Captain James Cook: 20 Major Facts about “the First Navigator in Europe”

British explorer and navigator Captain James Cook spent his second voyage unsuccessfully trying to find the fabled continent of Terra Australis. Cook’s voyage meant that debate could finally be put to bed.

Captain James Cook was a British explorer famed for making maps of Newfoundland as well being a leading explorer of the Pacific Ocean. In one of his voyages, he became the first person to circumnavigate New Zealand.

Captain Cook had a knack for venturing into uncharted areas and lands. He rose to immense acclaim for mapping coastlines in clear detail that had not been done by any Western voyager or explorer before him. Many islands that he discovered or chanced upon were named by him, including Sandwich Islands (i.e. the Hawaiian Islands).

Cook died when he was just 50 years old, however his contributions to the world of exploration had tremendous impact on generations of voyagers, cartographers, and explorers from Britain and beyond.

Before delving into the major facts about the life of Captain James Cook, World History Edu presents few accomplishments chalked by the British explorer.

  • Coming into the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), a war that pitted Britain against France and its native American allies, James Cook had under his belt considerable experience from his years working as an apprentice aboard a number of colliers (a coal-carrying cargo ship).
  • Captain Cook discovered modern-day Kurnell Peninsula and ‘Sting Ray Harbor’ or Botany Bay.
  • He was the first European to make contact with the eastern coastline. He also made contact with the aboriginal people of Australia.
  • He came close to mainland Antarctica.
  • He discovered the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia.
  • Kind courtesy of his reports, explorers could finally dispel the rumors of the fabled continent Terra Australis.
  • To this day, cartographers and explorers often make use of his findings and readings.
  • In 1776, he received the Copley Gold Medal for his efforts in mitigating the spread of scurvy among his crew.
  • Not only was Cook the first European to discover New Zealand, but he also discovered the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

    The Copley Medal was awarded (by the Royal Society) to Captain Cook in 1776

20 things you probably did not know about Captain James Cook

  1. Captain Cook was baptized on November 14, a week after his birth, at the St Cuthbert parish church.
  2. James Cook had seven siblings. He was the second child of his parents – Grace Pace and James Cook.
  3. He showed that New Zealand was an island and not connected to Australia, a larger landmass to the south.
  4. During his return from his first voyage from New Zealand and Australia, many of his crew died of malaria.
  5. On his first voyage, he received the help of a Tahitian Polynesian navigator called Tupaia. On his second voyage, he was given some form assistance by Omai (or Mai) – a young Ra’iatean man. Mai was also the second Pacific Islander to visit Europe.
  6. On his second voyage, Captain Cook made contact with Easter Island, Friendly Islands, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu.
  7. Cook was the one who showed that Australia was large enough to be called a continent.
  8. His early education was funded by the generous contribution of his father’s employer Thomas Skottowe.
  9. His interest in seamanship and sailing emerged around the age of 16 when he worked as a sales boy for grocer in the village of Staithes, North Yorkshire, England. He often walked by the sea shores, dreaming of one day venturing into the open sea to discover new places around the world.
  10. Cook’s introduction to sea voyage came when he was employed as a merchant navy apprentice for very small ships that often sailed along the English coast. He would stay with the Freelove – a collier – for about three years before moving on to work on ships that sailed to the Baltic Sea.
  11. Some historians have tagged Cook as the enabler of British colonialism in the Pacific region. On the contrary, others claim that the botanist Joseph Banks was rather the one responsible.
  12. After suffering a bad weather, Captain Cook named the Oregon coast Cape Foulweather.
  13. Captain Cook has no descendants as his children either died before he died or those children died childless. The six children he had were – James ((1763–1794), Nathaniel (1764–1780), Elizabeth (1767–1771), Joseph (1768–1768), George (1772–1772) and Hugh (1776–1793).
  14. Born in Marton, Yorkshire, Captain James Cook grew up in a household of seven siblings. He was the second child of his parents – James Cook and Grace Pace Cook.
  15. About a week after his birth, November 14, 1728, he was baptized at St Cuthbert Church.
  16. His father– James Cook – was a farm laborer who later became a farm manager for Thomas Skottowe. Kind courtesy of Skottowe’s generosity James Cook was able to attend school for five years. In spite of his brief years in school, Cook still demonstrated apt knowledge in astronomy, mathematics and map making right from an early age.
  17. On his first voyage, Cook was accompanied by botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. Those botanists gathered more than 3,000 plant species. The Captain was also accompanied by a number of artists, including William Hodges.
  18. In addition to Captain Cook, four marines – Corporal James Thomas, Private Theophilus Hinks, Private Thomas Fatchett and Private John Allen – were killed by the Hawaiian villagers on February 14, 1779. Two crew members were also wounded.
  19. Following the death of Captain James Cook, Captain Clerke took over the expedition; however, Clerke died of tuberculosis on August 22. Command then fell to Captain James King, who safely sailed the HMS Resolution back to England in October 1780.
  20. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin entreated colonial warships not to harm any of Britain’s exploration and scientific vessels, including Cook’s vessel. He described those vessels as “common friends to mankind”.

Captain James Cook Facts

Captain Cook, a British explorer and cartographer, joined the Royal Navy in 1755 and went on to distinguish himself brilliantly by venturing into uncharted areas in the Pacific Ocean. | Image: Statue of James Cook, Hyde Park, Sydney.

Birthday: October 27, 1728

Place of birth: Marton, Yorkshire, England

Died: February 14, 1779

Place of death: Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii

Died at age: 50

Cause of death: Stabbed to death by Hawaii villagers

Parents: James Cook and Grace Pace Cook

Education: Great Ayton

Siblings: Christiana, Jane, John, Margaret, Mary, William

Wife: Elizabeth Batts (married in 1762)

Children: Elizabeth, George, Hugh, James, Joseph, Nathaniel

Major discovery: Corner Brook

Nickname: ‘The first navigator in Europe’

Ship: HMS Resolution, HMS Endeavour

Captain Cook

Captain James Cook quote on the challenges he faced as he tried to make his way across Antarctica mainland. Cook was on a quest to find a massive southern continent that was called Terra Australis Incognita (“unknown southern land”).

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