Georgian Celebrity, Captain James Cook, Part 3: Cook’s Legacy

Nathaniel Dance-Holland - from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom License details Public domain because of age

Nathaniel Dance-Holland – from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom
License details
Public domain because of age

Legacy
Ethnographic Collections

The Australian Museum acquired its Cook Collection in 1894 from the Government of New South Wales. At that time the collection consisted of 115 artefacts collected on Cook’s three voyages throughout the Pacific Ocean, during the period 1768–1780, along with documents and memorabilia related to these voyages. Many of the ethnographic artifacts were collected at a time of first contact between Pacific Peoples and Europeans. In 1935 most of the documents and memorabilia were transferred to the Mitchell Library in the State Library of New South Wales. The provenance of the collection shows that the objects remained in the hands of Cook’s widow Elizabeth Cook, and her descendants, until 1886. In this year John Mackrell, the great-nephew of Isaac Smith, Elizabeth Cook’s cousin, organised the display of this collection at the request of the NSW Government at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. In 1887 the London-based Agent-General for the New South Wales Government, Saul Samuel, bought John Mackrell’s items and also acquired items belonging to the other relatives Reverend Canon Frederick Bennett, Mrs Thomas Langton, H. M. C. Alexander, and William Adams. The collection remained with the Colonial Secretary of NSW until 1894, when it was transferred to the Australian Museum.

Navigation and Science
Cook’s 12 years sailing around the Pacific Ocean contributed much to European knowledge of the area. Several islands such as Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) were encountered for the first time by Europeans, and his more accurate navigational charting of large areas of the Pacific was a major achievement.

To create accurate maps, latitude and longitude must be accurately determined. Navigators had been able to work out latitude accurately for centuries by measuring the angle of the sun or a star above the horizon with an instrument such as a backstaff or quadrant. Longitude was more difficult to measure accurately because it requires precise knowledge of the time difference between points on the surface of the earth. The Earth turns a full 360 degrees relative to the sun each day. Thus longitude corresponds to time: 15 degrees every hour, or 1 degree every 4 minutes.

Cook gathered accurate longitude measurements during his first voyage due to his navigational skills, the help of astronomer Charles Green and by using the newly published Nautical Almanac tables, via the lunar distance method—measuring the angular distance from the moon to either the sun during daytime or one of eight bright stars during night-time to determine the time at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and comparing that to his local time determined via the altitude of the sun, moon, or stars. On his second voyage Cook used the K1 chronometer made by Larcum Kendall, which was the shape of a large pocket watch, 5 inches (13 cm) in diameter. It was a copy of the H4 clock made by John Harrison, which proved to be the first to keep accurate time at sea when used on the ship Deptford’s journey to Jamaica, 1761–62.

Cook succeeded in circumnavigating the world on his first voyage without losing a single man to scurvy, an unusual accomplishment at the time. He tested several preventive measures but the most important was frequent replenishment of fresh food. It was for presenting a paper on this aspect of the voyage to the Royal Society that he was presented with the Copley Medal in 1776. Ever the observer, Cook was the first European to have extensive contact with various people of the Pacific. He correctly postulated a link among all the Pacific peoples, despite their being separated by great ocean stretches (see Malayo-Polynesian languages). Cook theorised that Polynesians originated from Asia, which scientist Bryan Sykes later verified. In New Zealand the coming of Cook is often used to signify the onset of colonisation.

Cook carried several scientists on his voyages; they made several significant observations and discoveries. Two botanists, Joseph Banks, and Swede Daniel Solander, were on the first Cook voyage. The two collected over 3,000 plant species. Banks subsequently strongly promoted British settlement of Australia.

Several artists also sailed on Cook’s first voyage. Sydney Parkinson was heavily involved in documenting the botanists’ findings, completing 264 drawings before his death near the end of the voyage. They were of immense scientific value to British botanists. Cook’s second expedition included William Hodges, who produced notable landscape paintings of Tahiti, Easter Island, and other locations.

Several officers who served under Cook went on to distinctive accomplishments. William Bligh, Cook’s sailing master, was given command of HMS Bounty in 1787 to sail to Tahiti and return with breadfruit. Bligh is most known for the mutiny of his crew which resulted in his being set adrift in 1789. He later became governor of New South Wales, where he was subject of another mutiny—the only successful armed takeover of an Australian government. George Vancouver, one of Cook’s midshipmen, later led a voyage of exploration to the Pacific Coast of North America from 1791 to 1794. In honour of his former commander, Vancouver’s new ship was also christened Discovery. George Dixon sailed under Cook on his third expedition, and later commanded his own expedition. A lieutenant under Cook, Henry Roberts, spent many years after that voyage preparing the detailed charts that went into Cook’s posthumous Atlas, published around 1784.

Cook’s contributions to knowledge were internationally recognised during his lifetime. In 1779, while the American colonies were fighting Britain for their independence, Benjamin Franklin wrote to captains of colonial warships at sea, recommending that if they came into contact with Cook’s vessel, they were to “not consider her an enemy, nor suffer any plunder to be made of the effects contained in her, nor obstruct her immediate return to England by detaining her or sending her into any other part of Europe or to America; but that you treat the said Captain Cook and his people with all civility and kindness, … as common friends to mankind.” Unknown to Franklin, Cook had met his death a month before this “passport” was written.

