skip to Main Content

Captain Cook’s Voyages in A Partial Gentleman’s Library: Important Books from Around the World

Wednesday, September 2 at 11am ONLINE

The only 18th century explorer to lead more than one Pacific voyage, Captain James Cook embodied the spirit of the great age of maritime discovery. Cook’s achievements in mapping the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia changed Western perceptions of world geography. His seamanship, navigational and cartography skills set new standards and sealed his place in history as one of the world’s most innovative and talented maritime explorers. Cook made three circumnavigations between 1768 and 1776, observing on his first voyage aboard the HMS Endeavour the Transit of Venus in Tahiti, rediscovering and charting New Zealand, and discovering the eastern coast of Australia. Several of the charts and maps he made were strategically important, including the Chart of the Streight of Magellan. On his second voyage, aboard the Resolution with a consort ship named the Adventure, Cook crossed the Antartic Circle for the first time and disproved the existence of the ‘Great Southern Continent.’ Cook charted Tonga and Easter Island, discovered New Caledonia in the Pacific, and the South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia Islands in the Atlantic. Upon his return to England, he was promoted to captain, elected a fellow of the Royal Society and awarded the gold Copley Medal. On his third voyage, Cook was charged with finding a North-West passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Although the passage had been sought in vain from Europe, Cook endeavored  to find a route from the North Pacific. Aboard the Resolution for this voyage, Cook was not able to find a passage usable by sailing ship but discovered the Hawaiian Islands where he met his death in a skirmish on the beach at Kealakekua over the theft of a cutter.  Cook’s legacy as a navigator, explorer and cartographer remains unsurpassed in maritime history and his thoroughness in the care of men at sea was unmatched. Cook’s crew were remarkably healthy and none died of scurvy which notoriously decimated seamen on lengthy voyages in the 18th century. Cook insisted on cleanliness and ventilation in the crew’s quarters, and ensured a healthy diet of foods containing ascorbic acid to ward off the disease. Volume II of Cook’s Second Voyage includes a fascinating discourse on ‘Some Late Improvements of the Means for Preserving the Health of Mariners’ which includes Cook’s research on the prevention of scurvy and other issues relating to the well-being of men at sea. As one of only a few men from humble beginnings to rise through the ranks of the 18th century British Navy, Captain Cook was particularly sympathetic to the needs of ordinary sailors, and was interested in the daily life, language and culture of the indigenous peoples he encountered. Captain James Cook changed the map of the world in ways that remain significant today.

Back To Top