Friday, March 27, 2015

Captain Cook's bible

Cook is interesting, too, because he all but brought the bible to Australia himself - and I don’t just mean as a generic representative of a culturally and confessionally Christian imperial power. Cook had a hard copy bible with him on the Endeavour – a huge and hardy tome weighing just under four kilograms! It’s still around – preserved in the collection of the State Library of New South Wales.

It is hard to know exactly what use Cook made of the bible, during his voyage, and still harder to know what he thought or believed about it. According to his widow Elizabeth, Cook’s bible ‘accompanied him in his three voyages, and was constantly used by him in Reading the Lesson when performing divine Service according to the use of the Church of England, on board his ships, as no chaplains were appointed to the expeditions under his command.’

Cook spent a total of 18 Sundays alongside the east coast of Australia. Did he ‘read the lesson’ 18 times? His own journal makes no mention of the practice, during that part of the voyage, and in fact records only one service in total – during a layover in Tahiti. But one of Cook’s ‘passengers’, the young Joseph Banks, records Cook leading a service at least one other time – so we know Cook held divine service without noting it down. It is at least possible he read aloud from it while alongside Australia.

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