Captain James Cook
North York Moors National Park
Sailing to the South Pacific and 'discovering' Australia on one of several 18th century epic voyages of discovery
The great sailor and explorer never completed his third great voyage of discovery after he was killed by indigenous Hawaiians
James Cook was born in Marton, now a suburb of Middlesbrough, and lived there until his family moved to Great Ayton on the outskirts of the North York Moors National Park when he was eight years old.
His old school in Great Ayton, which Cook attended between 1736 and 1740, is now a museum with displays on his early life, education and achievements and is open daily from April to October.
While in Great Ayton Cook helped his father on a farm on the slopes of Roseberry Topping where Captain Cook's Monument, a 51ft-high obelisk erected in 1827, still stands.
Call of the sea
In 1745 Cook moved to Staithes, a fishing village on the coast of the North York Moors National Park, where he worked in a grocer’s shop before travelling to Whitby where he was taken on as a merchant navy apprentice. Cook’s first voyage was aboard the cargo ship the Freelove in February 1747.
Cook worked his way up the ranks and by 1755 he had been offered command of a ship – but turned it down to take his chances in the Royal Navy instead.
The move to the Navy was a success and his voyages across the Atlantic and to Newfoundland, where he charted the waters, raised his profile and led to him being offered the role of captain of the Endeavour.
Cook in Whitby
The Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby is open daily from March to October and is housed in the 17th century house where the young Cook lodged while learning his craft as a seaman.
Voyages of discovery
Cook went on three great voyages of discovery:
The Endeavour - round the world, east to west – to observe the ‘transit of Venus’
- 1769 Tahiti –observed transit of Venus
- Circumnavigation of New Zealand
- 1770 Landed Australia, Botany Bay – and claimed Australia for the crown
- Charted east coast of Australia
The Resolution and the Adventure – round the world, west to east – to continue search for the ‘southern continent’
- Became first man to sail round the world in both directions
- 1773-1774 Antarctica – first crossing of the Antarctic Circle
- He effectively disposed of the notion of a Great Southern Continent
- Tested marine chronometer allowing accurate charting of longitude
The Resolution and The Discovery – 1776-1779 – to find the ‘north west passage’, thought to link the Atlantic and the Pacific
- Hit a wall of ice at the Arctic
- Turned south to Hawaii
- Met trouble with the indigenous population – Cook stabbed in an affray
Did you know?
Cook was the first man to sail around the world in both directions.