The Royal Society had accepted the recommendation of [Maskelyne] the Astronomer [Royal] that [Dalrymple] the well-known hydrographer of the Pacific should be chosen as ‘a proper Person to be sent to the South Seas’. H.C. Cameron, Sir Joseph Banks, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1968

Greenwich: Rev. Nevil Maskelyne, Britain’s fifth Astronomer Royal may have judged Alexander Dalrumple, a Fellow of the Royal Society; ‘a proper Person’ the Admiralty however would have none of Alexander Dalrymple. See: Malicious Maskelyne 

South Seas: Instead Admiralty chose James Cook, then a lowly Warrant Officer of the Royal Navy, to lead a scientific expedition to the ‘South Seas’.

The expedition was a two-for-the-price-of-one venture.  Edmond Haley of comet fame earlier had predicted a celestial phenomenon the, Transit of Venus, would occur in early June 1769.  The Royal Society favoured Tahiti as an ideal place to observe the Transit.

The Society could not bear the full cost of sending observers there and went into partnership with the Admiralty who supplied a ship and paid its captain and crew.

Tahiti:  After the Transit Cook was to open the Admiralty’s ‘secret instructions’ and sail his shipHMS Endeavourdeep into southern latitudes in search of the fabled Great South Land.

‘[Cook] Whose remarkable qualities as a seaman and as a navigator and cartographer the Admiralty had learned to value because of his outstanding service in the operation under [General] Wolfe in Canada [Seven Years War 1756-1763]. Cameron. ibid. 

Yorkshire – 1728: James Cook was born on 27 October 1728 in Marston, Yorkshire. Vanessa Collingridge Captain Cook The Life, Death and Legacy of History’s Greatest Explorer, Random House, 2003 says he spent most of his childhood; ‘in the lee of the largest peak in Yorkshire’s North Riding’.

Whitby – 1747:  Leaving school in 1747 Cook worked as deckhand on a Whitby barque bringing coal from Newcastle to Hull and London. By 1752 he was Mate on a collier Friendship.

1755: War with France was looming and in 1755 Abel Seaman Cook enlisted in the Royal Navy where his experience made for steady progress..

1756: The Seven Year’s War broke out in 1756 with Britain, Prussia and Hanover ranged against France, Austria, Russia, Saxony, Sweden and Spain. Military historians classify The Seven Years’ War 1756-1763 as the world’s first truly global war.

1757 – June:  Cook passed his sailing master’s examination at Trinity House in mid 1757 and joined the crew of HMS Eagle .

1757 October: He was posted to HMS Pembroke an impressive  sixty-four (64) gun fighting ‘Ship of the Line’.

1757:  Towards the end of 1757 William Pitt [Elder], Britain’s Prime Minister, ‘gained control of the [war] strategy’. Under his influence England’s primary struggle with France,  swung away from the Continent with the intention of seizing French colonies in North America and India.

Canada – 1758:  Cook on HMS Pembroke, commanded by Captain John Simcoe RN, sailed for Canada as part of General Amherst’s expeditionary force intent on capturing Louisbourg from the French. 

Louisboug: The city, named for King Louis XIV, had been founded in 1713. A busy centre for fishing, fur trading and ship-building,  Louisbourg was of immense strategic importance to France.

A substantial French naval presence guarded Quebec and Montreal. According to Fred Anderson Crucible of War, the  squadron consisted of ‘eleven (11) ships including five (5) of the line’.

En-route to Canada Pembroke was severely damaged by heavy weather. Her crew and, the troops she carried were so badly affected by scurvy, neither took part in the battle for Louisbourg.

1758 – 26 July:  After a siege of five (5) weeks Louisbourg fell to the British leaving Montreal and Quebec vulnerable to invasion.

‘Cook first learned from a British army officer [Samuel Holland] how to make maps they would become Cook’s fascination, as he mastered the technique of translating the three dimensions of landmarks, shores, rocks, and shoals precisely and exactly onto two dimensional charts’. Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2004

HMS Pembroke underwent repairs. During the lay period James Cook met Lieutenant Samuel Holland. A Dutchman Holland served as an engineer and surveyor on General James Wolfe’s staff.

After Louisbourg, his [Cook’s] meticulous correcting of existing charts of the St. Lawrence River, and creation of new ones where none existed saved Saunders and Wolfe’s expedition to [capture] Quebec, and won him the reputation as one of the navy’s finest navigators’. Herman. ibid.

