James Cook

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James Cook : biography

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

His contributions to knowledge were internationally recognised during his lifetime. In 1779, while the American colonies were at war with Britain in their war for independence, Benjamin Franklin wrote to captains of American warships at sea, recommending that if they came into contact with Cook’s vessel, they were to "not consider her an enemy, nor suffer any plunder to be made of the effects contained in her, nor obstruct her immediate return to England by detaining her or sending her into any other part of Europe or to America; but that you treat the said Captain Cook and his people with all civility and kindness, […] as common friends to mankind."

Unknown to Franklin, Cook had met his death a month before this "passport" was written.

Memorials

A US coin, the 1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial half dollar bears an image of Cook. Minted during the celebration marking the 150th anniversary of his discovery of the islands, its low mintage (10,008) has made this example of Early United States commemorative coins both scarce and expensive. The site where he was killed in Hawaii is marked by a white obelisk, built in 1874, and about of land around it is chained off. This land, though in Hawaii, has been given to the United Kingdom. A nearby town is named Captain Cook, Hawaii as well as several businesses. The Apollo 15 Command/Service Module Endeavour was named after Cook’s ship, HMS Endeavour, as is the space shuttle Endeavour. Another shuttle, Discovery, is named after Cook’s HMS Discovery.

The first tertiary education institution in North Queensland, Australia was named after him, with James Cook University opening in Townsville in 1970. In Australian rhyming slang the expression "Captain Cook" means "look". Numerous institutions, landmarks and place names reflect the importance of Cook’s contribution to knowledge of geography. These include the Cook Islands, the Cook Strait, Cook Inlet, and the Cook crater on the Moon. Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest summit in New Zealand, is named for him. Another Mount Cook is on the border between the US state of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon Territory, and is designated Boundary Peak 182 as one of the official Boundary Peaks of the Hay–Herbert Treaty. One of the earliest monuments to Cook in the United Kingdom is located at The Vache, where it was erected in 1780 by Admiral Hugh Palliser, a contemporary of Cook and one time owner of the estate. A huge obelisk was built in 1827 as a monument to Cook on Easby Moor overlooking his boyhood village of Great Ayton. In 1978, on the 250th anniversary of Cook’s birth, at the site of his birthplace in Marton, the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, which is located within Stewart Park, was opened. A granite vase just to the south of the museum marks the approximate spot where he was born. Tributes also abound in post-industrial Middlesbrough, and include a primary school, shopping square and the Bottle ‘O Notes a public artwork by Claes Oldenburg erected in the town’s Central Gardens in 1993. Also named after Cook is the James Cook University Hospital, a major teaching hospital opened in 2003. The Royal Research Ship RRS James Cook was built in 2006 to replace the RRS Charles Darwin in the UK’s Royal Research Fleet and Stepney Historical Trust has placed a plaque on Free Trade Wharf in the Highway, Shadwell to commemorate his life in the East End of London. In 2002, Cook was placed at number 12 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.

Voyages of exploration

First voyage (1768–71)

In 1766, the Royal Society engaged Cook to travel to the Pacific Ocean to observe and record the transit of Venus across the Sun. Cook, at the age of 39, was promoted to lieutenant and named as commander of the expedition. The expedition sailed from England on 26 August 1768, rounded Cape Horn and continued westward across the Pacific to arrive at Tahiti on 13 April 1769, where the observations of the Venus Transit were made. However, the result of the observations was not as conclusive or accurate as had been hoped. Once the observations were completed, Cook opened the sealed orders which were additional instructions from the Admiralty for the second part of his voyage: to search the south Pacific for signs of the postulated rich southern continent of Terra Australis. Cook then sailed to New Zealand and mapped the complete coastline, making only some minor errors. He then voyaged west, reaching the south-eastern coast of Australia on 19 April 1770, and in doing so his expedition became the first recorded Europeans to have encountered its eastern coastline.At this time, the International Date Line had yet to be agreed, and so, the dates in Cook’s journal are a day earlier than those accepted today.