Captain Cook's Travels

A Naturalistís desk from the Resolution

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

This piece of furniture has sailed around the world, on Captain Cook's ship, the Resolution. The desk, made around 1770, belonged to Johann Reinhold Forster, the naturalist who went with Captain Cook on his second voyage of exploration. The desk is made of mahogany, and the carrying handles on the side show that it was cabin furniture: they would have been used to tie the desk on board the ship, to keep it steady in rough seas!

Each of Cook's voyages included a scientist. Johann Reinhold Forster was a polymath, and studied botany, zoology, anthropology and native languages. The work he did at this desk was about lots of different subjects. Although it is difficult to read what the letter on this page says, it shows the style of writing in those days - quite 'messy' because of the type of paper, pens and ink that were used.

Young person's response to this object:

I like how it has been further around the world than most people.
Joe Mee

Discussion Ideas:

  • What do you think a polymath was and can you think of anyone today who might be described as a polymath?
  • What other furniture do you think might have been taken on Captain Cook's voyages?
  • How do you think science plays a part in exploration today?
  • What ways do you think today's technology could help people in remote countries?
  • We are so used to typing on computers and texting on mobile phones today, there may come a time in the future when people can no longer write 'freehand'. Do you think this is likely to happen and if it does what do you think about this?

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