Captain James Cook's incredible epic voyages of discovery are as controversial now after 250 years as ever.
In light of recent public debate in this new six-part series, Sam Neill re-examines Cook's legacy, delivering new perspectives from the Pacific cultures left in Cook's wake.
Cook first set sail to the Pacific in 1768.
These vast waters, one third of the Earth's surface, were uncharted - but not unknown.
A rich diversity of people and cultures navigated, traded, lived and fought here for thousands of years. Before Cook, the Pacific was disconnected from the power and ideas of Europe, Asia and America.
In the wake of Cook, everything changed.
In conjunction with the 250th anniversary of the HMS Endeavour's departure from England, actor and raconteur Sam Neill takes a deeply personal, present-day voyage to map his own understanding of James Cook, Europe's greatest navigator, and the immense Pacific Ocean itself. Setting sail on a great ocean tanker as well as many a smaller craft, Sam crosses the length and breadth of the largest ocean in the world to experience for himself a contemporary journey in Cook's footsteps.
From The Economist
Endeavour: The Ship and the Attitude that Changed the World. By Peter Moore
One clear moonlit night in June 1770, James Cook ran into yet more proof of how remarkable the newly explored continent of Australia was.
Literally: his ship, Endeavour, ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef.
The next 23 hours were spent bailing water in terror, until finally Endeavour slid free.
Ship, captain and the intelligence he had gathered returned to England—and a rapturous welcome.
Rarely has a craft been so well named.
As Peter Moore shows in his new book, Endeavour was more than merely the first English vessel to reach New Zealand and Australia’s east coast.
She was also a floating laboratory, a vast seed-bank and an international observatory.
Along with sails and anchors she carried telescopes, microscopes, two artists and several scientists.
Endeavour was the spirit of the Enlightenment under sail.
At the time (1770) Captain Cook's map of New Zealand was remarkably accurate
She was also much less elegant than is Mr Moore’s immersive account of her life, from acorn to ending.
The ideals she came to serve belied her earthy beginnings.
Built in Whitby of Yorkshire oak, twisted and hardened by Yorkshire winds, Endeavour had been designed to carry not intellectuals but coal.
When Australian Aboriginals first saw her, they imagined she was a “big bird” with animals clustering about her wings.
Her crew referred to their matronly ship as “Mrs Endeavour”.
Yet when Britain decided to seek out Terra Australis, she was the craft chosen for the perilous undertaking.
It had been over two millennia since Aristotle discussed the idea of a southern continent in which men would stand with their feet (-podes) opposite (anti-) those of Europeans.
A century before Cook, a Dutch seaman called Abel Tasman had returned with reports of a land whose people were “rough, uncivilised, full of verve”.
Yet still the bottom-right corner of maps remained indistinct.
It was a tantalising smudge.
This was the great age of labels, in which educated men roamed the earth naming and (they felt) taming it.
Surveying the world today is like looking at a schoolboy’s desk: the scratched names remain, even if many of the boys are forgotten.
This enjoyable book breathes life into characters better remembered for their namesakes than themselves: Tasman (Tasmania), Louis Antoine de Bougainville (bougainvillea) and Carl Linnaeus (Linnaean classification).
Captain James Cook FRS (7 November 1728 – 14 February 1779) was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy.
Cook made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.
Cook joined the British merchant navy as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755.
He saw action in the Seven Years' War, and subsequently surveyed and mapped much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege of Quebec.
This helped bring Cook to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society.
This notice came at a crucial moment in both Cook's career and the direction of British overseas exploration, and led to his commission in 1766 as commander of HM Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages.
In three voyages Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe.
He mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously achieved.
As he progressed on his voyages of discovery he surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time.
He displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.
Cook was attacked and killed while attempting to kidnap Kalaniʻōpuʻu, a Hawaiian chief, during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific in 1779.
He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which was to influence his successors well into the 20th century, and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.
The Royal Society, the moving spirit behind Endeavour’s mission, was less concerned with colonisation than with science.
Its chief interest was in observing the transit of Venus: by measuring its duration from both hemispheres, the data could be used to accurately calculate the distance of the sun.
Botany was a close second.
By the summer of 1768 the team had been chosen.
On July 30th Cook, his crew and a bumptious young botanist named Joseph Banks left their last London anchorage.
Their triumphant voyage changed the world.
Its very map could be redrawn; the sun could be set more securely in the sky and, thanks to Banks’s samples, the catalogue of known plants increased by a fifth.
The reputation (and in some cases egos) of Endeavour’s crew swelled similarly.
Linnaeus was so impressed by the trip that he gave Banks his own binomial classification, addressing a letter to “Immortalis Banks”.
Banks was not the sort to demur.
He may be immortal; Endeavour was not.
She limped on, transporting first food to the Falkland Islands, then troops to the American war of independence, before finally being scuttled off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1778.
- The Guardian : Endeavour by Peter Moore review – the ship that changed the world
- The Times : Review: Endeavour: The Ship and the Attitude that Changed the World by Peter Moore
- CaptainCookSociety : Moore's book review
- GeoGarage blog : James Cook: The Voyages / Wreckage of Captain Cook's HMS Endeavour ... / Capt. James Cook raised an ocean of knowledge