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James Cook’s Travels: The Exhibition Structure Proposal Essay

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Updated: Feb 24th, 2022

Exhibitions are one of the most visual ways to tell about a particular era. Exhibits reflecting different cultures’ characteristics immerse people in a different atmosphere and give a clear image of other people. In addition, many exhibits may have a long and fascinating history. Knowing it, people can experience a truly unique experience during exhibitions, feeling like participants in past events. Exhibitions have become increasingly interactive and immersive in recent years, allowing people to experience history. Among the events that need to be covered with exhibitions’ help, Cook’s travels across the Pacific Ocean are crucial. They helped modern people know much more about the world than they could. The purpose of this paper is to propose a structure for an exhibition dedicated to Cook and his travels.

250 years ago, on August 22, 1770, the famous English navigator and explorer James Cook landed on Australia’s east coast. He named this land New South Wales, and this was the beginning of the history of the development and settlement of Terra Australis – the mysterious southern continent of Australia (Frame & Walker, 2018). James Cook made many exciting discoveries that could form the basis for the exhibition. Many of them are known, many are not, but all of them, to varying degrees, have influenced people’s ideas about the world around them.

Captain Cook travelled the waters of three oceans far and wide, paying particular attention to the previously little-studied Pacific Ocean. First, it is crucial to understand why he went sailing at all. Cook’s original mission was astronomical measurements: he was supposed to conduct observations of the planet Venus in different parts of the world, including the Pacific zone (Meyer, 2016). This was necessary to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun as accurately as possible, given the inaccuracy of those years’ instruments. It is worth noting that Cook coped with his task, thus making a significant contribution to that time’s astronomy. Hence, part of the exhibition can be devoted to this aspect of his research. An exposition showing the planets’ location from different points of the ocean, as Cook saw it, would be interesting. Thanks to this, visitors to the exhibition will learn more about sea travel, the population of the Earth, and also other planets.

On one of the travels, the brave captain wanted to find the so-called Northwest Passage. It was supposed to connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, passing along the North coast of America. Alas, Cook could not achieve his goal, the ship fell into disrepair, the team was sick, and the explorer turned back from the Bering Sea to the south. It must be said that later many British travellers died trying to find this passage. However, during this trip, Cook did not waste time and mapped the unknown parts of North America’s coast, including Alaska. Reproductions of these maps can also complement the exhibition, showing the “view from the sea” – what Cook discovered while sailing.

Visiting dozens of islands, James Cook was able to establish communication with local tribes: the captain put humanity based on his relations with the natives. The team was strictly forbidden to oppress the locals, kill, and steal; the rare crime cases were punished mercilessly. This was an outstanding achievement for those times because most Europeans established ties with the future colonial population through robbery, murder, and the slave trade. Hence, Cook discovered the basis of modern relations between all civilized people on the planet – mutual respect and humanity.

When James Cook finally reached the Pacific Ocean, he was horrified to find that such moral principles do not exist everywhere. He found out that there are corners on Earth, where cannibalism blooms in lush colour (FitzSimons, 2019). The enlightened navigator immediately got the idea to stop it. However, the Endeavour team and a few guns were not enough to control the brutal custom by military force. Therefore, setting off on his second travel around the world from England, Cook properly stocked up on animals. He persuaded New Caledonia people to accept a wild boar and a pig as a gift and later brought sheep to Tahiti and New Zealand. The captain had two goals: first, to improve the well-being of the islanders, and second, to help end cannibalism. This method, discovered by Cook, sharply reduced the level of cannibalism. Thus, by showing the “view from the land,” objects related to cannibalism can be used for the exhibition. These can be body parts or household items used by the natives and made from human bodies. Undoubtedly, this will create a strong impression on the visitors of the exhibition.

However, some of the details of Cook’s journey are not related to humans. For example, he was the first European to see a kangaroo: this happened in the spring of 1770 when he landed in Australia. According to legend, he asked what the name of such an animal was, and the native guide answered “Kangurru,” which means “I do not understand” in his language (Meyer, 2016). However, in fact, “Kanguruu” or “Gangurru” is the autochthonous name of this animal, which today lives in almost any large zoo in the world. Kangaroos can reach speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour, and they can only move forward – a large tail and a unique structure of paws prevent them from moving back. This is how Cook discovered for Europe an unprecedented animal – the symbol of Australia. It is important to note this within the exhibition since in the minds of people from all over the world, this country is indeed inextricably linked with the kangaroo.

On June 11, 1770, Cook’s ship ran aground off Australia’s coast, seriously damaging the hull. Thanks to the tide and the measures taken to lighten the ship, “Endeavour” was removed from the shallows. The ship required serious repairs and was pulled ashore. It soon became known that the ship was blocked by the Great Barrier Reef. It is the largest coral reef in the world, with 2,900 smaller reefs and about a thousand islands. The Great Barrier Reef stretches along the entire east coast of Australia for 2500 km, and the total area of ​​the natural wonder is 344 thousand square kilometres. The exhibition can include different aspects of this incident. First, it is crucial to show the ship that Cook travelled on. It would be perfect to recreate a complete reconstruction of it, but different schemes and images would also be interesting. Second, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most significant natural objects of the world’s oceans. It would be interesting to show the audience its structure, a map, or even the corals that inhabit it.

Arriving on the shores of New Zealand, Cook found the bay very convenient for anchorage. In this bay, the ship “Endeavour” got up for repairs. Cook decided not to waste time and explore the area. Climbing a nearby mountain, he made out the strait dividing New Zealand into two islands, which was not previously known. Later this strait was named after him. This is another indication of the need to create a cartographic zone at the exhibition. Its visit should be accompanied by stories about Cook’s routes and discoveries so that people can immediately track these events on the map.

One of the essential aspects is Cook’s death, who, according to legend, was eaten. However, the real story is far from legend, and it is important to convey this to the exhibition’s visitors. Cook arrived in Hawaii in the winter of 1779 to patch up ships and resupply food. At first, the Hawaiians mistook Cook for one of the deities of the Hawaiian pantheon. Later, they realized that the captain is an ordinary person, so they had no reason to continue friendly communication. Soon the local population invited Cook’s expedition to leave their islands. The British did so, but a storm overtook them at sea, so they were forced to return, which led to a fight. The researchers tried to take the local king hostage, but eventually, Cook and several sailors were killed. Cook’s body was divided into several parts to be taken to different sanctuaries – this was done only with honourable and respected enemies (Beaglehole, 2017). These rituals can also be reflected among the exhibits, for example, showing people the aborigines’ ritual objects. This will add colour to the story and impress the audience.

Thus, there are many aspects that can be highlighted in the exhibition dedicated to Cook’s travels. This exhibition can depict both the marine part and the adventure on land. This division will make the exhibition’s structure clear and understandable, which will make it more enjoyable to visit. In addition, Cook brought back many cultural objects from his travels. They are of undoubted scientific value, and their use in exhibitions would be a bonus.


Beaglehole, J. C. (2017). The journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of discovery: Volume III, part I: The voyage of the resolution and discovery 1776-1780. Glasgow, UK: Routledge.

FitzSimons, P. (2019). James Cook: The story behind the man who mapped the world. Sydney, Australia: Hachette Australia.

Frame, W., & Walker, L. (2018). James Cook: The voyages. Québec, Canada: McGill-Queen’s Press.

Meyer, S. (2016). James Cook: European explorer of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group.

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