|Born October 27, 1728|
Died February 14, 1779
Born in Yorkshire, England, he is best known for his voyages in circumnavigating the globe. The son of a day laborer, he went to sea as an apprentice on a coal ship while a teenager. In time, he joined the British Navy and rose up in the ranks.
It is his first voyage that is particularly celebrated. Ostensibly he was supposed to find find the fabled Terra Australis Incognita. Instead he demonstrated that it couldn't possibly exist. Had it not been for the ice floes getting in the way, he might have been the first to set foot on Antarctica. Instead he became the first European to find and describe Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, and numerous other Pacific Islands.
First Voyage 1768-1771 EndeavourEdit
Largely financed by Joseph Banks, a botanist, the Endeavour under the command of James Cook was sent on August 26, 1768 to find Terra Australis Incognita.
After sailing around South America, the Endeavour then headed to Tahiti. While Cook was not the first to stop at Tahiti, the Dolphin and the Boudeuse were first, he was the first to really spend time exploring it for subsequent description. In the process, he was often in the habit of giving various locations new names. Though in a number of instances the original name has been restored to use, as in the case of Tahiti. In describing Tahiti he ended it with the following summarization, "Notwithstanding nature hath been so very bountifull to it yet it doth not produce any one thing of intrinsick Value or that can be converted in an Article of trade so that the value of discovery consists wholy in the refreshments it will always afford to Shipping in their passage through the seas."
Upon leaving Tahiti, James Cook spent some time exploring a group of islands that he referred to as the Society Islands. It was after the Endeavour left the Society Islands that Cook then proceeded southward in search of Terra Australis Incognita. Instead, he came across New Zealand and Maori.
The Endeavour arrived off the coast of New Zealand's North Island on October 8, 1769. In doing so, it became the first European ship to arrive in 127 years, when the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first arrived. Due to an encounter gone wrong, Abel Tasman apparently never actually set foot in New Zealand. Cook, however, did. It didn't take long to realize that the Maori weren't anything like the Tahitians. While the Tahitians had been the utmost in friendliness, the Maori were more inclined towards protectiveness and were not afraid to engage in battle. Cook still explored, but spent less time at it, than in Tahiti.
On April 19, 1770, the Endeavour made it to Australia, still without finding Terra Australis Incognita. Once again, Cook had been preceded by Abel Tasman. But whereas Tasman left in disappointment, Cook stuck around to map the coastline and find out what else was there. After running into some serious difficulties leaving Australia, the Endeavour finally returned home July 13, 1771
Second Voyage 1772-1775 ResolutionEdit
On July 13, 1772 the Resolution left England for the South Seas. Cook was once again charged with the task of find Terra Australis After spending part of November in Capetown, the Resolution sailed as far south as it could, and came across a field of ice bergs. Some of them were taller than the ship itself. Finally unable to deal with the ice, Cook had the Resolution turn towards Polynesia for the winter. When summer returned to the southern hemisphere the Resolution went south again. It set a record in going south of the 71st Parallel, but ice got in the way again. A third trip south of the 71st Parallel was even more disappointing. In between searching for Terra Australis, Captain Cook explored and documented even more of the southern pacific islands such as Niue and Tonga. Aside from the existence of more Pacific islands, the only real achievement was removing all doubt as to the non-existence of Terra Australis. Thanks to ice getting in the way, he never found Antarctica either.
Third Voyage 1776-1780 Edit
Cook's third voyage was aimed at find the polar Northwest Passage. It would be his final voyage. Whereas his judgment had almost always been sound, now it was beginning to become erratic. Unable to sail directly north because of the winter cold 1777, the Resolution spent in time in Tonga. While there, Cook heard reports about both Fiji and Samoa. In the past, he would have set sail almost immediately to learn what he could. This time he couldn't be bothered. When he finally got to the Bering Sea, he managed to name one island three times without realizing that it was the same island. Plus, by then, he was himself having reservations regarding the impact of his travels. Unlike a number of other explorers, he had the opportunity to see the impact of his original voyage and was feeling underwhelmed by the results.
In any event, he finally made it to Alaska and explored along its northern reaches. Aside from finding that the Russians were already dominating the native Aleuts, he was constantly running into barriers of ice. Cook eventually came to the conclusion that the Northwest Passage was not going to be found by them. Thanks to the polar ice cap, it wouldn't be until 1969 that someone would finally be able to sail though it.
When the weather got too cold again, the Resolution sailed south. This time to Hawaii where Cook was mistaken for the god Lono. It was a mistake that ultimately proved fatal and cost Cook his life in 1779 when he was killed in fight in Hawaii.