It is almost certain that James and Grace (Pace) Cook could little guess what the future held for their second born, James Cook II. Born 27 October 1728 in Morton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, England James II had a knack for wandering and would often go off by himself to explore. A private person by nature, Cook would remain that way for the rest of his life.
In 1745 Cook left home to begin his apprenticeship to grocer William Sanderson. With the shop being so near the ocean, Cook became acquainted with sailors who were always ready to share a tale of the sea. Their stories piqued Cook’s interest and he latched onto nautical books, devouring them. The next year he left Sanderson to find a job at sea. The 17 year old was made an apprentice aboard the Freelove.
Cook deftly climbed the ranks, but he didn’t intend to make the merchant marine his life career. In 1755 just as Cook was given his own command he upped and joined the Royal Navy as an able seaman. Surprisingly, Cook advanced through the ranks quickly thanks in part to officers who recognized his abilities. In two years time he had attained the rank of ship’s master. This would, had circumstances not intervened, be as far as Cook would go in the navy.
In 1762 Cook arrived back in England temporarily without a job but with a stash of money. It was at this time he met Elizabeth Batts. After a whirlwind courtship Cook and Batts were married on 22 December 1762. For the rest of their lives the couple would remain devoted to one another. In all the Cooks would have six children, all of which died in childhood or at a very young age.
In 1764, while mapping the Newfoundland coast, a shipboard accident nearly cost Cook his thumb. Fortunately the thumb was saved although Cook would carry a scar for the rest of his life. Once back home Cook was selected to command a mission to Tahiti, where the transit of Venus was to be observed. At First Lieutenant Cook’s request a Whitby collier was purchased for the expedition. The collier was refitted and renamed the HM Bark Endeavour. On 26 August 1768 Cook set sail aboard the Endeavour on his voyage of discovery.
As the Endeavour neared present day Bow Island, the crew got an idea of what kind of man they were serving under when Cook surprised them by climbing up in the rigging. As an able leader Cook’s crew respected him. He was instrumental in preventing scurvy, he demanded cleanliness whenever possible and he was more lenient than other captains.
Eventually the Endeavour arrived in Tahiti. There Cook was troubled with thievery among Tahitians which was a problem he would encounter with other native people. In May a Tahitian stole a quadrant necessary to observing the transit. Angry, Cook took a chief prisoner and confiscated a number of canoes until the quadrant was returned. The quadrant was located but it had been taken apart and scattered about. Cook was informed that their prisoner was innocent. When the chief was released he gave Cook an ultimatum. The Tahitians would stop supplying Cook with food if the chief was not given a shirt and axe. Cook bowed to the chief’s wishes throwing a poncho in the bargain too.
After the Venus transit was observed the Endeavour moved on to search for new lands. In late 1768 New Zealand was sighted. This country would become a favorite of Cook’s as it identified with his native Yorkshire. For half a year Cook charted the coast of New Zealand. One of the bigger problems Cook faced was the cannibalistic Maori who bravely faced the English with little apparent fear. It sometimes became necessary for Cook’s men to protect themselves from threatening war parties, a task Cook didn’t relish. After New Zealand the Endeavour sailed for Australia sighting the southeastern coast on 19 April 1770. On June 11 Cook had just turned in for the night when the Endeavour ran aground. Taking it all in stride Cook calmly issued orders. Eventually the tide floated the ship off of the reef. Later Cook had the Endeavour run aground on a beach so repairs could be made to the damaged vessel. It wasn’t until July 1771 that the Endeavour arrived in England.
Cook was welcomed with all the fanfare due to a hero. In three years Cook had risen from relative obscurity to national fame. By 1773 he had put out to sea once again, this time to discover Terra Australis. Frankly, Cook didn’t think such a place existed. The expedition consisted of two ships, the Resolution and the Adventure. As the two ships neared the Artic they were separated and the Adventure headed for New Zealand, awaiting the Resolution (the Adventure would later head back to England. Two of their numbers were killed and eaten by Maori). Meanwhile Cook with the Resolution pushed through ice, fog and cold waves while enduring frigid temperatures. The Resolution traveled far but was forced to turn back for Tahiti due to dwindling supplies. Cook returned once again but he never did find what is now known as Antartica.
In 1776 Cook, back in England, volunteered to undertake another voyage (this time with the Resolution and Discovery). His services were accepted. By this time Cook was a drastically changed man. He normally had been sympathetic to thieving natives, but now he handed out harsh punishment. The voyage was riddled with problems and his crew, some who had been with Cook for a long time now, were mystified with the new Cook. Their captain began drinking heavily of kava and getting drunk.
Hawaii was to prove Cook’s undoing. When the Resolution and Discovery sailed into Kealakekua Bay the Hawaiians thought Cook was their god, Lono. However, it would seem even Lono could outstay his welcome. The expedition left but returned soon after. The Discovery’s mast had broken and needed repairs. While undergoing repairs Hawaiians stole the Discovery’s cutter. Furious Cook went to take King Kalaniʻōpuʻu hostage. Understandably the king refused to go with Cook. Finally Cook gave up and began walking away with some marines who had come ashore with him. But just then word came that other marines had killed a chief. The natives closed in on the small party and one began poking Cook with a spear. Cook fired, killing a person in the crowd. At this turn of events mayhem broke loose. Cook was stabbed multiple times, leading to his death. Powerless to do anything the surviving marines swam for the two ships. The Hawaiians gave Cook a burial fitting for one of their chiefs (a rather disgusting ritual to modern minds) and returned some of Cook’s remains to the ships.
If anyone would like to read a little something on Elizabeth Batts Cook please see this great link: Mrs Cook’s Valentine’s Day