James Cook (1728 – 1779) was the explorer who independently studied mathematics, navigation and cartography, discovered New Zealand and Hawaii and ended his life at the age of 50 in Hawaii with a knife in his back.
James Cook was born as the second child in a sibling group of eight children. His father James Cook was a Scottish farm worker in Yorkshire, who later became foreman on a farm. The mother, Grace Pace, was from the area. The father’s employer paid attention to the young boy’s talent and therefore paid for five years of schooling at a local school. At that time, it was a relatively long schooling. After that, James worked as a teenager for a few years on the farm where his father was employed. At the age of 16, however, James moved on his own initiative to a fishing village just over 30 km from his parents’ home. The building (”Cooks´ Cottage”) which was the parents’ last home is preserved. In 1934, the whole house was dismantled, brick by brick, and transported to Melbourne and rebuilt there as it stood in England. In the fishing village, James had taken a job with a greengrocer. From his workplace in the shop, James had a good view of the harbor and the sea. In his spare time, he pursued intensive studies in mathematics and navigation. After a couple of years, he was introduced to two brothers, who were shipowners in Whitby. The company had some smaller vessels carrying coal along the English coast, especially on the Tire – London route. James was employed as a sailor on bulk carriers transporting coal. In his spare time, he continued to study mainly algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation and astronomy. He purposefully studied these subjects in order to qualify as a ship commander. After three years as an apprentice and sailor, he got a place on various English ships that sailed on Baltic ports. James Cook has thus sailed in the Baltic Sea. All the time he conducted his own studies in various subjects that would be useful to him as a ship commander. By 1752, he had become a helmsman on the cold-water ship Friendship. A couple of years later (1755) he was offered his own command of a ship, but immediately afterwards he applied instead to serve in the British Navy. In the navy, however, he had to start as an aspirant, even though he was already a very experienced helmsman and navigator.
At that time, the British Army and Navy were preparing for war in North America (the ”Seven Years’ War”). James Cook began his service in the Navy aboard the HMS Eagle. In October 1755 he was with his ship conquered a French warship and sank another. He got his first independent commander in the navy when he became captain of the small cutter Cruizer, which participated in the Eagles’ patrol operations. In the summer of 1757, he graduated from England and was authorized as a qualified navigator to be independently responsible for navigating warships in the Royal Navy.
When James Cook was not at sea, he lived in the East End of London. He was married and had six children. One of his sons crashed in 1780 in a tornado in the Caribbean aboard a ship. There are no descendants of James Cook today because all of his six children died before they had any children themselves.
During the Seven Years’ War, James Cook served on HMS Pembroke. With a division from this ship, he participated in 1758 in the conquest by the French of the Fortess of Louisbourg. He also participated in the siege of Quebec in 1759. During these operations, he demonstrated an outstanding ability to carry out reconnaissance missions and carry out detailed mapping. He was responsible for mapping the entire stretch of the St. Lawrence River, which enabled General Wolfe to carry out a successful covert and surprising attack on the French.
James Cook’s good ability to strategically explore unknown areas was used from 1765 to 1767 to map Newfoundland’s broken and previously completely unexplored coast. James Cook used local pilots and seafarers to note in detail the grounds and other obstacles to shipping. When James Cook spent five summer seasons on the coast of Newfoundland for mapping, he also used the time to make extensive astronomical observations, which enabled him to calculate the longitude of the place. His results were presented to the Royal Society in 1767. James Cook was a pioneer in surveying and surveying because he was the first to perform triangulations with great accuracy. His very good results, which he succeeded in achieving despite difficult external circumstances, were noticed by both the navy and the Royal Society. His chart of Newfoundland’s waters came to be used by shipping in the area for two hundred years. After exploring Newfoundland, James Cook wrote that he intended to explore and travel further than anyone else before him.
