Writing Captain Cook
Maria Nugent, Jackie French, Susan Hall, Martin Terry and Geoffrey Blainey, and chaired by Mathew Trinca, National Museum of Australia, 17 May 2009
MATHEW TRINCA: Good afternoon, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Mathew Trinca and I’m the General Manager of Collections and Content here at the National Museum of Australia. I’d first like to acknowledge that we meet today on the traditional land of the Ngambri and Ngunnawal people. I thank and honour the members of that group who are here today and those of other Indigenous people of other parts of the country who are here with us also. On behalf of the Director of the National Museum of Australia, I’d like to welcome you all to this conversation about a figure who lies at the centre historically and imaginatively of the nation’s history.
We’re all looking forward to hearing our panelists speak today from a range of perspectives. This presentation is being recorded by the ABC for what we hope will be a forthcoming Hindsight program on Radio National and also by the Museum for use on our own podcast service.
Just a few metres from we are meeting this afternoon is one of the Museum’s major recent acquisitions. It’s a bust of Jacques Cook created by a French artist who was in the school of the eighteenth-century French court sculptor Augustin Pajou. If you haven’t seen it before, I would like to commend it to you. It’s a marvellous piece, created after Cook’s death at Hawaii as a commission for the Marquis de Laborde a few years before the Revolution. It’s a rather idealised conception. Cook is cast as a heroic classical figure but it’s fascinating for what it tells us about the celebrity that grew up around this naval caption in the aftermath of his three Pacific voyages.
Cook’s fame, fanned by Joseph Banks and other supporters, grew and spread across Europe through the 1780s and 1790s. The sculpture is really a tangible product of that fame, created at the request of a French aristocrat for a memorial centaph on his estate erected, we think, within a decade or so of Cook’s death. Nearby are two rather more prosaic items that remind us that Cook was not just a celebrity or an idea but a man who lived and breathed. There’s a small pocket magnifying glass which belonged to Cook and which he gave to the astronomer on his third Pacific voyage William Bailey. It’s a modest piece, a useful thing for a seafarer’s pocket. Not far from it is a plane table frame which Cook used for charting his course along the coasts he surveyed. Again, it’s a simple, wooden square rule, unassuming and functional.
These things describe one of the central tensions of Cook’s legacy that we’ll be examining here today. That is, the tension between Cook, a real person who lived in the late eighteenth century and who undertook long and remarkable sea voyages to chart and survey the Pacific, and Cook, the mythopoeic figure, a founding father of the nation, who was and is celebrated around the world. The fact that these things are displayed here and that we’re having this conversation today is no accident for this Museum has found itself faced by both these Cooks and the many others that exist in our minds from time to time.
Divergent ideas about the place of Cook as a figure in our national past were among the issues canvassed in debates about this Museum shortly after it opened in 2001, and at the time the Museum was enjoined to present a more faithful picture of James Cook and to properly acknowledge his place in the nation’s past. Ever since, it seems, we have been grappling with how best to do this. Notably, in 2006 the Museum brought to Canberra collections of specific material which Cook made on his voyages. It was the first time that those pieces had returned to the southern hemisphere since their collection more than 200 years ago. We have also sponsored a collection of essays, Discovering Cook’s Collections, which is due for release later this year, as well as supporting the research of one of our speakers today, Maria Nugent, in our Centre of Historical Research.
Yet I suspect that the matter of Cook and his representation by the Museum will never be settled. As Maria herself suggests, Cook has become the nexus for a continuing conversation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in this country that shows no sign of abating. We will, I expect, always be talking about James Cook as we seek to deal with the very many versions of him that circulate from time to time.
This afternoon we are blessed to have been joined by five guests who have all sought to examine aspects of Cook and his legacy. Our first speaker is Maria Nugent, a research fellow here, as I mentioned, at the National Museum of Australia. Maria is the author of Botany Bay: Where Histories Meet and her just published book about Captain Cook in Australia is called Captain Cook was Here.
Maria will then be followed by Jackie French, a writer, gardener and sometime wombat negotiator from the Araluen Valley. She’s written more than 100 books across a variety of genres, including Hitler’s Daughter, A Rose for the Anzac Boys, Diary of a Wombat and The Goat who Sailed the World, the story of the goat which sailed on Cook’s Endeavour voyage for younger readers.
Susan Hall and Martin Terry are both of the National Library of Australia where Susan is the publishing manager and Martin is a curator. Both have been involved in the 2008 publication of Cook’s Endeavour Journal: The Inside Story, part of the National Library of Australia’s very fine Collection Highlight series. They will jointly speak today about that book.
Finally, we are joined by the eminent Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey. Professor Blainey is the author of many books that have changed the way we see the history of this country including, but certainly not limited to: The Tyranny of Distance: The Rush that Never Ended, Black Kettle and Full Moon and the best-selling A Short History of the World. His book about Captain Cook’s first voyage is called Sea of Dangers: Captain Cook and his Rivals and was published by Penguin in 2008.
Each of our four presentations will last for about 15 minutes. I have been strictly directed to ensure that our speakers do stick to that time regimen. There will be time at the conclusion of the presentations for questions from the audience. So I’d ask you please to reserve your questions to any of the speakers until that time. It now gives me great pleasure to call on Maria Nugent to speak.
MARIA NUGENT: I thank everyone for coming and it’s great to see so many people here. When I told people that I was writing a book about Captain Cook, a typical reaction was, ‘Oh, no, not another book about Captain Cook! Is there really anything more to say about him?’ I think it’s actually a fair response, given the number of books that already exist about him and the regularity with which new ones continue to be published. Not long after I submitted the completed manuscript for Captain Cook was Here to my publisher, I opened the Canberra Times one Saturday morning to find a whole page devoted to the reviews of not one but four books about Captain Cook, and some of the people responsible for those books are here today. My initial response was bother, what sort of crowded market am I just about to enter into. I guess I knew that cookbooks of the food kind were popular but I don’t think I had really appreciated the extent to which this was true of ‘Cook books’ of the other kind.
Given the plethora of recent publications and given what Mat has said about Captain Cook continuing to be a kind of lightning rod in debates about Australian history, I think it’s timely that we had a public conversation about where he’s at currently in the Australian imagination and also to find out a bit about what writers are doing with him now: what they’re doing with him and to him as they write yet more books about him. What better way to do that than to invite a couple of historians, a writer of children’s literature, a publisher and a curator to come together to reflect on their quite recent and idiosyncratic journeys with Captain Cook and his crew, with his goat, with his journal and with his rivals.
So I’m hoping that, by listening to what we’ve got to say here today and what you’ve got to say to us in reply, we might get some insights into the enduring and renewed interest in more stories, in additional information, in new angles about Cook and his history.
Now in sitting down to write Captain Cook was Here, I worked from a very simple premise: that cross-cultural encounters, the interactions between the voyagers and the locals, the meetings on the beach, whatever you want to call them, were a critical element in Captain Cook’s Australian history. But it seems to me that theme has been underplayed in the large literature about him. You might say that this is in quite stark contrast to other scholarship about Cook, particularly in the Pacific where paradoxically Australian scholars such as Bernard Smith, the late Greg Denning and more recently Nick Thomas have been at the forefront of writing histories of Cook from a cross-cultural perspective.
A common notion is that there were little or no interactions between Cook’s crew and the local Indigenous people that they met along the east coast of the continent, but I don’t think that’s true. Cook’s own journal as well as those of Banks and others make it quite clear that the interactions were there. It is true that they certainly were not as sustained or as close, and perhaps not even as intense, as those which happened in other places visited by Cook and his men on their first and later voyages.
In Australia there was none of the commerce or trade that characterised interactions elsewhere. It is also true that the local people were often diffident, or at least appeared to be so. But that doesn’t mean that there were no encounters worth writing about, as inscrutable as they seem in the journal accounts. The interactions that took place, I think, are nonetheless rich with meaning and with consequence. They take a bit of work to sort through, but I think the work is worth it.
When one’s primary focus is on encounters between what I call locals and strangers, the shape of the history that one writes about Cook quickly changes. We begin to see the place and the people that he saw through many different eyes and many different perspectives.
