James Cook James Cook
Maritime Topics On Stamps :

Cook's First Pacific Voyage!

A huge amount of stamps, covers and cancellations exist about the famous Captain James Cook. A philatelist can build an extensive topic collection dealing exclusively with Cook and his three discovery voyages to the Pacific Ocean. This page could provide some inspiration and information to do so.

James Cook was born on October 27th, 1728 in the village of Marton in Yorkshire. He was 18 when he enlisted and continued to work for ten years in the coal trade at the east coast of England. In 1755 Cook joined the Royal Navy and within two years he passed his master exam to qualify for the navigation and handling of a royal ship.
Cook, Endeavour
Cook, navigation
It took a while until he received his first ship, the 'Pembroke', but was immediately ordered to chart the waters of the St. Lawrence River in Canada. Between 1763 and 1767 Cook charted the fog-shrouded coast of Newfoundland. He received practical training in mathematics and astronomy, but was also able to improve the less tangible qualities of leadership, determination and ambition as well. Cook was a highly trained navigator, cartographer, discoverer, explorer and seaman!

Cook's first voyage to the Pacific lasted three years from 1768 to 1771. The original intention was to organise a scientific voyage to observe the transit of the planet Venus between the earth and the sun from Tahiti. This was supplemented by orders to search for the mysterious great southern continent, 'Terra Australis Incognita'. Cook's ship, the 'Endeavour', was a three mast bark, a former coal carrier (collier), 368 tons, length: 105 ft, beam: 29 ft, draught: 14 ft. Although a very slow ship, she was chosen for her strength, shallow draught and storage capacity. The 'Endeavour' carried 9 scientist and their assistants in addition to the 85 crew members. Among them the botanists Banks and the Swedish Solander, the astronomer Green and the painter Parkinson.

Tahiti discoverer
After passing stormy Cape Horn, Cook sailed straight to Tahiti and conducted the astronomical venus observation as planned.
The British Samuel Willis had discovered Tahiti in 1767 (see stamp to the left). To the right there is a native priest during Cook's arrival in 1769.

venus transit
venus transit
All around the world many scientist observed and recorded the time of the Venus transit from different locations. Combining all records the astronomers were able to calculate the distance between the earth and the sun. When Cook and his astronomer conducted their measurement, the sight was misty and the result not exact. Neverthelesse the evaluations and calculations from the data collected around the world resulted in a distance of 153 million kilometers.
This was a great success, as the exact value according to modern methods is around 150 million kilometers.

Cook stayed for three months at Tahiti. He conducted several survey trips to the neighbouring islands and christened them Society Islands. His botanists collected plants and animals and studied the live of the natives. On the stamp to the right the swedish botanist Solander is depicted.

Cook, navigation
Cook gave orders to treat the natives with respect. For the crew Tahiti was like paradise. The friendly natives were helpful to collect water and provisions and the girls were willing to make love. Nevertheless they liked to steal. At one time for instance Cook had to confiscate all outrigger canoes to get his stolen quadrant back. Later on he took a chief as hostage to get information about the whereabouts of deserted sailors.

New Zealand
Then Cook continued southbound to search for the unknown continent. After reaching 40 degrees southern latitude without sight of any land, he sailed westward to New Zealand. There Cook charted all coasts in six months to prove that they were not part of the southern continent. To the left you can see the courses around New Zealand.
Contact to the natives, the Maori, was extremely difficult as they were martial and some tribes still practised cannibalism. The painter Parkinson drew the tattooed Maori (stamp to the right).

Landing 1
Landing 2
Here are two old stamps about disembarking at New Zealand, issued in 1906. To the left landfall at Poverty Bay, named after the poor results when collecting water and supplies. To the right landfall at Mercury Bay.

From there on Cook pointed the 'Endeavour' to the unexplored eastern parts of New Holland (The Dutch name for Australia in those days). Cook sailed north along the shores of present New South Wales and Queensland, charting all the way as he went by. First landfall was at Botany Bay, so named by Cook as the botanist found a host more unknown plants and animals then ever before. This souvenir sheet shows Cook and his ship to the left, next to him the quadrant as a symbol for charting the coasts, then landfall and meeting the natives, the Aboriginals. They discovered strange new animals like the kangaroo and many unknown plants. To the right you can see Cook claiming the whole coast of eastern New Holland for the British Crown.

craning 2
When a ship sails over the oceans for three years, she is in need for repairs. To the left you can see the 'Endeavour' ashore at New Zealand.
At the Great Barrier Reef the 'Endeavour' ran aground. Unloading unimportant cargo and waiting for the flood had no success. Then the desperate crew fastened an anchor to another reef and with the capstan (spill) they pulled the ship from the reef. Afterwards they docked the ship ashore for repairs (stamp right).
Weeks later on they ran into trouble again at the Barrier Reef. In a calm the tide current pressed the ship towards the reef, which was covered by white foam. As the water was too deep to cast anchor, they lowered the boats and tried to drag the 'Endeavour' away from the reef, but the drift was too high. In the last minute a gentle breeze filled the sails and saved ship and crew.

Cook reached the northern tip of Australia and sailed through the Torres Strait, thus finishing the dispute as to whether New Holland and New Guinea were joined. Then he sailed to Batavia to collect food and water. Aboard Cook's ship the dreaded scurvy never happened, as he always kept supplies of fruit and water. But here they were caught by malaria and dysentery. A total of 30 crew members died at Batavia and later on at sea, among them the painter Parkinson.

Endeavour Replica
Passing the Indian Ocean and rounding the Cape of Good Hope they safely returned to England. On this, his first voyage Cook had charted more than 5000 miles of previously unknown coastline. The boxes of the botanists were filled with unknown plants and animals, the painters returned with many pictures about the natives and their countries.
On the stamp to the left you can see a reconstruction of the 'Endeavour', built from 1990 to 1995 in Australia. She sails under the command of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Just click on this line if you want to see the report about Cook's second Pacific voyage.

Just click on this line if you want to see the report about Cook's last Pacific voyage.

© 1998 - 2003 Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved. email to

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