Tag Archives: imperialism

Cook commemorations are mute on intimate encounters and their profound impact on Indigenous women



Artist: John Pickles, Author provided

Katie Pickles, University of Canterbury

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.


History is always selective, particularly when it is tied up with national identity. Certain stories are recovered, while others remain silent.

Intimate encounters are often muted, even though we know they played a central part in first encounters during the colonial era.

Tuia 250, a government-sponsored series of events to commemorate 250 years since Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand, focused on Pacific voyaging and first onshore encounters between Māori and Pākehā (non-Māori) during 1769–70, at the expense of reconsidering private history.




Read more:
My ancestors met Cook in Aotearoa 250 years ago. For us, it’s time to reinterpret a painful history


Colonial comfort

The laborious maps and longhand entries in explorers’ journals, their sketches of specimens gathered during their long journeys – these can all be seen as skillful antiques of a bygone era. But they also represent potent past tools of imperialism.

Tuia 250 was about both voyaging and encounter histories, but it seems that re-enacting traditional sailing was easier than restaging the intimate encounters that were central to the colonial enterprise.

Captain Cook charted New Zealand during his voyage in 1769.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-ND

Commemorations of voyages across the open oceans sailed clear of the awkward topic of intimacy. The history of intimate encounters remained consigned to a private space, perceived as outside of the making of history and national identity.

But as historian Anne Salmond has written, bodily contact involved Cook’s sailors exchanging items such as nails for sex with women.

In her book The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, Salmond describes the Endeavour’s arrival at Anaura Bay, where Cook’s party went ashore, and the expedition’s official botanist Joseph Banks commented about Māori women being less accessible than Tahitian women.

Banks remarked ruefully that they ‘were as great coquettes as any Europeans could be and the young ones as skittish as unbroke fillies’. If the local women were reluctant to make love with the strangers, however, they were wise, because by Cook’s own reckoning several of his men had stubborn venereal infections, and at least half of the rest had contracted venereal diseases in Tahiti.

In historian James Belich’s view, described in his book Making Peoples, sexual contact became the initial intercultural trade in New Zealand.

The sex industry began at first contact in 1769, and from the 1810s it became large and important – very probably preceding wool, gold and dairy products as New Zealand’s leading earner of overseas exchange.

But Hazel Petrie has argued that intimate encounters have to be considered within the context of cultural practices that emphasised hospitality.

Contemporary Western attitudes sometimes led to characterisations of more casual sexual activity between Māori women and visiting Pākehā men as ‘prostitution’, and in our own time such liaisons have been deemed to represent a ‘sex industry’. But these perceptions may be in large part the result of the different moral codes of the narrators and seeing sexual relationships through different lenses. Māori society may have more typically viewed short- to medium-term relationships with sailors or other visitors in terms of manaakitanga or the normal extension of hospitality with expectations of a courteous material response.




Read more:
An honest reckoning with Captain Cook’s legacy won’t heal things overnight. But it’s a start


Women as agents of history

According to historians, Cook disapproved of the sexual behaviour of his officers and men, but was unable to stop it. In his journal, Cook wrote:

A connection with Women I allow because I cannot prevent it, but never encourage tho many Men are of opinion it is one of the greatest securities amongst Indians, and it may hold good when you intend to settle amongst them; but with travelers and strangers, it is generally otherwise and more men are betrayed than saved by having connection with their women, and how can it be otherwise since all their Views are selfish without the least mixture of regard or attachment whatever; at least my observations which have been pretty general, have not pointed out to me one instance to the contrary.

Sailors embodied the complex, disease-ridden, sexual shipboard culture of the 18th century, combined with western unequal attitudes towards women and the perception of Polynesian women as exotic.

As indigenous and cultural studies scholar Alice Te Punga Somerville puts it:

Gender is so central to the story of Cook. And how Cook, and everything that came after, has done so much to gender in this region.

