PULLMAN, Wash. – Celebrated mariner Captain James Cook set sail on his third exploratory venture in July 1776. The British Admiralty produced an official record shortly after the expedition’s 1780 return.
Now, 238 years later, Washington State University Press tells the story of Cook’s final quest with its latest book, “Captain Cook’s Final Voyage: The Untold Story from the Journals of James Burney and Henry Roberts.”
In addition to the official record, the book integrates images by official expedition artist John Webber and makes two previously unpublished eyewitness accounts easily accessible.
Tasked with confirming the outline of North America’s Pacific seaboard and searching for the elusive Northwest Passage, Cook left Plymouth and traveled to New Zealand and the Hawaiian Islands. From there, he explored the Pacific Northwest’s coastline, landing near Oregon’s Cape Foulweather and eventually entering Vancouver Island’s Nootka Sound. He anchored near the First Nations village of Yuquot and then sailed to the Bering Strait, where he identified Alaska’s Cook Inlet.
The eyewitness accounts, written by two young officers, were discovered languishing in Australian archives. The journals chronicle landings along Hawaii, Vancouver Island and Alaska, as well as initial European contact and Cook’s dramatic death at Kealakekua Bay, and include charts and drawings. They provide the first reasonably accurate maps of North America’s west coast and the earliest comprehensive report from the Bering Sea ice pack.
Interestingly, the men kept the existence of their journals a secret. If the British Admiralty had discovered the documents, it likely would have ended their careers.
First lieutenant James Burney offers a scarce account from the consort vessel, Discovery, providing new details and important, thoughtful impressions of North and South Pacific people and places.
Working under the notorious William Bligh on the Resolution, Master’s Mate Henry Roberts performed essential hydrographic and cartographic tasks. He was only a few feet away when Cook perished. His logbook includes coordinates, tables of routes, records of weather at sea, and lively depictions of shore excursions.
Editor James K. Barnett is an Alaskan attorney who has written, co-edited, or contributed to multiple books and anthologies on Captain James Cook, Captain George Vancouver, and the history of Alaska. He served as president of the Cook Inlet Historical Society in Anchorage from 1998 to 2015, and found these long forgotten journals and images while researching in Sydney nearly 10 years ago. He contributes context and commentary to complete the story.
“Captain Cook’s Final Voyage” is paperback, 7″ x 10″, 344 pages, and lists for $34.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from WSU Press online or at 800-354-7360. WSU Press is a nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman. It concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.
- Caryn Lawton, WSU Press, 509-335-7877, firstname.lastname@example.org
- James K. Barnett, 907-441-7842, JBarnett@alaskan.com