Captain Cook at Nootka: The Political Aftermath

George Woodcock describes how, in March 1778, Cook was the first European to set foot on the Pacific coast of Canada.

Captain James Cook arrived at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island in March 1778. In his instructions the possible annexation of territory played a minor role. Essentially, his mission on his third voyage was one of exploration: to settle once and for all - as he had settled on his second voyage the question of the ‘southern continent’ which geographers argued must stretch from Tasmania almost to Chile (he proved it did not exist) - the equally controversial question of whether a passage through or around the North American continent from the Pacific to the Atlantic really existed.

All this was very clearly stated in the Secret Instructions issued to Cook by the Lords of the Admiralty in July, 1776. These enjoined him to proceed to the coast of ‘New Albion’ (as Sir Francis Drake had named the Pacific coast of North America in 1579), aiming ‘to fall in with it in the latitude of 45°0' North’, which was where Drake was assumed to have sighted and named the Pacific shores north of Mexico.

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