If you travel around the South Pacific you will soon realise that a man called James Cook had discovered or at least charted most of the places that you have visited.
So who was this remarkable man who seems to have been everywhere?!
James Cook was born on 27th October 1728 in a small Yorkshire village called Marton. He was born into a humble background and the Cook family soon moved to the nearby village of Great Ayton where a larger cottage was built by James’ father to house the growing family.
James went to the local school and did very well; a keen student. He was especially good at figures and as he was kind to his fellow classmates he was a popular child.
James was sent out to work as soon as he reached the appropriate age and he was apprenticed to a Mr. Sanderson who ran a general store in the harbour town of Staithes. James worked hard amongst the groceries and materials of the store and at night he slept under the counter, dreaming of how he could escape this humdrum life he was leading.
After a year and a half of working in the store, James could stand it no more and walked the thirteen miles over the cliffs to the seaside town of Whitby. Here he found a collier ( a ship for transporting coal) and asked the mate if he could work for him. The mate sent the lad off to see the owners of the collier (the Walker Brothers) and they allowed him to work on their collier fleet and earn his mates certificate.
James sailed between Newcastle and London and also visited the Baltic and Norway as well as Ireland. After a few years had passed, James won his mate’s certificate and as the Seven Year’s War had started, James decided to head over to America and volunteer his services.
It wasn’t long before James was made master of the Mercury and was sent to Quebec, Canada where an Admiral Saunders was besieging the French. James was given the task of charting the St.Lawrence River and he did this job well, even risking his life in occasion.
James somehow found the time whilst he was master of The Mercury to study mathematics and astronomy, cartography and surveying. He even managed to contribute papers to the Royal Society on mathematical problems!
The Government were so impressed with this amazing young man and his abilities that in 1766 they gave him the command of the vessel Endeavour and James set sail from Plymouth England in August of 1768 for the South Pacific.
It was at this time that James and his crew of 86 men charted the islands of Otaheite and Huaheine, discovered the Society Islands and historically headed towards New Zealand.
After a few months of charting and surveying the country they headed for what was then called New Holland They took over the country in the name of the King and re-named it Australia. They explored the East Coast and narrowly avoided disaster on a reef. Sailing between Australia and New Guinea the Endeavour crew proved that these were in fact two totally separate countries, a fact that until then had been unknown.
It was discoveries such as this that made the name of Captain James Cook a well-known one and he received other commissions to take expeditions to the South Pacific and to “complete the discovery of the Southern Hemisphere”.
James was master of both the Resolution and the Adventure for his next venture and he ensured that they were well stocked with proper food including enough lemons to last for 2 years. It was likely that he wanted to make sure that the fate of his crews did not replicate that of a third of the Endeavour crew who had perished due to malaria on the previous trip.
After a successful time in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, James was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Society as well as a Fellowship and he set off once again, this time just in command of the ship Resolution.
He had with him this time a young navigator by the name of Bligh (his name is forever linked to the Bounty). James and his crew spent more time in New Zealand and the South Pacific and continued to survey the land, log botanical and animal life and chart the waters around the islands.
Parts of North America were also charted on this voyage as well as islands nearby. James ran into trouble in the Sandwich Islands with the natives and after fighting started on the beach, Captain James Cook was stabbed in the back, speared and died.
And so the end had come for this fifty-one year old adventurer. A man who had started his life as a hard working son from a poor family and had risen to master of several vessels.
He had travelled to places that he could not have even dreamed about as a young man sleeping under that shop counter. He had seen sights that few of us have even seen today and sailed the oceans for months without complaint.
The life and journeys of this man have gone down in history and few can say that they have not heard of this incredible man.