By 1768, at ager 39, the taciturn, thoughtful Lieutenant James Cook,
RN, had risen about as high as a common seaman could expect to go in the conservative naval establishment.
His careful char tmakingin the tricky shoals of the St.
Lawrence River had helped the Royal Navy get its ships up to Quebec to support General Wolfe’s successful attack on the French city, which had delivered Canada to the English.
His later survey work on the North American coast had led to recognition by England’s Royal Society for his report of his observations of an eclipse of the Sun off the lonely shores of Newfoundland.
His work was so accurate that it formed the basis of all subsequent charting-and this,
before the best navigators could get reliable, consistent measurements of longitude, their east-west position on the globe.
Lieutenant James Cook, simply put, was the best of the best.
The naval establishment had begun to recogni ze this by 1768, and so it was that Cook found himself among a remarkable group of people from London, the center of the English-speaking world.
They met around a stout oak table in a low-ceilinged, paneled room.
The room was lined with bookshelves and fitted with lockers to hold their papers and instruments, while in one comer stood a large globe, under a protective cover.
The globe showed the world as it was known in the later 1700s -a sphere accurately depicting Europe and Africa, and even distant Asia and the half-explored Americas.
Only in the reaches of the Pacific Ocean vast areas remained unexplored. But not unexplained! The most eminent British geographer,
Alexander Dalrymple, had posited a huge continent in the southern part of this largest of the world’s oceans,
following the prevailing theory that this iandmass had to exist to balance Asia and the Americas in the north.
And, indeed, various navigators had claimed to sight outcroppings of it. Staten Island, off Tierra del Fuego on the way to Cape Hom,
was long thought to be a headland of this vast, mysterious continent.
even after Drake had found open water well to the south, off Caper Hom.
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