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Captain James Cook

Date: 1779
Overall: 308 x 270 mm, 1 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00000844
Place Manufactured:London

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    Captain James Cook is a key figure in Australian history, commanding HMB ENDEAVOUR when it landed at Botany Bay and exploring Australia's east coast in 1770. This engraving was taken from a portrait by Nathaniel Dance, completed just before Cook sailed on his third and last voyage to the Pacific. Dance's portrait is believed to be a very close likeness of Cook and was the basis for many later reproductions. It was first published on 20 April 1779 and many copies were distributed to Cook's friends by his wife Elizabeth.
    SignificanceThis portrait of Captain James Cook has become the most well known representation of the famous and celebrated explorer. It demonstrates Cook's enduring appeal.
    HistoryThe Nathanial Dance portrait of Captain Cook was commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks and held in his private collection until his death, when it was donated to the Naval Gallery at Greenwich Hospital. The original painting is now held in the collection of England's National Maritime Museum.

    Cook is believed to have sat for the portrait in 1776, just prior to leaving on his third voyage to locate the Northwest Passage in the Pacific. It shows Cook wearing his full captain’s uniform of a navy blue jacket, white waistcoat with gold braid, gold buttons and white breeches. He holds a chart of New Holland (Australia). Dance was an exceptional British painter and his painting became the most respected likeness of Captain Cook. It inspired many reproductions including J K Sherwin's engraving.

    James Cook was born at Marton, North Yorkshire on 27 October 1728. By the age of 20 he was serving an apprenticeship in the port of Whitby, gaining skills in navigation and mathematics under the coal shipper John Walker. In 1755 Cook joined the Royal Navy and was made master's mate on HMS EAGLE. Soon after he was promoted to Master of the PEMBROKE and conducted survey work on the St Lawrence River in Quebec, and the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

    In 1768 Cook was chosen by the Admiralty to conduct an expedition to the Pacific in command of HMB ENDEAVOUR, to view the Transit of Venus and locate the Great South Land. He undertook two more voyages to the Pacific for the Admiralty, the second in command of RESOLUTION and ADVENTURE with the hope of still finding the Great South Land and the third in command of RESOLUTION and DISCOVERY to locate the elusive Northwest Passage. It was during this third voyage that Cook visited Hawaii, then called the Sandwich Islands and was killed on 14 February 1779 in an altercation with the local Hawaiians.

    Dr David Samwell was surgeon on board the DISCOVERY between 1775 and 1776, and described Cook as: 'Above six feet high, and though a good looking man, he was plain both in address and appearance. His head was small, his hair, which was dark brown, he wore tied behind. His face was full of expression, his nose exceedingly well shaped, his eyes which were of a brown cast, were quick and piercing: his eyebrows prominent, which gave his countenance altogether an air of austerity.'

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