First Voyage of Captain James Cook (1768 - 1771)

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James Cook’s first voyage circumnavigated the globe in the ship Endeavour, and gave scientific members of the expedition an opportunity to collect specimens from previously unexplored habitats. Although the voyage was officially a journey to Tahiti to observe the 1769 transit of Venus across the sun, it also had a more clandestine mission from the Royal Society to explore the South Pacific in the name of England. Work was completed by botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. Joseph Banks, who would later become Sir Joseph Banks and president of the Royal Society, was a wealthy young scientist. He invited his close friend Daniel Solander, a Swedish student of Linnaeus working in the natural history collections of the British Museum, to join him on the Endeavour expedition. Together they acted as the naturalists on the voyage, commanding several servants and artists, including Sydney Parkinson, and outfitted with an excellent array of scientific equipment. After setting out from London, the expedition stopped briefly at Madeira, a small Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean, and then continued on to Rio de Janiero, on the eastern coast of Brazil. Here, the expedition encountered one of its first major setbacks when the Portuguese governor Dom Antonio Rolim de Moura Tavare refused to allow anyone from the Endeavour to come on land except to acquire necessities. This restriction, however, didn’t stop the two determined botanists. Banks and Solander risked being arrested as spies or smugglers in order to sneak onshore to collect specimens around the city. Despite this difficulty, the expedition traveled on to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America, where they collected a large number of specimens despite bitterly cold weather that killed two members of the crew. In April of 1769, the expedition reached Tahiti, where they stayed until July. After viewing the transit of Venus on June 3, 1769, the expedition began mapping, exploring, and collecting specimens in the relatively unknown regions of New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia (then called New Holland). The Endeavour continued its voyage mapping the eastern coast of Australia, narrowly avoiding shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef, until it re-entered known waters near New Guinea in late August, 1770. During the last part of the voyage, the Endeavour stopped at the disease-ridden city of Batavia in Java and at the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, returning to England in July, 1771. Overall, the expedition was very successful, with little strife among the crew and no deaths from scurvy.


  • Adams, Brian. The Flowering of the Pacific. Sydney: William Collins Pty, 1986.
  • Rauchenberg, Roy A. “Daniel Carl Solander: Naturalist on the ‘Endeavour’,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, 58, no. 8 (1968): 1-66. (May 26, 2010).
  • Allen, Oliver E. The Pacific Navigators. Canada: Time-Life Books, 1980.
  • Merrill, Elmer Drew. The Botany of Cook’s Voyages and its Unexpected Significance in Relation to Anthropology, Biogeography and History. Waltham, Massachusetts: Chronica Botanica Co., 1954.
  • Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) database, (for information on plant species Dendrobium cunninghamii; accessed June 15, 2010).
  • National Library of Australia. “South Seas: Voyaging and Cross-Cultural Encounters in the Pacific.” South Seas, n.d. Contains maps and text of expedition journals by James Cook and Joseph Banks.

Date Range

1768 - 1771


  • Plants
  • Botany


  • New Zealand
  • Jawa
  • Brazil
  • South Africa
  • Rio de Janeiro
  • Australia
  • Tahiti
  • Tierra del Fuego
  • Indonesia


Expedition name