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Captain James Cook British Explorer His Life and Times at Sea in 20 Facts.

Updated on December 3, 2017
Ben Reed profile image

Ben is a semi-retired sixty something, having spent 30 years working within the UK Utility industry. A father of 3 boys and grandad of 3.

Captain James Cook

James Cook is a local hero of mine. I live just 8 miles from where he was born. Today a museum dedicated to his life and accomplishments stands just yards from the original site of his home. James Cook was a Captain in the British Royal Navy during the latter half of the 18th Century. He became the first person to make maps of the Canadian Newfoundland and was the first European to find and make contact with Eastern Australia and the Hawaiian Islands. Captain James Cook is also remembered for his efforts to beat what was then a commonplace and deadly disease to all sailors – Scurvy. He went on to be one of the most famous British explorers ever.

What is Scurvy?

Scurvy is a disease caused by a prolonged lack of vitamin C. Symptoms were weakness and fatigue, pain in joints, bleeding gums, loss of teeth, anemia and if left untreated - death.

James Cook - Humble Beginnings

This famous navigator, developed his skills as he rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy, but James Cook had very humble beginnings. Born into an agricultural labouring family in 1728. He first lived in a village called Marton, which is in the county of North Yorkshire, England. Cook’s father was originally from Scotland. His mother was called Grace Pace and she lived in Thornaby on Tees, North Yorkshire.

Captain James Cook - British Explorer
Captain James Cook - British Explorer

Location of Key Sites During James Cook's Formative Years

show route and directions
A markerCaptain James Cook Birthplace Museum, Marton, England -
Stewart Park, Marton-in-Cleveland, Middlesbrough TS7 8AT, UK
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Captain James Cook Birthplace Museum

B markerPostgate School, 101 High St, Great Ayton, Middlesbrough TS9 6NB -
101 High St, Great Ayton, Middlesbrough TS9 6NB, UK
get directions

This museum based in the actual schoolroom, tells the story of James Cook's early life and education at what was a charity school based in the village

C markerWhitby. -
Whitby, UK
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James Cook's first experience at sea was from serving aboard Collier Vessels from this harbour.

Cook’s First Experience of Life at Sea.

James Cook’s first experience of life at sea was from the age of 18 when he spent the next eight years working in the coal trade off the eastern coast of England. Later, in 1755 he joined the Royal Navy where he went on to pass his master’s qualification, enabling him to navigate a ship. By the time of his first Pacific voyage, Cook was Lieutenant on the ship Endeavour.

Fact 1. James Cook’s first experiences of life at sea where from 1746, when James was apprenticed to a Captain Walker on the coal carrying ship “Freelove”. James was employed at this time by a ship owner named John Walker from Whitby who ran collier vessels to London and the Baltic.

Fact 2. In 1752, at the age of 23, James Cook was promoted and served as Mate on the collier vessel “Friendship”.

Fact 3. In 1755 he leaves his employment on the collier vessels and joins the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman. Cook serves on HMS Eagle for 2 years where he is promoted to Masters Mate.

Fact 4. James Cook briefly joins HMS Solebay in 1757.

Fact 5. In October of 1757, Cook, now a Master, joins HMS Pembroke.

Fact 6. James Cook’s time aboard HMS Pembroke was to play a significant part in his life. On a voyage to Nova Scotia in 1758, 29 of his crew lose their lives to scurvy. This has a huge impact on Cook and how he looks after the welfare of crew members in future years.

Fact 7. 1757 – James Cook attains his first command as master of the survey ship Grenville.

Fact 8. 1758 – James played a part in the capture of Quebec City. He had been sent to chart the waters of the Saint Lawrence River. It was these detailed maps that the British fleet used to help them capture the city.

Fact 9. 1763 – Sets sail to Newfoundland to survey the coast.

Timeline of Captain Cook’s Major Voyages

1st Pacific Voyage: 1768-1771. As Lieutenant on board the ship Endeavour. Cooks mission was to try and find the then fabled southern continent referred to as Terra Australis Icognita, which means “unknown Southern Land”. It was during this voyage that James finds and takes Australia in the name of Great Britain.

HMS Bark Endeavour - a replica ship at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney
HMS Bark Endeavour - a replica ship at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney

HMS Endeavour

The Endeavour was also known as HMS Bark Endeavour. The vessel was a Royal Navy research ship. The ship was built in Whitby, England. Originally named the Earl of Pembroke, it was collier vessel. It was later purchased by the Royal Navy.

  • It had a top speed of 7 to 8 knots (13 to 15 km/h).
  • Crew: 96 men
  • Chosen for its strong construction.
  • Botanist Joseph Banks on board.
  • The Endeavour ended her illustrious career in 1778 after being scuttled in a blockade of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island.

