James Cook was born on 7 November 1728 in the Yorkshire village of Marton. He was the second of eight children of a Scottish farm labourer and his locally born wife. Despite not being formally educated he became capable in mathematics, astronomy, and charting by the time of his Endeavour voyage.
Cook’s first experience on a ship at sea was from 1747 to 1749 as an apprentice aboard The Freelove based in Whitby.
Cook joined the Royal Navy at the unusually late age of 26. He rapidly rose through the enlisted ranks to command his own ship. He first came to prominence during the Seven Year’s War where his skill as a cartographer producing detailed maps of the St Lawrence river greatly assisted the British in defeating the French on the Plains of Abraham (1759). His skill of charting the seas became a vital tool in his explorer’s skillset and because of his expertise at charting unknown seas, he was awarded his first round-the-world voyage.
Cook’s Cottage was constructed in 1755 in Yorkshire by Cook’s parents. It is not clear if Cook ever lived in the house but he certainly did visit his parents there. The cottage was purchased by an Australian in 1933 and transported to Melbourne where it was erected in Fitzroy Gardens. Russel Grimwald, the businessman who purchased the house, later donated it to the people of the State of Victoria.
Many countries have celebrated Cook’s birth, voyages and death with postage stamps, including a number of countries he never visited.
The First Voyage – 1768-1771 (HMS Endeavour)
Captain James Cook’s first voyage was in HM Bark Endeavour, a British Royal Navy research vessel. During this voyage Cook circumnavigated New Zealand and so proved that it was not attached to any other land mass, specifically the hypothetical Terra Australis Incognito (unknown land of the South). Endeavour was largely forgotten after this voyage and met her fate during the American War of Independence when she was scuttled in 1778 at the entrance to Newport Harbour to prevent the French fleet from entering the harbour.
Cook’s future ship is launched in Whitby as the Earl of Pembroke. She was refitted for Cook’s voyage in Deptford and recommissioned as the HM Bark Endeavour.
Joseph Banks was a British naturalist and botanist and patron of the natural sciences. He joined Cook on his first voyage of discovery on board Endeavour. Banks advocated British settlement in New South Wales and the colonization of Australia as well as the establishment of Botany Bay as a place for the reception of convicts. He also held the position of president of the Royal Society for 42 years.
Sydney Parkinson was a botanical illustrator who was employed by Banks to join the Endeavour voyage. He was the first European artist to visit Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti. He made nearly 1,000 drawings of plants and animals collected by Banks. He died at sea of dysentery on the way to Cape Town after contracting the disease in Java.
1768, Aug. 25
The Endeavour leaves Plymouth harbour.
1768, Nov. 13
Arrives in Rio de Janeiro.
Continues on to round Cape Horn and head into the Pacific Ocean.
1769, Apr. 13
Arrives in Tahiti where his first mission is to observe the transition of Venus.
The mission is to reach Tahiti before June 1769 and establish themselves among the islanders, constructing an astronomical observatory. Cook and his crew would then observe Venus sliding across the surface of the sun, an event that occurs once every 120 years. This observation hopefully would assist in measuring the size of the solar system.
The size of the solar system was one of the chief puzzles of the 18th century. Astronomers knew that six planets orbited the sun and the relative spacing of the planets but not the absolute distances. By noting the start and stop times of the transit from widely spaced locations on Earth, the astronomer and geophysicist Edmund Halley reasoned that astronomers could calculate the distance to Venus.
The ship arrived two months before the transit and so there was time to prepare; however, the delights of such a strange and welcoming island consumed much of the crews’ time. When the time came to make the measurements, Cook’s and the ship’s astronomer’s measurements differed by 42 seconds due to the intense sunlight filtering through Venus’ atmosphere, which fuzzed the edge of the disk decreasing the precision with which the transit could be timed. There were many other points on the earth where the transit was observed and astronomers used all of these observances to calculated the sun’s distance from the earth as approximately 153 million kilometres.
1769, Oct. 8
Cook reaches New Zealand – He had secret instructions to search for Terra Australis Incognito, a mythical continent that was supposed to exist in the southern hemisphere. First posited by Macrobius in the 5th century as a landmass to balance the continents in the Northern Hemisphere.
