Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Capt. Cook’s Monument

The obelisk to Captain James Cook on Easby Moor, a familiar sight from the Cleveland plain. Cook is a local hero. We all know of his epic voyages to the Pacific, they are taught in schools, but his legacy is being reassessed as we look at events at that time through 21st century eyes.

Cook’s official reason for leading his first voyage on the Endeavour was to travel to Tahiti and witness the rare astronomical event of Venus passing in front of the sun in 1769. However, there was more to the mission. Secret instructions from the British Admiralty ordered Cook to explore the South Pacific for potential new lands, including a rumored giant southern continent. If he found land, he was to make friends with the locals, map the area, and see if it offered trade opportunities. Additionally, he was instructed to claim any suitable locations for the British crown, but only with the agreement of the indigenous people.

That first voyage included the enthusiastic young naturalist Joseph Banks. Banks’ outgoing personality contrasted with Cook’s reserved nature, making them a well-balanced team. Banks’ friendliness was especially helpful in gaining permission from locals. In Tahiti, Banks befriended the high priest, Tupaia, who even joined the expedition as a translator and artist. Tupaia documented their travels with drawings and paintings. Unfortunately, both Tupaia and his son died from a fever while the ship stopped for repairs in Batavia on their return journey. This fever also claimed nearly half the crew.

While Cook’s explorations were impressive and beneficial to his nation, they had a devastating impact on the indigenous people he encountered. Their way of life wasn’t simply disrupted by his arrival; it was permanently altered, even if Cook’s intentions were well-meaning. For instance, during a later voyage, Cook gave the Maori people domesticated animals like sheep and pigs, hoping to improve their lives. However, these animals significantly affected the native plants and animals, driving some native species to extinction.

Australia’s founding owes a debt to Joseph Banks, whose recommendation turned it into a convict destination. However, this progress came at a heavy cost, nearly wiping out the traditional Aboriginal way of life. This illustrates that understanding the past is challenging because we tend to see things through modern eyes.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *