This is a printer friendly page
Free for educational use

Captain Cook - In Search of the North West Passage

Video clip synopsis – Cook’s obsession with discovery continues as he searches for the mythic North West Passage, but is it a journey too far? Now retired and promoted to Post Captain, James Cook is bored. He jumps at the chance to take on a third great voyage: to find a fast route to China to secure Britain’s place in the lucrative tea trade.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 2min 26sec
Tags - Captain Cook, DIY Doco, documentary genre, historical representations, media production, media text, representations, script writing, television documentaries, see all tags


Captain Cook - In Search of the North West Passage

How to Download the Video Clip

To download a free copy of this Video Clip choose from the options below. These require the free Quicktime Player.

download clip icon Premium MP4 cooknthw_pr.mp4 (18.0MB).

ipod icon Broadband MP4 cooknthw_bb.mp4 (8.5MB), suitable for iPods and computer downloads.

Additional help.

About the Video Clip


Captain Cook- In Search of the North West Passage is an excerpt from Northwest Passage, the final 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 Vanessa Collingridge analyses Cook’s personal journeys as well as his geographic ones. She recaps Cook’s achievements in his first two voyages. Cook charted Tahiti and New Zealand and he completed the mapping of Australia in his first voyage as well as adding two new countries to the Empire. During his second, which Collingridge describes as “the greatest voyage of discovery ever made”, Cook went further than any man had gone before, venturing to the Antarctic and then heading north to chart the waters of the Pacific, an area larger than Europe and dispelling for ever the myth of the Great Southern Continent.

Now retired and promoted to Post Captain, James Cook is feted and has his portrait painted but the commentators point out he longs to be at sea again. Collingridge presents Cook as a man driven by ambition and not content to be at home without a quest. Cook and his wife Elizabeth have been together for only four of their 16 years of marriage but he is ready to leave his growing family once more.

This was Cook’s chance to put his stamp on the northern hemisphere, matching his total command of the south. Success meant a personal fortune and an even greater prize for the former farm boy, a knighthood. The prize has dimmed Cook’s memory of his failing health and fraying temper and he does not consider that this journey will be very hard indeed.

Curriculum Focus


Students will learn:

  • how modern documentaries use digital effects and music
  • how figures and events from history are represented in documentaries
  • to critically anyalse the codes and conventions of contemporary documentaries
  • to create a storyboard of the content of the clip from a different point of view

Curriculum links
National: The Statements of Learning for English- Year 9
Reading, viewing and interpreting information and argument texts

  • Students read and view texts that entertain, move, parody, investigate,
    analyse, argue and persuade. These texts explore personal, social, cultural
    and political issues of significance to the students’ own lives.
  • Students understand that readers and viewers may need to develop knowledge
    about particular events, issues and contexts to interpret texts.


  • When students write information or argument texts, they make appropriate selections of information from a few sources and attempt to synthesise and organise these in a logical way.
  • Students write imaginative texts in print and electronic mediums that contain personal, social and cultural ideas and issues related to their own lives and communities and their views of their expanding world.

This resource is also relevant to Media- Documentaries, Australian History, Civics and Citzenship, Geography, Music and Visual Arts.

These outcomes relate generally to English curricula across Australia. Teachers and students should consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.

Go to The National Curriculum Statements for English

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


1. How the narration is enhanced by the digital map of Cook’s journeys.
a) How might earlier documentaries have presented the information? What codes and conventions would have been used?
b) The role of the theme music in this sequence and in the series overall. Listen to the composer’s choice of drums and woodwinds to create an heroic and upbeat background to the visuals. What would be the effect of having a different style of music? For eg: rock, jazz, hip hop etc…
Listen to the change in music used in the family scene in this clip. What mood does it evoke?

2. The inclusion of expert commentators throughout the series. Would the series have been as informative and interesting without them? What other conventions do documentaries use to add authority to their stories? eg: Qouting books or other historical sources.

3. The use of foregrounding in the family scene to suggest Cook’s wife’s displeasure at his decision to travel again. What shot size and angle is used here and how is Elizabeth Cook framed in contrast to Cook and the children?

4. The way in which Vanessa Collingridge is framed during the last segment of ths clip. What prop has been used to add visual interest to her commentary?

Create a text
View the clip several times noting the main information about Cook in point form and how this is persented (drama, expert commentary, narration, digital map, painting etc).
Now, design a storyboard or write a script that presents this information from the point of view of Cook as narrator.

Further Resources


For teachers notes and further information go to the Film Australia Captain Cook – Obsession and Discovery showcase.

Go to Endeavour-Captain Cook’s Journal 1968–71 to read from Captain Cook’s handwritten journals.

Go to Project Guttenberg of Australia for extracts online from the journals of Australian explorers.

Go to Screen Education and Metro Magazine for excellent articles and study guides for studying Australian documentaries and how to produce media.

Read Media 1 by Roger Dunscombe, Melinda Anastasios- Roberts, Juliet Francis, Karen Koch, George Lekatsas and Nick Ouchtomsky and Media 2 by Roger Dunscombe, Melinda Anastasios-Roberts, Kevin Tibaldi and Andrew Hyde. Heinemann Harcourt Education, Port Melbourne, 2007. Two recommended texts for classroom use for discussing representation and video production as well as many other key media concepts that relate to this clip. Go to the books online at Heinemann Media for more detail.