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National Museums hooks Cook collection

29 SEPTEMBER 2006

Artefacts illustrating Captain James Cook's great skill as a navigator and his enduring impact on British society have been acquired by the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

The magnifier, plane table frame and two embroidered maps were bought at a Christie's auction in London earlier this week.

The purchase follows the National Museum's successful showing of the Cook's Pacific Encounters exhibition, which attracted 26,700 visitors in the two months before it closed on 10 September.

"These artefacts help to illustrate Cook's status as a navigator and explorer and his legacy as a great contributor to our geographic and cultural understanding of the Pacific in the 18th century," National Museum director Craddock Morton said.

The magnifier, housed in a silver capstan-style case, bears an ornate inscription describing how it was given by 'The Celebrated Navigator' Cook to astronomer William Bayly, who sailed on Cook's second and third Pacific voyages and later published his observations. It is thought the magnifier may have been bought by Bayly when Cook's effects were sold, following his death in Hawaii.

The 18th century surveyor's plane table frame with rule and square protractor was used to assist in accurate coastal mapping. This frame is believed to have been given by Cook to British naval scholar Dr William Burney.

The pair of embroidered maps trace Cook's three Pacific voyages and are a personal celebration of the navigator, in a style similar to samplers which were typically made by older girls as a way of improving their needlework skills and knowledge of geography.

Embroidered maps are a poignant reminder of the limited avenues available to women who wished to expression devotion for their men, who were often away from home on long and dangerous voyages. These circular maps are silk, backed with cotton, with coloured silks used to highlight the coastlines.

The latest acquisitions follow several recent early colonial acquisitions made by the National Museum, including a silver snuff box presented to Governor Philip Gidley King by Lieutenant James Grant in 1801, and a side table made of wood sent from the New South Wales colony to England in the late 1700s.

The new Cook artefacts are expected to go on show in the National Museum's new Australian Journeys gallery.

For images, interviews or more information please contact Leanda Kitchen on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710 or media@nma.gov.au