Journal exhibit to offer glimpse of Capt. Cook

Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2006


  The Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center has received a grant to display copies of Captain Cook's journals that, for now, are in storage out of sight from the public. The books are more than 200 years old. Photo by M. Scott Moon

The Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center has received a grant to display copies of Captain Cook's journals that, for now, are in storage out of sight from the public. The books are more than 200 years old.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Just how Capt. James Cook could ever have imagined Cook Inlet to be a river is beyond a little puzzling, but a close read of his travel journals does offer insight into the explorer and his voyages.

Soon, a published set of those journals will be exhibited at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center for all to get a better look at Cook’s quest for a northern passage to Europe.

Titled “A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean,” the journals describe the journey on the opening page as having been “undertaken by the command of his Majesty, for making discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere to determine the position and extent of the west side of North America; its distance from Asia; and the practicability of a northern passage to Europe, performed under the direction of Captains Cook, Clerke and Gore in his Majesty’s ships the Resolution and Discovery in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779 and 1780.”

Thanks in part to a $7,000 to $10,000 grant, the visitors center will be preparing an exhibit of the set of leather-bound books, printed in 1777 and 1784, including drawings and maps of areas Cook visited.

According to Natasha Ala, programs and exhibits coordinator, special display cases will be built for the exhibit, allowing viewers to look at the books through a plexiglass cover and read entries that will be copied and enlarged and mounted on wall placards.

One excerpt detailing the Cook Inlet venture says: “... all the low land which we had supposed to be an island or islands, was one continued tract from the banks of the great river to the foot of the mountains to which it joined; and that it terminated at the south entrance of this eastern branch which I shall distinguish by the name of River Turnagain.”

Cook had misidentified the inlet as “the great river,” and Turnagain Arm as its “eastern branch.”

One account details an encounter with Native people near Point Possession: “... about 20 of the natives made their appearance with their arms extended, probably to express thus their peaceable disposition, and to show that they were without weapons.”

The journal entry says the Discovery’s surgeon, Mr. Law, bought a dog offered by the Natives, and then, on returning to the landing boat, killed the dog with his musket.

The surgeon, “shot it in their sight,” the journal states.

“This seemed to surprise them exceedingly ... they walked away; but it was soon after discovered, that their spears and other weapons were hid in the bushes close behind them.”

According to Ala, some historians believe shooting the dog was an outward show of dominance by Cook’s men. She said members of the Dena’ina tribe have passed down the story from generation to generation and still question why the dog was killed without purpose.

The journal exhibit will possibly include artifacts from Cook’s 10-day voyage up the inlet.

In another entry involving Natives along Cook Inlet, Cook writes: “I will be bold to say, the Russians themselves have never been amongst them: for if that had been the case, we should hardly have found them clothed in such valuable skins as those of the sea-otter.”

The journals were donated to the visitors center by Mary Margaret Casey, a Kasilof resident, who received them while serving as a librarian in Montesano, Wash.

She said they were given to her by a young couple who were cleaning out the attic of one of their deceased parents. The donors were steered to Casey as someone who appreciated books.

“I donated them because I didn’t want them to end up where people couldn’t see them,” she said.

Ala said a second edition of the journals, which will also be part of the exhibit, was donated by Donald Mellish.

In the introduction to the journals, Capt. Cook credits King George with revitalizing the spirit of discovery, saying, “Soon after his accession to the throne, having happily closed the destructive operations of war, he turned his thoughts to enterprizes more humane, but not less brilliant, adapted to the season of returning peace.”

The exhibit is tentatively slated to open in February.

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