One of the great treasures discovered at Botany Bay in 1770 is the drawing that I’ve got up on the screen [image shown] by a man called Tupaia, a priestly man from the island of Ra’iatea, who joined the voyage in Tahiti mainly at Joseph Banks’ behest. In the image are three canoes and three figures I think very sympathetically rendered. We see Tupaia’s interest in the relationships among the local people, in the constitution perhaps of family groups. This is possibly a man and two wives, although we can’t be sure, maybe a man and two sons. We also see his interest in their food gathering activities, in the things that they made and used, and in their bodily features and composure. Tupaia’s image, a real treasure from the encounter, is important for the details that it contains. But it also invites us to think about the occasion that allowed it to be made. Tupaia must have spent time watching the local people as they went about their daily activities and, as the picture shows, they must have watched him watching them. I think that is a powerful witness to the nature of encounter during Cook’s time in Australia.
This image is starkly different from the one of the two warriors advancing to combat, which was produced in England a couple of years later by a man who was not on the voyage. It was produced specifically for publication and it draws on imagery and descriptions of Maori people more so than Australian Indigenous people - it’s an argument that Bernard Smith has made about it. Yet despite its inaccuracy, it has long been and remains a widely circulated image of the people Cook supposedly met. It has set the tone for the popular interpretation of the nature of that meeting as combat, and I think it portrays the people as essentially combative. This is quite at odds with their behaviour towards the voyagers. They were in reality reluctant to use force and only did so when provoked.
One of the most charged encounters during the eight days that the Endeavour was at Botany Bay did not involve Cook at all. He was actually often absent from the action. The occasion I’m thinking about is when the surgeon, Dr Monkhouse, and some of his friends teased a group of local men. This happened on day four, which is the middle day of the encounter. It seems to me that teasing is quite an intimate, if dismissive, mode of communication. It’s a mode of communication that can suggest as much about the teaser as it can about the butt of his joke. I don’t want to give the whole story away here, because it would be good if you read the book. But Monkhouse and his friends mocked the local men’s habit of walking away. In this incident of teasing the locals we can begin to see, however faintly, the opinion some of the voyagers were forming about the people they met: they considered them as cowards. A couple of days later the local men paid back the doctor for his fooling, singling him out for a warning. And in this I think we glimpse, in turn, the attitudes that they were forming about the strangers in their midst.
Monkhouse’s moment of mockery and the local people’s response to it are incidents often passed over in accounts of Cook’s time in Australia. But on my reading they are critical incidents and they mark something of a turning point in the way in which relations were developing over the very short time that Cook was on land. By tracking in sequence all of these strange and not so strange moments of recognition and misrecognition, I want to suggest that the narrative is pulled away from a baldly heroic or epic tale about the courage of Cook and his men. At the same time, this approach resists a reading of relations between the voyagers and the locals as only oppositional in which antagonism and suspicion apparently rule the day. And in their place one struggles to write about those very human emotions such as intrigue, fear, confusion and regret. We cannot rush to the end of the story to make some grand concluding statements about what happened, because we need to tease out the ever-shifting contours of experience as fragile relations develop and falter, and in the end of this encounter in particular they remain incomplete and unresolved.
As Mat suggested, the story of Cook in Australia certainly does not end with the departure of his ship from the eastern coastline. For two centuries or more he and his voyage have been something that Australians like to talk about and they like to talk about it a lot, as the many stories, the many paintings, the monuments, the television programs, the museum exhibitions, all the stuff we collect and all the places we name in his honour suggest. Australians have been talking non-stop about Cook for two centuries or more.
Aboriginal people have talked about him for at least as long as settler Australians have. The earliest recorded accounts that I came across in my research date from the very opening years of the nineteenth century, but of course there was certainly talk before then, including in the days and nights immediately after the strange ship sailed away. Aboriginal people across Australia, in places where Cook went and in places he did not go, have had things to say about him in word and image right up to the present. This is an image of Percy Mumbulla, who I think is one of the great Aboriginal storytellers about Captain Cook, a man who preserved a story for a very long time and who, in the later part of his life, began to narrate some new stories.
Like the encounters on land in 1770, the history of the sustained storytelling about Cook by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians can be approached from a cross-cultural perspective. Cook is a topic of conversation in an ongoing, if fraught and fragmentary, dialogue between Aboriginal people over two centuries or more. And that’s what I think makes him a really interesting figure to think about.
To finish, because I’m conscious that we stick to time, in preparation for this symposium today, all the speakers were asked if they would share their views about why they think that Captain Cook matters still in twenty-first century Australia. So why do I think he’s important? It’s quite simple: I think he’s important because he was here. Captain Cook was here. He’s being here, however fleetingly, had implications for many peoples, not least for the local people he met along the coast in 1770 in ways that we can only imagine, and ultimately for all Indigenous people in Australia. Their actions toward the voyagers in 1770 and their later stories about Captain Cook can teach many things: about how to make sense of strange experiences, about how to approach and relate to each other with consideration and caution, about how to be ethical in our treatment of one another and about how we might imagine futures that involve us all.
In writing about Captain Cook in the way that I’ve described to you today, I found it possible to envision Australia’s history fundamentally, and perhaps even foundationally, as being about relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. His being here in 1770 marks, retrospectively at least, a moment in which our histories became forever joined. Thank you.
JACKIE FRENCH: Once upon a time there was a goat. There are times, sometimes, when you find just one little piece of information that entirely changes your view of the past, and that’s what happened when I read about Captain Cook’s goat. I didn’t mean to be even looking for the goat. I had read in a biography of Cook that, when Cook returned, Joseph Banks stole the limelight, that when you looked at the newspapers there would be far more about Banks than Cook and I wanted to think, ‘OK, is this true?’ I went back and I looked at the newspaper coverage of the time, and to my astonishment the greatest coverage was not given to Cook and it was not given to Joseph Banks - it was given to a goat. This was a goat who had already sailed around the world with Captain Wallace and who had already butted overboard Hawaiian royalty, causing some diplomatic furor. She was already a famous goat. It also meant she was probably a middle-aged goat, but she was still chosen to go on board the Endeavour.
I was lucky, I had a mother - I was going to say who was a historian, but she’s still alive so I suppose she is still a historian, and she would read me his diary as a bedtime story, she would read me the diaries of my ancestors. I grew up knowing about primary sources. I felt I no longer believed the clichés of history, but it wasn’t until I met Captain Cook’s goat that I realised how much my view of Captain Cook’s voyage, of the voyages of that time, was based on cliché, and how little I knew about the reasons why Europeans didn’t come to Australia.
My view of Cook and his voyages had been framed by the wonderful portraits that you see in galleries of the officers in their wonderful uniforms. What I didn’t know was that they only wore uniforms when they went onshore. Most sailors wore old sail cloths. You would never ever risk your uniform onboard ship. It was far too expensive and far too precious. They didn’t wear shoes. You wouldn’t wear shoes on a slippery deck. Most of the time the officers wouldn’t even wear their hats, because if they wore a hat they would have to be saluted. You salute the hat; you salute the uniform; you do not salute the man. The images I had had of those men were from the portraits, and that was not what they would have looked like onboard the ship.
I had an image of ships from movies like Hornblower and those lovely Hollywood ones where they wear really tight black trousers and frilly white shirts with these lovely clean decks and white flapping sails above it. Except it wasn’t like that at all. By the time they got to Australia, those sails had been patched and patched and patched and they would not have been white and there would not have been clean decks.
When James Cook went on board the Endeavour, a ship which from the keel was 91 feet, but usable space was about 61 feet, that is 61 of our steps along the ground, as well as the crew, as well as the scientists, as well as any number of animals and stores the scientists and Banks took onboard, which were not recorded, there was a mob of cattle, a mob of sheep and a pregnant pig whose offspring was to be kept for breeding. There were so many hens, and the hens were kept in the ships boats. Whenever the ship’s boats were used, the first thing they would have to have done would have been to take the hens out and then get the manure out. If you think of the sheer number of animals and the sheer amount of manure on the Endeavour day after day after day, you realise why you mostly see the sailors with their holy stones scrubbing the deck. It was not a peculiar form of naval discipline; it was simply because otherwise they would be ankle-deep in animal shit. This was not the romantic thing I had envisaged.
