James Cook

James Cook

James Cook was born on November 7, 1728 in British Yorkshire. He was the second of eight children. When Cook was 8, his family moved to Great Ayton. Young Cook started attending a local school for which his father’s employer paid him. After 5 years of learning in this institution, he started working for his father, a farmer, who at that time was promoted to a higher position. Cook Junior was a talented mathematician, astronomer and cartographer. In his free time, he liked to climb the nearby hill and enjoy loneliness.

At the age of 16, Cook moved about 30 kilometers from home to the nearby fishing village of Staithes to become an apprentice and helper of William Sanderson, the owner of the grocery store. Historians say that by looking through the window of this store, Cook felt the fascination of the sea. After a year and a half, the future traveler understood that he was unfit for this job and moved to the nearby Whitby township, where he met Sanderson’s friends John and Henry Walker, coal traders and ship owners. Cook was therefore taken under the wing of the Walker brothers and learned the profession of a buyer as a kind of apprentice on a small fleet of ships trading coal all over the British coast.

His first trip took place on a coal vehicle called “Freelove”. It was on him and several other coasters that he sailed between Tyne and London. He also studied in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, astronomy or navigation. He had to master these items well to be able to command his own ship. After a three-year internship, Cook began working on merchant ships sailing on the Baltic Sea. In 1752, after passing the exams, he went through several steps in the navy, so soon after that he would be on the road to take on the position of a two-masted coal-coal called “Friendship”. In 1755, he volunteered for the Royal Navy at a time when the United Kingdom was preparing for a seven-year war, which involved the necessity of returning to the lowest degree in the naval hierachia. However, Cook knew that joining the Navy is a great way to accelerate his promising career.

His first ship on the military road was HMS Eagle, where he served in a position similar to today’s second lieutenant of the Royal Navy and as a Senior Sailor under Captain Josep Hamar. After a year, he passed over to Captain Hugh Palliser. In October and November of that year he took part in the takeover of one of the French war ships and the sinking of another. After these events he was promoted to the position of Bosun. The first time he formally commanded was in 1756, when he was under the command of the crew of a small cutter Cruizer, attached to HMS Eagle.

In June of the following year, at Trinity House in Deptford Cook, he passed the “sailing master” exam. This degree qualified him to navigate the ships of the royal fleet. He was then assigned to the frigate HMS Solebay, commanded by Captain Robert Craig. During the Seven Years’ War, Cook served in North America at HMS Pembroke, a fourth-class ship. Together with the rest of the crew, Cook took part in the takeover of the Louisbourg Fortress from the French in 1758 and the fortress in Quebec a year later.

During the service he was known as a great cartographer and gauge. These skills were used, for example, when drawing the New Fundland map aboard HMS Grenville in the 1860s. The time spent in this area made it possible to get an accurate map of the large scale of the coast of the island. Cartographic and measuring merits were noticed by the Admiralty at the culminating point of James Cook’s career as well as at a landmark moment for British shipping. On May 25, 1768, the Admiralty declared Cook as the commander of a scientific expedition to the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Her goal was to observe and document the passage of Venus against the background of the sun. Observations compiled with research done in other places would allow to determine the distance of the Earth from the Sun.

At the age of 39, James Cook was appointed a lieutenant, so he was able to command ships. In addition, the Royal Society recognized that he was entitled to a bonus of 100 guineas in addition to the standard salary. The expedition set out on 26 August 1768 on HMS Endeavor. They sailed Cape Horn and sailed west across the Pacific. On April 14, 1769, the expedition arrived in Tahiti. It was on this island that observations of Venus transit were made. Unfortunately, the research was not as accurate as expected. After finishing the work, Cook got additional orders from the Admiralty for the rest of the expedition – searching the Pacific Ocean to find traces of the legendary Terra Australis.

Cook sailed to New Zealand and sketched a detailed map of the coastline, making only minor mistakes. Then he continued his journey further west. On April 19, 1770, he reached the north-eastern shore of Australia. Cook and the crew were the first Europeans who managed to reach the eastern shore of this country. On April 23, he had contact with the Aborigines for the first time. Six days later, the crew went ashore and Cook baptized the place with the Bay of Mantles, but then changed its name to the Gulf of Botanic. He also established the first direct contact with the Aboriginal tribe of Gweagal. Then he left the Botanical Bay and went north.

On June 11, HMS Endeavor ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef. The ship was very damaged, which resulted in significant, as much as 7 weeks, delays due to necessary repairs. When the ship was operational, the expedition sailed on and on August 22, 1770, they reached the place that Cook called Cape York. James Cook went through the dangerously shallow waters of Torres Strait. Searching for the high point of view, Cook saw a steppe hill on a nearby island, from which he hoped to see the isthmus of the Indian Ocean. Cook, along with the naturalist Joseph Banks and two other men, climbed the hill and saw the passage. After returning to the ship and announcing the message, the crew began to celebrate.

