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Lieutenant James Cook's journey round New Zealand

James Cook was born in Yorkshire, England, and entered the navy as an able seaman in 1755. By 1768 he had been promoted to first lieutenant, and was given command of the bark Endeavour, a well constructed ship of 368 tons.

Endeavour Replica

In this same year, Cook received instructions to set sail for the Pacific in order to study the passage of the planet Venus across the disc of the sun. This was predicted to take place on 3rd June 1769, an event which would not take place again for another 105 years. The second set of instructions concerning this voyage were secret. After the observation of Venus, Cook was to search for the mysterious and elusive “southern continent” - Terra Australis incognita.

On 26th August 1768, the Endeavour set sail from Plymouth, stocked with 18 months supplies, and with 94 men aboard. Accompanying Cook were Joseph Banks, the botanist, Daniel Solander, a naturalist, and Charles Green, from the Greenwich Observatory.

On 13th April 1769 the Endeavour laid anchor in Tahiti, where the the passage of Venus was duly observed, in perfect conditions. Friendly relations were established with the Tahitians. A Tahitian chief named Tupaia, who spoke some english and who wanted to travel, joined the Endeavour with his boy servant when the ship left Tahiti for New Zealand, and the search for the southern continent. Tupaia was an invaluable companion, advising Cook and Banks of the practices and customs of native inhabitants of other islands on route, as the Endeavour continued it's southerly course.

On 6th October 1769, Nicholas Young, the surgeon's boy, sighted the coastline of New Zealand from the masthead of The Endeavour.

On 8th October the Endeavour sailed into a bay, and laid anchor at the entrance of a small river in Tuuranga-nui (today's Poverty Bay, near modern Gisborne). Cook named a peninsula in this bay “Young Nick's Head” after Nicholas Young.

Cooks map of New Zealand. This map of New Zealand as Cook charted it on his first visit in 1769–70 was published in Journal of a voyage to the South Seas (1773) by Sydney Parkinson, an artist who had accompanied Cook. Although there were some inaccuracies in Cook’s map, few countries had been charted so well so early after their discovery by Europeans.

Noticing smoke along the coast, an indication that the country was inhabited, Cook and a group of sailors headed for shore in two small boats, hoping to establish friendly relations with the natives, and to take on refreshments. Four sailors were left to guard one of the boats, but were surprised by the sudden appearance of four Māori brandishing weapons. When one Māori lifted a lance to hurl at the boat, he was shot by the coxswain.

Cook's party returned to the Endeavour, and the next day came ashore once again, accompanied by Tupaia. Some Māori were gathered on the river shore, and communication was made possible as Tupaia's language was similar to that of the Māori. Gifts were presented, but the killing of the day before had left the Māori hostile. When one Māori seized a small cutlass from one of the Europeans, he was shot.

That afternoon Cook and would have attempted a further landing, but heavy surf made this impossible. On noticing the appearance of two canoes Cook planned to intercept them by surprise, with the idea of taking the occupants prisoner, offering them gifts, gaining their trust and then setting them free.

However, the canoe occupants noticed the arrival of one of the Endeavour's small boats, and attacked as it approached. The Europeans, firing in self defence, killed or wounded three or four Māori. Three other Māori who had jumped overboard were picked up by the Europeans, and taken on board the Endeavour. They were offered gifts, food and drink, and soon overcame their fear. Communication was possible via Tupaia, and the next day the three Māori were taken back to shore, where their armed kinsmen were waiting. There was no violence on this occasion.

Cook however, upset by the killings which had already taken place, decided to leave this area. He gave it the name Poverty Bay, as he had been unable to take on refreshments.

The Endeavour continued to coast Te Matau-a-Maaui (Maaui's fish hook, or modern Hawkes Bay), on the east coast of the North Island. Cook named Hawke's Bay after Sir Edward Hawke, of the Admiralty.

On 15th October, as the Endeavour was off the coast, a large canoe came alongside. With the help of Tupaia, Cook communicated with the Māori, who numbered about 20, and trade for fresh fish commenced. However, as Tupaia's young servant Tayeto, was making his way to the canoe to accept the fish, he was grabbed by the Māori, who paddled off with their prisoner at great speed. Cook's men fired on the canoe, killing one Māori. This gave Tayeto the opportunity to leap overboard, where he was picked up by the Endeavour. Because of this event, Cook named the area Kidnapper's Bay.

