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

 Rev. Nevil Maskelyne, Britain’s Astronomer Royal adjudged the hydrographer, a Fellow of the Royal Society; ‘a proper Person to be sent to the South Seas’. The Admiralty however would have none of Alexander Dalrymple. See: Malicious Maskelyne 

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

‘[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 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’.

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 on a collier Friendship.

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

1756: 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.

Military historians classify The Seven Years’ War 1756-1763 as the world’s first truly global war. After a few years of uneasy peace it morphed into a cascade of conflict that included yet another Anglo-Dutch war, war with Spain and in 1775 the American Revolution

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

1757 October: In October, then aged 29, he 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’. With the intention of seizing French colonies in North America and India England’s struggle with France moved away from the Continent.


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

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

Its port supported a substantial French naval presence 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’s crew and troops were badly affected by scurvy and the ship so severely damaged en-route by heavy weather she took no 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 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. It was during the lay period that James Cook met Lieutenant Samuel Holland. A Dutchman Holland 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.

It is said ‘maps are power’. 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

1660 – England: A century earlier – 1660 –  Heir Apparent Prince Charles returned to England  from exile. He had fled to the Continent, France and later the Netherlands, following the beheading of his father – King Charles the First in 1649 on the orders of Oliver Cromwell.

1660 – May, London:  Charles was crowned King Charles II in Westminster Abbey with much pomp and ceremony amidst cheering crowds.

1675: To make his mark Charles desired England take the lead in the ‘rise of scientific navigation’.

[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

To that end King Charles II commissioned Christopher Wren build an Observatory. The site Wren chose was Greenwich Castle destroyed by Cromwell’s Model Army during the Protectorate Interregnum.

Using the castle’s surviving foundations the build was swift. Just one (1) year after work began Greenwich Observatory was up and running.  Rev. John Flamsteed 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, skulduggery and the reason 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  sea-going chronometer. See: Cook, Harrison, Green – Three Yorkshire Men Walked Into A Bar – Nevil Maskelyne

Longitude:  A starless night on a pitching weather deck with a telescope pressed to one eye emphasis must be placed on comparing ‘convenient’ with ‘tedious‘.

‘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. 

A sound knowledge of time is necessary to determine longitude while a ship was at sea. Dava Sobel put John Harrison’s achievement with his marine chronometer H-4 eloquently; ‘He [Harrison] wrested the world’s whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch’

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

Harrison’s ‘pocket-watch’ had conquered time-keeping it would have given James Cook‘ a convenient means of establishing longitude’.

‘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

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.

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 the death of Edmond Halley.

In 1762 Rev. Nathaniel Bliss succeeded Bradley but due to ill health, though he visited Greenwich, did not take up residence. Bliss remained in Oxford and died there in 1764.

During Bliss’s short two (2) year tenure Charles Green functioned as surrogate Astronomer Royal. He left the Observatory soon after Rev. Nevil Maskelyne was appointed in March 1765. See: The Third Man – Charles Green







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