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On board the Endeavour

The Endeavour’s voyage was the first British scientific expedition to the Pacific. It was sponsored by the Royal Society and the Royal Navy. It came out of Britain’s territorial interests in the Pacific and the growing interest in scientific enquiry which flourished in Europe during the 18th century.

When the ship left England in 1768 under James Cook’s command, the Endeavour carried 94 people, including 71 officers and crew and 12 marines. Also on board were Joseph Banks and his party of scientists and artists, including fellow botanist Daniel Solander and natural history artists Sydney Parkinson, Herman Spöring and Alexander Buchan.

Black and white pencil drawing of a high-masted sailing ship with waves breaking over the side.
The Endeavour in Stormy Seas by Sydney Parkinson

The Endeavour also carried sheep, cattle, ducks, chickens, a goat, a boar, a sow and piglets, and ship’s cats. They lived alongside each other for nearly three years.

When the ship returned to England in 1771, the products of the voyagers’ work — maps, art, specimens, artefacts — captivated Europe’s imagination and changed scientific knowledge.

Transit of Venus

It was at Matavai Bay, Tahiti that astronomer Charles Green recorded the 1769 transit of Venus. This was an astronomical event in which Venus passed between the Earth and the Sun. Measuring how long it took Venus to move across the Sun provided a way of calculating the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

The Endeavour and contemporary astronomy 02:25

Transit ready

There were three astronomical telescopes on board the Endeavour. The Royal Society supplied those used by James Cook and Charles Green. Daniel Solander, the ship’s naturalist, took his own.

James Cook, 3 June 1769:

Dr Solander observed as well as Mr Green and my self, and we differ’d from one another in observeing the times of the Contacts [phases of the transit] much more than could be expected — Mr Greens Telescope and mine where of the same Magnifying power but that of the Dr [Solander] was greater than ours.

Side view of a brass telescope mounted on a stand with three feet.
Astronomical telescope believed to have been used by Daniel Solander

East or west?

The Endeavour left England in 1768 sailing across the Atlantic, around the tip of South America and across the Pacific to observe the transit of Venus. From there the ship sailed west to New Zealand. After mapping much of the two islands’ coasts, it was time for the ship to head back to England. James Cook had a choice to make. Sail east or west?

James Cook, 31 March 1770:

it was therefore resolved to return by way of the East Indies ... to steer to the westward untill we fall in with the East Coast of New Holland and than to follow the deriction of that Coast to the northward.

Early map showing most of what we know as Tasmania and the west coast of what we now know as Australia, marked as 'Hollandia Nova'. The eastern coast is blank, marked 'Terre Autrale'.
Hollandia Nova detecta by M Thevenot
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