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British navigator James Cook discovered and charted New Zealand and Australia's Great Barrier Reef on his ship Endeavor, and later disproved the existence of the fabled southern continent Terra Australis. His voyages provided the first accurate map of the Pacific.
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Born on October 27, 1728, in Marton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, England, James Cook was a naval captain, navigator and explorer who, in 1770, discovered and charted New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia on his ship Endeavor. He later disproved the existence of Terra Australis, a fabled southern continent. Cook's voyages helped guide generations of explorers, and provided the first accurate map of the Pacific. He died on February 14, 1779, in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii.
James Cook was born in Marton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, England, on October 27, 1728, the son of a Scottish farmhand. As a teenager, Cook did farming work alongside his father until, at the age of 18, he was offered an apprenticeship by a Quaker shipowner in a small seaside village near Whitby, England. The experience proved to be fortuitous for the future naval officer and explorer, bringing him in contact with both the ocean and ships along the port.
Cook eventually joined the British Navy and, at age 29, was promoted to ship's master. During the Seven Years War (1756-63), he commanded a captured ship for the Royal Navy. In 1768, he took command of the first scientific expedition to the Pacific. In 1770, on his ship the HMS Endeavor, Cook discovered and charted New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia—since credited as one of the world's most dangerous areas to navigate.
After his return to England, Cook was chosen to circumnavigate and explore Antarctica. On this voyage, he charted present-day Tonga, Easter Island, New Caledonia, the South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia, and disproved the existence of Terra Australis, a fabled southern continent. (Cook named the Hawaiian Islands the Sandwich Islands after the Earl of Sandwich, also known as John Montagu.)
In his later years, James Cook fought scurvy (a deadly disease caused by vitamin deficiency) by feeding his crew a diet that included watercress, sauerkraut and orange extract. He died in a skirmish with islanders during a winter layover in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, on February 14, 1779.
Today, Cook's voyages are credited with helping to guide generations of explorers, as well as with providing the first accurate map of the Pacific, and many believe that he did more to fill the map of the world than any other explorer in history.
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