A Voyage towards the South Pole, and Round the World (1777)

James Cook and Benjamin Franklin both greatly contributed to the pursuit of knowledge in the 18th century. Their precise documentation of the methods used in their experiments and travels provided great insight and knowledge of the natural world for the scientific community . The advances that their discoveries brought about cultivated our understanding of the world we live in today.

A Voyage towards the South Pole, and Round the World was written by James Cook and published in 1777 London by W. Strahan and T. Cadell. The text includes two volumes of journal entries and illustrations accounting for Captain Cook’s second voyage around much of the southern hemisphere. These volumes include a detailed log of Cook’s journey and navigation process along with 63 engraved prints, maps and charts, and 1 folding letterpress table. The third volume is a collection of prints stored in a custom clamshell box. The volumes demonstrate the explorative nature throughout the 18th Century, and through detailed notation of his journey, Cook was available to advance the geographic field of science. We will analyze A Voyage towards the South Pole, and Round the World by James Cook through a historical lens of bookmaking.

Captain James Cook was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captcookportraitain in the Royal Navy, born 1728 and died 1779. In 1772, Cook, who was promoted to captain, led a new expedition, commanding “His Majesty’s ship, The Resolution” to the South Pole to find answers to the speculative existence of the mythical southern continent of Terra Australis (ILAB). The Resolution sailed south from New Zealand, crossing the Antarctic Circle and reaching 71°10’S, further south than any ship had been before. It then traversed the southern Pacific Ocean, visiting Easter Island, Tahiti, the Friendly Islands, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island and New Zealand. He “made an astonishing series of discoveries and rediscoveries” (Heald) but rather than being credited towards discovering these new places for Europe, Cook was more widely acclaimed for the accuracy in navigation he contributed. By using a copy of John Harrison’s H4 marine chronometer, he was able to more accurately calculate his longitudinal position (ILAB). Within the charts and maps he had drawn, he formed the essentials for the modern map of the South Pacific, exemplifying the explorative nature and improvements of technology within the 18th Century.


The 18spinevol2th Century bookmaking technology remained unadvanced, sticking to the hand-press technology. The covers of these journals are bound in brown leather. The border is trimmed with an engraved golden lining, which makes up a delicate pattern surrounding the cover in style. The spine is decorated with six compartments of red and black morocco label. Due to wear, the cover is no longer intact with the actual binding of the book. The inside of the cover is contains colorful marble endpapers of red, blue and green. This paper choice was frequently used and the use of leather ranges from moderately expensive to expensive suggesting the book owner was upper middle class or possibly wealthy.

The paper material of the book appears to be laid paper, as identified in A Bibliography of Printing and the Encyclopedia of the Book. The watermark of the paper align with characteristics of laid paper. Laid paper “shows a series of ribbed lines when held up to light” (Glaister, 272). This book was published in 1777, and during that time period, the “raw material of white paper was undyed linen … which the paper-maker bought in bulk, sorted and washed, and then put by in a damp heap for four or five days to rot” (Gaskell, 57). After the linen was ready, the final product was transferred to the vat, and the team at the vat comprised of the maker, the coucher, and the layer. During this hand-press period, most paper mills had around one vat alongside eight or ten workmen and the output per vat could be from 3000 to 5000 sheets per day (Gaskell, 57).

The material of the text paper and the engraved plates are different as the plates were tipped into the journals. That is, they were printed separately and then attached to the book by being glued on along the binding (“Tip in”). All plates were “drawn from nature” by W.Hodges and then later engraved by various people. The plates include an assortment of images of indigenous peoples, landscapes and items, along with charts and maps. There are several pull out pages of charts, diagrams and a table. There are many instances where the imprints of these plates are carried over to the following text page but it does not deteriorate the legibility of the text.   

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The numerous printed illustrations indicate the expensive nature of A Voyage towards the South Pole, and Round the World. The multimedia aspect of the book during this time calls into accord the context of engravings and paper during the hand-press period of book making. The hand-press period started in the 1500s and continued to the 1800s. Since this text was printed first in 1777, it puts the text towards the end of the hand to press era, but research from this time can still shed light on the book making process of this text and the intended audience of the text. The most common engraving plate material during 1776 and onwards was the copper plate (Gaskell, “Book Production: The Hand-press Period, 1500-1800 – Decoration and Illustration”). We can make an educated guess that copper plate engravings were used for this book, considering the time and the precise line making and detail work that was easier to produce via a copper plate rather than a woodblock surface, but we can’t know for sure (Gaskell, “Book Production: The Hand-press Period, 1500-1800 – Decoration and Illustration”). The cost of printing images was still quite substantial by this point; the cost of numerous engraved illustrations equaled the cost of the rest of the book, including paper (Gaskell, “Book Production: The Hand-press Period, 1500-1800 – Decoration and Illustration”). The historical implications of engraved prints indicates A Voyage towards the South Pole, and Round the World was intended for the upper middle class and the wealthy class only.



The text continues a few early hand-press characteristics, the first one being, the use of the long S. This is a letterform in which the lower-case “s”, if occurring at the beginning or middle of a word took a similar shape of the modern lowercase “f”. The modern day lower-case “s” was only used when it appeared at the end of a word. However, the two versions of the lower-case “s” are “phonetically equivalent and derived from the same Roman letterform” (Adams). This practice stopped being put to use in printing in the early 19th century so these journals mark the decline of the long S. Another practice that was applied while it was nearing its decline is the use of the catchword. This was the word appearing at the bottom line of the page that anticipated the first word of the following page. This practice was put in place so that binders would be able to arrange the pages in the right order. “In the 19th century, their use in conjunction with signature marks was redundant and they were discontinued” (“Catchword”).

A Voyage towards the South Pole, and Round the World by James Cook demonstrates the hand-press period of bookmaking technology. The text also exemplifies the curious and adventurous explorations in the 18th Century within not only the field of geography but also the field of science, as seen in Benjamin Franklin’s New Experiments and Observations on Electricity.



By: Ellen Garrett-Engele, Sheril Jospy, Nicole Hui, and Christie Ip

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