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Voyages of Discovery
by Captain James Cook, Joseph Banks et al.
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes

James Cook, portrait by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, c1775,
(London, 1784)

James Cook, son of a Yorkshire farm labourer, ran away to sea and rose to become a Captain in the Royal Navy, just as Europeans were at their busiest in searching the world. His first voyage in the 'Endeavour' was to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti and to record natural history under the supervision of the naturalist Joseph Banks. His second in 1772, was to verify reports of a Great South Land in the Pacific. His third and last voyage in the Resolution led him to explore the coast of North America as far as Icy Cape, and, returning to the Sandwich Islands, he met his death in Hawaii.
The original folio edition of the Voyages was published in 1784, compiled from journals of Cook, Banks, and others.
Abridged: JH

This edition is available in print...

Voyages of Discovery


We left Plymouth Sound on August 26, 1768, and spent five days at Madeira, where nature has been very liberal with her gifts, but the people lack industry. On reaching Rio de Janeiro, the captain met with much incivility from the viceroy, who would not let him land for a long time; but when we walked through the town, the females showed their welcome by throwing nose-gays from the windows. Dr. Solander and two other gentlemen of our party received so many of these love tokens that they threw them away by hatfuls.

When we came in sight of Tierra del Fuego, the captain went ashore to discourse with the natives, who rose up and threw away the small sticks which they held in their hands, as a token of amity. Snow fell thick, and we were warned by the doctor that 'whoever sits down will sleep, and whoever sleeps will wake no more.' But he soon felt so drowsy that he lay down, and we could hardly keep him awake.

Setting sail again, we passed the strait of Le Maire and doubled Cape Horn, and then, as the ship came near to Otaheite, where the transit of Venus was observed, the captain issued a new rule to this effect: 'That in order to prevent quarrels and confusion, every one of the ship's crew should endeavour to treat the inhabitants of Otaheite with humanity, and by all fair means to cultivate a friendship with them.' On New Year's Day, 1770, we passed Queen Charlotte's Sound, calling the point Cape Farewell. We found the natives of New Zealand modest and reserved in their behaviour, and, sailing northward for New Holland, we called a bay Botany Bay because of the number of plants discovered there, and another Trinity Bay because it was found on Trinity Sunday.

After much dangerous navigation, the ship was brought to in Endeavour River to be refitted. On a clear day, Mr. Green, the astronomer, and other gentlemen had landed on an island to observe the transit of Mercury, and for this reason this spot was called Mercury Bay.

Later, we discovered the mainland beyond York Islands, and here the captain displayed the English colours and called it New South Wales, firing three volleys in the name of the King of Great Britain. After we had left Booby Island in search of New Guinea, we came in sight of a small island, and some of the officers strongly urged the captain to send a party of men on shore to cut down the coconut trees for the sake of the fruit. This he peremptorily refused as unjust and cruel, sensible that the poor Indians, who could not brook even the landing of a small party on their coast, would have made vigorous efforts to defend their property.

Shortly afterwards, we were surprised at the sight of an island W.S.W., which we flattered ourselves was a new discovery. Before noon we had sight of houses, groves of trees, and flocks of sheep, and after the boat had put off to land, horsemen were seen from the ship, one of whom had a lace hat on, and was dressed in a coat and waistcoat of the fashion of Europe. The Dutch colours were hoisted over the town, and the rajah paid us a visit on board, accepting gifts of an English dog and a spying-glass.

During a short stay on shore for the purchase of provisions, we found that the Dutch agent, Mr. Lange, was not keeping faith with us. At his instigation the Portuguese were driving away such of the Indians as had brought palm syrup and fowls to sell.

At this juncture Captain Cook, happening to look at the old man who had been distinguished by the name of Prime Minister, imagined that he saw in his features a disapprobation of the present proceedings, and, willing to improve the advantage, he grasped the Indian's hand, and gave him an old broad-sword. The prime minister was enraptured at so great a mark of distinction, and, brandishing his sword over the head of the impertinent Portuguese, he made both him and the men who commanded the party sit down behind him on the ground, and the whole business was accomplished.

