CHAPTER II. Narrative of Captain Cook's first voyage round the world.
There is scarcely any thing from which the natural curiosity of man receives a higher gratification, than from the accounts of distant countries and nations. Nor is it curiosity only that is gratified by such accounts; for the sphere of human knowledge is hereby enlarged, and various objects are brought into view, an acquaintance with which greatly contributes to the improvement of life and the benefit of the world. With regard to information of this kind, the moderns have eminently the advantage over the ancients. The ancients could neither pursue their enquiries with the same accuracy, nor carry them on to the same extent. Travelling by land was much more inconvenient and dangerous than it hath been in later times; and, as navigation was principally confined to coasting, it must necessarily have been circumscribed within very narrow limits.
The invention of the compass, seconded by the ardent and enterprising spirit of several able men, was followed by wonderful discoveries. Vasco di Gama doubled the Cape of Good Hope; and a new way being thus found out to the East Indies, the countries to that part of the earth became more accurately and extensively known. Another world was discovered by Columbus; and, at length, Magalhaens accomplished the arduous and hitherto unattempted task of sailing round the globe. At different periods he was succeeded by other circumnavigators, of whom it is no part of the present narrative to give an account.
The spirit of discovery, which was so vigorous during the latter end of the fifteenth and through the whole of the sixteenth century, began, soon after the commencement of the seventeenth century, to decline. Great navigations were only occasionally undertaken, and more from the immediate views of avarice or war, than from any noble and generous principles. But of late years they have been revived, with the enlarged and benevolent design of promoting the happiness of the human species.
A beginning of this kind was made in the reign of George the Second, during which two voyages were performed; the first under the command of Captain Middleton, and the next under the direction of Captains Smith and More, in order to discover a northwest passage through Hudson's Bay. It was reserved, however, for the glory of the present reign to carry the spirit of discovery to its height, and to conduct it on the noblest principles; not for the purposes of covetuousness or ambition; not to plunder or destroy the inhabitants of newly-explored countries; but to improve their condition, to instruct them in the arts of life, and to extend the boundaries of science.
No sooner was peace restored, in 1763, than these laudable designs engaged his majesty's patronage; and two voyages round the world had been undertaken before Mr. Cook set out on his first command. The conductors of these voyages were the Captains Byron, Wallis, and Carteret, by whom several discoveries were made, which contributed, in no small degree, to increase the knowledge of geography and navigation. Nevertheless, as the purpose for which they were sent out appears to have had a principal reference to a particular object in the South Atlantic, the direct track they were obliged to hold, on their way homeward by the East Indies, prevented them from doing so much as might otherwise have been expected towards giving the world a complete view of that immense expanse of ocean, which the South Pacific comprehends.
[Footnote 4: The Captains Wallis and Carteret went out together
upon the same expedition; but the vessels they commanded having
accidentally parted company, they proceeded and returned by a
different route. Hence their voyages are distinctly related by Dr.
Before Captain Wallis and Captain Carteret had returned to Great Britain, another voyage was resolved upon, for which the improvement of astronomical science afforded the immediate occasion. It having been calculated by astronomers, that a transit of Venus over the Sun's disk would happen in 1769, it was judged that the best place for observing it would be in some part of the South Sea, either at the Marquesas, or at one of those islands which Tasman had called Amsterdam; Rotterdam, and Middleburg, and which are now better known under the appellation of the Friendly Islands. This being a matter of eminent consequence in astronomy, and which excited the attention of foreign nations as well as of our own, the affair was taken up by the Royal Society, with the zeal which has always been displayed by that learned body for the advancement of every branch of philosophical science. Accordingly, a long memorial was addressed to his majesty, dated February the 15th, 1768, representing the great importance of the object, together with the regard which had been paid to it by the principal courts of Europe; and entreating, among other things that a vessel might be ordered, at the expense of government, for the conveyance of suitable persons, to make the observation of the transit of Venus, at one of the places before mentioned. This memorial having been laid before the king by the Earl of Shelburne (now the Marquess of Lansdown), one of the principal secretaries of state; his majesty graciously signified his pleasure to the lords commissioners of the Admiralty, that they should provide a ship for carrying over such observers as the Royal Society should judge proper to send to the South Seas; and, on the 3rd of April, Mr. Stephens informed the society that a bark had been taken up for tire purpose.