26 August 1768: Captain Cook sets sail on his first voyage of discovery

On this day in 1768, Captain James Cook set off from Plymouth on his way to Tahiti and the fabled land of Terra Australis Incognita.

On this day in 1768, Lieutenant (as he then was) James Cook set sail from Plymouth in command of the converted coal carrier HM Bark Endeavour, carrying a complement of scientists, on the first of his three voyages of discovery.

The stated purpose of the voyage, which was jointly sponsored by the Admiralty and the Royal Society, was to head for Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus across the sun, which would be visible only from the southern hemisphere, in June 1769. The second aim of the voyage, which Cook would only learn about on opening his sealed orders once at sea, was to find evidence of the unknown southern land, Terra Australis Incognita.

After concluding his business in Tahiti, Cook headed south as ordered, then west for New Zealand. He took with him two Tahitians: a priest, Tupaia, and his servant, Taiata, to help him navigate, and to communicate with any natives he might meet.

Part of Cook's orders was to record any flora and fauna he came across, bring back mineral samples and seeds, and observe the "genius, temper, disposition and number of the natives" and, "with the consent of the natives to take possession for His Majesty... as first discoverers and possessors". 

Unfortunately, his first encounter with the Maoris involved some cultural misunderstandings, which left a couple of them dead. Nevertheless, he completed a comprehensive exploration and charting of the coast of New Zealand, before setting out west again to seek the fabled southern land.

In April 1770, Cook and his crew sighted land at Point Hicks in what is now Victoria. They scuttled north up the coast, and made landfall a week or so later at a place initially named Stingray Harbour, but which would soon become known as Botany Bay. In doing so, they become the first Europeans to visit Australia.

Cook continued northwards, charting the coast as he went, sighting and shooting the first kangaroo, and surviving a grounding on the Great Barrier Reef on the way.

He returned home via the Cape of Good Hope, arriving back in England in July 1771. Less than 20 years later the First Fleet would land to found the penal colony that would become the first European settlement in Australia.

Recommended

Has passive investing created a stockmarket bubble?
Sponsored

Has passive investing created a stockmarket bubble?

Over the past two decades, investors have been switching from buying actively managed investment funds to buying passive funds that simply track a mar…
28 Sep 2021
Why are people panicking about fuel shortages?
UK Economy

Why are people panicking about fuel shortages?

With huge queues forming at petrol stations around the country, Saloni Sardana looks at the reasons behind the fuel shortage and asks how long it's l…
28 Sep 2021
Why investors should beware of corporate waffle
Investment strategy

Why investors should beware of corporate waffle

When top executives try to retreat behind impenetrable jargon, investors should be very sceptical, says John Stepek.
28 Sep 2021
Ensign Group: profiting from US private care
Trading

Ensign Group: profiting from US private care

Nursing and care-home specialist Ensign Group should thrive as Americans age. Matthew Partridge picks the best way to play it.
28 Sep 2021

Most Popular

A nightmare 1970s scenario for investors is edging closer
Investment strategy

A nightmare 1970s scenario for investors is edging closer

Inflation need not be a worry unless it is driven by labour market shortages. Unfortunately, writes macroeconomist Philip Pilkington, that’s exactly w…
17 Sep 2021
What really causes inflation? Here’s what prices since 1970 tell us
Inflation

What really causes inflation? Here’s what prices since 1970 tell us

As UK inflation hits 3.2%, Dominic Frisby compares the cost of living 50 years ago with that of today, and explains how debt drives prices higher.
15 Sep 2021
The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest
Small cap stocks

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest

We are living in strange times. But the basics of investing remain the same: buy fairly-priced stocks that can provide an income. And there are few be…
13 Sep 2021