As well as all of those animals there was the goat. This goat was there specifically to provide milk for the captain and for the officers. From reading Wallace’s journal I have a fairly good idea she was kept on the bridge. On a place like the Endeavour where the gentlemen, the scientists, might have their own supplies, when the crew had scurvy, Banks was still dining on plum pudding, the goat would be kept where no sailor in the dead of night might possibly steal some of her milk. And there is no doubt that Cook was very familiar with the goat. The goat travelled around the world with Cook. She came to Australia with Cook. She may possibly have helped save the ship when they foundered up on the Endeavour Reef, because that was when the young man suggested that they cover the hole in the ship with a sail covered in animal manure.
James Cook was a man of extraordinary rigorous hygiene, quite unlike most other captains. He insisted that they scrub the ship out once a week. He was not a man to have stale manure lingering around for a year or two to be needed. And it’s there that you actually realise the animals are still there. Ships in those days were floating arks. These were not animals just to be eaten in the first few weeks. These were animals who were expected to be bred, and their offspring would be eaten. The sheer amount of manure needed to actually keep that ship afloat and cover a sail was enormous. It was mostly sheep manure and goat manure, and the goat was still there.
There is no record of the pig anywhere that I was able to find until the Endeavour River when they beach and, because of Banks’s tactlessness, the local people set fire to the grass and one of the piglets was burnt, and that is the first record. You realise that not only was there a breeding pig but she was having piglets two years on into the voyage. The animals were still there and they were still breeding, and the goat was still giving milk. She gave milk for the entire almost three years of the voyage and, yes, I think that’s actually impossible too, but that’s what the newspaper said.
So I started to investigate how could this goat give milk for three years. First of all, it turns out that she was an almost extinct English milk goat. They only breed once every two years and they do give milk for a far longer period that is normal. But also if you look at her diet, which would mostly have been the ship’s diet with a lot of peas, a lot of legumes, added to the hay and the grass, she very likely had an ovarian tumour. Animals fed on that sort of diet often get ovarian tumours and probably that is why she continued to give milk. But the fact that the goat was there said so much more about the history of Australia in the last 2000 years.
Cook, of course, was not the first European to either see or claim Australia. Australia had been known for a very, very long time. But no one, except the inhabitants and some Indonesian trepang collectors, was particularly interested and it was only when I started studying the goat that I realised why. Over and over and over when you read through the diaries of the men on board, whether it’s Cook or many of the others who also kept diaries, over and over and over you have the same refrain: they stopped for fresh water and they stopped for grass.
Grass is as important as fresh water. And one thing Australia does not have is many easily-accessible large rivers where there is safe shelter for a sailing ship but also where you can put ashore to get fresh water and grass. And every time they stopped you had the same refrain: the men are set to cutting grass, to drying grass and are set to sending the grass back again once it has dried as hay. There are the notes ‘good grass’, ‘wiry grass’, ‘bad grass’, ‘lush grass’. I suddenly realised the importance of grass, because if you were at sea for three years with very few places you can stop for stores, again the Endeavour was an ark, it was a place of breeding animals. That was one of the main reasons why Australia was of so little interest to so many other countries for so long. There just wasn’t enough grass, good marsh grass, for the cutting.
What happened to the goat? The goat survived. She got back to England and she was a complete and utter heroine. The Royal Society made her a member. That is the first female ever granted membership of the Royal Society and, by the way, the first goat and probably the only goat. The Admiralty made her a pensioner of Greenwich. Parliament gave her a pension for life. The Royal Society also gave her a gold collar engraved in Latin by Joseph Banks.
But even though she was now an Admiralty pensioner, she was not going to be made into goat curry. Cook took her home. Here is a man who hasn’t been home for three years. We’re not talking about a gentleman with a great estate who can hand it over to his keeper; we’re talking about a man with a small house and a very, very tiny plot of land. And what did he take home to his wife and family after three years away? An elderly, stroppy and probably very smelly nanny goat. I think that says an enormous amount about both James Cook, exploration of Australia and the goat.
The goat had an epitaph when she died about a year afterwards. Again it was written by Joseph Banks in Latin, and this is someone else’s translation:
In fame, scarce second to the nurse of Jove, this goat, who twice the world traversed around, deserving both her master’s care and love, ease and perpetual pasture, now has found.
I think every generation is going to re-imagine James Cook in a different way. When I was a child at school, he was this intrepid explorer adding pink bits to the globe. Later from the 1960s, the 1970s and onwards, he became one of the perpetuators of colonialism - perhaps the birth for Australians’ concept of terra nullius. He was no longer such a good guy.
In the last ten years that has changed too, for now you have these wonderful Hollywood movies, you have the Hornblower series and you have these lovely men in their tight black slacks and their beautiful billowing white shirts. I think now he’s seen more popularly as a hero: the lone man on the deck peering out at the horizon, the great romantic hero. Every generation, I think, is going to recreate James Cook according to their own needs, their own culture and their own national morality. But for me, James Cook is always going to be the man on the bridge alone at night talking to his goat.
SUSAN HALL: Good afternoon, my name is Susan Hall and I’m the publishing manager at the National Library of Australia. As most of you may know, the National Library not only collects books but also publishes them in order to interpret and highlight the Library’s collections. I’m going to talk to you about our book Cook’s Endeavour Journal: The Inside Story.
Why did we decide to publish this book? The Endeavour Journal, written on Cook’s voyage during 1768 to 1771, is the Library’s best-known treasure. We wanted to create an accessible book that would appeal to a general audience and bring the journal to life. I decided to start each chapter with an extract from the journal itself and present a facsimile and transcription, and then let the content of that part of the journal lead us into the theme of the following chapter.
I wanted to get the reader as close as they could to the primary source, back to the original words, which have sometimes only been read in not-so-accurate transcriptions. I chose the extracts that best exemplified the themes we had identified, ranging from a chapter on the history of the Endeavour itself to Cook’s writings on relations with Indigenous peoples. In this page you can see from the book [image shown], you can see the facsimile on the left and the transcription on the right, and each chapter starts off in this way. This extract shows Cook naming Botany Bay. You can see where he crossed out his first choice, Stingray Harbour, then his second, Botanist Bay, to reach the final name we know today. And here is a close-up of that section of the journal [image shown].
We have had a very enthusiastic response from readers about using the facsimile in this way and the pleasure they’ve had from looking at the actual handwriting. I think you feel like you’re getting closer to Cook as a person somehow. This particular extract then leads into a chapter about the botanising objectives of the expedition with Joseph Banks, Daniel Solander, and so on. This is one of the following pages about the botanists [image shown]. For Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, the landing at Botany Bay would mark the beginning of the finest and busiest period of collecting of the whole voyage. By the end of the voyage the pair had pieced together one of the largest botanical collections ever amassed during a voyage of discovery. We have included nice snippets of information, such as the fact that throughout the voyage Banks and Solander pressed and dried their specimens between remainder pages of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
The book is very visual, and throughout the book we use the combination of original texts and contemporary illustrations and objects. Here, for example, you can see the image of the Banksia serrata, named after Joseph Banks, and a portrait of botanical artist Sydney Parkinson, who painted the original. I worked very closely with the book’s designer to present the type of look and feel that I wanted. We also used images of objects - cannons and sextants, for example - paintings, sketches and maps. We even included a ship’s biscuit, as you can see here [image shown]. A professional writer wrote the text using research materials supplied by the Library. The text was read by experts in-house and one external expert.
I don’t have time to talk in detail about all the themes we included in the book. I’m just going to talk about a few of my favourites, one of them being Cook’s description in his journal of how he served sauerkraut to his officers to make it seem desirable to the sailors who had spurned it, writing, ‘The moment they see their superiors set a value upon it, it becomes the finest stuff in the world.’ This journal extract then leads into a discussion in the pages following about scurvy and how Cook avoided it due to his insistence on fresh produce and his concern for the health of his men.
Another journal entry I found fascinating is Cook’s description of Private William Greenslade’s death after being caught thieving a piece of sealskin. In Cook’s words, ‘By accident or design, he went overboard and was drowned.’ Banks was less circumspect, writing that Greenslade had been shamed by the men in choosing suicide over dishonour. This is followed by a chapter about the articles of war that ruled the lives of sailors in the navy and life onboard ship, and you can see a page from this chapter up here [image shown].
