On April 13, 1769, Captain James Cook and a select band of men who sailed with him aboard the Endeavour set foot on the sands of Tahiti for the first time. Their mission was to observe the transit of Venus on June 3.
Cook (above left) kept a journal the whole time during his first circumnavigation of the globe from 1768-71, as did the naturalist Joseph Banks (above centre). While one of the artists accompanying them on the voyage, Sydney Parkinson (above right), also made extensive notes, his death before the ship returned to England meant these were uncompleted.
All three men’s memoirs have survived and are available online – to the left is a digitized version of Cook’s original log book, courtesy of the National Library of Australia. The selected page, headed ‘Remarkable Occurrences at Georges Island’, was how he began his account of dropping anchor at Tahiti and the experience of stepping ashore.
“As soon as the ship was properly secured I went on shore, accompanied by Mr. Banks and the other gentlemen, with a party of men under arms,” he wrote. “No one of the natives made the least opposition at our landing, but came to us with all imaginable marks of friendship and submission.”
Below is a digitized version of Banks’ diary via the State Library of New South Wales. Again, the selected pages mark the date April 13.
Cook’s journal was ostensibly kept for the purposes of furthering the British Royal Navy’s imperialist ambitions, but Banks’ manuscript – while also to be submitted to the Admiralty to help compile an official account – was largely maintained for his own interests, not only in discovering new species but cultures and people too. This, plus his youth (he was only twenty-six at the time, whereas Cook had recently celebrated his fortieth birthday) meant that the naturalist’s account was rather more colourful. On landing and taking a look around, Banks’ first impression of Tahiti was this: “In short the scene we saw was the truest picture of an arcadia of which we were going to be kings that the imagination can form.”
Parkinson was a Scottish Quaker and at twenty-three, the youngest of the three. His manuscript is very much that of an artist – less of a diary and more of a visual description, not only of the never-before-seen plants and animals he had been employed to document, but of anthropological details spanning language, indigenous artifacts and customs.
Transcribed versions of all three journals can be found at South Seas along with maps, letters, illustrations and further references. Cook, Banks and Parkinson’s texts can be found at South Seas, with Banks and Parkinson’s papers available in a rather more readable format from the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre here and here.