In 1768, when Captain James Cook set sail on the first of three voyages to the South Seas, he carried with him secret orders from the British Admiralty to seek ‘a Continent or Land of great extent’ and to take possession of that country ‘in the Name of the King of Great Britain’.
While each of his three journeys had its own aim and yielded its own discoveries, it was this confidential agenda that would transform the way Europeans viewed the Pacific Ocean and its lands. (State Library, New South Wales)
James Cook’s first Pacific voyage (1768-1771) was aboard the Endeavour and began on May 27, 1768. It had three aims; establish an observatory at Tahiti to record the transit of Venus (when Venus passes between the earth and the sun – June 3, 1769;) record natural history, led by 25-year-old Joseph Banks; and continue the search for the Great South Land.
Cook’s second Pacific voyage (1772-1775) aboard Resolution and Adventure aimed to establish whether there was an inhabited southern continent, and make astronomical observations.
Cook’s third and final voyage (1776-1779) of discovery was an attempt to locate a North-West Passage, an ice-free sea route which linked the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Cook commanded the Resolution while Charles Clerke commanded Discovery. (State Library, New South Wales)
The British Navy Board purchased the Marquis of Granby, a ship-rigged sloops-of-war that was built by Thomas Fishburn in 1770 at Whitby. Lord Rockford, Secretary of State, thought the name might offend the Spanish and consulted both the King and the Earl of Sandwich. The Earl advised him she be renamed the Resolution.
The Resolution impressed Cook greatly and he called her “the ship of my choice and as I thought the fittest for service she was going upon of any I have seen.” (Hough) She was 14 months old and her tonnage was 462. She had the same flat-floored, apple-cheeked hull.
Resolution’s lower deck length was 110 feet 8 inches, maximum beam was just over 35 feet. Her crew included 6 midshipmen, a cook and a cook’s mate, 6 quartermasters, 10 marines including a lieutenant, and 45 seamen.
She was fitted out at Deptford with the most advanced navigational aids of the day, including a Gregory Azimuth Compass, ice anchors and the latest apparatus for distilling fresh water from sea water.
Twelve carriage guns and twelve swivel guns were carried. At his own expense Cook had brass door-hinges installed in the great cabin.
The support vessel was the Discovery built by G&N Langborn for Mr. William Herbert from whom she was bought by the Admiralty.
She was 299 tons, the smallest of Cook’s ships. Her dimensions were: lower deck 91’5″, extreme breadth 27’5″, depth of hold 11’5″, height between decks 5’7″ to 6’1″. She cost £2,415 including alterations. Her complement was 70: 3 officers, 55 crew, 11 marines and one civilian.
Cook’s crew first sighted the Hawaiian Islands in the dawn hours of January 18, 1778. His two ships, the HMS Resolution and the HMS Discovery, were kept at bay by the weather until the next day when they approached Kaua‘i’s southeast coast.
On the afternoon of January 19, native Hawaiians in canoes paddled out to meet Cook’s ships, and so began Hawai‘i’s contact with Westerners. The first Hawaiians to greet Cook were from the Kōloa south shore.
The Hawaiians traded fish and sweet potatoes for pieces of iron and brass that were lowered down from Cook’s ships to the Hawaiians’ canoes.
On the afternoon of January 20, 1778, Cook anchored his ships near the mouth of the Waimea River on Kaua‘i’s southwestern shore.
As they stepped ashore for the first time, Cook and his men were greeted by hundreds of Hawaiians who offered gifts of pua‘a (pigs), and mai‘a (bananas) and kapa (tapa) barkcloth.
Cook went ashore at Waimea three times the next day, walking inland to where he saw Hawaiian hale (houses), heiau (places of worship) and agricultural sites.
At the time, the region was thriving with many thatched homes as well as lo‘i kalo (taro patches) and various other food crops such as niu (coconuts) and ‘ulu (breadfruit).
After trading for provisions, gathering water and readying for sail, Cook left the island and continued his search of the “Northwest Passage,” an elusive (because it was non-existent) route from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.
“It is worthy of observation, that the islands in the Pacific Ocean, which our late voyages have added to the geography of the globe, have been generally found lying in groups or clusters …”
“… the single intermediate islands, as yet discovered, being few in proportion to the others; though, probably, there are many more of them still unknown, which serve as steps between the several clusters.”
“Of what number this newly-discovered Archipelago consists, must be left for future investigation. We saw five of them, whose names, as given to us by the natives, are Woahoo (O‘ahu,) Atooi (Kauai,) Oneeheow (Ni‘ihau,) Oreehoua (Lehua) and Tahoora (Kaula.)” (The Voyages of Captain James Cook)
On January 17, 1779, Cook returned to the Hawaiian Islands, sailing into Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawai‘i. Less than one month later, on February 14, 1779, Cook and several of his men were killed in an encounter with the Hawaiians on the shoreline of Kealakekua Bay.