, FRS RN
( – 14 February 1779), was a British explorer
, ultimately rising to the
rank of Captain
in the Royal Navy
. Cook was the first to map Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean during which he achieved the first European contact
with the eastern coastline of Australia
and the Hawaiian Islands as well as
the first recorded circumnavigation
Cook joined the British merchant navy
as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. He saw action in the
Seven Years' War, and subsequently
surveyed and mapped much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence
River during the siege of Quebec.
allowed General Wolfe to make his famous
stealth attack on the Plains of Abraham, and helped to bring Cook to the attention of the
Admiralty and Royal Society.
This notice came at a
crucial moment both in his personal career and in the direction of
British overseas exploration, and led to his commission in 1766 as
commander of HM Bark
for the first of three Pacific
Cook charted many areas and recorded several islands and coastlines
on European maps for the first time. His achievements can
be attributed to a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic
skills, courage in exploring dangerous locations to confirm the
facts (for example dipping into the Antarctic circle repeatedly and exploring
around the Great Barrier
Reef), an ability to lead men in adverse conditions, and
boldness both with regard to the extent of his explorations and his
willingness to exceed the instructions given to him by the
in Hawaii in a fight
with Hawaiians during his third
exploratory voyage in the Pacific in 1779.
born in the village of Marton in Yorkshire, today a suburb belonging to the town of Middlesbrough.
He was baptised in the local church of St.
Cuthbert's where today his name can be seen in the church register.
the second of eight children of James Cook, a Scottish farm labourer, and his locally born wife Grace Pace from Thornaby on Tees. In 1736, his family moved to Airey Holme farm
Ayton, where his father's employer, Thomas Skottowe paid
for him to attend the local school (now a museum).
after 5 years schooling, he began work for his father, who had by
now been promoted to farm manager. For leisure he would climb a nearby hill,
Topping, enjoying the opportunity for solitude.
Cottage, his parents' last home, which he is likely to have
visited, is now in Melbourne, having been moved from England and reassembled
brick by brick in 1934.
when he was 16, Cook moved to the fishing village of Staithes to be apprenticed as a shop boy to grocer and haberdasher
Historians have speculated that this is
where Cook first felt the lure of the sea
gazing out of the shop window.
months, 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 Quakers
, 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
As part of this apprenticeship, Cook applied himself to the study
, all skills he would need one day to
command his own ship.
three-year apprenticeship completed, Cook began working on trading
ships in the Baltic
He soon progressed through the merchant
navy ranks, starting with his 1752 promotion to Mate (officer in
charge of navigation) aboard the collier brig
. In 1755, within a month of being offered
command of this vessel, he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy, as Britain was re-arming for what was to become the Seven Years' War.
Despite the need
to start back at the bottom of the naval hierarchy, Cook realised
his career would advance more quickly in military service and
entered the Navy at Wapping on 7 June 1755.
married Elizabeth Batts (1742–1835), the daughter of Samuel Batts,
keeper of the Bell Inn, Wapping and one of his mentors, on the 21st of December
1762 at St. Margaret's Church in Barking, Essex.
The couple had
six children: James (1763–1794), Nathaniel (1764–1781), Elizabeth
(1767–1771), Joseph (1768–1768), George (1772–1772) and Hugh
(1776–1793). When not at sea, Cook lived in the East End of
London. He attended St. Paul's
Church, Shadwell, where his son James was baptised. Stepney Historical Trust
a plaque on Free Trade Wharf in the Highway, Shadwell to
commemorate his life in the East End of London.
Start of Royal Navy career
Cook's first posting was with HMS
, 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
while on patrol.
