The purpose of Captain Cook’s second of three voyages (1772-1775) was to definitively answer the question once and for all—was there or was there not a great southern continent, Terra Australis? This time two ships went on the voyage, the Resolution commanded by Cook, and the Adventure, commanded by Tobias Furneaux.
Initially Joseph Banks of first voyage fame was to sail again with Cook. He demanded that the Resolution be retrofitted to suit his needs, including having an additional deck built on the ship. When this alteration proved too top-heavy to be sea-worthy and was removed, Banks withdrew any financial support and declined to go on the voyage under such “adverse conditions.”
After reaching the Pacific, Cook sailed south crossing the Antarctic Circle being the first ship to ever venture this far south. After further exploration and after eventually being stopped by pack ice, the ships returned north using Queen Charlotte Sound on the northern end of the South Island of New Zealand as a base for further excursions into the Pacific.
At one point however both ships became separated and the Adventure waited at Queen Charlotte Sound for its rendezvous with Cook and the Resolution.
It was during this time that a party of ten men from Furneaux’s crew who had gone ashore went missing. Upon sending other members of the crew to search for them, it was found that they had been killed by the Maori and were now being eaten.
Lieutenant Burney who led the group described seeing shoes, clothes, severed hands and large baskets of cooked human flesh. “The heads, hearts and lungs of several of our people were seen lying on the beach, and at a little distance, the dogs gnawing their entrails.”
Furneaux, rather than waiting for Cook and being unsure of his whereabouts, decided to return to England. Cook in the Resolution arrived at Queen Charlotte Sound a few days after Furneaux had left. For what it is worth, Cook remained unaware of the cannibalism episode until his later return to England. Cook then continued alone his explorations of the south Pacific crossing and recrossing the Antarctic Circle several times and making giant sweeps of the south Pacific finally proving once and for all that there was no missing continent. He arrived back in England on July 30, 1775 and was promoted to the rank of captain and given honorary retirement from the Admiralty but insisting that he could return to active duty if the need arose.
And it did. The goal of Cook’s third and final voyage which began in 1776 was to find the Northwest Passage, a sea route across the top of North America connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, except he would be searching for it from the Pacific side. Two ships went on this voyage, the Resolution commanded by Cook, and the Discovery commanded by Charles Clerke. Again Cook first sailed to Queen Charlotte Sound in New Zealand and then up to Tahiti. After leaving Tahiti, he sailed north discovering the Hawaiian Islands which he initially named the Sandwich Islands after the Lord of Sandwich. Then as ordered he explored and charted (again with remarkable accuracy) the entire northwest coastline of North America looking for the elusive Northwest Passage before being finally stopped by ice in the Bering Strait.
Cook returned to the Hawaiian Islands, his return coinciding with a festival for the Polynesian god, Lono. He and his crew were welcomed. There is some question whether the Hawaiians saw Cook as an incarnation of Lono and this is why he was given such a gracious welcome. Cook left Hawaii but was immediately forced to return after suffering damage to one of his ships. His return visit was less than welcome and tensions were high. After one of Cook’s small boats was stolen by the Hawaiians, Cook attempted to take the King of Hawaii hostage until the stolen item was returned, a practice he had used in the past in similar situations. The Hawaiians resisted. Cook and his men retreated to the beach and as Cook turned his back to help launch one of his boats, he was struck on the head and then stabbed to death in the surf by the Hawaiians. His body was then dragged away by the Hawaiians.
Clerke took over the expedition eventually dying of tuberculosis before the ships finally returned to England.
Much has been written about Cook on this his final voyage. The long years at sea had taken their toll on him, but also there is some suggestion that in these final years he viewed himself as almost a god due to his extensive exploration and dealings with the peoples of the South Pacific.
Cook’s legacy remains as the premier explorer of the south Pacific. Again compared to other explorers, he attempted to show restraint in his dealings with indigenous people and is generally looked at with respect throughout the Pacific. The vast distances he explored and charted in his small ships is astounding. And he was the European responsible for putting New Zealand on the map.
Obviously this has been a very brief summary of this dynamic man’s life. Although there are a number of excellent biographies of Cook, I highly recommend and particularly enjoyed “Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook” by Martin Dugard.