They returned to England through Jakarta, where many crew members died of malaria. On the way they passed the Cape of Good Hope and on July 12, 1771, they found themselves on the island of Saint Helena. After returning home, Cook’s daily newspapers were published and he became a hero among scholars. However, among the ordinary society is the botanist Joseph Banks was considered a star. Motivated by fame, he even tried to take command of Cook’s second expedition, but he resigned. John Reinhold Forster and his son Georg were taken on the second expedition of the British captain as scientists. On the other hand, the captain himself heard the good news five days before he left – he was born to son George. Soon after returning from the first trip, Cook was promoted to the rank of commander. In 1772 he was appointed to lead another scientific expedition on behalf of the Royal Society.

This time the main goal was to look for the aforementioned Terra Australis. Alexander Dalrymple, along with other members of the Royal Society, believed that the legendary continent lies to the south of the Australian coast. This time, Cook sailed on HMS Resolution, and Tobias Furneaux took command of Cook’s HMS Adventure. The expedition was the first to reach the southern Arctic Circle. It took place on January 17, 1773. In the Antarctic fog, both ships got lost and, as a consequence, separated. HMS Adventure arrived in New Zealand, where part of his crew died in the fight against the Maori tribe, after which he returned to Great Britain. In turn, Cook was heading further towards Antarctica. However, he failed to reach the shore, although it was close, because he had to turn back to Tahiti to replenish his supplies. Then he took the southern course in another fruitless attempt to reach Terra Australis. He took with him a young inhabitant of Tahiti named Omai. Before he returned to England, he drew the map of South Georgia, which he took possession of. After this, he headed towards South Africa, from where he took the return course. This journey deposed the myth of the existence of the legendary continent. On his return, James Cook was promoted to the captain and could retire, which he could take at the officer’s post at the Greenwich hospital. He reluctantly accepted this suggestion, but asked for the opportunity to leave the position if there was an opportunity to return to active service. He also became a member of the Royal Society and also awarded the Copley medal for completing the expedition without any losses caused by scurvy. His portrait was painted by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, he ate dinner with a biographer and politician James Boswell, or was described in generous words in the House of Lords.

James Cook needed the happiness of the sea. He volunteered to lead the next, third expedition, to find the Northwest Passage. During his last trip, Cook once again boarded HMS Resolution, and Captain Charles Clerke was commanded by HMS Discovery. The side-goal of the trip was to let Omai return to Tahiti. After this Cook sailed north and in 1778 became the first European to reach Hawaii. After landing ashore in 1778 at the Waimea port in Kauai, Cook called the archipelago of the Sandwich Islands, in honor of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. He sailed further north and turned north-east to explore the coasts of North America. He reached Oregon, but bad weather forced the expedition to move south. James Cook unknowingly crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and then he got near Vancouver Island. The relationship between Captain Cook and the crew was cordial and warm, though tense at times. Earlier James Cook anchored in Yuquot. The inhabitants of this town demanded much more material goods than other peoples of the Hawaiian archipelagos. The British got a min. skin of sea otters. After leaving these territories, Cook scanned the entire coast to the Strait of Bering .

In the second week of August 1778, Cook sailed across the Bering Strait and sailed to the waters of the Chukchi Sea. It continued north-east towards the Alaskan coast, but his plans thwarted the frozen waters. So he went west on the coast of Siberia and then south-east to cross the Bering Strait again. At the beginning of September 1778, he returned to the Bering Sea and began a journey towards the Sandwich Islands. James Cook was increasingly frustrated and most likely suffered from food poisoning. This probably led to irresponsible and unwise things to keep, such as forcing the crew to eat walnut meat.

James Cook returned to Hawaii in 1779. After circumnavigating the archipelago, which took about 8 months, he went ashore in Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawai’i, the largest island of this archipelago. The arrival of Cook coincided with Makahihi, the Hawaiian harvest festival in honor of the Polynesian god Lono. Some Hawaiians have recognized Cook as the embodiment of the god Lono. After a month’s stay, Cook wanted to continue his journey. Shortly after sailing, the ship broke down and the captain was forced to return to Hawai’i to repair the damage.

The tension between Europeans and the people of Hawaii grew. One group of natives stole a small Cook boat, while Cook tried to kidnap him for the ransom of King Hawai’i, Kalani’opu’i. The next day, February 14, 1779, Cook entered the village and took the king. One of his wives and two men begged the king not to leave, and the priest began to sing energetically, holding a coconut in his hand to distract Cook while his men gathered in the crowd. It was then that the king understood that the British captain was his enemy. When James Cook turned to help the crew launch boats, he was hit in the head and stabbed to death. It was a sad end of great explorer.


Map of the world 1720

Age of exploration

Great Age of exploration starts with improved sailing techniques and progressive development of trade in the Mediterranean Sea and open waters in 15th century. This story shows geographical discoveries and causes and effects on different cultures.

Read more