‘Maps’ it is said ‘are power’.  So it can be said James Cook and Samuel Holland sealed the fate of a free people – New Holland’s First Nations’ Peoples. See: A Tale of Two Cities, Quebec 1759 – Sydney 1788

‘Unwittingly Cook had stumbled into one of the great periods of change in naval history; the rise of scientific navigation’. A.W. Beazley, Fellowship of Three. The Surgeon John Hunter, The Navigator James Cook, The Naturalist Joseph Banks, Kangaroo Press, Sydney 1993


[To] rectify the Tables of the Motion of the Heavens, and the Place of the fixed Stars, so as to find out the so-much desired Longitude at sea for the Art of Navigation’.  Dava Sobel, Longitude, Fourth Estate, London, 1998 §

Whitehall – January 1649:  Heir Apparent Prince Charles, after the beheading of his father, on the orders of Oliver Cromwell at the beginning of 1649,  fled to Scotland the land of his father’s birth

From there Charles and his supporters planned and engaged Cromwell’s Parliamentarians in a cluster of battles.  Some  with success,  those against Cromwell’s reformed New Model Army, failed.

Brexit:  The  Civil War battles still arouse passion: Newbury, September and October 1643 –  Marston Moor, July 1644 –  Nasby. June 1645.

Across the Irish Sea at Drogheda, September 1649 civilian massacres,  similarly the Battle of Dunbar September 1650.

Worcester: A year later, September 1651, came the final battle.  Cromwell’s Roundheads vanquished Prince Charles’  Royalists. Parliament had triumphed and delivered a hollow, figure-head Monarchy.  Charles fled to the Continent living first in France and later the Netherlands.

In September 1658 Oliver Cromwell died of natural causes and The Protectorate collapsed in on itself.

London – 1660 May:  Prince Charles was brought back from exile.  In Westminster Abbey,  September 1660, amidst cheering crowds and the ‘pomp and circumstance’ for which for which the English are famous, Prince Charles was crowned King Charles II of England and Ireland.


1675: To make his mark as King Charles desired England take the lead in the ‘rise of scientific navigation’. To that end he commissioned Christopher Wren build an Observatory.

Greenwich: The site Wren chose was Greenwich Castle destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army.  The build, using the castle’s surviving foundations, was swift.

Greenwich Observatory was up and running just a year after work began. The Rev. John Flamsteed Britain’s was appointed Britain’s  first Astronomer Royal.

So began a century of great scientific advancement. But in the world of astronomy it was also a toxic century defined by trickery, deception, and skulduggery.

‘What Endeavour (1769) lacked was a convenient means of establishing her position at least so far as longitude was concerned…what he [Cook] did have was….[Maskelyne’s] Nautical Almanac which facilitated the tedious method of establishing longitude by the observation of the ‘lunars’. A.W.  Beasley. Fellowship of Three Cook, Hunter, Banks.

Jealously and skulduggery were the reasons why, a century later – 1769 – Cook sailed HMS Endeavour to Tahiti and then into the South Seas in search of the fabled Great South Land without a reliable sea-going chronometer. See: Cook, Harrison, Green – Three Yorkshire Men Walked Into A Bar – Nevil Maskelyne


‘Shortly before Cook sailed Maskelyne published the Nautical Almanac’. Lyn Withey, Voyages of Discovery, Captain Cook and the Explorations of the Pacific, Century Hutchinson, Melbourne, 1987 See: Lotto and Longitude

Longitude: A knowledge of ‘true time’ is necessary to determine longitude while a ship was at sea. On a pitching weather deck on a near starless night, with a telescope pressed to one eye, surely emphasis should have been placed on selecting ‘convenient’ over ‘tedious‘.

‘John Harrison, the man who solved longitude in 1759’. Peter Ackroyd, Revolution, Macmillan, London, 2016

Dava Sobel put John Harrison’s achievement with H-4 his marine chronometer eloquently; ‘He [Harrison] wrested the world’s whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch’

Harrison’s ‘pocket-watch’ had conquered time-keeping by 1759.  Yet in 1768 greed denied Cook this ‘convenient means of establishing longitude’. See: Lotto and Longitude


What HMS Endeavour and James Cook did have were the services of fellow Yorkshire-man Charles Green. He had been selected by the Royal Society to replace Alexander Dalrymple as Assistant Observer for the Transit of Venus.

Greenwich: Green had served as Chief Assistant under two (2) Astronomer Royals. Firstly in 1742 under Rev. James Bradley on his elevation to the post following Edmond Halley’s demise.

Oxford: In 1762 Rev. Nathaniel Bliss succeeded Bradley. Due to ill health, he made an occasional visit, but did not take up residence. He remained in Oxford until his death in 1764. During Bliss’s short two (2) year tenure Charles Green functioned as surrogate Astronomer Royal.

Greenwich: Charles Green, on a timed voyage to Barbardos, became convinced of the superiority of Harrison’s ‘pocket-watch’ over Maskelyne’s ‘Nautical Almanac’.

He left the  Observatory soon after Rev. Nevil Maskelyne was appointed Britain’s fifth Astronomer Royal in March 1765. See: The Third Man – Charles Green



xxxxxxBritain emerged successful but after a few years an uneasy peace gave way  to yet another war with France and, a cascade of conflict that included Spain,  the Dutch and in 1775 the American Revolutionary War. (1775-83).xxxxx






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