Encyclopedia of Exploration 5: Reviews

Reviewer - Ian Boreham

In 2010 at the AGM of the Hakluyt Society, I heard Ray Howgego give a talk on his researches that led to the book under review.  He said that during the eighteen and nineteenth centuries more books were published of invented travels that of real ones.  Some were spoofs, but many appeared to the public to be true accounts.  His researches had shown it was sometimes difficult to tell fact from fiction.

The previous four volumes in Howgego’s series of encyclopedias comprise a catalogue of all known expeditions, voyages and travels for the periods covered, as well as biographical information on the travellers themselves.2  The latest volume is a book about books; 2800 books by 1800 authors and fictional travellers, and over 600 imaginary place names.  They are organised by author, or the attributed author, of each work. Three indexes cover the names of the authors and travellers, the imaginary places visited and the titles of the books.  Regrettably there is not one for every person mentioned, so looking up

Howgego has helped Cook enthusiasts by the creation of a special article covering the “spurious and speculative accounts relating to the voyages of James Cook”.  There are also summary lists of the “invented narratives of travel set in Australia and New Zealand”.

The Cook article (C37) lists 18 books published between 1773 and 1792.  Howgego says some were “allegedly written by members of Cook’s crews or by those who claimed to have followed in his wake.”  A few relate to Omai, often considered to be an ideal “noble savage”, but most were lampooning Joseph Banks “and his amorous activities at Tahiti”.  Although most of these narratives were published in English, there are some in French and German.  My favourite title is The Philosophical puppet show; or, Snip’s inauguration to the President’s chair. Addressed to Sir J----- B----, baronet, a celebrated connoisseur in chickweed, caterpillars, black beetles, butterflies and cockle-sehlls [sic].  Howgego identifies the anonymous author, considers how the book came to be written and how many copies of it still exist.  This dedication of research enhances the value of this encyclopedia greatly.

Howgego has so much to say about the Travels of Hildebrand Bowman, Esquire that he dedicates a separate entry (B40) to it.  Bowman allegedly sailed in Adventure and got left behind in New Zealand  Published in 1778 it has never been reprinted.  Howgego identifies the author as John Elliott, who sailed in Resolution, based on the research of Rowan Gibbs, published in 1994. Cliff Thornton has recently been investigating other possibilities.

Browsing the list (N4) of “invented narratives of travel, romance and adventure” located in New Zealand published from 1682 to 1902, I chanced upon the name of William Henry Giles Kingston (1814-80).  Howgego records him as the author in 1872 of Waihoura.  The Maori Girl.  But I know him as author of Captain Cook: His Life, Voyages and Discoveries, published in 1871 and reprinted many times afterwards.  It was fascinating to read a biographical piece about him,

WARNING: This book is addictive.  Whilst turning the pages my eyes spotted the word Hawkesworth amongst some text.  I ended up reading about the Swedish poet and novelist Carl Jonas Love Almqvist, who wrote Parjumouf in 1817 about Australia.  He uses the name Ulimaroa for the continent, a word heard during Cook’s visit to New Zealand.  The Maori used it to describe a far off land; it was published in Hawkesworth’s account of Cook’s First Voyage .

Regrettably there is no index for real people mentioned throughout the text, such as John Hawkesworth and Joseph Banks.  Those of us without sufficient fingers and thumbs to keep in multiple pages whilst jumping around this book are aided by three ribbons that can be used as place markers.

A wonderful book about fiction that complements the many other books about reality.



The publication of this, the fifth volume, in Raymond Howgego’s monumental Encyclopedia of Exploration, rounds off one of the most remarkable publication ventures to have taken place in Australia. It is also an event that, for a time, did not seem likely to occur. For when the fourth volume of the Encyclopedia was published, in 2008, Howgego’s reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement, the distinguished writer on exploration, Filipe Fernández-Armesto, noted the author had stated his work was complete and that he was threatening ‘like Catullus, to take to his bed’. For all those with an interest in exploration, including the remarkable field of invented narratives, the fact that Howgego found the energy for this final volume is a cause for celebration.

In his ‘Introduction’ to this volume Howgego notes that in previous volumes of the Encyclopedia he had drawn attention to the existence of narratives ‘of suspect or dubious nature’, and that some of these came to be cited as genuine contributions to the literature of exploration. His reflection on this fact led to the present volume as his investigations revealed the existence of some 1,000 invented and apocryphal works. The result in this volume is a detailed compilation and review of these works, with reference to some 1,800 authors accompanied by impeccable scholarly apparatus in the listing of those authors, place names and books.

The result, to repeat a term I applied in a review of an earlier volume, is yet another ‘great plum pudding of a book’, rich in its entirety and full of the most delicious and unexpected individual delights. For while at first glance the subject of this volume might seem arcane, we have all at one time or another encountered the kind of material that Howgego reviews. Think of the well-known examples of the genre which are all reviewed here: Robinson Crusoe (Howgego lists several hundred ‘Robinsonades’ inspired by Defoe’s original),  Gulliver’s Travels and, from a later age, King Solomon’s Mines. Perhaps less immediately expected are the listings for Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of three novels featuring the fictional explorer Professor George Challenger, with the first of these The Lost World. And who would connect the name of Joan Lindsay of The Picnic at Hanging Rock, with, in Howgego’s description, the ‘hilarious spoof’, Through Darkest Pondelayo, a romp through a fictional isle somewhere in the Indian Ocean with landmarks such as ‘Dead Mother-in-Law’s Cove’ and ‘Mount Blim Blam’?

Australia, as a subject both before and after European settlement, features prominently in the collection of fictional narratives, with the authors an eclectic group, including Jonathan Swift, of course, but also Lady Mary Fox whose mother was William IV’s long-term mistress, Dorothea Jordan (An Account of an Expedition to the Interior of New Holland, 1836) and King Stanislaw I of Poland (Entretien d’un Européan avec un insulaire de Dumocala, 1752).

In its final form the entries in the five volumes of the Encyclopedia of Exploration total some 4.3 million words, all the work of a single man, the English former Physics teacher whose own love of travel has been central to this achievement. In a previous review I have dwelt on the quality of the Encyclopedia’s production and the fact of its Australian publishing identity. What I have nor previously noted is the fact that the existence of these five volumes stems from a decision made by the publishers, Hordern House, to commission Raymond Howgego to undertake this mammoth task at a time when neither the publishers nor the author had previously had any dealings with each other. The result has been serendipity of the most admirable kind. (A declaration of interest: the Directors of Hordern House are personal friends of this reviewer, but I have had no role of any kind in the compilation and publication of the Encyclopedia.)

At a time when there so much reference to the ‘death of print’ there is a measure of reassurance for lovers of traditional books in the fact that the Encyclopedia of Travel is not available on the web! Nevertheless, the publishers are ready to provide researchers with the text of individual entries on request under conditions set out in the following link:

Milton Osborne is a Non-resident Fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney. His most recent book is, Phnom Penh: A Literary and Cultural History, Signal Books, Oxfordt and Oxford University Press, New York, 2008.