Summary of Captain James Cook's First Voyage

Cook was promoted to lieutenant for the voyage. The Endeavour left Plymouth on 26 August 1768 and sailed south down the Atlantic via Madeira and Rio de Janeiro. Cook stopped at Madeira to take on wine and onions, both part of his efforts to keep a healthy crew. As well as his regular crew, Cook had on board a naturalist, Joseph Banks, with his retinue of naturalists and artists. Cook rounded Cape Horn and reached Tahiti in April 1769, where he prepared for the Transit of Venus. The Endeavour anchored at Matavai Bay, which would become one of Cook's favourite locations in the Pacific and one he would return to on several occasions. He stayed at Tahiti for three months and as well as successfully observing the Transit of Venus, he made a tour of the island and surveyed and prepared descriptions of the island and people. Proponents of the concept of the 'Noble Savage' used these descriptions to enhance their argument. A Raiatean, Tupaia, was taken on board and would prove his worth as navigator and translator.

Sailing on via Huahine and Raiatea, Cook began the search for the Southern Continent, and having found no trace of land, sailed west for the land visited by Tasman in 1643. This was New Zealand and Cook made landfall at Turanganui (Cook called it Poverty Bay), near present-day Gisborne in October 1769. Cook's relationship with the Maori got off to a bad start when several men were killed and others wounded. Tupaia could understand the Maori and acted as translator, which helped improve later encounters. Cook was distressed that lives had been lost.

Cook left Poverty Bay and sailed south along the east coast as far as Cape Turnagain, before retracing his track north via Tolaga Bay, round East Cape and across the Bay of Plenty to the Coromandel Peninsula. Putting into Mercury Bay, he observed the Transit of Mercury. The Endeavour rounded Cape Colville to enter the Firth of Thames before heading north up the coast to the Bay of Islands. Cook spent a week in this bay, which was to become the first site of permanent European settlement in New Zealand. In December 1769, Cook was near North Cape when he nearly met the French explorer, Surville, who was sailing in the opposite direction. Cook rounded the north of New Zealand then sailed down the west coast of Te Ika a Maui (the North Island). The Endeavour was in need of repair and they needed to restock so Cook took the ship into a large inlet.

The inlet was Queen Charlotte Sound and Cook anchored in Ship Cove. It became, like Matavai Bay in Tahiti, one of his bases on future voyages. It provided safe anchorage, food and fresh water and plentiful for spars. Relations with local Maori were good. In February 1770, Cook continued his voyage by passing through the strait, which Banks named after Cook. Cook proved Te Ika a Maui was an island and then sailed south down the east coast of Te Wai Pounamu (South Island). He rounded the southern tip and worked his way back up the west coast to anchor in Admiralty Bay, close to Queen Charlotte Sound. Cook had shown New Zealand to comprise two large islands, unconnected to the Great Southern Continent. He also produced a magnificent chart of the islands, together with descriptions of the country and the Maori. Cook speculated on the similarities between the Tahitians and Maori and wondered about their ability to sail across the Pacific.

The Endeavour left new Zealand, heading west towards Australia, which he sighted at Point Hicks on 19 April. Cook then proceeded to sail north up the east coast of Australia, producing a detailed chart as he went. At the end of April, Cook entered an inlet, Botany Bay, where he stayed for six days. The country was very different from anywhere they had been and the local people were also very different. Tupaia was unable to communicate with them and they in turn made no effort to promote contact.

Cook continued north to round Fraser Island and began sailing inside the Great Barrier Reef. Progress had to be careful as they encountered numerous small islands, reefs and sandbanks. Finally, on 11 June, disaster struck when the Endeavour hit the reef. After 24 hours, the ship was refloated and nursed into a nearby river mouth. The ship was eventually repaired and Cook continued on to pass through the Torres Strait and on to Jakarta (Batavia) on Java, where he arrived on 11 October. The Dutch authorities agreed to repair the ship but were very slow about it. Gradually, the unhealthy state of Jakarta began to take its toll as men succumbed to malaria and dysentery. Many more died as Endeavour crossed the Indian Ocean and some died at the Cape of Good Hope. The Endeavour finally arrived at the Downs off Kent on 13 July 1771 after a voyage of nearly three years.

The above extract is from the 'Captain Cook Encyclopaedia', written and edited by John Robson and is published by Chatham Publishing. The book is available from the website

About the new Captain Cook Encyclopaedia:

Cover of the Captain Cook Encyclopaedia

World wide fascination with Captain James Cook has produced a plethora of works devoted to his life and times, now for the first time an encyclopaedia honouring his life and influence has been compiled by John Robson.

John Robson was born at Stockton-on-tees in county Durham, in Captain Cook country. He became interested in Captain Cook at a very early age and has maintained a passionate involvement ever since. He is now the Map Librarian at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand. He is also president of the New Zealand Map Society, a member of the Captain Cook Society, the New Zealand representative for the Hakluyt Society and the author of the much acclaimed cartographic work, Captain Cook's World.

The Captain Cook Encyclopaedia is written and edited by John Robson and published by Chatham House London

The encyclopaedia is 288 pages profusely illustrated in Black and White with 16 colour plates. It is an essential work of reference for all interested in the Life and times of Captain James Cook.

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