A Ducal Voyage

Booksellers cherish provenance, and yet they are so often the engines of its destruction. I’m not sure that I’ve anything more profound than that to say on the matter, but if one’s going to rejoice in something, one must acknowledge one’s hypocrisy in the rejoicing, lest one be a hypocrite.

First, let’s sing the praises of the book itself.

Dampier, William. A New Voyage Round the World. Describing particularly, The Isthmus of America, several Coasts and Islands in the West Indies, the Isles of Cape Verd, the Passage by Terra del Fuego, the South Sea Coasts of Chili, Peru, and Mexico; the Isle of Guam one of the Ladrones, Mindanao, and other Philippine and East India Islands near Cambodia, China, Formosa, Luconia, Celebes, &c. New Holland, Sumatra, Nicobar Isles; the Cape of Good Hope, and Santa Hellena. Their Soil, Rivers, Harbours, Plants, Fruits, Animals and Inhabitants. Their Customes, Religion, Government, Trade, &c. Three volumes. London: Printed for James Knapton. Vol. I: fifth edition corrected, 1703; vol. II: third edition, 1705; vol. III: second edition, 1709.

First man to circumnavigate the globe thrice (a stretch, but a long stretch) and first Englishman to land deliberately on New Holland (present day Australia – oi, oi, oi!), William Dampier was a buccaneer promoted to the captaincy of a Royal Navy ship largely on the strength of the first volume of this book (which was originally published in 1697 as a stand-alone account). His accounts of the Southern Hemisphere – Brazil, Chile, China, Vietnam, Australia – gripped the nation so much so that he went on two further circumnavigations to satisfy their curiosity.

The influence of the work cannot be overstated. It contains the first natural historical observations on (and illustrations of) the species of Australia, and these helped to shape Darwin’s theories of evolution by natural selection. Its analysis of global currents and winds informed the explorers that succeeded him. Its Nachleben is equally literary: Dampier is mentioned by name in Gulliver’s Travels (and it seems quite clear that the Yahoos are taken from his description of the Hottentots); Alexander Selkirk, who was a likely model for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, was a crew-member on Dampier’s 1703 voyage; and Simon Hatley, who shot an albatross as a sailor aboard another of Dampier’s voyages, is immortalized in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Shouldn’t that be enough? Now to the provenance of the volumes. Behold: the full and florid signature of George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739-1817) along with the date.

The stature of Marlborough need hardly be rehearsed. Blenheim Palace is the only non-royal non-episcopal palace in England; just outside of Oxford, it is magnificent, and its library, called Sunderland after one of the secondary titles of the Duke (usually used as a courtesy title by the heir apparent: the Earl of Sunderland), was once one of the greatest in England. The fifth Duke, George Spencer-Churchill, was a noted bibliophile. Yet by the time of the seventh Duke (grandfather of Sir Winston Churchill), the finances of the estate were precarious, and he sold off pictures, furniture and books –  including the present volumes – 

to reverse his fortunes, which was not achieved until the marriage of his grandson, the ninth Duke, to Consuelo Vanderbilt, heiress of the Vanderbilt railroad fortune.

Second, a bookplate with the arms of the Wharton family (that’s a maunch, a stylized sleeve):

It is difficult to ascertain which Wharton’s bookplate is found in the volumes, and whether he was the owner before or after the Duke of Marlborough, in whose library it remained from 1779-1882. If before, it belongs to Thomas Wharton, M.D. of Old Park Hall, County Durham (†1714, son of Thomas Wharton, M.D., who was instrumental in ending the 1666 plague of London). The shape of the shield with its characteristic “ears” as well as the style of the engraving does point to an eighteenth-century date. If after, it belongs to a descendant of Thomas Wharton, Henry Wharton of Highfield, Canterbury, New Zealand (b. 1844), who will perhaps have bought it at the Quaritch sale of 1885-6. It would seem that the placement of the bookplate in vol. I respects the placement of the Duke’s signature, whereas the other two bookplates are centered on the page. The strong association of the work with the Antipodes would have made it attractive to the New Zealander.

We purchased it (in the interest of full disclosure) on the East End of Long Island, whither it came from some Gold Coast Mansion, no doubt.


Vol. I: A-Mm8 Nn4 [$4; –A1]. 284 leaves, pp. [10], I II-VI, 1-384 387-550, [4] [=xvi, 548, 4]. Three engraved folding maps, one engraved map. Collated perfect with British Library copy (303.h.22).

Vol. II: A4 B-M8 N4 Aa-Hh8 Ii4 Aaa-Ggg8 [A]4 [a]4 [B]4 [b]4 [C]4 [c]4 [D]4 [d]4 [E]4 [e]2 [$4; –Ii3; Ddd3 mis-signed as “Dd3”]. 258 leaves, pp. [8], 1-184, 21-132, [4], 31-112, [76]. Four engraved folding maps. The third and fourth maps (before 31 [Aaa1]) are reversed; otherwise collated perfect with British Library copy (303.h.23). 

Vol. III: A8 a4 B-M8 2A-O8 [$4; –A1, 2A1; H4 mis-signed as “G4”]. 212 leaves, pp. [24], 1-162, [14], [16], 21-198, [10]. Two engraved folding maps, thirty-one engraved plates (14 in part I, 17 in part II). British Library copy (303.h.24(1) and (2)) has plates of part I out of order; the present item is correct; else collated perfect.