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The English


Cook’s Second and Third voyages to the Pacific

About a month after returning from his first voyage to the Pacific Cook was promoted to Commander, and in November received orders from the Admiralty for a second expedition.  His first voyage had been a great success and heightened curiosity about the great southern land.  To meet the demand the Royal Society commissioned two ships to explore further, HMS Resolution, under Cook’s command and HMS Adventure under captain Tobias Furneaux, Cook’s second-in-command.

Though productive botanically the significance of these voyages to Australia lie in the nine days spent in Adventure Bay, Van Diemen’s Land (Furneaux for five days in 1773, Cook for four days in 1777) along with an appraisal of the potential of Norfolk Island for possible settlement and as a potential source of timber for shipping and flax for the British textile factories.

Banks was invited to join the team but eventually declined after bickering about his allotted space. Nevertheless he recommended Prussian Johann Forster, a member of the Royal Society, as naturalist for the voyage.  Forster’s father was English and was known for his translations of foreign travel.  Johann, in turn, chose his 17-year-old son Georg as ship’s artist. By studying the Endeavour collections of Banks & Solander the family duo prepared for what they might encounter.  Like those before them the Forsters used Solander’s text in later publications, with little acknowledgement.[1]

The second voyage (1772-1775)

The Resolution and Adventure sailed from Plymouth in 1772, putting in at the Cape of Good Hope where they were joined by Swedish botanist Anders Sparrman, a former pupil of Linnaeus.  Although there were rich botanical pickings in New Zealand later published by the Forsters in several volumes.[check]  Cook did not land in either New Holland or Van Diemens Land but Furneaux, after being separated from the Resolution headed for the Van Diemen’s land’s Storm Bay (named after the storm that had prevented Abel Tasman from landing there 130 years before in 1642) on Bruny Island off the south-east coast.

Adventure Bay

HMS Adventure remained in Storm bay for five days in March 1773 replenishing the water supply and carrying out repairs.  Furneaux was to change the name Storm to Adventure Bay, to commemorate his ship, and it would prove a popular anchorage on the way from the Cape of Good Hope to Port Jackson, being later visited by Cook (HMS Resolution 1777), Bligh (HMS Bounty 1788, HMS Providence 1792 ), Bruni d’Entrecasteaux (Recherche 1792, 1792), (Flinders attempted entry in HMS Norfolk in 1798), and Baudin (in the Géographe in 1802), subsequently being used as a base for whaling and the timber industry.

Cook accepted with some reservation, Furneaux’s conclusion that Van Diemen’s Land was part of the mainland.  From the Cape of Good Hope Cook sailed into the high latitudes, actually crossing the Antarctic Circle for the first time in history, to be confronted by an ice pack at latitude 67o15’, just 120 km short of the undiscovered continent of Antarctica.[2]

Norfolk Island flax and pines

Returning to warmer seas on 11 October 1774 Cook put in to Norfolk Island (one of many islands in the region). Here the flax plant grew more densely than on New Zealand and Cook noted the straight ‘pines’ (Araucaria heterophylla), cutting a sample which was used successfully as a topgallant (cross bar for the small sail at the top of the mast) and concluded that here was a source of sound timber for masts – an observation that had greater commercial implications than any findings and observations made on economic potential of plants growing on New Holland shores.

Cook returned to England in July 1775; it had been a three-year odyssey on which he had lost only one man out of 118. The Forsters’ botanical account of the voyage was published in 1776.[7]

The third voyage (1776-1779)

When the ships returned Banks and Smith were quick to buy a duplicate herbarium of specimens and illustrations that had been produced from the voyage.[3]

The scientific world was in awe of Cook’s achievements, but the much lionized and decorated Cook could not acquiesce, setting out yet again in July 1776 with HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, this time with the major goal of finding the elusive north-west passage, a sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean passing across the northern coast of North America through the tricky Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Storage room was created for some domestic stock and further provisions and fodder loaded at Tenerife and the Cape and provision made for planting vegetables at key landing points. Tahitian Omai (who he had brought back to London from his second voyage) was also to be returned to his homeland. He first returned Omai then set about his main task – but finding the Bering Strait impassable he returned to Hawai’i, but by making further demand for supplies he had outstayed his welcome and, after a series of altercations, was killed by the inhabitants on 14 February 1779.

Adventure Bay

Naturalists on this last fateful voyage for Cook were surgeon-naturalist William Anderson, and David Nelson a gardener from Kew. Andrson who was Surgeon’s mate on the second voyage was promoted to Surgeon-Naturalist on the third (he was to die on 3 Aug. 1778 while searching for the new passage). Botanical finds on the voyage were made during a four day stay in Adventure Bay from 26-30 January 1777 when plants and seed were collected by the naturalists William Anderson and David Nelson, among the collections being specimens of Eucalyptus obliqua deposited at Kew and from which Frenchman Charles L’Héritier published the first description of the genus Eucalyptus in 1788.  While in the bay Anderson made extensive notes on the natural history of the area from Resolution inlet to Penguin Island, collected live plants of Melaleuca squarrosa for return to England, and planted a small vegetable and fruit garden.[4]


As a character in the period referred to as the Enlightenment Cook’s life spanned the death of Newton and the birth of Darwin at a time when the Royal Society was gaining political influence. The three voyages had earned him international respect for his navigation and cartography. To the existing knowledge of the Pacific he had added the outline of the east coast of New Holland and New Zealand, discovered New Caledonia, accurately placed a number of island groups and established the limits of any possible southern continent(s). He had contributed to nautical medicine through his treatment of the scurvy that had plagued mariners for centuries, returning from his first voyage without losing a single man to this particular curse; he had applied a long-awaited short-hand way of calculating longitude, testing out John Harrison’s revolutionary marine chronometer on his second voyage, revolutionising the calculation of longitude by calculating a ship’s distance to the east or west of a prime meridian more accurately than ever before[6]; he had travelled further south than any other explorer; pioneered the ‘Great Circle’ route[5] to be followed by so many mariners in the years to come; and, finally, on the second voyage, he had put the myth of the Great Southern Land to rest once-and-for-all. Natural history specimens had been brought back by the thousand giving biology, geology, and anthropology a global dimension. It had been a scientific triumph.

As a commercial venture little was gained. Nothing had been found to rival the sugar plantations of the West indies, the tobacco plantations of Virginia, or the spices of the East Indies – although it was hoped that something could be made of the flax and pines which had unrealized economic potential. Could they feed the hungry textile mills of Yorkshire and Lancaster, and supplement the flagging supplies of timber needed to keep a modern navy afloat?

From all three of Cooks voyages plants were returned to England and introduced into cultivation (see page) his peregrinations leading to the English-speaking occupation of Australia and New Zealand and the acquisition of islands of later strategic importance.

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