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Captain James Cook

Updated on December 19, 2017

The Age of Enlightenment

In 1588 (as we all should know) England had decisively won the battle against the Spanish Armada and rendered Spain powerless, thus allowing England to become the dominant power at sea over the next 3 centuries.

Despite that loss however, the catholic church continued to send out Spanish ships looking for gold, treasure and converts. There are several mentions in history of huge Spanish treasure fleets. And of course the natural opponent to treasure - gives rise to pirates. The century of the 1600s was the age of piracy on the high seas.

The Protestant religion was not quite so greedy. They were more interested in knowledge and learning and finding more land to set up new colonies. So in the late 1600s, we have English sailors slowly exploring the globe and learning about other cultures. Sir Francis Drake was the first English man to circumnavigate the globe. (1577 -1580). William Dampier made 3 circumnavigations - the first one being from 1689 -1691.

Then came Captain James Cook.

Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook
Captain James Cook

Lieutenant James Cook was a sailor with the British Royal Navy. He was born in England in 1728 and had first joined the British Merchant Navy as a teenager. In 1755 (at age 27) he joined the British Royal Navy. It is more than likely that he learnt a lot of his mapping skills while he was in the Merchant Navy. Cook was in Eastern Canada during the Siege of Quebec. He spent a good portion of his time mapping the Gulf of St Lawrence and the entrance to the St Lawrence river in detail.

This attention to detail brought him to the attention of both the British Admiralty and the Royal Society. Consequently in 1766, Cook was commissioned as Commander of the HMS Endeavour, and sent out on a joint Royal Navy/Royal Society scientific expedition to the South Pacific Ocean. The official mission of this voyage was to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun - and to search for the Terra Australis Incognita, the Unknown Southern Continent.

While Cook himself was an excellent cartographer and mapmaker, his first voyage as the Commander of the Endeavour would not have been quite so successful without the naturalist and botanist, Joseph Banks who was also assigned to the Endeavour. Banks had previously been in Newfoundland and Labrador collecting plants and drawing birds.

I am not going to go into a lot of details regarding Cooks voyages. You can find more information in the resources section.

Image source - Clip Art from Florida Educational Technology Clearing House

First Voyage 1768 - 1771

Cooks First Voyage
Cooks First Voyage

Dates - 1768 - 1771

Ship - HMS Bark Endeavour

Captain - James Cook

Naturalist and Botanist - Joseph Banks


Discovered the Tuamotu and Society Islands in what is now French Polynesia (Tahiti is in the Society Islands)

Circumnavigated and mapped the entire coast of both North and South Island of New Zealand

Named many features along the coast of New Zealand

Cape Kidnappers - (in Hawkes Bay where Maoris attempted to kidnap some of the crew)

Young Nick's Head - which was the first landfall sighted by the surgeon's boy - Nicholas Young

Poverty Bay - because the Maoris prevented Cook from landing to obtain fresh water and food

Hawkes Bay - after Sir Edward Hawke of the Admiralty

Mt Egmont - (now Mt Taranaki) after the first Lord of the Admiralty

Mercury Bay - where the Endeavour stopped for 10 days to observe the transit of Mercury across the sun.

Queen Charlotte Sound - top of the South Island

Cook Strait - Named after Cook himself.

Discovered Botany Bay and Port Jackson (now Sydney)

Mapped the East coast of New Holland (now Australia) from Port Jackson north to Torres Strait

Discovered the Great Barrier Reef when the Endeavour ran aground on it

Image Source - The Lost Forum

Second Voyage 1772 - 1775

Cooks Second Voyage
Cooks Second Voyage

Dates - 1772 - 1775

Ship - HMS Resolution

Captain - James Cook

Crewman aboard - George Vancouver - who later became an explorer in his own right


This voyage made a determined effort to locate the Unknown Southern continent. Cook sailed at roughly 60 degrees south latitude around much of the globe and still did not find land - although there were many sightings of ice. Finally and absolutely confirmed that there was NO great unknown southern continent.

However Resolution was the first ship to cross the Antarctic circle (go below 66 degrees south). The furtherest south that Resolution sailed was latitude 71 degrees south at around 105 degrees west. According to the map - that is the deep South Pacific (south west of Chile) in the Amundsen sea.

Discovered South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (South Atlantic)

Discovered the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, and New Hebrides (now Vanuatu - All in the Pacific)

Image Source - The Lost Forum

Third Voyage 1776 - 1779

Cooks Third Voyage
Cooks Third Voyage

Dates - 1776 - 1779 - 1780

Ship - HMS Resolution

Captain - James Cook (until his death) and Captain Clerke

Mission - To discover the Famed North West Passage - between the Atlantic and the Pacific


Discovered the Sandwich Islands (now called Hawaii)

Headed NE from the sandwich islands and mapped the North American coast from Cape Foulwind in what is now Oregon, north past Washington State, past Vancouver and Victoria Islands, the rest of British Columbia and all the way along the Alaskan coast as far as the Bering Strait. Cook also named a number of islands and features along this coast as well.

The Bering Strait was impassable and they were unable to locate the North West passage. So the Resolution returned to the Sandwich Islands.

After Cook was killed in Hawaii, the Resolution sailed away, and tried one more time to get through the Bering strait, but again was unable to do so, They then sailed down along the coast of Siberia, and through the Asian islands, (Japan, Philippines and Indonesia), across the Indian ocean, around the Cape of Good Hope and arrived back in England in 1780,

Image Source - The Lost Forum

James Cook's Legacy

The two main legacies that James Cook and his voyages left to humankind were -

1 - the art of navigation - especially over vast bodies of water

Lattitude is easy to measure - it involves the height of a star above the horizon.

Longitude is connected to time and you need to know what time it is back home, compared to where you are now, in order to work out the difference. John Harrisons accurate chronometer enabled Cook to make extremely accurate readings of longitude during his second and third voyages.

2 - a medical cure for Scurvy.

Cook lost very few men to Scurvy. He always made sure there was fresh fruit available, as much as possible.

Your turn to sound off about Captain James Cook - What did you think of this legendary explorer

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    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      A new blessing on this lovely lens and may you have a wonderful, successful and happy 2013. Hugs

    • FallenAngel 483 profile image

      FallenAngel 483 5 years ago

      Nice lens cannot imagine what this brave man went through on a ship for so long discovering all new places. Must have been the most amazing adventures ever.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      Nicely done lens on Cook. This well researched work is now featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012 and Australia from Its Beginning. Hugs.

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      I love the maps they are so cool. I feel like a pirate when I visit your explorer lenses.

    • smithlights profile image

      smithlights 6 years ago

      Wow! What a great lens! So much information, and so thorough. Way to go!