Facts About Captain James Cook - 1st Pacific Voyage

Fact 10. In 1769 James Cook sights New Zealand and goes on to chart the entire coastline.

Fact 11. In April 1770, they sight Australia. On April 28th James Cook lands and renames the place of his landing as Botany Bay.

Fact 12. The Ship Endeavour returns home to England in June 1771 after a voyage lasting two years 11 months and which involved the charting of over 5,000 miles of coastline.

Fact 13. In 1772, James Cook’s father moves to Redcar where he lives with his married daughter, Mary Fleck. I mention this because Redcar is my home town and not many people are aware of this association between Redcar and James Cook.

Captain Cook's 2nd Pacific Voyage: 1772- 1775. On Board The Ship HMS Resolution.

Now a Captain, James Cook moves from HMS Endeavour to HMS Resolution. This, his 2nd Pacific Voyage is tasked with mapping the Great Southern Continent. Accompanied by a second ship the Adventure.

Fact 14. James Cook crosses the Antarctic Circle for the first time in January 1773, before crossing it again in December 1773. In 1774, he crosses the Antarctic Circle for a third time and in doing so travels further south than any other ship has ever done. His voyage puts paid to the false belief that the Great Southern Continent exists. James Cook returns home after a voyage lasting 3 years and eighteen days, to a hero’s welcome being the first person ever circumnavigate the world in both directions.

HMS Resolution

Resolution and Adventure in Matavai Bay painted in 1776 by William Hodges. Shows the two ships at anchor in Tahiti in August 1773.
Resolution and Adventure in Matavai Bay painted in 1776 by William Hodges. Shows the two ships at anchor in Tahiti in August 1773.

HMS Resolution

The Resolution was originally a collier vessel named Marquis of Granby (launched in 1770) that the Royal Navy purchased and converted to a sloop in 1771.

  • Crew: 112 men including 20 marines
  • Keel 93 feet 6 inches
  • Fitted with 12 carriage guns and 12 swivel guns
  • The Resolution ended her incredible career after being captured by the French in June 1782 - within 6 weeks of her capture the ship set sail for Manila but was never seen again.

3rd Pacific Voyage: 1776-1780. On board the ship Resolution.

This is Captain James Cook’s 3rd and last Pacific Voyage. Newly promoted to Post Captain, the Resolution and Discovery are tasked with exploration of Pacific and to look for a believed exit from the North West Passage.

Fact 15. 1777 – They visit New Zealand, Tonga, Tahiti and Christmas Island.

Fact 16. January 1778 – Captain Cook discovers what is now called the Hawaiian Islands.

Fact 17. February 1778 – Cooks ship lands off the coast of Oregon before discovering British Columbia.

Fact 18. January 1779 – James returns to Hawaii to prepare for yet another attempt at finding the North West Passage. However, after initially setting sail once more, he is forced to return there again after a Foremast is broken.

Fact 19. February 1779 - The ships cutter (a small single-masted boat) was stolen and James Cook and a party of Marines from the crew, went ashore to demand its return. But they are attacked by armed warriors and Cook and two of his Royal Marines are stabbed and clubbed to death. It was not until 11 months later that news of Cooks death reached England.

Fact 20. 21st February 1779 - The few remains of Captain Cook are recovered before being they are buried at sea in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii.

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.

The Amazing Life and Strange Death of Captain Cook: Crash Course World History #27


Captain James Cook led an amazing life. From very humble beginnings, he acquired great skills and knowledge. He was one of a very few men who were able to rise through the ranks when in the Royal Navy at that time. His discoveries changed the then prevailing view of the world. Almost fittingly, his death is surrounded by mystery and conjecture.

But one thing is without doubt - James Cook was and remains to this day an exemplary example of an explorer, navigator and cartographer.


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    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 3 months ago from Redcar

      Thank you. James Cook certainly had an adventurous life.

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 3 months ago

      Very well written! I enjoyed reading this. Plenty of information I did not know about James Cook.

    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 3 months ago from Redcar

      He was an amazing character. The museum has just undergone a major refurbishment and is certainly well worth a visit.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 3 months ago from Norfolk, England

      He was certainly an amazing man. I'd love to visit the museum about him. He certainly achieved a lot during his career.

    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 3 months ago from Redcar

      Thank you Kari. I like to think that he visited Redcar too. Although it woud have looked very different back then. In fact James Cook's father passed away before heearing of his son's death and is buried at Marske - a village next to Redcar.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 3 months ago from Ohio

      I enjoyed learning about Capt James Cook. I chuckled when you mentioned his father moved to Redcar. It's pretty cool because Capt James Cook probably visited there. He was an amazing man! I did not know who discovered Australia or Hawaii, but now I do. :)