Scientist of the Day - John Hawkesworth
John Hawkesworth, an English playwright and author-for-hire, died Nov. 16, 1773. When Captain Cook returned from his first voyage around the world in 1771, he turned over his journals and those of his officers to the Admiralty, as he was required to do. The Admiralty then hired Hawkesworth to write the official narrative of the expedition, the assumption being that Cook, an uneducated merchant sailor from Whitby, was ill-equipped to do so.
Hawkesworth’s An Account of the Voyages ... in the Southern Hemisphere was published in 1773. In his narrative, Hawkesworth tended to downplay or omit the scientific achievements of the voyage and emphasized sensational scenes, such as the uninhibited sexual practices of the Tahitians. His Account was assailed from all quarters; Cook found it mortifying, literary critics found it unbelievable, and religious figures proclaimed it harmful to morals and unsuitable for women. Poor Hawkesworth was quite taken aback by the criticism and died before the year was out. All future narratives of Royal Navy voyages would be written by the commanders or by other officers on board. Cook would write the narrative of his second voyage and acquit himself admirably.
The images above are from the plate volume of Hawkesworth’s Account, and we show them with reluctance, since Hawkesworth had nothing to do with them. Still, they are the best feature of his Account, and depict: a kangaroo (drawn by George Stubbs); a Maori warrior; a breadfruit tree; and a Maori war canoe. We displayed the plate volume in our Grandeur of Life exhibition in 2009, where you may see an illustration of the Fuegians of South America, and we also displayed it in our earlier exhibition, Voyages, where you may see even more images, including one of some Tahitian islanders under sail.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.