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James Cook
(October 27, 1728 – February 14, 1779)

 

 


Birth

Cook was born 7 November 1728 in the village of Marton in Yorkshire.

He was baptised in the local church of St. Cuthbert, where his name can be seen in the church register

Early Years

He was the second of eight children of James Cook, a Scottish farm labourer from Ednam near Kelso, and his locally born wife, Grace Pace, from Thornaby-on-Tees.

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 by now been promoted to farm manager.

For leisure, he would climb a nearby hill, Roseberry Topping, enjoying the opportunity for solitude.

In 1745, when he was 16, Cook moved 20 miles (32 km) to the fishing village of Staithes where he was apprenticed as a shop boy to grocer and haberdasher William Sanderson.

Navy Career

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.

This helped bring Cook to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society which came at a crucial moment in both Cook's 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 three 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 achieved.

As he progressed on his voyages of discovery 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.

Married

Cook married Elizabeth Batts (1742–1835), the daughter of Samuel Batts, keeper of the Bell Inn, Wapping and one of his mentors, on 21 December 1762 at St. Margaret's Church in Barking, Essex.

The couple had six children: James (1763–94), Nathaniel (1764–81), Elizabeth (1767–71), Joseph (1768–68), George (1772–72) and Hugh (1776–93).

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 his children either pre-deceased him or died without having children of their own.

Australia

In 1766, the Royal Society engaged Cook to travel to the Pacific Ocean to observe and record the transit of Venus across the Sun.

At the age of 39 Cook was promoted to lieutenant and named as commander of the expedition.

The expedition sailed from England in 1768, rounded Cape Horn and continued westward across the Pacific to arrive at Tahiti on 13 April 1769, where the observations of the Venus Transit were made

The result of the observations was not as conclusive or accurate as had been hoped.

Once the observations were completed, Cook opened the sealed orders which were additional instructions from the Admiralty for the second part of his voyage: to search the south Pacific for the southern continent of Terra Australis.

Cook then sailed to New Zealand and mapped the complete coastline, making only some minor errors and then travelled west, reaching the south-eastern coast of Australia on 19 April 1770, and in doing so his expedition became the first recorded Europeans to have encountered its eastern coastline.

On 23 April he made his first recorded direct observation of indigenous Australians at Brush Island near Bawley Point, noting in his journal: "...and were so near the Shore as to distinguish several people upon the Sea beach they appear'd to be of a very dark or black Colour but whether this was the real colour of their skins or the Clothes they might have on I know not."

On 29 April Cook and crew made their first landfall on the mainland of the continent at a place now known as the Kurnell Peninsula, which he named Botany Bay (after the unique specimens retrieved by the botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander).

It is here that James Cook made first contact with an Aboriginal tribe known as the Gweagal.

After his departure from Botany Bay he continued northwards on 11 June the Endeavour ran aground on a shoal of the Great Barrier Reef.

She was "nursed into a river mouth on 18 June 1770.".

The ship was badly damaged and his voyage was delayed almost seven weeks while repairs were carried out on the beach (near the docks of modern Cooktown, at the mouth of the Endeavour River).

Once repairs were complete the voyage continued, sailing through Torres Strait and on 22 August he landed on Possession Island, where he claimed the entire coastline he had just explored as British territory.

He returned to England via Batavia (modern Jakarta, Indonesia), where many in his crew succumbed to malaria, the Cape of Good Hope and the island of Saint Helena, arriving on 12 July 1771.

Death Cook was killed in Hawaii in a fight with Hawaiians during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific in 1779.


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