Visualising the Voyage of the Endeavour

Captain James Cook, painted in 1768

Work on the follow-up to The English Monster is proceeding apace. I’m in that slightly chaotic space where it’s hard to unpick the boundaries between research, thinking and writing; lots of reading and viewing going on, and before too long I’m going to be visiting actual, you know, places to have a poke around. I’ve also potentially got quite an exciting advisor who might be helping with the project – more of which another day.

But today I thought I’d post something about the fun I’ve been having with using Google Earth as a visualisation tool for what would otherwise be just words on paper. Part of the second book revolves around the voyage of His Majesty’s Bark the Endeavour, the ship in which James Cook and Joseph Banks sailed around the world, visiting Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand and a whole host of points in between. It was an epic three-year journey, which made both men’s names and led to a whole host of interesting outcomes, which will be explored in the book (I should add that the second book is a novel, like the first – I make no claims to be writing scholarly history here).

The two main sources for information on the voyage are the journals of Cook and Banks themselves. Cook’s journal was published as a book after their return; Banks’s never was, but it did provide the source material for other books, and in many ways is actually the better read, though Cook’s is the more methodical, as befits a naval captain.

I’ve been experimenting with turning these journals into something visual, using Google Earth. All I’ve done is take Cook’s journal (which, like that of Banks, is in the public domain on Wikisource) and create a new point in Google Earth for each day of the voyage, apart from the days when the vessel wasn’t going anywhere (such as the wait between arriving at Plymouth from London, and finally departing). Cook provides longitude and latitude for each day, although as his entries make clear gauging longitude in particular was still an inexact science, though getting better quickly.

What you end up with is a tour of the voyage – or at least you will when I’ve finished. For now, I’ve only done the very first part of the voyage, from London to the equator. You can download the kmz file here; just save it to your computer, and then open it in Google Earth and there you will have it. It’s very alpha at present, and probably full of mistakes – let me know what you find.

UPDATE: Or, even more simply, I’ve now embedded the file in this page, using the Google Earth embed gadget. This may not work on all browsers, and I think you need the Google Earth plugin for it to work, but here’s a try:
I should add that this idea is hardly a new one – there’s a nice tour of Matthew Flinders’ voyage to Australia on the Investigator, which you can find here. But I haven’t been able to find a tour of the specific Endeavour voyage.

Personally, I’ve found this exercise really useful in understanding both the shape and scope of the voyage, and in particular it’s been fascinating (and occasionally amusing) to compare the viewpoints of the austere professional mariner and the intelligent and emotional natural philosopher. Let me know what you think.

Web publishing: now officially ridiculously easy

So, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m no coder. I’m no designer. I can write a bit. And I can install and configure software, but then so can you if you’ve got pretty much any kind of mobile device. I understand (sort of) FTP and file permissions and basic Unix commands (I mean really basic) and I (sort of) understand how data files on computers morph into web pages on other computers.

And yet somehow this technical illiterate has managed to launch a website for his wife’s primary school with no help whatsoever from anyone who knows what they are doing. It’s WordPress, of course. It’s on its own domain (with 34sp). It’s got accounts for half-a-dozen teachers who can log into it and update it. It’s got a Twitter widget which I’m reliably informed will be actively used. The website’s got all the data about the school: term dates, contact details, newsletters from the head. It costs, all-in, maybe 90 quid for the first year. Including the domain. It looks rather nice too, thanks to a WordPress template by Worldoweb which is somewhat quirky (both visually and – ahem – technically) but which I’ve been able to hack about a bit.

It’s even got an RSS feed, for Christ’s sake.

So tell me: why isn’t everyone doing this? And why do so many school websites look so terribly awfully rubbish?