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James Cook

Read a biography of James Cook to learn more about this English explorer of the Pacific.
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Explorer / Navigator

Born: 27 October 1728
Died: 14 February 1779
Birthplace: Marton, England
Best known as: English explorer of the Pacific in the 1770s

Captain James Cook was an English naval explorer whose expeditions in the 1770s charted much of the lands of the Pacific, including New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii. The son of an agricultural worker, Cook was apprenticed to shipbuilders and joined the navy in 1755. He became a master seaman in 1759 and spent most of the next decade surveying around Newfoundland and Labrador. He commanded the Endeavor on his first trip to the Pacific, an expedition to observe Venus for the Royal Society (1768-71). On his return trip he circumnavigated New Zealand, charted the eastern coast of Australia and returned by way of Java and the Cape of Good Hope. His second voyage to the Pacific, commanding the Resolution and the Adventure, took Cook along the northern edge of Antarctica and helped him outline the southern hemisphere; in three years (1772-75) he lost only one crew member. His third and final voyage (1776-79) was an effort to find a passage across the northern part of America. After he was forced to turn back at the Bering Strait, he reached Hawaii in January of 1779. A dispute at Kealakekua Bay (over a stolen boat) ended with Cook dead, apparently at the hands of the islanders. Considered one of the first navigators of the scientific era, Cook's expeditions made him the most famous naval explorer since Ferdinand Magellan.

Extra credit: Credit for the safety of his crew is due in part to Cook's faith in physician James Lind's theory that citrus fruit could prevent scurvy... There are fifteen islands northeast of New Zealand known as the Cook Islands, but they weren't discovered by Cook. Polynesians were there around 800 and Spaniards were there in the late 16th century. Cook was there in 1773 and dubbed them the Hervey Islands. A Russian cartographer renamed them the Cook Islands in the early part of the 1800s, and the name stuck... Benjamin Franklin admired Cook so much he offered the navigator a "passport" for safe passage during the Revolutionary War, but by that time Cook had already been killed in Hawaii.

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