James Cook:


Born On The: 27th October 1728.
Died On The: 14th February 1779.
Occupation(s): Explorer, navigator, cartographer.

Zodiac: Born under the Star Sign ScorpioScorpioWhat Star Sign are You?

Achievement(s): The Exploring and Mapping of the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia.


Captain James Cook, FRS, RN was an explorer, navigator and cartographer who rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy and as one of the very few men in the 18th century navy to rise through the ranks, he was particularly sympathetic to the needs of ordinary sailors.

Cook was born in the village of Marton, a suburb of Middlesbrough; he was baptised in the local church of St. Cuthbert, where his name can still be seen in the church register; he was the second of eight children of James Cook, a Scottish farm labourer from Ednam near Kelso and his wife Grace Pace.

In 1736, his family moved to Airey Holme farm at Great Ayton, where his father's employer, Thomas Skottowe, paid for him to attend the local school; in 1741, after five years schooling, he began work for his father, who had by now been promoted to farm manager.

In 1745, when he was 16, Cook moved to the fishing village of Staithes, to be apprenticed as a shop boy to the grocer and haberdasher William Sanderson; this may be where Cook first felt the lure of the sea while gazing out of the shop window; after 18 months and not proving suitable for shop work, Cook travelled to the nearby port town of Whitby to be introduced to friends of Sanderson's, John and Henry Walker; the Walkers were prominent local ship owners and were in the coal trade; their house is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum.

Cook was taken on as a merchant navy apprentice in their small fleet of vessels, plying coal along the English coast; his first assignment was aboard the collier Freelove and he spent several years on this and various other coasters, sailing between the Tyne and London; as part of his apprenticeship, Cook applied himself to the study of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation and astronomy, all skills he would later need to command his own ship.

When his three year apprenticeship was completed, Cook began working on trading ships in the Baltic Sea; after passing his examinations in 1752, he soon progressed through the merchant navy ranks, starting with his promotion in that year to mate aboard the collier brig Friendship.

However in 1755, within a month of being offered command of this vessel, he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy, at a time when Britain was re-arming for what was to become the Seven Years' War; despite the need for him to start back at the bottom of the naval hierarchy, Cook realised his career would advance more quickly in the military service and he joined the Royal Navy at Wapping on the 7th June 1755.

Cook's first posting was with HMS Eagle, sailing with the rank of master's mate; in October and November 1755 he took part in Eagle's capture of one French warship and the sinking of another, following which he was promoted to boatswain in addition to his other duties; his first temporary command was in March 1756 when he was briefly the master of the Cruizer, a small cutter attached to the Eagle while on patrol; in June 1757 Cook passed his master's examinations at Trinity House, Deptford, which qualified him to navigate and handle a ship of the King's fleet; he then joined the frigate HMS Solebay as master under Captain Robert Craig.

During the Seven Years' War, he served in North America as master of Pembroke; in 1758, he took part in the major amphibious assault that captured the Fortress of Louisbourg from the French, after which he participated in the siege of Quebec City and then the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759; he showed a talent for surveying and cartography and was responsible for mapping much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege of Quebec, thus allowing General Wolfe to make his famous stealth attack on the Plains of Abraham.

Cook's aptitude for surveying was put to good use mapping the jagged coast of Newfoundland in the 1760s; he surveyed the northwest stretch in 1763 and 1764, the south coast between the Burin Peninsula and Cape Ray in 1765 and 1766, and the west coast in 1767; his five seasons in Newfoundland produced the first large scale and accurate maps of the island's coasts; they also gave Cook his mastery of practical surveying, achieved under often adverse conditions.

This achievement brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and the Royal Society at a crucial moment both in his career and in the direction of British overseas discovery; it led to his commission as lieutenant in 1766, at age 39, as commander of HM Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages; it was at this time that Cook wrote that he intended to go not only "... farther than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go."

On his three voyagers of exploration Cook mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously achieved; as he progressed on his voyages of discovery he surveyed and named features and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time; he displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.

In 1769, the planet Venus was due to pass in front of the Sun, a rare event visible only in the southern hemisphere; the British government and Royal Society decided to send an expedition to observe the phenomenon; a more secret motive was to search for the fabled southern continent; Cook was chosen as commander of the Whitby built HMS Endeavour; those on board included astronomer Charles Green and botanist Joseph Banks.