When William Greenslade threw himself over the side, he was escaping not only the torment of his fellow marines but also possible execution. Under the articles of war, the set of rules laid down by the Admiralty in the 1650s to govern life aboard British naval vessels: ‘A thief shall be punished with death or otherwise as a court martial upon consideration of the circumstances shall find meet.’ Life aboard the Endeavour, indeed aboard any ship in the eighteenth century, was subject to pressures virtually unknown on land. Discipline was an ever-present threat, and punishment in the form of flogging or confinement in leg irons was considered essential.
Then there is a dramatic story of the wreck on the Endeavour Reef and how the ship was fothered. Jackie has already talked about a sail being filled with oakum and dung being hauled under the ship’s bottom by ropes. The chapter following describes the desperate measures taken to get off the reef, including jettisoning the cannons, which were recovered only in 1969. Limping into the Endeavour River, they saw their first kangaroo, and you can see Cook struggling to describe it. He starts by writing: ‘It was of the deer kind,’ and then he crossed it out, writing, ‘It was something like a greyhound of mouse colour and swift of foot.’ You can see him really struggling to compute what he was seeing. It would take some years before an accurate drawing would be made of this creature, the first of the wonderful world of marsupials that would amaze Europeans.
Our book has sold very well. It was reprinted immediately. So we had a great response to using facsimiles in this way. When they’re reproduced on paper, you really get the feel of a journal rather than, say, reading it online. Using the journal itself as a springboard for each chapter worked well as a structure for the book as it covers all the main themes of the age: exploration, navigation, life at sea, scientific discoveries and charting new lands, encounters with Indigenous peoples, and, of course, the search for the Great South Land. This ship contained remarkable personalities of the age: Banks, Solander, Parkinson, and, of course, Cook himself. Hopefully, we have fulfilled our vision of making a collection item come alive and become accessible to a wide range of people. This is just a snapshot of how we put the book together. I’m happy to answer questions later.
Martin Terry, a curator at the Library, is going to talk to you now about the journal that lies behind our book.
MARTIN TERRY: Good afternoon. Mat Trinca, thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this occasion. On the 26th of October 1768 sailing towards Brazil, James Cook did something unexpected and described a shipboard occasion: ‘After, it was no longer doubted we were to the southward of the line, the equator, the ceremony on this occasion practiced by all nations was not omitted. This ceremony was performed on about 20 or 30 to the no small diversion of the rest.’ Up until now Cook had been as silent as a chart, confining his journal to navigational matters and geographic quibbles. Suddenly, we get a glimpse of life on board observed from the quarterdeck - Cook’s point of view. From here on, below the equator, his journal begins to grow, ultimately filling over 750 pages. As well as the east coast of Australia, Cook discovers words.
How did this happen? The voyage had begun well. While a man had been lost overboard - the Scot Alexander Weir became caught up in the anchor rope - Cook is relaxing into his command. He was familiar with paper, and pen and ink. He was, after all, one of the eighteenth-century’s greatest cartographers, but words were another matter.
On Endeavour he grew beyond his former self. There are perhaps two reasons this took place. Firstly, I suggest this was because of the presence of Joseph Banks and his entourage of scientists and artists. With this group in the great cabin oscillating around Banks, the boyish millionaire in his opulent waistcoats, Cook becomes a curious man. Banks gives us a great description of this milieu:
Now do I wish that our friends in England could by the assistance of some magical spying glass take a peep at our situation. Dr Solander sits at the cabin table describing, myself at my bureau journalising, and between us hangs a large bunch of seaweed.
There’s a second reason for Cook’s words. Shortly before Endeavour departed, Lord Morton, President of the Royal Society - a position Banks would later occupy, seemingly forever - offered for Cook’s consideration his famous hints. It is essentially a brief of all the things Cook should observe. Morton’s hints - he couldn’t issue orders to Cook - might have seemed a gamble but Cook, like most good sailors, was an instinctive observer: shifts in wind, the presence of shore birds that would tell of a coastline. Fulfilling Morton’s wide-ranging prospectus contributed to Cook’s growing command of language.
In her book Botany Bay: Where Histories Meet, Dr Nugent writes of the melody of Cook’s words, and the sweetness of his language combines with Morton as Endeavour leaves Australia. Cook’s journal is currently on display at the Library and one of the curatorial perks is being able to choose his words. Directly referencing William Dampier, Cook writes:
The natives of New Holland may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon the earth. But in reality they are far happier than we Europeans, being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary conveniences so much sought after in Europe. They live in a tranquility, which is not disturbed by the inequality of condition.
Morton, Banks and Cook all helped give birth to the great foundation document that we know at the Library as MS1. It was bought in 1923 but, having acquired it, the Commonwealth seemed rather at a loss as to what to do with it. It was briefly exhibited Melbourne before disappearing from sight. It famously made the train trip to Canberra hidden in a paper bag.
Years passed. In 1955, the Hakluyt Society published the magnificent transcript by JC Beaglehole. The society had sought a small subsidy to assist the publication. But, unlike New Zealand, the Australian government declined to contribute. Over the last ten years, however, an interesting shift has occurred. The Library has not so much revived MS1 as one has come to pivot around it. In 1999, in association with the National Maritime Museum in Sydney, it was issued as a CD-ROM. It is now difficult to access, but this was a pioneering attempt to integrate words and images in an interactive format.
In 2001, to mark the centenary of the Library, a collection of essays entitled Remarkable Occurrences was published. The first chapter was ‘MS 1, Cook, J.: Holograph Journal’ by Greg Denning. That year the journal was placed on UNESCO’s register of Memory of the World, a list of documents whose preservation is regarded as essential to humankind. In 2005, the journal toured in National Treasures from Australia’s Great Libraries, and Susan has outlined some of the thoughts behind our recent book. From the end of next year, the Endeavour Journal will be more or less permanently on display in an exhibition of Library highlights.
The restoration to cite of MS1 could not have occurred perhaps if Cook himself had not come to once again occupy a comfortable place in the national story. I remember attending a symposium at the National Library in about 1995 characterised by angry anthropologists arguing over Cook’s dismembered corpse. It was, however, another book that contributed to Cook’s rehabilitation. In 1997, Melbourne University Press published what must have seemed a folly, Ray Parkin’s extraordinary feat of naval architecture H. M. Bark Endeavour: Her Place in Australian History. Still in print, it was so evidently a labour of love that it helped to negate some of the rancor surrounding European intervention in the Pacific.
Today, Cook continues to live larger than life. Indeed, it could be said he threatens to crowd everything else off the page. There are many other great Pacific tales to be told, and I’m looking forward to Australian writers contributing to engage with these grand narratives. Thank you.
GEOFFREY BLAINEY: Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve learned a lot from the speeches given today - thank you very much. No doubt everyone here, too, has learned a lot. I remember in 1970 the surprise of Sir Henry Bolte, who was then Premier of Victoria, when he was told that Captain Cook made his first landfall on the Victorian coast rather than the New South Wales coast. This immediately led to a plan to send a special train from Melbourne to Orbost from which buses would take the dignitaries to the piece of coast first seen by Lieutenant Hicks. I was lucky enough - I was professor of economic history at Melbourne University at the time - to be invited to join the train. It was a wonderful occasion. There were drinks for everybody. There were sleeping cars. When we reached Orbost, the buses took us out to that wind-swept beach where it was quite moving to see on the 200th anniversary of the sighting of the Australian coast the sea breaking in. I think Sir Henry Bolte lay the plaque there and Peter Nixon, the member for East Gippsland who was representing the federal government, also placed a plaque.
In 2006 I happened to be down at Docklands in Melbourne, and the replica of the ship Endeavour was in harbour. I paid my $15 and went aboard. To me it was an exhilarating experience to be in a ship almost nail to nail the same as the ship in which Cook sailed around the world. It was a great experience. The spaces were so cramped, and to sit in the great cabin, which has just been described, and to look out on the Docklands - if not the sea - was to glimpse something of the magic of that voyage.
I began to read Cook’s Endeavour Journal, which I bought in the 1960s but had not read very closely, and became more and more fascinated about the detail which Cook gave about the east coast of Australia. I had it half in my mind to write a book about Cook’s voyage to Botany Bay and to Cooktown and so through Torres Strait.
I wasn’t certain whether to do it but then I found also on my shelves, which I hadn’t read, Professor Dunmore’s translation of a voyage by the Frenchman, Jean de Surville, who in 1769 set out from French India in search of the missing continent. As we all know, there was a strong belief in the eighteenth century that there must be an inhabited continent south of the equator, a continent which so far had not been discovered by the Europeans. The continent was believed to lie somewhere between New Zealand and South America. It may be that New Zealand was part of that continent.