Māori women were entangled in the encounters as two worlds met. First contact marked the beginning of changes to customary processes (tikanga Māori), ended pre-colonial balance and had profound effects on Māori women’s lives, as the work of indigenous scholar Ani Mikaere has shown.

Mikaere has argued that:

It is often assumed that, according to tikanga Māori, leadership was primarily the domain of men and that men in Māori society exercised power over women. However, evidence abounds which refutes the notion that traditional Māori society attached greater significance to male roles than to female roles.

It came to pass that Māori women, white women missionaries and settlers were all integral to history. As feminist scholar Anne McClintock pointed out of women in imperialism, they were not “hapless onlookers”. They were variously colonisers and colonised.

Just as women were a central part of those first encounters in 1769-70, they continued to be agents of history. Some women, as the helpmeets of Empire, taught generations of schoolchildren about Cook the hero as part of an imperial curriculum.

Navigating a shared future needs to recognise women’s part in colonial encounters. It needs to consider that in the present, as with the past, public and private spaces are interconnected.The Conversation

Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury and current Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi James Cook Research Fellow, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Terra nullius interruptus: Captain James Cook and absent presence in First Nations art



Vincent Namatjira, Western Arrernte people, Northern Territory, born 1983, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Close Contact, 2018, Indulkana, South Australia, synthetic polymer paint on plywood; Gift of the James & Diana Ramsay Foundation for the Ramsay Art Prize 2019.
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, photo: Grant Hancock

Bruce Buchan, Griffith University and Eddie Synot, UNSW

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names and images of deceased people.


In Vincent Namatjira’s Ramsay Award winning Close Contact (2018), the artist construes Captain James Cook as the reverse image of his own self-portrait. The colonising presence of Cook looking toward a colonial future is satirised by making another present: Vincent Namatjira’s self-portrait looks out in a diametrically different direction.

Towards what, exactly?

Australia’s link to Cook has always been mediated by iconography. Cook was a promise recollected in pigment, bronze and stone to a nation at war with its first inhabitants and possessors.

Cook, and the violence of colonisation in his wake, embodied a claim to a vast inheritance: of Enlightenment and modernity at the expense of peoples already here.

Since his foundational ritual of possession, First Nations people have called for a reckoning with Cook’s legacies, and in recent years First Nations artists have reinvigorated this call.

By invoking the presence of Cook, they ask their audience to recognise how colonisation and empire rendered them all but absent – and his celebration today continues to do so.

Taking possession

In Samuel Calvert’s 1865 print, Cook Taking Possession of the Australian Continent on Behalf of the British Crown, the noisy presence of the newcomers’ industry and weapons drives two huddled Aboriginal men into the bush.

Captain Cook taking possession of the Australian continent on behalf of the British Crown A.D. 1770 (c. 1853-1864), colour process engraving.
National Gallery Victoria

Wathaurung Elder Aunty Marlene Gilson re-worked Calvert’s image in The Landing (2018): widening the lens to show peoples living in the landscape.

Gilson imaginatively runs together Calvert’s imagery with accounts of Governor Phillip’s later landing. As the flag is hoisted ships hover in the bay. Colonisation was a process of denying who was already there, the First Nations families and figures Gilson captures in lively habitation on land and water.

The landing, 2018, Marlene Gilson, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2019.
© Marlene Gilson

Gilson challenges the mythology of empire: that empty territory needed no treaty.

Gilson’s image is also a homage to Gordon Bennett’s earlier reworking of Calvert in Possession Island (1991). Bennett deliberately obscured Cook and his companions, with the exception of one dark-skinned servant. The presumptuous act of possession is only glimpsed behind a Jackson Pollock-like forest of lines. Visual static intervenes. Terra nullius interruptus.

This obscurity stands in marked contrast to Christian Thompson’s Othering the Explorer, James Cook (2015). Part of his Museum of Others series, his images invite us to consider the effacement of First Nations people by colonial authority and knowledge.

