James Cook was born on 27 October 1728 at Marton in Yorkshire. A
self-educated son of a farm labourer, he first went to sea at the age of 19, working the East Coast coal trade. At 27 he enlisted in the Royal Navy and soon became boatswain on
the 60-gun ship Eagle. Four years later he surveyed the St Lawrence River, Newfoundland, in preparation for the capture of
Quebec, and for three summers he conducted further surveys of the St Lawrence and the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland
In 1768, Cook began the first of the three great Pacific voyages which would see him chart the whole ocean, from
Zealand to the Arctic, so accurately that his charts can still be used today. Cook spent over eight and a half years charting
previously unknown islands.
Cook's ship for his first Pacific voyage was H.M. Bark Endeavour. The aim of the voyage was to observe the passage of
Venus over the disc of the Sun from Tahiti and then to search for a "Great Southern Continent" south of Tahiti.
Plymouth on 25 August 1768, called at Madeira and Rio de Janeiro and, after rounding Cape Horn, reached Tahiti on 10 April
1769. The transit of Venus was duly recorded on 3 June 1769 and Cook soon began the second part of the voyage.
He searched for, and proved, that there was no continent to the south and west of Tahiti, discovered the east coast of New
Zealand and charted its coasts, and discovered and charted the east coast of Australia. During this voyage Cook discovered
and named Botany Bay (so called because of the many botanists on board Endeavour). But when Cook reached Batavia on
10 October 1770, malaria and dysentery spread among the crew. A number died at Batavia and on the way back to the Cape.
The expedition had been, however, a great success.
The second voyage began in 1772. Cook had been promoted to Commander and given two new ships, Resolution and
Adventure to replace the dilapidated Endeavour. Cook took a copy of John Harrison's prize-winning marine chronometer,
H4, made by Larcum Kendall, which, following a successful voyage, he called "my trusty friend the watch". In January 1773,
Cook became the first navigator to cross the Antarctic circle and soon proved that no continent existed in the Southern Ocean
above polar latitudes. During this voyage, Cook landed at New Zealand, Tahiti, the Friendly Islands (Tonga), Easter Island, the
Marquesas Islands, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, the Isle of Pines and the South Sandwich Islands. Artist William
Hodges, who accompanied the voyage, captured the beauty of the newly-discovered islands in his famous paintings.
The object of the third voyage was to search for a 'North-East or North-West Passage. from the Pacific Ocean into the
Atlantic Ocean'. From the start of the voyage there were problems. Cook's ships. Resolution and Discovery, had been badly
refitted and defects occurred during the voyage. Cook's crew searched to the edge of the Arctic ice without finding a northern
passage into the Atlantic, explored and charted the northern Pacific coasts and discovered the islands of the Sandwich Group in
the North Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii.
Upon going ashore at Hawaii, Cook was baffled by the great ceremony which greeted his arrival. He did not realise that he was
being accepted as a Polynesian god, whose return to the island bringing gifts was prophesied in Polynesian legends. Priests and
chiefs called upon the islanders to make contributions, putting a heavy strain on their resources. By the time the two ships sailed
again on 4 February 1779, their departure was hailed with relief. It was a tragic twist of fate that forced them to return two
days later after Resolution had sprung her foremast. This time the natives were hostile. On 14 February 1779 a ship's boat was
stolen by the islanders, forcing Cook ashore to bring a chief off the island as a hostage for its return. A large group of natives
gathered with weapons to resist the arrest of their chief. Upon attack, Cook fired his musket but the shot bounced harmlessly
off a warrior's armour. Cook was overwhelmed and stabbed to death.