250-Years ago a Yorkshireman called James Cook, came together with a timepiece based upon another Yorkshireman’s life’s work, that of John Harrison (See previous Engines of Ingenuity no.3) Harrison had solved the problem of the age, the Longitude Problem. It was from a small village on the East coast of Yorkshire that Endeavour was launched, coincidentally 250-Years ago this June.
Driven by The Transit of Venus
It was known that if the planet Venus could be observed at the same time from different places as it passed across the face of the sun, it should be possible to calculate inter-planetary distances. Some 250-years ago it was well understood that a ‘transit’ would take place in 1769.
The Admiralty decided to dispatch a ship with members of the Royal Society to observe the transit from Tahiti. It was also believed that there was a ‘Great Southern Continent’ to balance the great land masses of the North. After observing the transit, the ship was to sail South and search for the Southern Continent.
Cook was chosen to lead the expedition. He was offered the command of the Endeavour and promoted lieutenant. He was very familiar with the type of vessel chosen by the Admiralty. The Endeavour, a Whitby-built collier, solidly constructed, flat-bottomed and therefore easy to beach and repair, capacious and able to carry many provisions. The ship could also be managed by a small crew if necessary. Cook is quoted as saying of Endeavour, “a better ship for such service I never could wish for.”
Today numerous locations and features on the world map can be seen to bear the names that were assigned during these epic voyages. His seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills as well as dogged determination and physical courage were matched by his ability to lead men in the most daunting situations and adverse conditions. None of Cook’s seamen were recorded to have suffered from scurvy, a remarkable feat for the time.
The First Voyage
Round the world, East to West. Observation of the transit of Venus from Tahiti. Circumnavigation and charting of New Zealand. Charting of the East coast of Australia.
The Second Voyage
Round the world, West to East. Probes far South towards Antarctica. First crossing of the Antarctic Circle. Cook became the first man to sail round the world in both directions. He effectively disposed of the notion of a Great Southern Continent in the temperate zone of the Southern Hemisphere.
The Third Voyage
Further exploration of the Pacific Ocean, and search for the North West passage from its Eastern end through the Bering Strait.
Cook’s voyages led to the founding of two modern nations, Australia and New Zealand.
Cook was killed in Hawaii in a fight with Hawaiians 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 memoria worldwide have been dedicated to him.
For further information about Cook Country click here
For the Captain Cook Museum click here
The routes of Captain James Cook’s voyages. The first voyage is shown in red, second voyage in green, and third voyage in blue. The route of Cook’s crew following his death is shown as a dashed blue line.