A pleasantly symbolic moment on our flight to the southern hemisphere occurred when the captain of Qantas Flight 002 announced himself as Captain Cook. He was probably no relation at all of the great explorer, Captain James Cook, FRS, RN (1728-1779), but the shared name and the nature of his task made an immediate historical connection. Captain (James) Cook’s ship on his first voyage to the Pacific was HMS Endeavour, a replica of which now stands alongside the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney harbour – an impressive sight.
The story of Captain Cook is a fascinating one. You do not have to travel far in the Antipodes before finding landmarks named by the great sailor – Mount Cook in New Zealand, for instance, or the Cook Islands or Cooktown in Australia. Magnetic Island off the Queensland coast was so called because as Captain Cook passed by, his ship’s compass reputedly wobbled and failed to settle. The list is endless, as any glance at a guide book will tell you.
In all, Captain Cook made three voyages from Britain to the Pacific Ocean, and none was a voyage to be embarked on lightly. He was charting the waters, not sailing by existing maps – unlike his namesake on QF002, there was no radar, no satellite tracking, and no jet engines. Those were the days when there was still much that was entirely unknown in the world, so much still to discover, and he was a pioneer.
We forget, in this age of worldwide travel, just how arduous life for the early explorers must have been. And yet, although the age of the ship-borne adventurer may largely be past, their spirit of adventure lives on. There remain unexplored parts of our planet, from the jungle to the deep oceans, and we have barely touched on the exploration of space. People are engaged every day in pushing forward the bounds of human knowledge, and there is an undeniable drive within us all to want to find out more, to understand more and to learn about ourselves and the universe in which we live. We would be wise not to forget the trials of explorers such as Captain Cook – in them we see mirrored our hope for the discovery of the future.