The very first printed description of the Endeavour voyage: first edition, first issue by MAGRA, James - 1771 | Michael Reid Gallery

MAGRA, James
The very first printed description of the Endeavour voyage: first edition, first issue, 1771

Magra, James, attributed.

A journal of a voyage round the world in his majesty’s ship endeavour, in the years 1768, 1769, 1770 and 1771; undertaken in pursuit of natural knowledge, at the desire of the royal society: containing all the various occurrences of the voyage, with descriptions of several new discovered countries in the southern hemisphere; and accounts of their soil and productions; and of many singularities in the structure, apparel, customs, manners, policy, manufactures, &c. Of their inhabitants.

Quarto; a good copy in modern quarter calf and marbled boards by Sangorski and Sutcliffe.

London, Becket and De Hondt, 1771.


First edition of the earliest published account of Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific: the rare first issue, with the leaf of dedication to ‘The Right Honourable Lords of the Admiralty, and to Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander’ inserted to add authenticity. Legal action mounted against the publisher forced removal of the leaf during publication. ‘It is accordingly of the greatest rarity, and copies of the book containing the dedication are far more valuable than those without it…’ (Davidson). In this copy, the offending leaf is unusually large, retaining its printed instruction to the binder ‘Place this next the title’ (which also, interestingly, indicates that the leaf was printed quite separately from the rest of the work).

This was the first of a series of so-called “surreptitious accounts”of Cook’s various voyages to appear in print: the Admiralty found
it practically impossible to enforce their ruling that no unofficial publications should pre- empt the official and lengthier accounts of the voyages, naturally slower in the press. Published anonymously some two months after the return of Endeavour and nearly two years before Hawkesworth’s official account, the great Cook scholar Beaglehole has demonstrated that the likeliest author was American sailor James Magra, a New Yorker and a loyalist.

Cook thought Magra ‘one of those gentlemen, frequently found on board Kings Ships, that can very well be spared, or to speake more planer good for nothing…’., but if he was indeed the author it was he that got the first description of the voyage into print – and incidentally the earliest printed account of the east coast of Australia, published even before acceptance of the name Botany Bay, here called Sting-ray Bay as Cook originally christened it. Subsequently changing his name to Matra to ease his inheritance of a Corsican estate, he became an enthusiastic promoter of the mooted convict colony at Botany Bay, producing various schemes for government and testifying to the House of Commons committee enquiring into the resumption of transportation in May 1785, as one of the few Europeans then alive who had actually visited New South Wales.

Bagnall, 3324; Beaglehole, I, pp. cclvi-cclxiv; Beddie, 693; Davidson, ‘A Book Collector’s Notes’, pp. 53-4; Hill, 1066 (but recording second issue only); Hocken, p. 9; Holmes, 3; O’Reilly-Reitman, 36

In association with Hordern House.

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