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Embroidered map tracing the three voyages of Captain Cook

Date: c 1800
Overall: 745 x 550 x 35 mm
Medium: Textile; linen and silk
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Embroidery
Object No: 00004991
Place Manufactured:England

User Terms

    This embroidered map is attributed to Elizabeth Cook, the wife of Captain James Cook, depicting her husband’s three voyages to the Pacific and is decorated with floral sprigs. This intriguing mixture of navigational science and domestic arts seems to suture the schism between a love of service to empire and a love between two people.
    SignificanceThis embroidered map reflects recreational activities for women during the 18th and 19th centuries. It also highlights the interest and fascination that Cook's Pacific expeditions generated and his significant contribution to exploration in the region.
    History"Comparatively little is known of Elizabeth Cook. She was born in 1741, the only child of Samuel and Mary Batts, who ran the Bell Alehouse at Execution Dock in Wapping. She was from a family of curriers (leatherworkers) and while not poor, like many women from the lower middle classes of the time, a naval officer with career prospects would have been a reasonable catch. In 1762 she married James Cook at St Margaret’s Church, Barking in 1762. Elizabeth was 21 and James 34 years old. As the eminent biographer of Cook J C Beaglehole put it, ‘it was a respectable rather than socially distinguished union.’

    While James’ career went from strength to strength, Elizabeth’s story is tinged with sadness. When James was away on his ill-fated third voyage, Elizabeth had been busy embroidering a new waistcoat for him made from Tahitian tapa cloth he had brought back from his second voyage. She, and no doubt others, expected him on his return to be required to attend the Royal Court. The waistcoat remained unfinished.

    Cook died at the age of 50, but Elizabeth reached the age of 94, surviving the death of her husband by some 56 years. She also outlived all of her six children. Three of them died in infancy, one from scarlet fever in his teens and two while serving in the Royal Navy. Nor were there any grandchildren to comfort her.

    Elizabeth never remarried. She dressed in mourning black well after the accepted period of the time. Like many navy widows of the time, she cherished mementos of her husband. She carefully preserved items from her husband’s uniform, including his dress sword and shoe buckles. She continued to wear a cameo-style memorial ring and was wearing this in a portrait painted of her aged in her eighties."

    - Dr Stephen Gapps
    Curator at the Australian National Maritime Museum

    Embroidered illustrations and maps achieved some popularity during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, mainly in Britain but also in North America. The skills of needlework and sewing were important accomplishments for women and young girls, who often employed their time making samplers featuring the alphabet, multiplication tables or other educational aids. During this time the production of embroidered cartographic maps was rarer. These maps commonly represent the British Isles, the American colonies, the European continent or maps of the world.

    The three voyages of Captain James Cook to the Pacific led the British to claim the east coast of Australia, the discovery of many Pacific Islands and the first circumnavigation and mapping of Newfoundland and New Zealand. Cook also made the first contact between Europeans and many Indigenous civilisations of the South Pacific, leading to important anthropological discoveries.

    The first voyage Cook commanded on HMB ENDEAVOUR arrived in Tahiti to view the transit of Venus. The Royal Society of London had petitioned King George III for an expedition to view the planet's transit across the Sun, due to take place on 3 June 1769. After completing this goal Cook sailed south where in October 1769 he reached New Zealand, as 'discovered' by Abel Tasman in 1642. After mapping both the north and south islands, he started the journey home. It was during this voyage that Cook first approached eastern Australia. An attempt to land on 28 April 1770 failed due to rough surf, so Cook sailed ENDEAVOUR round to a calm bay which is now known as Botany Bay. Here on 29 April 1770, Cook and his crew first set foot on Australian soil. Cook eventually returned home in July 1771 with many botanical specimens and reports of their encounters with the Indigenous peoples they met.

    Cook's second expedition left for the South Pacific in July 1772 with the intention of proving conclusively that the great southern continent existed. With the ships HMS RESOLUTION and HMS ADVENTURE Cook travelled round the Cape of Good Hope and into the pack ice of the Antarctic Circle to arrive once more in New Zealand. After charting many islands around the Pacific, Cook concluded that the great southern land did not exist. He arrived back in England during July 1775, having circumnavigated the globe via Cape Horn and South America.

    Cook’s third and final voyage was to chart the north-west passage between the Atlantic and Pacific. He departed England in 1776 in command of HMS DISCOVERY and sailed to New Zealand, then headed north to the Cook Islands and Hawaii (then named the Sandwich Islands by Cook). He then charted the coast of British Columbia and Alaska before returning to Hawaii for the winter. On 14 February 1779 the local Hawaiian people stole one of the ship's boats and Cook reacted by taking their chief hostage. This resulted in an outbreak of violence during which time Cook was killed.

    Cook made few original discoveries during his voyages but he mapped vast areas of the globe, from the Arctic to the far south, he dispelled the myth of the great southern continent and pioneered navigation and sailing techniques, saving the lives of sailors through his understanding of conditions such as scurvy. The extensive report Cook had given about Botany Bay became the 'sign post' for Captain Arthur Phillip to take the First Fleet there in January 1788. At the same time, Cook's notes were being used by the French explorer, Captain La Perouse, to navigate this new world.
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Geborduurde kaart van de reizen van kapitein James Cook op het westelijk halfrond

    Web title: Embroidered map tracing the three voyages of Captain Cook

    Assigned title: Gestickte Karte der Reisen von Kapitän James Cook in der westlichen Hemisphäre

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