James Cook

James Cook
Captainjamescookportrait.jpg
Born7 November [O.S. 27 October] 1728
Marton, Yorkshire, England
Died14 February 1779(1779-02-14) (aged 50)
Cause of deathStab wound
NationalityBritish
EducationPostgate School, Great Ayton
OccupationExplorer, navigator, cartographer
TitleCaptain (Royal Navy)
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Batts
Children6
Parent(s)James Cook
Grace Pace
Signature
James Cook Signature.svg

James Cook FRS (7 November 1728[NB 1] – 14 February 1779) was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the British Royal Navy. He made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

Cook joined the British merchant navy as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. He saw action in the Seven Years' War and subsequently surveyed and mapped much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege of Quebec, which brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society. This acclaim came at a crucial moment in his career and the direction of British overseas exploration, and led to his commission in 1766 as commander of HM Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages.

In these voyages, Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe. He mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously charted by Western explorers. He surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time. He displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage, and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.

Cook was attacked and killed in 1779 during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific while attempting to kidnap the Island of Hawaii's monarch, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, in order to reclaim a cutter stolen from one of his ships. He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge that influenced his successors well into the 20th century, and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.

Early life and family

James Cook was born on 7 November 1728 (NS) in the village of Marton in Yorkshire and baptised on 14 November (N.S.) in the parish church of St Cuthbert, where his name can be seen in the church register.[1][2] He was the second of eight children of James Cook (1693–1779), a Scottish farm labourer from Ednam in Roxburghshire, and his locally born wife, Grace Pace (1702–1765), from Thornaby-on-Tees.[1][3][4] In 1736, his family moved to Airey Holme farm at Great Ayton, where his father's employer, Thomas Skottowe, paid for him to attend the local school. In 1741, after five years' schooling, he began work for his father, who had been promoted to farm manager. Despite not being formally educated he became capable in mathematics, astronomy and charting by the time of his Endeavour voyage.[5] For leisure, he would climb a nearby hill, Roseberry Topping, enjoying the opportunity for solitude.[6] Cooks' Cottage, his parents' last home, which he is likely to have visited, is now in Melbourne, Australia, having been moved from England and reassembled, brick by brick, in 1934.[7]

In 1745, when he was 16, Cook moved 20 miles (32 km) to the fishing village of Staithes, to be apprenticed as a shop boy to grocer and haberdasher William Sanderson.[1] Historians have speculated that this is where Cook first felt the lure of the sea while gazing out of the shop window.[4]

After 18 months, not proving suited for shop work, Cook travelled to the nearby port town of Whitby to be introduced to friends of Sanderson's, John and Henry Walker.[7] The Walkers, who were Quakers, were prominent local ship-owners in the coal trade. Their house is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. Cook was taken on as a merchant navy apprentice in their small fleet of vessels, plying coal along the English coast. His first assignment was aboard the collier Freelove, and he spent several years on this and various other coasters, sailing between the Tyne and London. As part of his apprenticeship, Cook applied himself to the study of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation and astronomy—all skills he would need one day to command his own ship.[4]

Elizabeth Cook, by William Henderson, 1830

His three-year apprenticeship completed, Cook began working on trading ships in the Baltic Sea. After passing his examinations in 1752, he soon progressed through the merchant navy ranks, starting with his promotion in that year to mate aboard the collier brig Friendship.[8] In 1755, within a month of being offered command of this vessel, he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy, when Britain was re-arming for what was to become the Seven Years' War. Despite the need to start back at the bottom of the naval hierarchy, Cook realised his career would advance more quickly in military service and entered the Navy at Wapping on 17 June 1755.[9]

Cook married Elizabeth Batts, the daughter of Samuel Batts, keeper of the Bell Inn in Wapping[10] and one of his mentors, on 21 December 1762 at St Margaret's Church, Barking, Essex.[11] The couple had six children: James (1763–1794), Nathaniel (1764–1780, lost aboard HMS Thunderer which foundered with all hands in a hurricane in the West Indies), Elizabeth (1767–1771), Joseph (1768–1768), George (1772–1772) and Hugh (1776–1793, who died of scarlet fever while a student at Christ's College, Cambridge). When not at sea, Cook lived in the East End of London. He attended St Paul's Church, Shadwell, where his son James was baptised. Cook has no direct descendants—all of his children died before having children of their own.[12]