This island of Savu is between twenty and thirty miles long; the women wear a kind of petticoat held up by girdles of beads, the king and his minister a night gown of coarse chintz, carrying a silver-headed cane.

On October 10, 1770, the captain and the rest of the gentlemen went ashore on reaching the harbour of Batavia. Here the Endeavour had to be refitted; and intermittent fever laid many of our party low. Our surgeon, Dr. Monkhouse, died, our Indian boy, Tayeto, paid the debt to nature, and Captain Cook himself was taken ill.

We were glad to steer for Java, and on our way to the Cape of Good Hope the water was purified with lime and the decks washed with vinegar to prevent infection of fever. After a little stay at St. Helena we sighted Beachy Head, and landed at Deal, where the ship's company indulged freely in that mirth and social jollity common to all English sailors upon their return from a long voyage, who as readily forget hardships and dangers as with alacrity and bravery they encounter them.


The King's expectation not being wholly answered, Captain Cook was appointed to the Resolution, and Captain Furneaux to the Adventure, both ships being fully equipped, with instructions to find Cape Circumcision, said to be in latitude 54° S. and about 11° 20' E. longitude from Greenwich. Captain Cook was to endeavour to discover whether this was part of the supposed continent or only the promontory\of an island, and then to continue his journey southward and then eastward.

On Monday, July 13, 1772, the two ships sailed from Plymouth, passing the Eddystone, and, after visiting the islands of Canaria, Teneriffe and others, reached the Cape of Good Hope on September 29. Here we stayed until November 22, when we directed our course towards the Antarctic circle, meeting on December 8 with a gale of such fury that we could carry no sails, and were driven by this means eastwards of our course, not the least hope remaining of our reaching Cape Circumcision.

We now encountered in 51° 50' S. latitude and 21° 3' E. longitude some ice islands. The dismal scene, a view to which we were unaccustomed, was varied as well by birds of the petrel kind as by several whales which made their appearance among the ice, and afforded us some idea of a southern Greenland. But though the appearance of the ice with the waves breaking over it might afford a few minutes' pleasure to the eye, yet it could not fail to fill us with horror when we reflected on our danger, for the ship would be dashed to pieces were she to get against the weather side of these islands, where the sea runs high.

Captain Cook had directed the Adventure, in case of separation, to cruise three days in that place, but in a thick fog we lost sight of her. This was a dismal prospect, for we now were exposed to the dangers of the frozen climate without the company of our fellow voyagers, which before had relieved our spirits when we considered we were not entirely alone in case we lost our vessel.

The spirits of our sailors were greatly exhilarated when we reached Dusky Bay, New Zealand. Landing a shooting party at Duck Cove, we found a native with his club and some women behind him, who would not move. His fears, however, were all dissipated by Captain Cook going up to embrace him. After a stay here we opened Queen Charlotte's Sound and found the Adventure at anchor; none can describe the joy we felt at this most happy meeting. They had experienced terrible weather and, having made no discovery of land, determined to bear away from Van Diemen's Land, which was supposed to join New Holland and was discovered by Tasman, in a.d. 1642.

Here they refitted their ship, and after three months' separation met us again. During all this arduous experience of seamanship it was astonishing that the crew of the Resolution should continue in perfect health. Nothing can redound more to the honour of Captain Cook than his paying particular attention to the preservation of health among his company.

After a lengthened stay with the New Zealanders, and all hopes of discovering a continent having now vanished, we were induced to believe that there is no southern continent between New Zealand and America, and steering clear the island, we made our way to Otaheite, where the Resolution lost her lower anchor in the bay.

On January 30, 1774, we sailed from New Zealand, and reaching latitude 67° 5' S., we found an immense field of ice with ninety-seven ice-hills glistening white in the distance. Captain Cook says: 'I will not say it was impossible anywhere to get farther to the south, but the attempting it would have been a dangerous and rash enterprise, and what I believe no man in any situation would have thought of.'

We therefore sailed northward again, meeting with heavy storms, and the captain, being taken ill with a colic, and in the extremity of the case, the doctor fed him with the flesh of a favourite dog.

On the discovery of Palmerston Island- named after one of the Lords of the Admiralty- and Savage Island, as appropriate to the character of the natives, we had some adventures with the Mallicos, who express their admiration by hissing like a goose.

