The Great Voyages

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. A ‘transit’ was to 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’ in the southern hemisphere, which 'balanced' 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 given the command of the Endeavour and promoted lieutenant. He was of course very familiar with the type of vessel chosen by the Admiralty. The Endeavour was a Whitby-built collier, solidly built, flat-bottomed and so easy to beach and repair, capacious and able to carry many provisions. The ship could also be managed by a small crew if necessary. According to Cook, “a better ship for such service I never could wish for.”

So Cook and a Whitby ship came together again in the Endeavour to lay the foundation for some of the most significant voyages in the history of exploration.

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. Probed 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 put paid to the notion of a Great Southern Continent in a 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 died in an affray on Hawaii.

Cook’s voyages led to the opening up of the whole Pacific Ocean to European exploration, trade and eventual colonisation, including the formation of two modern nations, Australia and New Zealand. The consequences for peoples already living there were varied and often harmful. But in his own time Cook's work was of huge international interest.

See Countries with links to Cook