Prolific Australian historian Blainey (A Short History of the Twentieth Century, 2006, etc.) revisits the epic journey of Capt. James Cook’s Endeavour and a parallel voyage by a French ship.
The author notes that the Endeavour, bankrolled by the British crown and loaded with scientists, and Capt. Jean de Surville’s St. Jean-Baptiste, stocked with trading merchandise and in search of a legendary Jewish colony in the South Pacific, both made maritime history in different ways. They even passed within miles of each other in the Tasman Sea on the same day in December 1769, despite the fact that Cook departed in August 1768 from Plymouth, de Surville in June 1769 from Pondicherry, India. Both voyages were inspired by Capt. Samuel Wallis’s discovery of Tahiti on the Dolphin in 1767, and by his hints at an adjacent land mass inhabited by Jewish traders. They were also inspired by expeditions in the previous century by the Dutchman Abel Tasman. Blainey excavates the journals of Cook, the Endeavour’s aristocratic botanist Joseph Banks, de Surville and others, fashioning an exciting, detail-heavy re-creation of the parallel voyages. De Surville explored a previously unknown stretch of the Pacific, though he veered westward too precipitously, heading to New Zealand, while Cook and his crew of botanists were heading home from New Zealand by what they thought was the expedient route, and struck the eastern coast of Australia. Both made tentative first contact with natives, and both were hounded by scurvy, though Cook’s dietary innovations were lifesaving.
Blainey’s knowledge of the continent’s indigenous peoples and flora and fauna are exceptionally useful in understanding the context of these discoveries.