The History Of Captain James Cook

Learn the exciting but ultimately fatal history of Captain James Cook.

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• General: Educational • General: History

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British Navy captain, James Cook, was a man of many talents. His life, which ran from November 1728 to February 1779, was filled with adventure, discovery and nautical travel. Despite being a somewhat controversial character, James Cook will be forever remember as the first European to discover Australia, New Zealand and the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii.

His travels allowed him to map many new territories, but, unfortunately for Cook, were the eventual cause of his demise.

Early Life


James Cook was born in Marton, Yorkshire, in 1728. Cook was baptized in a local church, where his name is currently displayed on its register. Cook first fell in love with the sea at age 16 while working at a local seaside town.

Navy Career


In 1758, Cook honed most of his map-building skills while serving for the Royal Navy in the Seven Years' War. It was then that he also developed the confidence needed to man a vessel, and decided a life at sea was the type he wanted to live.

Cook First Discovers Hawaii


In 1778, after journeying to Tanzania, two of Cook's ships, the Discovery and the Resolution, reached the shores of Hawaii. As an unknown entity at the time, neither Cook nor his crew knew quite what would await them.

At first, locals assumed Cook and his men to be something from another world. Documents suggest locals believed that they were supernatural creatures and were fascinated by the size of their ships. Cook stayed in Hawaii - which at the time was named the Sandwich Islands on behalf of voyage's sponsor, the Earl of Sandwich - for two weeks. After much note-taking and trading, he eventually left to travel north.

Cook's Second Trip To Hawaii


A year after the first expedition, Captain Cook decided he would return to Hawaii to compile more notes. From there, he'd eventually travel onwards.

This time, he and his crew arrived at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park during the middle of a religious festival. Cook and his crew were once again treated with reverence by the islanders, and were given food, water, and other gifts.

Unfortunately, relations between the islanders and Cook's crew soured. Deaths in both camps led to fractured opinions of one another, and this soon forced the Europeans to depart.

A Fatal Return to Hawaii


Hawaii's Captain Cook met his end just several weeks after leaving the islands. Despite advice given on the contrary, Cook decided to return back to the Hawaiian port to repair some damage that had been done to the Resolution. As his men worked on fixing their battered ship, relations with the locals worsened. At one point, the ship's cutter was stolen, leading Cook to retaliate.

After trying to kidnap the Hawaiian King, Cook was struck in the head by a Hawaiian tribe member. He fell into the surf which was at his feet, before being stabbed repeatedly by another of the King's men.

A full-scale fight ensued, killing many of Cook's crew. After retreating to a safe distance, the remaining crew members fired cannons on the locals, killing up to 30 of them.

Captain James Cook's Legacy


Some historians believe Cook had become tired or unwell after so long at sea. It was this they believe that led to him dealing with locals on the island in such a tempered and impatient manner.

Today, Cook's legacy lives on throughout the world. Memorials to him have been made in both England and Australia, as well as Hawaii (see Captain Cook Monument). Cook was famous for his adventures at sea, but also for his mapping ability, and for his curing of scurvy. Cook is unanimously considered one of the greatest explorers of all time, both here, and across the Pacific.
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