Australia in the 1770s

Captain Cook

In 1768 Lieutenant James Cook (1728–1779) left England in the ship HM Bark Endeavour on his first sea exploration of the Pacific Ocean and the Great Southern Continent. HM Bark Endeavour, originally named the Earle of Pembroke, was a flat-bottomed boat with a crew of 94 sailors. Cook was commissioned by the Royal Society in London as they had received a large sum of money from King George III for a scientific expedition.

Accompanying Cook were a number of scientists, including the astronomer Charles Green (1735–1771) and a young 25-year-old botanist, Joseph Banks (1743–1820). Banks took a lot of equipment for catching and preserving insects, including nets, trawls and hooks for coral fishing, and bottles to preserve animals in spirits. He recorded and collected thousands of unfamiliar specimens of seeds, shells, insects, fish, birds, plants and animals. A staff of eight accompanied Banks, including the Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander (1733–1782) and two landscape and natural history artists, Alexander Buchan (d 17 April 1769) and Sydney Parkinson (1745–1771), to record the voyage in paintings and sketches.

Lieutenant James Cook carried secret instructions from the British Admiralty. These instructions outlined the route of the voyage and provided a description of the activities he and his men were to undertake, and the manner in which he was to report his progress. The instructions authorised him to chart the coastline of any continent or large land that was believed to exist in the southern latitudes and find out about its people. They instructed Cook to gain the consent of Indigenous peoples and to take 'possession of Convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain' (from Secret Instructions to Lieutenant Cook 30 July 1768).

He sailed for New Zealand in August, circumnavigated the islands, charted the coastline and took formal possession. He then decided to steer westward to the east coast of New Holland. At 6 pm on 20 April 1770 Lieutenant Hicks was the first to sight land, spying a point to the south-east of the Australian mainland. Cook named Point Hicks after him. Cook's first exploration did not reach England until 12 June 1771, after first visiting Batavia.

On his second voyage (1772–75), having been promoted to commander, Cook circumnavigated the world in high southern latitudes. He attempted a third voyage (1777–79), visiting New Zealand and Tahiti. He was killed in Hawaii on 14 February 1779.

Captain Cook_1770

A snapshot of 1778

  • January
    • Captain James Cook began his third Pacific expedition in the ships HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery.

  • February
    • France entered the War of American Independence.

  • June
    • Spain declared war on Great Britain.

  • July
    • Louis XIV of France declared war on Great Britain.

  • November
    • Captain James Cook was the first European to sight Maui Island of the Hawaiian Islands.

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