. To Determine the Position and Extent of the West Side of North America; Its Distance from Asia; and the Practicability of a Northern Passage to Europe. Performed under the Direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gorf, in His Majesty's Ships the Resolution and Discovery, in the Years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780. In Three Volumes. Vol. I and II Written by Captain James Cook, F.R.S. Vol. III by Captain James King, LL.D. and F.R.S. Illustrated with Maps and Charts, from the Original Drawings Made by Lieut. Henry Roberts, under the Direction of Captain Cook; and with a Great Variety of Portraits of Persons, Views of Places, and Historical Representations of Remarkable Incidents, Drawn by Mr. Webber during the Voyage, and Engraved by the Most Eminent Artists. Published by Order of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. (London: Printed by W. and A. Strahan, for G. Nicol, Bookseller to His Majesty, in the Strand, and T. Cadell in the Strand, 1784). Atlas volume, 14 plates.
Pages/Illustrations: 16 / 14
Citable URL:

Author Note

Though Capt. James Cook (1728-1779) started life as a deck hand in a coal boat, he rose to positions of high command in the British navy and made the greatest discoveries of the 18th century. Self-taught in navigation and surveying, Cook's charts were crucial to the British defeat of the French at Quebec in 1759, which brought him to the attention of Admiralty. Appointed commander of three Royal Navy scientific expeditions between 1768 and 1779, Cook was the first European to visit Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii and made the first accurate charts of much of the Pacific region, from Alaska to Antarctica.

Expedition of 1776-1780

In 1776 Cook was ordered to search for a western entrance to the fabled Northwest Passage across America. On the way, he arrived at Hawaii (Jan. 19, 1778) before reaching the Oregon coast on March 7, 1778. The expedition worked northward for six months, mapping the shore of the Pacific Northwest all the way to the edge of the pack ice 300 miles north of Bering Strait.

The ships left the American coast on Oct. 26, 1778, without having found a Northwest Passage. Cook intended to winter in Hawaii and return the next spring to the Arctic, but on February 14, 1779, he was killed in a dispute with native Hawaiians. His crew made another unsuccessful attempt to explore the arctic the following summer before returning to England via Russia, Japan, and China.

Document Note

Cook wrote the first two volumes of his narrative on ship before being killed. Captain James King finished the third after Cook’s death. All three volumes and a large folio atlas of illustrations and maps were published in London at the request of the Admiralty in 1784 as A voyage to the Pacific ocean: undertaken, by the command of His Majesty, for making discoveries in the Northern hemisphere, to determine the position and extent of the west side of North America; its distance from Asia; and the practicability of a northern passage to Europe. Performed under the direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore, in His Majesty's ships the Resolution and Discovery, in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780…. Because Cook was the first to encounter so many new lands, because he appeared to have largely ruled out the possibility of a Northwest Passage, and because he met such a dramatic death, his book was extremely popular. Fourteen editions were required over the next decade, including translations into German, French and Dutch and English editions in Scotland, Ireland, and the United States. We have excerpted here the North American portions from the first London edition of 1784.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The best starting place for more information is the Web page of the Captain Cook Society at, which contains links to 300 other sites related to Cook, his life and voyages. A very detailed chronology of this voyage, showing what happened week to week, is on the site at

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