The expedition sailed from Plymouth on the 26th August 1768 in the HMS Endeavour, rounded Cape Horn and continued westward across the Pacific to arrive at Tahiti on the 13th April 1769, where the observations of the Venus Transit were made; however, the result of the observations was not as conclusive or accurate as had been hoped; once the observations were completed, Cook opened the sealed orders which were additional instructions from the Admiralty for the second part of his voyage to search the south Pacific for signs of the postulated rich southern continent of Terra Australis.

The Endeavour continued west reaching the south eastern coast of the Australian continent on the 19th April 1770 and in doing so his expedition became the first recorded expedition to have encountered and sailed along the length of Australia's eastern coastline; Cook claimed it for Britain and named it New South Wales.

On the 23rd April he made his first recorded direct observation of indigenous Australians at Brush Island near Bawley Point, noting in his journal: "...and were so near the Shore as to distinguish several people upon the Sea beach they appear'd to be of a very dark or black Colour but whether this was the real colour of their skins or the Clothes they might have on I know not.".

On the 29th April Cook and his crew made their first landfall on the mainland of the continent at a place now known as the Kurnell Peninsula, which he named Botany Bay after the unique specimens retrieved by the botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander; it is here that James Cook made first contact with an Aboriginal tribe known as the Gweagal.

After his departure from Botany Bay he continued northwards and a mishap occurred, on the 11th June, when Endeavour ran aground on a shoal of the Great Barrier Reef and then "nursed into a river mouth on the 18th June 1770."; the ship was badly damaged and his voyage was delayed almost seven weeks while repairs were carried out on the beach, near the docks of modern Cooktown, at the mouth of the Endeavour River.

Once repairs were complete Cook continued the voyage, sailing through the Torres Strait and on the 22nd August he landed on Possession Island, where he claimed the entire coastline he had just explored as British territory; he mapped the complete New Zealand coastline.

Cook returned to England via Batavia, modern Jakarta, Indonesia, where many in his crew succumbed to malaria, the Cape of Good Hope and the island of Saint Helena, arriving on the 12th July 1771; Cook's journals were published upon his return, and he became something of a hero among the scientific community, amongst the general public however, the aristocratic botanist Joseph Banks was a bigger hero; Banks even attempted to take command of Cook's second voyage, but removed himself from the voyage before it began and Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg Forster were taken on as scientists for the voyage.

Shortly after his return from the first voyage, in August 1771, Cook was promoted to the rank of commander; then, in 1772, he was commissioned by the Royal Society to search for the hypothetical Terra Australis; on his first voyage, Cook had demonstrated by circumnavigating New Zealand that it was not attached to a larger landmass to the south; although he charted almost the entire eastern coastline of Australia, showing it to be continental in size, the Terra Australis was believed to lie even further south; despite the evidence to the contrary, Alexander Dalrymple and others of the Royal Society still believed that this massive southern continent should exist.

So in 1772, Cook set out on a second voyage, on the HMS Resolution, while Tobias Furneaux commanded its companion ship, HMS Adventure, to look for the southern continent; the expedition circumnavigated the globe at a very high southern latitude; on the 11th December 1772, Cook and his crew sighted an iceberg and came to the edge of an endless pack of ice; for 2 months they sailed along the pack ice looking for a route further south and on the 17th January 1773, his ships became the first to cross Antarctic Circle.

However, later on in an Antarctic fog, the two ships Resolution and Adventure became separated and Furneaux made his way to New Zealand, where he lost some of his men during an encounter with the Maori and eventually sailed back to Britain, whilst Cook continued to explore the Antarctic, reaching 7110' S on the 31st January 1774; Cook almost encountered the mainland of Antarctica, but turned back north towards Tahiti to resupply his ship.

Cook then resumed his southward course in a second fruitless attempt to find the supposed continent; on this leg of the voyage he took with him a young Tahitian named Omai, who proved to be somewhat less knowledgeable about the Pacific than the last Tahitian named Tupaia, who he had included on his first voyage; he landed at the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

Another accomplishment of the second voyage was the successful employment of the Larcum Kendall K1 chronometer, which enabled Cook to calculate his longitudinal position with much greater accuracy; Cook's log was full of praise for the watch which he used to make charts of the southern Pacific Ocean that were so remarkably accurate that copies of them were still in use in the mid-20th century.

