James Cook

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James Cook : biography

27 October 1728 (O.S.) – 14 February 1779

Cook married Elizabeth Batts (1742–1835), the daughter of Samuel Batts, keeper of the Bell Inn, Wapping and one of his mentors, on 21 December 1762 at St. Margaret’s Church in Barking, Essex. The couple had six children: James (1763–94), Nathaniel (1764–81), Elizabeth (1767–71), Joseph (1768–68), George (1772–72) and Hugh (1776–93). When not at sea, Cook lived in the East End of London. He attended St Paul’s Church, Shadwell, where his son James was baptised. Cook has no direct descendants—all his children either pre-deceased him or died without having children of their own.

Start of Royal Navy career

Cook’s first posting was with HMS Eagle, sailing with the rank of master’s mate. In October and November 1755 he took part in Eagle’s capture of one French warship and the sinking of another, following which he was promoted to boatswain in addition to his other duties. His first temporary command was in March 1756 when he was briefly the master of the Cruizer, a small cutter attached to the Eagle while on patrol.

In June 1757 Cook passed his master’s examinations at Trinity House, Deptford, which qualified him to navigate and handle a ship of the King’s fleet. He then joined the frigate HMS Solebay as master under Captain Robert Craig.

During the Seven Years’ War, he served in North America as master of Pembroke. In 1758, he took part in the major amphibious assault that captured the Fortress of Louisbourg from the French, after which he participated in the siege of Quebec City and then the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. He showed a talent for surveying and cartography, and was responsible for mapping much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege, thus allowing General Wolfe to make his famous stealth attack on the Plains of Abraham.

Cook’s aptitude for surveying was put to good use mapping the jagged coast of Newfoundland in the 1760s, aboard HMS Grenville. He surveyed the northwest stretch in 1763 and 1764, the south coast between the Burin Peninsula and Cape Ray in 1765 and 1766, and the west coast in 1767. At this time Cook employed local pilots to point out the "rocks and hidden dangers" along the south and west coasts. During the 1765 season, four pilots were engaged at 4 shillings a day each: John Beck for the coast west of "Great St. Lawrence", Morgan Snook for Fortune Bay, John Dawson for Connaigre and Hermitage Bay, and John Peck for the "Bay of Despair."

His five seasons in Newfoundland produced the first large-scale and accurate maps of the island’s coasts and were the first scientific, large scale, hydrographic surveys to use precise triangulation to establish land outlines. They also gave Cook his mastery of practical surveying, achieved under often adverse conditions, and brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society at a crucial moment both in his career and in the direction of British overseas discovery. Cook’s map would be used into the 20th century—copies of it being referenced by those sailing Newfoundland’s waters for 200 years.

Following on from his exertions in Newfoundland, it was at this time that Cook wrote that he intended to go not only "farther than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go."

Legacy

Ethnographic Collections

The Australian Museum’s Cook Collection was acquired in 1894 when it was transferred from the Government of New South Wales. At that time it consisted of 115 artifacts collected on Captain James Cook’s three voyages of discovery Throughout the Pacific Ocean, during the period 1768 – 1780, along with documents and memorabilia related to these voyages. Many of the ethnographic artifacts were collected at a time of first contact between Pacific Peoples and Europeans. In 1935 most of the documents and memorabilia were transferred to the Mitchell Library in the State Library of New South Wales. The provenance of the collection shows that the objects remained in the hands of Captain James Cook’s widow, Mrs Elizabeth Cook and her descendants until 1886. In this year Mr John Mackrell, the great nephew of Isaac Smith, Elizabeth Cook’s cousin, organised the display of this collection at the request of the NSW Government at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. In 1887 the London based Agent-General for the New South Wales Government, Saul Samuel, bought John Mackrell’s items and also acquired those items belonging to the other relatives Reverend Canon Frederick Bennett, Mrs Thomas Langton, H.M.C.Alexander and Mr William Adams. The collection remained with the Colonial Secretary of NSW until 1894, when it was transferred to the Australian Museum.