From here the Endeavour continued to Cape Turnagain, turning to coast the East Cape and the Bay of Plenty. On 3rd November suitable anchorage was found at Mercury Bay - so named as ten days were spent here observing the transit of Mercury. Before leaving Mercury Bay, the date and the ship's name Endeavour were carved into a tree, and Cook took formal possession of this area. Sailing further north, the Endeavour arrived at the Bay of Islands.

While navigating around the northern tip of New Zealand on 13th December, the Endeavour ran into strong gales off Cape Marie van Diemen, forcing the ship off course. About nine miles offshore and in daylight hours, the Endeavour passed by the French ship St Jean-Baptiste, under the command of Jean-François-Marie de Surville, struggling to remain on course but in the opposite direction.

The “St Jean Baptise” was a French Indian ship on a trading mission. Its Commander was looking for a bay in which to anchor in order to take on fresh water and fruit for his scurvy ridden crew. The “St Jean-Baptiste” knew nothing of Captain James Cook and the Endeavour, just a short distance away. Incredibly, neither the British nor the French sighted each other.

On 17th December the St Jean-Baptiste laid anchor at Doubtless Bay, in the North Island. The Bay had been given this name by Captain Cook, as on sighting it for the first time from afar, he is reported to have said “this is doubtless a bay”.

In the beginning of January 1770, as the Endeavour was sailing down the western coast, Mount Taranaki was sighted. Cook named it Mount Egmont, after the First Lord of the Admiralty.

On the 14th January, the Endeavour arrived at “a very broad and deep bay or inlet”. The ship was in the South Island of New Zealand, and in this inlet a perfect anchorage was found at Ship Cove. Cook named the inlet Queen Charlotte's Sound, and took formal possession of this area. Friendly relations were established with the Māori, and trade for fish and fresh vegetables commenced.

On 6th February the Endeavour made for Cook Strait, while surveying the coastline of the South Island. By 13th March the most southern point of the South Island was rounded, and the Endeavour commenced coasting up along the west coast. A bay which was passed as night fell was given the name Dusky Bay.

The Endeavour left New Zealand on 31st March 1770, after having spent two days in Admiralty Bay refitting the ship. Cook had just chartered 2 400 miles of New Zealand coastline, in under 6 months.

Cook was to return to New Zealand on two further occasions, once in 1773 in command of the Resolution, accompanied by Tobias Furneaux in command of The Adventure, and again in 1777 in command of The Resolution, and with Charles Clerke in command of The Discovery.

James Cook First Voyage


Cook’s achievement

James Cook is a key figure in the history of New Zealand. On his first voyage he mapped the outline of the country’s coast so thoroughly and accurately that all the remaining voyages of discovery, including his own second and third voyages, had merely to fill in the detail and correct minor errors.


New Zealand’s people, flora, fauna and Joseph Banks

Cook discovered New Zealand in more than a geographical sense. Having spent a total of 328 days on the coast, he and those with him left a vivid and comprehensive visual and written record of the country’s natural history. Few lands newly discovered by Europeans have been so comprehensively documented.

The gentleman naturalist Joseph Banks travelled with Cook on the Endeavour during its 1768–71 voyage. Wealthy enough to indulge his interests, Banks paid for another botanist, Daniel Solander, and three draughtsmen or artists to join the expedition. Banks’s and Solander’s collections of plants and their descriptions laid the foundations for modern New Zealand botany. Although Banks declined to accompany Cook on his second voyage, he maintained his interest in New Zealand until his death in 1820.

Cook’s first voyage provided Europe with its first substantial knowledge of the Māori people. The observations of Cook himself, and of others on the Endeavour, are still valuable sources of information about Māori life at the time of first European contact.

In West's portrait he wears a Maori cloak and stands beside other trophies from New Zealand and Polynesia, as if in rebuke of his more conventional contemporaries who were portrayed in Rome with their purchases of classical antiquities.

Māori and European contact

Cook’s first landing place at Gisborne has been celebrated by one historian as the point where, ‘for the first time, the two great streams of race and culture in New Zealand, Polynesian and European, came into confluence’.

