The two hemispheres, showing the tracks of Cook's three voyages are based on Henry Roberts' 'A general chart exhibiting the discoveries made by Capt. James Cook in this and his two preceding voyages with the tracks of the ships under his command'. Roberts had long been charged with making a world map with all the tracks of all the voyages upon it -- Cook's legacy to the world. After the death of Cook, Roberts continued with the discharge of his instructions and the chart was published with the journals of the third voyage in 1784; the first map to chart the width of the continent of North America -- and by extension as its corollary the width of the Pacific -- it was a quantum leap from its immediate predecessors.
The embroidery of world hemisphere maps as pairs (sometimes described Western or New World and Eastern or Old World), separately framed or as a double hemisphere within a single frame, was popular during the later years of the 18th century. They were usually purchased already printed from a copper plate ready for embroidery, sold with coloured silks, gilt frames and a wooden stretcher (or tambour) for attaching and stretching the finished embroidery. Each individually named hemisphere would usually be suspended by a delicately embroidered looped bow and a garland of flowers and further decorated by figures allegorical of the four continents. The embroidery in black thread (blackwork is an embroidery technique of geometric patterns built up using Holbein stitch, also called double running stitch, and traditionally worked in black thread against a contrasting background with gold metallic highlights added for extra impact) was clearly intended to mimic the engraving found on printed maps and the expensive coloured silks, which heighten coastlines, imitate the hand-colouring on the engraved maps. The finely-embroidered maps were clearly intended to give the impression of serious geographical knowledge and, in those with exuberant floral borders, a well-observed knowledge of new flora and fauna so fashionable at this time. 'From the mid eighteenth century the list of geographical areas mapped in various publications started to increase, including detailed maps of China, Turkey in Asia and the East and West Indies. This expansion reflects the increasing geographical interest of the English in the eighteenth century and reveals a broadening of areas of the world with which English students and literate society were expected to be familiar. As travel, exploration and the spread of colonialism increased and printed maps became more widely available, the teaching of geography in schools became increasingly common. During the second half of the eighteenth century embroidered map samplers started to be worked in schools, becoming increasingly fashionable from the 1770s onwards. Publishing companies started to produce maps printed on linen or silk backgrounds specifically for girls to embroider' (J. and S. Jarrett and R. Scott in the exhibition catalogue Samplers -- Mapped & Charted, Witney Antiques, 2005 [p.2]).
The maps were symptomatic of the avid curiosity in and craze for Cook and his discoveries that swept through Europe in the late 18th century. The first edition of the third voyage issued in 1784 sold out in three days. It was priced at four and a half guineas, the 'Charts & views which were under Mr Dalrymple's direction were elegantly engraved at Reasonable prices, but the general chart which was under the sole direction of the admiralty cost a large Sum of money.' (Banks). Half of the proceeds were to go to Cook's family, and the interest on it to Cook's widow Elizabeth for her life.
While other recorded embroidered maps occasionally show the tracks of the early explorers (see for example the double hemisphere map of the world worked by the schoolgirl Martha Gibbons in 1784 showing the tracks of Davis, Anson, Cook's first voyage and others, and the 'Map of the WORLD from the latest and best AUTHORITIES' showing the track of Cook's second voyage, Witney, nos 22 and 18), embroidered maps showing just the tracks of Cook's three voyages are rare. One was included in the Witney exhibition, an unfinished double hemisphere world map with the tracks without remarks, and there is the single map of the western hemisphere, with the tracks of Cook's three voyages in blackwork on silk, attributed to Elizabeth Cook now in the Australian National Maritime Museum (cf. Beddie 495).
The present example, unusually on an inked rather than etched outline, is further remarkable for the numerous and detailed remarks which decorate Cook's tracks, suggesting the author was familiar with the text (the Antarctic passages from the second voyage quote Cook's own observations and particular nomenclature 'Antarctic Circle no ice to be seen', 'Antarctic Icy Ocean Many isles and fields of ice'). This close attention to Cook suggests the present lot may be a memento mori of the great navigator.