Captain Cook

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 coasts.

In 1768, Cook began the first of the three great Pacific voyages which would see him chart the whole ocean, from New 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. Endeavour left 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.

 

CAPTAIN COOK
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

CAPTAIN COOK
VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY

CAPTAIN COOK
COAT OF ARMS

CAPTAIN COOK
STUDY UNIT

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