is 1768. Europeans have sailed and mapped the coastline of the
Atlantic Ocean for generations. But much of the larger Pacific
Ocean remains unexplored. The Spanish sailing from Mexico to
the Philippines have much knowledge of the Pacific, but one
does not share such secrets vital to the national security.
The Dutch have settled in what is now called Indonesia to trade
for spices. There are many blank spots on the map of the Pacific.
Astronomers of the British Royal Society knew that the planet
Venus would pass (transit) between the sun and earth on June
3, 1769. Observing and timing this transit could allow them
to determine the distance between the sun and earth. One of
the best places to observe the transit of Venus would be in
the South Pacific. The British Admiralty selected a ship and
a captain to carry astronomers to the South Pacific, and to
determine if there was a large land mass or continent (terra
australis) in the South Pacific as geographers suspected.
The Admiralty selected a 39 year old Navy Lieutenant to command
the expedition - James Cook.
James Cook was born of modest
circumstances, and went to sea at the age of 17 as an apprentice.
He sailed on colliers (coal ships) out of the port of Whitby,
learned to navigate, and earned his papers as a mate in the
merchant marine. England and France went to war (the French
and Indian or Seven Years War) and Cook joined the Royal Navy
as a seaman. His experience in the merchant marine led to
his promotion to master or navigating officer in the Navy.
He conducted several survey (map-making or charting) missions
of the St. Lawrence River and the coast of Newfoundland which
earned him a reputation as a superior navigator and map-maker.
Captain Cook's first voyage
departed England in August 1768. The ship, ENDEAVOR, was a
collier of the type Cook had sailed as a young man. A collier
was chosen because of its shallow draft and flat bottom which
would allow them to get closer to shore, and be less harmed
by running aground. A collier also has a large cargo capacity
which would be important for a long voyage. ENDEAVOR was only
106 feet long and had a crew of 80 men and 11 scientists.
ENDEAVOR arrived in Tahiti
in April of 1769, where they spent three months to observe
the transit of Venus. Relations with the natives were generally
good, although they stole one of scientific devices needed
to observe the eclipse, which Cook was able to recover. Some
of the crew got tattoos, and began a tradition among sailors
that is still alive today. After observing the transit of
Venus, Cook opened his sealed orders to learn of the second
half of his mission.
Cook sailed around and charted
New Zealand, and became the first European to determine there
was a North and South Island. Cook claimed New Zealand for
Great Britain, and had several battles with the Maori. He
then sailed to the then undiscovered east coast of Australia,
and charted most of it. ENDEAVOR grounded on the Great Barrier
reef, and was beached for repairs. Imagine being thousands
of miles from home with a ship whose hull has a huge hole
in it. Cook and his crew were able to patch the hole then
sailed north to Batavia (now Jakarta), a Dutch settlement,
to obtain permanent repairs.
ENDEAVOR finally returned to
England in July of 1771, almost three years after departing.
Cook had been able to fill in many areas of the world map
on the voyage.
Cook's second voyage began
a year later, with two vessels, the RESOLUTION and the ADVENTURE,
both colliers. Cook had been promoted to Commander and given
command of a new expedition to determine if the south magnetic
pole was on water or land, to claim land for England, to chart
the South Seas, and collect scientific data and samples. For
the first time, a ship sailed with chronometers or clocks
which would allow them to determine their longitude, or how
far east or west the were from the prime meridian in Greenwich,
England. Previously, navigators could only determine how far
north or south they were using the star Polaris and the sun,
and could only guess at their east or west position.
During this voyage Cook discovered
Antarctica, charted most of it, and determined it was all
ice. He returned to Tahiti and New Zealand, and discovered
and charted Tonga, Fiji, the Society islands, the New Hebrides,
and New Caledonia. He returned to England in July 1775, after
another three year voyage. He lost only four men in three
years, an amazing record in those days.
Cook's third and final voyage
began in 1776 with RESOLUTION and DISCOVERY, another collier.
He had again been promoted, to Captain. His mission for this
voyage was to determine if there was a north-west passage
above the North American continent. He sailed around Africa
and stopped at Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti on the way
north. He named Christmas Island and passed by some of the
Hawaiian islands and then sailed up the coast of Alaska into
the Arctic ocean until stopped by ice. He returned to the
Hawaiian islands to replenish and repair his ship. He named
the islands after John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich, a friend
After sailing the Hawaiian
Islands for eight weeks looking for a harbor, Cook moored
in Kealakekua Bay on the Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.
He was initially welcomed and treated well by the Hawaiians.
Some think the timing and circumstances of Cook's arrival
caused the Hawaiians to consider him a representative of the
god Lono. After a month he got underway, but returned within
a week after the foremast on the RESOLUTION was damaged. At
this point relations with the Hawaiians got bad. A longboat
from RESOLUTION was stolen and a guard killed. Cook went ashore
with sailors and marines to kidnap a chief to trade for the
stolen longboat. A fight developed, and Cook was killed. Some
claim he was eaten, but this cannot be established conclusively.
But Hawaii was now accurately plotted on European maps, and
things would never be the same.
The voyage continued under
the command of Captain Clerke of the DISCOVERY, returning
to England in 1780.
Captain Cook was probably the
greatest navigator of his day, and is honored particularly
in Australia for being their discoverer.
For more information on Captain
James Cook, by Michael Dickinson.
James Cook, the World's explorer, by Nathan Kerl, who
also has some excellent
photos of Cook and the ships.
of James Cook
Navigation in the 18th century
involved both science and technology. As to science, navigation
requires a knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. Astronomy
to identify stars and planets, whose movements astronomers
had recorded in tables. Once one has measured the angle of
the star above the horizon, and noted the time, you can then
determine where you are on the surface of the earth using
spherical trigonometry. The most important technological device
for the navigator was an accurate clock, which Cook tested
on his second voyage. Without a clock or chronometer the navigator
can only determine their position once a day at sea by using
the sun at its highest point. If one is coasting (sailing
along a coast) you can use landmarks to determine your position.
Away from the coast, all you have is the sun, moon and stars.
The sailing ship was the most
technologically advanced device of its time. Thousands of
ropes, spars, pulleys and levers designed to use the wind
to propel a ship. Mastering how to sail a ship efficiently
and safely was a major accomplishment. Long voyages often
meant more than half of the crew died due to accident or disease.
Medicine was just beginning to understand that humans required
vitamins to remain healthy. The seaman's diet of bread and
meat, with no fruit and vegetables caused scurvy, a sometimes
fatal disease that is simply a deficiency of vitamin C. As
this knowledge spread, captains gave their crews fresh vegetables
and fruit as long as they could, and then provided sauerkraut,
vinegar or lime and lemon juice. The nickname 'limey' for
British sailors is supposed to come from the practice of giving
them lime juice to avoid scurvy. Although Cook lost almost
half the men on his first voyage, this was due to disease
acquired ashore in Batavia. His loses on the second and third
voyages were minimal due to disease and reflected his habit
of keeping the ship and crew clean and healthy.
Voyaging | Hawaii History
About the Author: Brian N. Durham
is currently editor of My
Hawaii News, a publication of The 'Ohana Network.
A retired Coast Guard officer with 22 years of service, Brian
is a member of the Hawaii Bar and has worked for the Hawaii
State Legislature and the Linda Lingle Campaign Committee.