Cook's reports upon his return home in 1775 put to rest the popular myth of Terra Australis; Cook was subsequently promoted to the rank of captain and given an honorary retirement from the Royal Navy, as an officer in the Greenwich Hospital; his acceptance was reluctant, insisting that he be allowed to quit the post if the opportunity for active duty presented itself; his fame now extended beyond the Admiralty and he was also made a Fellow of the Royal Society and awarded the Copley Gold Medal, painted by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, dined with James Boswell and described in the House of Lords as "the first navigator in Europe".

On his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific, in July 1776, he once again commanded the HMS Resolution, while Captain Charles Clerke commanded the HMS Discovery; ostensibly, the voyage was planned in order to return Omai to Tahiti; this is what the general public were led to believe, as he had become a favourite curiosity in London.

Principally however, the purpose of the voyage was an attempt to discover the famed Northwest Passage that was believed to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but before looking for the fabled route he first returned Omai to his homeland; then from the South Pacific, he went northeast to explore the west coast of North America north of the Spanish settlements in Alta, California; he made landfall at approximately 4430' north latitude, near Cape Foulweather on the Oregon coast, which he named after the foul weather.

The weather forced his ships south to about 43 north before they could begin their exploration of the coast northward; he unknowingly sailed past the Strait of Juan de Fuca; being unable to find the fabled route, Cook travelled north and in 1778 became the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands; in passing and after initial landfall in January 1778 at Waimea harbour, Kauai, Cook named the archipelago the "Sandwich Islands" after the fourth Earl of Sandwich, the acting First Lord of the Admiralty; a statue of James Cook now stands in Waimea, Kauai commemorating his first contact with the Hawaiian Islands at the town's harbour on January 1778.

Soon afterwards he entered Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island; he anchored near the First Nations village of Yuquot and in what Cook called Ship Cove, now known as Resolution Cove; they stayed there from the 29th March to the 26th April 1778; at first, relations between Cook's crew and the people of Yuquot were cordial if sometimes strained; in trading, the people of Yuquot demanded much more valuable items than the usual trinkets that had worked for Cook's crew in Hawaii; metal objects were much desired, but the lead, pewter and tin traded at first soon lost its appeal.

The most valuable items the British received back in trade were sea otter pelts; over the month long stay the Yuquot "hosts" essentially controlled the trade with the British vessels, instead of vice versa; generally the natives visited the British vessels at Resolution Cove instead of the British visiting the village of Yuquot at Friendly Cove.

After leaving Nootka Sound, Cook explored and mapped the coast all the way to the Bering Strait, on the way identifying what came to be known as Cook Inlet in Alaska; it has been said that, in a single visit, Cook charted the majority of the North American northwest coastline on world maps for the first time, determined the extent of Alaska and closed the gaps in Russian, from the West, and Spanish, from the South, exploratory probes of the Northern limits of the Pacific; the Bering Strait proved to be impassable, although he made several attempts to sail through it; he became increasingly frustrated on this voyage and may have started to suffer from a stomach ailment; it has been speculated that this led to an irrational behaviour towards his crew, such as forcing them to eat walrus meat, which they found inedible.

Cook returned to Hawaii in 1779; after sailing around the archipelago for some eight weeks, he made landfall at Kealakekua Bay, on 'Hawaii Island', the largest island in the Hawaiian Archipelago; Cook's arrival coincided with the Makahiki, an Hawaiian harvest festival of worship for the Polynesian god Lono; coincidentally the form of Cook's ship, HMS Resolution, or more particularly the mast formation, sails and rigging, resembled certain significant artifacts that formed part of the season of worship; similarly, Cook's clockwise route around the island of Hawaii, before making landfall, which had been noted by the natives, resembled the processions that took place in a clockwise direction around the island during the Lono festivals; it may have been these coincidences that led to Cook's alleged initial deification by some of the Hawaiians who treated Cook as an incarnation of Lono.

After a month's stay, Cook got under sail again to resume his exploration of the Northern Pacific; however, shortly after leaving Hawaii Island, the foremast of the Resolution broke and the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs; it is possible that the return to the islands by Cook's expedition was not just unexpected by the Hawaiians, but also unwelcome because the season of Lono had recently ended; whatever the reasons, tensions arose and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and the Hawaiians.

On the 14th February at Kealakekua Bay, some Hawaiians took one of Cook's small boats; thefts were quite common in Tahiti and the other islands and Cook usually took and held native hostages until the stolen articles were returned; on this occasion he attempted to take the local king as hostage, but the Hawaiians prevented this and Cook's men had to retreat, whilst fighting, to the beach and as Cook turned his back on them to help launch the boats, he was struck on the head by a native and then stabbed to death as he fell on his face in the surf; Hawaiian tradition says that he was killed by a chief named Kalanimanokahoowaha; after killing him the Hawaiians dragged his body away; during the confrontation four of Cook's Marines were also killed and two wounded.

