Captain Cook was one of the most accomplished men in history. He was a highly talented sailor, cartographer, and astronomer, and he discovered not just New Zealand and Australia, but also Hawaii, and several other islands, including Easter Island and the island of South Georgia. He even circumnavigated the world… Twice!
He was the second of eight children to James Cook Sr., a farm laborer, and Grace Pace. His parents first apprenticed him to a friend, who was a grocer and shopkeeper. Cook worked there for a little, but it was soon discovered shop keeping was not his forte. Recognizing his love of the sea, the good man (the grocer) took him to see some friends of his, prominent shipmasters of a merchant fleet. The people took him on, and in his teens he worked shipping coal along the coast. After he finished his apprenticeship, he continued working on the merchant vessels, but only a month after gaining his own ship (a collier brig called Friendship) he joined the Royal Navy. He knew he would have to start at the bottom again, but he also realized his career would progress faster in the Navy.
He saw action in the Seven Years War, and his skill got him a promotion to master, and a ship, the HMS Pembroke.After the war, he became an explorer. His early voyages included chartering the St. Laurence River, with the Pembroke, and Newfoundland, with the HMS Grenville. He did both extremely accurately.
His first of three voyages into the Pacific was to go to Tahiti and map the path of Venus across the sky. He did so in the HMS Endeavour, and Joseph Banks the botanist was part of his crew. He was also given a secret mission to try and find a great undiscovered southern continent, which most people believed existed at the time. If there wasn’t one, he was to head in a different direction, which would take him to New Zealand, and chart the land there. The Venus project was a success, and the information gathered helped scientists accurately determine the size of the solar system. He found no continent (people still thought it might be further south), and so he went to New Zealand. He was very respectful of the Māori culture, but one time they met him hostilely and he was forced to fight them off. However, most of the time the English and the Māori met on friendly terms or not at all.
He also sailed west from New Zealand and arrived at Australia. This first time, he saw natives on the shores but did not make contact. He also claimed the lands he had visited so far for the British. He even successfully navigated the Great Barrier Reef! On return, however, their luck changed, and several of the crew died of malaria at the Cape of Good Hope.
His second voyage was again secret, and also for the great southern continent, on the HMS Resolution. Before the voyage Banks attempted to seize control, but he was removed and replaced by Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg Forster as botanists. On this voyage Cook proved there was no great southern continent, and also circumnavigated Antarctica, but he could not reach the continent itself, as the ice was too thick to break through. On the way there, he discovered the island of South Georgia, and on the way back Easter Island, the Friendly Islands, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu.
Cook was given honorary retirement upon his return, which he very reluctantly accepted. We can definitely assume he felt the pull of the sea stronger than ever, and this is why, when an exploration mission came up, he jumped to volunteer.
The mission of this third voyage into the Pacific was to find a navigable passage between the Atlantic and Pacific through North America. On the way, he became the first European on Hawaiian soil, and he named them the Sandwich Islands after his sponsor, the Earl of Sandwich. After leaving, he reached the coast of California, and stayed in the Vancouver Islands for a month, trading with the natives who lived there. He then sailed north to the Bering Strait, and tried several times to sail through it, but unsuccessfully. There were no navigable passages, so he returned to Hawaii. He went there just as a harvest festival for the god Lono was taking place, and as his ship resembled a religious artifact associated with Lono, and also because he sailed around clockwise, just like a religious dance attributed to Lono, he was mistaken for the deity.
Relationships between the English and Hawaiians became strained, and when the natives stole one of their smaller boats, Cook decided to take a Hawaiian king ransom. The king knew nothing of this, and he was following Cook to the boats when his favorite wife and two chiefs came and begged him not to go, while a huge crowd of the locals gathered. The king realized what was going on, and a man clubbed Cook on the back of the head. As he fell facedown into the shallow water, he was stabbed to death. Poor Cook!
We visited many places that he had ‘discovered’. As well as, of course, Sydney, he loved Ship’s Cove at the north of the NZ South Island, and visited many times. He named the Banks Peninsular in NZ after the treacherous Joseph Banks, and Botany Bay in Australia after his discoveries. Everywhere you go you can see statues of him – happily not vandalized the way they used to be!