We continue our adventures with Captain Cook as his epic voyage enters its second year. The second coin in the three-coin series celebrating Cook’s discoveries features the next piece of Gary Breeze’s puzzle design and charts HM Bark Endeavour’s progress to Tahiti. Here, Cook was tasked with observing the Transit of Venus, an astronomical phenomenon that would transform navigation, as told to us by Charles Forgan, who volunteers at the Captain Cook Museum in Whitby.
After rounding Cape Horn, three months had passed without sight of land. Finally, Endeavour reached the Tuamotus, a scatter of small low islands. Even then Cook had not stopped, anxious to reach Tahiti.
The Dolphin had visited Tahiti two years before, and her Captain had recommended the island as a place to observe the Transit of Venus. Among Endeavour’s crew were old Dolphin hands, who must have told such tales during the long Pacific crossing; excitement must have been at fever-pitch.
At last they had reached their goal. Before them lay an island that seemed like paradise. Forested mountains soared 6,000 feet and ravines and torrents fell to a strip of fertile, inhabited land and sandy beaches.
Canoes surrounded the ship and the chiefs, carrying green branches as emblems of peace, were entertained on board. Hogs, coconuts and other provisions were traded for hatchets, linen and iron nails and the ‘Dolphins’ met old friends.
Islanders helped build a fort to house the observation instruments, sited on a promontory that was named Point Venus. Over six weeks at Matavai Bay, the Transit of Venus was observed not only from the fort but from two further locations. Cook’s mission was a success, and Cook went on to journey around Tahiti, meeting chiefs and mapping as he went.
This was a meeting between two very different cultures with very different views, particularly on property and relationships. Early on when a musket was taken, the thief was shot dead, but Cook did try to avoid violence. However, when scientific instruments were stolen, they had to be recovered. Cook would demand the property back, sometimes even taking canoes and individuals hostage, and later soothed bad feeling with gifts. At the end of the visit two sailors deserted to remain with their girlfriends and fled to the mountains. Their recapture was the most dangerous incident of the whole three months on Tahiti.
Endeavour sailed onwards, her first mission complete, and a high-status individual, priest and navigator named Tupaia was chosen to join the ship. It proved an inspired choice, as the crew discovered when they reached New Zealand.
If you’d like to recap on the first installment of the journey, you can read the first entry here.
To find out more about the second coin, click here.