James Cook: The Voyages by William Frame with Laura Walker

About this book

In 2018, it will be 250 years since James Cook set out for the South Pacific on the Endeavour.  To celebrate this anniversary, there will be an exhibition at the British Library from April to August next year, drawing on the Library’s remarkable collection of maps, diaries, paintings and drawings to tell the story of Cook’s voyages.  As well as maps and diaries prepared by the British sailors, scientists and artists, the exhibition will show works by the Tahitian navigiator Tupaia, who travelled with Cook to New Zealand and Australia.  A fascinating exhibition catalogue has been prepared, which foregrounds the work of Tupaia and considers the colonising impact of Cook’s voyages; ostensibly, the first voyage had a scientific purpose (to observe the transit of Venus), but private instructions from the Admiralty gave Cook the additional mission of acquiring new territories for the British Empire.  The catalogue discusses the colonising motives underpinning the voyages, and the impact of the British visitors on Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Hawai’i.  The catalogue has around 200 illustrated pages and is roughly 50,000 words long.  I was asked to provide a name index that included the illustrations and was 600-650 lines long.  The authors and publishers were keen that the careful research done on the names of the indigenous people of the countries Cook visited was reflected in the text.

Approaching the index

I didn’t ask for a printout of this book, and read the PDF on my laptop.  In retrospect, that was a mistake, as this is a larger format book and it wasn’t all that easy to read.  I marked up the PDF using a larger monitor, which was easier.  Again, I made a mind map of the categories of people, places and things with names, to help me select my terms.  I also did some thinking about how to deal with indigenous names, English transliterations, and places that had or still have two names commonly used.  After some email discussion with the publisher, I decided on the following approaches:

  • for indigenous names of people, I would use the correct spelling as specified in the text as the preferred term.  If  incorrect English versions or transcriptions appeared frequently in the book, I would include a ‘see’ reference to the correct version, rather than double entry.  This avoided effacing the correct spelling or transliteration with the English colonial versions.   I also added misspellings that occurred frequently in the text as qualifiers.
  • for placenames, where both English and indigenous names were used in the text and are currently in use,  I would use double entry under both forms, with the other name included as a qualifier at each entry
  • for placenames where the English name is no longer used, I would use a see reference

I also did some preparatory reading on Maori names, which was helpful – the Indexer Centrepieces on names were invaluable here.


Placenames probably gave me the most trouble in this index.  I ended up doing a lot of research to see if both local and English names were still in use, in order to make a decision about whether to use both names in the index.  I also spent a lot of time with an atlas open at the Pacific page, trying to get my head around the shape of Cook’s voyages.

The double entry approach gave me most difficulty in the entry on New Zealand.  There were Maori and English names for most of the places mentioned.    The general entry on New Zealand had a lot of locators, and needed subheadings.  Should I, for example, include both North Island and Te Ika a Maui, its Maori name, as subheadings, duplicating the locators each time?  In the end, this is what I did, to ensure the index user would find the information whichever name they used.

All names needed careful transcription and checking.  I cut and pasted the most challenging names, and checked them all thoroughly. There were some diacritical marks that Sky didn’t seem to want to handle, so I also needed to put those in manually at the end, once I had the index in .rtf form.

Some people – Cook himself, but also Joseph Banks and several of the artists who travelled on the voyages – had a lot of meaningful entries.  This led to long strings; in a name index, I wasn’t quite sure how to break them up.  In the end, for the majority of these, I used placenames as a subheading, reasoning that the entry for the artist Sydney Parkinson, for example, would be easier to use if locators about his travels and his work was linked to particular places.  For Cook himself, I cheated a bit and put in some biographical subject subheadings; there were lots of locators referring to his death, for example, so I included a subheading for that.

Clarifying what all these names were gave me pause for thought, too.  For ship names, Michael Forder’s Indexer Centerpiece on military indexing was very helpful.  I started off with placeholder text to distinguish people, places, and gods.  I swithered about keeping these in as qualifiers, but eventually removed them because they made the index look very cluttered.  Also, if you are looking for Purea in this index, you probably know she is a Tahitian chief and not a mountain or a lake.


The structure of the book made it very easy to point the user at significant mentions, which I highlighted with bold locators.  Key people and places had short chapters devoted to them which included useful summary information. There was very little repetition despite the complex narrative of journeys and so many characters moving in and out of the story.

I also enjoyed getting to grips with some of Sky’s useful features.  I’d used labels before, but for this book I used them to flag illustrations – very helpful for a final check on illustration locators at the end – and to label the different nationalities of each name.  I also discovered the marvellous Propagate Edits tool, which helped me get rid of lots of placeholder notes while editing.

Mainly, though, the pleasures of indexing this book were in its beauty – the illustrations really are wonderful – and its insightful examination of Cook’s journeys.  I learned a great deal.

Lessons learned

It was worth putting in the efforts to work out a strategy for dealing with the indexing of names at the start; this supported my decision-making later on, although I did have to think about whether and how to break my self-imposed rules.  I did slightly better at anticipating the long strings of locators for this book, but there was still a lot of reworking of this at the editing stage.  I also made too many entries, and had to cut down significantly to fit in with the line limit.  I need to think more about how to avoid this – I had a rough target per page, but pages with several illustrations invariably pushed me over that.

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