JAMES COOK  1728 - 1779  (G2, G3a)

xxxxxThe English navigator James Cook was one of the greatest explorers of all time, famous not only for the extent of his discoveries and the quality of his seamanship, but also for his enlightened leadership. He took part in the naval operations which assisted in the capture of Quebec in 1759, and then commanded three voyages to the Pacific. During his first expedition (1768-71) he surveyed the coasts of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia (1770), and discovered a number of South Sea Islands. On his second voyage (1772-75) he explored the Antarctic in a vain attempt to find the legendary "southern continent", chartered Tonga and Easter Island, and discovered, among other islands, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in the Atlantic. The final expedition (1776-79) reached the Bering Strait, but failed to find a passage through to the North Atlantic. However, Cook chartered both the American and Asian coastlines before returning to the Hawaiian Islands, discovered earlier in the voyage. Here he was killed during a skirmish with some islanders over a stolen boat. Artists, astronomers and botanists accompanied his expeditions, including the English naturalist Joseph Banks.

xxxxxThe British naval captain and navigator James Cook, the greatest explorer of the 18th century, spent a good half of his service in North American coastal waters, but he is remembered today for his three voyages to the Pacific Ocean. These expeditions took him from the Bering Strait to the ice fields of the Antarctic, and from Australia and New Zealand to the scattered islands of the South Seas and southern Atlantic. Few mariners have matched his contribution to navigation, cartography and discovery, and few have equalled him in courage, determination and quality of leadership.

xxxxxCook was born in Marton, Yorkshire, the son of a Scottish farm labourer who had settled in England. On leaving school at the age of 12, he worked on the land for a while and then, at the age of 18, was apprenticed to a Whitby ship-owner, serving aboard sturdy colliers plying the North Sea. In 1755 he joined the British navy as an able-bodied seaman and was quickly singled out for his knowledge of the sea, his able mind, and his leadership qualities. He was made a master within four years.

xxxxxThe first twelve years of his service were mostly spent in the North Atlantic. During the Seven Year's War he saw action in the Bay of Biscay, and then took part in the naval operations against the French in North America. Here, by his survey of the channel of the St. Lawrence River, he contributed to the successful attack upon Quebec, achieved by the climbing of the Abraham Heights further down stream. After the war he surveyed the coastal waters of Labrador, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and such was the accuracy of his charts that they were published for general use.

xxxxxIn August 1768, as lieutenant in charge of the Endeavour, a sturdy Whitby collier, he was given command of a scientific expedition to Tahiti in the South Pacific to observe Venus eclipsing the Sun, a rare phenomenon. Organised by the Royal Society, he had on board some artists, an astronomer (Charles Green), and two botanists, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. Having reached Tahiti (illustrated) and successfully witnessed the eclipse in June 1769, he then set out to find Terra Australis Incognita, an unknown continent thought to be situated further south. He passed through the Society Islands and then, sailing southwards, sighted New Zealand, first discovered by the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in 1642. He spent several months surveying both islands, chartering and mapping some 2,400 miles of coastline and making a number of landings, the first being at Poverty Bay on the east coast of North Island where the Maoris were somewhat hostile.

xxxxxThen, having made claim to territory on both islands, the expedition sailed west and discovered the unexplored coast of eastern Australia. Determined as ever to map uncharted waters, he then sailed northwards, surveying about 2,000 miles of the coastline. It was during this voyage that, in 1770 he landed in Australia for the first time, naming the place Botany Bay and claiming the area as New South Wales - because the coastline resembled that of Glamorganshire in Wales. Later, however, off today's Cooktown, the Endeavour made an unwelcome discovery - the Great Barrier Reef. As a consequence, it was grounded on a coral reef for a time, but was re-floated after some hasty repairs. Cook then began his homeward journey via the Cape of Good Hope, stopping for a refit at Batavia in Java, and proving by way of the Torres Strait that there was water between Australia and New Guinea. The expedition reached England in July 1771 (see map of voyage below), where Cook was well received. He was presented to the King and promoted to commander.

xxxxxApart from being highly successful both as a scientific venture and a voyage of discovery, the expedition was significant for a vital medical reason. By insisting on attention to cleanliness, and including cress, sauerkraut and citrus fruit in the ship's daily food, Cook did not lose a single man from scurvy, the scourge of mariners for centuries. As we have seen, pioneer work in treating this disease had been done by the Scottish naval surgeon James Lind in 1754 (G2). Cook was one of the first naval officers to put his advice into practice.