Abel Tasman on his first voyage in 1642, in the Zeehaen and Heemskerck, had sighted New Zealand 130 years earlier, but he never landed or claimed the land he saw for Holland. His men did go ashore and encountered Maōris, an action which resulted in a confrontation causing the death of four of his men.
Cook circumnavigated New Zealand’s north and south islands and so proved that New Zealand was not attached to any other land mass, specifically the mysterious but non-existent Terra Australis.
1770, Jan. 14
Cook arrives in Tōtaranui, Queen Charlotte Sound.
1770, Jan. 16
Cook names the strait separating the North and South Islands “The Cook Strait”. The modern history of this area is said to start with Captain Cook’s visit in the 1770s.
1770, Mar. 31
Cook decides to return home via the unknown east coast of “New Holland” as Australia was then called.
He had intended to visit Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) but due to weather had to maintain a more northerly course.
1770, Apr. 19
Cook sights land, generally assumed to be between the current towns Orbost and Mallacoota.
1770, Apr. 29
Cook makes his first landing at a place now known as Botany Bay.
1770, May 6
Cook sails north past an inlet which is today the entrance to Sydney Harbour. He did not explore further into the inlet.
1770, Jun. 11
Traveling up the East Coast, Endeavour runs aground on a shoal on the Great Barrier Reef.
Cook’s statue in Cookstown, Queensland, where he beached Endeavour for repairs after running aground.
The Endeavour River runs to the Coral Sea at present-day Cooktown in the far north of Queensland, on the Cape York peninsula. Cook spends 6-weeks here repairing Endeavour after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef.
1770, Aug. 22
Cook reaches the northernmost tip of the coast of Australia, naming it Cape York. Turning west he navigates through the dangerously shallow waters of the Torres Strait, named after the Portuguese navigator Luís Vas de Torres in 1606.
It was here that Cook claims the entire east coast for the British Crown, naming it New South Wales.
1770, Oct. 11
Cook reaches Batavia, then visits Suva (Current day Indonesia).
1771, Mar. 12
Cook rounds Cape of Good Hope and stops in St. Helena, an island in the mid-Atlantic. Cook visits St. Helena on his return journey from his first and second voyages.
1771, Jul. 10
Cook sights England. Cook’s return was unexpected as newspapers and journals had long since reported that Endeavour had been lost.
The Second Voyage – 1772-1775 (HMS Resolution and HMS Adventure)
The Second voyage of James Cook was commissioned by the British government to circumnavigate the globe as far south as possible to again determine whether the land mass Terra Australis Incognito existed. There were many who believed that a massive land mass should exist and perhaps was further south than New Zealand. Two ships were outfitted for the voyage, HMS Resolution and HMS Adventure. On this voyage, Cook tested the Larcum Kendall K1 marine chronometer which allowed for the first time the accurate calculation of longitude. This chronometer was based on Harrison’s N4 chronometer. Cook’s log is full of praise for this chronometer and the chart he made of the southern Pacific Ocean using this timepiece is remarkably accurate. This Kendall K1 chronometer is on display in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
1772, Jul. 13
Resolution and Adventure sail from Plymouth.
1772, Aug. 13
Anchors at Cape Verde Islands.
1772, Sep. 16
Off Ascension Island
1772, Oct. 30
Anchors in Table Bay, South Africa.
1772, Dec. 14
The ships had been heading south when they sight an immense ice field.
1773, Jan. 17
Both ships cross the Arctic Circle sailing down to 660 36’S, the first known mariner to do so.
1773, Feb. 8
Resolution loses contact with Adventure in thick fog and heads south east.
1773, Feb. 13
Passes within 40 miles of Heard Island, an uninhabited island and without doubt the most isolated island on the planet. It is located 4,099 km southwest of Perth, 4,200 km southeast of South Africa, and 1,600 kms north of Antarctica.
1773, Feb. 23
Because of ice and weather, Cook decides to head for New Zealand.
