Sailing with Cook: Inside the Private Journal of James Burney RN is about the young James Burney's experience of shipboard life and the momentous events that took place during the second voyage of exploration when he sailed with Captain Cook on the Resolution and then on the Adventure between 1772 and 1773.
At the age of 22, James Burney (1750-1821) was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Embarking on a great voyage he decided to keep a private journal written not for officialdom but for the delight and information of his family and friends. It was an aide-memoire, a record of his coming of age and the getting of wisdom. He claimed at the outset, 'my chief aim is your amusement'.
Under the command of Captain James Cook and Captain Tobias Furneaux on the Adventure, Burney crossed the Antarctic Circle, he was one of the first Englishmen to walk on Tasmania?s southern beaches, he endured raging seas and icy weather, he sailed to New Zealand?s South Island and into its beautiful sounds, and then he sailed further north to explore the tropical waters of the islands and atolls of Polynesia.
Burney witnessed death at sea from misadventure and scurvy, and he experienced the shocking death of ten shipmates at the hands of Maori warriors. He enjoyed cordial advances from Pacific Islanders and the friendship of Omai, a young Ra'iatean man who became the second Pacific Islander to visit Europe. Burney listened carefully to island music making (to please his musician father), witnessed religious ceremonies and observed Pacific Islanders' hierarchies. He noted the building of war canoes and absorbed ancient Pacific myths and lore of navigation. All these experiences expanded his world view. This was in addition to working with his captain on making charts, maintaining ship's discipline and the ship's log, and upholding naval traditions as expected of a young officer.
Burney's early life and his extraordinary family and connections are contextualised to illuminate the story of the private journal. Burney's extensive naval career took him to North America, the Mediterranean, the African continent, to India and the East Indies, to China, Alaska and Hawaii. He sailed again with Cook on the third voyage of discovery in 1776 and witnessed Cook's death at Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, in 1779.
Burney's naval career was hindered by his independent frame of mind, if not his republican sentiments and alleged insubordination. Despite setbacks and disappointments, he was eventually promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral on the Retired List in a belated recognition of his service and seniority.
In enforced retirement, Burney commenced a second career as a writer on the topic of global marine exploration. He married late, had children and, for a time, he was embroiled in an unorthodox domestic arrangement. He criticised government expenditures, he wrote a series of scholarly papers for the Royal Society and was elected a Fellow, he was highly respected for his studies of exploration and navigation, and he maintained eclectic circles of friends drawn from musical, literary, dramatic, naval and political circles.
He was an amiable friend to many, including his famous sister, the novelist Fanny Burney who championed James throughout her life. Burney died in 1821 leaving a legacy of writing, including this first private journal that opened up a new world to his friends, and now to us.
Sailing with Cook: Inside the Private Journal of James Burney RN features facsimile pages extracted from the private journal and is beautifully illustrated with maps, portraits, contemporary documents and artefacts, including information text boxes on people and issues. It follows the successful format of other books such as In Bligh's Hand: Surviving the Mutiny on the Bounty.
Watch an introduction to the book below: