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James Cook

James Cook

The English explorer, navigator, and cartographer James Cook (1728-1779) is famous for his voyages in the Pacific Ocean and his accurate mapping of it, as well as for his application of scientific methods to exploration.

James Cook was born in Yorkshire on Oct. 27, 1728, into a poor family. At the age of 18 he found employment with a shipowner in his native village of Whitby and made several voyages to the Baltic Sea. When the Anglo-French war broke out in 1755, he enlisted in the Royal Navy and saw service on the Eagle as an able-bodied seaman. In a month's time he was promoted to master's mate and 4 years later to master. In 1759 he also received command of a ship and took it to Canada, where he joined the operations in the St. Lawrence River. He performed well enough so that the senior officer of the British fleet put him in command of the flagship.

After the war ended in 1763, Cook was given a schooner, Grenville, and was charged with surveying the coasts of Newfoundland, Labrador, and Nova Scotia. For 4 years he sailed up and down these coasts, and when the task was done his findings were of such importance and usefulness that the government had them published.

First Voyage

Upon his return to England in 1767, Cook found the British Admiralty planning to send a ship to the Pacific Ocean to observe the transit of Venus and also to explore new lands in that area. Cook was picked to command the vessel, and on Aug. 26, 1768, in the Endeavour he left Plymouth, accompanied by an astronomer, two botanists, a landscape artist, and a painter of natural history. Sailing south and west, he touched the Madeira, Canary, and Cape Verde islands, then went to Rio de Janeiro, rounded Cape Horn into the Pacific, and reached Tahiti on April 13, 1769. On June 3 the transit of Venus was observed, and on July 13 he left the place.

Arriving at New Zealand on October 7, Cook set about at once to make an accurate chart of the waters of the two islands; it took him 6 months. He then sailed along the east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales and for which he claimed possession in the name of the king. He sailed on through the strait separating Australia from New Guinea, to Java, around the Cape of Good Hope, and reached England on June 12, 1771. In recognition of his achievements—circumnavigating the globe, charting new waters, and discovering new land—he was promoted from lieutenant to commander.

Second Voyage

One year later Cook stood ready for a second voyage, this time to verify the report of the existence of a great southern continent. On July 13, 1772, he left Plymouth in the Resolution and, accompanied by another vessel, Adventure, sailed southward along the African coast and around the Cape of Good Hope, crossing the Antarctic Circle in January 1773. Finding no great southern continent, he pointed his ship toward New Zealand. This was the starting point for a long cruise in the South Pacific, as he explored the New Hebrides, charted Easter Island and the Marquesas, visited Tahiti and Tonga, and discovered New Caledonia and the islands of Palmerston, Norfolk, and Niue. In January 1775 he was on his way back to England by way of Cape Horn, reaching home on July 29. Thus Cook completed his second Pacific voyage, once again having made a significant contribution by his mapping and charting and his explorations and discoveries.

To those accomplishments Cook added one in nautical medicine, for he had proved that a crew, if properly fed, could make a long voyage without ill effects. He lost only 1 man to disease out of a crew of 118. This feat won him the Copley Gold Medal of the Royal Society and election as a fellow of that distinguished scientific and philosophic association.

Third Voyage

Then came the third and last voyage of Cook's life. Advanced to captain in August 1775, he was now given command of a new expedition to the northern Pacific to search for a passage around North America to the Atlantic Ocean. Once again the great seaman sailed in the Resolution, with another vessel, Discovery, leaving Plymouth on July 12, 1776. He went down the African coast, around the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, to New Zealand (which he reached in March 1777), northward to Tahiti and to an island sighted on Christmas Eve and named for the occasion, then to the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, reaching in February 1778 the coast of North America at 44°55□ (present Oregon). He continued northward along the coast to the Bering Sea and through the Bering Strait to the Arctic, but no northern passage could be found. He turned southward to Hawaii for much-needed repairs, fresh supplies, and sunshine in preparation for a return to northern Pacific waters.

But, as fate would have it, Cook did not live to continue the voyage. On Feb. 14, 1779, he was stabbed to death in a skirmish with some natives. Where he fell, an obelisk later would be erected but, as one of his biographers noted, his true monument was the map of the Pacific Ocean.

Further Reading

The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery, edited by J.C. Beaglehole (3 vols., 1955-1967), is an invaluable source. The best biography of Cook is Allan Villiers, Captain Cook, a Seaman's Seaman: A Study of the Great Discoverer (1967). See also Hugh Carrington, Life of Captain Cook (1939); John Reid Muir, The Life and Achievements of Captain James Cook (1939); Christopher Lloyd, Captain Cook (1952); and R.W. Cameron, The Golden Haze: With Captain Cook in the South Pacific (1964). More general works are J.C. Beaglehole, The Exploration of the Pacific (1934; 3d ed. 1966); Ian Cameron, Lodestone and Evening Star: The Epic Voyages of Discovery, 1493 B.C.-1896 A.D. (1966); and Alan Moorehead, The Fatal Impact: An Account of the Invasion of the South Pacific, 1767-1840 (1966). □

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Cook, James (1728-1779)

Cook, James (1728-1779)

English explorer

James Cook was one of the foremost figures of the Age of Exploration. During his career, Cook circumnavigated the globe twice, and captained three voyages of discovery for England. Cook made significant contributions to the fields of surveying, cartography , advanced mathematics, astronomy , and navigation. The detailed records of his voyages and contacts with various native peoples are considered the first anthropological survey of the Pacific islands, Australia , and New Zealand. Cook's voyages sparked European and American interest in Pacific colonization.

James Cook was born in Marton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, England. As a youth, he received a modest education, but was a dedicated self-study of mathematics, surveying, and cartography. Cook was apprenticed to a small shop owner, but later left his apprenticeship to join a merchant collier fleet at Whitby. Cook earned his mate's certificate, but his merchant career was cut short by his decision to enlist with the Royal Navy in 1755 at the outbreak of the Seven Year's War (also known as the French and Indian War, 17561763).

Cook was sent to America in 1756 as not only seaman, but as a cartographer. His first charge was to conduct soundings and draw charts of the St. Lawrence River. Cook's charts were later used by British forces for their attack on Quebec. He was next named surveyor of New Foundland and carried out that project until 1767. Cook's maps were so precise that many were used for a century.

As the Cook gained renown for his cartography, he also submitted papers to the Royal Academy on astronomical observation and navigation. His work on determining location using the moon commanded the attention of not only scholars, but also the British government. In 1766, Cook was appointed to command an expedition to the Pacific, the first of three great voyages. The stated purpose of Cook's Pacific expedition was to observe and document the transit of Venus across the Sun during an eclipse on June 3, 1779, as part of a scientific endeavor to calculate the distance from Earth to the Sun. At the completion of that task, Cook continued to record significant discoveries. In the South Pacific, he discovered and named the Society Islands. Cook then sailed to New Zealand, which he reported upon favorably as a potential site for British colonization despite the lack of domesticated animals. Venturing from New Zealand, Cook sailed to the eastern coast of Australia and charted the coastline before claiming the land for Britain. On the return voyage, Cook's crew was stricken with disease, a common occurrence at sea then. One-third of his crew died from malarial fever, scurvy, and dysentery.

Cook was scarcely back in Britain for a year before he received his next appointment. He was granted two ships, the Adventure and the Resolution, and sent back to the Pacific to further complete the exploration of the Southern Hemisphere. Cook was charged with finding a southern continent, which was thought to exist in the extreme South Pacific; the mysterious continent was supposed to be temperate with fertile land. Cook left Britain in 1772 and sailed for the extreme southern Atlantic. Pushing his way through freezing temperatures and ice flows, cook sailed along the edge of Antarctica . The frozen Antarctic was certainly not the fabled southern continent. Cook's circumnavigation of the southern Pole put an end to the legend. Cook again stopped in New Zealand, this time introducing some European plants and domestic animals into the indigenous landscape. He discovered, charted, and named several more islands as he finished his journey.

On his second voyage, Cook also made pioneering provisions for his crew. To avoid the scourge of disease that had plagued the second half of his first voyage, Cook brought an ample supply of lemons aboard and served sauerkraut to the crew in an attempt to ward off scurvy and fevers. The experiment worked; Cook lost only one crewman to disease.

Cook embarked on his third and final voyage in 1776. Instead of returning to the South Pacific, Cook turned his efforts to the Pacific coast of North America in search of a northern passage that connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans . He created detailed maps of the Pacific Coast that were used on later expeditions, including the Lewis and Clark expedition. However, Cook failed to locate the Columbia River and thought that Victoria Island was part of the mainland. Despite these flaws in his cartography, Cook's expedition, and his records of contact with various native peoples who possessed great natural resources, created a new interest in trade and settlement in the Pacific Northwest.

As Cook ventured to the North American Coast, he discovered present-day Hawaii, which he dubbed the Sandwich Islands, in March of 1778. Cook enjoyed a record of very amicable relationships with the native peoples he encountered on his expeditions. His initial contact with the peoples of the Sandwich Islands were no exception; after a time however, Cook felt that relations were beginning to sour so he pulled up anchor and sailed away. Two days later, the foremast of the Resolution snapped and Cook returned to the Sandwich Islands. The native population grew increasingly hostile and stole one of Cook's cutters. In retaliation, Cook took the tribal chief hostage in order to facilitate an exchange. In the ensuing commotion, a shot was fired and the natives threw stones, attacking Cook and his crew. Cook died in the altercation at the age of 51.

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Cook, James

Cook, James

(b. Marton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, England, 27 October 1728; d. Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, 14 February 1779),

maritime discovery.

The son of James Cook, a farm laborer from Scotland, and his Yorkshire wife, Grace Pace, Cook inherited a vigorous constitution and mind; and although his formal education was only elementary, in 1776 he became a fellow of the Royal Society. He married Elizabeth Batts, of Shadwell, in 1762; only one of their six children survived to maturity.

Cook was apprenticed to John Walker, a Whitby shipowner, at the age of seventeen. His training under the arduous conditions of the North Sea, combined with his natural capacity, made him a first-rate seaman and practical navigator; and in 1755 Walker offered him the command of a ship. Cook, however, preferred to volunteer into the navy as an able seaman. Rapidly promoted master of the sixty-four-gun Pembroke, and transferred to the flagship Northumberland an the American station in 1759, he was active in surveying the St. Lawrence River before the fall of Quebec and then in further survey work; he learned much from Samuel Holland, the distinguished military surveyor, and assiduously studied the mathematics of navigation. Cook’s ability led to his appointment in 1763 to carry out a detailed survey of Newfoundland. His charts were favorably noticed by the Admiralty, and his observation of an eclipse of the sun by the Royal Society; so that when a commander was needed for the expedition to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus (3 June 1769), Cook seemed an excellent choice.

He sailed in the Endeavour in July 1768, entering the Pacific around Cape Horn and arriving in Tahiti in April 1769. Besides observing the transit, he charted the Society and other islands. In August he sailed south to carry out secret instructions: to search for a continent down to latitude 40° south and, if none was found, to go to New Zealand (discovered by Tasman in 1642); he was then to return by whatever route he thought best. The result was a masterly circumnavigation and charting of New Zealand, the discovery and charting of the whole east coast of Australia, and the rediscovery of Torres Strait. After refitting at Batavia, Java, Cook reached England in July 1771. The harvest of this voyage, in geographical, ethnological, and botanical knowledge (Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander were natural history observers), was enormous; its conduct was so brilliant that the Admiralty resolved to send Cook out again on a plan of his own suggestion: to answer finally the question whether or not there was a continent in the Southern Hemisphere.

This Cook did with the ships Resolution and Adventure, in perhaps the most remarkable voyage ever carried out (July 1772–July 1775). Plunging south from the Cape of Good Hope and sailing east, he circumnavigated the world, utterly destroying the ancient hypothesis of a great southern continent, and reached latitude 71° 10′ south. Using New Zealand and Tahiti as bases for the recruitment of his men, in the warmer latitudes he made new and coordinated old discoveries—among them Easter Island, Tonga, the Marquesas, the New Hebrides, and New Caledonia; finally, he charted part of Tierra del Fuego, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich group. He returned to England without having a single man on the Resolution die of the dread scurvy, an astonishing achievement. This voyage was also remarkable for its proof of the chronometer’s utility as a navigational instrument.

