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This month we are celebrating the explorations of Captain James Cook. The following is a short biography of his notible works;

Captain James Cook is one of Great Britain’s most revered and celebrated explorers. Born on the 7th November 1728 in Marton, Yorkshire to James Cook and Grace Pace. Whilst not formally educated James Cook began his first journey towards the seas as a merchant navy apprentice plying coal from Newcastle to London along England’s coast line on board the collier, Freelove. During his three year apprenticeship Cook applied himself to studying for the education he had not gained in Algebra, Astronomy, Geometry, Trigonometry and most fondly Navigation. Passing his examinations in 1752 Cook rapidly progressed through the ranks and he was offered command of the coal brig Friendship in 1755. Within that same year Britain was re-arming for what would become the Seven Year’s war. Cook volunteered for service in the Royal Navy, prepared to restart his naval career again knowing there would be greater opportunity at sea. On the 7th June 1755 James Cook entered the Royal Navy in Wapping.

H.M.S Eagle was Cooks first ship with the Royal Navy sailing aboard her for two years he saw the capture of a French war ship and the battle and sinking of another.

Cook was then posted to the larger H.M.S. Pembroke, setting sail for Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1758. His service in North America proved to be the making of Cook. After the capture of Louisburg in late 1758, the Pembroke was part of the expedition tasked with surveying and mapping the St. Lawrence River to create an accurate chart allowing British ships to navigate safely through the area. Thus allowing General Wolfe to make his famous stealth attack during the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

In 1762 Cook returned to England to marry Elizabeth Batts, the daughter of one of Cooks former mentor, Samuel Batts. During Cook’s return to England, Admiral Lord Colville wrote to advise the admiralty of ‘Mr Cook’s genius and capacity’ and suggested he be considered for more cartography. Taking note of this in 1763 Cook was instructed to survey the 6,000 mile cost of Newfoundland.

He 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 1767. The eclipse of the Sun on 5th August 1766 allowed Cook to obtain an accurate estimate of the time of the start and finish of the eclipse, and comparing these with the timings at a known position in England it was possible to calculate the longitude of the observation site in Newfoundland.

Cooks First Voyage

On 25 May 1768, the Admiralty commissioned Cook to command a scientific voyage to the Pacific Ocean. The purpose of the voyage was to observe and record the 1769 transit of Venus across the Sun which, when combined with observations from other points, would help to determine the distance to the Sun. On 26th August 1768, a three-year-old merchant collier, formerly the Earl of Pembroke, which had been purchased, re-fitted and renamed, set sail with Cook aboard to become one of the most renown ships ever to set sail, The Endeavour.

Cook and his crew sailed down the coast of Portugal, past the West Coast of Africa across the North to the South Atlantic Ocean and successfully rounded Cape Horn continuing westward across the Pacific. The Endeavor arrived at Tahiti on 13th April 1769, where the observations of the Venus Transit were made. Once completed Cook continued with the second part of his orders from the Admiralty to search for the assumed opulent Terra Australis.

Taking with him a Tahitian aristocrat and priest, Tupaia, to help navigate the Polynesian islands, he first mapped the entire coastline of New Zealand before, on the 19th April 1770 becoming the first European expedition recorded to reach the Southern Coastline of Australia. However the crew did not make their first landfall to the mainland until 29th April, originally calling it ‘Stingray Bay’. Cook later crossed this out and aptly gave it its name of Botany Bay because of the unique specimens retrieved by the botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.

Cooks Second Voyage

In 1771 Cook was promoted to the rank of Commander and in 1772 was once again commissioned to lead an exploration to search for Terra Australis by the Royal Society, who still believed there was a greater landmass further south despite Cook’s proof of New Zealand not being attached and his extensive chartings of the Eastern Coastline proving it to be of large continental size. The expedition was to continue.

This second voyage also signified the successful occupation of Larcum Kendall's K1 copy of John Harrison's H4 marine chronometer, which enabled Cook to calculate his longitudinal position with much greater accuracy. Cook commended the time piece with much adoration. He used it to draw charts with extreme accuracy of the Pacific Ocean.

