The 18th Century Search for the Blue Nile

James Cook's First Voyage

The royal navy research vessel the Endeavour allowed for one of the most celebrated voyages in history, in which Captain James Cook was credited for discovery of New Zealand and Australia (Finnis, 109). The general consensus after extensive scholarly debate is that the original intention of the voyage was astronomical (Finnis, 63). The Royal Society requested that the admiralty should send a ship as part of the international scientific enterprise to observe the transit of Venus in 1769, in which James Cook was appointed to lead as captain (Finnis, 63). What originated as a scientific enterprise turned into an expansive voyage with the official news of the discovery of Tahiti, and a sighting of land, possibly continental, to the south (Finnis, 64). The original intention of the voyage is an explanation for what sets the Endeavour apart in terms of strides made in natural history, in that they had a board of scientists with them in their travels. Cook was instructed to head south of Tahiti and conduct a search for Terra Australis Incognita. If found, Cook was to lay claim to it, map its coastline and offshore hazard, and note the bays and various geographical features of what he saw (Finnis, 62). The Royal Society also asked for  the kinds of animals, fauna, and food there, which required extensive journaling and collection of specimens to be brought back to England. Cook’s findings in Australia and New Zealand were major contributions to Great Britain, and he was celebrated as a national celebrity upon his return.