Cook, promoted post-captain, spent a year writing an account of this voyage and preparing for a third, which he had volunteered to lead. It was to explore the possibility of a northwest passage through America, working from the Pacific coast. He sailed in July 1776 with the Resolution and Discovery called at the Cape of Good Hope and New Zealand, and, because of contrary winds, spent some months at Tonga and Tahiti before reaching the North American coast in March 1778—discovering Hawaii on the way. He traced this coast into the Bering Sea and then through Bering Strait, until he was stopped by vast ice fields at 70° 10′N. Before a second attempt he returned to winter in Hawaii. Here he was killed while attempting to recover a stolen ship’s boat, an ironic end for a man so humane to the peoples he discovered. Cook was also humane as a commander—his conquest of scurvy at sea would alone have made him famous—a consummate planner of voyages as well as a practical seaman, observer, marine surveyor, and hydrographer. His contribution to knowledge of the Pacific Ocean, in terms of geography, natural history, and ethnology, was correspondingly immense.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Workes. The only work that can justly be reckoned as from Cook’s own hind is A Voyage Towards the South Pole, and Round the World. Performed in His Majesty’s Ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the Years 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775, John Douglas, ed., 2 vols. (London, 1777). The eighteenth-century accounts of Cook’s voyages, from his own journals, have been superseded by the Hakluyt Society’s ed. of The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery, J. C. Beaglehole, ed., 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1955–1967).

II. Secondary Literature. The standard life is Arthur Kitson, Captain James Cook (London, 1907). Smaller good biographies are Hugh Carrington, The Life of Captain Cook (London, 1939); and James A. Williamson, Cook and the Opening of the Pacific (London, 1946). See also Maurice Holmes, Captain James Cook, R.N., F. R. S. A Bibliographical Excursion (London, 1952).

J. C. Beaglehole

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Cook, James

Cook, James 1728-1779

BIBLIOGRAPHY

James Cook became one of the most famous eighteenth-century British navigators and cartographers. Cook was born into a farming family in north Yorkshire. At age thirteen, Cooks father sent him to apprentice with a local shopkeeper. According to mythology, the young Cook spent most of his time staring out the shops window at the sea. Whether true or not, the shopkeeper declared Cook ill-suited for that profession. He then became an apprentice in the merchant navy, where he learned navigation and astronomy.

As Britain prepared for war with France, Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755. During the French and Indian War (17551763), the young sailor earned a reputation for his accuracy in cartography. In 1759 Cook surveyed and piloted the British fleet through the St. Lawrence River. During the critical battle over Quebec, the Plains of Abraham, the British commander depended on Cooks maps of the St. Lawrence River to devise his winning strategy.

After the war, Cook embarked on an often dangerous mission to map the jagged coastline of Newfoundland. The treacherous and unknown elements of the Newfoundland coast challenged both Cooks seamanship and charting abilities. By 1767, however, he produced a remarkably accurate map of Britains newly acquired territory. The Newfoundland charting mission brought Cook to the attention of British Admiralty and the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Society.

Between 1768 and 1779, Cook conducted three extensive navigation missions through the Pacific Ocean. The British Admiralty expected the expedition to locate and chart the Australian continent. During his first voyage, Cook, commanding the HMS Endeavor, became the second known European to land on New Zealand and the first European to explore and chart Australias eastern coastline. A group of Aborigine inhabitants attempted to prevent the intruders from landing as the British vessel dropped anchor in Botany Bay. The British sailors used their guns to force the warriors to retreat, making the first encounter between Europeans and Aborigines a hostile one. As Cook sailed further north along the coast, his ship struck the Great Barrier Reef. His crew needed to spend several weeks repairing the vessel. During this time, Cook established fairly cordial relations with the surrounding indigenous groups. After publishing the journals from his first journey (17681771), he gained a certain level of notoriety in Britain.

Only two months after his first mission, Cook departed for his second major journey (17721775). He piloted the HMS Resolution and circumnavigated the globe along a southern latitude. He charted South Georgia, Easter Island, Vanuatu, and numerous other islands. This journey resulted in more tense encounters with indigenous populations. Some of Cooks men lost their lives in skirmishes with New Zealands Maori populations.

