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There are over 8000 items in the Birthplace collection. Every month we’ll be choosing an item to look at in more detail on this page. You can contact us to find out more about the whole collection.

Anna Seward's 'Elegy on Captain Cook' 1780

On the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook's voyage on the Endeavour, we take a look at an item in the library relating to him, and to his links with Samuel Johnson. 

Anna Seward wrote her “Elegy on Captain Cook” in 1780 after his death in 1779. Anna never met Cook, but she did admire the work he was doing. She became friends with David Samwell, who had sailed with Cook on the third voyage as the ship surgeon. This friendship would last until Anna’s death. Samwell gave Anna some gifts from the voyage, which included feathered necklace called Erei worn by females of the Sandwich Islands and other “Otahitian gifts” that he had collected on the voyage. Anna gave these to Richard Greene, who had a museum in Lichfield.

Greene’s also displayed items from the first voyage, which are described in his 1773 Catalogue as:

"A Fishhook, made of the Bone of a Fish tied to a piece of Wood.

A Fishhook of Sea Shell

An Adze of Flint, curiously bound to an handle of Wood;

the three abovementioned Articles were brought by Mr Banks and Dr Solander from George Island, South Seas.” (Mr Banks and Dr Solander had travelled with Cook on the first voyage)

The Anna Seward item and the Richard Greene Catalogue are the only collection objects relating to Cook in the Birthplace Museum, but there are some other links between Samuel Johnson and Cook. The two men did not meet, but they did have some friends and acquaintances in common, for example James Burney, who sailed with Cook on the HMS Resolution on his second voyage and on the HMS Discovery on the third. James was the brother of Fanny Burney, the novelist and great friend of Samuel Johnson. James Boswell, Johnson’s friend and biographer, met Cook after he returned from his second voyage. They dined together with mutual friends.#

Despite not having met, one aspect of Cook’s travels inspired Johnson to put pen to paper. There was a goat on board HMS Endeavour, which had already been around the world on a ship called The Dolphin. The goat survived its second trip, so was allowed to retire to pasture. Samuel Johnson wrote an epigram to the goat:

Perpetua ambita bis terra lactis

Haec habet altrici Capra secunda Jovis.”

Which Boswell translated as:

“This goat who twice the world has traversed round

Deserving both her master’s care and love,

Ease and perpetual pasture now has found.”


Quotation mark

I should as soon have thought of building a man of war, as of collecting such a museumQuotation mark

Samuel Johnson signature

Bust of Samuel Johnson by Joseph Nollekens RA, 1777

Published: 8 Jan 18

Plaster Cast. Museum number 2000.63, Donated by Mrs EL Browne, 1904 Read More...