Collections Spotlight

The Bayly chart collection is connected to a dramatic chapter in the story of Captain James Cook, an important figure in colonial Canadian history. Cook was an English explorer who sailed in the Pacific and even attempted the west-east traverse of the Northwest Passage.

William Bayly was an astronomer and mathematician who sailed with Captain James Cook on his second and third voyages to the Pacific Ocean (1772-1775, and 1776-1779, respectively).

Bayly used his expertise in math and navigation to create hand-drawn charts of the lands and waters that Cook travelled. The Bayly chart collection is made up of six hand-drawn charts from Cook’s third and final voyage. The charts are important as early documentation of the Pacific and of events during Cook’s final voyage.

Cook took two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, on an expedition to find the Northwest Passage. He set off in 1776 and reached the Hawaiian Islands in early 1778. He then sailed across the Pacific to the Oregon coast and then north to Nootka Sound. He left Nootka Sound in April 1798 and arrived in the Bering Sea in August. He had to turn back when he encountered ice.

Cook eventually gave up trying to find the Northwest Passage and went south again. He spent some time sailing around the Hawaiian Islands. Initially, he had positive interactions with the Hawaiians he encountered. But that didn’t last, and he was killed in an altercation with the locals.

The six charts in the VMM’s collection are the actual items that sailed on those ships alongside Cook. They are hand-drawn in pencil and traced in pen. They include interesting quirks, like a small illustration of the Discovery, and circular pencil marks where Bayly seems to have used a compass to plot their position. On one of the charts, Bayly has penciled in “Cook’s Fall.” This is where Captain Cook was slain on the shores of Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii in 1779.

The oldest in more ways than one

Created between 1776 and 1779, the Bayly charts are some of the oldest items housed in the VMM Library & Archives. The Bayly chart collection is also among the first items added to collection. In 1918, the Art, Historical & Scientific Association bought the six charts that now make up the Bayly Chart collection. The Art, Historical & Scientific Association was the forerunner to the Vancouver Maritime Museum Society. The Bayly Chart Collection became part of the VMM Collection when the museum was established in 1958.

Digitized versions can be viewed online, and the originals are available to be viewed by appointment at the discretion of the librarian & archivist.

Image:  Map of North Pacific and polar chart, ca. 1779. Item number: 1991.0018.002.