A disaster and a discovery

In 1768, when the Royal Society and the Admiralty in England wished to conduct their first scientific expedition to the Pacific, sailor and explorer James Cook was their natural choice. Forty-year-old Cook was hastily commissioned as a lieutenant and given the four-year-old HMS Endeavour, a British Royal Navy vessel.

Set sail

Cook had three missions to accomplish on this trip. The first was to establish an observatory at Tahiti to record the transit of Venus on June 3, 1769. The second was to record natural history led by 25-year-old Joseph Banks. And, finally, the secret goal — sealed orders with instructions to seek out the ‘Great Southern Continent’, an undiscovered landmass that was believed to lie near the bottom of the globe.

From Tahiti, he sailed south and southwest andfound and charted New Zealand, a job that took him six months. He then crossed the Tasman Sea and, on April 19, 1770, came upon the southeast coast of Australia.

While on the Coral Sea, Cook’s ship HMS Endeavor ran aground on a reef. There was no way it could be dislodged. With no way out, the ship’s crew unloaded ballast, including six cannons. (These were recovered from the water only in 1969.) Luckily for them, they caught a high tide and were dislodged. The badly damaged ship was repaired and Cook continued his search for the fabled ‘Great Southern Continent’.

Cook did not realise the magnitude of the discovery that he had unwittingly stumbled upon: the largest structure of living organisms in the world or The Great Barrier Reef, which is recognised as a site of environmental importance and is a World Heritage Site.

A disaster and a discovery

About Cook

Cook was an explorer, navigator, cartographer and captain in the British Royal Navy. He is known for the three voyages he undertook between 1768 and 1779 in the Pacific Ocean and Australia. He is credited with providing the first accurate map of the Pacific. He died on February 14, 1779, in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, the U.S.

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 1:31:30 PM |

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