Tribute to a great seaman

Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook, FRS, RN (7 November 1728 – 14 February 1779) was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. He 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 him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society. The notice came at a crucial moment in both his career and the direction of British overseas exploration, and led to his commission in 1766 as commander of HMS 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 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 killed in Hawaii in a fight with Hawaiians during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific in 1779. He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which was to influence his successors well into the 20th century and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.

Cook's Three Voyages

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.

Early life and family: James Cook was born on 27 October 1728 in the village of Marton in Yorkshire and baptised on 3 November in the local church of St. Cuthbert, where his name can be seen in the church register. He was the second of eight children of James Cook, a Scottish farm labourer from Ednam near Kelso, and his locally born wife, Grace Pace, from Thornaby-on-Tees.  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 by now been promoted to farm manager. For leisure, he woul d climb a nearby hill, Roseberry Topping, enjoying the opportunity for solitude. Cooks’ Cottage, his parents’ last home, which he is likely to have visited, is now in Melbourne, having been moved from England and reassembled, brick by brick, in 1934.

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. Historians have speculated that this is where Cook first felt the lure of the sea while gazing out of the shop window. 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. The Walkers were prominent local ship-owners and Quakers, and were in the coal trade. Their house is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. He 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, he applied himself to the study of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation and astronomy—all skills he would need one day to command his own ship.

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. 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 realized his career would advance more quickly in military service and entered the Navy at Wapping on 17 June 1755.

Cook married Elizabeth Batts (1742–1835), the daughter of Samuel Batts, keeper of the Bell Inn, Wapping and one of his mentors, on 21 December 1762 at St. Margaret’s Church in Barking, Essex.The couple had six children: James (1763–94), Nathaniel (1764–80, lost aboard HMS Thunderer which foundered with all hands in a hurricane in the West Indies), Elizabeth (1767–71), Joseph (1768–68), George (1772–72) and Hugh (1776–93), the last of whom 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 baptized. Cook has no known direct descendants—all his recorded children either predeceased him or died without issue.

Start of Royal Navy career: His 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. 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.  His first temporary command was in March 1756 when he was briefly master of the Cruizer, a small cutter attached to the Eagle while on patrol. In June 1757 he passed his master’s examinations at Trinity House, Deptford, which qualified him to navigate and handle a ship of the King’s fleet.  He then joined the frigate HMS Solebay as master under Captain Robert Craig.

Conquest of Canada (1758–63): During the Seven Years’ War, Cook served in North America as master of Pembroke (1757). In 1758 he took part in the major amphibious assault that captured the Fortress of Louisbourg from the French, after which he participated in the siege of Quebec City and then the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. He showed 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 on the Plains of Abraham.

Cook’s surveying ability was put to good use mapping the jagged coast of Newfoundland in the 1760s, aboard HMS Grenville. He surveyed the north-west 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.”

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. 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 would be used into the 20th century—copies of it being referenced by those sailing Newfoundland’s waters for 200 years.

Navigation and science: Cook’s 12 years sailing around the Pacific Ocean contributed much to European knowledge of the area. Several islands such as 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. 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. Cook gathered accurate longitude measurements during his first voyage due to 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. 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, 1761–62.

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. 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. 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 theorized that Polynesians originated from Asia, which scientist Bryan Sykes later verified. In New Zealand the coming of Cook is often used to signify the onset of colonization.

Cook carried several scientists on his voyages; they made several significant observations and discoveries. Two botanists, Joseph Banks, and Swede Daniel Solander, were on the first Cook voyage. The two collected over 3,000 plant species. Banks subsequently strongly promoted British settlement of Australia. Several 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. 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 subject of another mutiny—the only successful armed takeover of an Australian government. George Vancouver, one of Cook’s midshipmen, later led a voyage of exploration to the Pacific Coast of North America from 1791 to 1794.  In honour of his former commander, Vancouver’s new ship was also christened HMS Discovery (1789). George Dixon sailed under Cook on his third expedition, and later commanded his own expedition.] A lieutenant under Cook, Henry Roberts, 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 recognized 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.” Unknown to Franklin, Cook had met his death a month before this “passport” was written. Cook’s voyages were involved in another unusual first: The first female to circumnavigate the globe was a goat (“The Goat”), who made that memorable journey twice; the first time on HMS Dolphin, under Samuel Wallis. She was then pressed into service as the personal milk provider for Cook, aboard HMS Endeavor. When they returned to England, Cook presented her with a silver collar engraved with lines from Samuel Johnson: “Perpetui, ambita bis terra, praemia lactis Haec habet altrici Capra secunda Jovis.”. She was put to pasture on Cook’s farm outside London, and also 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.

Death: 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. Cook was forced into a wild goose chase that ended with his return to the ship frustrated. He attempted to kidnap and ransom the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu. That following day, 14 February 1779, he marched through the village to retrieve the King. Cook took the aliʻi nui by his own hand and led him willingly away. One of Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s favorite wives, Kanekapolei and two chiefs approached the group as they were heading to boats. They pleaded with the king not to go until he stopped and sat where he stood. 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. 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.  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. 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.

Courtesy Wikipedia .org

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