The Endeavour voyagers returned to England amid great fanfare. Although the naturalists Banks and Solander received far more attention for their achievements, shortly after his return from the Endeavour voyage Cook was promoted in August 1771 to the rank of Commander in the Royal Navy.

In 1772, he was commissioned to lead another scientific expedition to the southern hemisphere, in search of the fabled ‘great south land’.  Despite the evidence to the contrary of the Endeavour voyage, Alexander Dalrymple and others of the Royal Society still believed that a massive southern continent should exist.

Cook commanded HMS Resolution on this voyage, while Tobias Furneaux commanded its companion ship, HMS Adventure. Cook's expedition circumnavigated the globe at an extreme southern latitude, becoming one of the first to cross the Antarctic Circle on 17 January 1773.

In the Antarctic fog, Resolution and Adventure became separated. Furneaux made his way to New Zealand, where he lost some of his men during an encounter with Māori, and eventually sailed back to Britain, while Cook continued to explore the Antarctic, reaching 71°10'S on 31 January 1774.

Cook almost encountered the mainland of Antarctica, but returned to Tahiti to resupply his ship.
On this voyage, Resolution explored New Zealand, the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu.

Before returning to England, Cook made a final sweep across the South Atlantic from Cape Horn and surveyed, mapped, and took possession for Britain of South Georgia, which had been explored by the English merchant Anthony de la Roché in 1675.

Cook also mapped and named Clerke Rocks and the South Sandwich Islands (‘Sandwich Land’). He then turned north to South Africa and from there continued back to England.

Upon his return, Cook was promoted to the rank of post-captain and given an honorary retirement from the Royal Navy, with a posting as an officer of the Greenwich Hospital. He reluctantly accepted, insisting that he be allowed to quit the post if an opportunity for active duty should arise.

He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and awarded the Copley Gold Medal for completing his second voyage without losing a man to scurvy.


When Furneaux returned to London in 1774, the Adventure was also carrying the first Pacific Islander to reach Britain.

Mai was a Ra’iatean man who joined the expedition in Huahine in the Tahitian archipelago in 1773. 

Mai saw journeying to Britain as an opportunity to gain British arms to avenge the Bora Boran takeover of his father’s land in Ra‘iatea, while Cook knew that the naturalist Joseph Banks would take great interest in the Tahitian.

Banks assumed responsibility for Mai’s stay as soon as the Islander disembarked in London, and introduced him to King George III and British society. 

During the two years Mai spent in Britain, he sat for many artists, including Sir Joshua Reynolds. Reynolds made this pencil sketch of Mai in preparation for a later oil painting. Mai returned to the Pacific with Cook’s third voyage in July 1776, arriving back on the island of Huahine in 1777.  

Pencil drawing of the top half of a man with long hair wearing a coat. He is looking to his right
Sir Joshua Reynolds, Omai of the Friendly Isles, c. 1774. From the Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia. Click here to view this item digitally in Trove.

A Polynesian woman

This painting is one of the earliest images of a Polynesian woman that Europeans would have seen. Poedua was a princess of Ra’iatea, Totaiete Mā (Society Islands), known for her graceful dancing. She is wearing white tapa cloth reserved for the elite and was pregnant when she was detained by Cook on board his ship to engineer the return of deserters. 

Portrait of a woman with flowers in her hair near the ears holding a white sheet on the just under her chest, exposing her top half. In the other hand she holds a stick-like object with feathers coming out. The painting is outside with leaves in the background.

John Webber, A Portrait of Poedua, c. 1782. From the Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia and National Gallery of Australia. Click here to view this item digitally in Trove.