1757 Cook passed his master's
examinations at Trinity
House, Deptford qualifying him to navigate and handle a ship of the
King's fleet.G. Williams (2002)
He then joined the frigate
under Captain Robert Craig. During this period he served in several
minor actions in the vicinity of the British Isles.
the Seven Years' War, he served in
North America as master of Pembroke In 1758 he took part
in the major amphibious assault which captured Louisbourg from the French. Cook then
participated in the siege of Quebec City before 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, allowing General Wolfe to make his famous stealth attack
on the Plains of
surveying skills were put to good use in
the 1760s, mapping the jagged coast of Newfoundland. Cook 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
Cook’s 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, and brought him to the attention of the
and Royal Society
at a crucial moment both in his
personal career and in the direction of British overseas
Following on from his exertions in Newfoundland, it was at this
time that Cook wrote, 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
First voyage (1768–71)
In 1766, the Royal Society
to travel to the Pacific Ocean to observe and record the transit of Venus
across the Sun
. Cook was promoted to Lieutenant
and named as commander of the
expedition. The expedition sailed from England in 1768,
Horn and continued westward across the Pacific to arrive
at Tahiti on 13 April
1769, where the observations were to be made.
result of the observations was not as conclusive or accurate as had
Cook later mapped the complete New Zealand coastline, making only
some minor errors. He then sailed west, reaching the south-eastern
coast of the Australian continent on 19 April 1770, and in doing so
his expedition became the first recorded Europeans to have
encountered its eastern coastline.
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 C[l]othes they might have on
I know not." On 29 April Cook and 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
departure from Botany Bay he continued northwards, and a mishap
occurred when Endeavour
ran aground on a shoal of the Great Barrier Reef, on 11 June. 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 the voyage
continued, sailing through Torres Strait and on 22 August he landed on Possession
Island, where he claimed the entire coastline he had just
explored as British territory. He returned to
England via Batavia (modern Jakarta, Indonesia), the Cape of Good Hope and the island of Saint
Helena, arriving on 12 July, 1771.
were published upon his
return, and he became something of a hero among the scientific community
. Among the general
public, however, the aristocratic
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
and his son Georg Forster
were taken on as scientists for the voyage. Cook's son George was
born five days before he left for his second voyage.
The routes of Captain James Cook's
The first voyage is shown in red, second voyage in green, and third voyage in
The route of Cook's crew following his death is shown as a
dashed blue line.
Second voyage (1772–75)
Shortly after his return, Cook was promoted to the rank of Commander
. Then once
again he was commissioned by the Royal Society to search for the
mythical 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; and
although by charting almost the entire eastern coastline of
Australia he had shown it to be continental in size, the Terra
being sought was supposed to lie further to the
south. Despite this evidence to the contrary, Dalrymple and others
of the Royal Society still believed that this massive southern
continent should exist.
Cook commanded HMS
on this voyage, while Tobias Furneaux
commanded its companion
ship, HMS Adventure
Cook's expedition circumnavigated
the globe at a very high southern latitude
becoming one of the first to cross the Antarctic Circle
on 17 January 1773.
surveyed, mapped and took possession for Britain of South
Georgia explored by Anthony de la Roché in 1675,
discovered and named Clerke
Rocks and the South
Sandwich Islands ('Sandwich Land').
In the Antarctic
Furneaux made his way to New Zealand, where he lost some of his men
following a fight with Māori
eventually sailed back to Britain, while Cook continued to explore
the Antarctic, reaching 71°10'S on 31 January 1774.
almost encountered the mainland of Antarctica, but turned back north towards Tahiti to resupply
He then resumed his southward course in a second
fruitless attempt to find the supposed continent. On this leg of
the voyage he brought with him a young Tahitian named Omai
, who proved to be somewhat less knowledgeable
about the Pacific than Tupaia
been on the first voyage. On his return voyage, in 1774 he landed at
His reports upon his return home put to
rest the popular myth of Terra
Another accomplishment of the second voyage was the successful
employment of the Larcum Kendall
, which enabled
Cook to calculate his longitudinal
with much greater accuracy. Cook's log was full of
praise for the watch and the charts of the southern Pacific Ocean
he made with its use were remarkably accurate – so much so that
copies of them were still in use in the mid 20th century.
