a portrait print of captina Coook in Georgian wig

Portrait of Captain James Cook (1728-1779). © British Library Board

The British Library follows the journeys of the man who opened up the world during the Age of Revolution – in James Cook: The Voyages

Captain James Cook’s name has always been synonymous with exploration and adventure, but even in the 1770s when the American Revolutionary War was underway, such was his fame that none other than Benjamin Franklin instructed the captains of the fledgling American fleet to allow Cook and his flotilla safe passage through American waters – so they could continue his third voyage of discovery unharmed.

That voyage was Cook’s final one, and Franklin’s edict came after Cook had already been killed in Hawaii, but this British Library exhibition opens up the world of discovery that Cook and his crew embarked upon – from the date when The Endeavour set sail from Plymouth in 1768 to the Resolution and Discovery returning to Britain in 1780 after Cook’s death.

a drawing of native peoples shown in a cutaway drawing of their hut

Inhabitants of the Island of Terra del Fuego in their Hut by Alexander Buchan, 1769. © British Library Board

a photo of a specimin in fluid in a glass jar

Mouth parts of a squid, specimen from first voyage © Royal College of Surgeons

As well as circumnavigating the globe and laying the foundations for the colonisation of New Zealand and Australia – Cook’s expeditions opened up worlds of scientific and anthropological discovery.

Over 3,000 plant specimens were collected by botanists Joseph Banks and the Swede Daniel Solander, who were on the first voyage. Cook and his crew are also cited as being the first Europeans to encounter the Polynesian peoples of the Pacific.

From iconic depictions of people and landscapes by expedition artists Sydney Parkinson, John Webber and William Hodges to an evocative collection of drawings by Polynesian high priest and navigator Tupaia, the exhibition journeys with Cook and his crew from the Pacific Ocean to the Antarctic.

It also features original maps and crew journals alongside contemporary films that allow visitors to follow the course of his voyages and consider a legacy that is still being debated today.

a drawing of a Maoria man and an eighteenth century man

Joseph Banks and a Maori by Tupaia © British Library Board

a print of a sketch of an inlet

Snug Corner Cove by John Webber. © British Library Board

“The British Library holds many iconic artworks, charts and handwritten journals from James Cook’s voyages,” says co-Curator William Frame, “and the exhibition displays the most famous of these together, alongside key loans, for the first time in a generation,”.

“Through the exhibition and accompanying public programme visitors will be able to consider different perspectives on the voyages and to reflect on their meaning today.”

James Cook: The Voyages is at The British Library until August 28 2018.