xxxxxThe Admiralty being as determined as ever to discover the elusive, so called "southern continent", a year later Cook was sent out again to the South Seas. He commanded the Resolution and was accompanied by the Adventure. So much scientific data had been collected during the first voyage that, once again, scientists and artists went along. Having rounded the Cape of Good the expedition headed south, making the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle in January 1773. Soon, however, sailing conditions became extremely hazardous, with stormy seas and the presence of gigantic ice floes. There being no sign of land, Cook turned to the east and made for New Zealand and the warmer waters of the South Pacific. It was here that the two vessels became separated and the Adventure returned to England, becoming the first vessel to circumnavigate the globe from west to east.

xxxxxIn the meantime Cook, after making another unsuccessful attempt to penetrate the Antarctic, returned again to the South Seas. Here he chartered Easter Island and Tonga, sighted some of the "Cook" and Hawaiian islands, visited Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands, and then, making for New Zealand, discovered the New Hebrides, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island. On his return journey home, he rounded Cape Horn and discovered South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic. He then turned north, calling in at Cape Town on his way to England.

xxxxxThis epic voyage (see map below), lasting three years and covering some 60,000 miles, not only discovered new islands across the South Pacific and in the South Atlantic, but finally disproved the existence of a "southern continent", - though, unknowingly, Cook had landed on such a land mass during his first voyage! Furthermore, the voyage had proved the accuracy of Harrison’s “watch machine”, thereby solving for all time the problem of making an accurate calculation of longitude while at sea. For his services to science Cook was made a fellow of the Royal Society and, in addition, was awarded the society's prestigious Copley medal for a paper submitted on the means of combating scurvy.

xxxxxHis third and what proved to be his final voyage to the South Seas was made in an attempt to find a Northwest Passage between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, north of Alaska and Canada. Promoted to captain, he sailed again on the Resolution, setting out in July 1776. He was joined by the Discovery at the Cape of Good Hope, and from here they visited Tahiti and went on to discover Christmas Island and the Sandwich Islands (later renamed the Hawaiian Islands). Then, having reached the west coast of North America, Cook stayed a month at Nootka Sound, near Vancouver, before sailing northwards and making a continuous survey of the coastline as far as the Bering Strait. Here, however, the way was blocked by thick ice, and the ships had to turn back. Nonetheless, Cook was the first to see both sides of the strait and thus prove that Asia and America were two separate continents. In travelling south, he sailed along the coast of Asia, surveying the coast of Siberia as he went. The expedition then made for the Hawaiian Islands and it was here, in February 1779, that Cook and four members of his crew were killed in a skirmish with the islanders over the theft of a boat (illustrated). The captain's bones were eventually recovered (the flesh had been burnt) and they were committed to the deep. The expedition then made for home.

Click Image to EnlargexxxxxQuite apart from Cook's extraordinary ability in seamanship, navigation, cartography and hydrography - fields in which he set new and extremely high standards - the care he showed for the welfare of his own men, and the good relations he built up with the natives he encountered, was well in advance of his time. And in addition to his wealth of new discoveries, his expeditions proved of enormous value scientifically - particularly in botany -, whilst his highly descriptive log provided a useful, fascinating record of new lands, their people and their customs. In 1777 he also wrote of his experiences in his A Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World. Few men have served their country better, or improved the map of the world to such an extent. The diarist Fanny Burney wrote of him: ”He was the most humane and gentle circumnavigator that ever went out upon discoveries”.

xxxxxIncidentally, William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame was sailing master of the Resolution on Cook's final voyage, and the explorer George Vancouver served with Cook on his second and third expeditions. ......

xxxxx...... OnXhis return to England, Tobias Furneaux (1735-1781), the captain of the Adventure during Cook's second voyage, brought back a Tahitian named Omai. A dignified young man with great charm and excellent manners, he proved an overnight sensation. Having met Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and been placed in the care of Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, he was presented to the King and Queen at Kew just three days after his arrival (illustrated). From that time onwards he was wined and dined in high society, being seen as a living example of the "noble savage" conceived by the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. He had dinner with the Royal Society ten times, and amongst those who entertained him were Samuel Johnson, Fanny Burney and Joshua Reynolds, who also painted his portrait! He returned to his homeland in 1776 aboard Cook's vessel the Resolution and, so it appears, died soon afterwards. ……

xxxxx…… ThexLondon-born artist William Hodges (1744-1797) accompanied Cook on his second voyage. One time assistant to the landscape painter Richard Wilson, over 20 of the oil paintings he produced from the voyage are now in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. He later painted landscapes in India, and gained the patronage of Warren Hastings, then governor-general of Bengal. His paintings below show a view of the Cape of Good Hope (painted from aboard HMS Resolution), Dusky Bay in New Zealand, and HMS Resolution and HMS Adventure in Matavai Bay, Tahiti.