Dr Christian Thompson AO, Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook), 2016. c-type on metallic paper, 120 x 120 cm, from the Museum of Others series.
Courtesy of the artist & Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin

Thompson superimposes Cook’s head and shoulders on the artist’s own. His choice of images is deliberate, the 1775 Nathaniel Dance portrait of Cook in full naval regalia glowering over his Pacific “discoveries”.

Official portrait of Captain James Cook, c 1776, by Nathaniel Dance.
National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom

Since European colonisation, the assertion of the discoverer’s right to possess has erased the rich tapestry of prior ownership and belonging. In Thompson’s wry self-effacement, Cook’s superimposition is a reminder of someone already there. This was always the coloniser’s ploy. Presence as absence is a conceit of colonisation.

The presence of absence informs Daniel Boyd’s re-imagination of Cook’s landing in We Call Them Pirates Out Here (2006), a re-working of E. Phillips Fox’s Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay (1902).

E. Phillips Fox, Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770, c1902.
National Gallery of Victoria

Phillips Fox portrayed Cook restraining his men from shooting the distantly pictured “natives”. This was empire as it wished to be seen: peaceful, British, white and triumphant.

Boyd plays on the flattery of imperial self-imagining by exposing the wilful piracy of colonial possession. Boyd’s Cook cuts the same imperial dash, but with an eye patch and skull and crossbones on the Union Jack behind him empire is revealed as the pirate’s resort.

Daniel Boyd, We Call them Pirates Out Here, 2006, oil on canvas, Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006.
© Daniel Boyd

Challenging mythologies

The growing First Nations challenge to Cook’s iconography highlights his continued presence in our nation’s colonial mythology.

It is a challenge to Cook’s elevation as hero of the modern Australia built on Indigenous erasure. Jason Wing’s bronze bust of a balaclava-wearing Captain James Crook (2013) symbolises that challenge.

Jason Wing, Captain James Crook, 2013, bronze, 60 x 60 x 30cm, edition of 5. Photograph by Garrie Maguire.
Image courtesy of the Artist and Artereal Gallery.

Wing’s addition of the balaclava forces us to confront Cook’s legacy not as the projected shining icon of Enlightenment, but as a mythic presence built on deliberate theft, dispossession and violence.

These are only a small collection of artists reconsidering the place of Cook in our collective memory. Provocative, challenging, arresting, often satirical and sometimes funny, First Nations artists powerfully challenge us to reconsider Cook and our nation’s iconography.

Within the art lies an open invitation to reflect on who we have become and where we are headed.

This invitation is highlighted in Fiona Foley’s most recent retrospective, named for a song by Joe Gala and Teila Watson performed in Badtjala and English: Who are these strangers and where are they going?




Read more:
Tall ship tales: oral accounts illuminate past encounters and objects, but we need to get our story straight


The song weaves together the narratives of the First Nations people who first saw the Endeavour make its way along the coast. Together with the photographs and installations drawn from across Foley’s long career, the retrospective is a powerful affirmation of continuing presence: in 1770, in 1788, and today.

As we confront the Cook commemorations, Foley’s and the Badtjalas’ question, like Namatjira’s double-sided self-portrait, is a nudge to our nation’s future. Who are these strangers and where are they going?

By reminding us that the question was asked of Cook’s sudden presence in 1770, we must ask it again of ourselves to confront the absence his possession still makes present for us 250 years on.The Conversation

Bruce Buchan, Associate Professor, Griffith University and Eddie Synot, Centre Manager, Indigenous Law Centre, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Explorer, navigator, coloniser: revisit Captain Cook’s legacy with the click of a mouse


Justin Bergman, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today.

Click through below to explore Cook’s journey through the Pacific, his interactions with Indigenous peoples and how that journey led to Australia becoming a penal colony 18 years later.

You can see other stories in the series here.


Click through to explore the interactive.The Conversation

Justin Bergman, Deputy Editor: Politics + Society, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Botany and the colonisation of Australia in 1770



Botanist Joseph Banks recommended Botany Bay as the site for a penal colony.
Charles Gore (1788) / State Library of NSW

Bruce Buchan, Griffith University

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.