Just as Cook’s first mission when he went to Tahiti was to search for the southern continent, so the mission of this Frenchman, Jean de Surville, was also to search for the continent. He believed the circumstantial evidence was strong that somewhere near Tahiti was a colony of Jews who had sussed up all the trading opportunities of the area. If only he could find this colony he could sell them the trading goods, get what commodities they discovered in the area, and come back to French India.
To my surprise, the Frenchman had a ship twice the size of Cook’s. It was loaded with a very valuable cargo of textiles. The crew was about 200 or about double the size of Cook’s. The Frenchman left Pondicherry. We know that the French were in India for a very long time. Indeed, the French stayed in India after the British partitioned India between India and Pakistan and left the subcontinent.
So here was this very large French ship, St Jean Baptiste, setting out loaded with textiles, spices and other valuable wares. The ship went over to Malaysia, then to the very north of the Philippines, then to the Solomons and then came down the Coral Sea, moving closer and closer to the Australian coast. In the latitude of Sydney - we don’t know how far it was from Sydney harbour because the French, like Cook, were not accurate in their longitude at that time - they smelt land.
I don’t think there can be much doubt from all the circumstantial evidence that the French were very close to Sydney Harbour five months before the Endeavour reached Botany Bay and the entrance to Sydney Harbour. The Frenchmen didn’t land there. They had a bad impression of Australia from what the Dutchmen had written of the west coast. In any case, the French crew was suffering badly from scurvy, so the ship pressed on.
It is one of the remarkable episodes in Pacific exploration that in December 1769 Captain Cook in his Endeavour is going around the North Island of New Zealand, very close to the coast, and the French ship is coming in the opposite direction very close to the coast. By the law of averages, the two ships would have met - and what a meeting it would have been.
But a storm blew up, a storm of such magnitude that Cook in his journal wondered whether he’d ever seen such a storm in the North Sea. The storm drove the Endeavour out to sea and drove the French ship in search of land. The French ship finally came into a small bay in North Island called Doubtless Bay. Cook, in fact, had named it only a few days before.
The French were there for a fortnight and until the last day had very good relations with the Maori, indeed better relations than Cook had in any one of his shore visits on New Zealand. For that whole fortnight, the two ships were within probably quarter of an hour or half an hour’s helicopter ride from each other. But they knew nothing of each other’s existence. Cook only heard that the French ship was there four years later when he was in Cape Town and by chance he met a French captain who came from the same village as the French captain Jean De Surville had come from. I won’t go into what happened to the French ship. It crossed the Indian Ocean. In South America, not far from Lima, the captain went ashore to get help because scurvy had got in again and he was drowned. That was the end of the discovery part of his voyage.
I decided to write a book in which Cook was dominant, but a large part was given to the Frenchman and his crew. I think I learned two things from studying De Surville: How powerful was the belief that there was a southern continent hitherto unvisited by Europeans just waiting to be discovered - a southern continent which they hoped would be largely in subtropical or temperate climates and would produce a range of commodities and minerals such as the world had never seen before. When I realised that the French were looking for this Jewish colony, they have convinced me how powerful was this image of an inhabited continent. The other thing I learnt from the French voyage was how difficult it is if you’re on a trading voyage. De Surville had virtually no time to halt anywhere. He was going for his life. He wanted to reach the Jewish colony, sell his wares as quickly as possible, and then return to French India or to France.
One of the secrets of Cook’s success, and I certainly didn’t realise it until I had studied the Frenchman’s voyage, was that he had time: he had time to dawdle; he had time to explore; he had time to sidetrack. In this day when there’s much talk about nationalisation and private enterprise, and I tend to be on the side of private enterprise, there’s no doubt that it paid to be an explorer in a nationalised ship. Cook had plenty of time but he made the most of his time.
This is the tragedy of [Abel] Tasman. In many ways Tasman’s very simple voyage from Mauritius to Tasmania, then to New Zealand and then way around New Guinea and so to Jakarta - or Batavia as they called it - in many ways Tasman’s voyage in terms of simple discovery was really more successful than Cook’s voyage in the Endeavour. But Tasman was going for his life: he himself didn’t land in Tasmania; he himself didn’t land in New Zealand; but he discovered those two places and returned home, very much to the disappointment of the Dutch East India Company because he brought no treasures.
We were asked before the seminar began to ponder the question: Why is there such a boom in Captain Cook? There’s no doubt about it that there is a boom in Captain Cook. We have all written books last year or the previous year about Cook, and no doubt there are other books not well known that have come out in the last couple of the years in Australia and New Zealand on the same subject.
I have pondered this question and I’m not sure if I know the answer. The first thing that is in favour of Cook is that he had a remarkable editor. The New Zealand historian Beaglehole did one of the great pieces of editing in western scholarship in the last 50 years. He edited all Cook’s journals, annotated them in great detail and gave us, through the Hakluyt Society, this remarkable account of an explorer’s voyage. There’s very little like it in the history of western exploration.
Likewise Beaglehole, with the cooperation of the State Library of New South Wales, edited in great detail the Endeavour journal of Joseph Banks. So here we have these two remarkable editions of this voyage of exploration with so much of the detail enunciated or elaborated upon by Beaglehole himself. I think it was a remarkable performance. Fortunately for all of us, Beaglehole wasn’t really successful with his biography. Whether he was conscious that he was dying - it was near the end of his life - whether the task was too big or whether he had lost some of enthusiasm, his biography of Captain Cook, while an excellent book, has had nothing like the impact that his editing of the journals of the Endeavour have had. Why this should be so I don’t know, but we wouldn’t be all here today producing our books if Beaglehole had produced this wonderful biography of Captain Cook. Although perhaps we would be here because there are so many things still to be discovered about Captain Cook, about Banks and about the Endeavour’s voyage.
There are several obvious reasons why Cook is going to boom for a long time to come: he’s central to Australia and New Zealand history. He’s probably more central to New Zealand history than to Australian history. He’s also central to Aboriginal history. It’s only in the last few years, as Maria pointed out, that people are beginning to realise how symbolic Cook is to Aborigines who are interested in that great dividing line in Australian history - the coming of the Europeans.
Likewise, Cook had the good fortune to land at Botany Bay, right close to Sydney Airport, and I think that’s been a great boost to Cook. Just imagine if Cook only visited the Australian coast at Cooktown and let’s say the place on the east coast of Tasmania where Tasman or one of Tasman’s men briefly landed in 1642. I don’t think the magic of Cook in this part of the world would be anywhere near so high.
But, above all, Cook was a decent man, a modest man. It’s remarkable to see what he says of himself at the end of that astonishing voyage of exploration between 1768 and 1771: ‘I’ve been around the world. I’ve seen strange sights. But I really haven’t discovered much that’s new.’ It’s a remarkable thing to say from that modest man and, of course, one of the great navigators in the history of the world.
But the interesting thing is that because Cook and Banks and others have left such detailed accounts of this journal of the Endeavour, it’s surprising what’s still to be discovered. We’ve heard from every speaker things which are newly discovered. When I began to do work on Cook, I thought surely there’s not much new that you can find. But I was surprised that here and there one found things that were intensely interesting to me and I think haven’t been discovered before - whether they’re worth discovering is another point.
I was surprised to find that three times, while Cook was sailing close to the coast in the moonlight, he ran into trouble: one on the South Island of New Zealand near Stewart Island; one in the Bay of Islands; and the final one - the third one - almost a disaster near the Great Barrier Reef, where he almost wrecked his ship. I think the evidence is fairly strong, unless you’re an extreme admirer of Cook, that he got himself into extreme difficulties in the Barrier Reef which he should, given the experience he had had, have avoided.
Of course, we forget that, after that tragedy and the remarkable repairing of the ship Endeavour, they had then to go on to Jakarta. The ship was being repaired there for some months, and the fever set in. Although he conquered scurvy, Cook’s voyage was quite a deadly voyage. He lost a third of his crew either at Jakarta or after leaving Jakarta. Indeed, when you look at the voyage of the Frenchman Bougainville, which took place a little before Cook’s voyage in the Endeavour, Bougainville’s voyage in terms of health was much more successful than Cook’s.
