The Rev. F.G. Johnson (who also loaned 'Captain Cook's Cross staff and case' to the 1905 exhibition) was, from c.1890 to 1904, headmaster of the Royal Academy, Gosport, a school to prepare boys for the navy, which was founded in 1791 by Dr William Burney (1762-1832), the author of Naval Heroes of Great Britain (London: 1806) and The British Neptune (London: 1807), and editor of W. Falconer's An Universal Dictionary of the Marine (London: 1830). Burney appears to have been the owner of some five relics of Captain Cook: the present piece; the cross-staff and case loaned to the 1905 exhibition; and three surveying instruments now in the Dixson Gallery, State Library of New South Wales, which share the provenance of Dr William Burney, founder of the Naval Academy, Gosport. These last three pieces are described by M.K. Beddie in her Bibliography of Captain James Cook, RN, FRS (Sydney: 1970, pp. 623 and 627), under entries 3662, 'IVORY SCALE RULE This relic goes with the sextant and pair of parallel rules placed at NPL:D DR 11 and DR 13. There is also a letter filed with DR 11 dated 29.4.1906 signed by E.A.A. Burney, stating that he believed that Captain Cook gave these relics to his grand-father, Dr William Burney, the then head-master and founder of Royal Academy, Gasport (sic).'; 3686, 'SCALE of sines, etc. for navigation purposes, in ivory, reputed to have been given to William Burney by Captain Cook. 'W.B. 1770' cut into surface.'; and 3689, 'SEXTANT ... In wooden box'.
Known originally as Burney's Naval Academy, the school successively enjoyed the patronage of William IV, Queen Victoria, and King Edward VII, and educated numerous members of the royal family through the 19th century. Johnson (who had taught at the school in the early 1890s) acquired the school, latterly called the Royal Academy, from the Burney partnership by 1896 and ran the establishment until it moved in September 1904 to Shalford Park, near Guildford. It therefore seems probable that Johnson acquired the present lot with his acquisition of the Academy from the Burney partnership (Edward, William's grandson was the last of the family to be headmaster) in or around 1896. Subsequently, the plane table rule was purchased from a descendant of Johnson's in the early 1960s by a collector, from whom it was acquired by the present vendor.
The plane table came into common use in Britain during the 16th century, and a form had evolved by the early-18th century which would remain the standard for the rest of the century. A plane table frame with rule and protractor such as this was intended to be placed over the edge of a plane table, thus securing the sheet of paper placed upon the table and also providing a scale of inches around each side of the sheet and different protractor scales, depending upon which face was turned uppermost. Once the table was correctly orientated (using a compass attached to its side), an alidade, usually of brass and with a sight at either end, would be placed upon the table: by sighting a distant object along the length of the alidade, its bearing could be read off from the protractor scale around the table, providing a simple, portable, and accurate instrument for surveying, which could be used effectively in most circumstances and enjoyed great popularity during the 18th century. (For similar English examples of the 18th century, cf. J. Bennett The Divided Circle, London: 1987, figs 48 and 153.)
