16 February 1768, the Royal Society petitioned King George III to
finance a scientific expedition to the Pacific to study and observe the
1769 transit of Venus across the sun. Royal
approval was granted for the expedition, and the Admiralty elected to
combine the scientific voyage with a confidential mission to search the
south Pacific for signs of the postulated continent Terra Australis Incognita (or "unknown southern land").
Royal Society suggested command be given to Scottish geographer
Alexander Dalrymple, whose acceptance was conditional on a brevet
commission as a captain in the Royal Navy. However, First Lord of the
Admiralty Edward Hawke refused, going so far as to say he would rather
cut off his right hand than give command of a Navy vessel to someone
not educated as a seaman. In refusing Dalrymple's command, Hawke was influenced by previous insubordination aboard the sloop HMS Paramour
in 1698, when naval officers had refused to take orders from civilian commander Dr. Edmond Halley.
The impasse was broken when the Admiralty proposed James Cook, a naval
officer with a background in mathematics and cartography. Acceptable to both parties, Cook was promoted to Lieutenant and named as commander of the expedition.
material from the 1988 Australian ABC Mini Series Starring Keith Mitchell, Carol Drinkwater, John Gregg, Erich Hallhuher, Jacques Penot, Barry Quin, Geoff Morrel, Directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark. HMS Endeavor, HMS Resolution.