By 1776, Captain Cook had already achieved fame, having commanded two scientific expeditions under the auspices of the Admiralty in conjunction with the Royal Society.
The purpose of Captain James Cook’s third and last voyage, on board HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, was to find the Northwest Passage, but the vessels were blocked by a wall of ice.
Cook’s achievement in this voyage was, instead, the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, the charting of Alaska’s coastline, and the exploration of the North Pacific up to 70° N.
Returning south to Hawaii, the ships anchored in Kealakekua Bay. A fight broke out after the theft of a cutter, and James Cook met his death in the ensuing melee. The expedition made another attempt at the Northwest Passage before returning to the Thames via China. Cook was mourned throughout England.
The Library holds the first edition, classmark G.20.04-06. The third volume of the book was completed by James King, Cook’s second lieutenant, after Cook's death. The fourth undated volume, in a large folio, containing all the illustrations, is a Thackeray bequest, classmark H.19.25.