Captain James Cook Crosses Antarctic Circle (1773)
Why Famous: Cook explored thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe, surveying, recording and naming features for the first time. He had a unique combination of seamanship, surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and leadership.
- 1762-12-21 British Explorer Captain James Cook marries Elizabeth Batts
- 1768-08-25 Captain James Cook departs from Plymouth, England, on his first voyage on board the Endeavour, bound for the Pacific Ocean
- 1769-10-08 Captain James Cook lands in New Zealand (Poverty Bay)
- 1770-04-19 British explorer Captain James Cook first sights Australia
- 1770-04-20 Captain James Cook arrives in New South Wales
- 1770-04-28 British Captain James Cook, aboard the Endeavour, lands at Botany Bay in Australia
- 1770-06-11 Captain James Cook discovers Great Barrier Reef off Australia
- 1770-08-22 James Cook’s expedition lands on the east coast of Australia
- 1771-07-12 James Cook sails Endeavour back to Downs, England
- 1772-07-13 Captain James Cook begins 2nd voyage aboard the Resolution to the South Seas to search for Terra Australis (Southern continent)
- 1772-10-30 Captain James Cook arrives with ship Resolution in Capetown
- 1773-01-17 Captain James Cook becomes 1st to cross Antarctic Circle (66° 33′ S)
- 1774-01-30 Captain James Cook reaches 71°10′ south, 1820km from south pole (record)
- 1774-07-17 Captain James Cook arrives in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu)
- 1775-07-30 Captain James Cook with Resolution returns to England
- 1776-07-11 Captain James Cook begins his third voyage
- 1776-11-30 Captain James Cook begins 3rd and last trip to the Pacific
- 1777-12-08 Captain James Cook leaves Society Islands
- 1777-12-24 Kiritimati, also called Christmas Island, is discovered by James Cook
- 1778-01-18 Captain James Cook stumbles over Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Islands)
- 1778-03-07 Captain James Cook 1st sights Oregon coast, at Yaquina Bay
- 1778-03-15 Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island discovered by Captain James Cook
- 1778-03-22 Captain James Cook sights Cape Flattery, now in Washington state
- 1778-08-09 Captain James Cook reaches Cape Prince of Wales, Bering Straits
- 1778-10-03 Captain James Cook anchors at Alaska
- 1778-11-26 British explorer Captain James Cook is the first European to visit Maui in the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii)
- 1779-01-17 Captain James Cook’s last notation in Discovery’s ship’s log
Conquest of Canada (1758-63)
During the Seven Years’ War, he served in North America as master ofPembroke. In 1758, he took part in the major amphibious assault thatcaptured the Fortress of Louisbourg from the French, after which heparticipated 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 hisfamous 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 HMSGrenville. He surveyed the northwest stretch in 1763 and 1764, the south coast between the Burin Peninsula and Cape Rayin 1765 and 1766, and the west coast in 1767. At this time Cook employed local pilots to point out the “rocks and hiddendangers” along the south and west coasts. During the 1765 season, four pilots were engaged at 4 shillings a day each: JohnBeck for the coast west of “Great St. Lawrence”, Morgan Snook for Fortune Bay, John Dawson for Connaigre and HermitageBay, 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 firstscientific, large scale, hydrographic surveys to use precise triangulation to establish land outlines. They also gave Cook hismastery of practical surveying, achieved under often adverse conditions, and brought him to the attention of the Admiraltyand Royal Society at a crucial moment both in his career and in the direction of British overseas discovery. Cook’s map wouldbe 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 “fartherthan any man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go.”
Voyages of exploration
First voyage (1768–71)
In 1766, the Royal Society engaged Cook to travel to the Pacific Ocean toobserve and record the transit of Venus across the Sun. Cook, at the age of39, was promoted to lieutenant and named as commander of the expedition. The expedition sailed from England on 26 August 1768, roundedCape Horn and continued westward across the Pacific to arrive at Tahiti on 13April 1769, where the observations of the Venus Transit were made. However,the result of the observations was not as conclusive or accurate as had beenhoped. Once the observations were completed, Cook opened the sealedorders which were additional instructions from the Admiralty for the secondpart of his voyage: to search the south Pacific for signs of the postulated richsouthern continent of Terra Australis. Cook then sailed to New Zealandand mapped the complete coastline, making only some minor errors. He thenvoyaged west, reaching the south-eastern coast of Australia on 19 April 1770,and in doing so his expedition became the first recorded Europeans to haveencountered its eastern coastline.[NB 2]
On 23 April he made his first recorded direct observation of indigenous Australians at Brush Island near Bawley Point,noting in his journal: “…and were so near the Shore as to distinguish several people upon the Sea beach they appear’d to beof a very dark or black Colour but whether this was the real colour of their skins or the C[l]othes they might have on I knownot.” On 29 April Cook and crew made their first landfall on the mainland of the continent at a place now known as theKurnell Peninsula. Cook originally christened the area as “Stingray Bay”, but he later crossed it out and named it Botany Bay after the unique specimens retrieved by the botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. It is here that JamesCook made first contact with an Aboriginal tribe known as the Gweagal.
