How could Captain Cook, supposedly ‘the greatest navigator of his age’, have missed coastal features that even the dullest sailor would have discovered – features as obvious as Bass Strait?
But he didn’t miss them – he hid them.
The Endeavour voyage is best understood in its historic context of furious rivalry as France and Britain race for strategic discoveries in the South Seas. Although Holland and Spain are in decline, they remain too powerful to be snubbed. Meanwhile, the British Government faces a General Election and voters resent the powerful East India Company.
Philip Stephens, secretary of the Admiralty, is determined that, when a ship is sent to observe the transit of Venus, it will also find new territories for Britain. Rejecting the Royal Society’s choice of Alexander Dalrymple of the East India Company, he appoints Cook to command the Endeavour, helps him to research the old maps of earlier navigators and ensures that he sails with an abstract of Abel Tasman’s journal.
Joining the navy with ten years experience as a merchant seaman, Cook is quick to see the commercial potential of new lands. His mapping skills are honed under enemy fire in the Seven Years War, and, when the shooting ends, he charts strategically important coasts during the early years of the Anglo-French cold war that precedes the American Revolution.
After observing the transit in Tahiti, the Endeavour sails on through uncharted waters, racked by tension between Joseph Banks, who believes that a Southern Continent lies between South America and New Zealand, and Cook, who does not. Cook makes important discoveries in New Zealand and Australia, survives disaster on the Great Barrier Reef, and nurses his damaged ship to Batavia.
Throughout the voyage, obeying secret orders, Cook hides all his strategic discoveries. With a detective’s instinct, the forensic skill of a lawyer, and an eye for engaging detail, Cameron-Ash re-examines Cook’s original journals and charts with all their erasures, additions, omissions and fabrications.
Richly illustrated with maps, portraits, ships, and landscapes, Lying for the Admiralty is a cartographical thriller that reveals Cook in a fresh light - as an explorer who truly merits the title of ‘the greatest navigator of his age’ and a patriot who is willing to tarnish his record for the sake of his country.
2018 marks the 250th anniversary of the start of Cook’s Endeavour voyage (1768-1771). Conferences, tours and exhibitions will be hosted by the international Captain Cook Society and many national institutions from London to Canberra. By uncovering the censorship and political intrigue that determined how Cook finally recorded his voyage, this book will spark spirited debate.
Margaret Cameron-Ash is a lawyer, a former visiting fellow at the University of NSW and the author of Supreme and District Courts Practice (1982, Law Book Co). After working and lecturing as a lawyer in Sydney and London, she widened her area of research to include early Australian history, with a special interest in cartography. She has published numerous papers about Captain Cook.