Cook and Kiwi

By LaPointe, Leonard L. | Journal of Medical Speech - Language Pathology, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Cook and Kiwi

LaPointe, Leonard L., Journal of Medical Speech - Language Pathology

He aha te mea nui? What is the greatest thing? He tangata! It is people.
He tangata!
Maori aphorism

On June 30, 1768 Lt. James Cook received his orders from the British Royal Society and the Royal Navy to begin the first of his three incredible voyages to the South Pacific. He and his crew of 94 were to launch an expedition of exploration, cartography, and scientific research. It was the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, and science and exploration were revered values. The soon-to-be Captain James Cook received three pages of handwritten orders, including a charge to observe and record in Tahiti an astrological event, the Transit of Venus. But there was more. Apart from the standard British Admiralty crew for a sailing ship--officers, midshipmen, and craftsmen--also on board was a group of civilians led by an aristocratic and wealthy 25-year-old naturalist, Joseph Banks. With the fervor of the Enlightenment motivating them, Banks and his team of scientists, artists, and servants collected and began recording aspects of plant and animal life from the exotic realms that had never before been seen in Europe. Later, after their travels and mapping of the east coast of Australia, imagine the consternation and incredulity generated by descriptions and drawings of the kangaroo and platypus. Some thought the platypus was a hoax. The scientists also were charged with conducting anthropological investigation of the peoples and cultures they encountered. A major accomplishment, after the Transit of Venus was duly recorded in Tahiti, was the tribulation of exploring the east coast of Australia. Prior to leaving on the quest for terra australis incognita, the Endeavour circumnavigated the islands of New Zealand and though Cook made a cartographic error by showing the Banks Peninsula as an island, he constructed an astonishingly detailed and accurate map of New Zealand (Captain Cook Society, 2006).

The comparison of Cook's rendering with a present-day satellite photograph can be appreciated in juxtaposition on a beautifully mounted presentation at Paul Arnold's Antique Print Gallery on New Regent Street in Christchurch ( We spent a pleasant afternoon perusing old maps and drawings of the Cook era with the proprietor and engaged in fascinating conversation about various interpretations of Captain Cook's death at Kealakekua Bay in the Sandwich Islands, which were later to be called Hawaii. Mr. Arnold alerted me to the new version of Cook's voyage by Dame Anne Salmond of the University of Auckland.

After Captain Cook's remarkable discoveries and mapmaking of Australia and New Zealand he returned to Britain and was hailed as a hero and celebrity. Subsequently, he undertook two other significant voyages of discovery. On the second voyage he explored and circumnavigated Antarctica and described the amazing "ice mountains" floating in the frigid waters. His third and final voyage from 1776-1780 was marked by the exploration and mapping of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and remarkably, even a part of the coast of North America while searching for a northern passage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

After his tragic and controversial death at Kealakekua Bay, precipitated by his tactless retaliation for the theft of one of his long boats, it is alleged that parts of his body were boiled, distributed, and eaten by the offended residents of the islands. Some of the intact fragments of his body, including his uniquely scarred right hand, were returned by the islanders and buried at sea, and his crew completed their journey back to England.

The voyages of Captain Cook are preserved in many historical accounts and make for fascinating reading. It is even possible to access the actual ship logs of Captain Cook and Joseph Banks and relive their daily adventures and impressions. The Endeavour Journal can be accessed from several sources on the Internet, including a national library repository in Australia that displays photographs of the actual pages of the handwritten journals of Captain Cook, Joseph Banks, and the ship's surgeon (Australian National Library, 2006). …

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