Britain’s naval heritage had an impact that encircled the world. From game-changing inventions like the chronometer to global trade routes, Britain’s ships have played an important role on the world stage for hundreds of years.
That legacy didn’t build itself, however. It was built by sailors that gave their sweat and blood to discover far off places. One of the most prolific explorers of the 18th Century was Captain James Cook. This week, we’re celebrating the 250-year anniversary of his second famous journey around the pacific.
Jump aboard and explore the life, triumphs and story of Captain Cook – one of Britain’s best-loved explorers.
Unlike most naval captains of the era, Cook was not born into the gentleman’s class. He was the son of a farmer and grew up in a small village close to Middlesbrough. When he was just 17, he moved to the beautiful coastal town of Whitby and began working as a deckhand on a coal merchant ship. It seems that Cook was already harbouring dreams of captaining his own ship, as sources say that he studied algebra, trigonometry and navigation in his spare time.
A Leader in Training
Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755 and served on the HMS Eagle in North America. Starting as an Able Seaman, he quickly advanced to Master’s Mate on the Eagle and even briefly held command of a small cutter vessel.
The Navy had taken note of his abilities and he was permitted to take his master’s examinations – a test enabling him to navigate for a ship of the King’s fleet. As Cook was rising up the ranks of the Navy, the Seven Years War broke out, and he played a key role during the Siege of Quebec City, helping to survey the coast of Newfoundland.
“Farther than Any Man”
Cook proved to be something of a prodigy when it came to surveying and mapping. He was also incredibly ambitious, writing in a letter that he wanted to go “farther than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go”.
His ambitions came to fruition when he was selected for a special assignment to the pacific and given command of the HMS Endeavour. His official orders were to observe an astronomical phenomenon, but secretly he was tasked with searching for the fabled ‘south continent’.
Cook sailed to New Zealand and mapped the entire east coast of Australia. He was the man that gave Australia’s beautiful Cape Tribulation it’s world-famous name.
The End of the Adventure
Captain Cook would make two more excursions into the Pacific and made amazing discoveries along the way. Much of Europe’s early understanding of Australasia and Antarctica was attributed to his voyages.
Sadly, Cook would not survive his third voyage. Upon failing to discover the Northwest Passage, the Endeavour returned to Hawaii. A dispute broke out with some of the islanders and Cook attempted to coerce the King of Hawai’i back to his ship.
After initially agreeing to go, the King changed his mind and a crowd attacked Cook and his men. Cook was killed in the scuffle. The incredible adventures and story of Captain Cook have inspired generations of travellers.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Maritime London, take a look at our fantastic tours of Greenwich.