The Pacific is a mighty ocean, and its vastness is incomprehensible to most men. Indeed, this ocean, Balboa’s Mar del Sur, is the largest geographical entity on the planet Earth. It covers approximately one-third of our globe, encompassing an area equal to that of all the continents and islands. The historical literature of the area is growing and is deserving of the attention of Latin Americanists. Most of us have been Eurocentric, have faced Iberia whence it all began, and have devoted our attention to the Atlantic and the Caribbean (with an occasional acknowledgment of the Manila galleon and Drake at California). However, the shores of eleven member nations of the OAS are washed by the Pacific, and lands bordering this ocean contain the bulk of the world’s population.
Four years ago I wrote an historiographical essay on Magellan for this journal HAHR, 51:2 (May 1971), pp. 313-335, in which I stated that “Magellan, unlike Columbus, has not been very lucky with regard to biographers.” His luck has certainly not changed for the better in the volume under review. Ian Cameron opens with an error, ascribing a clubfoot to Magellan—he limped as the result of a wound—and closes with another: the mystery of the day lost in circumnavigating the globe did not “puzzle mathematicians and astronomers for several decades” (p. 208). Peter Martyr obtained the obvious explanation within a short time. The basic source for any book about Magellan is Antonio Pigafetta’s Relation. Cameron does acknowledge this in his bibliography (which contains only twelve titles in addition to the Relation), and cites the Yale University Press edition of 1969 as being the only complete version in the English language. That is incorrect. J. A. Robertson provided an excellent translation in 1906; Lord Stanley’s Hakluyt Society edition appeared in 1874; and an English translation of the French translation was published in 1969. However, some excerpts from the Relation employed by Cameron do not come from any of these translations; e.g., a quotation of more than a dozen lines from Pigafetta on page 197. Did Cameron make his own translation? If so, from which manuscript? Surely, it is a disservice to scholarship not to provide the source. Indeed, despite the frequent use of quotations, sources are given in only two instances and then to a novel based on Magellan’s voyage. There is much that is strange about this book, not the least of which is the thesis; namely, that the Philippines, not the Spice Islands, were Magellan’s goal. Cameron misplaces the Sargasso Sea (probably confusing it with the Sargasso Loop) and incomprehensibly refers to cannon as “carronades,” a Scottish term that is scarcely applicable to Iberian weaponry (and which was not invented until the eighteenth century). Magellan deserves better.
Kenneth E. Hill, a businessman, yachtsman, and ex-naval officer, began with Captain Bligh’s account of his voyage and the mutiny on the Bounty, plus other books relating to that unfortunate ship, and he assembled a fine collection on the subject of Pacific voyages and explorations that is housed at the University of California, San Diego in the library located at La Jolla. The published bibliography is valuable to researchers because it makes known the location of certain hard-to-find items. It does not contain an index, which would be useful if one wanted to check books in the collection about a specific individual; e.g., Magellan. The annotations too often employ superlative adjectives and adverbs and are uncritical (cf. the English translation by John Stevens of Herrera’s Historia). The collection is certainly catholic, containing first editions of Moby Dick, as well as many items which have only the most tangential relationship to the Pacific, such as the Exploration of the Colorado River. And why Morison’s translation of Columbus’s Journal, especially since there are certain egregious lacunae in the collection, and primary sources are available (and even in print): the voyages of Carteret and Roggeveen and The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks? And hardly any thing about Balboa, the discoverer of the ocean? It would have been helpful if a statement had been included explaining what guidelines or principles were established for purchases.
James Cook was the greatest navigator who ever lived. Indeed, all modern navigation may be said to have begun with Cook. The late John Cawte Beaglehole, his latest (and best) biographer, employed a methodology that may be termed “total immersion.” Beaglehole edited four volumes of Cook’s journals, comprising more than 4,000 medium octavo pages, for the Hakluyt Society. These have been distilled to the 700-page Life. Not surprisingly, it is primarily an account of the three voyages of discovery and exploration. The first commenced in 1768 and ended in 1771, during which he commanded a ship for a cruise to the Pacific with the object of observing the transit of Venus, a circumnavigation by way of Cape Horn, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Batavia, and the Cape of Good Hope. The second, lasting from 1772 to 1775, commissioned him “to complete the discovery of the Southern Hemisphere,” which he certainly did on the great voyage when he circumnavigated the globe three times and sailed a distance nearly equal to three times the earth’s circumference. The voyage took him down to the Antarctic around the Pole, and not a single man died from scurvy, thanks to Cook’s insistence on a regimen of antiscorbutics and sanitation. The third, commencing in 1776, had as its objective the determination of the existence of a northeast passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic. It was on this voyage that he charted the North American coast, sailed to almost 71° N., and discovered the Hawaiian Islands, where he was killed at Kealakekua Bay in February, 1779.
The journals Cook wrote enabled Beaglehole to reconstruct and write the definitive account of the three voyages. Yet we learn precious little about the man: his boyhood, his married life, his passions. But this is not the biographer’s fault. Cook was “a hard man, and a friendless man in the intimate sense.” He was a sailor first, last, and always. Outside the small circle of his family, the only human being toward whom Cook expressed anything approaching affection was the young surgeon, William Anderson, who died on the third voyage. Yet this is not a bare bones, dry as dust biography. That Beaglehole was not a “just the facts” writer can be appreciated in his lyrical descriptions of Tahiti and his assertion of its significance for “the whole history of the western mind.” James Cook’s epitaph might well read as prosaically as his name: “he answered questions and filled in blanks on the map. But to do this, he had to be a genius, and he has received his due.”