In May 1768, the Admiralty commissioned James Cook to command a large scientific expedition to the Pacific Ocean. The intention was to make scientific studies of the passage of Venus by the solar disk. Such observations from other places around the world would be compiled and make it possible to calculate the distance to the sun. As head of the expedition, James Cook was promoted to lieutenant and also received financial compensation from the Royal Society. The expedition sailed on August 26, 1768, sailed around Cape Horn and sailed across the Pacific Ocean to reach Tahiti on April 13 of the following year. In Tahiti, the Venus Passage was registered. It turned out, however, that one could not make as accurate measurements as one had hoped for. Until then, James Cook had not known at all what the expedition would do after observing Tahiti. Only then did he have to open the sealed envelope that contained detailed instructions on the expedition’s continued route. The mission turned out to consist of sailing south, trying to discover the large continent that was thought at the time to exist in the South Pacific. Australia had been discovered as early as 1606 by the Dutch explorer Willen Janszoon. Later that year, the Spaniard Luis Vaz de Torres had also reached Australia. The first European settlement in Australia, however, did not take place until 1788, a full 182 years after the discovery of the continent. That year, eleven ships arrived from England with convicts deported to Australia. The prisoners came from England and Ireland. Between 1788 and 1868, about 162,000 prisoners were transported to various penal colonies in Australia. Of these prisoners, approx. 2,500 women.
James Cook first sailed for New Zealand and succeeded the coastlines of the two islands. The 22 km wide strait between the islands is still called Cook´s straight. New Zealand had been discovered by the Dutchman Abel Tasman, but it was James Cook who in 1769 managed to describe the islands’ geographical extent and show that the archipelago consists of two large islands. In the spring of 1770, James Cook sailed west and was the first European to reach the east coast of Australia. On 23 April 1770 the crew of Endeavor observed for the first time a group of Australian aborigines. One week later, a group of crew from the ship went ashore. In his notes, James Cook called the place ”Botany Bay” because the botanists who took part in the expedition had found many interesting plants right there. It was the British botanist Joseph Banks and the Swedish botanist Daniel Solander (1733 – 1782), the latter one of Linnaeus’ disciples, who began to systematize the Australian flora. Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820) was the British botanist who later became president of the Royal Society for a full 41 years. He was also the one who later led the construction of Kew Garden in London. He himself brought with him 30,000 plants from his expeditions and he has been credited with the discovery of 1,400 of these. About 80 different plants bear his name in one form or another. It was also Joseph Banks who suggested to the British government that convicts be sent to Australia.
Linnaeus’ disciple Daniel Solander was the first scientifically educated person to set foot in Australia as a participant in James Cook’s first expedition. Solander was a priest’s son from Piteå. After extensive studies in Uppsala, he traveled to London in 1760 to work on the classification of plants according to Linnaeus’ famous sexual system. In 1763 he began cataloging the botanical collections of the British Museum and the following year he was elected to the Royal Society. Together with his personal assistant, the Finn Herman Spöring, he was the botanist who began to document the Australian flora, which he had the opportunity to do during the seven weeks that the ship Endeavor was forced to anchor after sailing aground in the Great Barrier Reef, which tore the expedition was the first to discover. The ship was for repair at the place that today has the name Cook town (a small community with only 2,700 inhabitants). Solander also participated in the 1768 expedition and had the opportunity to stay in New Zealand for six months. Solander was the first Swede to sail around the world. He later participated in other research expeditions to Iceland, the Hebrides and the Orkney Islands. Solander died in London in 1782 at the age of 49 after suffering from a cerebral haemorrhage. His assistant Spöring died in 1771 aboard Endeavor while sailing from Java to the Cape of Good Hope.
The Royal Society planned for new expeditions. One would aim to explore if there was a northeast passage north of Canada. James Cook volunteered to lead such an expedition, which would sail from the Pacific Ocean past Alaska to try to reach the Atlantic by crossing northern Siberia. At the same time, another British expedition would sail from the Atlantic to try to reach the Pacific Ocean north of Siberia, but in the opposite direction.