The esteem in which he was held by the Hawaiians resulted in his body being retained by their chiefs and elders and following the practice of the time, Cook's body underwent funerary rituals similar to those reserved for the chiefs and highest elders of the society; the body was disembowelled, baked to facilitate removal of the flesh and the bones were carefully cleaned for preservation as religious icons in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of the treatment of European saints in the Middle Ages; some of Cook's remains were eventually returned to the British for a formal burial at sea following an appeal by the crew.

Captain James Cook's 3 South Pacific voyages: The 1st voyage is shown in RED, 2nd in GREEN and 3rd in BLUE.

Clerke took over the expedition and made a final attempt to pass through the Bering Strait; following the death of Clerke, Resolution and Discovery returned home in October 1780 commanded by John Gore, a veteran of Cook's first voyage and Captain James King.

Cook's account of his third and final voyage was completed upon their return by King; David Samwell, who sailed with Cook on the Resolution, wrote of him "He was a modest man, and rather bashful; of an agreeable lively conversation, sensible and intelligent. In temper he was somewhat hasty, but of a disposition the most friendly, benevolent and humane. His person was above six feet high: and, though a good looking man, he was plain both in dress and appearance. His face was full of expression: his nose extremely well shaped: his eyes which were small and of a brown cast, were quick and piercing; his eyebrows prominent, which gave his countenance altogether an air of austerity.".

Cook left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which was to influence his successors well into the 20th century and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him; Cook's maps were used right into the 20th century, copies of them being referenced by those sailing Newfoundland's waters for 200 years.

Cook's 12 years sailing around the Pacific Ocean contributed much to European knowledge of the area; several islands such as Sandwich Islands were encountered for the first time by Europeans and his more accurate navigational charting of large areas of the Pacific was a major achievement.

To create accurate maps, latitude and longitude need to be known; navigators had been able to work out latitude accurately for centuries by measuring the angle of the sun or a star above the horizon with an instrument such as a backstaff or quadrant; longitude was more difficult to measure accurately because it requires precise knowledge of the time difference between points on the surface of the earth.

The Earth turns a full 360 degrees relative to the sun each day, thus longitude corresponds to time, at 15 degrees every hour, or 1 degree every 4 minutes; Cook gathered accurate longitude measurements during his first voyage due to his navigational skills, the help of astronomer Charles Green and by using the newly published Nautical Almanac tables, via the lunar distance method, measuring the angular distance from the moon to either the sun during daytime, or one of eight bright stars during night time, to determine the time at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and comparing that to his local time determined via the altitude of the sun, moon, or stars.

On his second voyage Cook used the K1 chronometer made by Larcum Kendall, which was the shape of a large pocket watch, 5 inches (13 centimetres) in diameter; it was a copy of the H4 clock made by John Harrison, which proved to be the first to keep accurate time at sea when used on the ship Deptford's journey to Jamaica, 176162.

Cook succeeded in circumnavigating the world on his first voyage without losing a single man to scurvy, an unusual accomplishment at the time; he tested several preventive measures but the most important was frequent replenishment of fresh food; it was for presenting a paper on this aspect of the voyage to the Royal Society that he was presented with the Copley Medal in 1776; ever the observer, Cook was the first European to have extensive contact with various people of the Pacific; he correctly concluded there was a relationship amongst all of the people in the Pacific, despite their being separated by thousands of miles of ocean; Cook came up with the theory that Polynesians originated from Asia, which was later proved to be correct by scientist Bryan Sykes.

In New Zealand the coming of Cook is often used to signify the onset of colonisation; Cook was accompanied on his voyages by many scientists, whose observations and discoveries added to the importance of the voyages; Joseph Banks, a botanist, went on the first voyage along with fellow botanist Daniel Solander from Sweden; between them they collected over 3,000 plant species; Banks became one of the strongest promoters of the settlement of Australia by the British, based on his own personal observations; there were also several artists on the first voyage; Sydney Parkinson in particular completed 264 drawings before his death near the end of the voyage; they were of immense scientific value to British botanists.

Cook's second expedition included the artist William Hodges, who produced notable landscape paintings of Tahiti, Easter Island and other locations; a number of the junior officers who served under Cook went on to distinctive accomplishments of their own.

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