Who Was James Cook?

James Cook was a naval captain, navigator and explorer who, in 1770, charted New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia on his ship HMB Endeavour. 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.

Early Life and Career

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 the age of 18 when 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.

Naval Officer, Navigator and Explorer

Cook eventually joined the British Navy and, at age 29, was promoted to ship's master. During the Seven Years War (1756-1763), 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 HMB Endeavour, Cook charted New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. This area has since been 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.

Later Years, Death and Legacy

During all his voyages, Cook successfully 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 and 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.


  • Name: James Cook
  • Birth Year: 1728
  • Birth date: October 27, 1728
  • Birth City: Marton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, England
  • Birth Country: United Kingdom
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: British navigator James Cook charted New Zealand and Australia's Great Barrier Reef on his ship HMB Endeavour and later disproved the existence of the fabled southern continent Terra Australis.
  • Industries
    • War and Militaries
  • Astrological Sign: Scorpio
  • Death Year: 1779
  • Death date: February 14, 1779
  • Death State: Hawaii
  • Death City: Kealakekua Bay
  • Death Country: United States

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  • Article Title: James Cook Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • Url: https://www.biography.com/history-culture/james-cook
  • Access Date:
  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: March 31, 2021
  • Original Published Date: April 2, 2014