Captain Cook's Voyage of Discovery Part 1 || Epic Expeditions Episode 1
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Our journey began in 1768, when Captain James Cook embarked on an epic voyage to observe the Transit of Venus.
The voyage was an excellent opportunity to solve a mystery that had puzzled astronomers for thousands of years.
And that was discovering the distance between the earth and the sun, what we now call the Astronomical Unit.
This involved timing how long it took for Venus to pass through the face of the sun from different parts of the globe.
And by determining the distance between observation points and the time measurements of the transit, it would be possible to calculate the distance to the sun.
This was the Age of Enlightenment, and many countries jumped on the opportunity to participate in the investigation.
Cook’s observation site was particularly important because it was located in the southern hemisphere on King George Island what is known as Tahiti today.
Indeed, this was the costliest investigation in the name of science up to that point in history.
And it was an opportunity of a lifetime because this would be the last opportunity to observe the transit for more than 100 years.
So, on August 26th, 1768, Cook set off on board the Endeavor carrying 94 people and 18 months of provisions.
The Endeavor was originally a coal transport ship that converted into a Naval Research Vessel, outfitted with ten carriage guns and 12 swivel guns.
A week into the journey, the Endeavor reached the Bay of Biscay on their way to the Portuguese controlled island of Madeira.
As the Endeavor reached the bay, some of the scientists onboard were busy making observations all of the wildlife the ship came across, such as porpoises, fish, crabs, and they even seaweed.
This leads us to the subplot of this adventure, which deserves to be as much of the part of the story as the Transit of Venus.
The scientists were representatives of the Royal Society and included the Astronomer Charles Green, the Naturalists Joseph Banks, and Daniel Solander.
The Royal Society representatives included two artists to function as the equivalent to today’s photographers to draw diagrams of specimens and other worthy subjects.
The Endeavor spent five days docked on Madeira, where Banks and Solander collected unfamiliar plants and seeds for study.
Based on the collection, they scored from Madeira, Banks, and Solander was excitedly anticipating what they would come across at their next destination, Rio de Janeiro.
So, by mid-September, the Endeavor was on two months to Rio de Janeiro.
Banks, Solander, and the artists spent much of this time recording and describing the specimens collected from Madeira.
This was the golden age of Botany, where there was an explosion of discovery in the field.
When the ship was in calm waters, Banks rode out in a small boat equipped with an assortment of nets, trolls, and hooks to catch more specimens.
And because of this, the Endeavor simultaneously served as a hotel, workplace, warehouse, and a fortress.
Additionally, it was also a small farm stocked with livestock, including pigs, poultry, and a milking goat.
And by November 1768, the Endeavor reached Rio de Janeiro, where to everyone’s disappointment, they ran into some difficulty.
The viceroy of Rio de Janeiro refused to allow the officers and scientists on shore; they were stuck on the ship.
The viceroy was suspicious of them.
Finally, on December 5th, they departed Rio de Janeiro heading south towards Cape Horn.
Five weeks later, as they approached Cape Horn, something unusual occurred on the deck.
Swarms of butterflies, moths, and other insects began landing on the deck.
Banks made haste to seize the opportunity by paying the sailors on deck to collect as many specimens as they could.
This was not a big deal for Banks as he had very deep pockets.
He paid the salaries and expenses for Solander, his personal secretary, the two artists, his four servants, and also brought along two greyhounds.
When the voyage began, Cook worried that he would eventually clash with someone with such wealth and esteem on board for so long.
But they would quickly come to respect one another.
Cook rose from humble beginnings.
He joined the Navy in 1755 and was fighting in the Seven Year’s War against the French just a year later.
Cook was naturally good at math and studied textbooks in his free time.
It was his skills with math that lead him to take on surveying duties.
During this time, he was studying astronomy.
The combination of Cook’s navigation and surveying skills and his experience and knowledge of astronomy made him the perfect officer to lead the expedition.