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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Captain James Cook
Born7 November [O.S. 27 October] 1728
Marton, Yorkshire, England
Died14 February 1779(1779-02-14) (aged 50)
Cause of deathKilled by Hawaiians after turning back to Hawaii
EducationPostgate School, Great Ayton
OccupationExplorer, navigator, cartographer
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Batts
Parent(s)James Cook
Grace Pace
James Cook Signature.svg

Captain James Cook FRS (7 November 1728[NB 1] – 14 February 1779) was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. Cook made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

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. This acclaim 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 he 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.

Cook was attacked and killed in 1779 during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific while attempting to kidnap Kalaniʻōpuʻu, a Hawaiian chief, in order to reclaim a cutter stolen from one of his ships. He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which influenced his successors well into the 20th century, and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ The Amazing Life and Strange Death of Captain Cook: Crash Course World History #27
  • ✪ A short history of James Cook and his voyages
  • ✪ Fatal Voyage of Captain Cook Documentary
  • ✪ BBC Timewatch - Captain Cook: The Man Behind the Legend
  • ✪ Life on the HMS Endeavour with James Cook - Behind the News


Hi, I'm John Green, This is Crash Course World History. And today we're going to talk about the life and astonishing death of Captain James Hook, whose death via crocodile cha—what? James Cook? There's no crocodiles? Stupid history, always disappointing me. Well, Captain Cook is pretty interesting too, and his death is a nice entrée into one of the great historian feuds of recent times. God, I love historian feuds. [Intro music] [intro music] [intro music] [intro music] [intro music] [intro music] [intro music] So Captain Cook was born in 1728. He was a sailor and eventually a British Naval officer who saw action in the Seven Years War, which you will no doubt remember from last week. But he's best known for his three voyages of exploration and scientific discovery that took place in the Pacific Ocean. The first was between 1768 and 1771, the second between 1772 and 1775, and the third between 1776 and 1780. Although on the last one, Cook's journey ended in 1779, because he died. And as you can see from the map, Cook pretty much owned the Pacific. He mapped the coast of Australia, paving the way for British colonization, and also paving the way for the near destruction of aboriginal peoples and their culture. As with the Columbian exchange, Cook's voyages to Australia re-made the biological landscape. He introduced sheep, which paved the way for Australia's huge wool industry. Right, there was a penal colony established in Australia, but the real story of Australia is its success as a colony. Within 80 years, Australia went from 1,000 Anglo-Australians to 1.2 million. Equally important, Cook explored and mapped out New Zealand, again paving the way for colonization, and paving the way for Crash Course World History to make an announcement. WE DID IT! WE FINALLY TALKED ABOUT AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND. WE'RE A REAL WORLD HISTORY CLASS! HUZZAH! Now all you Australians have to shut up about how we've never mentioned you. Right, so in his voyages, Cook also determined that there was no such thing as the mythical continent of Terra Australis, said to exist here. And he helped to dispel the idea of a Northwest Passage, which Europeans had been obsessed with for centuries. He was the first European to describe Hawaii, and also the first to keep his ship's crews free of scurvy. Cook and his successors were part of the middle wave of European colonization, the one that took place after Europeans settled in the Americas, but before they set their sights on Africa. And in some ways, the colonization of Australia and New Zealand can be seen as an extension of the colonization of India, which happened about 30 years before. One more thing to mention about the context of these voyages, or rather, their impact. Besides huge territorial gains and increased wealth, exploration of the Pacific contributed to Europe's Romantic fascination with science. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans became obsessed with mapping, and charting, and classifying the world, which maybe isn't, like, candlelight dinner romantic, but if you think about visiting never-before-seen lands and bringing back odd life forms...well, I mean, think about how we feel about space. And then, of course, as they colonized people, Europeans portrayed themselves as a civilizing force, bringing both science and religion. Oh, it's time for the open letter? An Open Letter to the White Man's Burden. But first, let's see what's in the secret compartment today. Oh, it's a mustache, so I can look like Kipling. Dear White Man's Burden. I'm gonna go ahead and take this off, Stan, I think Tumblr has had enough to get their gifs. So, White Man's Burden, you're a poem. And more then a century after Kipling wrote you, scholars still disagree over whether he was kidding. And this speaks to how weird and insane imperialism really was. Europeans seemed to genuinely believe that it was their unfortunate duty to extract massive wealth from the rest of the world. Seriously, were you kidding when you called natives "half-devil and half-child" because, in retrospect, that seems to describe, you know, you. Best Wishes, John Green. Right, so now having discussed the life of Captain Cook, we shall turn to the most controversial thing he ever did: Die. Let's go to the Thought Bubble. So Cook landed in Hawaii, at Kealakekua Bay, in early 1779 and explored the islands. While he was ashore, he was greeted by an important person—either a chief or a god—and then in early February he left, but the ship had trouble and was forced to return to the Bay for repairs. During this second visit, he had difficulty with the Hawaiians, who'd previously been pretty hospitable, and there was a fracas in which Captain Cook was killed by at least one Hawaiian. We know this from journals kept by various crewmen, but the historical controversy arises from the details and interpretation of his death. Why, in short, was Cook killed? The traditional view is that Cook was killed for some religious reason, although what isn't always clear. One of the most fleshed out versions of this story comes from the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins in his book Islands of History. So in the Hawaiian religious system, Ku, the god of war and human sacrifice, rules for eight or nine months out of the year; the other months are reserved for the fertility god, Lono. The season-long festival for Lono is called Makahiki, and during this the Hawaiian king, who is associated with Ku, is ritually defeated. During the Makahiki, an image of Lono tours the island, gets worshipped, and collects taxes. And at the end of the Makahiki period, Lono is ritually defeated and returned to his native Tahiti. The thinking goes that because Cook arrived in the middle of the Makahiki, the Hawaiians perceived him as Lono. So Cook took part in the rituals and sacrifices that were made as part of the Makahiki. And in Sahlins' view, Cook was killed as a ritual murder to mark the end of Makahiki. For Ku to return, the festival to end, and the normal political order to be restored, Lono had to be defeated and, presumably, killed. For Sahlins' Cook's death fits perfectly with the ritual structure of Hawaiian culture. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So the big problem with this interpretation, which, admittedly sounds pretty cool, is that we don't have much evidence that Hawaiians would have actually seen Cook this way. We find a really interesting opposing view from Gananath Obeyesekere, and I will remind you that mispronunciation is my thing. Sorry, Gananath. Anyway, he criticized Sahlins' interpretation of Cook's death for looking a lot more like European myth than like a Hawaiian ritual. First off, Obeyesekere argues that Cook himself would not easily be confused with Lono. In fact, if he was taken for a God, it would probably be Ku, the war god, what with all the cannons and muskets. Also, there's the fact that the name Cook sounds more like Ku than Lono. Also, arguing that native Hawaiians would see a European and think him a God has all kinds of troubling implications, one of them being that native Hawaiians aren't terribly smart, when in fact we know that they are very smart, because unlike the rest of us, they live in Hawaii. And last, but definitely not least, Lono is associated with fertility, and the Hawaiians would have associated the Europeans with the exact opposite of fertility, because they introduced gonorrhea to Hawaii. And there's a further problem with the Cook = Lono equation, which is that nothing in Hawaiian religion has any of their gods being ritually killed. Part of their mythology can be seen as sanctioning a ritual killing of the king, but not of a god, and also it's a long way from ritual killing to actual killing. The truth is probably a lot less spectacular, which is that Cook was probably killed during a melee in which a bunch of Hawaiians were also killed. Before his death, Cook had attempted to take a Hawaiian king hostage in response to Hawaiians taking a bunch of stuff from Cook's boats. This was common practice for Cook; he had done the same thing in Tahiti and other Polynesian islands after islanders had taken European goods. Which, by the way, happened everywhere Cook went in the Pacific, so maybe he should have figured out that it was, like, a thing that you were allowed to take stuff off boats in exchange for the the right to hang out there. Great sailor, terrible anthropologist. Although, to be fair, anthropology hadn't been invented. Additionally, right before Cook was killed, there were rising tensions between the Hawaiians and the Europeans, even though, at first, their relationship had been quite cordial, as evidenced by all that gonorrhea. So why the tension? Probably because the Europeans dismantled a Hawaiian ritual space -- some sources call it a temple -- and used it for firewood. Cook attempted to pay for it, but his lowball offer of two hatchets—I'm not making that up—was refused. I'm sorry we destroyed your temple, but I'll give you two hatchets! One for each hand! I mean, what would you even do with a third hatchet? So, unfortunately the earliest Hawaiian account offering this explanation for why Cook was killed comes well after the accounts, but at least it's a Hawaiian explanation. Of course, it's also possible that the Hawaiians were just upset that Cook had attempted to kidnap their king. Most accounts from the time portray a chaotic scene in which Cook himself fired at least two shots, probably killing at least one islander. And one thing that seems pretty clear, even as described by European chroniclers, is that Cook's death does not look premeditated, and it sure doesn't look like a ritual. But even so, the idea that the Hawaiians saw Cook as a god has ended up in a good many accounts of his demise. Why? Well, one explanation is that it fits in with other stories of explorers. You've all probably heard that the Tainos thought Columbus was a god, and that the Aztecs supposedly thought Cortes was a God. And this just makes Captain Cook one in a long line of Europeans who were thought to be gods by people who Europeans felt were savages. And making Cook a god also sets up a stark contrast between the enlightened west and primitive Polynesia. Because Captain Cook often appears in history books as a model man of the enlightenment. Sure, he never had much formal schooling, but his voyages were all about increasing knowledge and scientific exploration. And having him die at the hands of a people who were so obviously mistaken in thinking him a god makes an argument for the superiority over the intellectualism of the enlightenment versus the so-called primitive religion of the colonies. But whenever a story seems to fit really well into such a framework, we need to ask ourselves, who's telling that story? One of the reasons we know so much about Captain Cook (and the reason he shows up in so many history textbooks) is because we have tons of records about him, but they're almost all European records. Even the Hawaiian records we have about Cook have been heavily influenced by later contact with Europeans. So, if we cast Cook's death as part of a native ritual, we're implying that Hawaiians were just performing a ritual script, which takes away all their agency as human beings. Are we making them recognizable, having them respond as we think Europeans would by flying off the handle? I don't have an answer, but the debate between these two historical anthropologists brings up something that we need to keep in mind. And we try to imagine that we're seeing the world as they have seen it, but the best we can really do is offer an approximation. So, is it really possible to present a "Hawaiian" version of Captain Cook's death? Or is the exercise inherently condescending and paternalistic? And most importantly, is our inability to escape our biases a good excuse for not even trying? As usual, those aren't rhetorical questions. Thanks for watching. I'll see you next week.