Upon his return, Cook was promoted to the rank of Captain
and given an honorary
retirement from the Royal Navy, as an officer in the Greenwich Hospital
acceptance was reluctant, insisting that he be allowed to quit the
post if the opportunity for active duty presented itself.
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".G.
But he could not be kept away from the sea.
A third voyage was planned to find the Northwest Passage
. Cook travelled to the
Pacific and hoped to travel east to the Atlantic, while a
simultaneous voyage travelled the opposite way.
Third voyage (1776–79) and death
On his last voyage, Cook once again commanded HMS
, while Captain Charles Clerke
commanded HMS Discovery
. Ostensibly the
voyage was planned to return Omai to Tahiti; this is what the
general public believed, as he had become a favourite curiosity in
London. Principally the purpose of the voyage was an attempt to
discover the famed Northwest
. After returning Omai, Cook travelled north and in
returning from forays on the Alaskan coast (see below) 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
South Pacific he travelled northeast to explore the west coast of
North America, landing near the First
Nations village at Yuquot in Nootka
Sound on Vancouver Island, although he unknowingly sailed past the Strait of
Juan de Fuca. He explored and mapped the coast from
California all the way to the Bering Strait, on the way identifying what came to be known as
Inlet in Alaska.
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 perhaps began to suffer from a stomach ailment; it
has been speculated that this led to irrational behaviour towards
his crew, such as forcing them to eat walrus
meat, which they found inedible.
Cook returned to Hawai`i in 1779. After sailing around the archipelago for
some eight weeks, he made landfall at Kealakekua Bay, on 'Hawai`i Island', largest island in the Hawaiian Archipelago.
arrival may have coincided with the Makahiki
, a Hawaiian harvest festival
of worship for the
Polynesian god Lono
. Indeed 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 islands before making landfall
resembled the processions that took place in a clockwise direction
around the island during the Lono festivals. It has been argued
(most extensively by Marshall
) that such coincidences were the reasons for Cook's
(and to a limited extent, his crew's) initial deification
by some Hawaiians who treated Cook as
an incarnation of Lono. Though this view was first suggested by
members of Cook's expedition, the idea that any Hawaiians
understood Cook to be Lono, and the evidence presented in support
of it was challenged in 1992.
After a month's stay, Cook got under sail again to resume his
exploration of the Northern Pacific. However, shortly after leaving
Hawai`i Island, the foremast of the Resolution
the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs. It has been
hypothesised 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 (presuming that they
associated Cook with Lono and Makahiki). In any case, tensions rose
and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and
Hawaiians. On 14 February at Kealakekua Bay, some Hawaiians took one of Cook's small
Normally, as thefts were quite common in Tahiti and
the other islands, Cook would have taken hostages
until the stolen articles were returned.
Indeed, he attempted to take hostage the King of Hawai`i
. The Hawaiians prevented this, and
Cook's men had to retreat to the beach. As Cook turned his back to
help launch the boats, he was struck on the head by the villagers
and then stabbed to death as he fell on his face in the surf. The
Hawaiians dragged his body away. Four of the Marines with Cook were
also killed and two wounded in the confrontation.
Some scholars suggest that Cook's return to Hawai`i outside the
season of worship for Lono, which was synonymous with 'peace', and
thus in the season of 'war' (being dedicated to Kū, god of war) may
have upset the equilibrium and fostered an atmosphere of resentment
and aggression from the local population. Coupled with a jaded
grasp of native diplomacy and a burgeoning but limited
understanding of local politics, Cook may have inadvertently
contributed to the tensions that ultimately brought about his
The esteem in which he was nevertheless held by the Hawaiians
resulted in his body being retained by their chiefs and elders.
