“The man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.”
Rising through the ranks, Captain James Cook was a British explorer, navigator, and cartographer who revisioned the idea of adventure. With his crew he went on three major expeditions, discovering new kingdoms, islands, and tribes. Cook’s devotion and perseverance at sea left him known as a legend, creating the first charts of the Pacific Ocean that are still used two centuries later.
Cook was born in the small town of Marton, Yorkshire on October 27, 1728. Having six siblings and living in poverty, He first started working with his father at the age of 12 trying to help save his farm. In 1745, Cook left home and traveled to the fishing village of Staithes in the north of Yorkshire. From there, he began to work as a clerk at a small grocery store. After eighteen months, Cook finally had enough money to travel to the northern port of Whitby and It wasn’t until he was 18 when he was offered a job as an apprentice on Captain John Walker’s ship transporting coal from Tyne to London.
James worked on small ships called colliers for nine years of his life working his way up to ship’s mate. During the time he sailed on the colliers, Cook studied mathematics and astronomy and became an outstanding navigator. Shortly before January 1755, Captain Walker offered Cook to replace him and become the new captain, but Cook turned down the offer, leaving Walker in disbelief. Seeing recruitment posters for the Royal Navy, Cook rejected Walker in the hope to travel the world.
In the summer of 1755, Cook enlisted in the Royal Navy. His first posting was with the HMS Eagle, serving under Captain Joseph Hamar as a masters mate. He was in the Royal Navy for less than a year when Britain declared war on France in which became known as the Seven Years’ War. The Royal Navy sailed across the Atlantic to Quebec where Cook charted the St Lawrence River and other parts of the eastern coast. Due to his outstanding skills in cartography and navigation, Cook was promoted to master, one of the highest ranks in the Royal Navy.
In 1768, the Royal Society urged King George III to help finance an expedition to the Pacific Ocean where they would study the “transit of Venus”. The expedition was approved and the Admiralty combined the voyage with a confidential mission to search the South Pacific for new lands. They were going to appoint a geographer named Alexander Dalrymple but he lacked experience at sea. Lucky enough, the Royal Navy suggested James Cook for his outstanding background knowledge in mathematics and cartography. Months later, James Cook departed Plymouth on the HMS Endeavour with provisions, a crew of 85, including 12 Royal Marines and twelve tons of pig iron.
The first voyage was all focused on observing Venus as it passed between the Earth and the Sun. This would help astronomers to calculate the distance between the Sun and the Earth. Cook first arrived in Tahiti on 13 April 1769, to conduct all of the Venus observations which later was called the Venus Transit. After completing the first part of the expedition, he was now ordered to search for new lands. Once reaching New Zealand, Cook first sailed through the narrow gap between the two islands and landed on the north-east coast. Upon landing, His crew was attacked by a local tribe known by the Maoris. After showering them with gifts and provisions, Cook continued on his journey and mapped parts of the coast just before sailing up to Australia. After charting the East Coast, Cook headed for Hawaii but the HMS Endeavour sailed right across the Great Barrier Reef creating a large hole in the bottom of the ship. With no other choice, Cook had to return to England.
Almost immediately after returning home, James Cook was given another mission. Terra Australis was The theoretical idea to search for the southern continent. But after the first voyage, Cook came to the conclusions that New Zealand was not attached to a larger piece of land. Although Australia was considered “continental size”, the Royal Society still believed that Terra Australis was further south. In 1772, only one year prior to his first voyage, Cook set sail again, looking for the promised lands of Antarctica. After the incidents of being attacked and almost sinking, The Royal Society decided to send two ships, HMS Endeavour and HMS Discovery as precautions. On July 17, 1772, the two ships were surrounded by giant icebergs, stopping them from going any further. He made many fruitless attempts to encounter the mainland unfortunately, Cook never set foot on the frozen southern continent.
Soon after returning back to England, Cook was promoted to the rank of post-captain. He received many awards from the Royal Society but that wasn’t enough for him. He couldn’t be kept from the thrashing waves of the ocean. In 1776, the Admiralty gave him the chance to find the Northwest Passage and he immediately took it. After traveling to Plymouth and gathering more crew and another ship, Cook set off on July 12, 1776, for his third voyage from the port, saying farewell to his friends and family for the last time.
