Reminders of Captain James Cook

31 Mar

I have recently made short visits to Singapore, Melbourne, Sydney, various places in New Zealand and Vancouver

On the visits I became increasingly overawed by James Cook’s achievements of the 1770s: He has a presence in all of these venues which recognise his momentous accomplishments – he completed two round-the-world explorations: on ‘Endeavour’ 1769-1771 and on ‘Resolution’ 1772-1775. His third voyage, when he sailed on ‘Resolution’, left England in 1776. On this voyage Cook was killed on 14 February 1799, by Hawaiians on the return voyage which followed his attempt to find the North West Passage. The voyage lasted from 1776-1779. On Cook’s expeditions his crew was kept free of scurvy by eating sour kraut and a marmalade of carrots.

In relation to my peregrinations:

In Singapore there is a James Cook University, this is a branch of the James Cook University, based in Townsville, Australia.

In Australia, Cook is well remembered. His first landing was in 1770; the site was suggested as a site for a British colonial outpost. Some years later the location was found to be unsuitable for a settlement/penal colony and a community of SYDNEY was established in a harbour a few kilometres north of the original landing site. It was from here scientists started the first European scientific documentation of the Australian fauna and flora. To day there are impressive statutes of Cook in Sydney, one erected by Yorkshire men. This first voyage was made when he was still a lieutenant. In the course of this groundbreaking expedition, he charted the eastern coast of Australia and named prominent landmarks.

In Melbourne Cook is remembered particularly in Cooks’ Cottage, the oldest building in Australia. The cottage was built in 1755 in Great Ayton, North Yorkshire England by Cook’s parents and brought to Melbourne by Sir Russell Grimwade in 1934. Each brick was individually numbered, packed into barrels and then shipped to Australia. It is a big visitor attraction.

Cook had actually sighted New Zealand before Australia – on 6 October 1769. He landed at Poverty Bay and went on to organise detailed maps of the country. He observed and wrote about the Māori people. He returned to New Zealand on his second voyage and there is a lovely image, painted by William Hodges the expedition artist, of the ‘gang plank’ –a large tree trunk that was used to off load Endeavour at what was to be named Pickersgill Bay. (Pickersgill sailed as third lieutenant on Cook’s second voyage. He has several geographical features named after him in N.Z. and in Australia). From New Zealand Cook explored the Society and Friendly Islands, before crossing the Antarctic Circle and reaching as far south as 71°10’S. He never actually saw the Antarctic though was certain of its existence. He made a mistake in thinking that there was no useful future to be had in further exploration of the forbidding south. He thought it was ‘doomed by nature to everlasting frigidness’ had a ‘horrible and savage nature’ and that ‘a deeper exploration would require resolve and fortitude and would give no benefit to the World’.

The Auckland Arts Festival is going on at present. One of the artistic exhibits a ‘House of Lights’, homage to Cook. This shows a super-life -sized statute of him, in a smooth silvery finish, sitting with his elbow on his knee and looking out to sea. He is seated in a purpose built ‘house’ on the end of a pier, which has brightly coloured representations of the stars that Cook charted his course by. The lights come on in sequence and shine brightly at night.

Vancouver has a big interest in Cook who was the first Englishman after Francis Drake to see both coasts of North America. Cook came to the west coast coast on his third voyage, on his way to find (or disprove the existence of) a western route to the Northwest Passage. In late March 1778, the ships anchored in a small, sheltered bay in the middle of a sound, and parties went ashore. They were the first Europeans on record to set foot upon what became known as Vancouver Island. A midshipman George Vancouver was on this voyage and he wrote that it was ‘the most lovely country that can be imagined’. Captain Vancouver returned in 1791 on an expedition that explored and charted the North West Pacific coast of America. Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver are named for him, as are Vancouver Washington and Mount Vancouver.
The Royal British Columbia Museum BC in Victoria BC has a real sized section of Cooks second ship on his 1776 expedition, Discovery. It is an excellent montage.

What achievements! The first command was occasioned by him being appointed by the Royal Society as its chief observer of the transit of Venus and to find information about the southern continent. The second expedition also had the continent as its main objective. The third was concerned with the North-West Passage. Amazingly, France, the United States, Spain and Russia extended a safe conduct in the war period (The American War of Independence). He is regarded as the greatest of navigators and cartographers.

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