Early life and family

James Cook was born on 7 November 1728 (N.S.) in the village of Marton in Yorkshire and baptised on 14 November (N.S.) in the parish church of St Cuthbert, where his name can be seen in the church register.[1][2] He was the second of eight children of James Cook, a Scottish farm labourer from Ednam in Roxburghshire, and his locally born wife, Grace Pace, from Thornaby-on-Tees.[1][3][4] In 1736, 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 been promoted to farm manager. Despite not being formally educated he became capable in mathematics, astronomy and charting by the time of his Endeavour voyage.[5] For leisure, he would climb a nearby hill, Roseberry Topping, enjoying the opportunity for solitude.[6] Cooks' Cottage, his parents' last home, which he is likely to have visited, is now in Melbourne, Australia, having been moved from England and reassembled, brick by brick, in 1934.[7]

In 1745, when he was 16, Cook moved 20 miles (32 km) to the fishing village of Staithes, to be apprenticed as a shop boy to grocer and haberdasher William Sanderson.[1] Historians have speculated that this is where Cook first felt the lure of the sea while gazing out of the shop window.[4]

After 18 months, not proving suitable for shop work, Cook travelled to the nearby port town of Whitby to be introduced to friends of Sanderson's, John and Henry Walker.[7] The Walkers, who were Quakers, were prominent local ship-owners in the coal trade. Their house is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. Cook was taken on as a merchant navy apprentice in their small fleet of vessels, plying coal along the English coast. His first assignment was aboard the collier Freelove, and he spent several years on this and various other coasters, sailing between the Tyne and London. As part of his apprenticeship, Cook applied himself to the study of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation and astronomy—all skills he would need one day to command his own ship.[4]

Elizabeth Cook, by William Henderson, 1830
Elizabeth Cook, by William Henderson, 1830

His three-year apprenticeship completed, Cook began working on trading ships in the Baltic Sea. After passing his examinations in 1752, he soon progressed through the merchant navy ranks, starting with his promotion in that year to mate aboard the collier brig Friendship.[8] In 1755, within a month of being offered command of this vessel, he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy, when Britain was re-arming for what was to become the Seven Years' War. Despite the need to start back at the bottom of the naval hierarchy, Cook realised his career would advance more quickly in military service and entered the Navy at Wapping on 17 June 1755.[9]

Cook married Elizabeth Batts, the daughter of Samuel Batts, keeper of the Bell Inn in Wapping[10] and one of his mentors, on 21 December 1762 at St Margaret's Church, Barking, Essex.[11] The couple had six children: James (1763–1794), Nathaniel (1764–1780, lost aboard HMS Thunderer which foundered with all hands in a hurricane in the West Indies), Elizabeth (1767–1771), Joseph (1768–1768), George (1772–1772) and Hugh (1776–1793, who died of scarlet fever while a student at Christ's College, Cambridge). 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 of his children died before having children of their own.[12]

Start of Royal Navy career

Cook's first posting was with HMS Eagle, serving as able seaman and master's mate under Captain Joseph Hamar for his first year aboard, and Captain Hugh Palliser thereafter.[13] In October and November 1755, he took part in Eagle's capture of one French warship and the sinking of another, following which he was promoted to boatswain in addition to his other duties.[9] His first temporary command was in March 1756 when he was briefly master of Cruizer, a small cutter attached to Eagle while on patrol.[9][14]

In June 1757 Cook formally passed his master's examinations at Trinity House, Deptford, qualifying him to navigate and handle a ship of the King's fleet.[15] He then joined the frigate HMS <i>Solebay</i> as master under Captain Robert Craig.[16]


James Cook's 1775 chart of Newfoundland
James Cook's 1775 chart of Newfoundland

During the Seven Years' War, Cook served in North America as master aboard the fourth-rate Navy vessel HMS Pembroke.[17] With others in Pembroke's crew, he took part in the major amphibious assault that captured the Fortress of Louisbourg from the French in 1758, and in the siege of Quebec City in 1759. Throughout his service he demonstrated a talent for surveying and cartography and was responsible for mapping much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege, thus allowing General Wolfe to make his famous stealth attack during the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham.[18]

Cook's surveying ability was also put to use in mapping the jagged coast of Newfoundland in the 1760s, aboard HMS Grenville. He surveyed the northwest stretch in 1763 and 1764, the south coast between the Burin Peninsula and Cape Ray in 1765 and 1766, and the west coast in 1767. At this time, Cook employed local pilots to point out the "rocks and hidden dangers" along the south and west coasts. During the 1765 season, four pilots were engaged at a daily pay of 4 shillings each: John Beck for the coast west of "Great St Lawrence", Morgan Snook for Fortune Bay, John Dawson for Connaigre and Hermitage Bay, and John Peck for the "Bay of Despair".[19]

His five seasons in Newfoundland produced the first large-scale and accurate maps of the island's coasts and were the first scientific, large scale, hydrographic surveys to use precise triangulation to establish land outlines.[20] They also gave Cook his mastery of practical surveying, achieved under often adverse conditions, and brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society at a crucial moment both in his career and in the direction of British overseas discovery. Cook's map were used into the 20th century, with copies being referenced by those sailing Newfoundland's waters for 200 years.[21]

