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Star gazing

Magnifier used by Captain James Cook in the 1770s

This glass and tortoiseshell magnifier could have been used by Captain James Cook to look closely at small details of maps, charts or specimens.

Cook magnifier

Photo: George Serras.

The magnifier passed from Captain James Cook to astronomer William Bayly on Cook's last voyage. An assistant to the Astronomer Royal, Dr Nevil Maskelyne, Bayly was the Board of Longitude's appointment on Cook's second and third Pacific voyages. With fellow expedition astronomers he was responsible for the chronometers being tested on the voyage and scientific observations of earth's magnetic variation and gravity.

Despite the inscription on the elaborate silver case, the magnifier may not have been a gift. It is possible Bayly bought this memento when Cook's possessions were auctioned 'before the mast' following his death in Hawai'i in 1779. This was a common way of raising money for a dead sailor's family.

Lid of Cook's magnifier

The lid of the magnifier's silver case is ornately inscribed. Photo: George Serras.

Painting of Cook's death

This oil painting of the death of Captain James Cook in Hawai'i was painted by George Carter in 1781 based on accounts from the sailors involved. Courtesy: National Library of Australia, pic.nla-an2271058.

Relics of 'The Celebrated Navigator'

The magnifier passed from Bayly to his pupil and executor, Mark Beaufoy. It was probably Beaufoy's son who placed the magnifier in an engraved silver reliquary in 1844.

Cook's magnifier case

Cook was so famous his relics have been treated like those of a saint.

The veneration of Cook began soon after his death, when sailors made memorials for Cook's widow. 'Cook realia' — items connected to James Cook — have been keenly sought by collectors since the 1770s.

Left: Beaufoy's son acquired this silver case for the magnifier in 1844. Photo: George Serras.

Box for Cook's hair case
Detail of box containing Cook's hair.

This box containing a lock of Cook's hair was carved by sailors on HMS Resolution for Cook's wife, Elizabeth.
Courtesy: State Library of New South Wales.

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