James Cook was born in Yorkshire, England, and entered the navy as an able seaman in 1755. By 1768 he had been promoted to first lieutenant, and was given command of the bark Endeavour, a well constructed ship of 368 tons.
In this same year, Cook received instructions to set sail for the Pacific in order to study the passage of the planet Venus across the disc of the sun. This was predicted to take place on 3rd June 1769, an event which would not take place again for another 105 years. The second set of instructions concerning this voyage were secret. After the observation of Venus, Cook was to search for the mysterious and elusive „southern continent“ – Terra Australis incognita.
On 26th August 1768, the Endeavour set sail from Plymouth, stocked with 18 months supplies, and with 94 men aboard. Accompanying Cook were Joseph Banks, the botanist, Daniel Solander, a naturalist, and Charles Green, from the Greenwich Observatory.
On 13th April 1769 the Endeavour laid anchor in Tahiti, where the the passage of Venus was duly observed, in perfect conditions. Friendly relations were established with the Tahitians. A Tahitian chief named Tupaia, who spoke some english and who wanted to travel, joined the Endeavour with his boy servant when the ship left Tahiti for New Zealand, and the search for the southern continent. Tupaia was an invaluable companion, advising Cook and Banks of the practices and customs of native inhabitants of other islands on route, as the Endeavour continued it’s southerly course.
On 6th October 1769, Nicholas Young, the surgeon’s boy, sighted the coastline of New Zealand from the masthead of The Endeavour.
On 8th October the Endeavour sailed into a bay, and laid anchor at the entrance of a small river in Tuuranga-nui (today’s Poverty Bay, near modern Gisborne). Cook named a peninsula in this bay „Young Nick’s Head“ after Nicholas Young.
Noticing smoke along the coast, an indication that the country was inhabited, Cook and a group of sailors headed for shore in two small boats, hoping to establish friendly relations with the natives, and to take on refreshments. Four sailors were left to guard one of the boats, but were surprised by the sudden appearance of four Māori brandishing weapons. When one Māori lifted a lance to hurl at the boat, he was shot by the coxswain.
Cook’s party returned to the Endeavour, and the next day came ashore once again, accompanied by Tupaia. Some Māori were gathered on the river shore, and communication was made possible as Tupaia’s language was similar to that of the Māori. Gifts were presented, but the killing of the day before had left the Māori hostile. When one Māori seized a small cutlass from one of the Europeans, he was shot.
That afternoon Cook would have attempted a further landing, but heavy surf made this impossible. On noticing the appearance of two canoes Cook planned to intercept them by surprise, with the idea of taking the occupants prisoner, offering them gifts, gaining their trust and then setting them free.
However, the canoe occupants noticed the arrival of one of the Endeavour’s small boats, and attacked as it approached. The Europeans, firing in self defence, killed or wounded three or four Māori. Three other Māori who had jumped overboard were picked up by the Europeans, and taken on board the Endeavour. They were offered gifts, food and drink, and soon overcame their fear. Communication was possible via Tupaia, and the next day the three Māori were taken back to shore, where their armed kinsmen were waiting. There was no violence on this occasion.
Cook however, upset by the killings which had already taken place, decided to leave this area. He gave it the name Poverty Bay, as he had been unable to take on refreshments.
The Endeavour continued to coast Te Matau-a-Maaui (Maaui’s fish hook, or modern Hawkes Bay), on the east coast of the North Island. Cook named Hawke’s Bay after Sir Edward Hawke, of the Admiralty.
On 15th October, as the Endeavour was off the coast, a large canoe came alongside. With the help of Tupaia, Cook communicated with the Māori, who numbered about 20, and trade for fresh fish commenced. However, as Tupaia’s young servant Tayeto, was making his way to the canoe to accept the fish, he was grabbed by the Māori, who paddled off with their prisoner at great speed. Cook’s men fired on the canoe, killing one Māori. This gave Tayeto the opportunity to leap overboard, where he was picked up by the Endeavour.
Because of this event, Cook named the area Kidnapper’s Bay.
From here the Endeavour continued to Cape Turnagain, turning to coast the East Cape and the Bay of Plenty. On 3rd November suitable anchorage was found at Mercury Bay – so named as ten days were spent here observing the transit of Mercury. Before leaving Mercury Bay, the date and the ship’s name Endeavour were carved into a tree, and Cook took formal possession of this area. Sailing further north, the Endeavour arrived at the Bay of Islands.
While navigating around the northern tip of New Zealand on 13th December, the Endeavour ran into strong gales off Cape Marie van Diemen, forcing the ship off course. About nine miles offshore and in daylight hours, the Endeavour passed by the French ship St Jean-Baptiste, under the command of Jean-François-Marie de Surville, struggling to remain on course but in the opposite direction.
The „St Jean Baptise“ was a French Indian ship on a trading mission. Its Commander was looking for a bay in which to anchor in order to take on fresh water and fruit for his scurvy ridden crew. The „St Jean-Baptiste“ knew nothing of Captain James Cook and the Endeavour, just a short distance away. Incredibly, neither the British nor the French sighted each other.
On 17th December the St Jean-Baptiste laid anchor at Doubtless Bay, in the North Island. The Bay had been given this name by Captain Cook, as on sighting it for the first time from afar, he is reported to have said „this is doubtless a bay“.
In the beginning of January 1770, as the Endeavour was sailing down the western coast, Mount Taranaki was sighted. Cook named it Mount Egmont, after the First Lord of the Admiralty.
On the 14th January, the Endeavour arrived at „a very broad and deep bay or inlet“. The ship was in the South Island of New Zealand, and in this inlet a perfect anchorage was found at Ship Cove. Cook named the inlet Queen Charlotte’s Sound, and took formal possession of this area. Friendly relations were established with the Māori, and trade for fish and fresh vegetables commenced.
On 6th February the Endeavour made for Cook Strait, while surveying the coastline of the South Island. By 13th March the most southern point of the South Island was rounded, and the Endeavour commenced coasting up along the west coast. A bay which was passed as night fell was given the name Dusky Bay.
The Endeavour left New Zealand on 31st March 1770, after having spent two days in Admiralty Bay refitting the ship. Cook had just chartered 2 400 miles of New Zealand coastline, in under 6 months.
Cook was to return to New Zealand on two further occasions, once in 1773 in command of the Resolution, accompanied by Tobias Furneaux in command of The Adventure, and again in 1777 in command of The Resolution, and with Charles Clerke in command of The Discovery.
Source: „The Exploration of the Pacific“ – J. C. Beaglehole