Captain James Cook - An Introduction

Detail of a portrait of James Cook by Nathaniel Dance

Capt. James Cook was the greatest explorer of our planet. In three epic voyages (1768-1771, 1772-1775, 1776-1780) he discovered more of this planet's surface than any other man. He discovered the eastern coast of Australia, nearly every major island group in the Pacific, circumnavigated the Antarctic and visted the Arctic through the Bering Straits. He also charted the coasts he visited with an accuracy never seen before - his charts are still the foundation of modern charts.

Australia has a sailing replica of H.M.S. Endeavour

He sailed with H.M.S. Endeavour (first voyage) and H.M.S. Resolution (second and third voyages) - both former Whitby colliers. He proved his theories regarding hygiene, in a time when ship's crews were often decimated by illness, revolutionizing shipboard health for the future.

Capt. Cook's Signature

This extraordinary man had humble origins, becoming a merchant ship's master at a late age. He then joined the Royal Navy, and was chosen to chart the Saint Lawrence River and the rugged coast of Newfoundland. He was unknown outside of the Navy when the British Admiralty placed him in command of a small scientific expedition, to recently discovered Tahiti, to observe a transit of the planet Venus. He was accompanied by the amateur scientist Sir Joseph Banks, who became an important factor in the development from the sailor James Cook, to the scientific discoverer James Cook.

Sir Joseph Banks - detail from later portrait

The subsequent publication of the journals of this voyage made Cook one of the most famous men of his time. Because of this reputation he was awarded the first modern scientific exploratory missions for his next two voyages. These missions were designed for Cook. He now had the will and the means to seek out every uncharted area in the oceans of the world, and prove or disprove the discoveries of others who had discovered, or claimed to have discovered, new lands by chance. During the course of these voyages he gathered scientific data on the people, and the flora and fauna of every new land he visited. He was killed, tragically, by the natives of the island of Hawaii, which he discovered. This was ironic, in the light of his, unusal in his contemporary world, considerate treatment of the natives of all lands he visited.

The death of Capt. Cook on Hawaii

A Profile of Capt. James Cook (Left) and a painting of his ship the H.M.S. Resolution (Right) from his second and third voyages (by Herb Kane)

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