We stayed some time in Tanna, with its vulcano furiously burning, and then steering south-west, we discovered an uninhabited island, which Captain Cook named Norfolk Island. We reached the Straits of Magalhaes, and, going north, the captain gave the names of Cumberland Bay and the Isle of Georgia, and then we found a land ice-bound and inhospitable. At last we reached home, landing at Portsmouth on July 30, 1775.


Former navigators had returned to Europe by the Cape of Good Hope; the arduous task was now assigned to Captain Cook of attempting it by reaching the high northern latitudes between Asia and America. He was then ordered to proceed to Otaheite, or the Society Islands, and then, having crossed the Equator into the northern tropics, to hold such a course as might most probably give success to the attempt of finding out a northern passage.

On the afternoon of July n, 1776, Captain Cook set sail from Plymouth in the Resolution, giving orders to Captain Clerke to follow in the Discovery. After a short stay at Santa Cruz, in the island of Teneriffe, we were joined by the Discovery at Cape Town.

Leaving the Cape, we passed some islands, which Captain Cook named Princess Islands, and made for the land discovered by M. de Kerguelen. Here, in a bay, we celebrated our Christmas rejoicings amid desolate surroundings.

The captain named it Christmas Harbour, and wrote on the other side of a piece of parchment, found in a bottle, these words: Naves Resolution et Discovery de Rege Magnae Britanniae Decembris 1776, and buried the same beneath a pile of stones, waving above it the British flag.

Having failed to see a human being on shore, he sailed to Van Dieman's Land, and took the ships into Adventure Bay for water and wood. The natives, with whom we were conversant, seemed mild and cheerful, with little of that savage appearance common to people in their situation, nor did they discover the least reserve or jealousy in their intercourse with strangers.

On our landing at Annamooka, in the Friendly Islands, we were entertained with great civility by Toobou, the chief, who gave us much amusement by a sort of pantomime, in which some prize-fighters displayed their feats of arms, and this part of the drama concluded with the presentation of some laughable story which produced among the chiefs and their attendants the most immoderate mirth.

This friendly reception was also repeated in the island of Hapaee, where Captain Cook ordered an exhibition of fireworks, and in return the king, Feenou, gave us an exhibition of dances in which twenty women entered a circle, whose hands were adorned with garlands of crimson flowers, and many of their persons were decorate with leaves of trees, curiously scalloped, and ornamented at the edges. In the island of Matavai it is impossible to give an adequate idea of the joy of the natives on our arrival. The shores everywhere resounded with the name of Cook; not a child that could lisp 'Toote' was silent.

Before proceeding to the northern hemisphere we passed a cluster of isles which Captain Cook distinguished by the name of Sandwich Islands, in honour of the Earl of Sandwich. They are not inferior in beauty to the Friendly Islands, nor are the inhabitants less ingenious or civilized.

When in latitude 44° N., longitude 234° 30', the long expected coast of New Albion, so named by Sir Francis Drake, was described at a distance of ten leagues, and pursuing our course we reached the inlet which is called by the natives Nootka, but Captain Cook gave it the name of King George's Sound; here we moored our vessels for some time.

The inhabitants are short in stature, with limbs short in proportion to the other parts; they are wretched in appearance and lost to every idea of cleanliness. In trafficking with us some displayed a disposition to knavery, and the appellation of thieves is certainly applicable to. them.

Between the promontory which the captain named Cape Douglas after Dr. Douglas, the Dean of Windsor, and Point Banks is a large, deep bay, which received the name of Smoky Bay; and northward he discovered more land composed of a chain of mountains, the highest of which obtained the name of Mount St. Augustine.

Steering N.E., we discovered a passage of waves dashing against rocks; and, on tasting the water, it proved to be a river, and not a strait, as might have been imagined. This we traced to the latitude of 61° 30' and the longitude of 210°, which is upwards of 210 miles from its entrance, and saw no appearance of its source.

(Here the captain having left a blank in his journal, the Earl of Sandwich very properly directed it to be called Cook's River.)

The time we spent in the discovery of Cook's River ought not to be regretted if it should hereafter prove useful to the present or any future age, but the delay thus occasioned was an effectual loss to us, who had a greater object in view.