Another thing that surprised me, reading Cook’s and Banks’ account of going ashore at Cape Town in South Africa, is that they went ashore and visited the vineyards, the cattle stations and the little farms around Cape Town then owned by the Dutch. While they don’t say so, I’m pretty sure that their visit to Cape Town made them see Botany Bay in a new light. They realised that the Dutch - few in number but with great energy and enterprise - had turned a relatively hostile environment into one of the great ports in the world in terms of providing passing ships with fresh food, vegetables, water and so forth. I think they saw, if this can be done with Cape Town, even a place like Botany Bay - if the time arises - can be much better with enterprise and energy than we would have thought when we first wrote about it.
To conclude, more and more things will be found out about Cook and more and more reinterpretations will take place with him. I think a lot more will be found out about the Frenchman de Surville, the French will start to take an interest in him, and somebody will produce a book that really throws the light on him that I certainly did not do in the brief space that I gave to him.
So, Cook is very much alive and well, will remain alive and well, but will rise and fall. There is fashion in history just as there is in Paris and in the motor industry in Detroit. No subject can remain booming for long, whether it’s Gallipoli or Captain Cook. Captain Cook will have periods of decline and then probably he will rise again only to see another period of decline.
MATHEW TRINCA: Thank you to all our speakers for their varied accounts of how they’ve thought and written about Cook. Of all the things that we’ve heard today and that we will take away with us, one thing will recur in my mind, and that is the image of Cook, after three years or so away, taking home to his beloved wife an aged goat. I’m not sure I’d get away with it. We now have about 15 minutes or so for questions. Could I remind you please that the session is being recorded for radio. If you could signal your interest in asking a question, one of our two helpers today will bring a microphone to you, and then I’d ask that you identify yourself before asking a question. Can I invite any questions - well I have one.
Geoffrey Blainey, I know that you spent some time visiting the sites or the ports or those parts of the world that I think Cook visited on that first voyage; did you not? You went to various harbours. Could you tell us a little bit about what your sense was of visiting some of those places? GEOFFREY BLAINEY: Torres Strait is interesting. Sometimes I lecture in ships and go through Torres Strait both at night and day. Torres Strait is still a dangerous seaway. It’s now used by big ships, but they all have to have a pilot. No ship is allowed, even today, through Torres Strait without a very experienced pilot. The ships are very careful of the tides and often will wait until the tide is favourable. Cook went through there, and we know the Torres went through there. But of course Cook had no knowledge of which route was taken through Torres Strait because there are alternative routes through Torres Strait. When you go to Torres Strait or you go to Cooktown or you go to some of the places in New Zealand where Cook stepped ashore, you’re conscious of how little has changed. We’re still a very sparsely settled country. So much of the landscape that Cook and Banks saw, and even the Frenchman De Surville saw, are still much the same. You can’t think of many places in Europe where great historic events took place and the landscape and the people-scape is virtually unchanged.
QUESTION: Hello, my name is Alan Payne. Like Geoffrey Blainey, I went on the replica of the Endeavour and found it a wonderful experience. What fascinated me was that Banks and his colleagues took over that great cabin at the rear of the ship, which traditionally was where the officers would have spent their time. They also took over a lot of the officers’ cabins, and the officers were all shunted forward in the ship to much less salubrious quarters. I was just wondering if anyone could tell me what the spirit and just what the general feeling was on that journey. Was there resentment from those officers? Was it a happy ship? Could you tell me something about that?
GEOFFREY BLAINEY: I think everyone here is capable of answering that question. If I could have one sentence and then the others add one sentence. I think that, in view of the crampness, in view of what you would call a hostile takeover in corporate terms, it was a remarkably harmonious ship. Contrary to what many historians say, I’m of the view that Banks, while he was a pest, and Solander too, they contributed enormously to the success of the voyage. I think there was some truth in those English people when the Endeavour finally returned in 1771 to say, ‘This is Banks’ voyage,’ because it was Banks’ voyage as well as Cook’s. They took it to extreme, but I think Cook realised that much of the success of the voyage was really due to Banks and the authority, the influence and the prestige he had.
JACKIE FRENCH: I’d give a totally opposite view of that. When you look at the specimens at Kew taken by Banks, they’re just ripped up. He was not a scientist, Solander was. The men that Banks took with him were scientists, but Banks was an adventurer. He was, by modern standards, a paedophile. One of the main reasons for the voyage was to map the transit of Venus, but Banks wasn’t there. He was sleeping with a girl who was maybe 13, 12, or possibly younger. There are comments in some of the other diaries about his preference for extremely young mistresses. He doesn’t like the ones who are over 18.
COMMENT: Banks was very much responsible for the fact the expedition was there.
JACKIE FRENCH: Everyone had to be very, very tactful about what they said about Banks, even when he nearly had the ship aground in New Zealand by his demand to Cook that they go closer when it wasn’t safe, even when one of his servants died of cold because of his total and extreme arrogance and negligence. They still were extremely circumspect about what they put into print. But when you look at the incidents that took place and that that man was responsible was responsible for, I think in modern terms he was a con man. He was an adventurer.
MARIA NUGENT: If I can put in a third comment. I want to leave the kind of question about interpreting situations that happen in other cultures. And our present-day standards to the side for now as one of the tricky issues to interpret the past in that way. We talked a little bit to Geoffrey about this on the phone at one stage. What strikes me as interesting about Cook’s scholarship is that people tend to line up either behind Cook or Banks. To some extent we want to create perhaps a kind of sense of the tension among them or the difference in their class or the difference in their interests.
I’d probably go more on Geoffrey’s line in that I think there’s a sense - and I think you find it in the journals - of a kind of healthy respect between Cook and Banks about their positions on things. There’s clearly a sense in which they’re learning from each other as they go, that they’re swapping notes, but also observing and writing about the voyage in very different ways. If you’re away together for three years in those cramped quarters to have that kind of intellectual exchange, which was of benefit to Cook but also to Banks, must have been the stuff for a very stimulating time. I’m sure there were tensions in those cramped spaces, but I do think it’s a kind of a collective enterprise. We might go on to another question.
JACKIE FRENCH: I was just going to say that, when they got back again, the two men hardly spoke and were quite vitriolic in public about each other.
QUESTION: I’ve been wondering in hearing what this generation and previous generations think about Cook, I’m wondering what Cook thought about Australia. We can’t even call it that of course - if we called it New South Wales and leave out the New Holland where he never touched as we know. I had the impression reading the journal that he was far more interested in discovering whether there was in fact a passage through Torres Strait than he was in the rest of the east coast.
Furthermore we do know that he never returned. I think he went twice back to Tahiti and three times back to New Zealand, but he showed no interest in the coast that he had so wonderfully charted. His reports to the Admiralty, leaving aside the magnificent eulogy or thoughts on the Aborigines, didn’t encourage any enthusiastic response. And as we all know, it was years later before there was a response to the opening of the east coast to settle on to. As you people have studied Captain Cook far more than I have, are you able to comment on what you feel his attitude to this land or this coast that he had obviously charted with such great aptitude?
GEOFFREY BLAINEY: I think Cook thought more highly of New Zealand than of Australia.
MARIA NUGENT: I think it’s probably right that he was kind of instrumental in his time on the coast. As we know, it was not necessarily his first option to come via the east coast and up north. I think he did decide to come and chart a coast that he had a good idea existed and then, once he decided to do that, he was moving relatively quickly. Botany Bay might have been the only place he chose to stop. They were stopping all the time up the coast but never finding anything much where they wanted to spend the night very often. If it hadn’t been perhaps for the wreck, he might not have spent quite as much time on land as he did. I think at that point he’s very much a voyager rather than spending time on land.
JACKIE FRENCH: I think by then he was very definitely preoccupied. They were desperate for food, there were desperate repairs. He was also by nature a scientist; he was a cartographer, and mapping would never ever be the same. The slipshod way of mapping before Cook would never happen again. More than anything else he revolutionised mapping, and I think he was much more interested in the cartography than the scenery.
QUESTION: by Steven Bailey. When I was on board the Endeavour replica, I was told by a guide that there were two armed marines that stood outside Captain Cook’s cabin for the entire voyage. What does the panel see from that?