Commanding the H.M.S Resolution and Tobias Furneaux commanding the H.M.S Adventure the expedition circumnavigated the globe becoming one of the first to cross the Antarctic Circle on 17th January 1773. However in a particularly heavy fog the two ships became separated with the H.M.S Adventure returned to New Zealand before leaving their exploration for home. Cook and the crew of H.M.S Resolution continued through to reach their most southern recorded point of 71°10'S on 31st January 1774 but being low on supplies he turned his course towards Tahiti to resupply the ship. Not giving up, the H.M.S Resolution tried again to reach the fabled mainland without success. Later that same year Cook began his return voyage from New Zealand, landing at the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu.

On his continuation home Cook took possession of South Georgia for Britain, mapping and surveying the island as well as naming Clerke Rocks and the famous South Sandwich Islands. Finally departing the H.M.S Resolution in England in 1775 he put to rest many fables of Terra Australis. After being promoted to Post-Captain, Cook was given an honorary retirement from the Royal Navy. Not fully satisfied he reluctantly accepted, however in 1776 once again he volunteered, this time to join an expedition to find the North West Passage.

Cooks Third Voyage

Cook’s third and final voyage saw him return to the H.M.S Resolution whilst being accompanied by the H.M.S Discovery commanded by Captain Charles Clerke. They set sail 1776 to discover the North West Passage along the coast of North America.

Sailing across the South Indian Ocean he confirmed the location of Desolation Island, later known as Kerguelen Island, Cook wrote of Christmas Harbour where he first anchored on 25th December 1776. In January they sailed east, arriving at Van Diemen’s Land/Tasmania and Queen Charlotte’s Sound, New Zealand in early 1777. The ships stayed for nearly two weeks in New Zealand, restocking with wild celery and scurvy grass and trading with the local Maori who set up a small village in Ship Cove. Cook set off around the islands of the south Pacific, visiting the Cook Islands, Tongan Islands and Tahiti August-December 1777.

Cook visited the Hawaiian Islands, or Sandwich Islands as he named them, for the first time in 1778. In February 1778 they sailed from the Hawaiian Islands across the North Pacific to the Oregan coast of North America. The expedition travelled up the coast in bad weather until they found a safe harbour, Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island, Canada.

Leaving Nootka Sound in April 1778 H.M.S Resolution and H.M.S Discovery sailed north along the Alaskan coast looking for inlets that might lead to the Northwest Passage but they were forced to turn south. By July they had rounded the Alaskan Peninsula and were able to sail North again, visiting the Chukotskiy Peninsula, Russia, before heading out into the Bering Sea. After entering the Bering Sea on 11th August 1778, Cook crossed the Arctic Circle and went as far north as latitude 70 degrees 41’ North before being forced back by the pack ice off Icy Cape, Alaska.

On the ice all around the ships were large numbers of walruses which provided ample meat, fat and oil to fuel the lamps and the crew. Cook had to turn west and worked his way down the Russian coast, eventually heading south and east into Norton Sound, Alaska, in September 1778. After a short period spent searching for the Northwest Passage Cook realised that it was too late in the year to make any progress and so sailed for warmer winter quarters in the Hawaiian Islands, arriving there in December 1778. After circumnavigating the biggest island of Hawaii for over a month the ships finally anchored in Kealakekua Bay on 16th January 1779. The Hawaiians in over 1000 canoes came out to welcome them, the arrival of the ships coinciding with celebrations to mark the religious festival of Makahiki to the god Lono. The first relations were good on this second visit, however, relationships became strained and Cook left the island on 4th February 1779.

However on leaving Hawaii his ships ran into gales which broke a mast, forcing him to return to Kealakekua Bay for repairs on 11th February 1779. This time the native people were less friendly and stole the cutter of the H.M.S Discovery. The next day Cook went ashore with plans to take the Hawaiian king hostage pending the return of their cutter. During this attempt a fight developed after the natives refused to accept this behaviour and Cook, four of his marines and a number of natives were killed. Cook’s remains were given a funeral ritual by the islanders reserved usually only for chiefs and the highest elders, with his bones returned to his crew for a burial at sea.

His wife Elizabeth lived until 94, an extraordinary age for the time, and whilst sadly outliving all of her children and with no living grandchildren she all the while continued her husband’s legacy until her death on 13th May 1835. 

With his death on the 14th February 1779 Captain James Cook a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and Captain in the Royal Navy, had truly made his mark on the maps of the world.

                                                                                                                                                              Written by Hana Grace Remington


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