Cook first sailed to Cape Town with his two ships, the HMS Endeavour, and the HMS Resolution, in order to restock on food and water before heading towards New Zealand. The Endeavour was carrying huge barrels of food and drink and many other provisions. As for the Resolution, it was carrying cattle, sheep, pigs, dogs, cats, and rabbit which Cook nicknamed ‘Noah’s Ark’. Life wasn’t easy being a seaman. James Cook was a strict captain and had very tight rules on both ships, including orders that the crew had to bathe every day in the interest of keeping a deadly disease called Scurvy away. Scurvy was also prevented by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. The ship as well had to be kept clean; everyone had to clean the ship at certain times of the day and if anyone disobeyed these rules they would be lashed five times with a whip. Soon the weather became colder and the ocean became harsher, leading to many crew members dying of infection, drowning, or hypothermia.
In January 1778, traveling north from the South Pacific, Cook discovered a group of islands that he named the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii. He briefly surveyed Hawaii before continuing north up the coast of America towards British Columbia. Cook sailed past Vancouver Island but weather worsened and there was no hope in finding the Northwest Passage. Arriving back in Hawaii after turning around, Cook and his crew hopped into enormous rowing boats and rowed all the way around the island. Before landing on the beach, Hawaiians greeted them with gifts and food as they were having festivals of worshiping Lono, the God of Music and Peace.
After a months stay, Cook became restless and desired to continue his exploration of British Columbia, But the ships ran into a huge storm, causing the foremast of the Resolution to snap in half. Within two weeks, the ships had returned to Hawaii. Local Hawaiians were not happy with their arrival, reacting by hurling rocks and spears at the boats. After an unnamed group of Hawaiians stole one of the HMS Resolution’s boats, Captain Cook plotted to kidnap the King. Morning broke and Cook stormed into the village and took the hostage back to the boats where he would be held for ransom. The King broke free from the restraints, grabbed a spear and threw it at a crew member, killing him instantly. Instantaneously, a huge brawl broke out and the crew fled back to the boats, leaving Cook unprotected. As Cook was about to leave to the boats himself, a priest from the island distracted him, while another Hawaiian struck Cook on the head with a club before several more Hawaiians began to stab him to death.
The famous Captain James Cook died on February 14, 1779, at the age of 51.
I was drawn to James Cook by his passion for exploration. As learners, both Cook and I share our drive for adventures. We take risks in order to pursue our mission, no matter how strenuous or debilitating the challenge is. Cook was said to be independent while being very sociable at the same time. I believe in some ways I can be the same. I enjoy being independent and figuring out problems autonomously but I can also be put in a room full of total strangers and become friends with everyone. Another trait that we share is persistence. Over Cook’s entire life, he was never given anything. Being born into a poor family, Cook learned how to achieve his goals even if he was pressured by difficulties or hardship and is now considered as one of the greatest explorers of all time. I have also struggled at times in my life. Being the only person in my class to be gifted, I was always considered as “the smart kid”. However, that didn’t stop me from applying to MACC and then applying to TALONS. It’s the little decisions that make the biggest impact.
My current goal in TALONS is to stay focused on what matters. There are a countless amount of distractions and paths I could take that could have both positive and negative outcomes but I choose to stay on my current path. Staying focused on school work is my main objective and I know that in the long run, it could alter relationships with people in my life but hopefully, these choices I make will benefit or enrich my learning in some way. I believe that James Cook exemplifies my goals exactly. He too had many choices in life and paths to choose from but he stuck to his goal of exploring the Pacific Ocean, even if it meant leaving behind his homeland.
The legacy James Cook left behind should inspire all those seeking adventure. Cook spent 12 years at sea, charting the Pacific Ocean including the coasts of New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and the west coast of British Columbia. His precisely accurate charts provided navigators with maps that are still being used today. Cook’s voyages are credited with helping to guide generations of explorers, his astronomy studies assisted in the Venus Transit, and his legacy that he left behind causes many to believe that he did more to fill the map of the world than any other explorer in history.
Captain James Cook. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ducksters.com/biography/explorers/captain_james_cook.php
James Cook. (2016, May 16). Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/james-cook-21210409
History – Captain James Cook. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/cook_captain_james.shtml
Villiers, A. J. (2018, May 10). James Cook. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/James-Cook
Welcome to the captain cook society. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.captaincooksociety.com/
Boissoneault, L. (2018, August 24). Captain Cook’s 1768 Voyage to the South Pacific Included a Secret Mission. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/captain-cooks-1768-voyage-south-pacific-included-secret-mission-180970119/
Colleridge, V. (n.d.). Captain Cook. Ebury Press: London.
Pictures (in order)