Captain Cook’s voyages of exploration

Terra Australis Incognita – the unknown southern land. The existence (or not) of this mysterious, mythical place had been puzzled over since it was first hypothesised by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Sydney Parkinson

The artist’s impressions

Despite his early death, Sydney Parkinson made a great contribution to the records of the Endeavour voyage, being the first European artist to create drawings of Australia’s indigenous people, as well as Australian landscapes, from direct observation.

Hundreds of his drawings survive in the British Museum. He is famous for his botanical illustrations, which were later used to create the lavish plates for Joseph Banks’ Florilegium, a collection of engravings of plants collected by Banks and Daniels Solander during the Endeavour’s first voyage.

Parkinson was one of the casualties of sea life mentioned by James Roberts, dying of dysentery in January 1771 on board the Endeavour. His works later became the subject of a dispute between Joseph Banks and Sydney’s brother, Stanfield Parkinson. As his employer, Banks claimed rights to Sydney’s drawings, papers and collections made on the voyage. Stanfield, however, alleged that Sydney had willed them to his family.

Banks lent the Parkinson family Sydney’s journal and drawings with instructions that they were not to be published, but Stanfield disregarded this and arranged for A Journal of a voyage to the South Seas to be printed from his brother’s account of the voyage. Banks managed to suppress Stanfield’s publication until the official account of the voyage, edited by John Hawkesworth, appeared. In return for Parkinson’s papers, Banks paid Stanfield Parkinson £500 for balance of wages due to Sydney, but the dispute did not end there. Stanfield further accused Banks of retaining items collected by Sydney that were intended for his relatives. Stanfield Parkinson was declared insane soon after the publication of Sydney Parkinson’s Journal and died in an asylum.

The hand-coloured plates below are from the 1784 edition of Sydney Parkinson’s Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas. By this time, the rights to the journal had been acquired by naturalist John Fothergill, who supplied a preface responding to the accusations made by Stanfield Parkinson towards Joseph Banks in previous editions.

View the complete colour plates in Parkinson’s Journal via the Library’s catalogue

"Draughtsman - Died at Sea 26 Feby. 1771 Fever and Ague"