Following on from his exertions in Newfoundland, Cook wrote that he intended to go not only "farther than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go".[15]

Voyages of exploration

First voyage (1768–71)

On 25 May 1768,[22] the Admiralty commissioned Cook to command a scientific voyage to the Pacific Ocean. The purpose of the voyage was to observe and record the 1769 transit of Venus across the Sun which, when combined with observations from other places, would help to determine the distance of the Sun.[23] Cook, at age 39, was promoted to lieutenant to grant him sufficient status to take the command.[24][25] For its part, the Royal Society agreed that Cook would receive a one hundred guinea gratuity in addition to his Naval pay.[26]

Endeavour replica in Cooktown, Queensland harbour – anchored where the original Endeavour was beached for seven weeks in 1770
Endeavour replica in Cooktown, Queensland harbour – anchored where the original Endeavour was beached for seven weeks in 1770

The expedition sailed aboard HMS Endeavour, departing England on 26 August 1768.[27] Cook and his crew rounded Cape Horn and continued westward across the Pacific, arriving at Tahiti on 13 April 1769, where the observations of the Venus Transit were made.[28] However, 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 signs of the postulated rich southern continent of Terra Australis.[29] Cook then sailed to New Zealand and mapped the complete coastline, making only some minor errors. He then voyaged west, reaching the southeastern coast of Australia on 19 April 1770, and in doing so his expedition became the first recorded Europeans to have encountered its eastern coastline.[NB 2]

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 C[l]othes they might have on I know not."[30] 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. Cook originally christened the area as "Stingray Bay", but later he crossed this out and named it "Botany Bay"[31] 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.[32]

After his departure from Botany Bay, he continued northwards. He stopped at Bustard Bay (now known as Seventeen Seventy) on 23 May 1770. On 24 May, Cook and Banks and others went ashore. Continuing north, on 11 June a mishap occurred when HMS Endeavour ran aground on a shoal of the Great Barrier Reef, and then "nursed into a river mouth on 18 June 1770".[33] 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, Queensland, at the mouth of the Endeavour River).[4] The voyage then continued and at about midday on 22 August 1770, they reached the northernmost tip of the coast and, without leaving the ship, Cook named it Cape York. Leaving the east coast, Cook turned west and nursed his battered ship through the dangerously shallow waters of Torres Strait. Searching for a high vantage point, Cook saw a steep hill on a nearby island from the top of which he hoped to see 'a passage into the Indian Seas'. He climbed the hill with three others, including Joseph Banks. On seeing a navigable passage, he signalled the good news down to the men on the ship, who cheered loudly.

Cook later wrote that he had claimed possession of the east coast when up on that hill, and named the place 'Possession Island'. However, the Admiralty's instructions[34] did not authorized Cook to annex New Holland (Australia) and therefore it is unlikely that any possession ceremony occurred that August. Importantly, Joseph Banks, who was standing beside Cook, does not mention any such episode or announcement in his journal.[35] Cook re-wrote his journal on his arrival in Batavia (Jakarta) when he was confronted with the news that the Frenchman, Louis Bougainville, had sailed across the Pacific the previous year.[36]

In his revised journal entry, Cook wrote that he had claimed the entire coastline that he had just explored as British territory. He returned to England via Batavia (modern Jakarta, Indonesia), where many in his crew succumbed to malaria, and then the Cape of Good Hope, arriving at the island of Saint Helena on 12 July 1771.[37]


Cook's journals were published upon his return, and he became something of a hero among the scientific community. Among the general public, however, the aristocratic botanist Joseph Banks was a greater hero.[4] Banks even attempted to take command of Cook's second voyage but removed himself from the voyage before it began, and Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg Forster were taken on as scientists for the voyage. Cook's son George was born five days before he left for his second voyage.[38]

The routes of Captain James Cook's voyages. The first voyage is shown in red, second voyage in green, and third voyage in blue. The route of Cook's crew following his death is shown as a dashed blue line.
The routes of Captain James Cook's voyages. The first voyage is shown in red, second voyage in green, and third voyage in blue. The route of Cook's crew following his death is shown as a dashed blue line.

Second voyage (1772–75)

Portrait of James Cook by William Hodges, who accompanied Cook on his second voyage
Portrait of James Cook by William Hodges, who accompanied Cook on his second voyage

Shortly after his return from the first voyage, Cook was promoted in August 1771 to the rank of commander.[39][40] In 1772, he was commissioned to lead another scientific expedition on behalf of the Royal Society, to search for the hypothetical Terra Australis. On his first voyage, Cook had demonstrated by circumnavigating New Zealand that it was not attached to a larger landmass to the south. Although he charted almost the entire eastern coastline of Australia, showing it to be continental in size, the Terra Australis was believed to lie further south. Despite this evidence to the contrary, Alexander Dalrymple and others of the Royal Society still believed that a massive southern continent should exist.[41]

Cook commanded HMS Resolution on this voyage, while Tobias Furneaux commanded its companion ship, HMS Adventure. Cook's expedition circumnavigated the globe at an extreme southern latitude, becoming one of the first to cross the Antarctic Circle on 17 January 1773. In the Antarctic fog, Resolution and Adventure became separated. Furneaux made his way to New Zealand, where he lost some of his men during an encounter with Māori, and eventually sailed back to Britain, while Cook continued to explore the Antarctic, reaching 71°10'S on 31 January 1774.[15]

James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti c. 1773
James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti c. 1773

Cook almost encountered the mainland of Antarctica but turned towards Tahiti to resupply his ship. He then resumed his southward course in a second fruitless attempt to find the supposed continent. On this leg of the voyage, he brought a young Tahitian named Omai, who proved to be somewhat less knowledgeable about the Pacific than Tupaia had been on the first voyage. On his return voyage to New Zealand in 1774, Cook landed at the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu.

