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Captain Cook - The Polynesian Tupaia Joins the Endeavour Voyage

Video clip synopsis – Cook takes on board an additional passenger, Polynesian priest and fellow navigator Tupaia. Tupaia shares his remarkable navigational skills, convinced that the notion of a great land mass is a European fantasy.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 3min 17sec
Tags - Australian History, Banks, Captain Cook, discovery, DIY Doco, empire, exploration, Tupaia, see all tags


Captain Cook - The Polynesian Tupaia Joins the Endeavour Voyage

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About the Video Clip


The Polynesian Tupaia Joins the Endeavour Voyage is an excerpt from Taking Command, the second episode of the 4 x one-hour series Captain Cook – Obsession and Discovery, produced in 2007.

Captain James Cook FRS RN (October 27, 1728 – February 14, 1779) was an English explorer, navigator and cartographer. Cook made three epic voyages around the world.

In this excerpt we continue with James Cook’s first voyage to find the Great Southern Continent following his unsuccessful attempt in Tahiti in April 1769 to accurately measure the transit of Venus across the Sun. This dramatised version of Cook setting sail on his secret admiralty mission in October 1769 to discover and explore the Great Southern Continent, reveals important insights into the difference between Cook’s attitude and the traditional attitudes of the British to other races and cultures of that time.

On board the Endeavour is Tupaia, a Polynesian priest that Joseph Banks has insisted accompany them on the voyage. Banks, who along with the rest of the crew had enjoyed the generous hospitality of the Tahitians, saw Tupaia as a curiosity, “a pet” to be displayed once he returned to Britain who would enhance Bank’s aristocratic status as an adventurer. Cook, however valued Tupaia for his specialist knowledge of the Pacific and his maps covering 2200 km of this ocean along with his ability to interpret and translate the languages of the region.

Captain Cook – Obsession and Discovery is a Film Australia National Interest Program. A Cook Films, Ferns Productions, South Pacific Pictures and December Films production. Produced with the assistance of New Zealand On Air, the Canadian Television Fund and Film Victoria, in association with History Television, ZDF in co-operation with ARTE and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. An Australia – Canada Co-production.

Curriculum Focus

  • Knowing and understanding historical events
  • Using evidence to assist in the drawing of conclusions and understanding of the past
  • Demonstrate an understanding of motivation, causation and empathy to assist one in drawing conclusions about the past

Background Information


“I had ambition not only to go farther than any man had been before, but as far as it was possible for a man to go.” James Cook

In the series, best selling British author Vanessa Collingridge, a Geographer and Cook expert tells the story of the explorer James Cook. The series traces him from his origins as son of an English farm labourer, at the very bottom of Britain’s class-bound 18th Century society, through his rise as the best cartographer of the 18th Century, to his incredible voyages of discovery which resulted in Cook describing more of the globe than any other man.

The series relives what it was like to navigate uncharted and unknown waters in search of a legendary 'Great Southern Continent’ and then a North West passage through the Arctic ice; as well as to be among the first Europeans to visit exotic Pacific islands like Tahiti. The harshness and danger of life on the sea is depicted graphically as well as the rigid social structure of the time. The series includes direct descendants of the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Hawaii who Cook met 240 years ago and the men of the Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure and Discovery, particularly the famous gentleman botanist Joseph Banks and the young William Bligh.

All of Cook’s major achievements are dramatised and analysed including his discovery of Hawaii, sailing the uncharted coast of New Zealand, proving it isn’t part of the ‘Great Southern Continent’ and the landing at Botany Bay as he claimed Australia for king and country, to death on a beach on the far side of the world.

A hero to some, a villain to others, Cook is depicted from different points of view: as an historic figure of the great stature to the British Royal Navy of the 18th Century and contemporary western culture, and as an exploiter of the Indigenous peoples he came across.

Classroom Activities


Understanding the clip:

  • What is the purpose of Cook’s voyage?
  • What is reiterated about Cook’s character in this clip?

Who’s Who on the Endeavour?

Create a ‘Who’s Who’ entry for Joseph Banks. Use as much information from the clip and then from your own research. Your entry must include:

  • Date of birth and death.
  • Why he was on the Endeavour.
  • What his major achievements were on the Endeavour voyage.
  • What he thought of his ‘discovery’ of Tupaia.

How was Tupaia used on the Endeavour? Note down: Banks’ attitude and Cook’s attitude towards him.

Using the clip ‘Cook Claims New South Wales’, what does this clip confirm about British views and attitudes towards indigenous people?

What does this clip tell you about the difficulties Cook may have faced in his ‘voyage of discovery’?

As a group, discuss what you imagine Cook’s aims and attitudes towards his relationship with Tupaia were and what Tupaia’s aims and attitudes were towards Cook?

  • Create a two column table: one column labelled Cook, the other Tupaia.
  • Brainstorm the ideas, aims and attitudes that each had in their relationship.
  • Create another column labelled British Attitudes and compare these attitudes with Cook’s (You may add to the ‘Cook’ column at this stage)

A further discussion point then might be: Is Cook’s attitude typical of his culture? Why? Why not? Is the relationship an equal one? Why? Why not?

Further Resources


State Library of New South Wales: The Papers of Sir Joseph Banks

Empire and Sea Power

European Discovery of New Zealand