Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Cook Islands

Still more coral islands in the Pacific, these between American Samoa to the west and French Polynesia to the east. Once a British protectorate, it is now a self-governing state, though it operates in free association with New Zealand, where more than half of its population now lives. By some bizarre treaty of the region, this act of free association makes them citizens of New Zealand, and by consequence this gives them the right to live in Australia as well. Nothing much else to say, except the coral, the volcanoes, the black pearl industry, and the hurricanes. Oh, and they are apparently quite good at rugby.

Since these islands are named for Captain Cook, and since there is actually nothing else to say about them, allow me to indulge myself a moment, recording the life and achievements of a truly remarkable man, whose name was given to these islands, the man who enabled the Maori of New Zealand, and the Anangu Pitjantjatjara and the Arrernte of Australia, to discover Europe; the man whose voyages provided the first accurate map of what would become the European colony in the Pacific.

He was born in Marton-in-Cleveland, in Yorkshire, on October 27th 1728, the son of a Scot who had moved south of the border to earn his living as a farmhand. Aged twenty-seven, after a nine year apprenticeship with a Quaker ship-owner, Captain John Walker, and just a few months before the outbreak of the Seven Years War, Cook joined the Navy, where he quickly found himself appointed a ship's master, commanding a captured frigate and seeing battle at first-hand. From 1759 until 1767 he spent his time on boats around the New World, surveying the Lawrence river, then the islands of Newfoundland, St. Pierre and Miquelon off Canada’s east coast. In 1768, he was given command of the first scientific expedition to the Pacific, his ship HMS Endeavour, his ultimate objective the circumnavigation of the globe, a feat he completed in just three years, adding New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia to maps of the known world in the process. In 1772 he set off again, to repeat the journey, this time replacing Endeavour with Resolution, adding Adventure, but again taking three years; that voyage should have included the ship named Discovery, as the expedition went further south still, into the Antarctic, on the way adding Tonga, Easter Island, New Caledonia, the South Sandwich Islands of Hawaii and South Georgia to the atlas, though he failed completely to discover the southern continent known as Terra Australis, largely because it didn’t exist, despite centuries of mythology to the contrary. The third voyage, starting in 1776, did indeed leave the Adventure in dock and take the Discovery instead; though the only discovery of any significance was the use of watercress, sauerkraut, orange extract and especially lime juice to fight off scurvy, which is really just a form of severe vitamin deficiency. That third voyage was completed without Cook however; he was killed in a skirmish with islanders during a winter layover in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, on February 14th 1779.

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