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James Cook

James Cook

b. 1728 Marton, Yorkshire, England d. 1779 Kealakekua, Hawaii


At the age of 27 Cook enlisted in the British Royal Navy, and during the French and Indian War he distinguished himself in Canada by means of surveys he made and the soundings he took in the St. Lawrence River. In 1768 he was sent to Tahiti to make astronomical (big, never done before) observations as the planet Venus passed between Earth and the sun. Accompanied by a naturalist (a scientist that studies objects of natural history) and a botanist (a scientist that studies plants), and two artists, he set out on the Endeavour, a small coal ship that had been outfitted with a labratory and the most advanced telescopes. After successfully completing his work, he was given orders to investigate "the southern continent," so on he sailed, reaching the North and South islands of New Zealand. He then claimed eastern Australia for George III and explored the coast of New Guinea, returning to England in 1771.
On his second voyage (1772-75), Cook was encouraged to prove, or disprove, the existence of a frozen continent at the South Pole. He reached the Antarctic Circle and advanced to 71 degrees S before deciding to quit the area. "There must be some (land) to the South behind this ice," he sensibly observed, "but if there is, it can afford no better retreat for birds, or any other animals, than the ice itself, with which it must be wholly covered." He then went back to exploring and mapping the islands of the South Pacific.
At a time when roughly 60% of the crews on long voyages took sick and died, Cook applied scientific methods to every aspect of his explorations. He determined that large amounts of fruits and vegetables or sauerkraut juice in the sailor's diet reduced scurvy (a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C making your gums to get spongy, your teeth to fall out and bleeding into your skin.). He also required his men to bathe each day and air their bedding twice a week.
The goal of Cook's third and final voyage was to find a passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic, either through North America or above it. But after clearing the Bering Strait, he found himself blocked by a solid wall of ice and was forced to return to the islands that he named the Sandwich Islands (today Hawaii) upon discovering them in 1778.  A fight broke out with the islanders and Cook was stabbed to death.
His life had the sweep and soar of the true explorer's; indeed, no one else had spent more time, or covered as much distance, on the open sea.


click to see Cook's 3 routes


Below are sites and links for more information about James Cook.



Captain Cook Study Unit

James Cook

Captain James Cook: British Navigator and Explorer

The Hunterian Museum: Captain Cook Voyages of Discovery

Captain James Cook "The Great Ocean's Greatest Explorer"

The Mariner Museum: Captain James Cook





This site was last  updated 08/04/2004 08:08 PM -0400