For the enlightenment, advancement, and inspiration of its members


Proudly presents

With thanks to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

A filmed talk by Australian historian extraordinaire.

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Geoffrey Blainey


Captain Cook and His Rivals
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(Plus several short films about The Endeavour replica)


Date: Monday January 30, 2012

Venue: Home of Prodos & Barboo, 153 Lennox Street, Richmond.

Doors open: 6.30 PM

Meals (all at cost price) served between 6.30 PM and 7.15 PM

  • Lemon Pepper Atlantic Salmon: $12
  • Crumbed Lamb Cutlets: $12
  • Other selections also available at $12

Formal Start: The screen & study session begins at 7.30 PM sharp.

Who: Only registered PRODOS Film Study Group members and guests of members allowed. You can apply to join on the night. To join you need to agree with our purpose and pay the $2 annual fee.

Policy: Leaving straight after a film and therefore skipping the discussion goes against one of the conditions upon which our permission to screen these films is based.

9.30 PM end: Meeting concludes.

Cost: No charge. But if you’d like to make a personal donation to Prodos that’s greatly appreciated. Thanks.


This is a filmed talk by Australian historian, Geoffrey Blainey, in 2008 at the State Library of New South Wales, based on his book:

Sea of Dangers: Captain Cook and his rivals

Captain Cook's first voyage

(extract from the ABC)


In 1769, two ships set out in search of a missing continent.

That Christmas, in New Zealand waters, the two captains were almost within sight of each other, though neither knew of the other’s existence.

The story of these rival ships and the men who sailed them is told by Geoffrey Blainey AC in his new book Sea of dangers – State Library of New South Wales

The two captains were James Cook of England and Jean-François-Marie de Surville of France.


01. The Mitchell Library

02. Inspired by the Endeavor Replica

03. Cook’s Scientific Mission

04. Search for the Missing Continent

05. The French Join the Search for Jewish Continent

06. Voyage of De Surville Smells Coast of Australia

07. French Skip Australia and Pass Cook in New Zealand

08. Cook Explores Australia While French Sail East

09. Q1: Records from De Surville’s Ship

10. Q2: Sailing Condition of the Endeavour

11. Q3: Suspicious Reception of the Ship

12. Q4: Spanish History Around Cape Horn

13. Q5: Was Australia Discovered First by Portuguese

Extract from a review of Geoffrey Blainey’s book, on which this filmed talk is based, by …

John Gascoigne, School of History and Philosophy, University of New South Wales

Cook and his voyages continue to exert their fascination and Geoffrey Blainey’s work adds usefully to a growing pile of recent works on these subjects. It is largely an elegantly told narrative history of Cook’s Endeavour voyage, though given a new and interesting slant by weaving into it the account of the little-known contemporaneous South Seas voyage of the French navigator de Surville.

Bringing the English and French together is a telling way of drawing out the European motives for exploring the South Pacific and their responses to what they saw.

There is some room, however, for focusing rather more on the different perspectives of the French and the British commenting, for example, on the way in which de Surville’s voyage was largely prompted by commercial imperatives triggered by the collapse of the French East India Company in the wake of British victory in the Seven Years’ War (1756-63).

… The work also conveys well the nautical realities with which Cook had to deal and which it is easy for land-based historians to overlook. One of the themes of the book is the importance of the discovery of sea-lanes and manageable routes across the briny wastes of the Pacific — thus much attention is appropriately devoted to the Torres Strait and the hazards (still very real today) of making one’s way in its treacherous waters.

Cook emerges from the work as a remarkable mariner but not as omniscient as some traditional accounts would have us believe.

Blainey attributes in part to overconfidence Cook’s sailing in such dangerous waters by the misleading light of the moon, which led to the near-disastrous encounter with the Great Barrier Reef.

… The voyages of Cook and de Surville are located in the context of societies looking for new parts of the globe to accumulate the sort of riches which had accrued to Europe from the discovery of the Americas.

The book concludes with some interesting reflections on the nature of the term ‘discovery’, arguing persuasively that true discovery is more than a matter of sighting a coast or land since it ‘requires layer after layer of observation’ (p. 378) and action based on such information.

Thus the Cook voyage led to further British exploration and very definite action in the form of the founding of the penal settlement at Botany Bay (soon moved to Port Jackson, which Cook named but did not explore).

Claims that the Chinese or the Portuguese ‘discovered’ Australia, even if they had more solid evidence than they do, in a sense are irrelevant since they did not lead to change. reviewer, Craig Matteson

Historian Geoffrey Blainey tells us the amazing story of Cooks assignment to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus.

He left in 1768 and did not arrive home from his voyage around the world until 1771.

Along the way, he not only fulfilled his publicly stated assignment, but the secret mission to discover the continent the scientists of the day sure existed in the vast expanse of the South Pacific. Why would there be such empty space? Why would there be so much land in the Northern Hemisphere but so little in the South? What about those rumors of Jewish traders from a huge land not far from Tahiti (only discovered by the Europeans in 1767 by Samuel Wallis).

 … The rumors of the (Jewish) continent also led to a French mission to the area by Jean de Surville in his ship the St. Jean-Baptiste.

Where Cook on the Endeavour (a converted coal carrier) was sent on a mission of exploration and discovery, de Surville was on a mission of commerce. His ship was loaded with goods to sell and trade with the rumored Jews. De Surville sailed from Pondicherry, India. Cook and de Surville knew nothing of each other, and despite sailing within a few dozen miles of each other at one point, ever saw each other.

Both thought they were alone in the vast expanse of the South Pacific Ocean.

… How the voyages ended and what happened to the Captains is covered well in the book, but its main focus is on this first voyage of Cook and the voyage of de Surville from Pondicherry to Peru.

This is a superb story, valuable history, and a terrific read. I hope you take the time to enjoy it. Learning that is also this enjoyable deserves our support.





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