I recently held a barbecue and determined to ascertain the correct spelling of barbecue. I turned to the online version of Oxford English Dictionary, a personal favourite from our recently acquired resources, for guidance.

It transpires that the word owes its etymological origins to a Haitian word barbacòa meaning 'a framework of sticks set upon posts' and was first cited by William Dampier in his work Voyages and Descriptions from 1699:

"... and lay there all night, upon our Borbecu's, or frames of sticks"

Dampier wasn't suggesting that he slept all night on a hot barbeque, rather, our modern definition of a barbecue ultimately derives from this frame of sticks or 'borecu' that could be used as a sleeping platform or placed over a fire and be used for cooking. You can read the very sentence on page 20 in Volume 1 of our 1729 edition of A collection of voyages by Dampier.


William Dampier (1651-1715) was an English buccaneer, privateer, captain, navigator, circumnavigator, naturalist, explorer, and author. He circumnavigated the globe three times and his New Voyage around the World is considered a seminal work travel literature, combining scientific observations, ethnography, geographical descriptions, and authentic voyage narrative.

In fact, Dampier's detailed empirical observations recorded in this book would later influence the scientific methods of observing and recording phenomena used by the naturalists Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin. Both James Cook and Joseph Banks relied on Dampier's A Voyage to New Holland as a guidebook for their exploration of Australia while generations of mariners used Dampier's works as guides to the Americas and Indies.

Such was the value of Dampier's writings that the 1699 supplement to Voyages and descriptions which included "A Discourse of Winds" was still being reprinted as part of the Admiralty Sailing Directions into the twentieth century.

Dampier's prodigious achievements have bequeathed us much, but did not prevent Jonathan Swift from satirising him in Gulliver's Travels, describing Dampier as "an honest man, and a good sailor, but a little too positive in his own opinions".

Gary (Assistant Librarian)