After his departure from Botany Bay he continued northwards, and a mishap occurred, on 11 June, when the Endeavour ranaground on a shoal of the Great Barrier Reef, and then “nursed into a river mouth on 18 June 1770″. The ship was badlydamaged and his voyage was delayed almost seven weeks while repairs were carried out on the beach (near the docks ofmodern Cooktown, Queensland, at the mouth of the Endeavour River). Once repairs were complete the voyagecontinued, sailing through Torres Strait and on 22 August he landed on Possession Island, where he claimed the entirecoastline he had just explored as British territory. He returned to England via Batavia (modern Jakarta, Indonesia, wheremany in his crew succumbed to malaria), the Cape of Good Hope and the island of Saint Helena, arriving on 12 July 1771.
Cook’s journals were published upon his return, and he became something of a hero among the scientific community. Amongthe general public, however, the aristocratic botanist Joseph Banks was a bigger hero. Banks even attempted to takecommand of Cook’s second voyage, but removed himself from the voyage before it began, and Johann Reinhold Forsterand his son Georg Forster were taken on as scientists for the voyage. Cook’s son George was born five days before he leftfor his second voyage.
Second voyage (1772–75)
Shortly after his return from the first voyage, Cook was promotedin August 1771, to the rank of commander. Then, in 1772,he was commissioned by the Royal Society to search for thehypothetical Terra Australis. On his first voyage, Cook haddemonstrated by circumnavigating New Zealand that it was notattached to a larger landmass to the south. Although he chartedalmost the entire eastern coastline of Australia, showing it to becontinental in size, the Terra Australis was believed to lie furthersouth. Despite this evidence to the contrary, Alexander Dalrymple and others of the Royal Society still believed that thismassive southern continent should exist.
Cook commanded HMS Resolution on this voyage, while Tobias Furneaux commanded its companion ship, HMS Adventure.Cook’s expedition circumnavigated the globe at a very highsouthern latitude, becoming one of the first to cross theAntarctic Circle on 17 January 1773. In the Antarctic fog,Resolution and Adventure became separated. Furneaux madehis way to New Zealand, where he lost some of his men duringan encounter with Māori, and eventually sailed back to Britain,while Cook continued to explore the Antarctic, reaching 71°10’Son 31 January 1774.
Cook almost encountered the mainland of Antarctica, but turned backnorth towards Tahiti to resupply his ship. He then resumed hissouthward course in a second fruitless attempt to find the supposedcontinent. On this leg of the voyage he brought with him a youngTahitian named Omai, who proved to be somewhat less knowledgeableabout the Pacific than Tupaia had been on the first voyage. On hisreturn voyage to New Zealand in 1774, he landed at the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu.
Before returning to England, he took a final sweep across the SouthAtlantic from Cape Horn and surveyed, mapped and took possessionfor Britain of South Georgia, explored by Anthony de la Roché in1675, discovered and named Clerke Rocks and the South Sandwich Islands (“Sandwich Land”). He then turned north to South Africa, andfrom there continued back to England. His reports upon his return homeput to rest the popular myth of Terra Australis.
Another accomplishment of the second voyage was the successful employment of the Larcum Kendall’s K1 copy of John Harrison’s H4 marine chronometer, which enabled Cook to calculate his longitudinal position with much greater accuracy.Cook’s log was full of praise for this time-piece which he used to make charts of the southern Pacific Ocean that were soremarkably accurate that copies of them were still in use in the mid-20th century.
Upon his return, Cook was promoted to the rank of post-captain and given an honorary retirement from the Royal Navy, as anofficer in the Greenwich Hospital. His acceptance was reluctant, insisting that he be allowed to quit the post if the opportunityfor active duty presented itself. His fame now extended beyond the Admiralty and he was also made a Fellow of the Royal Society and awarded the Copley Gold Medal, painted by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, dined with James Boswell anddescribed in the House of Lords as “the first navigator in Europe”. But he could not be kept away from the sea. A thirdvoyage was planned and Cook volunteered to find the Northwest Passage. Cook travelled to the Pacific and hoped to traveleast to the Atlantic, while a simultaneous voyage travelled the opposite way.
Third voyage (1776–79)
On his last voyage, Cook once again commanded HMS Resolution, while CaptainCharles Clerke commanded HMS Discovery. Ostensibly, the voyage was planned toreturn Omai to Tahiti; this is what the general public believed, as he had become afavourite curiosity in London. Principally the purpose of the voyage was an attempt todiscover the famed Northwest Passage. After returning Omai, Cook travelled northand in 1778 became the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands. In passing andafter initial landfall in January 1778 at Waimea harbour, Kauai, Cook named thearchipelago the “Sandwich Islands” after the fourth Earl of Sandwich—the actingFirst Lord of the Admiralty.
