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This Sceptred Isle

Captain Cook
Captain Cook was a navigator, an explorer and an hydrographer. In 1768 he began the first of his three great voyages. In a decade he sailed to Tahiti, New Zealand, Australian and Hawaii. He plotted the exact positions of the Easter Islands and Tonga, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island. He surveyed the North American coast and charted the extreme coast of Siberia before sailing south again to Hawaii.

Geographically, however, there was still great ignorance of what lay south of the equator. Everyone knew about Europe, something of China, India and North America, but not much about the southern hemisphere.

Cook had orders to observe a transit of Venus from Tahiti in June 1769. He took with him a second secret set of orders not to be opened until his first orders had been carried out. These instructed him that, if and when he discovered the Continent he must measure it and survey the coastal waters, shoals, currents, tides and harbours, headlands and rocks. He was to look for fish, plants, minerals, precious stones, beasts and fowl and bring examples back to England.

Captain James Cook
Captain James Cook

  • Navigator and explorer who learned his seamanship as a deck apprentice in the North Sea and Baltic coasting trade
  • In 1755 joined the Navy and within four years became navigator and master
  • Chosen to make astronomical observations from Tahiti for the Royal Society
  • His secret orders for that voyage was to press south in search of the southern continent Australasia
  • Circumnavigated New Zealand and claimed Australia for the Crown
  • His second Pacific voyage charted some of Antarctica and his third, surveyed the west coast of north America
  • Killed in a skirmish with Hawaiians on the shores of Karakakoa Bay

did you know?
Captain Cook experimented with shipboard medicine and is popularly thought to have discovered the cure for scurvy.


Whereas the making Discoverys of Countries hitherto unknown, and the Attaining of Knowledge of distant Parts which though formerly discover'd have yet been but imperfectly explored, will redound greatly to the Honour of this Nation as a Maritime Power, as well as to the Dignity of the Crown of Great Britain, and may trend [sic] greatly to the advancement of the Trade and Navigation thereof; and Whereas there is reason to imagine that a Continent or Land of great extent, may be found to the Southward of the Tract lately made by Captain Wallis in His Majesty's Ship the Dolphin (of which you will herewith receive a copy) or of the Tract of any former Navigators in Pursuits of the like kind; You are therefore in Pursuance of His Majesty's Pleasure hereby requir'd and directed to put to Sea with the Bark you Command so soon as the Observation of the Transit of the Planet Venus shall be finished .... You are to proceed to the southward in order to make discovery of the Continent above-mentioned until you arrive in the Latitiude of 40 degrees, unless you sooner fall in with it.

But not having discover'd it or any Evident signs of it in that Run, you are to proceed in search of it to the Westward between the Latitude before mentioned and the Latitude of 35 degrees until you discover it, or fall in with the Eastern side of the Land discover'd by Tasman and now called New Zealand [sic].

Select historical period

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1756 Pitt the Elder becomes Secretary at War
Seven Years' War starts
Black Hole of Calcutta
1757Militia Act
Calcutta recaptured
1760 George II dies
George III becomes king
Wolfe dies at Quebec
1761Pitt the Elder falls from power
1762Newcastle resigns
Bute becomes Prime Minister
1763 Bute resigns
Grenville becomes Prime Minister
1765Rockingham becomes Prime Minister
Hargreaves invents the spinning jenny
1766 Grafton becomes nominal Prime Minister
1768Royal Academy of Arts founded
1769Captain Cook lands at Tahiti
1770 Lord North becomes Prime Minister

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