Cook’s voyages were involved in another unusual first: The first female to circumnavigate the globe was a goat (“The Goat”), who made that memorable journey twice; the first time on HMS Dolphin, under Samuel Wallis. She was then pressed into service as the personal milk provider for Cook, aboard HMS Endeavor. When they returned to England, Cook presented her with a silver collar engraved with lines from Samuel Johnson: “Perpetui, ambita bis terra, praemia lactis Haec habet altrici Capra secunda Jovis.”. She was put to pasture on Cook’s farm outside London, and also was reportedly admitted to the privileges of the Royal Naval hospital at Greenwich. Cook’s journal recorded the date of The Goat’s death: 28 March 1772.

Memorials

The coat of arms of James Cook granted by King George III to Cook's widow in 1785, to be borne by his descendants and 'placed on any monument or otherwise to his memory.' (Public Domain)

The coat of arms of James Cook granted by King George III to Cook’s widow in 1785, to be borne by his descendants and ‘placed on any monument or otherwise to his memory.’ (Public Domain)

**Captain Cook memorial statue at the Catani Gardens in St Kilda, Victoria, Australia

**A US coin, the 1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial half dollar carries Cook’s image. Minted for the 150th anniversary of his discovery of the islands, its low mintage (10,008) has made this example of Early United States commemorative coins both scarce and expensive.

**The site where he was killed in Hawaii was marked in 1874 by a white obelisk set on 25 square feet (2.3 m2) of chained-off beach. This land, although in Hawaii, was deeded to the United Kingdom.

**A nearby town is named Captain Cook, Hawaii; several Hawaiian businesses also carry his name. The Apollo 15 Command/Service Module Endeavour was named after Cook’s ship, HMS Endeavour, as was the space shuttle Endeavour. Another shuttle, Discovery, was named after Cook’s HMS Discovery.

The first institution of higher education in North Queensland, Australia, was named after him, with James Cook University opening in Townsville in 1970. In Australian rhyming slang the expression “Captain Cook” means “look.” Numerous institutions, landmarks and place names reflect the importance of Cook’s contributions, including the Cook Islands, the Cook Strait, Cook Inlet, and the Cook crater on the Moon. Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest summit in New Zealand, is named for him. Another Mount Cook is on the border between the US state of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon Territory, and is designated Boundary Peak 182 as one of the official Boundary Peaks of the Hay–Herbert Treaty.

One of the earliest monuments to Cook in the United Kingdom is located at The Vache, erected in 1780 by Admiral Hugh Palliser, a contemporary of Cook and one-time owner of the estate. A huge obelisk was built in 1827 as a monument to Cook on Easby Moor overlooking his boyhood village of Great Ayton, along with a smaller monument at the former location of Cook’s cottage. There is also a monument to Cook in the church of St Andrew the Great, St Andrew’s Street, Cambridge, where his son Hugh, a student at Christ’s College, was buried. Cook’s widow Elizabeth was also buried in the church and in her will left money for the memorial’s upkeep. The 250th anniversary of Cook’s birth was marked at the site of his birthplace in Marton, by the opening of the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, located within Stewart Park (1978). A granite vase just to the south of the museum marks the approximate spot where he was born. Tributes also abound in post-industrial Middlesbrough, including a primary school, shopping square and the Bottle ‘O Notes, a public artwork by Claes Oldenburg, that was erected in the town’s Central Gardens in 1993. Also named after Cook is the James Cook University Hospital, a major teaching hospital which opened in 2003. The Royal Research Ship RRS James Cook was built in 2006 to replace the RRS Charles Darwin in the UK’s Royal Research Fleet, and Stepney Historical Trust placed a plaque on Free Trade Wharf in the Highway, Shadwell to commemorate his life in the East End of London. In 2002 Cook was placed at number 12 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.

In addition to the citations within the post, BBC History and Wikipedia served as sources.

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in British history, British Navy, legacy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Georgian Celebrity, Captain James Cook, Part 3: Cook’s Legacy

  1. What I find strange having lived in Australia since I was 16 years old in 1951 is the reverence in which James Cook is held, yet truth be told he did nothing for this country but stumble across it, true he navigated and charted the east coast of the continent, but that was about it yet Mathew Flinders who circumnavigated and charted and mapped the whole of Australia in a very small boat, and even had the temerity to name the country, is hardly considered anywhere in Australia with the exception of South Australia where if anything is worth naming they name it after him.

    It was an embarrassment to me at times when taking people on guided tours of the Australian Maritime Museum here in Sydney that Mathew Flinders is all but ignored and forgotten, the one place you’d imagine would be full of his magnificent exploits; but no, there is a small portrait of him in the Explorers Gallery and not much else, it’s a disgrace and I was a voice crying in the wilderness trying to right the wrong. There is would you believe a rather large striking bust of one of Baudin a French navigator in almost pride of place, (not one of Cook either) and there are other busts of Baudin scattered around this country as far apart as Albany WA and Sydney NSW, and yet this Baudin chappy had the temerity to draw up plans for Napoleon to attack and take over Sydney Cove for the French,

    We are certainly a strange odd people here in Australia.

    I’m enjoying this series Regina and will more than likely write some more comments as there are quite a few things that I might be able to clarify.,

    Cheers Smith 🙂

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