Before returning to England, Cook made a final sweep across the South Atlantic from Cape Horn and surveyed, mapped, and took possession for Britain of South Georgia, which had been explored by the English merchant Anthony de la Roché in 1675. Cook also discovered and named Clerke Rocks and the South Sandwich Islands ("Sandwich Land"). He then turned north to South Africa and from there continued back to England. His reports upon his return home put to rest the popular myth of Terra Australis.[42]

James Cook's 1777 South-Up map of South Georgia
James Cook's 1777 South-Up map of South Georgia

Cook's second voyage marked a successful employment of Larcum Kendall's K1 copy of John Harrison's H4 marine chronometer, which enabled Cook to calculate his longitudinal position with much greater accuracy. Cook's log was full of praise for this time-piece which he used to make charts of the southern Pacific Ocean that were so remarkably accurate that copies of them were still in use in the mid-20th century.[43]

Upon his return, Cook was promoted to the rank of post-captain and given an honorary retirement from the Royal Navy, with a posting as an officer of the Greenwich Hospital. He reluctantly accepted, insisting that he be allowed to quit the post if an opportunity for active duty should arise.[44] His fame extended beyond the Admiralty; he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and awarded the Copley Gold Medal for completing his second voyage without losing a man to scurvy.[45] Nathaniel Dance-Holland painted his portrait; he dined with James Boswell; he was described in the House of Lords as "the first navigator in Europe".[15] But he could not be kept away from the sea. A third voyage was planned, and Cook volunteered to find the Northwest Passage. He travelled to the Pacific and hoped to travel east to the Atlantic, while a simultaneous voyage travelled the opposite route.[46]

Third voyage (1776–79)

A statue of James Cook stands in Waimea, Kauai commemorating his first contact with the Hawaiian Islands at the town's harbour in January 1778
A statue of James Cook stands in Waimea, Kauai commemorating his first contact with the Hawaiian Islands at the town's harbour in January 1778

On his last voyage, Cook again commanded HMS Resolution, while Captain Charles Clerke commanded HMS Discovery. The voyage was ostensibly planned to return the Pacific Islander Omai to Tahiti, or so the public was led to believe. The trip's principal goal was to locate a Northwest Passage around the American continent.[47] After dropping Omai at Tahiti, Cook travelled north and in 1778 became the first European to begin formal contact with the Hawaiian Islands.[48] After his initial landfall in January 1778 at Waimea harbour, Kauai, Cook named the archipelago the "Sandwich Islands" after the fourth Earl of Sandwich—the acting First Lord of the Admiralty.[49]

From the Sandwich Islands, Cook sailed north and then northeast to explore the west coast of North America north of the Spanish settlements in Alta California. He made landfall on the Oregon coast at approximately 44°30′ north latitude, naming his landing point Cape Foulweather. Bad weather forced his ships south to about 43° north before they could begin their exploration of the coast northward.[50] He unknowingly sailed past the Strait of Juan de Fuca and soon after entered Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. He anchored near the First Nations village of Yuquot. Cook's two ships remained in Nootka Sound from 29 March to 26 April 1778, in what Cook called Ship Cove, now Resolution Cove,[51] at the south end of Bligh Island. Relations between Cook's crew and the people of Yuquot were cordial but sometimes strained. In trading, the people of Yuquot demanded much more valuable items than the usual trinkets that had worked in Hawaii. Metal objects were much desired, but the lead, pewter, and tin traded at first soon fell into disrepute. The most valuable items which the British received in trade were sea otter pelts. During the stay, the Yuquot "hosts" essentially controlled the trade with the British vessels; the natives usually visited the British vessels at Resolution Cove instead of the British visiting the village of Yuquot at Friendly Cove.[52]

After leaving Nootka Sound, Cook explored and mapped the coast all the way to the Bering Strait, on the way identifying what came to be known as Cook Inlet in Alaska. In a single visit, Cook charted the majority of the North American northwest coastline on world maps for the first time, determined the extent of Alaska, and closed the gaps in Russian (from the west) and Spanish (from the south) exploratory probes of the northern limits of the Pacific.[15]

HMS Resolution and Discovery in Tahiti
HMS Resolution and Discovery in Tahiti

By the second week of August 1778, Cook was through the Bering Strait, sailing into the Chukchi Sea. He headed northeast up the coast of Alaska until he was blocked by sea ice. His furthest north was 70 degrees 44 minutes. Cook then sailed west to the Siberian coast, and then southeast down the Siberian coast back to the Bering Strait. By early September 1778 he was back in the Bering Sea to begin the trip to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands.[53] He became increasingly frustrated on this voyage and perhaps began to suffer from a stomach ailment; it has been speculated that this led to irrational behaviour towards his crew, such as forcing them to eat walrus meat, which they had pronounced inedible.[54]

