Captain James Cook

October 27, 1728
February 14, 1779
Marton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii

First voyage (1768-71)

Departing England in July 1768, Lieutenant James Cook, in charge of HM Bark Endeavour, sailed to Tahiti. The Endeavour reached the island after a voyage of eight months, during which none of its crew had succumbed to the disease scurvy, which was most unusual for the times.

At Tahiti, Cook and his astronomer Charles Green observed the transit more successfully than they had realized. After the transit, Cook followed his orders to search for the non-existent Unknown Southern Land until reaching New Zealand. There he spent six months charting the coast before departing for the east coast of the land known as New Holland. He followed the east coast towards the north, charting as he went and claimed possession of the country on behalf of the British Crown.

Second Voyage (1772-75)

This voyage aimed to search once again for the Unknown Southern Land. A secondary aim was to test out navigation using chronometers. These clocks can function despite the motion of a ship and the significant variation of temperature to be expected. 

Onboard the Resolution, Cook had K1, a copy of Harrison’s prize-winning chronometer, H4, and Arnold No 3. The second ship on the voyage Adventure had two Arnold chronometers. Of the two used by Cook, K1 kept excellent time so that Cook wrote:

 ‘Mr Kendal’s Watch has exceeded the expectations of its most Zealous advocate.’

Cook sailed further south than any explorer had before during the voyage but did not find Antarctica as ice and weather conditions blocked his way. However, during his exhaustive search of the Pacific, he found or visited several islands such as Easter Island, the Tongan Group, New Caledonia, and South Georgia.

Third voyage (1776-1780)

On this final voyage, Cook was trying to find a route from the Pacific to the Atlantic around the top of North America. He was again on board the Resolution while the accompanying ship was the Discovery.

After observing an eclipse of the Sun from an island Cook named Christmas Island, Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to find the Hawaiian Islands. They made a short stop for water and went on with searching for the North-West Passage.

Cook came within 50 miles of the west entrance to the passage, but his attempts to locate it were ultimately thwarted by freezing weather, violent currents, and heavy ice floes in the Bering Sea. When the extreme conditions drove his crew to the brink of mutiny, Cook reluctantly turned south for the summer.

What does British Tea have to do with Alaska?

The British have always loved their tea! In 1776, they were importing more than 4,500 tons of it a year- mostly from China. The trouble is- getting there!

The main trade route to the Far East is around the bottom of Africa and across the Indian Ocean. However, the Portuguese have controlled that route for almost 300 years.

The answer? To go another way- around the top of the world. A passage northwest from Britain, up through the Arctic, down into the Pacific, and around to China. This new route would have cut the distance almost in half.

I had ambition not only to go farther than any man had ever been before, but as far as it was possible for a man to go.

James R. Cook

Myths:

Cook was the first European to discover Australia.

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Cook and Endeavour were in the First Fleet and brought convicts to Australia.

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Captain Cook was eaten by cannibals.

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Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Alaska.

Facts:

No European ‘discovered’ Australia. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inhabitants of this continent managed that all by themselves – some 60,000 years before any European turned up. In fact, the oldest known foreign visitors to Australia were from modern-day Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Makassan traders had been visiting and trading with people in northern Australia for hundreds of years and dugout canoes were traded from the Sepik River to the Torres Strait Islands for generations before Cook arrived there.

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The First Fleet, under Captain Arthur Phillip, arrived in Botany Bay between 18 and 20 January 1788. By that time, Cook had been dead for nine years, Endeavour had been renamed Lord Sandwich, and in 1778, during the American War of Independence, the ship had been scuttled in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island, as an underwater defense against French attack.

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The Hawaiian Islanders who killed Captain Cook (on Valentines’ day in 1779) were not cannibals. They believed the power of a great man lived in his bones, so they cooked parts of Cook’s body to easily remove them.

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For Alaskans, the story of Captain James Cook’s exploration of Cook Inlet in search of the Northwest Passage is deeply woven into the history and identity of Anchorage.

However, the descendants of the Dena’ina who lived in the area are decidedly ambivalent about the celebration of Cook — after all, they were the original discoverers, a thousand years or earlier.

But Cook and his crew were the first European visitors and their arrival, on Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific, was to have huge significance in the long run, says Jim Barnett, an Anchorage attorney who has become a Cook scholar.

At the time the Spanish were exploring Southeast Alaska but had not ventured west of Yakutat, Barnett said. The Russians, meanwhile, were still in the Aleutians.

Cook’s two ships, the Discovery and Resolution, had worked their way northwest from what is now Oregon and Puget Sound, along the British Columbia and Alaska coast, hoping to find the long-sought Northwest Passage.

They were in Cook Inlet by late May and early June 1778, hoping it would lead to the imagined passageway to Europe. It didn’t, once again, but Cook sent his crew exploring in small boats, which led to the naming of Turnagain Arm, so named because it was a disappointing “turn again” for Cook’s crew (Cook originally called it “River Turnagain”.

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