CAPT. JAMES COOK (1728-1779)
James Cook, an English navigator, is often called the greatest explorer of the 18th century, for his voyages to the Pacific Ocean, and how he used science to help with his exploration and cartography.
He was born on October 27, 1728, and he was the son of a poor Scotsman who lived in Yorkshire. He started out in the navy as a lowly mate, in 1755, and in four years, he became a master. Then, he participated in naval operations during the Seven Years' War, as a surveyor, in command of the Mercury.
When the war ended, in 1763, he again used his surveying skills by commanding the schooner Grenville, and he spent much time surveying Labrador, Nova Scottia, and Newfoundland. He studied mathematics very vigorously, and in 1766, he used a solar eclipse to measure the longitude of Newfoundland, and his findings were published in the Transactions of the Royal Society. When he returned to England in 1767, he was commissioned a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy.
He had three major voyages of exploration throughout his rather short life: the Voyage of the Endeavour, and the Voyages of the Resolution.
The Voyage of the Endeavour
In 1768, the Royal Society requested the Admiralty's help in observing the transit of Venus at Tahiti, which was to occur in June of 1769. This was part of a big project to help sailors figure out their longitude position at sea. Up to this time, it was impossible to do this accurately, so navigators had to guess, more or less, how far east or west they were at sea.
James Cook was chosen as commander of this expedition, because of his abilities with navigation and mathematics. He was also given secret instructions to search for "terra australia incognita," or "the unknown southern land" in English . He left with his crew, many scientists, an astronomer, two botanists, and many artists, on August 26, 1768.
During the voyage, Cook was smart to bring along provisions that lasted, so that crew members did not easily get scurvy. By April, 1769, the ship reached Tahiti's shores. In the three months that they spent there, the island was thoroughly surveyed, and the transit of Venus was observed on June 3, 1769.
After leaving Tahiti, they sailed until they arrived on land on October 7, 1769. After their arrival, on an island which turned out to be New Zealand, Cook and his men explored and surveyed many various islands around the area. Then they sailed west, and reached the unexplored eastern coast of Australia. Cook sailed north along that coast to learn more about the land. Later, the Endeavor was damaged seriously by a coral reef, and it took two months of repair work to make the ship seaworthy again. Finally, on July 13, 1771, James Cook reached England.
First Voyage of the Resolution
Because the Admiralty was still not sure if there was a large southern continent, Cook was called on again to command the Resolution, which was accompanied by the Adventure. As before, they took along many scientists and artists. They left Plymouth on July 13, 1772. Once they reached the Cape of Good Hope, they then traveled south and crossed the Antarctic Circle. They found no continent, so they then explored the South Pacific. The two ships lost contact, and the Adventure returned to England. That was the first ship to circumnavigate the globe from west to east.
But the Resolution kept exploring, and again crossed the Antarctic Circle, and again crossed the South Pacific, with much exploring along the way. He sailed across the South Atlantic, and again to the Cape of Good Hope in Africa. Finally, he sailed to England, and he reached the docks in 1775. He had finally proven that there was no large continent in the warmer part of the Pacific, but he was sure that there was an Antarctic continent. He was then elected into the Royal Society and was promoted to Captain. Then he again sailed on the Resolution.
Second Voyage of the Resolution
When he went exploring in the Arctic Ocean in search of Antarctica, the ship was damaged. He sailed to Hawaii for repairs, and he was killed an a small battle with some native Polynesians, on February 14, 1779. The Resolution then returned to England.