During Cooks last major expedition (17761779), he became the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands. Cook initially named these Pacific islands the Sandwich Islands after his benefactor, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. The Polynesian inhabitants, who happened to be celebrating an important religious ritual, greeted Cook with great reverence during their first encounter. This goodwill, however, did not last. On Cooks second trip to Hawaii, his men engaged in a bloody battle after the local population stole one of their smaller boats. During the conflict, the inhabitants stabbed and bludgeoned Cook to death.

Cooks name still has great currency and one can find many monuments in his honor throughout the globe. He also has several universities and other educational facilities named in his honor.

SEE ALSO Colonialism; Cultural Group Selection; Exploitation; Gaze, Colonial; Imperialism; Natives; Travel and Travel Writing

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Beaglehole, J. C. 1974. The Life of Captain James Cook. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Obeyesekere, Gananath. 1997. The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Smith, Bernard. 1992. Imagining the Pacific: In the Wake of the Cook Voyages. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Anthony P. Mora

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Cook, James

Cook, James (1728–79). Usually referred to as Captain Cook, he was arguably the greatest ever maritime explorer. Though not a great innovative scientist, he had ‘the genius of the matter of fact’ and a ‘controlled imagination’. He established much of the basic geography of Australasia and the Pacific region, disposed of the myth of the southern continent, and, perhaps largely by accident, learned how to keep his men free of scurvy. Not by accident, he used Harrison's chronometer and lunar distances to calculate longitudes accurately. A brilliant hydrographical surveyor and navigator, he was also a great seaman and leader, behaving sensibly and honourably equally towards scientists like Banks accompanying his expeditions, towards his crews, or the non-Europeans he encountered.

Cook was born in Yorkshire and apprenticed to a Whitby shipowner when he developed his ‘passionately professional’ approach to managing ships and their crews as well as learning navigation. In 1755 he entered the Royal Navy. Soon, his charts helped General Wolfe up the St Lawrence and he also surveyed Newfoundland's coasts. Recognized as an expert navigator, he was chosen leader of the expedition in the Endeavour which took scientists to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus between earth and sun in 1769. He also sought the reputed southern continent, circumnavigated the New Zealand islands, and explored the whole eastern coast of Australia. The results of this 1768–71 voyage added more reliable information about the Pacific than ever before. In the Resolution in 1772–5, Cook finally disproved the southern continent by sailing round Antarctica but also discovered Tonga and the New Hebrides. A third major expedition in 1776–9 was to the North Pacific to find the end of the North-West Passage. Of course he did not, though he sailed through the Bering Strait, but he did discover the Hawaiian Islands, where on a second visit he lost his life in a fracas with some natives over a stolen boat.

Roy C. Bridges

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Cook, James

James Cook, 1728–79, English explorer and navigator. The son of a Yorkshire agricultural laborer, he had little formal education. After an apprenticeship to a firm of shipowners at Whitby, he joined (1755) the royal navy and surveyed the St. Lawrence Channel (1760) and the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador (1763–67). Cook was then given command of the Endeavour and sailed (1768) on an expedition to chart the transit of Venus; he returned to England in 1771, having also circumnavigated the globe and explored the coasts of New Zealand, which he accurately charted for the first time, and E Australia.

Cook next commanded (1772–75) an expedition to the South Pacific of two ships, the Resolution and the Adventure. On this voyage he disproved the rumor of a great southern continent, explored the Antarctic Ocean and the New Hebrides, visited New Caledonia, and by the observance of strict diet and hygiene prevented scurvy, heretofore the scourge of long voyages. Cook sailed again in 1776; in 1778 he visited and named the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and unsuccessfully searched the coast of NW North America for a Northwest Passage. On the return voyage he was killed by natives on the island of Hawaii. During the course of his journeys Cook visited about ten major Pacific island groups and more than 40 individual islands, also making first European contact with a wide variety of indigenous peoples.

See the definitive edition of his journals, ed. by J. C. Beaglehole (4 vol. and portfolio, repr. 1999); selections from his journals, ed. by A. G. Price (1958, repr. 1969); biographies by A. Villiers (1967), J. C. Beaglehole (1974), R. Hough (1995), and F. McLynn (2011); A. Moorehead, The Fatal Impact (1966); H. Zimmerman, The Third Voyage of Captain Cook (1988); L. Withey, Voyages of Discovery (1989); G. Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook (1992); N. Thomas, Cook (2003); G. Blainey, Sea of Dangers (2009).

