The Pacific: In The Wake of Captain Cook with Sam Neill Episodes
Captain James Cook’s incredible epic voyages of discovery are as controversial now after 250 years as ever. In light of recent public debate in this new six-part series, Sam Neill re-examines Cook’s legacy, delivering new perspectives from the Pacific cultures left in Cook’s wake.
On the 250th anniversary of Cook leaving Plymouth, Sam Neill visits Tahiti in the first of six episodes to follow Cook’s journey around the Pacific, and hears from Tahitians about what Cook means 250 years on. Through the intercession of Joseph Banks, the expedition’s botanist, Cook takes on board the high priest and navigator Tupaia whose significance, attributes and influence will develop along the voyage but not be fully registered until the end of the Twentieth Century.
Much as Tahiti’s centrality to the settlement of Oceania by Polynesians, people of the ocean, was not fully understood till recently. Sam encounters ardent enthusiasts and practitioners of Tahiti’s vibrant culture.
Some of the traditions are old, some new and when lost, he learns, the Tahitians are happy to make them up.
Episode 2 – Endeavour and New Zealand
The second of six episodes following Sam Neill travelling in the wake of Captain Cook around the Pacific, 250 years on from when Cook made his first voyage. This episode sees Sam in New Zealand, a country he calls home. Sam considers not only the cultural ramifications of Cook’s first interactions with the Maori people but also the continuous social and political impact Western settlers had on the land and people. Speaking with historians, activists, artists and locals, Sam delves into a deep history of trade, tradition and turbulent conflict.
To his surprise Maori oral memories of Tupaia are more strong and vivid than those of Cook. Reconnecting with lost Polynesian history was far more potent than awe at the foreign goblins.
Episode 3 – Endeavour and Australia
The third of six episodes following Sam Neill travelling in the wake of Captain Cook around the Pacific, 250 years on from when Cook made his first voyage. Having fulfilled his Admiralty brief Captain Cook opted to tale the long way back to Britain so he could chart the East Coast of Australia and explore the mysterious land.
The Aboriginal people showed more caution than their Polynesian counterparts upon the Endeavour’s arrival seemingly indifferent to the strangers and wishing them gone. This understandable reticence was misinterpreted and later led to the myth of Terra Nullius Sam travels from Botany Bay up the east coast to Cooktown, learning about a country that far from being nobodies’ land was comprehensively inhabited by a well established culture.
Episode 4 – Resolution and the Great Southern Continent
Episode 4 deals with Cook’s second voyage aboard the Resolution in search of the Great Southern Continent. He circumnavigates the Antarctic, without ever sighting land – an extraordinary achievement in a flimsy ship at such latitudes. During this feat he begins the painstaking process of filling in vast unknown areas on the Pacific map. Sam visits New Zealand, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Norfolk Island before completing one of Cook’s unfinished ambitions by touching down on Antarctica.
For Sam this episode, in a much more intimate way, mirrors what many consider Cook’s greatest achievement, the breadth and extent of the second voyage. In Sam’s case, Antarctica is a first as is reaching the crater of a very active volcano, Mt Yasur. And significantly visiting Norfolk Island where standing in the ruins of its penal settlement Sam acknowledges an intersection of Pacific and Cook history with his own family in a startling revelation.
Episode 5 – Resolution and the Northwest Passage
The fifth of six episodes following Sam Neill travelling in the wake of Captain Cook around the Pacific, 250 years on from when Cook made his first voyage. Swapping a potentially easy life of retirement for a third voyage around the Pacific, the relationship between Captain and crew is severely tested as Cook leads his men on an expedition that if successful would dwarf everything he had so far achieved – discover and navigate the Northwest passage.
Sam Neill continues to follow the path of the Resolution, again via through New Zealand and Tonga onto Canada and Alaska, experiencing the Pacific as never before.
Episode 6 – Resolution and Hawaii
The last in the six part series following Sam Neill travelling in the wake of Captain Cook around the Pacific, 250 years on from when Cook made his first voyage. In a bid to find the not yet existent North West passage Cook encountered vast ice ranges and saw the impact of colonisation first hand when entering part of Alaska already overtaken by the Russians. Forced back by the ice shelf Cook retreats to Hawaii for R&R before returning to the Arctic the following summer. But that was not to be.
After nearly eleven years of voyaging from the Antarctic to the Arctic Circles trading, observing, befriending chiefs and villagers alike, even participating in local culture Cook is clubbed and stabbed and drowned in a quintessentially tropical paradise? How did it come to this? Or as one of the people Sam meets says, ‘How did it not happen before?’
Back in Australia Sam views an unfinished tapa waistcoat abandoned by Elizabeth Cook after his death – a poignant memento. A larger than life stainless steel sculpture of the man by Micheal Parakowhai is the focus of Sam’s reflections on Cook. Finally on an uninhabited islet in mid- Pacific Sam concludes his journey from being a ‘mere actor’ when he set out to becoming ‘a man of the Pacific.’