Return to Hawaii

Cook returned to Hawaii in 1779. After sailing around the archipelago for some eight weeks, he made landfall at Kealakekua Bay, on 'Hawaii Island', largest island in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Cook's arrival coincided with the Makahiki, a Hawaiian harvest festival of worship for the Polynesian god Lono. Coincidentally the form of Cook's ship, HMS Resolution, or more particularly the mast formation, sails and rigging, resembled certain significant artefacts that formed part of the season of worship.[4][54] Similarly, Cook's clockwise route around the island of Hawaii before making landfall resembled the processions that took place in a clockwise direction around the island during the Lono festivals. It has been argued (most extensively by Marshall Sahlins) that such coincidences were the reasons for Cook's (and to a limited extent, his crew's) initial deification by some Hawaiians who treated Cook as an incarnation of Lono.[55] Though this view was first suggested by members of Cook's expedition, the idea that any Hawaiians understood Cook to be Lono, and the evidence presented in support of it, were challenged in 1992.[54][56]


After a month's stay, Cook attempted to resume his exploration of the northern Pacific. Shortly after leaving Hawaii Island, however, the Resolution's foremast broke, so the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs.

Tensions rose, and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay. An unknown group of Hawaiians took one of Cook's small boats. The evening when the cutter was taken, the people had become "insolent" even with threats to fire upon them.[58] Cook attempted to kidnap and ransom the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu.

The following day, 14 February 1779, Cook marched through the village to retrieve the king. Cook took the king (aliʻi nui) by his own hand and led him willingly away. One of Kalaniʻōpuʻu's favourite wives, Kanekapolei, and two chiefs approached the group as they were heading to boats. They pleaded with the king not to go. An old kahuna (priest), chanting rapidly while holding out a coconut, attempted to distract Cook and his men as a large crowd began to form at the shore. The king began to understand that Cook was his enemy.[58] As Cook turned his back to help launch the boats, he was struck on the head by the villagers and then stabbed to death as he fell on his face in the surf.[59] He was first struck on the head with a club by a chief named Kalaimanokahoʻowaha or Kanaʻina (namesake of Charles Kana'ina) and then stabbed by one of the king's attendants, Nuaa.[60][61] The Hawaiians carried his body away towards the back of the town, still visible to the ship through their spyglass. Four marines, Corporal James Thomas, Private Theophilus Hinks, Private Thomas Fatchett and Private John Allen, were also killed and two others were wounded in the confrontation.[60][62]


The esteem which the islanders nevertheless held for Cook caused them to retain his body. Following their practice of the time, they prepared his body with funerary rituals usually reserved for the chiefs and highest elders of the society. The body was disembowelled, baked to facilitate removal of the flesh, and the bones were carefully cleaned for preservation as religious icons in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of the treatment of European saints in the Middle Ages. Some of Cook's remains, thus preserved, were eventually returned to his crew for a formal burial at sea.[63]

Clerke assumed leadership of the expedition and made a final attempt to pass through the Bering Strait.[64] He died of tuberculosis on 22 August 1779 and John Gore, a veteran of Cook's first voyage, took command of Resolution and of the expedition. James King replaced Gore in command of Discovery.[65] The expedition returned home, reaching England in October 1780. After their arrival in England, King completed Cook's account of the voyage.[66]

David Samwell, who sailed with Cook on Resolution, wrote of him: "He was a modest man, and rather bashful; of an agreeable lively conversation, sensible and intelligent. In temper he was somewhat hasty, but of a disposition the most friendly, benevolent and humane. His person was above six feet high: and, though a good looking man, he was plain both in dress and appearance. His face was full of expression: his nose extremely well shaped: his eyes which were small and of a brown cast, were quick and piercing; his eyebrows prominent, which gave his countenance altogether an air of austerity."[67]


Ethnographic collections

Statue of Cook, Greenwich, London
Statue of Cook, Greenwich, London

The Australian Museum acquired its "Cook Collection" in 1894 from the Government of New South Wales. At that time the collection consisted of 115 artefacts collected on Cook's three voyages throughout the Pacific Ocean, during the period 1768–80, along with documents and memorabilia related to these voyages. Many of the ethnographic artifacts were collected at a time of first contact between Pacific Peoples and Europeans. In 1935 most of the documents and memorabilia were transferred to the Mitchell Library in the State Library of New South Wales. The provenance of the collection shows that the objects remained in the hands of Cook's widow Elizabeth Cook, and her descendants, until 1886. In this year John Mackrell, the great-nephew of Isaac Smith, Elizabeth Cook's cousin, organised the display of this collection at the request of the NSW Government at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. In 1887 the London-based Agent-General for the New South Wales Government, Saul Samuel, bought John Mackrell's items and also acquired items belonging to the other relatives Reverend Canon Frederick Bennett, Mrs Thomas Langton, H.M.C. Alexander, and William Adams. The collection remained with the Colonial Secretary of NSW until 1894, when it was transferred to the Australian Museum.[68]

