CAPTAIN COOK CAUGHT SHORT 

The Royal Society had accepted the recommendation of 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

The Admiralty would have none of Alexander Dalrymple a Fellow of the Royal Society who Astronomer Royal Rev. Nevil Maskelyne adjudged ‘a proper Person to be sent to the South Seas’.

Instead Admiralty chose James Cook a lowly Warrant Officer of the Royal Navy to replace Maskelyne’s choice of Dalrymple as Chief Observer of the Transit of Venus at Tahiti an event predicted to occur in early June 1769. See: Malicious Maskelyne 

‘[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. 

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

1747: Cook left school in 1747 to begin work as deckhand on a Whitby barque bringing coal from Newcastle to Hull and London.

1752: Working steadily through the ranks by 1752 Cook was Mate of a collier Friendship.

1755: War with France was looming so in 1755 James enlisted an Able Seaman in the Royal Navy where his experience made for steady progression.

1756: War, The Seven Year’s War (1756-1763), broke out in the mid 1750s with Britain, Prussia and Hanover on one side against France, Austria, Russia, Saxony, Sweden and Spain.

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

1757 October: In October Cook, then aged 29, was posted to HMS Pembroke a sixty-four (64) gun fighting ship.

1757: In late 1757 England’s Prime Minister William Pitt [Elder] ‘gained control of the [war] strategy’. Under Pitt, with the intention of seizing French colonies in North America and India, Britain expanded her struggle with France away from the Continent.

Military historians classify The Seven Years’ War as the world’s first truly global war. Unhappily after a few years of uneasy peace it morphed into a cascade of conflict that included yet another Anglo-Dutch war and war with Spain.

1775-1783 American Revolution and War of Independence, 1788 invasion of New Holland to establish British supremacy over the southern oceans, 1793-1815 French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars ending in Belgium with England’s Duke of Wellington’s defeat of France’s Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo in 1815.

THE BACK STORY

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

The city founded in 1713, named for King Louis XIV, as well as being a busy centre for fishing, fur trading and ship-building, Louisbourg was a fortress city of immense strategic importance to France.

Its port supported a substantial naval squadron guarding Quebec and Montreal. According to Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War, the French squadron consisted of; ‘eleven (11) ships including five (5) of the line’.

Pembroke delivered her troops but was so severely damaged en-route by heavy weather took no part in the battle for Louisbourg.

1758 – 26 July: Towards the end of July, after a siege of five (5) weeks, Louisbourg fell to the British leaving Montreal and Quebec exposed to invasion.

‘Cook first learned from a British army officer [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 who served as 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 are power’ it may 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

In 1660 Heir Apparent Prince Charles had returned from exile on the Continent where he fled following the beheading of his father – King Charles the First in 1649 on the orders of Oliver Cromwell.

1660 – May, London: With much pomp and ceremony amidst cheering crowds Charles was crowned King Charles II in Westminster Abbey. He desired England take the lead in the ‘rise of scientific navigation’ and to that end commissioned Sir Christopher Wren in 1675 build an Observatory.

[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

The site chosen was Greenwich Castle destroyed by Cromwell’s Model Army during the Interregnum. Just one (1) year after work began using the castle’s surviving foundations, Greenwich Observatory was up and running with Rev. John Flamsteed appointed Britain’s first Astronomer Royal.

So began a century of great scientific advancement but also a toxic century defined by trickery, deception, skulduggery and the reason why, a century later – 1769 – Cook sailed HMS Endeavour to Tahiti and into the South Seas in search of the fabled Great South Land without a Harrison chronometer.

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

A sound knowledge of time is necessary to determine longitude while a ship was at sea. Dava Sobel puts Harrison’s achievement so eloquently; ‘He, wrested the world’s whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch’.

Harrison’s pocket-watch’ had conquered time-keeping and it would have given Cook ‘a convenient means of establishing longitude’. See: Cook, Harrison, Green – Three Yorkshire Men Walked Into A Bar – Nevil Maskelyne

‘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. ibid.   

What HMS Endeavour and Cook, its captain and navigator did have, were the services of Charles Green selected by the Royal Society to replace Alexander Dalrymple as Assistant Observer for the Transit of Venus at Tahiti in June 1769. See: The Third Man – Charles Green

EPILOGUE

‘Parallel to, and dependent upon, the Anglo-French duel for command of the sea went their struggle for overseas bases and colonies; here too, the culminating point in a century-long race was reached, with Britain emerging in 1815 with a position so strengthened that she appeared to be the only real colonial power in the world’. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, Fontana Press, 3rd Ed. London, 1976

The invasion of New Holland, now Australia, followed on quickly from America’s War of Independence 1775-1783 and Britain’s loss of her ‘Empire in the West’ the thirteen (13) ‘middle colonies’ – New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Carolina North and South, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island.

1786 – August, Westminster: Under the administration of the Younger William Pitt (1783-1801) Britain took pre-emptive steps to secure alternate sea-routes to and from India and Asia via the Southern Oceans.

‘New Holland is a good blind then when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Anon, Historical Records of New South Wales.

1787 – 25 April, London: King George III confirmed the invasion of New Holland.

‘That the fighting against France in what was originally and essentially a European war should have spread so swiftly to the tropics was a result of many factors, most of them predicable’. Kennedy. op.cit.

1815: Post the Napoleonic War, with the French now out of the equation, Britain unchallenged turned rapacious eyes on India as her Empire’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’.

 

 

 

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