MARTIN TERRY: The great cabin and the quarter deck were the command centres of the ship, and it would have been customary on any similar voyage to have had marines on duty. Perhaps we don’t need to read too much into it. That was just a precautionary move, I think. The quarter deck is very interesting. We’ve been speaking about Banks. There would have been really no reason why Banks and his party would ever have needed to venture into the rest of the ship. Everything that they needed was there. It had its own companion way. It’s really only at that terrible night on the Barrier Reef where Banks mingles with the men. There’s a great reference about how he is unused to labour, but he takes his turn at the pumps with everybody else and is astounded that everybody’s just getting on with it and that there are no oaths, or imprecations, or people falling on the deck praying. So the quarter deck is very interesting little story in itself.
QUESTION: I am Jenny Newell and I’m a historian at the Centre for Historical Research along with Maria. Thanks very much to all the speakers. I think we have all enjoyed your papers and thanks also to Maria for organising the session today. It’s been great. The interest in recent writings, as Maria has pointed out, has been not only looking at Cook as a navigator and as a hero but also looking at the visits of Cook and his crew from the points of view of the people who were being visited. But also there’s another thread which is starting to emerge, which I’m thinking perhaps Jackie is tapping into there and which I’ve been researching myself - the environmental impacts of the voyages on the people and the places that were being visited. The impacts of all the plants and animals that Cook and the others were bringing into those islands have been extraordinary. There has been a lot that has happened there which could be talked about at greater length.
Jackie, did you see your book - which I haven’t read yet but which I’m looking forward to reading - did you see your writing about the goat as sort of writing from the perspective of the goat as a way through to writing environmental history of the voyages in some way? And are you inspired to write any of those other stories about the cattle, the sheep and the apples that were being brought in and planted?
JACKIE FRENCH: I’ve written the dog; I’ve written the camel; I’ve written various other animals in history. And yes, on that voyage Cook left one extraordinary environmental disaster behind him when he left pigs to breed at Cooktown as food for future voyages. On his second voyage he instructed that pigs be left in Tasmania, again to breed as food for other sailors. He expected, however, that the Indigenous people would probably eat them. Luckily, it appears that the Indigenous people did eat them or the feral pig problem in Tasmania would be a lot greater than it is now. And I probably haven’t answered your question.
GEOFFREY BLAINEY: That’s all good. But did you see the relationship of the goat to the islands as being important as part of the story you were telling?
JACKIE FRENCH: It very much was, and also for me for the first time I realised that the people on board had to look at the environment of the places where they were going. They were not going to places where they could buy provisions; they were going to have to look for places where they could harvest not just things then, but things that they could store and take with them, where they could get meat that could be salted and grass to make hay. So yes Cook was, in a way that all sea captains had to be then, in some degree an environmentalist – sorry, an ecologist, not an environmentalist.
QUESTION: by Max Richardson. I was always sorry for Cook, and this is how your ideas change. He had a Whitby collier, and I was very sorry that he had to deal with that. Then I discovered later that he actually chose it because he came from near Whitby. The idea of the collier, which had a flat bottom, low draft but a wide ship, was so that he could go over the reefs. Just imagine what would have happened on the reef if he had had an ordinary ship of the line.
The second thing is that he’s very well known in Hawai’i. I have had a lovely visit to the Bishop Museum a couple of times. He and Lieutenant Vancouver were both well respected. I think Vancouver was his 2IC on the Endeavour. Finally though - and this is a question we might look at - looking at the chart he actually deliberately has latitude, longitude. When we ask why, if we go back to Kenneth Slessor’s poem that gives you the lead - he is testing chronometers - one by Kendall and one by Arnold. The Arnold one wasn’t good because it went like mad. So he would have known pretty much the latitude and longitude of Sydney within a few degrees, because he would check Arnold daily. Kendall was keeping Greenwich time and doing it well. Is there any evidence that people have noticed how accurate his mapping was, because he had the longitude to look at? That was why he could get length and breadth.
MATHEW TRINCA: Who would like to take that question about the accuracy of his mapping or otherwise?
JACKIE FRENCH: So much of what I’ve read afterwards is the extraordinary admiration of cartographers for Cook saying that he really was a landmark. Before Cook you would say, ‘OK, there was a bit there, a bit there and a bit somewhere else.’ After Cook, people were precise, and it was expected that people would be precise. He was an extraordinary cartographer. It was actually his cartographic skills that led in some way to his promotion to be captain.
QUESTION: Just on the chronometer, on the Endeavour voyage Cook didn’t have the chronometer. It was on the second, wasn’t it? People marvel at his skill in working at longitude. He was far ahead of any comparable explorer at the time. But inevitably there are mistakes, aren’t there? The weather is unfavourable. I think he was 40 nautical miles out in Cape Horn. That’s not surprising in the circumstances. But people rightly marvelled at his skill before he even had a chronometer. On the ship Cook himself was the captain of a collier, a Whitby collier. All Cook’s seagoing career until he joined the Royal Navy was as a member of crew or as a mate of a collier, so he knew the ship. And, as you say, he knew the advantages it would have in exploration.
JACKIE FRENCH: There was one disadvantage. Because it had such a flat bottom, it did rock a lot more, and that was why Joseph Banks was seasick for most of the voyage.
QUESTION: by Brian Worth, Canberra resident. Might I suggest that Mr Parkin’s book, in respect of accuracy and charting, is very useful in determining how accurate he was along the eastern coast of Australia. My question goes to two things that I’ve pondered for a long time and I’ve been waiting to see some academic research about, and that is the question of Admiralty instructions to Cook; and also what, if any, charts of others Cook may have been given - whether secretly or otherwise - by the Admiralty before his voyage.
MARTIN TERRY: We know that there was a large chart library on board. I think it was supplied by Alexander Dalrymple, and Dalrymple is a bit of a secretive person. He’s getting intelligence from all around the world, and I think he had Spanish charts. The Spanish were notorious for their secrecy. Professor Blainey may be able to help, but I think Dalrymple was providing material on Torres Strait that he had had access to. So there was a considerable body of knowledge. An enormous library as well was on board, some of it supplied by Banks. So they really had pretty much the ‘Wikipedia’ of the time on board to help them.
As far as the Admiralty goes, I think once you’re over the horizon you’re given considerable latitude, as it were. I think it’s very interesting that, up until having command of the Endeavour, Cook was really a gamble for them. He had only made these limited trips in the Channel and the North Sea. He’d been across the Atlantic but he hadn’t really been in charge of a mission, which was regarded as not only vital to national prestige but also if they mucked up the transit of Venus on this occasion they would have to wait another 108 years before they had another chance to do it. So it was a remarkable act of faith by the Admiralty and the Royal Society that Cook - this up until now rather enigmatic person - was given all that responsibility.
QUESTION: Merv Fowler, a Canberra local. Given the journal entry that was displayed before from the Treasures dated sixth of May when Captain Cook obviously wrote that journal on that day, he had been in Botany Bay eight or nine days when he wrote that entry and named it Stingray Bay, and clearly he went back and erased that and overwrote it. Do any of you have a feel for when he would have gone back and overwritten that to rename it Botany Bay?
MARIA NUGENT: He decides eventually on the name Botany Bay some two or three months later, I think. The argument I make in another book called Botany Bay is that he hasn’t named Botany Bay while he’s there. They leave on the sixth or the morning of the seventh, so he names it on the last day. He names it Stingray Bay because they have just had a feast of stingray. They have been catching large stingray in the last couple of days and they are all impressed by the size of the stingrays. I think for want of any other name, he thinks, ‘The most significant thing that seems to have happened here this week is we’ve had these big stingrays to eat.’ So he gives it a quite descriptive name, which is common. He names things in a descriptive way like Mt Dromedary or whatever.
I think that he changes his mind probably under the influence of Joseph Banks. As the collection which has been made at Botany Bay becomes apparent as they sail up the east coast - it must be incredible. One of the arguments you might make is that, because the local people are so hard to get to know, Banks has a bit more time on his hands than he might have had if he is having good interactions with the locals who he is often very interested in. So he turns his mind to collecting plants and he says a couple of times ‘botanising as usual’. So he spends his days as they sail the coast tending to that collection. As he, and Parkinson, the drawer, and Solander are tending to it, it becomes clear that one of the most important things to have happened at Botany Bay is the collection of plant seeds.
