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All that he surveys

All that he surveys

This surveyor's plane table frame belonged to Captain James Cook. The frame held paper firmly on the top of the plane table, a level surface used for surveying with an alidade (sighting rule) and compass. Cook adapted this land surveying method to rapidly chart Pacific coastlines as a continuous running survey from the deck of a moving ship.

Before leaving for the Pacific in 1768, Cook wrote to the British Admiralty requesting a set of instruments, including a plane table, that would enable him to survey lands touched on during the voyage. Cook's charts of the coasts of New Zealand and New Holland (Australia) were drawn up in sections using the plane table method, which required Cook to sail the Endeavour close to shore.

A honey-coloured wooden folding frame used in map-making and geographical surveys. The frame is seen being folded in four images in a horizontal strip. The far left image shows the frame fully unfolded; it forms a rectangle with the horizontal sides slightly longer than the vertical sides. The next image to the right shows the frame starting to fold. Hinges halfway along the vertical sides allow these sides to fold inwardly. The next image to the right shows the folding still in progress. The last image to the right shows the frame fully folded. The vertical sides have collapsed upon themselves and the horizontal sides sit above and below them. A small space is left in the middle between the horizontal sides. In all four images, the frame is seen against a plain white background.

Demonstration of how the plane table folds down for easy storage and transport.
Photo: George Serras.

Related link

Artefacts illustrating Captain James Cook's great skill as a navigator have been acquired by the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Find out more about Captain Cook's navigational instruments