- Ellis, John
- Biographies and personal histories, History - pre-Federation
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1997 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
There is a coffee table in Maritime Headquarters, Australia that has a link with Captain Cook. The table has a dark wooden board set into it with the board protected by a sheet of glass. The table carries a brass plate inscribed.
ORIGINAL PLOTTING BOARD USED BY CAPTAIN JAMES COOK There is a manuscript note on crested writing paper under the glass that gives some backgrounds:
THIRKELBY PARK – THIRSK
This drawing board went round the world with Captain Cook in his Voyage commenced A. D. 1772. It was presented to Sir Thomas Frankland, Bt., of Thirkelby Park, Thirsk, by John Reinhold Forster who sailed with Captain Cook (See note on edges of board).
In an attempt to find how this item of Cook memorabilia came to Maritime Headquarters the following story emerged.
John Reinhold Forster, FSA. FRS, (1729-98) was born Johann Reinhold Forster in Polish Prussia. He and his son, George, were selected to join Cook’s second voyage as the botanists in HMS Resolution. A biographer of Cook wrote: “Johann Reinhold Forster was a Prussian of Scottish ancestry. He was a former Lutheran minister and a failed schoolmaster who criticised everything and everybody and was soon loathed by all on board.”
In The Tactless Philosopher Forster’s biographer described him as one of the most accomplished naturalists, linguists, scientists, anthropologists and philosophers of his day. In 1775 Oxford University recognised his achievements during the voyage with an honorary DCL. The following year he presented a selection of artefacts collected during the second voyage and some books to the University. In 1779 he was appointed to a chair at Halle University, near Leipzig, where he remained until his death. His library of 7,000 volumes was considered the best private library in Germany. His work was commemorated when the emperor penguin, aptenodytes forsteri, was classified in 1844, he being the first naturalist to cross the Antarctic Circle.
Sir Thomas Frankland, MA FRS (1750-1831) succeeded the now extinct Frankland baronetcy in 1784 as the sixth baronet. He was, for a time, the member of Parliament for Thirsk and High Sheriff of Yorkshire. As an eminent scientist and botanist he would have met Forster through the Royal Society. The initials and date on the note are presumed to be from Robert Frankland-Russell (1784-1849) dated 17 May 1805. He was the son and heir of the sixth baronet who assumed the additional name of Russell with an inheritance. It is not known how and when the board came to Australia.
Sir Thomas Ramsay purchased the board from an antiquarian dealer in Melbourne about 1980 and in 1983 he presented it to the Commanding Officer of HMAS Cook, Commander T. E. Lewis RAN. Sir Thomas Ramsay was a prominent Melbourne businessman and a member of the Cook Society. Over many years he established an important collection of books, documents and items associated with European exploration of the Pacific Ocean. He died in 1995 and bequeathed some 18,000 items from this collection to Scotch College in Hawthorn. Commander Lewis’s successor in Cook was Commander A. Cook, RAN, who sought the assistance of the Museum of Applied Arts and Science on how this item of Cook memorabilia should be best preserved for display. Following the Museum’s recommendation Commander Cook had the table made with a recessed top to take the board. The table came to its present location when HMAS Cook was paid off in 1990.
The board is secure under the glass and cannot be removed; however the note on its edges is probably similar to the manuscript note. In dangerous waters Captain Cook would con the ship from the foretop and use the board for his notes and sketches.
[Ed: DCL stands for Doctor of Civil Laws]