James Cook: Celebrated North Country Explorer

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Who was Captain James Cook?

Cook was described by his patron, Sir Hugh Palliser as: “the ablest and most renowned navigator that this or any country has ever produced.”

Born in Marton, Cleveland, in 1728, the son of a humble farm labourer, he rose to become an internationally known naval captain and explorer – a considerable achievement in the eighteenth century.

Cook served his maritime apprenticeship working for a Whitby-based ship owner, taking coal from Tyneside to London. He joined the Royal Navy in 1755 and worked his way through the ranks from able seaman to captain. In Canada he learned how to survey and draw navigation charts.

Cook’s skills as a seaman and navigator came to the notice of the Admiralty and the Royal Society and in1768 he was chosen to lead a scientific expedition into the Pacific Ocean to observe the Transit of Venus across the Sun and to find the great southern continent. One of Cook’s great achievements was to disprove popular belief in the existence of this continent.

During this first great voyage from 1768 to 1771 Cook made the first accurate maps and charts of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia, and charted the position of many Pacific Islands. During the second and third voyages starting in 1772 he continued charting large parts of the North American and North Asian coasts. He discovered new Pacific islands and became the first explorer to cross the Antarctic Circle.

Cook and his fellow travellers recorded in great detail the people they came across, their lives and customs and collected examples of tools, clothes and weapons for future generations. Scientists, botanists, astronomers and artists collected and recorded thousands of natural history specimens, plants and animals, and observed astronomical events.

Cook did much to preserve the health and lives of his crew by promoting healthy living and eating and was especially effective in combating the dreaded scurvy caused by a deficiency of vitamin C in the diet of sailors.

All this made Cook a great pioneer of the eighteenth century. Sadly his life came to a tragic end when he was killed in Hawaii in 1779 but ever since news of his death reached England a year later, Cook has been celebrated and commemorated from Marton to the South Seas and has recently been voted one of the top twenty great Britons of all time.


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

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