Cook’s third and final expedition took place in 1776 – 1779. First, the expedition sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to Tahiti. There they left the native Omai, who was taken to London with the second expedition. Then they sailed first to Hawaii. Cook again commanded HMS Resolution and Captain Charles Clerke was commander of HMS Discovery. The expedition was the first Europeans to come into contact with the people of Hawaii. Some historians believe that the Spaniard Ruy Lopez de Villalobos discovered the archipelago as early as 1542, but this is questionable. Possibly it was Cook who discovered Hawaii. From Hawaii, the two ships sailed northeast to try to find their way to a northeast passage if possible. They reached the Oregon coast about 44 min 39 sec northern northern latitude. Cook called the place Cape Foulweather because the weather was so awful that they were forced to sail south to only later resume the attempt further north. The expedition lay for a month in the bay that is today called Resolution Cove (after the ship’s name). There they exchanged goods with the Indians, but it turned out that they were not interested in the cheap jewelry and other things that the indigenous people of Hawaii had previously been fond of getting in exchange for their own goods. The Indians were most interested in getting axes, metal tools and other things for practical use. When the expedition started sailing north along the coast again, they mapped the entire stretch of coast all the way up to the Bering Strait. At that time, the colonial powers always claimed authority over all the lands that their expeditions had succeeded in discovering. Cook therefore explained the coastline up to the Bering Strait for British territory. This filled, so to speak, the void left by the Spanish and Russian colonizers on the west coast of the American continent. Bering Strait had been mapped by the Dane Vitus Bering (1681 – 1741), who himself died of scurvy on an uninhabited island in Bering Strait (today called Bering Island and where he is buried).
In mid-August 1778, Cook’s expedition sailed through the Bering Strait. The expedition reached as far as 70 degrees 44 minutes north latitude, after which they sailed down the Siberian coast (North Cape is at 71 degrees 10 minutes). In early September 1778, the journey south to Hawaii began. There is information that Cook during the return trip was very irritated and possibly had severe stomach pains. He forced the crew to eat walrus meat, which the crew had previously declared inedible. This contributed to strong dissatisfaction among the crew and James Cook himself was very annoyed and behaved unusually harshly towards his subordinates.
The expedition returned to Hawaii in 1779 and they sailed around the archipelago for a full two months to further map the archipelago. Then they landed on Hawaii’s main island and it turned out that the people there were just celebrating a harvest festival in honor of the Polynesian god Lonos. It has been speculated that the locals regarded James Cook and his crew as sent by the deity himself. The crew was very well received during the month that the expedition stayed in Hawaii. Shortly after the expedition left Hawaii, they ended up in a severe storm and the front mast of the ship The Resolution was broken off and they were therefore forced to the archipelago to have the opportunity to repair the damage. It turned out that then the indigenous people were suddenly hostile to the expedition. A group of natives abducted one of the expedition’s landing craft (a launch pad). In an attempt to force the natives to return the boat, James Cook himself went to the nearby community and single-handedly seized the native king to bring him aboard one of the ships. This James Cook probably did to hold the king hostage to force the natives to return the boat. The king initially volunteered, but several priests agreed and tried to persuade the king not to board the ship because they understood that it could be a trap. A priest holds out a large coconut in front of Cook to at least distract him. When Cook was about to help push the small boat off the shore, with the king on board, he was hit in the head by a native with a mallet and then stabbed with a dagger in the back by one of the king’s closest men. Cook died immediately and the four sailors who were with him were killed immediately. The whole drama was followed in binoculars by the expedition’s two ships. Cook’s body was carried away and the natives immediately performed a funeral ritual in a manner traditional for dead kings and other lords. The body was cut and boiled so that the skeleton was clean, which was part of the traditional religious ceremony. Some of the bones were then peacefully handed over to the English for burial at sea.
After James Cook’s death, Clerke took command of the expedition and made another attempt to find his way to the Northeast Passage. However, Clerke died of tuberculosis on August 22, 1779, and John Gere, already involved in Cook’s first exepdition, took command. James King took over command of the other ship (Discovery). The expedition did not return to England until October 1780. James King completed Cook’s account of the expedition, which was printed and distributed. Since then, there has always been talk of Cook’s three expeditions to the Pacific.
The vessel HMS Endeavor was a 30 m long bark with a draft of 3.45 m. In good winds, the speed was at most 7 – 8 knots. The ship was sold by the fleet in 1775 to a private owner and was then named Lord Sandwich. The ship then sailed with timber from Baltic ports to England. The ship was then chartered by the fleet for troop transports during the American War of Independence to be finally sunk by its own crew during the blockade of Narragamsett Bay (Rhode Island) in 1778. The wreck could not be located with certainty, but it is believed to be one of the five wrecks. located in the port of Newport. Parts of the ship’s equipment have been salvaged. A copy of the ship has been built.