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 disemboweled, 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, disclosing some corroborating evidence to this
effect, were eventually returned to the British for a formal
burial at sea
following an appeal by
Clerke took over the expedition and made a final attempt to pass
through the Bering Strait. Following the death of Clerke,
returned home in October
1780 commanded by John Gore
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
A number of the junior officers who served under Cook went on to
distinctive accomplishments of their own.
Cook's 12 years sailing around the Pacific Ocean contributed much
to European knowledge of the area. Several islands such as 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.
To create accurate maps, latitude
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
was more difficult to measure accurately
because it requires precise knowledge of the time difference
between points on the surface of the earth. Earth
turns a full 360 degrees
relative to the sun each day. Thus
longitude corresponds to time: 15 degrees every hour
, or 1 degree every 4 minutes
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
, 13 cm
(5 inches) 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, 1761–1762.
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 among all the people in the Pacific,
despite their being separated by thousands of miles of ocean (see
). In New Zealand the coming of Cook is often used to
signify the onset of colonisation.
James Cook also came up with the theory that Polynesians originated
from Asia, which was later proved to be correct by scientist
Cook was accompanied 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
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
There were several artists on the first voyage. Sydney Parkinson
was involved in many of the drawings, completing 264 drawings
before his death near the end of the voyage. They were of immense
scientific value to British botanists
second expedition included the artist William Hodges, who produced notable landscape paintings of Tahiti, Easter Island, and other locations.
His contributions were recognised during this era. In 1779, when
the American colonies were at war with Britain in their war for
independence, Benjamin Franklin
wrote to captains of American warships at sea, recommending that if
they came into contact with Cook's vessel, to:
he was killed in Hawaii is marked
by a white obelisk and about of land around it is chained
This land, though in Hawaii, has been given to the
United Kingdom. Therefore, the site is officially a part of the UK.
jurisdictions reversed exactly the same sort of situation exists at
Runnymede where the U.S. has extraterritorial jurisdiction
over a monument to John F.
Kennedy. A nearby town is named Captain
Cook, Hawaii as well as several businesses.
Cook appeared on a United States coin, the 1928 Hawaiian
Sesquicentennial half dollar
during the celebration marking 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
tertiary education institution in North Queensland, Australia was
named after him, with James Cook University opening in Townsville in 1970.
Numerous other institutions,
landmarks and place names reflect the importance of Cook's
contribution to knowledge of geography. These also include
Islands, the Cook
Inlet, and the Cook crater on
also abound in post-industrial Middlesbrough, and include a primary school, shopping square and
the Bottle 'O Notes a public artwork by Claes Oldenburg erected in the town's
Central Gardens in 1993. His nearby birthplace of Marton is the location of both the James Cook
University Hospital, a teaching hospital, and the Captain Cook
The Royal Research Ship RRS James Cook
was built in 2006 to
replace the RRS Charles
in the UK's Royal Research Fleet.
Mount Cook, aka Aoraki, 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 Alaska
- James Cook at the 1911 Encyclopædia
- per Collingridge (2002)
- Rigby & van der Merwe 2002, p25.
- Collingridge 2003, p15.
- Rigby & van der Merwe, p27.
- Famous 18th century people of Barking and Dagenham
Info Sheet #22, LB Barking & Dagenham
- Life in the Royal Navy (1755-1767), The Captain
Cook Society: Cook's Log, by Paul Capper 1985–1996
- Dean & Kemp, Oxford Companion of Ships and the Sea
(Oxford U Press, 2005)
- Rigby and van der Merwe 2002, p. 30
- At this time, the International Date Line had yet to
be agreed, and so, the dates in Cook's journal are a day earlier
than those accepted today.
- Cook's journal: daily entry for 22 April 1770 National
Library of Australia
- Captain Cook: Obsession and Discovery TV documentary, Part
- Hough 1994, page 217
- Captain James Cook: His voyages of exploration
and the men that accompanied him (National Maritime Museum) accessed
10 Oct 2007
- Beaglehole (1974: 444)
- G. Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook
- V. Collingridge (2003) page 410 et seq. Obsession and
- V. Collingridge (2003) page 413 Obsession and
- per Horwitz (2003)
- Unknown to Franklin, Cook had met his death a month before this
"passport" was written.
