A Voyage for Whaling and Discovery round Cape Horn into the Pacific Oceans

Scope and Content

The manuscript contains narrative descriptions of the various islands the author visited during his mission, including the Galapagos Islands, as well as including extracts, presumably from the ship's logbook, of bearings and weather information during his voyage. It is extensively illustrated, with 37 water colours and 12 maps. The dedication to Lord Spencer is signed James Colnett, No. 17 Clements Inn, London.

Administrative / Biographical History

Born in Plymouth in 1752, James Colnett accompanied the British explorer Captain James Cook on his second voyage to the South Pacific (1772-1775), serving as a midshipman on HMS Resolution. On that voyage he was the first European to sight New Caledonia and Cape Colnett and Mount Colnett commemorated that sighting. In 1785, Colnett was given command of the Prince of Wales and jointly led a fur-trading expedition to the northwest coast of America. In 1789 he returned to the northwest American coast in the command of the Argonaut to set up a trading post and factory around Nootka Sound in present-day British Columbia. The mission culminated in a dispute with an intercepting Spanish force who sought to defend their own claims to the coast. His capture by the Spanish during the dispute nearly provoked a war between Britain and Spain but the matter was settled peacefully and he was released. Colnett's next mission was to explore the Pacific in 1793-1794 for purposes related to the whaling industry, particularly the identification of any possible islands and other ports for refitting, watering, and replenishing the British whaling fleet. The book he published on this mission in 1798, A voyage to the South Atlantic and round Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean, became an early reference for British whaling. Colnett's career at sea eventually closed with a final voyage as the commander of HMS Glatton, transporting four hundred convicts to New South Wales in 1802-1803. He died in 1806.

Source: Andrew C.F. David, 'Colnett, James (bap. 1753, d. 1806)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/64852.

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by Mrs Enriqueta Augustina Rylands, on behalf of the John Rylands Library, from John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer (1835-1910), in July 1892.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, with reference to:

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 53).

Custodial History

The manuscript was formerly part of the Spencer Library at Althorp, Northamptonshire, which was largely assembled by George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834); then by descent to John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer (1835-1910).