Captain James Cook


Born: Nov 7 (O.S. Oct 27) 1728, in Marton, (in present-day Middlesbrough) Yorkshire, England
Died: Feb 14, 1779 (at age 50) in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii
Nationality: British
Occupation: Explorer, navigator, cartographer, Royal Navy Captain

James Cook was born on November 7th, 1728 in the village of Marton in Yorkshire, England. He had 7 other siblings and was part of a farming family. When a job opportunity came up for his father, Cook and his family moved to Great Ayton. After attending school for five years that his father’s boss paid for, he started helping out on the farm. He continued to help on the farm throughout most of his childhood until he turned 16 years old. At this time he was able to get an apprenticeship in a shop in the village of Staithes, which was 20 miles away from his home.

Finding that shop work was not for him, Cook decided to move to Whitby after over a year in Staithes. Upon arrival he met friends of the shop owner he had been apprenticing for, and they allowed him to work on their ships which were used for coal trade. He was an apprentice for three years, and during this time he learned everything necessary to command his own ship.

Royal Navy

After passing exams to become a ship captain in 1752, Cook decided to volunteer for the Royal Navy in order to progress his career. On June 7th, 1755 Cook became a master’s mate and sailed on the HMS Eagle. He helped capture French warships and eventually was able to briefly command The Cruizer in 1756. Cook wanted to become a ship master, so he took his exams in 1757 and passed. From here he was the master to Captain Robert Craig on the HMS Solebay.

Cook’s biggest asset was that he was good at surveying and cartography. These skills were greatly used during the Seven Years’ War and led him to help plan many famous attacks. In 1760 Cook helped map the coast of Newfoundland and eventually made the first large-scale map of the coast. These skills led him to get attention from the Royal Society and Admiralty, which led to his maps being copied and provided to captains for the next 200 years.

First Voyage

The first exploration that Cook went on was in 1766. It was commissioned by the Royal Society to determine the way Venus traveled across the sun. He was the lieutenant of this expedition and led it to Tahiti where they were able to see “the small disc travel across the sun.” The second part of the voyage was to look for the continent Terra Australis. In April, 1770, he observed indigenous Australians and then eventually landed in an area that he called “Stingray Bay.” Here he met the Gweagal, an Aboriginal tribe, and then left in the Endeavour with his crew.

Soon after leaving the ship hit the Great Barrier Reef, which caused damage that took around seven weeks to repair. From here they landed on Possession Island before returning to England on July 12th, 1771.

Second Voyage

After being promoted to commander, Cook was commissioned to command the HMS Resolution. During this voyage he was the first to cross the Antarctic Circle. He also was able to log his longitudinal position, which helped him make accurate charts of the Pacific Ocean.

Third Voyage

Cook’s last voyage took place on the HMS Resolution, which Cook commanded. During this voyage Cook was the first European to land on the Hawaiian Islands. He then went to California and Oregon and sailed to Nootka Sound. After staying here for a few months, Cook returned back to Hawaii for a month. Unfortunately he had to return back to Kealakekua Bay for repairs to his boats, but the Hawaiians no longer wanted him there. After a fight broke out, Cook was killed on February 14th, 1779. His remains were brought back to Europe for a burial at sea.