- Profile of Captain Cook Primary School at
- Captain Cook Shopping Square
- Aughton, Peter. 2002, Endeavour: The Story of Captain
Cook's First Great Epic Voyage. Cassell & Co.,
- Beaglehole, John,
biographer of Cook and editor of his Journals.
- Collingridge, Vanessa. Feb.
2003 Captain Cook: The Life, Death and Legacy of History's
Greatest Explorer, Ebury Press, ISBN 0-09-188898-0
- Edwards, Philip, ed. 2003, James Cook: The Journals.
Prepared from the original manuscripts by J. C. Beaglehole 1955–67.
Penguin Books, London.
- Forster, Georg. A Voyage Round the World, ed. 1986
(published first 1777 as: A Voyage round the World in His Britannic
Majesty's Sloop Resolution, Commanded by Capt. James Cook, during
the Years, 1772, 3, 4, and 5), Wiley-VCH (January 1, 1986). ISBN
- Horwitz, Tony. Oct. 2003, Blue
Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before,
Bloomsbury, ISBN 0-7475-6455-8
- Andrew Kippis, The Life and
Voyages of Captain James Cook, Westminster 1788, George Newnes, London/Charles Scribner's Sons, New York
- Obeyesekere, Gananath.
1992, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in
the Pacific Princeton University Press. ISBN
- Rae, Julie, 1997 "Captain James Cook Endeavours" Stepney Historical Trust
- Richardson, Brian. 2005. Longitude and Empire: How Captain
Cook's Voyages Changed the World University of British
Columbia Press. ISBN 0-7748-1190-0.
- Sydney Daily Telegraph. 1970, Captain Cook: His Artists -
His Voyages. The Sydney Daily Telegraph Portfolio of Original
Works by Artists who sailed with Captain Cook. Australian
Consolidated Press, Sydney.
- Thomas, Nicholas. 2003, The Extraordinary Voyages of
Captain James Cook. Walker & Co., New York. ISBN
- Villiers, Alan John, 1903–.
Captain James Cook. Newport Beach, CA : Books on Tape, 1983.
- Williams, Glyndwr, ed. 1997, Captain Cook's Voyages:
1768-1779. The Folio Society, London.
- Williams, G (Prof.), 2002 Captain Cook: Explorer, Navigator
and Pioneer, BBC History 2002
- 'Cook, James (1728 - 1779)', Australian Dictionary of
Biography, Volume 1, Melbourne University Press, 1966,
- Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian
- Captain Cook Society
- The Endeavour journal (1) and The
Endeavour journal (2), as kept by James Cook – digitised
and held by the National Library of Australia
- Captain James
Cook: The World's Explorer
- Life in the Pacific of the 1700s: The Cook/Forster
Collection of the Georg August University of Göttingen
exhibition at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, 23 February – 14 May
South Seas Project: maps and online editions of the Journals of
James Cook's First Pacific Voyage. 1768–1771, Includes full text of
journals kept by Cook, Joseph Banks and Sydney Parkinson, as well
as the complete text of John Hawkesworth's 1773 Account of Cook's
- See a c. 1780 map of Cook's third voyage by Rigobert Bonne,
Carte de la Côte N.O. de l'Amérique et de la
Côte N.E. de l'Asie reconnues en 1778 et 1779 / par M.
Bonne, Ingenieur-Hydrographe de la
Marine hosted by the Portal to Texas
- Discovery of New Zealand
- Captain Cook's Voyages by Izidor Hafner, Wolfram Demonstrations
Pacific Encounters: Cook-Forster Collection online Images and
descriptions of more than 300 artefacts collected during the three
Pacific voyages of James Cook.
- Images and descriptions of items associated with
James Cook at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa