The 18th century citizens of Europe, Canada, and the United States began to crave news and tales of their exploring heroes. In 1784, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, Undertaken by the Command of His Majesty, For Making Discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere was published under the English Admiralty and the Royal Society. It included three volumes and an atlas of engravings of Captain Cook’s expeditions. The first two volumes focused on the writings of Cook himself, and the third, by Captain James King, detailed the parts of the journey following Cook’s death in Hawaii. The first printing sold out in three days, and the records of the public library in Bristol show that 18th century readers were eager to borrow such accounts of exploration. Officers and crewmembers of Cook’s expeditions also began to publish accounts, disregarding Naval orders not to make their journals public. That the crew would risk going against orders to print their versions of the expeditions demonstrates the demand for such books and the money to be made from them.
Accounts of overland expeditions held equal fascination. Alexander Mackenzie’s journals were published in England in 1801 as Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence, through the continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans in the years 1789 and 1793: with a Preliminary Account of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Fur Trade of That Country. Demand soon resulted in North American and German editions that held both valuable information about North America and a literary appeal for readers.Expedition journals were printed as books and in periodicals for the “armchair explorers” at home. By publishing their experiences, expedition participants were also able to share and improve upon information that would increase the knowledge and safety of their colleagues. Captain Vancouver’s brother John prepared Voyage of Discovery in 1798 based on his deceased brother’s journals. It was intended as a navigational aid that Vancouver himself suggested was “calculated to instruct, even though it should fail to entertain.” All these publications were translated and printed in several editions, making their way to Spanish seafarers who had little access to the records of the expeditions of their own countrymen. The Lewis and Clark expedition reputedly carried Mackenzie’s Voyages publication as a helpful source on their cross-country journey.