James Cook and his companions aboard the Endeavour landed at a harbour on Australia’s southeast coast in April of 1770. Cook named the place Botany Bay for
“the great quantity of plants Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander found in this place”.

Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander were aboard the Endeavour as gentleman botanists, collecting specimens and applying names in Latin to plants Europeans had not previously seen. The place name hints at the importance of plants to Britain’s Empire, and to botany’s pivotal place in Europe’s Enlightenment and Australia’s early colonisation.

A new series from The Conversation.

‘Nothing like people’

Joseph Banks became one of Britain’s most influential scientists.
National Library of Australia

Cook has always loomed large in Australia’s colonial history. White Australians have long commemorated and celebrated him as the symbolic link to the “civilisation” of Enlightenment and Empire. The two botanists have been less well remembered, yet Banks in particular was an influential figure in Australia’s early colonisation.

When Banks and his friend Solander went ashore on April 29, 1770 to collect plants for naming and classification, the Englishman recollected they saw “nothing like people”. Banks knew that the land on which he and Solander sought plants was inhabited (and in fact, as we now know, had been so for at least 65,000 years). Yet the two botanists were engaged in an activity that implied the land was blank and unknown.

They were both botanical adventurers. Solander was among the first and most favoured of the students of Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist and colonial traveller who devised the method still used today for naming species. Both Solander and Banks were advocates for the Linnaean method of taxonomy: a systematic classification of newly named plants and animals.

When they stepped ashore at “Botany Bay” in 1770, the pair saw themselves as pioneers in a double sense: as Linnaean botanists in a new land, its places and plants unnamed by any other; as if they were in a veritable terra nullius.

The plant specimens Joseph Banks collected were taken back to England, where they remain today in the Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

Botany in ‘nobody’s land’

Terra nullius, meaning “nobody’s land”, refers to a legal doctrine derived from European traditions stretching back to the ancient Romans. The idea was that land could be declared “empty” and “unowned” if there were no signs of occupation such as cultivation of the soil, towns, cities, or sacred temples.

As a legal doctrine it was not applied in Australia until the late 1880s, and there is dispute about its effects in law until its final elimination by the High Court in Mabo v Queensland (No. II) in 1992.




Read more:
Terra nullius interruptus: Captain James Cook and absent presence in First Nations art


Cook never used this formulation, nor did Banks or Solander. Yet each in their way acted as if it were true. That the land, its plants, and animals, and even its peoples, were theirs to name and classify according to their own standards of “scientific” knowledge.

In the late eighteenth century, no form of scientific knowledge was more useful to empire than botany. It was the science par excellence of colonisation and empire. Botany promised a way to transform the “waste” of nature into economic productivity on a global scale.

Plant power

Wealth and power in Britain’s eighteenth century empire came from harnessing economically useful crops: tobacco, sugar, tea, coffee, rice, potatoes, flax. Hence Banks and Solander’s avid botanical activity was not merely a manifestation of Enlightenment “science”. It was an integral feature of Britain’s colonial and imperial ambitions.

Banksia ericifolia was one of the many species given a new name by Banks.
Natural History Museum

Throughout the Endeavour’s voyage, Banks, Solander, and their assistants collected more than 30,000 plant specimens, naming more than 1,400 species.

By doing so, they were claiming new ground for European knowledge, just as Cook meticulously charted the coastlines of territories he claimed for His Majesty, King George III. Together they extended a new dispensation, inscribed in new names for places and for plants written over the ones that were already there.

Long after the Endeavour returned to Britain, Banks testified before two House of Commons committees in 1779 and 1785 that “Botany Bay” would be an “advantageous” site for a new penal colony. Among his reasons for this conclusion were not only its botanical qualities – fertile soils, abundant trees and grasses – but its virtual emptiness.




