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Kay Phillips gave us the Viewpoint this evening - Captain Cook - Villain or Hero?

She said, 

'What does the name HMB Earl of Pembroke mean to you? Of course – that was the original name of HMB Endeavour.

'Imagine being aboard a ship for months or years at a time, with 94 men and boys living, sleeping and eating on the lower deck when the widest part of the ship was 29 feet, three inches and the length of that deck just 97 feet. Imagine sleeping 8 inches from the next seaman.

'The complement of the Endeavour in 1769 was 94 men and boys, and one goat which provided milk to make cheese for officers and for seamen when they became ill.

'In recent years the master of HMB Endeavour has been accused of being, not the greatest English explorer we learned about at primary school, but a cruel and vindictive villain who sought to kill Maori and pillage their land. So, which opinion is correct?

'Cook actually discovered very little. What he did achieve was to “discover” that some places do not exist – Terra Australis and the North-West Passage. Other explorers had discovered virtually every place he visited. He was the first European to visit Hawaii, New Caledonia and the east coast of Australia. However other non-Europeans were there well before him.

'It was his skill as a cartographer that set Cook apart from other explorers of all races. His mapping of the Pacific meant that future cartographers only had to tweak to have every island in the region fully mapped by the end of the eighteenth century.

It is interesting to note the emphasis placed upon the rights of any indigenous people whom the explorers may have met, by both the Admiralty and the Royal Society in England. Details are quoted here which expand on Kay's Viewpoint.

'Cook’s interaction with Maori was varied. He traded with many, killed some – eg when, according to historian Michael King, Maori performed a haka and Cook’s men opened fire. However, Ian Wishart in his book The Great Divide, quotes from Cook’s and Banks’ journals giving a quite different view of their encounter. Note too, that Cook was well aware of what had happened to Abel Tasman in New Zealand. After one incident when the Englishmen killed several Maori, Cook recorded in his Journal: “I am aware that most humane men who have not experienced things of this nature will cencure (sic) my conduct in firing upon the people in this boat nor do I my self (sic) think that the reason I had for seizing upon her will att (sic) all justify me. (sic) and had I thought that they would have made the least resistance I would not have come near them but as they did I was not to stand still and suffer either my self (sic) or those that were with me to be knocked on the head.” Cook’s Journal October 10 1769.

'It is fact that Cook admired the New Zealanders he came across: they were “a strong raw boned (sic) well made Active people rather above than under the common Intelligence…”

Cook admired Maori bravery and industry and willingness to trade and their general “intelligence” but he also highlighted the constant warfare, cannibalism and overall violence of their lifestyle. Cook certainly took no chances, and though he claimed it grieved him to do so, he shot to kill whenever a situation proved threatening.

'On the other hand, the Adventure (Cook’s accompanying vessel), captained by Furneaux (pictured), had one of her boat crews killed by the locals.

'As Distinguished Professor Dr Kerry Howe claims, “If there was any treachery in Maori-European dealings, it was certainly not all one-sided” Howe p 207.

'In my view, James Cook was neither wholly good nor bad; neither villain nor hero. He was a skilled cartographer, courageous explorer, a ship’s commander who was both kind and cruel, a man who valued the life of his colleagues and crew above those he considered a threat. He had times of rash and seemingly demented behaviour such as the actions that led to his death in Tahiti. He was a man whose knowledge, skill and philosophy were ahead of his time. He left a legacy of maps that no-one before him had. Importantly, his voyages enabled much botanical and scientific knowledge to be recorded and shared around the world.

'A final quote from my erstwhile favourite lecturer, Kerry Howe, succinctly sums history up: “There are no absolutes in historical interpretation. History is what we choose to see and we tend to see what we are looking for. The past has no independent existence.”

'Further detail, interpretation and references for any of you who may be interested, is set out in this full blog, although not covered during my Viewpoint.'

Further detail
Admiralty Instructions and Royal Society Hints.
The Admiralty gave James Cook a set of secret instructions about searching for Terra Australis including “…with the Consent of the Natives to take possession of Convenient Situations in the Country in the name of the King of Great Britain; or, if you find the Country uninhabited take Possession for His majesty by setting up Proper Marks and Inscriptions, as the first discoverers and possessors.

As well as leading a scientific voyage of exploration sponsored by the Admiralty, Cook was given a set of “Hints” by the Earl of Morton, President of the Royal Society:
“To check the petulance of the Sailors and restrain the wanton use of Fire Arms.
"To have it still in view that sheding (sic) the blood of those people is a crime of the highest nature:- They are human creatures, the work of the same omnipotent Author, equally under his care with the most polished European; perhaps being less offensive, more entitled to his favour.
"They are the natural, and in the strictest sense of the word, the legal possessors of the several Regions they inhabit.
"No European Nation has the right to occupy any parts of their country or settle among them without their voluntary consent.
"Therefore should they in hostile manner oppose a landing, and kill some men in the attempt, even this would hardly justify firing among them, ‘till every other gentle method has been tried.”

HMB Endeavour was a vessel of 368 tons, her over-all length was 105 feet, the length of her lower deck 97 feet, her greatest breadth 29 feet 3 inches, depth of hold 11 feet and a draught of some 14 feet when fully laden. Flat-bottomed to allow beaching for repairs.
Food consisted of biscuits (hard tack); bread; salted meat, fruit and vegetables very occasionally. In NZ, Cook’s men gathered fresh herbs and other plants from the places they landed for the ship’s cook to mix with oatmeal as a defence against scurvy. They also had sauerkraut as part of their voyage diet.
The complement of the Endeavour in 1769 was 94 men and boys, and one goat which provided milk to make cheese for officers and for seamen when they became ill. Most of the servant boys were about ten years old though Isaac Manley, Cook’s servant, was 12 years old, There were six officers, 38 able seamen, Banks and his three artists, at least one of whom died early in the voyage, Dr Solander, a botanist and naturalist and astronomer Charles Green. In 1770, crossing the Indian Ocean, more than two dozen men died.
Incidentally, James Banks should be given much more credit – he paid for much of the voyage as well as scientists and experts on board whose work, apart from cartography, were the main achievements of the voyage.
In Heni Collins’ Ka mate Ka Ora! The Spirit of Te Rauparaha there is an image of Cook talking with Maori in the Bay of Islands and showing them the different uses of the bullets and small shot in his hand. Tapua, father of Patuone, made friends with Cook by giving him fish. Cook reciprocated with salt meat.
How did Cook treat his crew? – with severity, even cruelty at times. His rages were talked about openly by his crew. Crew were rewarded for jobs well done – Nick Young’s sighting of NZ earned him with a gallon of rum - while simple infringements of ship’s protocols saw men and boys flogged.

Main References:
Where the Waves Fall 1984 Distinguished Professor Dr Kerry Howe
Tears of Rangi - Experiments Across Worlds 2017 Anne Salmond
“Don't judge Captain James Cook by today's standards” Bill Ralston, New Zealand Listener 19 October 2019

Captain Cook - Villain or Hero?

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