The Voyages of Captain James Cook

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

This intrepid navigator and explorer would make three prolonged voyages of discovery.

In 1768 the British Admiralty declared their intention of exploring further the South Pacific, and selected a ship (the Endeavor) and a captain, James Cook, to undertake the voyage. Just prior to Cook's departure, a ship commanded by a captain named Wallis returned from a two year circumnavigation, a trip plagued by bad luck except for one immensely good stroke: it had discovered Tahiti, which would prove to be the crown of Polynesia.

Tahiti was in every way the paradigm of "Paradise": beautiful, abundant in food, exceptional climate, and populated by wondrously attractive brown skinned women of very loving disposition, who wore tattoos on their thighs and flowers in their hair. (And little else.) Of added significance, its location corresponded exactly to the "ideal location" which the Royal Society had declared for observing the "transit of Venus", an infrequent circumstance the measurement of which would provide much missing information on the size of the earth and the distances of the known universe. Two strong influences were thus to combine in setting Cook loose on a new voyage of discovery: scientific and commercial, the latter having to do with the expectation that the discovery of terra australis incognita would supply millions of new customers for British trade.

Thus was Cook and the Endeavor poised to sail into history, a 368 ton, 106 foot bark with a compliment of 70 men, six carriage guns, 8 swivel guns, and provisions for a year. These included some novel experiments: sauerkraut, "portable soup", a goat (for milk) and potions to attend the dreaded scurvy, the English not yet privy to the value of citrus in this disease and not yet therefore assigned the moniker that would eventually identify any English seaman: "limey". The ship also brought trinkets which would appeal to the women of Polynesia: mirrors, colored beads, fish hooks, and scissors.

Two of the listed sailors among the crew were not actually on board: the two sons of Cook, ages 5 and 6, who were "earning sailing time", a common fraud among British officers to give family members "accumulated" experience at sea so as to accelerate their eventual naval promotions.

All great voyages have, or should have - to keep Hollywood from having to contrive it - a secondary and colorful character on board. The Endeavor had Joseph Banks, a young wealthy land owner and student of botany, who traveled with three "learned associates", four servants, and two dogs. Banks would precede Darwin in making many biological discoveries in this three year trip.

An interesting addition to Cook's instructions was a letter from the Admiralty to any superior officers that Cook might encounter, to the effect that Cook's mission was a secret of the British government and that he was not to surrender logs or materials to other officers and was to expect cooperation from them that might be required. Heady stuff, this. The discovery and claim to a warm, fertile, "Southern Continent" was the object of these special instructions. It turned out to be of no consequence that the hidden instructions concerning the Southern Continent appeared - as speculation - in the British newspapers when the Endeavor sailed.

Eight months later his ship landed at Tahiti. The Transit of Venus was measured. Then Cook explored further, finding New Zealand and Australia, claiming both for Great Britain. A "southern continent" went undiscovered. The Endeavor returned to England in 1771.

A year later Cook left England aboard the Resolution to pursue the southern continent. He circled Antarctica in iceberg loaded waters, finding mountains of ice and no place to land. He discovered and named the Cook Islands and New Caledonia, and returned to England in 1775.

His third and final voyage of discovery in Resolution (with a second ship) was to find the "Northwest Passage" from Europe via the North Pole to Asia. Sailing north from Tahiti Cook would be the first European to find western Canada and Alaska but no passage through the ice floes back to Europe. He returned south and discovered an island group he named The Sandwich Islands, which we now call Hawaii. It was there he died in a fight with natives.

Said Cook on embarking on the first voyage, "My goal is not only to go farther than anyone has done before but as far as possible for man to go."

And he did.
my bride, maiden name Cook, a probable descendent of Captain Cook, has a similar spirit of adventure

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