The season was far advanced, and it was now evident that the continent of North America extended much farther to the west than we had reason to expect from the most approved charts. A bottle was buried in the earth containing some English coins, and the point was called Point Possession, being taken under the flag in the name of His Majesty.

After passing Foggy Island, which we supposed from its situation to be the island on which Behring had bestowed the same appellation, we were followed by some natives in a canoe, who sent on board a small wooden box which contained a piece of paper in the Russian language. To this was prefixed the date 1778, and a reference made therein to the year 1776, from which we were convinced that others had preceded us in visiting these regions.

While staying at Oonalaska we observed to the north of Cape Prince of Wales neither tide nor current either on the cost of America or that of Asia. This circumstance gave rise to an opinion which some of our people entertained, that the two coasts were connected either by land or ice, and that opinion received some degree of strength from our never having seen any hollow waves from the northward, and from our seeing ice almost all the way across.

We were now by the captain's intention to proceed to Sandwich Islands to pass a few of the winter months there, if we should meet with the necessary refreshments, and then direct our course to Kamtchatka in the ensuing year.


We reached the island called by the natives Owhyhee with the summits of its mountains covered with snow.

Here an eclipse of the moon was observed. We discovered the harbour of Karakakooa, which we deemed a proper place for re-fitting the ships, our masts and rigging having suffered much.

On going ashore Captain Cook discovered the habitation of the Society of Priests, where he was present at some solemn ceremonies and treated with great civility. Afterwards the captain conducted the king, Terreeoboo, on to the ship with every mark of attention, giving him a shirt, and on our visits afterwards on shore we trusted ourselves among the natives without the least reserve.

Some time after, however, we noticed a change in their attitude. Following a short absence in search of a better anchorage, we found our reception very different, in a solitary and deserted bay with hardly a friend appearing or a canoe stirring. We were told that Terreeoboo was absent, and that the bay was tabooed. Our party on going ashore was met by armed natives, and a scuffle arose about the theft of some articles from the Discovery, and Pareea, our friendly native, was, through a misunderstanding, knocked down with an oar. Then Terreeoboo came and complained of our having killed two of his people.

On Sunday, February 14. 1779, that memorable day, very early in the morning, there was excitement on shore, and Captain Cook, taking his double-barrelled gun, went ashore to seize Terreeoboo and keep him on board, according to his usual practice, until the stolen boat should be returned. He ordered that every canoe should be prevented from leaving the bay, and the captain then awoke the old king and invited him to visit the ship.

After some disputation he set out with Captain Cook, when a woman near the waterside, the mother of the king's two boys, entreated him to go no farther, and two warriors obliged him to sit down.

The old king, filled with terror and dejection, refused to move, and Captain Cook, seeing further attempts would be risky, came to the shore. At the same time two principal chiefs were killed on the opposite side of the bay.

A native armed with a long iron spike threatened Captain Cook who at last fired a charge of small shot at him, but his mat prevented any harm. A general attack upon the marines in the boat was made, and with fury the natives rushed upon them, dangerously wounding several.

The last time the captain was distinctly seen he was standing at the water's edge, ordering the boats to cease firing and pull in, when a base assassin, coming behind him and striking him on the head with his club, felled him to the ground, where he lay with his face prone to the water.

A general shout was set up by the islanders on seeing the captain fall, and his body was dragged on shore, where he was surrounded by the enemy, who, snatching daggers from each other's hands, displayed a savage eagerness to join in his destruction. It would seem that vengeance was directed chiefly against our captain, by whom they supposed their king was to be dragged on board and punished at discretion; for, having secured his body, they fled without much regarding the rest of the slain, one of whom they threw into the sea.

Thus ended the life of the greatest navigator that this or any other nation could ever boast of, who led his crews of gallant British seamen twice round the world, reduced to a certainty the non existence of a southern continent, about which the learned of all nations were in doubt, settled the boundaries of the earth and sea, and demonstrated the impracticability of a north-west passage from the Atlantic to the great southern ocean, for which our ablest geographers had contended, and in pursuit of which vast sums had been spent in vain and many mariners had miserably perished.

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