Early Views of Alaska, the Northwest Coast & Hawaii
22. [COOK’S THIRD VOYAGE]. ELLIS, William. An Authentic Narrative of a Voyage Performed by Captain Cook and Captain Clerke, in His Majesty’s Ships Resolution and Discovery During the Years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780; in Search of a North-West Passage between the Continents of Asia and America. Including a Faithful Account of All Their Discoveries, and the Unfortunate Death of Captain Cook.... London: G. Robinson, J. Sewell, and J. Debrett, 1782. , 358 [1, blank] pp., 8 plates, 1 folding map + , 347 [1, blank], 13 plates (p. 318 misnumbered 319). Total: 21 copper-engraved plates, 1 copper-engraved folding map (A Chart, Shewing the Tracks and Discoveries in the Pacific Ocean, Made By Capt. Cook, and Capt. Clerke, in His Majesty's Ships Resolution and Discovery, in the Years 1777, 1778, 1779, 1780. [below neat line]: Mr. Smith sculp't. Bow Lane. 36.5 x 36 cm). 2 vols., 8vo, full contemporary tree calf, spines gilt with red and green morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers (bindings match the set of three voyages in this catalogue, Item 12 herein). Spines with minor sympathetic restorations, labels lightly chipped, bindings lightly shelf worn, joints of Vol. 1 starting, map with tear at juncture with book block (no loss), occasional minor offsetting from plates, otherwise a fine copy, with half titles present.Ink inscription on front flyleaf of Vol. I dated 1820: “Bought by auction at the sale of the late W. N. Holloway’s effects. Chas. Trevor.” Small ink stamp of H. Holloway at lower blank margin of both titles.
First edition. Beaglehole III, p. ccvii. Beddie 1599. Cox II, p. 26. Davidson, pp. 65-66. Forbes, Hawaiian National Bibliography 41 (“important supplement to the official account”). Hill I, p. 95. Hill II:555. Hocken, p. 20. Holmes 42. Howes E122. Joppien & Smith III, pp. 204-215. Judd 59. Kroepelien 399. Lada-Mocarski 35. National Maritime Museum: Voyages 589. O’Reilly-Reitman 427 (“observateur assez pénétrant”). Pilling 1203. Sabin 22333. Strathern 164. Streeter Sale 3476: “One of the first published accounts of Captain Cook’s third voyage, during which he discovered the Sandwich Islands and acquired much data on Alaska and the Northwest coast. Ellis’s delightful plates are also among the earliest published on these areas. The plates by Choris did not appear until almost forty years later.” Wickersham 6555.
Ellis was a surgeon’s mate on the voyage; his “assistant surgeon” rank as mentioned on the title pages was a nonexistent grade. Despite having a naval career so promising that Captain Clerke recommended him on his deathbed to Sir Joseph Banks, Ellis, in a Dickensian moment of “pecuniary embarrassment,” forfeited any such prospects by selling his narrative and drawings for its plates to a publisher for a low-ball price. In so doing, he violated the Admiralty’s injunction that all journals be turned in by those who kept them. He also violated Banks’ sense of propriety, and even Ellis’ explanation of his situation failed to move the great man, who bluntly told him that he could not ever help him further his naval ambitions. He died in July, 1785, after falling from a ship mast in Holland.
Although his naval career failed, Ellis’ career as an author and interpreter of the Pacific has secured his fame. Appearing about two years before the official account of the third voyage, Ellis’ narrative is an early publication of its events, including Cook’s death. Ellis was an astute observer, and his remarks on the differences between Natives of the various islands are important records of those civilizations before they were drastically altered by continued contact with Europeans. His drawings, which include subjects in Hawaii, the Northwest Coast, and Alaska, are very early views of these regions. The plates were engraved variously by James Heath, William Walker, Joseph Collyer (Heath’s mentor), and Edmund Scott. The map was engraved by Matthew Smith.
Ellis’ version of Cook’s death relates that Cook was attempting to retreat when he was killed, although he states Cook was clubbed and stoned to death rather than killed by a stab wound. In reviewing the whole unfortunate melee, he concludes: “In short, the whole appears to have been caused by a chain of events which could no more be foreseen than prevented!” (Vol. II, p. 111). (2 vols.) ($8,000-16,000)
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