Cook had been instructed to cultivate a friendship and alliance with the inhabitants of any new land he discovered. He is credited with showing forbearance, restraint and a depth of understanding (he had a more moderate view of cannibalism, for example, than most of his crew) that put initial relations between Māori and Europeans on a sound footing, despite episodes of bloodshed on the first and second voyages.

A line can be drawn from Cook’s first voyage to the Treaty of Waitangi. In his instructions to Cook, the Earl of Morton, president of the Royal Society, stated that any natives he encountered were to be regarded as ‘the natural, and … legal possessors of the several Regions they inhabit’, and that their voluntary consent would be needed before any of their lands were occupied by Europeans.

Cook is held in higher regard in New Zealand than in Hawaii, where there is a stronger sense that he was responsible for the fatal impact of imperialism on Pacific peoples. In Hawaii, the memory of how many Hawaiians were killed by Cook’s men after his death has coloured perceptions of Cook himself.

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The Māori perspective

By Sidney Parkinson

If Europeans viewed Cook’s discoveries as momentous, for many Māori it must have seemed only a brief interlude in the normal course of life. Once their initial astonishment had passed, Māori dealt with the newcomers much as they dealt with Māori of other tribal groups.

Māori understanding of Cook’s arrival was inevitably partial, although there was certainly some exchange of information between Māori and Cook’s men. On board the Endeavour was a chief and priest, Tupaia, whom Banks had added to his retinue during the ship’s stay in Tahiti. Because of the similarities of the Tahitian and Māori languages, Tupaia was able to translate spoken exchanges between European and Māori. But even with Tupaia’s mediation, misunderstandings arose. Many were over the nature of trade and exchange between the two groups. Problems also arose when some crew from the Endeavour inadvertently broke sacred restrictions Māori had placed on some areas.

Tupaia, translator of Māori

In Tahiti Cook signed a Tahitian, Tupaia, onto his crew. In New Zealand, Tupaia was able to serve as a translator of Māori, a language similar to his own.

When Tupaia died at Batavia on 20 December 1770, Cook partly blamed it on his character. Despite being a ‘Shrewd Sensible, Ingenious Man’, he wrote in his journal, Tupaia was also ‘proud and obstinate which … tended much to promote the deceases [diseases] which put a period to his life’.


Cook and his companions also discovered Polynesia, although the name did not become current until the 19th century. The three voyages touched all three corners of the Polynesian triangle – Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand – and Cook and his associates recognised that ‘the same nation’ was spread over a vast extent of ocean. The scientist Johann Reinhold Forster, who travelled on the second voyage, identified what became known as the Austronesian language group.

New Zealand and Britain

Cook’s discoveries forged New Zealand’s later links with Britain. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries a number of French explorers were active in the Pacific. Cook’s instructions from the British Admiralty authorised him to annex ‘convenient situations’ on any ‘great continent’ he might discover. At Mercury Bay on 15 November 1769, and at Queen Charlotte Sound on 30 January 1770, he made proclamations which helped ensure that Britain, and not another European power such as France, became New Zealand’s mother country.



Captain James Cook's second Pacific voyage

Cook's second voyage (1772-75) was the logical complement to what had been explored, and left unexplored, on his first. Again there were scientists and artists on board, and for the first time chronometers, one of which was Kendall's copy of John Harrison's famous no. 4 marine chronometer. This superb instrument kept accurate time throughout the buffeting it endured on the long voyage, showing that a practical solution to the problem of determining longitude at sea had been found.

In his three years away, the newly-promoted Captain Cook disposed of the imagined southern continent, reached closer to the South Pole than any previous navigator, and touched on many lands - Tahiti and New Zealand again, and for the first time Easter Island, the Marquesas Islands, Tonga and the New Hebrides.

on his two voyages he had laid down the essentials of the modern map of the South Pacific.

Most of these places had been sighted by explorers on earlier expeditions, so that even by conventional definitions Cook did not 'discover' them for Europe. His contribution was to bring order to confusion, to replace vagueness and uncertainty with a scrupulous accuracy. He had, he explained, put an end to the search for the great southern continent, 'which has at time ingrossed the attention of some of the Maritime Powers for near two Centuries past and the Geographers of all ages.' But his achievement was more than this, for on his two voyages he had laid down the essentials of the modern map of the South Pacific.

