James Cook: Celebrated North Country Explorer

Main Site | Text Home | Gallery | Cook in the N.E. | Timeline | Who was Cook? | Themes | Contact | Copyright | Site Map


During the Seven Years War (1756-1763) Cook went to Canada where he learned how to survey and make charts.

He spent the next few years developing his skills and making charts of the St. Lawrence River (1759-60) and Halifax (1760-62) For five years (1762-67) Cook surveyed the coast of Newfoundland during the summer periods, returning to Britain for the winters. Cook’s talents as a surveyor and mapmaker came to the notice of Admiral Saunders who arranged for Cook’s charts to be published back in England.
South Channel of Orleans, Quebec

During his three great voyages Cook kept detailed records of the position of his ship and charted his course across the vast tracts of empty ocean. Amongst Cook’s great achievements were the first accurate charts of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia, the location of many Pacific islands and his exploration in the high latitudes of the Arctic and Antarctic circles.
Chart of the Great South Sea

King George’s Island, or Otaheiti (Tahiti), was discovered by Captain Wallis, commander of HMS Dolphin (1766-68). When Cook visited Tahiti in order to observe the Transit of Venus in 1769 he made charts and maps of the island.
Very early this morning I set out in the Pinnace, accompined by Mr. Banks and one of ye Natives with an intent to make the Circuit of the Island in order to examine and draw a Sketch of the Coast and Harbours thereof…The Plan or Sketch which I have drawn, although it cannot be very accurate yet it will be found sufficient to point out the situations of the different Bays and harbours and the figure of the Island and I believe is without any material error.
(Cook, Journals I, pp.105-114, 26th-28th June 1769)
A Plan of King George’s Island

During the six months between October 1769 and April 1770 Cook sailed over 2,400 miles around the coast of New Zealand, surveying the coast from on board the ship or else ashore. Surveying from the ship could be very hazardous with the ship having to sail as close to the shore as was safe without running aground. At night, in order to continue a survey from the same place the following morning, the ship anchored if it was possible or else had to hold its position off the coast. The chart that Cook produced of New Zealand was very accurate for its time and a remarkable achievement considering the methods and equipment used and the weather that was encountered.
Chart of New Zealand

Cook commented on the accuracy of various parts of his survey of New Zealand:
The Chart which I have drawn will best point out the figure and extent of these Islands…beginning at Cape Palliser and proceed round Aehei no mouwe (North Island) by the East Cape &ca. The Coast between these two Capes I believe to be laid down pretty accurate both in its figure and the Course and distance from point to point. The oppertunities I had and the methods I made use on to obtain these requesites were such as could hardly admit of an error… some few places however must be excepted and these are very doubtfull …
(Cook, Journals I, 275-6)
North Island of New Zealand

Cook gave names to all the prominent features on the coasts he surveyed. Inspiration for these names came from a variety of sources: from the shape, colour or general characteristics of the landscape; the experiences of the ship’s crew, particularly if they landed in a place which was fertile and the ship could be re-supplied, or the native people were friendly or hostile; and the ship’s crew if they had been the first to sight the land or prominent members of British society and members of the Admiralty Board.
A chart of part of the north coast of New Zealand

When Cook sailed west from New Zealand heading back to Britain in March 1770 he was looking for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). He was too far north and arrived at Point Hicks, now Cape Everard, New Holland (Australia) in April 1770. Cook turned north at the start of a two thousand mile journey that involved the first accurate charting and naming of points along the east coast of Australia.
A chart of the Coast of New South Wales

Cook found a landing place that he first called Stingray, later Botany, Bay on 29th April.
At day light in the morning we discovered a Bay which appeard to be tolerably well sheltered from all winds into which I resoloved to go with the Ship and with this view sent the Master in the Pinnace to sound the entrance while we kept turning up with the Ship having the wind right out…
(Cook, Journals I, pp.304-6)
Cook investigated the area here until departure on 6th May 1770.
Botany Bay in New South Wales

After almost being wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef (June) and repairs in the Endeavour River (June-August) Endeavour sailed north again and after four months Cook rounded what he called Cape York, the northern point of New Holland. He then sailed on to Batavia (Jakarta)
A chart of the sea coast of New South Wales

Cook charted his route on the second voyage in search of the Great Southern Continent and included notes of significant events on the chart:
Here we watered our Ship with Ice the 1st. Time/26S 44W” & “Here we compleated our Water/26S 20W” (Jan 1773)
Here we parted company….” And “The Resolutions Track after we parted Company on the 8 of February 1773”.
A Mercator’s Chart

On his second voyage Cook arrived at New Caledonia on 4th September 1774 and anchored at Balade. He explored inland, climbed Mount Vengaya, and observed an eclipse of the sun from Poudiou Island (Observatory Island).
I believe we have nearly determined the extent of this Land having seen the sea on the opposite side when we first anchord and now find the south side to take the same direction as the North. It appears a chain of mountains extending NW and SE about 95 Leagues environ’d with little Islands, reefs, shoals &c…
(Gilbert, Journal, 30th September 1774)

Cook left South America in early January 1775 and set off across the southern Atlantic for Cape Town, South Africa. On the way he tried to confirm the location of a number of islands charted by Alexander Dalrymple on an earlier voyage. On 17 January 1775 Cook arrived at the cold, bleak, glaciated island he called South Georgia and spent 3 days charting it before sailing on.
Isle of Georgia

Ships & Crew | OmaiCharts & MapsLandscapesWildlife | Transit of Venus | Objects | Boats | People


Project partners: British Library, North East Libraries and Archives Council, Captain Cook Birthplace Museum

All enquiries to Phil_Philo@middlesbrough.gov.uk
or write to:

Captain Cook Birthplace Museum
Stewart Park


01642 311211

Fax 01642 317419

Main Site | Text Home | Gallery | Cook in the N.E. | Timeline | Who was Cook? | Themes | Contact | Copyright | Site Map