1773, Mar. 27
Reaches New Zealand and anchors in Pickersgill Harbour at the most south easterly point of the South Island. Cook had visited this place during his first voyage.
1773, May 1
Heads up the east coast to Queen Charlotte Sound.
1773, May 18
Meets up with Adventure in Ship Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound. Adventure had arrived here via Tasmania after losing sight of Endeavour in the southern seas.
1773, Jun. 8
Heads south east into the Pacific.
1773, Aug. 2
Passes close to Pitcairn Island without sighting it.
1773, Aug. 17
Anchors in Tautira Bay, Cook Anchorage, in Tahiti.
1773, Sep. 23
Lands on Manuae in the Cook Islands (Cook named these the Hervey Islands) Cook navigated and mapped much of the island group. It is thought that the name Cook Islands was given to the Hervey Island group by a Russian Admiral a half century later who published an Atlas naming these islands Cook Islands in honour of James Cook.
Included in his travels around the Cook Islands is Aitutaki, one of the southern Cook Islands. It was Captain Bligh who is attributed with discovering Aitutaki when he landed there on 12 April 1789, shortly before the Mutiny of the Bounty.
1773, Oct. 2
Anchors in English Road, Eua (Middleburg), Tonga. Goes ashore and is entertained with food and music.
1773, Oct. 8
Sets sail and heads for New Zealand.
1773, Oct. 30
Loses touch with Adventure.
1773, Nov. 3
Anchors off what is now Port Nicholson/Wellington, New Zealand. Then heads for Ship Cove, anchors and looks for Adventure, she’s not there.
1773, Dec. 20
Sails south from New Zealand, and crosses the Antarctic Circle again, heads down to latitude 670 31’S.
1774, Jan. 30
Arrives at latitude 710 10’S. Only in 1823 did another explorer, James Weddell, reach further south than this, to 740 15’S.
1774, Feb. 6
Heads north after concluding there is no land mass Terra Australis at these latitudes.
1774, Mar. 11
Sights Easter Island and sails along the coast. Cook did visit the island but was too sick to walk very far. A small group did however explore the island. They reported the poor state of the statues which appeared to have been neglected and were falling down.
1774, Apr. 9
Goes ashore in Resolution Bay, on Tahuata, what is now a part of French Polynesia.
1774, Apr. 22
Anchors in Matavai Bay, Tahiti
1774, Jun. 21
Sights the island of Niue and made three attempts to go ashore. He eventually lands at Opaahi but the inhabitants, who did not give him permission to land, attack the group and had to be driven off by musket fire. The landing party then take to its boats and return to the ship. Cook names the island Savage Island as the natives who met him appeared to be painted in blood; it was in fact a local red banana. It was not until two centuries later that the island’s name was changed to Niue. Niue is north east of New Zealand, west of the Cook Islands.
1774, Jul. 2
Sights Vatoa, in the Fiji Group; the only sighting made of the Fiji Group.
1774, Jul. 22
Anchors in Port Sandwich, the New Hebrides (Since independence in 1980 New Hebrides has been known as Vanuatu).
The islands were discovered in 1606 by a Portuguese explorer, then colonized by both the French and English shortly after Cook’s visit in 1774. Cook named the islands New Hebrides after a Scottish archipelago. The first missionaries arrived in 1823 from London and were promptly eaten.
1774, Sep. 4
Cook sights and lands on New Caledonia, at Cape Colnett on the east side of the North Province. Cook is the first European to sight this island and named it New Caledonia as the northern part of the island reminded him of Scotland.
1774, Oct. 10
Cook goes ashore at Duncombe Bay on Norfolk Island which at that time was uninhabited. The island contained New Zealand flax, a valuable plant for rope and cloth making, and Norfolk Pine, an excellent timber for ships’ masts. There were Polynesian inhabitants on the island at one time, but they had departed several hundred years before Cook’s arrival.
1774 Oct. 18
Lands at Ships Cove, on the northern most part of New Zealand’s South Island. Cook visited this cove on each of his three voyages.
1774, Nov. 11
Heads east across the Pacific towards Cape Horn.
