2018 marks the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s historic voyage aboard HMS Endeavour. Cook and the men who accompanied him enjoyed huge success on their travels. They were the first Europeans to land on the east coast of Australia, they mapped New Zealand, accurately observed the transit of Venus and returned with a wealth of information about the flora, fauna and people that they had encountered. Cook is a celebrated figure in the UK but divides opinion in Australia.
The Cook Controversy
Captain James Cook claimed Eastern Australia for Britain in 1770 and named the region New South Wales. Many people believe that he discovered the country, but he didn’t! The credit for that must go to Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon who landed in Australia as early as 1606 and dubbed the country New Holland.
But then again, did Janszoon really discover Australia? The aboriginal people had travelled to the country from southeast Asia at least 40,000 years earlier. Unfortunately, it was the Aboriginals who were to suffer the most as a result of Cook’s arrival in the 18th century. He claimed the country for Britain without any discussions or negotiations with the indigenous people. Eighteen years later, the first British ships arrived to establish a penal colony. Further colonies followed and the Europeans soon began branching out and exploring the interior of the country.
During the early years, the Aboriginal Australians endured great losses as a result of conflicts with the Europeans and also fell prey to the diseases that the settlers had brought into the country. Ultimately, the Aboriginals were displaced by European settlers and they still blame Captain Cook to this day for the loss of their land! Cook didn’t discover Australia, he initiated a takeover!
Too Many Cooks
It’s a controversy which isn’t going away any time soon. The flames are fanned every so often and usually when an anniversary is approaching. It is at these times when the Australian government are given to allocating funds for memorials but the native people do not see Captain Cook’s voyage as cause for celebration. Many Australians of European ancestry are inclined to agree with them.
Captain Cook has sparked a national debate once again this year. The Australian government has allocated $48.7 million to various projects which are to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Cook’s voyage. Huge financial resources have already been committed to a variety of cultural programs including the development of digital heritage resources and exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum, National Library, AIATSIS and the National Museum of Australia.
Funding has also been earmarked for a voyage of a replica of Endeavour and the redevelopment of Kamay Botany Bay National Park. The latter project involves a proposed new monument to Captain Cook. But He is a figure who polarises opinion down under and who is inexorably associated with the dispossession of Aboriginal land.
It is the proposed new statue which has inspired the most anger. There are many statues of Captain Cook in Australia and several have been vandalised recently. Does the country need another statue or would a new monument simply mean that there are too many Cooks?
Celebrating Captain Cook
Cook was attacked and killed in 1779 while attempting to kidnap a Hawaiian chief who he believed had stolen one of his boats. Cook left a legacy of geographic, navigational and scientific knowledge which has ensured that he remains a revered figure worldwide and particularly in Britain. In 2002 Cook was placed at number 12 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons that ever lived.
As with many historical high-achievers, his story remains tainted by controversy. The 18th century was a very different time and our attitudes to colonialism and empire building have changed. Whether you agree with his actions in Australia or not, there is no denying Cook’s impact on the world in the succeeding years.
The Stamp Issue
The Captain Cook and the Endeavour Voyage stamp issue features six stunning stamps and should not be missed.
2nd Class – Sir Joseph Banks by Sir Joshua Reynolds, with Phaethon rubricauda (red-tailed tropicbird) by Sydney Parkinson and Passiflora aurantia (red passion flower) outline drawing by SydneyParkinson finished by Fred Polydore Nodder.
2nd Class – Chief Mourner of Tahiti and a scene with a canoe by the artist of the Chief Mourner (Tupaia)
1st Class – Captain James Cook by Nathaniel Dance, Triumph of the Navigators by Robin Brooks
1st Class – Drawings of the observations of the transit of Venus, 1769, by Charles Green and Lieutenant James Cook alongside photograph of a sextant.
£1.45 – Clianthus puniceus (scarlet clianthus) by Sydney Parkinson and a portrait of a Maori Chiefwith full facial moko, engraving after Sydney Parkinson.
£1.45 – Volatinia jacarina (blue-black grassquit) by Sydney Parkinson, Sydney Parkinson selfportrait
This issue also includes a striking minisheet of four stamps, first day covers, a presentation pack and stamp cards. There’s much to enjoy here and a few lessons to be learned along the way!