What I’m not clear about is when he names the headlands. He does have Cape Banks and Point Solander. So whether he’s named those when he is there, the north and south heads, and then decides, ‘OK, we’ve got their names on the two headlands, we may as well give the whole place over to the botanists.’ To me what I like is that he even perhaps goes to the trouble of deciding that Botany Bay is better than Botanist Bay, maybe because it has got a ‘y’ at the end. I like to think that he has a way with words. But you write about the things that interest you, so perhaps that a bias.
QUESTION: Hello, my name is Jennifer Roland, and I’d like to thank the National Museum of Australia for having, at least as far as I know, a second interesting forum this year about a sea voyage - the first one was about the voyage of the Beagle with Charles Darwin visiting Australia. My question for the panel here though and probably for Professor Blainey is: are we in Australia going through a phase where we are trying to find national heroes for ourselves? Captain Cook, I’m sure, is also a national hero for the English, but he certainly is for Australians or more particularly those of us who are on the eastern side of Australia. If he’s claimed by both English and Australians, is he perhaps one that Australians have taken to because there’s a slight possibility of separating themselves from the mother country? We then can have him as someone that we can think of as a good fellow for Australians.
GEOFFREY BLAINEY: I think myself at the moment Cook is a hero amongst older generation Australians. I’m not sure whether he is the hero amongst Australians under the age of 30. They learn so little history that, unless Captain Cook has got a part in Neighbours, he is not likely to be well known. [laughter] But I take your general point about Anglo-Australians.
MARIA NUGENT: He’s not a hero in Australia right from the beginning by any means. I think he becomes a kind of founding figure towards the end of the nineteenth century. A lot of scholars have written about this. The argument is that probably before that he does in some way tie Australia to the British Empire. But he becomes what Chris Healy calls ‘a national Cook’ not until the late nineteenth century and then certainly he is celebrated as part of Federation festivities. I was interested that, in the week to celebrate Federation, they put on at Botany Bay a very large re-enactment of the first landing of Cook. In a way it is true that Cook the man is seen to be useful to Australia. He’s a man who people say brought himself up from humble beginnings, and they like to think that his biography and the kind of national biography has something that resonates.
In the work that I have been doing, I think it is Cook who is important but it’s also the use that they make of Cook around questions of first landing which, as you know, in all nations are kind of often used as mythical moments. And in Australia in which questions around land and possession and ownership of land are critical, he is used to mark that moment. We might say that sometimes he’s a useful historical character because he stands outside colonial time. He can sometimes be a figure that is one step removed from 1788, and perhaps that’s part of his appeal too. It’s true that people have said today that we keep remaking him in our own image and each generation makes him. He seems incredibly usable for all sorts of interests, including in the way I was trying to suggest, a quite useful figure for Aboriginal people to make sense of their own experience as well. So he seems to be incredibly plastic and expansive.
What I like about this panel is they keep him fairly grounded and also very interested in the man and his own times and his own action and don’t let him float too free in a national mythology. But I think that use of him as a founding figure has its own very important history, and we should keep that in mind.
JACKIE FRENCH: I often wonder whether our view of Cook would be different if they had invented Twitter by then. One of the advantages for a writer writing about Cook and all of his voyages is that we don’t know much about them. We know a surprising amount about them, but there are enormous areas where we don’t know. There’s a lot more we don’t know than what we do know. If possibly there was a Twitter or there was an email and we knew every five minutes of the voyage of who thought what of whom and what they did, it would be fascinating to know what the truth really was. They wrote under such constraints, knowing what they wrote would be read and analysed and that their futures would depend on it - all of them, including Banks. There is so much we will never know and we will always have to postulate. I would love to know the whole truth of James Cook.
[I later added that our knowledge of his voyages would be very different if there had been women on board. Women tend to keep far more detailed diaries, including everyday matters like who said what, and what they ate for dinner. The men mostly recorded the extraordinary, not the ordinary; and now that we no longer know what was ‘ordinary’ for that time, so much has been lost.]
MATHEW TRINCA: I hope you will indulge another question from my own perspective from the Museum and that’s to Susan Hall about the Endeavour Journal itself as an artefact. You have been lucky enough to hold the journal or at least to have turned over its pages to read it and to select excerpts that you take into your book. What’s your sense of the power of the artefact itself to engender a different kind of historical sense of Cook in the reality of the artefact?
SUSAN HALL: I think it is essentially - and Martin will probably concur from the radio interview that he had after the book was published - that it is actually his handwriting and lots of people almost didn’t believe that. They say, ‘Is it really his handwriting we are looking at?’ Yes, it really is. He has become almost mythologised in so many ways. So for me the power is looking at something that he really wrote. He was holding the pen; he was turning the pages; and it really is taking us right back to him as a person. That’s why we wanted the book to be grounded in that experience, and I hope we’ve managed to achieve that.
QUESTION: by Jeremy Spence. Just in regard to the mapping of Australia and New Zealand they were doing small plain charts of about 20 miles of latitude and overlapping all around the coast of New Zealand and Australia. It seems to be a fruit from three existing charts that survived from New Zealand and a couple from Australia. Maria Nugent has one from Botany Bay with the grid squares on it. He was doing plain charts up the coast and keeping true bearings, and then he’d overlap it with the next sheet further up as he went. They have all disappeared except New Zealand has three of them and Australia has possibly got two.
The other thing I’d like to mention quickly is that Cook was on a running survey. He was going from A to B to C up the coast. He didn’t stop; he did very little tacking. He didn’t go back and confirm his base line from a shore position like Matthew Flinders did. Flinders went from the shore to the sea and from the sea to the shore, and he was going up continuously all the time. The north-south trend of the Australian coast helped him and New Zealand was north-south as well. But when you went east-west and he had problems with longitude, you see his charts start to get very squashed up and things to get out of perspective. So he had his problems. He had no accuracy in longitude closer than 60 minutes of one degree sometimes or up to one degree error all the time.
The second point that I just want to make a quick point that Jackie French summed up.
MATHEW TRINCA: Is there a question, Jeremy?
QUESTION: Yes, there is a question. You mentioned that people were afraid of Joseph Banks and how he was on the ship. But if you look at the very close proximation with him and the captain and cribbing from his own journal - not just the main journal but also his sea journal - he was taking from the captain everyday information of longitude and latitude. Sydney Parkinson was cribbed by the rest of the ship’s company for the information. The artists on board the ship were using each other. Daniel Solander, Parkinson and Banks were interacting between the drawings and so forth. Do you think that was a pretty free thing for the ship?
JACKIE FRENCH: I certainly didn’t mean to give the impression that they were in a state of sulk or warfare. There were conflicts during the voyage, and certainly after the voyage both publicly and semi-publicly they did make fairly poisonous remarks about each other. But I certainly didn’t mean to give the impression that they weren’t working as the most extraordinary unit - they were. This was above all a voyage of scientific exploration, and my word it worked. They did it and they did it together. I didn’t mean that.
Also, I should apologise for calling Banks a paedophile in an age when 13-year-old prostitutes were relatively common in London. However, it was remarked upon by other members of the crew that Joseph Banks preferred, even for that day, unusually young mistresses. So I think it’s substantiated.
SPEAKER: The other interesting relationship between Cook and Banks is perhaps one of a father and son. Banks’s father dies when he’s very young and he lives with his mother in Chelsea. Cook is almost a mentor or psychological figure for Banks. While they certainly quibbled and quarreled on the eve of the second voyage when Banks’s demands were so outrageous - they stretched to requesting that he bring his own private orchestra - Banks realised that his fame was very much dependent upon Cook’s enduring fame.
Banks is very interesting. He is thinking in quite a typical way for the period. All his life Banks had Cook literally looking over his shoulder. In his study in Soho Square he had a copy of the John Webber picture that is now at the National Portrait Gallery above the fireplace, and that remained with Banks until his death in 1820. So I think there was a tremendous complexity in the relationship between those two men.
MATHEW TRINCA: I think you’d all agree that we have enjoyed a very rare opportunity this afternoon for a discussion that has ranged very widely in the consideration of Cook, the man and the celebrity. Could I ask you to give your thanks to our speakers Geoffrey Blainey, Martin Terry, Susan Hall, Jackie French and Maria Nugent. [applause] And special thanks should go to Maria Nugent for organising the conversation this afternoon. [applause]
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Date published: 15 June 2009