Chapter ID: CBB499900264

Astronomy on Cook’s First Voyage: Mercury Bay and Queen Charlotte Sound, 1769–1770 (2016)


Cook’s First Voyage to the South Seas primarily was undertaken in order to observe the 3 June 1769 transit of Venus from Tahiti. For this purpose, two official astronomers were assigned to the Endeavour, an ex-Whitby collier. One was Charles Green and the other was none other than the commander of the vessel, Lieutenant James Cook, who therefore wore two ‘hats’ during the voyage. Following a successful transit campaign Cook sailed southwest in search of the Great Southern Continent, and eventually came upon New Zealand. As they sailed along the coast Cook and Green used astronomical observations to determine the latitude and longitude of the Endeavour, and they carefully mapped the coastline. They also anchored in what is now known as Mercury Bay in order to observe the 9 November 1769 transit of Mercury. This was the first time that scientific astronomical observations were made from New Zealand soil. By the time the Endeavour completed its circumnavigation of New Zealand Cook and Green had established that although this landmass consisted of two large mountainous islands it was not a viable candidate for the missing continent.

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Authors & Contributors
Williams, Glyndwr
Reiss, Timothy J.
Starr, Gabrielle
Siskind, Mariano
Altshuler, Bruce
Orchiston, Wayne
Mariner's Mirror
Archives of Natural History
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Journal for Maritime Research: Britian, the Sea and Global History
Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage
Yale University Press
Cold Spring Press
University of British Columbia
Hambledon Continuum
Oxford University Press
Travel; exploration
Sea travel
Scientific expeditions
Science and literature
Cook, James
Banks, Joseph
Darwin, Charles Robert
Shaler, William
Swift, Jonathan
Dampier, William
Time Periods
18th century
19th century
Pacific Ocean
Polar regions
Great Britain. Royal Navy
Royal Observatory Greenwich

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