- This document was produced in 1769 and shows a small sample of the
instructions given to Captain James Cook when he set out to map Australia.
- Cook sailed in his ship Endeavour in 1769 and reached Australia in
1770. Although he was a navy captain in a Royal Navy ship, most of his
instructions came from the Royal Society. The Society's main aim was
to advance scientific knowledge and understanding. The instructions
were top secret.
- Cook did not discover Australia. Aboriginal people had already settled
Australia long before. Also Europeans knew Australia existed because
the western half of the continent had already been mapped and called
- However, no Europeans had sailed to the other side of Australia. This
was Cook's achievement. His main priorities were to map the land and
to claim it for Britain if possible (if it was uninhabited or if the
local people agreed).
- Cook was also told to make accurate observations of the stars and
planets. Like many gentlemen of the 18th century, Cook was extremely
interested in science. He applied scientific methods to looking after
his crew (good diets, clean decks) and had a lower death rate than other
- Science, technology, wealth and power were often seen as being linked
in the 18th century. The Royal Society was supported by King George
III in order to improve scientific knowledge. The King also supported
it because he believed the knowledge brought wealth through improvements
in farming, trade and industry.
- This explains why a Royal Navy ship and its captain were being given detailed and secret instructions by the Royal Society.