Read more:
From Captain Cook to the First Fleet: how Botany Bay was chosen over Africa as a new British penal colony


Turning emptiness to empire

When Banks described in his own Endeavour journal the land Cook had named “New South Wales”, he recalled: “This immense tract of Land … is thinly inhabited even to admiration …”. It was the science of botany that connected emptiness and empire to the Enlightened pursuit of knowledge.

One of Banks’s correspondents was the Scottish botanist and professor of natural history, John Walker. Botany, Walker wrote, was one of the “few Sciences” that “can promise any discovery or improvement”. Botany was the scientific means to master the global emporium of commodities on which empire grew.

Botany was also the reason why it had not been necessary for Banks or Solander to affirm the land on which they trod was empty. For in a very real sense, their science presupposed it. The land, its plants and its people were theirs to name and thereby claim by “discovery”.

When Walker reflected on his own botanical expeditions in the Scottish Highlands, he described them as akin to voyages of discovery to lands as “inanimate & unfrequented as any in the Terra australis”.

As we reflect on the 250-year commemoration of Cook’s landing in Australia, we ought also to consider his companions Banks and Solander, and their science of turning supposed emptiness to empire.The Conversation

Bruce Buchan, Associate Professor, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Captain Cook wanted to introduce British justice to Indigenous people. Instead, he became increasingly cruel and violent



‘Death of Captain Cook’ by George Carter. 1781. Oil on canvas. The painting depicts the killing of Cook during a skirmish with Hawaiians on his third Pacific voyage in 1779.
National Library of Australia collection

Shino Konishi, University of Western Australia

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names and images of deceased people.


In The Apotheosis of Captain Cook, anthropologist Gananath Obeyesekere describes James Cook as a Kurtz-like figure, inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness.

He suggests Cook initially saw himself as an enlightened “civiliser”, bringing a new vision of the world to the so-called “savage lands” of the South Seas.

A new series from The Conversation.

But over the course of his three voyages, Cook instead came to embody the “savagery” he ostensibly despised, indulging in increasingly tyrannical, punitive and violent treatment of Indigenous people in the Pacific.

Cook’s evolution was triggered by Indigenous people’s seeming refusal to embrace the gift of civilisation he offered, such as livestock and garden beds sown with Western crops and a justice system modelled after Britain’s.




Read more:
A failure to say hello: how Captain Cook blundered his first impression with Indigenous people


After revisiting Tahiti on his third voyage, he was dismayed to discover that despite a decade of European encounters and exchanges, he nonetheless found

neither new arts nor improvements in the old, nor have they copied after us in any one thing.

He became increasingly frustrated by their determination to maintain their own laws and manners, especially their tendency to “steal”.

‘Hints’ for fostering good relations

For his first expedition on the Endeavour, Cook received a document called Hints prepared by the Earl of Morton, president of the Royal Society, providing advice on how to deal with Indigenous people.

The earl reminded Cook’s crew that Indigenous peoples were the “legal possessors of the several regions they inhabit” and

No European Nation has the right to occupy any part of their country … without their voluntary consent.

He also advised Cook and his naturalists to:

Exercise the utmost patience and forbearance with respect to the Natives of the several lands where the ship may touch. To check the petulance of the Sailors and restrain the wanton use of Fire Arms. To have it still in view that shedding the blood of these people is a crime of the highest nature.

Cook decided the best way to prevent violence and foster good relations with Indigenous people he encountered was to demonstrate the “superiority” of European weapons, assuming

once they are sensible of these things, a regard for their own safety will deter them from disturbing you.

A passage from Hints.
National Library of Australia, Papers of Sir Joseph Banks

Cook’s early attempts to promote British justice

Cook was determined, however, to follow Morton’s instructions to the letter and ensure his crew, under threat of punishment, treated Indigenous people respectfully.

He enforced this rule in April 1769 during their first sojourn in Tahiti, when the ship’s butcher threatened to slit the throat of the high chief Te Pau’s wife when she refused to exchange her hatchet for a nail.

