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Captain Cook - Cook's Chronometer

Video clip synopsis – On James Cook’s second voyage of discovery he takes part in a grand scientific experiment to test a chronometer that the Admiralty hopes will allow navigators to measure lines of longitude.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 2min 37sec
Tags - Captain Cook, colonisation, DIY Doco, documentary genre, exploration, historical representations, icons, innovation, media, national identity, technology and society, see all tags


Captain Cook - Cook's Chronometer

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About the Video Clip


Captain Cook- Cook’s Chronometer is an excerpt from Beyond Speculation, the third 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 Cook is setting sail on his second voyage in search of the Great Southern Continent. Vanessa Collingridge points out that Cook’s maps from his previous voyages have helped make Britain the largest and most powerful empire on Earth. For this voyage he has command over two ships, the Resolution, which he captains and Adventure, captained by Tobias Furneaux. Cook has on board a new type of ship’s clock or chronometer which the Admiralty is hoping will solve the problem of measuring lines of Longitude.

Vanessa Collingridge, visiting the Greenwich Observatory, explains that although the lines of latitude have been established, with 0 running right through the equator, navigators had no way of fixing lines of longitude. The decision to establish the line of 0 Longitude at Greenwich is an arbitrary one reflecting Britain’s position at the time as the most powerful nation. Establishing Longitude requires a perfect clock that sailors can use to measure 12.00 midday wherever they are by using the sun’s position in the sky and comparing it with the clock which is set on Greenwich time. Up until this time no clock has been stable enough on a moving ship to provide absolutely accurate time.

The chronometer Cook takes with him was made by John Harrison, the foremost clock maker of his age. Harrison took 40 years to create the clock that Cook carried on Resolution. Collingridge paints a picture of Cook setting out on this voyage as a man in his element, very much in control and full of ambition and a voyage he believes will make his previous discoveries “more perfect and complete”. She believes that these words reveal Cook’s determination and obsession.

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


Students will learn

  • how documentaries represent their time of production through style and content
  • how historical figures are represented in documentaries
  • to critically analyse the codes and conventions of contemporary film documentaries compared to other non fiction texts
  • to critically analyse the clip’s production values and point of view
  • how to create an informational text

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 Studies- Documentaries, History, Geography and Social Education.

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. The personality of James Cook that Vanessa Collingridge paints in this clip.
    1. Why does she describe his ambition to better his previous voyage as an “obsession”? What does obsession mean? Have other great historical figures (e.g. writers, painters etc been described in this way?)
    2. Referring to previous episodes on the TV series, how does the narrative establish and build Cook’s character as an obsessive one? How do film texts differ from written texts in how they represent character?
    3. Do historical records validate this view of Cook? Refer to Captain Cook’s Journal and further resources below.
  2. The filmic conventions used to explain how latitude and longitude are calculated. For detailed information about the codes and conventions of the documentary genre, go to the BFI‘s Film Education
    1. Vanessa Collingridge’s narration to camera located at Greenwich Observatory.
    2. The effect of camera shots, angles and lighting in these scenes: consider the use of the establishing shot of the Observatory (wide shot) followed by wide shots, cutting to medium shots during Collingridge’s narration to camera and the torch light using hand held camera. How do these technical codes reflect similar codes used other non- fiction texts such as current affairs, infotainment and documentaries? Why is hand held camera used frequently in these kinds of texts? What effect does it create? Refer to camera conventions in the online Live action Kit from the Australian Children’s Television Foundation.
    3. The use of the 3D graphic of the world.


  1. Write a letter from James Cook to his wife Elizabeth as he sets out on his second voyage, describing his hopes and ambitions.
  2. Choose a writing or creative style and create an informational text about how lines of longitude are created: a brief description for a geography text, a diagram, a text message to a friend about to sit an exam, Cook’s description in his journal or any other style of your choice.

Further Resources


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

For the website go to ABC TV Captain Cook – Obsession and Discovery.

For extensive historical information about Cook go to Aussie Educator and the Captain Cook Society

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