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Cook, James

Cook, James (1728–79) British naval officer and explorer. He demonstrated his remarkable navigational talent charting the approaches to Québec during the Seven Years' War. In 1768–71, he led an expedition to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus and investigate the strategic and economic potential of the South Pacific. This accomplished, he conducted a survey of the unknown coasts of New Zealand and charted the e coast of Australia, naming it New South Wales and claiming it for Britain. On a second expedition to the s Pacific (1772–75), Cook charted much of the Southern Hemisphere and circumnavigated Antarctica. On his last voyage (1776–79), he discovered the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands, where he was killed in a dispute with the inhabitants. Cook is generally regarded as the greatest European explorer of the Pacific in the 18th century.

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Cook, James

Cook, James (1728–1779) A navigator, surveyor and explorer, who captained three expeditions to the Pacific between 1768 and 1779. He surveyed the coasts of New Zealand and eastern Australia, and explored part of the seaboard of Antarctica. He was able to show that the supposed ‘Great Southern Continent’ did not exist.

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James Cook

James Cook

1728-1779

Navigator and cartographer

Sources

Love of the Sea. The renowned navigator James Cook was born in Marton-in-Cleveland in Yorkshire on 27 October 1728. He was the second of the seven children of James Cook, an agricultural laborer, and his wife, Grace Pace. The Cooks were not able to afford to pay for an extended education for their children, but their employer funded young James Cook’s basic education at Postgate school in Great Ayton, Yorkshire. After completing school, James Cook was apprenticed to a haberdasher in the small north Yorkshire fishing port of Staithes. Cook disliked shop work, finding his only pleasure watching the sea and fishing boats that plied Yorkshire’s coastal waters. In July 1746, at the age of seventeen, Cook left Staithes for a new apprenticeship with the Walker family, shipowners, at the port of Whitby. Cook served his apprenticeship on colliers—large, slow-moving ships of three hundred to four hundred tons—in the North Sea, the type of ship that he would later use on his Pacific voyages. Cook quickly became a skilled sailor and devoted his spare time to the study of mathematics and cartography. By 1749 he was an able seaman. In 1752 he was promoted to mate, and in 1755 he was offered command of a Whitby-based collier. Despite this rapid advancement, Cook turned his back on private shipping when he volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1755, serving initially on the sixty-gun ship Eagle in the English Channel. Within two years he had risen to the position of master, and in 1757 he was shifted to the Pembroke, a sixty-four-gun ship, which was sent to support the war effort against the French in North America. During his service off the Atlantic coast of North America, Cook refined his navigational skills and learned the techniques of trigonometrical surveying under the supervision of Samuel Holland, a well-respected military surveyor. Cook’s fine draftsmanship and the accuracy of his maps resulted in his appointment by the navy to the newly created position of the Surveyor of Newfoundland in 1763. For five years he commanded the schooner Grenville, producing detailed charts of Canada’s Atlantic coasts and navigable waterways. This work won him influential patrons, including Sir Hugh Palliser, the governor of Newfoundland, and also attracted the attention of Britain’s leading learned body, the Royal Society of London.

First Pacific Voyage. These connections bore immediate fruit. In February 1768, while Cook was still in Newfound-land, the Royal Society petitioned the British government to send observers to the Southern Hemisphere to view the passage of the planet Venus across the disc of the sun, in the hope it would help astronomers fix the exact distance of the Earth from the Sun. The government backed this proposal, and in April 1768 they appointed Cook, whose skills as a naval officer, astronomer, and cartographer were ideally suited to this mission, to lead this scientific expedition. Cook was to command the Endeavour, a renovated collier, on a voyage to the Pacific Ocean, where he would observe the transit of Venus in Tahiti, and to search for evidence of Terra Australia Incognita, the fabled southern continent. After rounding Cape Horn, the Endeavour spent four months in Tahiti before sailing south. He sighted New Zealand in October 1769. After a circumnavigation of New Zealand, Cook headed for the east coast of Australia in April 1770. He charted its coastline as the Endeavour made its way north to Jakarta. He eventually reached Britain in July 1771.

