You can’t always trust what you read – John Hawkesworth’s ‘An Account of the Voyages … [of] Captain Cook
Over the summer months we have a surviving copy of the 1773 first edition of John Hawkesworth‘s official account of the first voyage of James Cook on display in the Jack C Richards gallery.
Published in three volumes, the account was one of the most popular publications of the eighteenth century. Although the publication price was three guineas (about $780 NZD in 2019) the first edition of 2,000 sets sold out quickly, and a re-set second edition of 2,500 sets was published just two months later.
Hawkesworth proposed the compilation of the journals, with himself as author, and was commissioned by the Admiralty to undertake the work for £6,000 – at the time a vast amount of money.
The first volume relates to the voyages of Byron, Carteret and Wallis, and volumes two and three are devoted to Cook’s voyage. The text is drawn from the journals of the commanders and others on board the voyages, such as Joseph Banks.
After the release of the publication, Hawkesworth was heavily criticised for his editorial work. The ‘Account’ was called inaccurate, lewd, boring, sloppy, pompous, bad value and irreligious. The captains whose journals he edited attacked him for tampering with their accounts. Cook himself famously disliked the finished product, in particular Hawkeworths’ moralising and habit of drawing “a general conclusion from a particular fact”. As Editor Hawkesworth sometimes used his own material, not that of the journal writers themselves.
Hawkesworth was crushed by the vilification he suffered after the publication was released and after a period of ill health that some attributed to the harsh criticism he received, he died in November 1773.
You can read a transcript of Hawkesworth’s text, as well as a literal transcription of the Cook, Banks and Parkinson journals on the National Library of Australia’s website and more information about the Hawkesworth book on the Captain Cook Society website.
Our thanks to Professor Jack Richards for lending these books to the museum for display.
-Eloise Wallace, Director