A Brief Biography of Captain James Cook

By Tim Lambert

The early life of James Cook

Captain James Cook was a famous explorer of the 18th century. He was born on 27 October 1728 in Marton, Yorkshire. His father was a farm foreman. James went to Postgate School. When he was 17 Cook went to work in a shop in the village of Staithes on the coast of Yorkshire.

In 1746, when he was 18 James Cook moved to Whitby where he joined ship owners, John, and Henry Walker, as a merchant navy apprentice in the coal trade. (Their house in Grape Lane is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum). When his 3-year apprenticeship ended Cook began working on trading ships in the Baltic Sea.

Then in 1755, Cook joined the navy. War broke out with France in 1756 and Cook spent most of his time on ships off the coast of North America. During the siege of Quebec in 1759 Cook mapped the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River.

In 1760 James Cook was appointed master of the Northumberland under the command of Captain Alexander. From 1760 to 1762 Cook carried out several surveys of the coast of Canada. He returned to England and was discharged on 11 November 1762. On 21 December 1762 Cook married a woman named Elizabeth Batts the daughter of an innkeeper from Wapping. They had 6 children but only 3 survived to adulthood.

From 1763 to 1767 Cook was employed surveying Newfoundland during the summer, while he spent each winter in England. James Cook finally returned to England on 15 November 1767.

At that time the Royal Society planned to send a ship to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun. So in May 1768, Cook was put in charge of a ship called the Endeavour. It sailed from Plymouth on 25 August 1768. Cook arrived at Tahiti on 13 April 1769. The transit of Venus occurred on 3 June.

Cook then sailed to New Zealand and surveyed both islands. Cook then sailed to explore the east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales. Cook returned to England on 12 June 1771.

Next Cook was put in charge of an expedition to try and find a great southern continent. He sailed in a ship called the Resolution on 13 July 1772. Cook did not find any great southern landmass but on 17 January 1773, he became the first man to cross the Antarctic circle. Cook also discovered the South Sandwich Islands. Cook returned to England in June 1771.

The death of Captain Cook

In 1776 James Cook was sent on an expedition to try and find a northern passage by sea from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Captain Cook sailed from Plymouth on 12 July 1776 in a ship called the Discovery. In January 1778 he reached Hawaii and in March reached the Northwest coast of North America. Cook then surveyed part of the coast but, of course, he did not find a passage. In January 1779 Cook sailed to Hawaii.

He left on 4 February. However, the foremast of the Resolution broke in a storm and Cook sailed back to Hawaii. This time the Europeans were not welcomed. The Hawaiians stole a small boat. Cook landed with a party of marines and attempted to take a king hostage until it was returned. However, the Hawaiians resisted and Cook was killed along with 4 marines on 14 February 1779. His ship the Resolution sailed safely back to England.

Captain Cook, New Zealand

Captain Cook’s widow Elizabeth lived to be 94 but she outlived all her children.