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Auction 15: Fine Collection of Californiana Formed by Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lot 19: Burney's Great Collection of Voyages during the Age of Discovery

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19. BURNEY, James. A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean.... Illustrated with Charts. London: Printed by Luke Hansard...and Sold by G. and W. Nicol...G. and J. Robinson...J. Hobson...T. Payne...and Cadell and Davies, 1803-1817. [2] xii [8] 391 pp., 5 folded copper-engraved maps + v [11] 482 pp., 6 copper-engraved maps (4 folded), 4 copper-engraved plates + [10] 437 [1] pp., 11 copper-engraved maps (2 folded), 8 copper-engraved plates + xviii, 580 pp., 3 copper-engraved maps (2 folded); vii [1, blank] 178 [2] 179-337 (i.e., 237) pp., 2 copper-engraved maps (1 folded), 1 folded copper-engraved plate (for a total of 40 plates and maps). 5 vols. in four, 4to, contemporary three-quarter tan calf over marbled boards, neatly rebacked, original spines preserved, spines gilt. Some moderate rubbing to boards and calf, corners refurbished, minor losses to paper, light age toning throughout, moderate offsetting from plates to adjacent text leaves and title pages, some heavier staining in last volumes from plants now removed, plates lightly to moderately foxed.

Maps of California Interest:
Vol 1: [Chart of California and the Gulf]. 26 x 26 cm; 10-1/4 x 10-1/4 inches. Untitled map engraved by F. Sansom and copyrighted by Burney May 18, 1803.

Vol 2: A Chart of the American Coast from Cape San Lucas to Cape Mendocino. Formed from the Plans made in 1602 by Captain Sebastian Vizcaino (35 x 33.7 cm; 13-3/4 x 13-1/4 inches). Engraved by F. Sansom. With inset at upper right: The Coast from Cape Mendocino to C. Blanco de Martin de Aguilar, as laid down in the voyage of the Sutil and Mexicana in 1792.
    First edition. Cowan II, p. 86: “The great reputation of this work has been consistently sustained for a century. Many of the early voyages to California, and the adjacent coast, would be nearly inaccessible were they not herein collected. Among these are the narratives or reports of Alarçon, Cabrillo, Salvatierra, Vizcaino, and numerous others.” Ferguson 372. Hill 221: “The most important general history of early South Sea discoveries, containing practically everything of importance on the subject; collected from all sources, with the most important remarks concerning them, by Captain Burney, who was a great authority on the subject.” Hocken, pp. 30-34. Howell 50, California 32. Howes B1002. Mathes, California Colonial Bibliography 72. Sabin 9387. Strathern 80. Wickersham 673.
    Few historians have ever been in so fortunate a position as Burney when they undertook their task and few have had such admirable, long-respected results. Intending to be a professional mariner, he sailed with Cook on his second voyage and was called upon again to sail with him on the third. After both Cook and Clerke died, he was given command of the Discovery and promoted to captain shortly after his arrival back in England. His last action was off India in 1783, and after returning to England in poor health, he never again sought command but rather devoted himself to the writing of this opus and other works. His access to London literary circles no doubt improved the text, and the dedicatee, Sir Joseph Banks, gave Burney access to his incomparable collection of books and manuscripts. He was also assisted by others, such as Dalrymple and Arrowsmith. In addition to making available many texts scarce even at the time, Burney also re-engraved and copied many of the maps, charts, and views from the older works.
    An excellent indication of his skill and balance in handling controversial topics is his evenhanded discussion of the failed Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, founded in 1695, which had set off an international incident when it established a colony in the Isthmus of Darien. This disastrous venture, dubbed the Darien Scheme, drained Scotland of more than a quarter of its liquid assets and probably played a key role in pushing the country in 1707 to the Act of Union which united Scotland and England. Using both printed and manuscript sources, Burney also gives an admirable account of the career of the Buccaneers in the West Indies.


Volume one covers the earliest voyages to that of Francis Drake, volume two from 1579 to 1620, volume three from 1620 to 1688, volume four, also published as a separate title, History of Buccaneers, spans 1689 to 1723, and the final volume 1723 to 1764. Explorers such as Sebastián Vizcaíno, delineator of the coast of the Californias, 1602-1603; Pedro Fernández de Quirós, the first European to sight Australia in 1606; Abel Tasman, discoverer of Tasmania and circumnavigator of New Zealand, 1642-1643; and William Dampier, privateer and circumnavigator, explorer of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, among others, are covered in detail.
    Notwithstanding the extraordinary research of his predecessors, Burney reports many voyages to the South Pacific in English for the first time, and extracts geographic and meteorological information from voyages generally considered as privateering rather than exploring. Notable for its technical and scientific precision, reflective of Burney’s nautical profession, the collection is closely linked with geographical observations and provides updated and more precise locations of landforms and bays, points of land, and other nautical landmarks than earlier compilations.
    Burney’s work was the last of the great collections of voyages during the age of discovery.

––W. Michael Mathes

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