"The man who wants to lead the orchestra
must turn his back on the crowd."
James Cook was born on October 27, 1728 in Marton, (near modern Middleborough), Yorkshire, Britain. Cook commanded three voyages of discovery for Great Britain, and sailed around the world twice. He was the first British ship commander to circumnavigate the globe in a lone ship. Cook was also the first British commander to prevent the outbreak of scurvy by regulating his crew’s diet, serving them citrus fruit and sauerkraut to prevent the disease. He is considered one of the world’s greatest explorers.
Cook was an apprentice to a shipping company at age 15, and joined the British Navy in 1755 aged 27. In 1768, the British Admiralty appointed Cook, then a Lieutenant, to lead a scientific expedition that would sail to the island of Tahiti in the South Pacific to establish an astronomical observatory. Their mission was to measure an eclipse of the sun by Venus. The Admiralty selected Cook because of his proven skills as a navigator, and for his interest in astronomy.
He set out on August 12, 1768 in His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour, arriving in Tahiti on April 13, 1769. On June 3, 1769, Cook successfully measured the time it took Venus to transit the sun, and by doing so obtained data that would help scientists to accurately determine the size of the solar system. Cook was also issued secret orders to seek the great southern continent Terres Australes Incognita, or unknown lands in the south that geographers long believed kept the world in balance. In Cook’s day, the discovery of new lands often lead to great wealth for the nation claiming those lands. His orders were secret because the Admiralty did not want Britain’s international competitors to know about this aspect of Cook’s expedition. Cook searched for Terres Australes to no avail, determining that no such great continent existed.
In October 1769, he was the first European to land on New Zealand. The Islands were sighted previously by Dutch Captain Able Tasman in 1642, 127 years before Cook’s landing. New Zealand is named after the Dutch province of Zeelandt (meaning Sea Land). In 1770, Cook conducted a comprehensive survey of the eastern coast of New Holland (now Australia), the part of the continent the Dutch had not technically mapped. On August 22, 1770, he claimed those lands for Great Britain. The name Australia was not used until the early 1800s. On Cook’s second journey he sailed farther south than any other European. He circled Antarctica in his famous ship Resolution, but the ice surrounding the continent prevented the sighting of land. The existence of Antarctica remained unproved until 1840.
Upon his return to England in 1775, Cook was promoted to Captain and elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. In July of 1776, Cook set sail on his third voyage, again in Resolution. His mission was to look for a possible northern sea route between Europe and Asia. In 1778, Cook became the first know European to reach the Hawaiian Islands.
Later in 1778, he sailed up the northwest coast of North America, and was the first European to land on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. He continued up the coast through the Bering Strait, and entered the Arctic Ocean. Great walls of ice blocked the expedition, so Cook headed back to the Hawaiian Islands.
On February 14, 1779, Cook was stabbed to death by Hawaiian natives while investigating a theft of a boat by an islander. The expedition arrived back in England in October of 1780.
The accounts of his sea journeys are recorded in The Voyages of Captain Cook.