1775, Jan. 14
Cook continues east after rounding Cape Horn and sights South Georgia. He circumnavigates the island and comes ashore, claiming the territory for Great Britain and naming it in honour of King George III.
Cook visits the Southern Thule islands, a small group of islands about 400 kms south east of South Georgia, naming one of the islands Cook Island.
1775, Mar. 23
Sights Table Mountain, Cape Town, and anchors in Table Bay.
1775, May 15
Arrives in St. Helena.
1775, May 28
Arrives in Ascension.
1775, Jul. 30
Anchors at Spithead, lands at Portsmouth.
Third voyage – 1776-1779 (HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery)
The reason the Admiralty gave for this voyage was to return Omai, a young man from Raiatea, French Polynesia, to his homeland but this was used as a cover for their plan to send Cook on a clandestine voyage to discover the North West Passage. Two ships were prepared for this voyage, HMS Discovery and HMS Resolution.
1776, Jul. 12
Resolution sails from Plymouth.
1776, Sep. 8
Heads towards the coast of Brazil.
1776, Sep. 18
Lands at Cape of Good Hope and repairs the ship.
1776, Nov. 10
Discovery arrives in the Cape from Plymouth.
1776, Dec. 2
Both ships leave the Cape and head south east.
1776 Dec. 25
Lands at Baie de l’Oiseau (Christmas Harbour) on the French Antarctic Island of Kerguelen. Sails along the north coast charting and naming places such as – Passe de la Resolution and The Cook Icecap (France’s largest glacier). This group of islands are one of the most isolated inhabited places on earth.
In early 1772, Admiral Joseph de Kerguelen was assigned the task of searching for the fabled Terra Australis Incognita. On his first expedition he discovered some remote islands in the southern Indian ocean he named the Kerguelen Islands, but he did not find any trace of the legendary Terra Australis. He returned to France and grossly overestimated the value of these islands and consequently the King sent him back on a return voyage but he was again unsuccessful in finding Terra Australis. He never actually set foot on any of the Kerguelen islands, his subordinates were the ones who landed and claimed them for France. By now it had become clear that these islands were desolate and quite useless. When he returned to France from this second voyage, he was imprisoned. Today, France maintains a scientific station on the island with a presence of 40 – 100 scientists, engineers and researchers, and a small military detachment.
At the beginning of the second voyage, Cook met with the Chevalier de Borda at Tenerife who gave him accurate coordinates for Reunion Island, just off the tip of the N.E. coast of Kerguelen. Cook also met with Julien Crozet in Cape Town, Kerguelen’s second in command, who told Cook of Kerguelen’s second voyage and showed him a 1773 chart showing all voyages from Tasman to Cook’s first voyage and the location of the Kerguelen Islands.
Iles de Crozet are a group of barren islands 700 kms west of Kerguelen Island. They were discovered by the French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne in 1772. The expedition continued east to New Zealand where Marion and much of his crew were killed and eaten by Māoris. His second in command Jules Crozet, who had survived that ordeal, met Cook in Cape Town and shared charts of this ill-fated expedition.
1776, Dec. 30
The ships head west and south, making for New Zealand.
1777, Jan. 26
Lands at Adventure Bay on Bruni Island, Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania).
1777, Feb. 12
Lands at Ships Cove, Queen Charlotte’s Sound, New Zealand and provisions the ship and sets up an observatory.
1777, Feb. 25
Sails from Queen Charlotte’s Sound.
1777, Mar. 29
Sights Mangaia, the most southerly of the Lower Cook Islands Followed by Atiu, and Takutea.
1777, Apr. 6
Off Manuae (Cook names them the Hervey Islands) and passes south of Aitutaki. Although Cook mapped many of the Cook Islands he never set foot on any of the islands except for the very small, uninhabited Palmerston Atoll.
1777, May 17
Lands at Lifuka, in the kingdom of Tonga. Cook had visited Tonga during his second voyage of discovery in 1773.
1777, Jun. 10
Anchors at Nukualofa Harbour, Tonga.
1777, Jul. 12
Anchors at English Roads, on the island of Eua, Tonga.
