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The results of James Cook’s first Pacific voyage were many and far-reaching. Cook and the Endeavour voyage soon became triumphant emblems of the British Empire.

Emblems of the British Empire

The Endeavour left Australian waters in August 1770, arriving back in England in July 1771. Cook’s detailed navigational charts and observations, the botanical collections of Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, and the natural history drawings of Sydney Parkinson all brought this ‘new’ continent into the realm of Georgian England.

Matthew Flinders, 1814:

This voyage of Captain Cook, whether considered in the extent of his discoveries and the accuracy with which they were traced, or in the labour of his scientific associates, far surpassed all that had gone before.

After the ship returned John Hawkesworth was commissioned to edit an account of the Endeavour’s voyage. It was soon published, although Hawkesworth embellishment of parts of Cook’s and Bank’s journals was controversial.

Cook’s fame quickly spread across Europe as readers devoured local translations of the voyage’s account. Marquis Jean-Joseph de Laborde, a wealthy French financier, was fascinated by the tales of Cook’s navigation and discoveries. He had a bust of ‘Jacques Cook’ made in the classical style. He installed it in his garden in 1788 in northern France as a memorial to Cook.

Marble bust of Captain James Cook with an inscription in French on the base.

L’immortel Cook after Augustin Pajou

Biripi artist Jason Wing offers a different Cook bust:

I was taught that Australia was discovered by Captain James Cook. This colonial lie is further reinforced by a huge bronze sculpture in Hyde Park, Sydney, which is situated on a massacre site. Etched in stone are the words ‘Captain James Cook Discovered Australia 1770’. I feel physically ill every time I see this monument so I decided to create my own monument to Captain Cook, who personifies colonisation.

A bronze bust of a males head with a ponytail wearing a dark grey Balaklava.

Captain James Crook by Jason Wing

Seventeen years after the Endeavour had arrived back in England, the British return to Australia’s shores to establish a penal colony at Sydney Cove. This was the beginning of British colonisation of this continent. It also set off a catastrophic chain of events that continues to impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today.

Dr Jackie Huggins Bidjara/Birrigubba Juru:

We cannot deny our history. It’s a history that’s never fully been taught to us in our country. I know that when I went to school I learnt about the kings and queens of England long before I learnt about my people.

Cook portraits

Nathaniel Dance’s portrait is the most familiar image of James Cook. It was commissioned by Joseph Banks in 1776 and reflected the close relationship between the two men. Cook sat for the painting while in London between his second and third Pacific voyages. The portrait hung in Banks’s home in Soho Square, London, for many years.

Inspired by Dance’s portrait and the 1970s arcade game Space Invaders, Torres Strait artist Brian Robinson created a new interpretation of Cook.

A black and white linocut featuring an image of a man seated and holding a map. The man is surrounded by organic motifs from the Torres Strait. The background comprises rows of Space Invaders, a 1980's popular computer game motif.

By Virtue of this Act I Hereby Take Possession of this Land by Brian Robinson

Stars of the show

JH Mortimer’s painting celebrates the success of Cook’s first Pacific voyage. Commissioned by First Lord of the Admiralty, John Montagu, it depicts three major figures on the Endeavour – James Cook, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander – with Montagu and John Hawkesworth, who had just been engaged to edit the voyage’s official account. Cook (centre) pays his respects to Montagu and gestures in the direction of his next voyage.

Oil painting showing five men in an Arcadian landscape, with a marble statue of a seated woman at right and two dogs lying at the men's feet. The man at centre gestures towards a bay.

Captain James Cook, Sir Joseph Banks, Lord Sandwich, Dr Daniel Solander and Dr John Hawkesworth by JH Mortimer

Botany transformed

During the brief moments they were on shore, the Endeavour’s botanists worked quickly to collect the new plants they saw.

Back in England, Joseph Banks began the momentous project of making a complete record of his botanical collection. He employed artists to work with Parkinson’s sketches to create completed watercolour renditions. He then hired 18 master engravers to make 743 copper plates. The project continued for 13 years and cost more than £10,000.

Banks intended to publish the prints, but the final Florilegium was not produced until the 1980s. It has been described as the most important achievement in the graphic arts in the 20th century.


Banksia serrata, ‘Old Man Banksia’ specimen, collected by Sir Joseph Banks on HMB Endeavour

Pygmy slipper lobster specimen, collected by Sir Joseph Banks on HMB Endeavour

Painting of an elderly woman wearing 19th Century clothing including a frilled bonnet. - click to view larger image

Elizabeth Cook

We know little about the life of Cook’s wife, Elizabeth, during the long years her husband spent at sea.

In 1780 she was sewing her husband a waistcoat, made from tapa cloth that Cook had collected on an earlier voyage. She was making it for him to wear when attending royal events at court.

The coat remains unfinished. Elizabeth put it aside after she received the news of her husband’s death in Hawaii in 1779.

Elizabeth survived her husband by 56 years and outlived all their six children.

See the waistcoat on the State Library of New South Wales website

Cook’s death

Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, in February 1779. It was his third visit to Hawaii. He was weary from 10 long years at sea and relations between the Hawaiians and Cook’s crew had soured. A violent confrontation ended in the death of Cook, four marines and dozens of Hawaiians. In the following days, many more Hawaiians were shot and killed.

News of Cook’s death reached England in January 1780, nine months before his ships returned. Cook’s death shocked the European world. Pictures imagining his final moments soon appeared, and Cook took on mythic qualities, elevated beyond an ordinary mortal. The Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay saw it differently.

Tortoiseshell snuff box, incorporating a gold plaque on the lid that shows the death of Captain Cook at Kealukakua Bay in 1779, with boats on the harbour in the background. Relief text across the top of the gold plaque reads 'MORT DU CAPITAINE COOK LE 16 FEVRIER 1779'. The artist's signature 'Morel' appears at the bottom right corner.

Russian tortoiseshell and gold snuff box inscribed with ‘Mort du Capitaine Cook’ (The Death of Captain Cook)

Nothing unattempted

After Cook’s death in 1779, the Royal Society commissioned a medal honouring him and his achievements. These were issued to subscribers: 22 were gold, 322 silver and 577 bronze.

A translation of the medal’s Latin inscription reads:

James Cook the most intrepid investigator of the seas’ and ‘Our men have left nothing unattempted.

A solid copper medal with a bronzed patina, which features on the obverse a profile portrait bust of Captain James Cook in uniform, and on the reverse Fortune leaning upon a column with a spear in the crook of her arm, holding a rudder on a globe. Encircling the portrait of Cook is the Latin text

Royal Society bronze medal, in commemoration of Captain Cook by Lewis Pingo

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