Captain James Cook's Second Voyage

Captain Cook's Third Pacific voyage

On his return from his second voyage, Cook found that his fame had spread beyond naval circles. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and awarded its Copley Gold Medal, was painted by Nathaniel Dance, dined with James Boswell, and was described in the House of Lords as 'the first navigator in Europe'. Brief thoughts of retirement were replaced by a determination to return to the Pacific. Cook's third and final voyage (1776-80) had its own logic in that it took him to the North Pacific in an effort to solve a geographical mystery as old as the southern continent - the question of the existence of a navigable north west passage.

in a single season Cook put the main outline of the coast of north west America on the maps

As he approached the north west coast of America in 1778, Cook made the major discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, the northernmost outliers of Polynesia. He spent that summer in hazardous exploration along the American coast from Vancouver Island to the Bering Strait, searching in vain for the wide strait leading to an ice-free Arctic Ocean, as indicated on the speculative maps of the period.

Although he found no north west passage, in a single season Cook put the main outline of the coast of north west America on the maps, determined the shape of Alaska well beyond the Bering Strait, and closed the gap between the Spanish coastal probes from the south and those of the Russians from Kamchatka.

The death of Captain Cook Did one of Cook's temper tantrums seal his fate? © It was to be his last achievement, for the following winter he was killed on his return to the Hawaiian Islands. His death at Kealakekua Bay on 14 February 1779 has remained a source of scholarly controversy. During the weeks after his arrival Cook seems to have been regarded by the Hawaiians as the god Lono, bringer of light, peace and plenty, for he had arrived at the time of makahiki, Lono's festival.

Cook continued to conform to the sacred calendar of the islanders by sailing away from Hawaii as makahiki came to an end. However, the Resolution got damaged at sea, so that Cook was forced to return to the bay to repair his ship out of the correct season, thus making himself a violator of sacred customs.

It was noted that there was an eerie atmosphere among the islanders following his return, and Cook's death after an argument on the beach was predictable if not preordained. Not all accept this interpretation. Some scholars see Cook's 'deification' as the product of a Western, imperialist tradition, and they explain his death as being the result of a row caused by one of his uncontrollable outbursts of temper, which had become increasingly noticeable during the voyage.

Captain James Cooks Third and Final Voyage. Red for whilst Cook was alive

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The circumstances of Cook's death were a reminder that one of his tasks was 'to observe the Genius, Temper, Disposition and Number of the Natives'. This was easier said than done, for successive migrations across the Pacific had left societies organised in overlapping layers and groups, and the strained nature of the contact between Europeans and non-Europeans made understanding between them all the more difficult.

the coming of venereal disease, alcohol and firearms brought a depressing train of consequences to the islands.

Cook and his fellow navigators of the period were for the most part humane and moderate commanders. Even so, the Europeans were intruders, emerging by the score from their towering vessels, appearing and disappearing without warning, violating sacred sites. An inescapable tension hung over the encounters, sometimes dissipated by individual contacts or trade, but often erupting into violence and death. Although the relationship between Polynesians and Europeans was not the one-sided affair of some portrayals, in the longer term the coming of venereal disease, alcohol and firearms brought a depressing train of consequences to the islands.

Cook set new standards in the extent and accuracy of his surveys, but to see his voyages simply in terms of geographical knowledge would be to miss their broader significance. The observations of Cook and his colleagues played an important role in natural history, astronomy, oceanography, philology and much else. Above all, the voyages helped to give birth in the next century to the new disciplines of ethnology and anthropology.

In practical ways, too, Cook set new standards, especially in terms of health. There were no recorded deaths from scurvy on any of his voyages, and few from natural causes generally - except during the Endeavour's disastrous stay at Batavia in 1770, when 30 members of the crew, who had been remarkably healthy until then, died of fever and dysentery.

Specialists have corrected the popular view that Cook discovered the cure for scurvy - rather he applied with unusual thoroughness all suggested remedies. He ensured cleanliness and ventilation in the crew's quarters, and insisted on an appropriate diet that included cress, sauerkraut, and a kind of orange extract. Even so, his epitaph in a medical journal claimed that Cook's success in keeping his crews alive 'added more to his fame, and is supposed to have given a more useful lesson to maritime nations, than all the discoveries he ever made'.


SEE:Robert Fitzroy, Inventor of the Weather Forecast

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