1777, Aug. 23
Anchors at Matavai Bay, Tahiti.
1777, Sep. 30
Anchors at Moorea, Society Islands, French Polynesia.
1777, Oct. 4
Lands at Fare, an island in the Society Islands, and installs Omai ashore (The young man Cook was returning to French Polynesia).
1777, Dec. 24
Resolution and Discovery anchor off Christmas Island. Cook did not go ashore but some of the crew did to collect turtles for food for the next few weeks.
1778, Jan. 2
Leaves and sails north east.
1778, Jan. 20
Anchors and lands at Waimea Bay, Hawaii. Cook names these islands The Sandwich Islands after the Earl of Sandwich. The name Sandwich Islands was used until 1840 when the name Hawaii came into common usage.
1778, Feb. 2
Cook leaves the Hawaiian Islands and sails north east to “New Albion” the name of the continental area north of Mexico claimed by Sir Francis Drake for England in 1597.
1778, Mar. 7
Sights the coast of Oregon.
1778, Mar. 30
Anchors in Nootka Sound on the West coast of Vancouver Island, having missed the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Cook spent a month in Nootka Sound and his visit heralded the start of the fur trade, later developed by George Vancouver who sailed with Cook on his 2nd and 3rd voyages. Vancouver returned to this area in 1790 heading an expedition to explore the Northwest Coast and counter any attempt by Spain to lay claim to this area or become involved in the now lucrative fur trade.
1778, May 11
Lands at Kayak and Wingham Islands, Alaska.
1778, May 14
Anchors in Snug Corner Bay, the next bay east from present day Anchorage.
1778 Aug. 18
Arrive at 700 44` N, the farthest north of the voyage. Met with a wall of ice and subsequently turns around to sail back south.
1778, Oct. 26
Leaves the Arctic and sails back to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).
1778, Dec. 1
1779, Jan. 17
Anchors in Kealakekua Bay, on the island of Hawaii, and provisions the ship; he was the first documented European to arrive. Cook meets inhabitants who appear friendly. Leaves the bay to replace a mast.
Cook and his men met a young 20-yr old Kamehameha who would later become the king of all of the Hawaiian Islands. Kamehameha came on board Resolution off shore of Hana. There is much debate about Kamehameha’s date of birth which is believed to be sometime between 1736 and 1761. The stamp with the statue shows a date of 1753.
A Series of Paintings by John Weber of Cook’s landing on the Hawaiian Islands
1779 Feb. 14
The Death of James Cook
Cook returns to Kealakekua Bay but relations with locals has soured. Cook goes ashore to settle the matter but confusion and musket fire lead to the stabbing death of Cook and four seamen. Cook’s remains are buried on Sunday, 21st.
1779, Mar. 15
Both ships set sail for Kamchatka with Charles Clerk now in command of Resolution and Discovery. Again, they attempted to pass beyond the Bering Strait and failed; Clerk dies on the return to Russia. John Gore takes over command for the rest of the voyage. The ships head for home via Japan, Macao, Cape of Good Hope and St Helena.
1780 Sep. 30
The ships anchor at Yarmouth Roads. Discovery then goes on to Woolwich and Resolution goes to Deptford.
The HMS Resolution Replica
This Australian replica of HMS Endeavour is one of two built. The replica was commissioned during the establishment of the Australian Maritime Museum in the 1980s. Construction started in 1988 but it was not until 1994 that the vessel was completed; the delay was caused by problems with financing. The other replica is in Whitby, England, and is built of steel not wood and is missing a deck so is not a true replica of the original vessel as is the Australian Endeavour, also, it was not designed to go to sea.
After completing six months of sea trials, Endeavour then recreated the original Endeavour’s voyage up the east coast of Australia followed by a three-month visit to New Zealand. Over the next few years, she completed two round-the-world voyages and was used in a BBC documentary The Ship. In 2011, she sailed from Sydney on her first circumnavigation of Australia; 15 ports visited and 13,300 nautical miles sailed.
In 2005 the ownership of the Endeavour replica was transferred to the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney and she resides there as a permanent museum ship.