James Cook was a British naval captain, navigator, and explorer, who
explored the sea ways and coasts of Canada. He also conducted three
expeditions to the Pacific Ocean, ranging from the Antarctic ice fields to the
Bering Strait and from the coasts of North America to Australia and New
James Cook was the son of a farmhand migrant from Scotland.
While he was still a child, his father became the foreman on a farm in a
neighboring village. He showed signs of an inquiring and able mind and his
father’s employer paid for his schooling in the village until he was 12 years
old. His early teens were spent on the farm where his father worked, but a
brief apprenticeship in a general store in a coastal village north of Whitby
brought him in contact with ships and the sea. At the age of eighteen, in
1746, he was apprenticed to a well-known Quaker ship-owner, John
Walker of Whitby, and at age 21 was rated able sea-man in the Walker
collier-barks-stout, seaworthy, slow 300 and 400 tonners mainly in the
North sea trade. When the ships were laid up for refitting at Whitby during
the worst months of winter James lived ashore and studied mathematics
by night. The night Whitby barks, constantly working for North Sea waters
off a dangerous and ill-marked shore, offered James splendid practical
training. He learned his seamanship there little to fear from any other sea.
Promoted to mate in 1752, James Cook was offered command of a
bark three years later, after eight years at sea. This opened up a career
that would have satisfied the most working sea-men, but instead he
volunteered as able sea-man in the Royal Navy. The navy offered a more
interesting career for him. Tall, of striking appearance, James almost
immediately caught the attention of his superiors, and with excellent power
of command, he was marked for rapid advancement.
After advancing to master’s mate, and boatswain, both
noncommissioned ranks, he was made master of “Pembroke” at the age
of 29. During the Seven Years War between Great Britain and France he
saw action in the Bay of Biscay, was given command of a captured ship,
and took part the siege of Louisburg in Nova Scotia and in the successful
assault against Quebec. His charting and marking the more difficult
reaches of the St. Lawrence River contributed to the success of General
Wolf’s landing there. Based at Halifax during the winters, he mastered
surveying with the plane table. Between 1763 and 1768, after the war had
ended, he commanded the schooner “Grenville” while surveying the coasts
of Newfoundland, sailing most of the year and working on his charts at his
base in England during the winters. In 1766 he observed an eclipse of the
sun and sent the details to the Royal Society in London. It was an unusual
activity for a noncommissioned officer, and Cook was still rated only as
In 1768 the Royal Society, in conjunction with the Admiralty, was
organized the first scientific expedition. He was quickly commissioned as
lieutenant, and he was given a homely looking but extremely sturdy Whitby
coal-hauling bark renamed it “Endeavour,” then four years old, of just 368
tons, and less then 98 feet long. Cook’s order’s were to talk to men of the
Royal Society and their assistants to Tahiti to observe the southern
continent, the so-called Terra Australis, which was philosophers argued
must exist to balance the landmasses of the Northern Hemisphere. The e
leader of the scientists was the rich and able Joseph Banks. He was
assisted by Daniel Solander, a Swedish botanist, as well as astronomers
and artists. James Cook carried an early nautical almanac and brass
sextants, but no chronometer on the first voyage.
Striking south and southwest from Tahiti, where his predecessors
had sailed west and west-northwest with the favoring trade winds, James
found and charted all of New Zealand, a difficult job that took six months.
After that, instead of turning before the west winds for the homeward run
around Cape Horn, he crossed the Tasman Sea north along its 2,000 mile
eastern coast, surveying as he went, James successfully navigated
Queensland Great Barrier Reef, since recognized as one of the greatest
navigational hazards in the world, taking the Coral Sea and the Torres
Strait in his stride. Once the bark touched on a coral spur by night, but it
took the impact and was refloated. After the “Endavour” was grounded on
the nearby Queensland coast and repaired, James Cook sailed it back to
England. He stopped shortly at Batavia for supplies, and, although the