Navigation and science

Cook's 12 years sailing around the Pacific Ocean contributed much to European knowledge of the area. Several islands such as the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) were encountered for the first time by Europeans, and his more accurate navigational charting of large areas of the Pacific was a major achievement.[69]

To create accurate maps, latitude and longitude must be accurately determined. Navigators had been able to work out latitude accurately for centuries by measuring the angle of the sun or a star above the horizon with an instrument such as a backstaff or quadrant. Longitude was more difficult to measure accurately because it requires precise knowledge of the time difference between points on the surface of the earth. The Earth turns a full 360 degrees relative to the sun each day. Thus longitude corresponds to time: 15 degrees every hour, or 1 degree every 4 minutes.[70]

Cook gathered accurate longitude measurements during his first voyage by his navigational skills, the help of astronomer Charles Green, and by using the newly published Nautical Almanac tables, via the lunar distance method—measuring the angular distance from the moon to either the sun during daytime or one of eight bright stars during night-time to determine the time at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and comparing that to his local time determined via the altitude of the sun, moon, or stars.

John Webber's Captain Cook, oil on canvas, 1776
John Webber's Captain Cook, oil on canvas, 1776

On his second voyage, Cook used the K1 chronometer made by Larcum Kendall, which was the shape of a large pocket watch, 5 inches (13 cm) in diameter. It was a copy of the H4 clock made by John Harrison, which proved to be the first to keep accurate time at sea when used on the ship Deptford's journey to Jamaica in 1761–62.[71]

Cook succeeded in circumnavigating the world on his first voyage without losing a single man to scurvy, an unusual accomplishment at the time. He tested several preventive measures, but the most important was frequent replenishment of fresh food.[72] It was for presenting a paper on this aspect of the voyage to the Royal Society that he was presented with the Copley Medal in 1776.[73][74]

Ever the observer, Cook was the first European to have extensive contact with various people of the Pacific. He correctly postulated a link among all the Pacific peoples, despite their being separated by great ocean stretches (see Malayo-Polynesian languages). Cook theorised that Polynesians originated from Asia, which scientist Bryan Sykes later verified.[75]

In New Zealand the coming of Cook is often used to signify the onset of colonisation.[4][7]

Resolution and Adventure with fishing craft in Matavai Bay by William Hodges, 1776, (Royal Museums Greenwich)
Resolution and Adventure with fishing craft in Matavai Bay by William Hodges, 1776, (Royal Museums Greenwich)

Cook carried several scientists on his voyages; they made significant observations and discoveries. Two botanists, Joseph Banks and Swede Daniel Solander, were on the first voyage. The two collected over 3,000 plant species.[76] Banks subsequently strongly promoted British settlement of Australia.[77][78]

Artists also sailed on Cook's first voyage. Sydney Parkinson was heavily involved in documenting the botanists' findings, completing 264 drawings before his death near the end of the voyage. They were of immense scientific value to British botanists.[4][79] Cook's second expedition included William Hodges, who produced notable landscape paintings of Tahiti, Easter Island, and other locations.

Several officers who served under Cook went on to distinctive accomplishments. William Bligh, Cook's sailing master, was given command of HMS Bounty in 1787 to sail to Tahiti and return with breadfruit. Bligh is most known for the mutiny of his crew which resulted in his being set adrift in 1789. He later became governor of New South Wales, where he was the subject of another mutiny—the Rum Rebellion.[80] George Vancouver, one of Cook's midshipmen, led a voyage of exploration to the Pacific Coast of North America from 1791 to 1794.[81] In honour of his former commander, Vancouver's ship was named Discovery. George Dixon, who sailed under Cook on his third expedition, later commanded his own.[82] Henry Roberts, a lieutenant under Cook, spent many years after that voyage preparing the detailed charts that went into Cook's posthumous atlas, published around 1784.

Cook's contributions to knowledge were internationally recognised during his lifetime. In 1779, while the American colonies were fighting Britain for their independence, Benjamin Franklin wrote to captains of colonial warships at sea, recommending that if they came into contact with Cook's vessel, they were to "not consider her an enemy, nor suffer any plunder to be made of the effects contained in her, nor obstruct her immediate return to England by detaining her or sending her into any other part of Europe or to America; but that you treat the said Captain Cook and his people with all civility and kindness ... as common friends to mankind."[83] Unknown to Franklin, Cook had met his death a month before this safe conduct "passport" was written.

Cook's voyages were involved in another unusual first. The first recorded circumnavigation of the world by an animal was by Cook's goat, who made that memorable journey twice; the first time on HMS Dolphin, under Samuel Wallis, and then aboard Endeavour. When they returned to England, Cook had the goat presented with a silver collar engraved with lines from Samuel Johnson: Perpetui, ambita bis terra, praemia lactis Haec habet altrici Capra secunda Jovis. ("In fame scarce second to the nurse of Jove,/ This Goat, who twice the world had traversed round,/Deserving both her master's care and love,/Ease and perpetual pasture now has found."[84]) She was put to pasture on Cook's farm outside London and was reportedly admitted to the privileges of the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich. Cook's journal recorded the date of the goat's death: 28 March 1772.[85]


Memorial to James Cook and family in St Andrew the Great, Cambridge
Memorial to James Cook and family in St Andrew the Great, Cambridge

