Jasperware medallion of Captain James Cook, by Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Bentley

Etruria, Staffordshire, England, AD 1779

James Cook (1728-79) rose from humble birth to be the pre-eminent eighteenth-century explorer. He joined the Royal Navy in 1755 and in 1768 he was appointed to lead an expedition to Tahiti to observe the Transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. During the voyage of the Endeavour (1768-71) he also explored the South Pacific, circumnavigating New Zealand and mapping the east coast of New Holland, which renamed Australia.

During his Second Voyage (1772-75) on the Resolution and Adventure, Cook continued his search for another southern continent. On the Third Voyage (1776-80) on the Discovery and Resolution, he established that there was no Northwest Passage through the middle of North America to the Pacific. A quietly charismatic figure, Cook was regarded with admiration and affection. In his dealings with indigenous peoples he was respectful and, in the earlier voyages particularly, endeavoured to maintain good relations.

This arresting full-face portrait of Cook was modelled by John Flaxman after a painting by William Hodges, who travelled with Cook on his voyage of 1772-75. The plaque is made of solid grey jasperware, a type of stoneware, its upper surface washed blue.

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More information


H. Cobbe (ed.), Cooks voyages and the peoples (London, British Museum Publications, 1979)

J.C. Beaglehole, The Life of Captain James Cook (London, The Hakluyt Society, 1974)


Length: 3.700 inches

Museum number

M&ME 1887,3-7.I.71


Gift of Sir A.W. Franks


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