January 18, 2021

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History / 5 June post from Lieutenant James Cook’s Journal 250 years ago

5 min read
History / 5 June post from Lieutenant James Cook’s Journal 250 years ago

CAPTAIN JAMES COOK

Our appreciation to Pam Willis Burden, Gail Cockburn and Douglas Shire Historical Society for sharing this content with us daily.


“Winds between the South and East, a Gentle breeze, and Serene weather”

At 6 a.m. we were abreast of the Western point of Land above mentioned, distant from it 3 Miles, which I have named Cape Upstart, because being surrounded with low land it starts or rises up singley at the first making of it (Latitude 19 degrees 39 minutes South, Longitude 212 degrees 32 minutes West); it lies West-North-West 14 Leagues from Cape Gloucester, and is of a height sufficient to be seen 12 Leagues; but it is not so much of a Promontory as it appears to be, because on each side of it near the Sea is very low land, which is not to be seen unless you are pretty well in with the Shore.

Inland are some Tolerable high hills or mountains, which, like the Cape, affords but a very barren prospect. 

Having past this Cape, we continued standing to the West-North-West as the land lay, under an easey Sail, having from 16 to 10 fathoms, until 2 o’Clock a.m., when we fell into 7 fathoms, upon which we hauled our wind to the Northward, judging ourselves to be very near the land; as so we found, for at daylight we were little more than 2 Leagues off. 

What deceived us was the Lowness of the land, which is but very little higher than the Surface of the Sea, but in the Country were some hills.

At and before Noon some very large smokes were Seen rise up out of the low land. At sun rise I found the Variation to be 5 degrees 35 minutes Easterly; at sun set last night the same Needle gave near 9 degrees.

This being Close under Cape Upstart, I judged that it was owing to Iron ore or other Magnetical Matter Lodged in the Earth.

From Banks’ Journal

5. at noon one large fire was seen. Several Cuttle bones and 2 Sea Snakes swam past the ship. In the Even the Thermometer was at 74 and the air felt to us hotter than we have felt it on the coast before.

Many Clouds of a thin scum lay floating upon the water the same as we have before seen off Rio de Janiero; some few flying fish also.


From “Endeavour” by Peter Aughton

He was apprenticed to a grocer in the nearby fishing village of Staithes and there he first felt the call of the sea. Within 18 months he had moved down the coast to Whitby where he signed on as a deckhand on a Whitby collier, At 26 he was offered his first ship but gave it up to join the Royal Navy as an able seaman. He obtained his master’s certificate in 1757 (aged 29). He was a close and silent man and seldom displayed his feelings. He was cautious by nature but always prepared to take calculated risks.

He met Essex girl Elizabeth Batts. They married in 1762, he was 34, she was 20. They set up home in Mile End Road in the East End.

Cook’s Endeavour Journal  NLA

On Sunday morning July 14 1771 Cook was reunited with his family at his home in Mile End in London’s East End where he learned that during his absence two of his four children had died. Elizabeth was four and Joseph three weeks, born a day after the Endeavour had set sail. When Cook’s wife Elizabeth died in 1835 aged 86 she had outlived all of her six children. George was born days before Cook left on his second voyage in 1772 but died before his father returned, Nathaniel died at sea in a hurricane at the age of 16, Hugh died at 17 of scarlet fever. James who like his father rose to become a commander in the Royal Navy was lost at sea at the age of 30.

 Admiralty teamed with the Royal Society to observe the passage of Venus across the face of the sun. (They thought the other countries would not realise it was also a voyage of discovery) And would leave the ship unmolested so they could all benefit from the results of the observation as it was designed to add to man’s knowledge of the universe.

Cook had secret orders to search for new lands in the Pacific Ocean to annex for the Crown.

The commander had to be an experienced naval officer, he required great qualities of leadership. He needed to be highly skilled and experience in seamanship to be able to keep his vessel away from danger in unknown and uncharted waters. He needed to be an expert navigator who could find his position on the surface of the globe at all times and who could calculate longitudes as well as latitudes. Ideally he needed to be a skilled cartographer so that he could make and supervise maps and charts of the southern continent. He had to be capable of finding fresh water, food and provisions for the ship in the vastness of the Pacific. He also needed to be an astronomer to help with the observation of the transit of Venus.

There was one qualification Cook did not have. He was not a commissioned officer and he was not born of the gentry. His father had been an obscure labourer in a remote part of England.

Cook was made a lieutenant. He would be referred to as captain.

Our research reveals that soon after his return to England in 1771, Cook was promoted to the rank of Commander. He never actually held the rank of Captain, but in 1775 was promoted to the higher rank of Post-Captain.


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