James COOK 1728-1779
James Cook was born in Yorkshire, England on 27th October, 1728. Although destined for great things, Cook had an unremarkable start in life. He was the son of a Yorkshire farmhand and was educated at a village school until he was twelve. When he was eighteen he commenced a 3-year apprenticeship with a small firm of coal shippers - Walker Brothers and Whitby. After this, he worked for 6 years as an apprentice and then mate on merchant ships.
A Whitby collier vessel, the barque Endeavour, was chosen for the voyage in preference to a man'o'war because it had more space for such a lengthy journey. In all, 92 men including astronomers, artists and botanists made up the ship's complement.
On 9 August 1769, the Endeavour left Tahiti, sailing eastwards on a new mission disclosed in the secret orders - to seek a land south of latitude 40 degrees and to investigate the land seen by Tasman, called New Zealand. Cook duly found and charted New Zealand, the first exploration since Tasman in 1642, before sailing further east in search of the Great South Land.
First glimpse of the Australian coastline occurred on 19 April, 1770 and nine days later Cook landed at Botany Bay, marking the first European arrival on the east coast of Australia. He charted a total of 3,200 km of the east coast, naming the land New South Wales.
On his return to England in August, 1771, Cook was promoted by King George III from Lieutenant to the rank of Commander.
Plans were drawn up to circumnavigate the world in high southern latitudes, and to complete exploration of the Southern Pacific ocean. Cook lead a 2-ship expedition, the Drake and the Raleigh, which left England in July, 1772 and returned three years later. During that time, they crossed the Antarctic circle for the first time in recorded history on 17 January, 1773, and then proceeded to criss-cross the Southern Pacific.
On 30th January, 1774, the expedition reached 71 degrees 10' south, a record which stood for another 50 years. The expedition discovered and charted New Caledonia and Norfolk Island, and proved once and for all that no other continental land mass existed in the vast Pacific Ocean.
Once back in England, Cook was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society and elaborated his techniques for overcoming scurvy. He was commissioned to seek out a north-west passage from Hudson Bay to the Pacific, a route if it could be found, which would avoid the dangerous passage around Cape Horn, or the long passage via the Cape of Good Hope. The new expedition left in the Resolution on 12th July, 1776, intending to sail to New Zealand via the cape, then work north-west to the North-American coast.
On 18th January, 1778 the islands now known as the Hawaiian Islands were discovered. Moving on, the expedition reached Alaska and the Siberian coast before returning to the Hawaiian Islands for the winter. After a 2-week stay, the expedition again headed north but was forced back by storm damage. The mood of the natives had deteriorated leading to a number of incidents. Shortly after Cook had visited the native King, the locals learned that one of their chiefs had been shot in the vicinity of one of the Resolution's landing boats.
Cook was attacked, dragged ashore and savagely killed. His remains were later handed over to the crew for burial at sea.
Cook is regarded as one of the world's greatest sailors, navigators and cartographers. His voyages of exploration redrew the map of the Pacific and some of his navigation charts (such as Norfolk Island) have not been improved upon since his day. As a circumnavigator, he stands unequalled for the magnitude and accuracy of his work, achieved over a relatively short period of time.