A U.S. coin, the 1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial half-dollar carries Cook's image. Minted for the 150th anniversary of his discovery of the islands, its low mintage (10,008) has made this example of Early United States commemorative coins both scarce and expensive.[86] The site where he was killed in Hawaii was marked in 1874 by a white obelisk set on 25 square feet (2.3 m2) of chained-off beach. This land, although in Hawaii, was deeded to the United Kingdom.[87] A nearby town is named Captain Cook, Hawaii; several Hawaiian businesses also carry his name. The Apollo 15 Command/Service Module Endeavour was named after Cook's ship, HMS Endeavour,[88] as was the Space Shuttle Endeavour.[89] Another shuttle, Discovery, was named after Cook's HMS Discovery.[90]

The first institution of higher education in North Queensland, Australia was named after him, with James Cook University opening in Townsville in 1970.[91] Numerous institutions, landmarks and place names reflect the importance of Cook's contributions, including the Cook Islands, the Cook Strait, Cook Inlet, and the Cook crater on the Moon.[92] Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest summit in New Zealand, is named for him.[93] Another Mount Cook is on the border between the U.S. state of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon Territory, and is designated Boundary Peak 182 as one of the official Boundary Peaks of the Hay–Herbert Treaty.[94] A life-size statue of Cook upon a column stands in Hyde Park located in the centre of Sydney. A large aquatic monument is planned for Cook's landing place at Botany Bay, Sydney.[95]

Blue plaque for Captain James Cook, at 326 The Highway in Shadwell, East London, England
Blue plaque for Captain James Cook, at 326 The Highway in Shadwell, East London, England

One of the earliest monuments to Cook in the United Kingdom is located at The Vache, erected in 1780 by Admiral Hugh Palliser, a contemporary of Cook and one-time owner of the estate.[96] A huge obelisk was built in 1827 as a monument to Cook on Easby Moor overlooking his boyhood village of Great Ayton,[97] along with a smaller monument at the former location of Cook's cottage.[98] There is also a monument to Cook in the church of St Andrew the Great, St Andrew's Street, Cambridge, where his sons Hugh, a student at Christ's College, and James were buried. Cook's widow Elizabeth was also buried in the church and in her will left money for the memorial's upkeep. The 250th anniversary of Cook's birth was marked at the site of his birthplace in Marton, by the opening of the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, located within Stewart Park (1978). A granite vase just to the south of the museum marks the approximate spot where he was born.[99] Tributes also abound in post-industrial Middlesbrough, including a primary school,[100] shopping square[101] and the Bottle 'O Notes, a public artwork by Claes Oldenburg, that was erected in the town's Central Gardens in 1993. Also named after Cook is the James Cook University Hospital, a major teaching hospital which opened in 2003 with a railway station serving it called James Cook opening in 2014.[102] The Royal Research Ship RRS James Cook was built in 2006 to replace the RRS Charles Darwin in the UK's Royal Research Fleet,[103] and Stepney Historical Trust placed a plaque on Free Trade Wharf in the Highway, Shadwell to commemorate his life in the East End of London. In 2002 Cook was placed at number 12 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.[104]

See also



  1. ^ Old style date: 27 October
  2. ^ At this time, the International Date Line had yet to be established, so the dates in Cook's journal are a day earlier than those accepted today.


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Further reading

  • Albert, Jean-Max (1983). Les nouveaux voyages du capitaine Cook. Angoûlème, France: Acapa. ISBN 978-2904353000.
  • Aughton, Peter (2002). Endeavour: The Story of Captain Cook's First Great Epic Voyage. London: Cassell & Co. ISBN 978-0304362363.
  • Edwards, Philip, ed. (2003). James Cook: The Journals. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0140436471. Prepared from the original manuscripts by J. C. Beaglehole 1955–67
  • Forster, Georg, ed. (1986). A Voyage Round the World. Wiley-VCH. ISBN 978-3050001807. Published first 1777 as: A Voyage round the World in His Britannic Majesty's Sloop Resolution, Commanded by Capt. James Cook, during the Years, 1772, 3, 4, and 5
  • Hawkesworth, John; Byron, John; Wallis, Samuel; Carteret, Philip; Cook, James; Banks, Joseph (1773), An account of the voyages undertaken by the order of His present Majesty for making discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, and successively performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook, in the Dolphin, the Swallow, and the Endeavour drawn up from the journals which were kept by the several commanders, and from the papers of Joseph Banks, esq, London Printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, Volume I, Volume II–III. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  • Kippis, Andrew (1904). The Life and Voyages of Captain James Cook. George Newnes, London & Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
  • Richardson, Brian. (2005) Longitude and Empire: How Captain Cook's Voyages Changed the World University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 0774811900.
  • Sydney Daily Telegraph (1970) Captain Cook: His Artists — His Voyages The Sydney Daily Telegraph Portfolio of Original Works by Artists who sailed with Captain Cook. Australian Consolidated Press, Sydney
  • Thomas, Nicholas The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook. Walker & Co., New York. ISBN 0802714129 (2003)
  • Villiers, Alan (Summer 1956–57). "James Cook, Seaman". Quadrant. 1 (1): 7–16.
  • Villiers, Alan John, Captain James Cook Newport Beach, California: Books on Tape (1983)
  • Williams, Glyndwr, ed. (1997). Captain Cook's Voyages: 1768–1779. London: The Folio Society.

External links

Biographical dictionaries


Collections and museums

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