From the South Pacific, he went northeast to explore the west coast of North Americanorth of the Spanish settlements in Alta California. He made landfall at approximately44°30′ north latitude, near Cape Foulweather on the Oregon coast, which he named.Bad weather forced his ships south to about 43° north before they could begin theirexploration of the coast northward. He unknowingly sailed past the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and soon after entered Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. He anchorednear the First Nations village of Yuquot. Cook’s two ships spent about a month inNootka Sound, from 29 March to 26 April 1778, in what Cook called Ship Cove, nowResolution Cove, at the south end of Bligh Island, about 5 miles (8 km) east acrossNootka Sound from Yuquot, a Nuu-chah-nulth village (whose chief Cook did not identifybut may have been Maquinna). Relations between Cook’s crew and the people ofYuquot were cordial if sometimes strained. In trading, the people of Yuquot demandedmuch more valuable items than the usual trinkets that had worked for Cook’s crew inHawaii. Metal objects were much desired, but the lead, pewter, and tin traded at firstsoon fell into disrepute. The most valuable items the British received in trade were seaotter pelts. Over the month-long stay the Yuquot “hosts” essentially controlled the tradewith the British vessels, instead of vice versa. Generally the natives visited the Britishvessels at Resolution Cove instead of the British visiting the village of Yuquot atFriendly Cove.
After leaving Nootka Sound, Cook explored and mapped the coast all the way to the Bering Strait, on the way identifyingwhat came to be known as Cook Inlet in Alaska. It has been said that, in a single visit, Cook charted the majority of the NorthAmerican northwest coastline on world maps for the first time, determined the extent of Alaska and closed the gaps in Russian(from the West) and Spanish (from the South) exploratory probes of the Northern limits of the Pacific.
The Bering Strait proved to be impassable, although he made several attempts to sail through it. He became increasinglyfrustrated on this voyage, and perhaps began to suffer from a stomach ailment; it has been speculated that this led to irrationalbehaviour towards his crew, such as forcing them to eat walrus meat, which they found inedible.
Cook returned to Hawaii in 1779. After sailing around the archipelago for some eight weeks, he made landfall at Kealakekua Bay, on ‘Hawaii Island’, largest island in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Cook’s arrival coincided with the Makahiki, a Hawaiianharvest festival of worship for the Polynesian god Lono. Coincidentally the form of Cook’s ship, HMS Resolution, or moreparticularly the mast formation, sails and rigging, resembled certain significant artefacts that formed part of the season ofworship. Similarly, Cook’s clockwise route around the island of Hawaii before making landfall resembled the processionsthat took place in a clockwise direction around the island during the Lono festivals. It has been argued (most extensively byMarshall Sahlins) that such coincidences were the reasons for Cook’s (and to a limited extent, his crew’s) initial deificationby some Hawaiians who treated Cook as an incarnation of Lono. Though this view was first suggested by members ofCook’s expedition, the idea that any Hawaiians understood Cook to be Lono, and the evidence presented in support of it waschallenged in 1992.
After a month’s stay, Cook got under sail again to resume his exploration of the Northern Pacific. Shortly after leaving HawaiiIsland, the foremast of the Resolution broke and the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs. It has been hypothesisedthat the return to the islands by Cook’s expedition was not just unexpected by the Hawaiians, but unwelcome, because theseason of Lono had recently ended (presuming that they associated Cook with Lono and Makahiki). Tensions rose, and anumber of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians. On 14 February 1779, at Kealakekua Bay, someHawaiians took one of Cook’s small boats. As thefts were quite common in Tahiti and the other islands, Cook would havetaken hostages until the stolen articles were returned. He attempted to take hostage the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu. TheHawaiians prevented this, and Cook’s men had to retreat to the beach. As Cook turned his back to help launch the boats, hewas struck on the head by the villagers and then stabbed to death as he fell on his face in the surf. Hawaiian tradition saysthat he was killed by a chief named Kalanimanokahoowaha or Kanaina. The Hawaiians dragged his body away. Four of theMarines with Cook were also killed and two wounded in the confrontation.
The esteem in which he was nevertheless held by the Hawaiians resultedin his body being retained by their chiefs and elders. Following thepractice of the time, Cook’s body underwent funerary rituals similar tothose reserved for the chiefs and highest elders of the society. The bodywas disembowelled, baked to facilitate removal of the flesh, and thebones were carefully cleaned for preservation as religious icons in afashion somewhat reminiscent of the treatment of European saints in theMiddle Ages. Some of Cook’s remains, disclosing some corroboratingevidence to this effect, were eventually returned to the British for a formalburial at sea following an appeal by the crew.
Clerke took over the expedition and made a final attempt to pass throughthe Bering Strait. Following the death of Clerke, Resolution andDiscovery returned home in October 1780 commanded by John Gore, aveteran of Cook’s first voyage, and Captain James King. Cook’saccount of his third and final voyage was completed upon their return byKing.
David Samwell, who sailed with Cook on the Resolution, wrote of him: “He was a modest man, and rather bashful; of anagreeable lively conversation, sensible and intelligent. In temper he was somewhat hasty, but of a disposition the most friendly,benevolent and humane. His person was above six feet high: and, though a good looking man, he was plain both in dress andappearance. His face was full of expression: his nose extremely well shaped: his eyes which were small and of a brown cast,were quick and piercing; his eyebrows prominent, which gave his countenance altogether an air of austerity.”