Author plots a course for Gisborne
Evoking in the reader a sense of being aboard HMS Endeavour in 1769 was one of author Tessa Duder’s aims while writing First Map: How James Cook Charted Aotearoa New Zealand.
She wanted the reader to feel the challenges the explorer experienced as he voyaged into the unknown and he faced the hazards of sailing around an unfamiliar coastline. It was from the decks of a stumpy collier repurposed as a scientific vessel that the ship’s captain literally put New Zealand on the map.
As Duder will explain when she visits Gisborne next week to talk about her illustrated non-fiction account, the book tells the human story behind the creation of Cook’s famous chart. Since it was published in 1773 in the Admiralty’s official account of the Endeavour voyage, Cook’s chart of New Zealand has long been regarded as one of the most extraordinary achievements in the history of cartography.
Nothing is swept under the carpet in First Map: How James Cook Charted Aotearoa New Zealand, says Duder. The first three days of cultural misunderstandings, blunders and fatal shootings are accurately presented.
Raiatea chief Tupaia, who joined Cook’s expedition to New Zealand from Tahiti, got barely, if any, mention during the 1969 200th celebrations of Cook’s landfall but plays a significant role in Duder’s book.
“We have — not before time — stopped talking about his voyages of ‘discovery’. Tupaia’s role during the circumnavigation is now properly acknowledged.
“Tupaia was a man of great intellectual curiosity.”
Cook’s cartographical brilliance is at the heart of the book but Duder includes Tupaia’s map of Pacific islands catalogued in the British Library as a “Chart of the Society Islands with Otaheite in the centre July-Aug 1769”.
Two navigational traditions are juxtaposed. Cook used a compass, a sextant to measure latitude, a primitive wooden log to measure miles sailed, a leadline to measure depth and vigilant sailors as lookouts as he mapped the coastline of three islands at the easternmost edge of the globe.
The “sea of islands” in Tupaia’s chart, in which many of the islands seem to be misplaced, are now believed to be mapped on paper “in accordance with how traditional Pacific navigators conceived of their sea environment, i.e., through memorised lists of ‘relevant pairs of islands plus so-called “star courses” between these islands’, say Anne di Piazza and Erik Pearthree in their paper A New Reading of Tupaia’s Chart.
While Cook is not romanticised or glorified, Duder’s focus in writing the book was on how the famous chart was created during those six months, and at what cost to him, his crew and ship.
“I set out to write a straightforward, even-handed account of Cook’s navigation of New Zealand,” says Duder.
“I wanted to show the chart as a magnificent achievement.”
Scenes from the text are recreated by award-winning illustrator David Elliot in this large format book.
While First Map is a non-fictional work, creative licence gave the writer room to imagine an authentic moment.
“There’s a passage in my book that imagines them standing side by side, embodying two navigational traditions. Both are reading sea and stars, each coming from their own tradition.
“My book pays tribute to both of them.”
Meet Tessa Duder and hear the story of how James Cook charted New Zealand at Tairawhiti Museum on Thursday, September 19 at 5.30pm. Tickets $5 from Muirs Bookshop or Tairawhiti Museum.