Books Afloat & Ashore: a History of Books, Libraries, and Reading among Seamen during the Age of Sail.

p. 4: In 1631, when Captain Thomas James fitted out his vessel in Bristol for a voyage in search of the Northwest Passage, he purchased ‘A Chest full of the best and choicest Mathematicall bookes that could be got for money in England; as likewise Master Hackluite and Master Purchase, and other books of Journals and Histories. [see C Miller, ed. Voyages of Captain Luke Fox of Hull, Hakluyt Soc. London 1894, p. 265-67, 606 p.]

p. 7: Luke Foxe makes light of his failure to order many books; Frobisher purchased just 8 books for his first journey including travel books and cosmological treatises, and one good practical navigational manual.

p. 15-16: A good look at the contents of a ship’s scientific library of this period is afforded in an account of a similar voyage of discovery begun seventeen years after that of the [Cook’s] Endeavour. The ill-fated expedition of France’s Comte de la Pérouse was furnished with a large collection of books at its outset in 1785. Over 119 entries appeared in the catalog of the library which was intended on the voyage ‘for the use of the officers and men of science embarked’ under the command of La Pérouse. The traditional mariner’s choice of voyages, including ‘Hawkesworth’s Voyages, and Cooks three Voyages, in French and in English’ headed the category of books of interest to mariners—astronomy and navigation, which numbered nineteen treatises, not counting ‘all the usual books of navigation.’ For the scientists, eight titles in physics were listed along with sixty-five in natural history, a category that contained works on science in general, botany, zoology, chemistry, languages, and the Mémoires de l’Académie des Sciences.

The example of La Pérouse’s library furnishes also one last observation concerning the early provision of books to seamen, which is rather self-evident. Libraries and book collections at sea, no matter what their content or intended usage, were exposed to an additional destructive hazard not shared by similar collections ashore—shipwreck. La Perouse and his ships, as Carlyle wrote, ‘vanished trackless into blue immensity,’ and so did his books. The library at sea, often formed to serve some temporary expedient, could and did perish even before its fleeting mission was fulfilled. But if the library did survive a long voyage, often the volumes composing it, like the men composing the crew of the ship, might be disbanded and lost sight of forever at journey’s end, or might be recruited again for further service.

[ Notes connection between Joseph Banks and Cook—a book collector and explorer working together.]