Cook: detail, by the English portrait painter Nathaniel Dance-Holland (1735-1811) c1775 – National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Tahiti: by the English painter William Hodges (1744-1797), late 18th century – Ministry of Defence Art Collection, London. Antarctica: drawing by the English artist William Hodges (1744-1797), 1773 – National Library of New Zealand, Wellington. Death: by the English artist George Carter (1737-1794), 1781 – National Library of Australia, Canberra. Map (The World): licensed under Creative Commons – mrrhine.wikispaces.com. Presentation: date and artist unknown – National Library of Australia, Canberra. Hodges: Cape of Good Hope – National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London; Dusky Bay – Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand; Matavai Bay, Tahiti – National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Banks: detail, by the English portrait painter Thomas Phillips (1770-1845), 1810 – National Portrait Gallery, London.



William Hodges,

Joseph Banks, and

Louis Antoine de Bougainville

xxxxxThe English naturalist Joseph Banks (1743-1820) accompanied Captain Cook on his first voyage around the world. He returned with something like 3,500 plant specimens, some 800 of which were previously unknown. Because of the large variety of flowering shrubs and plants he found at the place of the expedition's first landing - just south of present-day Sidney - the area was named Botany Bay. During the voyage, the Banks Peninsular in the South Island of New Zealand was named after him, as was Banks Island in the south west Pacific and the genus of shrubs known as Banksia. But his research was not confined to botany. Apart from collecting, drawing and describing a wealth of new plants, he studied the fauna of the lands visited, and at Poverty Bay in New Zealand, together with Cook, he gave a detailed description of the local natives, the Maoris.

xxxxxBanks was born in London of a wealthy land-owning family. He was educated at Harrow and Eton, and attended Christchurch College, Oxford. Prior to his voyage with Cook, he had visited Newfoundland and Labrador as a botanist in 1766, returning with 340 plants, and having documented 34 species of birds, including the Great Auk (illustrated and now extinct). And following his voyage to the South Seas, he went on an expedition to Iceland to study the geysers. During a long career he encouraged a number of English explorers, including George Bass, George Vancouver and Matthew Flinders, and he gave financial support to the geologist William Smith, then working on the first geological map of Great Britain.

xxxxxHe was appointed president of the Royal Society in 1778 and held this office for 42 years. It was as a result of his friendship with George III that the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew were extensively developed. Under his directorship it became a major centre of botanical research. He also played a part - together with Count Rumford and others - in the founding of the Royal Institution, established in London in 1800 to encourage scientific education and research.

xxxxxAndxit was through Banks’ initiative that the African Association came about. Formed at a meeting in London in 1788, it aimed to promote the discovery of the interior parts of Africa and, to a large extent, marked the beginning of the age of African exploration. It was motivated by worthy intentions - such as the abolition of the slave trade and the spread of learning - but the opportunities it gave to British trade were not overlooked. Banks was knighted in 1781.       

xxxxxIncidentally, Banksxwas accompanied on his voyage to the South Seas by his assistant, the Swedish botanist Daniel Solander (1736-82). A student of his fellow countryman and naturalist Linnaeus, he later became keeper of the natural-history department at the British Museum, London.


Xxxxx…..… It appears that Banks placed a price on his services. The story goes that he refused to go on Cook’s second voyage because he was not allowed to take two horn players to play for him during dinner! As a result, thexbotanists on Cook's second voyage were the German scientists Johann and Georg Forster, father and son. In addition to collecting botanical specimens they also observed climatic changes. In 1777 Georg published his A Voyage Round the World, based mainly upon his father's journals.

xxxxxThe first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe was the explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811). After serving with the army in Canada during the Seven Years' War, taking part in the defence of Ticonderoga and Quebec, he joined the navy in 1763 and voyaged to the south Atlantic. Here he established a French colony on the Falklands - though it was bought out by the Spanish four years later. He began his world tour in 1766, during which he claimed Tahiti for France, visited Western Samoa and New Guinea, and explored some of the Solomon islands. Several Pacific islands are named after him, but today he is best remembered for the climbing plant Bougainvillea. His two-volume An Account of a Voyage Round the World was published in 1772. Later, during the American War of Independence, he took part in the naval operations against the British off the coast of North America.