Outraged, Te Pau told the botanist Joseph Banks, with whom he had developed a close relationship. Cook then ordered the butcher to be publicly flogged in front of the Tahitians so they could witness British justice.




Read more:
‘They are all dead’: for Indigenous people, Cook’s voyage of ‘discovery’ was a ghostly visitation


Yet, instead of being satisfied, the Tahitians were appalled to witness this form of corporal punishment.

A few days later, Cook’s resolve to maintain peaceful relations was tested again when their quadrant was stolen from a guarded tent. This scientific instrument was essential for observing the transit of Venus, a central aim of the expedition.

According to Cook’s journal, his first response was to “seize upon Tootaha” [Tutaha], the chief of Papara in western Tahiti, or

some others of the Principle people and keep them in custody until the Quadt was produce’d.

But he soon realised this would alarm the Tahitians. After realising Tutaha played no role in the theft, Cook ordered his men not to seize him. And Banks, tipped off by Te Pau as to the quadrant’s whereabouts, soon retrieved it.

On these occasions, Cook attempted to demonstrate what he saw as the fairness of British law to the Tahitians.

Johann Reinhold Forster, naturalist on Cook’s second voyage, also suggested Cook’s reactions were tempered by the presence of the naturalists, who were not subject to his authority.

A change in temperament

By his third voyage on the Resolution and Discovery from 1776-80, however, Cook would no longer be so measured in his treatment of Indigenous people.

This was evident during his almost three-month stay in Tonga, then known as the Friendly Islands.

Chart of the Friendly Isles, published in 1777.
Wikimedia Commons

In May 1777, Cook visited Nomuka, and after exchanging gifts with the leading chief, Tupoulangi, he set up a market where the British received great stores of fresh meat and fruit.

Despite the efforts of both Cook and Tupoulangi to ensure order in the market, however, thefts still occurred.

On one occasion, an islander was caught trying to steal a small winch used to make rope, and Cook “ordered him a dozen lashes”. After the man was “severely flogg’d”, his hands were tied behind his back and he was carried to the market where he was

not releas’d till a large hog was brought for his ransom.

William Anderson, a surgeon on the expedition, thought the lashes were a justifiable punishment and deterrent. However, he said what came after would

not be found consonant with the principles of justice or humanity.

Cook later complained the chiefs were ordering their servants to steal from the market and “floging [sic] made no more impression” on them since the chiefs would “often advise us to kill them”.

Reluctant to resort to execution for stealing, Cook’s crew soon found an alternative method of punishment: shaving the heads of offenders. This, he said,

was looked upon as a mark of infamy.

A month later, the expedition moved to the island Tongatapu. Here, there was a radical shift in Cook’s conduct. As anthropologist Anne Salmond described it, he was “guilty of great cruelty” even in the eyes of his own men.

Historian John Beaglehole believes Cook was “at his wits’ end” by the thievery at Tongatapu and responded by applying “the lash as he had never done before”.

Instead of shaving the heads of thieves, Cook again ordered them to be severely flogged and ransomed.




Read more:
My ancestors met Cook in Aotearoa 250 years ago. For us, it’s time to reinterpret a painful history


Cut-throat retribution

The Discovery’s master, Thomas Edgar, kept a tally of these punishments and noted that in a two-week span, eight men were punished with 24-72 lashes apiece for stealing items such as a “tumbler and two wine glasses”.

Cook even punished his own men with the maximum 12 lashes for “neglect of duty” when thefts happened on their watch.

He also resorted to punishments which midshipman George Gilbert deemed “unbecoming of a European”, including:

cutting off their ears; fireing at them with small shot; or ball as they were swimming or paddling to the shore; and suffering the people (as he rowed after them) to beat them with the oars; and stick the boat hook into them; wherever he could hit them

Edgar described how one Tongan prisoner who received 72 lashes and then was dealt “a strange punishment” by

scoring both his Arms with a common Knife by one of our Seamen Longitudinally and transversly [sic], into the Bone.

