Monday, 30 November 2009

Captain Cook and the Royal Society

It ranks as one of the greatest sailing ship voyages in the history of exploration but Captain James Cook's second voyage is also remembered for the fact that he saved his crew from scurvy.

Between 1772 and 1775, Cook's ship HMS Resolution (and a consort ship HMS Adventure), came near to discovering Antarctica, charted the Pacific Islands and completed the first west to east circumnavigation in high latitudes. Once back in England, the explorer wrote to the Royal Society to reveal how not one of his crew had died of scurvy because he had filled the ship's hold with "sweet-wort", saurkraut, lemons and vegetables. For this discovery Cook was awarded the Society's gold Copley Medal.

The letter, along with many other scientific milestones described in Letters to the Royal Society, has just been published through an online library project called Trailblazing. Set up as part of the Royal Society's 350th anniversary celebrations, it includes everything from Isaac Newton's account of how white light is a blend of primary colours in the 1670s, through to Stephen Hawking's thoughts on black holes.

For more information on the 'plague of the sea', take a look at the BBC's Captain Cook and the Scourge of Scurvy.

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