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Captain Cook. Eastern Australia finally discovered!

James Cook was a great explorer and a great man. Of humble parentage and with little formal education Captain Cook was respected by all. After he died one of his crew wrote: “He was beloved by his people who looked up to him as to a father, and obeyed his commands with alacrity. The confidence we placed in him was unremitting; our admiration of his great talents unbounded; our esteem for his good qualities affectionate and sincere.” Sir Joseph Banks, the great botanist who travelled with, employed the scientists, and financed a great part of Cook’s first voyage, said that he had never known a finer man than James Cook.

After years of having studied mathematics and navigation while apprenticed to a collier, James Cook joined the British navy when he was 26. He was older than the majority of new recruits, and was tall and capable, and was quickly promoted. His first engagement was in the North American conflict of the Seven Years’ War between France and England. His accurate surveying of the St Lawrence River and Newfoundland, and his paper to the Royal Society, recording of an eclipse of the sun while in Canada in 1766, established Cook's reputation as a capable navigator and astronomer.

Seeking to improve navigational measurement, the Admiralty and the Royal Society jointly proposed that the transit of Venus across the Sun should be recorded from Tahiti in 1769. James Cook was chosen to lead this expedition, in command of the newly-named His Majesty's bark Endeavour. Cook has since been described as "a skilled sailor-diplomat capable of completing the voyage with low risk to men and material, unlikely to embroil the kingdom in a war with the Tahitians."

During his time in Tahiti Cook famously 'discovered' the breadfruit tree (illustrated). After three months in Tahiti, Cook opened his orders for their next venture... to prove or disprove the existence of a southern continent, referred to as The Great South Land - shown for centuries on maps as a great landmass across the South Pole named Terra Australis Incognita (Unknown Southern Land).

After considerable traversing of the Pacific Ocean to the south, Cook sailed west. He found and charted New Zealand, and then proceeded further west, landing at Botany Bay on 29th April 1770. Lieutenant James Cook claimed the east coast of Australia for England, and named it New South Wales. Cook then sailed north and charted most of Australia’s east coast, from Point Hicks to the tip of Carpentaria. As well as the more famous East Coast chart (lying on its side with north to the right), Cook made a separate small chart of the coastline between Cape Tribulation and Endeavour Strait, an area that he named "Labrinth".



Despite its shallow hull, Endeavour ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast, or as Cook had named the whole east coast, New South Wales. Cannons and supplies were jettisoned, water was pumped from the hold, and a sail was used to plug the hole, so that she could sail a few hours north to the safety of the Endeavour River (named by Cook). Probably the most famous engraving ever published of Cook’s voyages, shows the Endeavour aground for repairs to the damage she received on the rock.

During several weeks spent with his 87 crew, repairing their ship, replenishing food and water, and restoring everyone's health, numberous strange discoveries were made. The first sighting of a kangaroo is probably the best-known. After their return to England the following year, Sir Joseph Banks commissioned George Stubbs (who became better known for his horse paintings) to do an oil painting from a kangaroo skin. A wealthy naturalist who had funded much of the voyage, Sir Joseph Banks retained the majority of botanical specimens and many other specimens of nature that were discovered during the voyage.  

aCook-Kanguroo-sm.jpgThe kangaroo skin was remarkably stuffed (after all, who in England had ever seen one?) and the Stubbs painting, Kongouro from New Holland, was finally rediscovered in 2012 and sold at auction (together with Stubbs's painting of a dingo, Portrait of a Large Dog), for 9.3 million Australian dollars. Export from Britain however was blocked. These paintings have since been purchased by the National Maritime Museum of Britain at Greenwich... and Banks's collection and scientific Library which he had bequeathed to assistant, botanist Robert Brown, were donated to the Natural History Museum (then the British Museum) - on condition that Roberts could retain management of the collection. 

The copperplate engraving of Kanguroo from Stubbs’s oil painting appeared in accounts of Cook’s voyages published in England, France, Holland and Germany. Engravings of Cook’s charts, views and natural history discoveries are rarely seen, but we currently have a wonderful collection from different editions of Cook’s voyages. The images here are from the French edition of Cook's Voyages, which was published in 1774.

If you would like to see actual engraved maps or prints take a ride in the country and visit the Antique Print Clubhouse at Neranwood (by appointment only). Bring a picnic lunch if you like...
Please email or phone me on 0412 442 283, to arrange a mutually convenient time.


Posted: 2/06/2016 8:49:47 AM by | with 0 comments

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