This horrific and excessive carving of crosses into the man’s shoulders is most reminiscent of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness.

Blind hypocrisy

Cook’s increasingly violent punishments reflected his sheer frustration over the refusal of Indigenous people to recognise the superiority of Western ways and Europeans’ concepts of property.

Of course, while they were very protective and jealous of their own possessions, Cook and his crew were blind to any Indigenous concepts of property.

As he journeyed through the Pacific, Cook, like other European voyagers, freely collected water and fruit, netted fish and turtles, hunted birds and game and cut down trees for wood, never thinking Indigenous people would regard these valuable resources as their property nor construe such actions as theft.

When the expedition reached Endeavour River, near present-day Cooktown in far-north Queensland, the Guugu Yimithirr people tried to reclaim turtles Cook’s men had fished from their waters. They were rebuffed by Cook’s men and angrily set fires in retaliation.

Cook, however, did not recognise this as punishment or retribution for the stolen turtles. Instead he thought their actions were “troublesome”, so was

obliged to fire a musquet load[ed] with small short at some of the ri[n]g leaders.

Throughout his voyages, Cook faithfully followed the Earl of Morton’s advice to show off the superiority of European might, but he increasingly failed “to check” his own “petulance” and “restrain the wanton use of Fire Arms”.

Most, significantly, through his administering of rough justice against Indigenous people for apparent thieving, Cook forgot Morton’s edict that

shedding the blood of these people is a crime of the highest nature.The Conversation

Shino Konishi, ARC Research Fellow, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Make no mistake: Cook’s voyages were part of a military mission to conquer and expand


Stephen Gapps, University of Newcastle

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here.


The military nature of the Endeavour’s voyage – as part of an aggressive reconnaissance and defence against Indigenous resistance – has historically been overlooked or downplayed.

But musket fire was used many times to teach lessons of British military superiority. Violence underscored almost all of Cook’s Pacific encounters with Indigenous peoples.

In the broader strategic sense – as all 18th and early 19th century scientific voyages were – Cook’s voyages were part of a European drive to conquer. The aim was to claim resources and trade in support of the British Empire’s expansion.

At its heart, Cook’s first voyage was first and foremost a Royal Navy expedition and he was chosen as a military commander who had a background in mathematics and cartography.

A new series from The Conversation.

Imperial science and ‘ships of force’

During the “great age” of Pacific voyaging, expeditions always had several goals at once.

Cook’s first voyage in 1769 occurred during the perennial cold war of Anglo-French rivalry after what has been regarded as the first global conflict, the Seven Years War (1756-1763). This was also at the height of the promotion of “imperial science” – the idea that scientific advancement and colonial expansion were twin goals.

As industrialisation drove upheaval in Europe, scientific “discovery” was seen as a critical part of establishing, developing and controlling an empire.

The seeds of Cook’s “secret instructions” to seek out the fabled southern continent were sown by an astronomer, Professor Thomas Hornsby.

In 1766 Hornsby called for a “settlement in the great Pacific Ocean” led by “some ships of force”. This expedition would be advantageous to astronomers, but also “add a lustre” to a nation already distinguished “both in arts and arms”. It seemed a natural fit to the scientist Hornsby that the Royal Navy spearhead a British presence in the Pacific.

Even Cook, as was expected of any sea-going commander visiting distant stations, made military reconnaissance notes.

In November 1768, when the Endeavour reprovisioned at Rio de Janeiro, the local Viceroy was suspicious of a voyage supposedly to observe the transit of Venus. He suspected Cook of seeking to extend British influence in the Pacific.

Cook duly noted in his journal the state of local defences in and around Rio de Janeiro and that

it would require five or Six sail of the Line to insure Success.

Cook felt insulted at being carefully watched and had a low opinion of the Viceroy’s scientific ignorance. But, in fact, the Viceroy was correct.

After opening his supplementary instructions (so-called “secret orders” issued by the British Navy) Cook headed off to attempt to find and claim for Great Britain the supposed southern land thought to exist in the vast southern ocean.




