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Cook charts the Pacific

Cook charts the Pacific

A portrait painting of Captain Cook. He is shown sitting in a chair to the right of the image. He faces to the left with his head turned to the right. He is visible down to about his knees. To the left of the image is a small table. Cook has a navigation chart resting on the table. He holds one corner with his left hand and has his right hand resting on the chart. His captain's hat is on the table, behind the chart. He wears a long blue coat with gold brocade on the cuffs, collar and along the buttons. Under the coat he wears white trousers and a white shirt, both with gold buttons. His hair is done in the men's style of the eighteenth century - pulled back with rolls above his ears. His expression is one of determination and resolve. In the background is a studio backdrop that depicts a wall and a glimpse of what appears to be the sea and horizon to the far left.


I whose ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for a man to go.

James Cook, journal, 30 January 1774

Captain James Cook entered the Pacific on board HMB Endeavour in 1768 with incomplete and inaccurate maps and left it in 1770 having charted and claimed New Zealand and Australia's east coast, along with numerous smaller islands.

Left: This portrait of Captain James Cook was painted by artist Nathaniel Dance in about 1776. Courtesy: National Maritime Museum, London.


Cook was ambitious but he also had many advantages that the sailors who went before him had lacked. He was sailing in a ship well-suited to exploration — a flat-bottomed collier that could carry a large cargo yet be manoeuvred close to shore for charting. He understood the importance of a good diet and sanitation to the health of his crew. He carried the latest scientific equipment to aid navigation, and newly created mathematical tables that allowed for the accurate calculation of longitude. He was also an excellent mathematician, astronomer and cartographer who had honed his skills with the British navy in North America.

Map showing Cook's 3 Pacific voyages

Captain Cook's three Pacific voyages (1768–1779).

Take a closer look at the map showing Captain Cook's three Pacific voyages
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A pen and ink drawing of Captain Cook's ship the Resolution, in the Pacific in 1774. The ship is in the centre foreground of the drawing, facing to the left of the image. It is shown on a calm sea, depicted by short, soft horizontal ink strokes. The horizon is behind the ship, about one third of the way up from the bottom of the image. An island is seen near the horizon, directly behind the ship; another island is off to the right. A dark line on the horizon toward the right suggests a larger landform. The sky is shown to have some long thin clouds in it. The entire image is almost black and white, with the exception of some light brown colouring in the ship's hull and some red cloud markings in the sky.

This pen and ink drawing shows Captain Cook's ship, the Resolution, in the South Pacific in about 1774. Courtesy: National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an7518195.

running survey

This running survey was completed on board the Endeavour as it sailed along the coast of New Zealand. Courtesy: The British Library.

Take a closer look at the running survey
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Chart showing New Holland

This is the official chart of the east coast of New Holland, produced from Cook's surveys in 1773. The map is orientated so west is at the top. Courtesy: National Library of Australia, nla.map-t325-v.

Take a closer look at the east coast of New Holland
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Related link

Artefacts illustrating Captain James Cook's great skill as a navigator have been acquired by the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Find out more about Captain Cook's navigational instruments