Cook's first instruction in surveying -- and in the use of a plane-table in particular -- is recorded in a letter from the military engineer Samuel Holland to John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, recalling his time with Simcoe's son, Captain John Simcoe, on HMS Pembroke (to which Cook had been drafted in 1757) in the St Lawrence in 1758: 'The day after the surrender of Louisbourg, being at Kensington Cove surveying and making a plan of that place, with its attack and encampments, I observed Capt. Cook (then master of Capt. Simcoe's ship, the Pembroke man of war) particularly attentive to my operations; and as he expressed an ardent desire to be instructed in the use of the Plane Table (the instrument I was then using) I appointed the next day in order to make him acquainted with the whole process; he accordingly attended, with a particular message from Capt. Simcoe expressive of a wish to have been present at our proceedings; and his inability, owing to indisposition, of leaving his ship; at the same time requesting me to dine on board; and begging me to bring the Plane Table pieces along. I, with much pleasure, accepted that invitation, which gave rise to my acquaintance with a truly scientific gentleman, for which I ever hold myself indebted to Capt. Cook. I remained that night on board, in the morning landed to continue my survey at White Point, attended by Capt. Cook and two young gentlemen. ... During our stay at Halifax, whenever I could get a moment of time from my duty, I was on board the Pembroke where the great cabin, dedicated to scientific purposes and mostly taken up with a drawing table, furnished no room for idlers. Under Capt. Simcoe's eye, Mr Cook and myself compiled materials for a chart of the Gulf and River St Lawrence ... Mr Cook could not fail to improve and thoroughly brought in his hand as well in drawing as in protracting, etc., ... Mr Cook frequently expressed to me the obligation he was under to Captain Simcoe and on my meeting with him in the year 1776, after his several discoveries, he confessed most candidly that the several improvements and instructions he had received on board the Pembroke had been the sole foundation of the services he had been able to perform.' (Holland to Simcoe, Quebec, 11 January, 1792 quoted in R.A. Skelton, 'Captain James Cook as a Hydrographer', The Mariner's Mirror, Vol. 40, No 2 (1954), pp.97-8)
This experience of studying surveying under a military engineer, using techniques intended for use on land, left Cook 'plainly convinced of the greater precision of coastal surveys constructed on a system of measured bases and angles observed from stations occupied on land' by 1763 (Skelton, op. cit., p. 101). During this period -- prior to the establishment of the Hydrographic Department of the Admiralty -- coastal surveys performed by the navy were frequently poor in comparison to their military counterparts, and Cook was one of the pioneers of the use of military techniques for coastal surveying, becoming one of the foremost practitioners of his day; as Skelton notes: 'Cook's charts are in general notably correct in outline and accurate in their latitudes. If we compare his chart of New Zealand with the modern chart ... , it will be seen that the errors in longitude seldom exceed half a degree except in the north of the South Island' (op. cit., p. 109).
Prior to sailing on the Endeavour, Cook requested instruments from the Admiralty on 8 July 1768: 'Cook to Admiralty Secretary. +Admiralty Office. In order to make surveys of such parts as His Majesty's Bark the Endeavour under my command may touch at, it will be necessary to be provided with a set of Instruments for that purpose. Please to move my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to order me to be supplied with the under mentioned Mathematical Instruments.
Theodolite compleate -- one
Plane Table -- one
Brass Scale. 2 feet long -- one
Dble Concave Glass -- one
Glass for traceing Plans from the light -- one
A pair of large Dividers
A Parellel Ruler
A pair of Proportional Compass's
Stationary & Colours'
(Adm 1/1609; CLB, quoted in Beaglehole, I, Calendar of Documents, p.617)
Cook was then requested to provide the instruments asked for and to 'lay before the Admiralty an account of the expense thereof' and on 20 July 'Lieut Cook ..., having laid before the Lords a bill for the purchase of instruments, and stationary amounting to £48.10.00, the same to be sent to the Navy Board with directions to pay it. Instruments to be returned into Store when the Vessel returns from her Voyage.' (Adm 2/727; CLB)
Cook communicated again with the Admiralty on the subject prior to his departure on his second voyage: '30 April 1772. Before I sail'd from England in the year 1768 on my late Voyage, my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty were pleased to allow me a Set of Mathematical Instruments in order to make Surveys, Observations &c; the same Instruments being much in use in the course of that Voyage received considerable damage, which I have caused to be repaired and put on board the Resolution. I have likewise provided myself with a proper quantity of stationary, which with the Instruments amounts to Thirty nine pounds Seven Shillings & four pence ... which I pray you will be pleased to lay before their Lordships & move them to order me to be repaid.' '8 May Navy Board to pay £39.7s.4d for repair of Cook's instruments used in Endeavour' (quoted in Beaglehole, II, Calendar of Documents, pp.926-28).
For Cook's voyage equipment see D. Howse, 'The principal scientific instruments taken on Captain Cook's voyages of exploration, 1768-1780', in: The Mariner's Mirror, Vol. 65, No 2, pp.119-35.