James Cook, British sailor extraordinaire living and exploring in the years just before America declared independence from England. He sailed the coasts of Canada and unveiled the mysteries of the Pacific Ocean.
Now let’s explore his life, with some facts!
James Cook Facts
1. He was a farm boy
James Cook had humble beginnings. An interesting fact about James Cook is that most of his early life was spent on a farm in Scotland. He didn’t quite spend all his time tending to the crop and livestock, though. He was also a smart, curious little boy, and his father was able to pay for Cook to have an education in the village up until the age of 12.
2. His training was harsh
Cook did not live by the shore as a young boy. He was introduced to the sea in his later childhood, during an internship at a general store in a coastal town to the north. He was fascinated by the sea and wished to work as a sailor. He was allowed to pursue this interest, one thing lead to another, and by 18, Cook was living on the coast, working as an apprentice to a ship owner.
As an apprentice, Cook assisted with ship repairs in the winter. This turned out to be great training for future ship repair and sailing expeditions, as the sea he had to work on was rough, much rougher than many of the seas Cook would encounter in the future. On top of that, he worked in the winter, when the seas were at their most chaotic.
3. He gave up security for adventure
After his apprenticeship, Cook steadily rose through the ranks as a sailor. After 8 years at sea, he finally became captain of his own ship. This is an accomplishment that would have satisfied most sailors, and he certainly would have had a good career on the path he was on. It wasn’t enough for Cook. He wanted adventure!
An interesting fact about James Cook is that he joined the Royal Navy, and with his ability and aura of authority, he quickly rose through the ranks. He participated in the 7 Years War between Britain and France and was given command of a ship captured in battle. Cook helped Britain achieve victory by mapping out dangerous areas on land and sea.
After the war, he continued making maps of new lands, especially near Canada. Cook even saw a solar eclipse in 1766, but his adventure was just beginning.
4. He led the first British scientific expedition of the Pacific
Now we get into the phase of James Cook’s life for which he is most remembered. He was captain of a ship, the HMS Endeavor, that was to carry Royal scientists to Tahiti in 1768 so that they could watch Venus in its rotation, moving in front of the Sun. This was part of the first British scientific expedition into the Pacific, but it was only the beginning. Instead of heading back to England, Cook went further into the Pacific, and there he found his greatest discovery.
5. He discovered a continent
He found Australia, connecting it with the rest of the world! Ok, technically he found New Zealand, first. Philosophers had theorized that there had to be some large landmass in the Pacific Ocean so that the land in the southern hemisphere would balance out the northern hemisphere. And, in fact, there was a large landmass.
Once Cook found New Zealand, he took the next 6 months to chart a map of the islands. Then, once again, Cook kept going instead of going back home, and that’s how he found Australia in 1770, an important fact about James Cook. In order to make maps of Australia, Cook had to navigate the Great Barrier Reef, which is considered the most difficult thing to navigate by boat in the world.
Then England sent him to Antarctica, to sail around it and reach into those dangerous icy waters to see what he could find. He found a few more islands in the Pacific Ocean during his expedition, including Easter Island, the one with the statues of heads. However, he could not find a whole other continent, so he concluded that Australia was the only one out there.
6. He kept his crew healthy
Though 30 of Cook’s crew members died on the way back to England, sick from a fever they picked up on an island in the South Pacific, not a single crew member on any of Cook’s expeditions died of scurvy. This was extraordinary for the time, as scurvy was a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C that had a reputation for wiping out entire crews.
Cook’s secret? Being a neat freak and eating his fruits. Cook had strict rules on his ships about cleanliness, to minimize the threat of germs, and insisted his crew have a balanced diet, including an orange extract he created. Later in life, Cook was awarded a medal for a paper he wrote on his work to prevent scurvy.
7. He inspired a standard to put scientists on naval ships
James Cook’s success in scientific expedition set a precedence to send scientists on all sorts of naval ships, an interesting fact about James Cook. After all, they never knew what they might find. Charles Darwin was a scientist on one such ship to the Galapagos Islands, where he started his theory of evolution.
8. He died after a squabble with Hawaiians
James Cook met his demise on one final expedition to unearth the final mystery of the Pacific Ocean, if there was a way to travel by ship past Alaska or Siberia in order to get to the other side of the world. He ended up in Hawaii, where he got into a fight with natives after stealing one of their cutting tools. After years of successfully navigating relations with the native people of the Pacific Islands, he was killed by them.
James Cook did a lot for the world of Ocean exploration. He set standards for future exploration in terms of cleanliness, scurvy prevention, and the inclusion of scientists on expeditions. He had a family, but he was married to the sea, and the family was left largely ignored. His mapping of new lands wasn’t ignored, however, and he changed the map of the world more than any other man.
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