Captain Cook & Captain Bligh.

History is full of colorful explorers who pushed the edge of the proverbial envelope. One of our favorites is Captain James Cook, who zigzagged his way around the Pacific Ocean and was the first European to land on many of the islands in his path—the Society Islands, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tonga, and New Caledonia, among them, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

But did you know there is a connection between Captain Cook and Captain William Bligh of the HMS Bounty?

In the second half of the 1700s, King George III of England was interested in finding an unknown southern continent, Terra australis incognita. To that end, he sent several seafarers to look for the elusive land, but all (including the grandfather of Lord Byron) came back empty-handed. One of them, however, Captain Samuel Wallis, did stumble upon the South Pacific island of Tahiti in 1767.

King George then dispatched a young lieutenant, James Cook, to Tahiti. A product of the Age of Enlightenment, Cook was a master navigator, mathematician, astronomer, and physician. His primary mission was to observe the transit of Venus across the sun, an astronomical event that when measured from separate points on Earth would enable scientists for the first time to map our planet’s longitude. Cook’s secondary mission? Find the elusive southern continent.

Though Cook’s measurements proved of little scientific value, he did make a careful study of the island and its inhabitants during his six-month visit. Using Tahiti as a base, he also discovered the Society Islands to the northwest and the Australs to the south, and he explored the coasts of New Zealand and Australia.

On two subsequent voyages, Cook discovered Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Niue, New Caledonia, and Norfolk Island. His ships were the first to sail below the Antarctic Circle.

Cook returned to London in 1771 and shared his firsthand observations about Tahiti, including the abundance of starchy breadfruit that grew there and on other South Pacific islands.

A group of plantation owners in the Caribbean heard about the breadfruit and petitioned King George to transport breadfruit trees to Jamaica as a cheap source of food for their slaves. In 1787, the king dispatched William Bligh, one of Cook’s former navigators, to captain the HMS Bounty. Among other officers, Bligh chose Fletcher Christian for the voyage.

The Bounty was late arriving in Tahiti, missing the breadfruit season entirely. Christian and the crew frolicked on Tahiti for six months as they waited for the next season, enjoying the easygoing lifestyle and the company of island women.

In 1789, Christian and a group of crewmen staged a mutiny off the Tonga archipelago. He set Captain Bligh and 18 loyal crewmembers adrift in a longboat with a compass, a cask of water, and a few provisions. Meanwhile, Christian sailed the Bounty back to Tahiti, where he put ashore other crew members loyal to Bligh. Then Christian, eight mutineers, their Tahitian wives, and six Tahitian men disappeared into history.

Bligh and his men managed to row their longboat some 3,000 miles to the Dutch East Indies, where they hitched a ride back to England. Bligh, incidentally, later returned to Tahiti to collect breadfruit trees, but the venture was a bust: Turned out the slaves on Jamaica insisted on rice instead.

For information about your own voyage to the South Pacific, contact Rachel Dorsey at or call 888-490-8004.

Share Story with Others:

No Comments

No comments yet.

* Get an image next to your comment by visiting and linking to your email address.

Post a Comment

All fields are required, unless noted.


Be the first to hear about special offers, insider news, travel tips, and novel ideas around the globe. Sign up for R. Crusoe's weekly email updates: