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Captain James Cook
James Cook, portrait by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland, c. 1775, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Born 7 November [O.S. 27 October] 1728
Marton, Yorkshire, England
Died 14 February 1779(1779-02-14) (aged 50)
Nationality British
Education Postgate School, Great Ayton
Occupation Explorer, navigator, cartographer
Title Captain
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Batts
Children 6
Parent(s) James Cook
Grace Pace
James Cook Signature.svg

Captain James Cook, FRS (27 October 1728 – 14 February 1779) was an English explorer, navigator and cartographer. He made three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, mapping many areas and recording several islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time. He is most notable for the British finding the east coast of Australia, finding the Hawaiian Islands and the first mapping of Newfoundland and New Zealand.

During his lifetime, he sailed twice around the world. He crossed the Antarctic Circle and found new islands and landscapes in North America and the South Pacific. During his trips, he spent a lot of time on science experiments, and mapping new areas. He also wrote a lot of books about what he found.

Cook's life

Cook was born in Marton in Yorkshire, but as a child moved with his family to Great Ayton. As a teenager he developed a fascination for the sea [teaching himself map making], and travelled to Whitby to find employment on the coal ships there.

During the Seven Years' War he served in the Royal Navy. He showed a talent for surveying and cartography and was responsible for mapping much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River. His surveying skills were put to good use in the 1760s mapping the jagged coast of Newfoundland, which brought him to the attention of the Royal Society.

Cook's distinctive and huge achievements can be attributed to a combination of excellent seamanship, his superior surveying and cartographic skills (map-making), courage in exploring dangerous locations to confirm the facts (e.g dipping into the Antarctic circle repeatedly and exploring around the Great Barrier reef) and boldness both with the regard to the extent of his explorations and going beyond the instructions given by the Admiralty.

He had four sons  and one daughter. Their names were Elizabeth Cook, Hugh Cook, George Cook, Nathaniel Cook and  Joseph Cook. His father’s name was James Cook. He had 3 sisters and 2 brothers. Their names were Mary Cook , Margaret Cook, William Cook , Jane Cook and John Cook.

His goals on these missions were:

Voyages of exploration

First voyage (1768–71)

In 1766 the Society hired him to travel to the Pacific Ocean to observe and record a transit of Venus across the Sun. Leaving in 1768, he arrived on April 13, 1769 in Tahiti where he built a small fort and observatory to observe the transit; however, due to the lack of precise scientific instruments, there was no way to accurately measure it.

He then explored the South Pacific for the mythical continent of Terra Australis, with the help a Tahitian named Tupaia who had extensive knowledge of Pacific geography. The Royal Society, and especially Alexander Dalrymple, insisted Terra Australis must exist, despite Cook's personal doubts. He also reached New Zealand, which until then had been visited by Europeans only once, by Abel Tasman in 1642. Cook mapped its complete coastline, discovering Cook Strait which separates the North Island from the South Island. Next, he went on to Australia, where he discovered its east coast.

The site of Cook's first landing, at Kurnell on Botany Bay, was intended to be the site of the first British colony in Australia, but when Captain Arthur Phillip arrived with the First Fleet in 1788, he felt that Botany Bay was unsuitable, and sailed a short distance northwards to Port Jackson, for the establishment of Sydney.

However, Botany Bay was the site of one of the earliest European contacts with Australian Aborigines and the first European sightings of Australian flora and fauna (the name Botany Bay was chosen to reflect the diverse range of flora found there).

Cook also discovered the Great Barrier Reef, when his ship ran aground June 11th 1770; Endeavour was seriously damaged and his voyage was delayed for two months while repairs were carried out. He then sailed through Torres Strait between Australia and New Guinea, again becoming only the second European to do so (the first being Luis Vaez de Torres, in 1604). His ship on this voyage, HM Bark Endeavour, gave the name to the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

By this point in the voyage Cook had lost no men to scurvy, a remarkable and unheard-of achievement in the 18th century. He forced his men to eat such foods as citrus fruits and sauerkraut. Unfortunately, he sailed for Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies, to put in for repairs. Batavia was known for its outbreaks of malaria, and much of Cook's crew would succumb to the disease before they returned home in 1771. Cook's journals were published upon his return and he became something of a hero among the scientific community.

Second voyage (1772–75)

Captain Cook Memorial
Captain James Cook Memorial, at Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra

Cook was once again commissioned by the Royal Society to search for the mythical Terra Australis. Despite Cook's evidence to the contrary from the first voyage, Alexander Dalrymple refused to believe a massive southern continent did not exist. Cook commanded HMS Resolution on this voyage, while Tobias Furneaux commanded HMS Adventure.

Cook circumnavigated the globe at a very high southern latitude, becoming the first European to cross the Antarctic Circle on January 17, 1773. In the Antarctic fog, Cook and Furneaux were separated. Furneaux made his way to New Zealand and eventually sailed back to Britain while Cook was still exploring the Antarctic.

Cook almost discovered the mainland of Antarctica, but turned back north towards Tahiti to resupply his ship. He then travelled south again, in a second fruitless attempt to find the supposed continent. On his return voyage, he landed at the Friendly Islands and Easter Island, and returned home having destroyed the myth of Terra Australis.

Another accomplishment of the second voyage was the successful testing of John Harrison's timekeeping instruments, which at last facilitated accurate measurement of longitude.

Upon his return, he was given an honorary retirement from the Royal Navy, but he could not be kept away from the sea. A third voyage was planned to find the Northwest Passage. Cook would travel to the Pacific and hopefully travel east to the Atlantic, while a simultaneous voyage would travel the opposite way.

Third voyage (1776–79)

James Cook, Waimea Kauai
A statue of James Cook stands in Waimea, Kauai commemorating his first contact with the Hawaiian Islands at the town's harbour in January 1778

On his last voyage, Cook once again commanded HMS Resolution, while Captain Charles Clerke commanded HMS Discovery. Cook travelled north and in 1778 became the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands, which he named the "Sandwich Islands" after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, the then First Lord of the Admiralty. From there, he travelled east to explore the west coast of North America, eventually landing at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. He explored and mapped the coast from California all the way to the Bering Strait, discovering what came to be known as Cook Inlet in Alaska on the way.


Cook attempted to resume his exploration of the Northern Pacific. Shortly after leaving Hawaii Island, however, the Resolution's foremast broke, so the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs. Tensions rose, and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay.

An unknown group of Hawaiians took one of Cook's small boats. Cook was forced into a wild goose chase that ended with his return to the ship frustrated. He attempted to kidnap and ransom the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu.

Zoffany Death of Captain Cook
The Death of Captain James Cook, 14 February 1779, an unfinished painting by Johan Zoffany, circa 1795

That following day, 14 February 1779, Cook marched through the village to retrieve the King. Cook took the King by his own hand and led him willingly away. The king began to understand that Cook was his enemy. As Cook turned his back to help launch the boats, he was struck by the villagers which resulted in his death. The Hawaiians carried his body away towards the back of the town, still visible to the ship through their spyglass. Four marines, Corporal James Thomas, Private Theophilus Hinks, Private Thomas Fatchett and Private John Allen, were also killed and two others were wounded in the confrontation.


Cook memorial
Memorial to James Cook and family in St Andrew the Great, Cambridge

The Australian Museum acquired its Cook Collection in 1894 from the Government of New South Wales. At that time the collection consisted of 115 artefacts collected on Cook's three voyages throughout the Pacific Ocean, during the period 1768–80, along with documents and memorabilia related to these voyages. The collection remained with the Colonial Secretary of NSW until 1894, when it was transferred to the Australian Museum.

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

Cook carried several scientists on his voyages; they made significant observations and discoveries. Two botanists, Joseph Banks and Swede Daniel Solander, were on the first voyage. The two collected over 3,000 plant species. Banks subsequently strongly promoted British settlement of Australia.

Artists also sailed on Cook's first voyage. Sydney Parkinson was heavily involved in documenting the botanists' findings, completing 264 drawings. They were of immense scientific value to British botanists. Cook's second expedition included William Hodges, who produced notable landscape paintings of Tahiti, Easter Island, and other locations.

Cook's contributions to knowledge were internationally recognised during his lifetime. In 1779, while the American colonies were fighting Britain for their independence, Benjamin Franklin wrote to captains of colonial warships at sea, recommending that if they came into contact with Cook's vessel, they were to "not consider her an enemy, nor suffer any plunder to be made of the effects contained in her, nor obstruct her immediate return to England by detaining her or sending her into any other part of Europe or to America; but that you treat the said Captain Cook and his people with all civility and kindness, ... as common friends to mankind." Unknown to Franklin, Cook had met his death a month before this safe conduct "passport" was written.

Cook's voyages were involved in another unusual first. The first recorded circumnavigation of the world by an animal was by Cook's goat, who made that memorable journey twice. When they returned to England, she was put to pasture on Cook's farm outside London. Cook's journal recorded the date of the goat's death: 28 March 1772.

A US coin, the 1928 Hawaiian half dollar carries Cook's image. Minted for the 150th anniversary of his discovery of the islands, its low mintage (10,008) has made this example of Early United States commemorative coins both scarce and expensive.

The site where he was killed in Hawaii was marked in 1874 by a white obelisk set on 25 square feet (2.3 m2) of chained-off beach. This land, although in Hawaii, was deeded to the United Kingdom. A nearby town is named Captain Cook, Hawaii; several Hawaiian businesses also carry his name.

James Cook Uni 7
James Cook Uni Townsville

The Apollo 15 Command/Service Module Endeavour was named after Cook's ship, HMS Endeavour, as was the space shuttle Space Shuttle Endeavour. Another shuttle, Discovery, was named after Cook's HMS Discovery.

The first institution of higher education in North Queensland, Australia was named after him, with James Cook University opening in Townsville in 1970. Numerous institutions, landmarks and place names reflect the importance of Cook's contributions, including the Cook Islands, the Cook Strait, Cook Inlet, and the Cook crater on the Moon. Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest summit in New Zealand, is named for him.

Another Mount Cook is on the border between the US state of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon Territory, and is designated Boundary Peak 182 as one of the official Boundary Peaks of the Hay–Herbert Treaty. A life-size statue of Cook upon a column stands in a park in the centre of Sydney.

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