Second Pacific Voyage. Exactly one year later, Cook again set out for Terra Australis Incognita. This time he commanded the Resolution, while Tobias Furneaux commanded the Adventure. Cook crisscrossed the Pacific, pushing deeply toward Antarctica and refining his survey of New Zealand in addition to producing detailed maps of the central Pacific. On his return to Britain, Cook published Journal of the Resolution’s Voyage, in 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775 (1775), a detailed summation of the second voyage, which established him as a careful naturalist and important ethnographic observer.

Third Pacific Voyage. Cook’s third and final voyage was a search for another geographical phantom, an easily navigable Northwest Passage that supposedly linked the Atlantic and the Pacific. Cook left Plymouth in July 1776 with two ships under his command, the Resolution and the Discovery. After sailing via the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, Cook again visited New Zealand before heading to the Pacific coast of North America via Tahiti and Hawaii. In December 1778 Cook returned to a warm reception in Hawaii, arriving at the time of the Makahiki (New Year) festival when Hawaiians believed that the god Lono returned and regenerated the natural order. Cook was initially received with great enthusiasm on this second visit, seemingly because many Hawaiians identified Cook as the god Lono himself. Relations between Cook and the Hawaiians deteriorated quickly, and amid considerable confusion Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay on 14 February 1779. There is strong evidence to suggest that Cook’s death was the result of the Hawaiian identification of him with Lono, and as the Makahiki festival traditionally ended with the “killing” of a symbolic representation of Lono, Cook died as Lono’s proxy. Cook’s death devastated the morale of the Resolution and the Discovery crews, and the two ships headed home for Britain under the command of Charles Clerke. Captain Clerke died of tuberculosis at Kamchatka in 1779, and John Gore assumed command of the final leg of the voyage from Kamchatka to Britain. Once news of Cook’s death reached home, the British public celebrated him as a national hero, but his real significance lies in his navigational and cartographic achievements in the Pacific. In extending and refining European knowledge of the Pacific, he laid the foundations for a new age of imperialism in the region.

Opening the Final Frontier. Prior to Cook’s voyages, European knowledge of the Pacific was patchy, and navigating a path through the vast ocean was a difficult and dangerous task. Improvements in navigational technology, especially the use of John Harrison’s fourth chronometer (which allowed Cook to accurately calculate longitude) and the assistance of Polynesian experts such as Tupaia (who traveled with Cook from Tahiti to New Zealand, Australia, and on to Batavia, or modern Jakarta in the Dutch East Indies), enabled Cook to explore and chart the coastlines of the Pacific with a new confidence. The accuracy of his charts and their rapid dissemination in Europe created a reliable navigational and cartographic framework for Europeans entering the Pacific. This shift in European knowledge of the Pacific had profound consequences. Where less than 450 ships crossed the Pacific from Ferdinand Magellan’s entry into the Pacific in 1521 until 1769, in the wake of Cook’s voyages large numbers of ships entered the Pacific with confidence. Armed with accurate maps, they searched for valuable natural resources, including whales, seals, timber, flax, sandalwood, and even sea slugs and sea cucumbers. Missionaries and colonists soon followed, and the islands of the Pacific were integrated into a complex mesh of commercial, religious, and political networks that linked them to Asia, the Americas, and, increasingly, Europe. Thus, Cook broke the barrier of the Pacific’s vastness, and Europe’s final frontier was opened. This important turning point in global history initiated a series of profound and painful transformations as the peoples of the Pacific struggled to deal with new diseases, depopulation, and the alienation of their land, resources, and sovereignty. Given the persistence of these issues, Cook’s place in con-temporary Pacific culture remains hotly contested.

Sources

J. C. Beaglehole, The Life of Captain James Cook (London: A. & C. Black, 1974).

Marshall Sahlins, Islands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).

Alan Villiers, Captain Cook, the Seaman’s Seaman: A Study of the Great Discoverer (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1967).

Lynne Withey, Voyages of Discovery: Captain Cook and the Exploration of the Pacific (New York: Morrow, 1987).

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