The SANDS OF TIME Collection – 21. Uncharted Coast

21. Uncharted Coast
James Cook & Joseph Banks — 945 x 695 mm
© Robert Morgan

JAMES COOK (1728-1779)
Explorer

Born at Marton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, England, on 27 October 1728, James Cook came from a humble background.  As a child he worked as a farm labourer and received little formal education.  When he was nineteen he was indentured to a Yorkshire coal shipper and he subsequently worked on the trade routes across the Baltic Seas.  In 1755, with the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War, he joined the Royal Navy and by 1762 he was recognised by his superiors as an outstanding naval surveyor.

Cook’s first command came in 1763 while he was surveying the coasts of Newfoundland.  By 1766 his work was so highly regarded that he had come to the attention of the Royal Society in London.  Thus, when Royal Society decided to observe the transit of Venus from the South Pacific, Cook was chosen to command the expedition.  On 26 May 1768 Cook was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the British Navy and the next day he took command of HM Bark Endeavour.

In late 1769, having witnessed the transit of Venus, Cook sailed westward across the Pacific, charted the entire coastline of New Zealand and then discovered and charted the eastern coast of Australia.

Cook was to make two further voyages to the South Seas.  Between July 1772 and July 1775 he circumnavigated the globe discovering a number of Pacific islands and became the first person to enter the Antarctic Circle.  He returned to the South Pacific in 1776 and , after discovering the Hawaiian Islands, left on an unsuccessful search for a north-west passage around the Americas.  He returned to Hawaii where he was attacked and killed by natives.  He died on 14 February 1777 and was buried at sea.  Apart from being the discoverer of eastern Australia, Cook was a navigator and surveyor of genius whose maps, given the primitive charting equipment, were extraordinarily accurate.

SIR JOSEPH BANKS (1743-1820)
Botanist

Born into a wealthy Lincolnshire family, Banks was educated at Harrow, Eton and Oxford.  It was at Eton that he first became interested in botany.  He pursued this interest rather unsuccessfully at university and in 1766, without gaining a degree, he left England and travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador collecting specimens of the local fauna and flora.  That same year he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

On the death of his father, Banks became a very wealthy man and this allowed him to go on numerous specimen collecting expeditions in 1767 and 1768.  In 1769 he was given permission to travel with Cook’s expedition to the South Pacific.  So committed and enthusiastic was Banks that he spent an estimated £10 000 equipping himself for the journey.

On the voyage Banks was tireless collector.  When he returned to England in 1771 he had specimens and sketches of the fauna and flora of South America, Tahiti, New Zealand, the eastern coast of Australia, New Guinea, the Dutch East Indies, Southern Africa and St Helena.  He was feted upon his return, awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University, and invited by George III to develop the exotic flora at Kew Gardens.

It was largely due to Banks’ advocacy that the British Parliament decided upon Botany Bay as a suitable location for a new penal colony.  After 1788 Banks’ interest in the new colony continued and he actively corresponded with the early governors.  Towards the end of his life he was revered as a ‘renaissance’ man and was consulted on subjects as diverse as earthquakes and the choice of colonial governors.  He died in London on 19 June 1820.

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