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 however would have none of Alexander Dalrymple a Fellow of the Royal Society who Rev. Nevil Maskelyne, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, 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 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 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 of a collier Friendship.

1755: War with France was looming when in 1755 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.

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 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’ expanded the struggle with France away from the Continent  with the intention of seizing French colonies in North America and India.

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.

The War of American Independence 1775-1783 – invasion of New Holland 1788 with an eye to India, China, the Phillipines and Spain’s South American colonies, established Britain’s supremacy over the Indian, Pacific and Southern oceans.

1793-1815 French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars ended in Belgium with England’s Duke of Wellington’s defeat of France’s Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo in 1815.

THE BACK STORY

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 delivered her troops but was 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 during the lay period 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 home  from exile on the Continent, France and the Netherlands, where he had fled following the beheading of his father – King Charles the First in 1649 on the orders of Oliver Cromwell.

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

1675: Charles desired England take the lead in the ‘rise of scientific navigation’ and to that end commissioned Sir Christopher Wren 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 Wren chose was Greenwich Castle destroyed by Cromwell’s Model Army during the Protectorate 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 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 into the South Seas in search of the fabled Great South Land without a Harrison chronometer. See: Cook, Harrison, Green – Three Yorkshire Men Walked Into A Bar – Nevil Maskelyne

‘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 put Harrison’s achievement with the H-4 eloquently; ‘He, wrested the world’s whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch’.

‘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.  

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

Harrison’s pocket-watch’ had conquered time-keeping it would have given 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

EPILOGUE

‘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’. 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: In order to establish a ‘second British Empire’ under the administration of the Younger William Pitt (1783-1801) Britain took pre-emptive steps to secure alternate sea-routes to and from India, Asia and Spain’s rich South American colonies 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’.

Britain’s humiliating defeat in the American war was due in large part to French money, men and munitions. New Holland was partly to revenge lost ‘bases and colonies’.

‘The administration of the 24-year-old Prime Minister William Pitt was under no illusion about the pretensions of its enemies. In early October 1784, Lord Carmarthen, the Foreign Secretary, stressed the necessity of knowing the extent of the proposed French and Dutch forces in India.

The information was essential, he added, ‘in order that we may ascertain the number of ships to be employed by us in that quarter of the world’. Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy, Hardie Grant Books, 2013

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

‘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’. Kennedy. ibid.

1815:  Britain, with the French ‘pretensions‘ out of the equation, turned rapacious eyes on India as Jewel in the Crown’ of Britain’s second Empire.

 

 

 

 

 

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