Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Peter Aughton's 3 Volumes on The Voyages of Captain Cook ((High End) Steak Knives)

I've been tapping the age of discovery genre pretty hard lately, and it's hard to deny that the voyages of Captain Cook set the archetype in many ways. Aughton's 3 volumes, "Endeavour", "Resolution" and "The Fatal Voyage" chart (groan) Cook's three voyages of discovery through the south and north pacific, and does so in a very approachable way.

But... while very approachable, the easy read left me feeling the need for just a little bit more. More detail, more insight, more texture to the characters? It left a lot to the imagination, which isn't necessarily a bad thing (my mind would paint its own pictures of these first encounters, close calls, and uncharted territories - high entertainment value), but the anthropologist in me kept wondering how a more academic account would read, particularly given that classic anthropology has its own sandlot dedicated to the Cook debate, specifically around *exactly* why the great explorer met his demise on a Hawaiian beach. There are two camps, rooted in two contrasting ideologies. The details can be googled for the very interested.

So, Cook dies, and we can all see it coming.

What makes the 'trilogy' a high end steak knives for me (despite the above) is that I was completely taken with the arc of his voyages, and really cared about what he managed to do. It upset me to read about his end, 300+ years after it happened, and not just because it was so pointless. What an amazing time to be alive, and implications of future history aside, what an amazing adventure it must have been. Circumnavigating (but just missing discovery of) Antarctica, charting New Zealand and the east coast of Australia, fixing the locations of Tahiti, Easter Island, Tonga, New Hebrides, etc., charting the north west coast of North America (and visiting Nootka Sound), seeking the North West passage through the Bering Strait, and twice circumnavigating the world in the late 16th C. Jesus Christ.

On top of this, Cook was at the siege of Quebec. What a life. His crew featured a number of future 'celebrities' including Captain Bligh of 'Bounty' infamy, and Vancouver, who re-traced some of Cook's steps in the north Pacific to great influence on posterity. Several sailed with Nelson at Trafalgar, and were it not for an illness, a young Nelson may have joined one of the voyages.

This will send me deeper down the rabbit hole, for bio/histories of Tasman, Drake and the like. All in good time...

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