Read more:
The stories of Tupaia and Omai and their vital role as Captain Cook’s unsung shipmates


Policy emanated from the barrel of a gun

Every European ship that voyaged the Pacific was, in the first instance, a floating fortress; an independent command with the ability to send out small shore parties or to concentrate firepower as needed.

And this was at the heart of all contact, all encounters, all attempts at communication with Pacific and other peoples. Make no mistake, restraint in British policy and conduct with Indigenous peoples in the Pacific emanated from the barrel of a gun.

Cook’s voyaging did not take place on a blank canvas, but across a rich tapestry of thriving, voyaging cultures that were ultimately the target of European aggression.

Cook has often been feted as one of the few 18th century voyaging captains renowned for his “tolerance” of Indigenous people and cultures. But ultimately, this was a tactic used in pursuit of domination. The best military commander only rarely has to resort to open conflict.

A lesson learned well before Cook

Cannon – such as those Cook dumped overboard to lighten his ship after he struck the Great Barrier Reef in 1770 – make good museum objects and monuments in public parks.

But like those on Cook’s ship the HMB Endeavour, the fact is many cannon on later voyages were hardly used – if ever. The power of artillery fire had been swiftly learned by Pacific peoples since Europeans first arrived in the 1500s, many years before Cook.

Resistance warfare occurred across the Pacific from the 1500s right through to conflicts such as Samoan resistance to German imperial rule in 1908. But like the Australian Frontier Wars, these conflicts have often been neglected by military historians.

Yet conflict across the Pacific was surprisingly inter-connected, and influenced military thinking back in Europe.

A long history of oceanic warfare and navigation

One such example is The Battle of Mactan in 1521, in which Indigenous warriors in the Philippines fought and defeated an overconfident, numerically small Spanish force fighting under Portugal’s Ferdinand Magellan (famous for circumnavigating the globe).

And in 1595, the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendana was searching for “Terra Australis” when he arrived in the Marquesas Islands. He was met by several hundred canoes and more than 200 Marquesans were killed in the ensuing conflict.

European voyagers were often unaware that many major island groups across the Pacific were in regular communication with each other.

At least 174 years years after the Spanish devastation in the Marquesan islands, Tupaia – the Tahitian priest and navigator with knowledge of more 70 islands in the Pacific – joined the Endeavour voyage, in effect as a pilot and intermediary.

Tupaia drew a map with more than 130 islands on it, and included the Marquesas Islands on it. He described to Cook and Joseph Banks how, in the distant past, four islands were visited by ships similar to the Endeavour. His map drew on Pacific knowledge of previous conflicts and navigation techniques.

Tuaia’s first map of the Pacific islands.
Wikimedia

When the British captain Samuel Wallis arrived at Tahiti in the HMS Dolphin in 1767, just two years before Cook, according to Jean-Claude Teriierooiterai, the Ari’i Amo (king) of Tahiti probably recognised these voyagers as the same white people who had attacked the Marquesans.

Around 100 double war canoes loaded with stones attacked the Dolphin for four days until Wallis fired his cannon into the Tahitian fleet (and at villages ashore for good measure). The Tahitians rightly regarded this firepower as all but invincible and soon became hospitable.

Attack of Samuel Wallis and his crew aboard The Dolphin by the people of Otaheite, Tahiti.
Royal Museums Greenwich

When the French voyager Louis-Antoine de Bougainville arrived at Tahiti a year later, he thought the Tahitians the friendliest people in the world, living in a paradise. He did not know that he had Wallis’ cannon fire to thank for his reception.

It is important to remember the military factors in Cook’s and all other voyagers experiences in the Pacific and around Australia. They remind us of what underlined, if not defined, cross-cultural encounter moments.

Addressing the fact that these expeditions were all of a military nature reminds us that European colonisation was resisted from its very first moments.The Conversation

Stephen Gapps, Conjoint Lecturer, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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