By Elizabeth Rogers Kotlowski
"Nelson and Cook are the two most revered names in . . . the Royal Navy", but more importantly, Captain James Cook is the man who "discovered"
Cook was born at Marton-in-Cleveland, a small village in north-east
It has been asserted by those who knew him at this early period of his life, that he had such an obstinate and sturdy way of his own, as made him sometimes appear in an unpleasant light; notwithstanding which, there was something in his manners and deportment, which attracted the reverence and respect of his companions. The seeds of that undaunted resolution and perseverance which afterwards accelerated his progress to immortality, were conspicuous, even in his boyish days. Frequently, on an evening, when assembled together in the village, to set out in search of birds' nests, Cook might be seen in the midst of his comrades, strenuously contending that they should proceed to some particular spot. This he would do, with such inflexible earnestness, as to be deserted by the greater part of his companions.
In 1745, Cook left home. His proficiency in arithmetic helped to get him a job as a shopboy with William Sanderson, grocer and haberdasher, at Staithes, a small but important
The Quaker connection in Whitby was very strong. The first meeting house was built in 1676 and many of the buildings in the town reflected a Quaker dignity and restraint, including the Walker's house in Haggersgate, where Cook lodged. It is certain that the devout Walkerfamily was an important influence in Cook's life. After his apprenticeship, he continued to stay with them between voyages until his marriage to Elizabeth Batts on
Whitby, a port town of 10,000 people, was famous for its ship-building yards. Whitbymen owned over two hundred ships; they traded up and down the English eastern coast, the Baltic, the
So in 1755, Cook, passing up Walker's offer, joined the Royal Navy as an able seaman. This was an extraordinary decision--to join the lowest rank in the navy in an age when the navy was known for its brutality. A sailor's life was hard enough in the merchant service. However, the navy was so unpopular that men had to be continually pressed into its service. Its physical amenities, as well as its food, and its pay, were worse than the merchant service. Its discipline was also harsh, and its sickness record was dreadful. Cook never explained the reasons for his decision. Possibly he felt it was his duty to do his part in protecting his country against the French in the impending Seven Years' War. We will never know. Cook was an intensely secretive man. We have no record of his internal life. Even Cook's daily log, which he kept faithfully the rest of his life, revealed very little about the man.
To be offered a command at twenty-seven showed that Cook possessed exceptional abilities in navigation, cartography, and leadership--which accounted for his rapid rise in the navy. Within a month of joining the Navy, he became master's mate; in two years he rose to boatswain and then to master. As master, the senior non-commissioned officer, Cook was in charge of the running of the ship. At the same time he continued with his studies in navigation, mathematics, astronomy and cartography. The mastering of these subjects, along with the tough conditioning of naval life, was to prepare him for the later stresses of the Pacific.
On his twenty-ninth birthday Cook joined the Pembroke, a sixty-four gun ship, as master. In February 1758 the Pembroke headed for
Cook's next major assignment was in the Pacific. For several centuries, the Europeans had been speculating about a southern continent. The British feared the French might find it first, so while ostensibly putting together an astronomical expedition to an unknown destination in the Pacific to observe a transit of Venus on
The entry Cook wrote in his diary sharpens the contrast between him and his predecessors, whether from Roman Catholic or Protestant Christendom. For where Magellan's and Quiros' men had taken the sacrament, and Tasman had beseeched God Almighty to vouchsafe His blessing on his work, Cook recorded the facts: 'At 2 p.m. got under sail and put to sea.'
Cook was an Anglican. His son, Hugh, was to enter the Anglican ministry, but died prematurely. Several writers on Cook referred to him as a Christian. Cook was a good man: above reproach in his morals; moderate in all things; compassionate and conciliatory in his treatment of the natives; always concerned about the welfare of his men; a man of great courage and determination; cool and just in judgement; controlled in speech even when angry. He would not allow profanity on board (which even professing Christians tolerate these days). He required his men to wear clean clothes on Sunday, and, on occasions he conducted divine service for his crew. This would suggest that he certainly would have been sympathetic, not indifferent or hostile, to the faith. 
Cook's wife gave him a Prayer Book, which he probably read in order to name a number of places discovered on significant days, such as the Whitsundays,
Nourished on Gerard's Herbal, rather than Homer and Virgil, Banks was a self-educated man of ample means (having inherited a fortune from his father, who died when he was eighteen). He decided to devote the rest of his life to the progress of natural history, particularly botany, and he developed an enormous natural history collection. His first major field trip was to
Cook had chosen a Whitbycollier, the Endeavour, because of its sturdy build and very wide beam, for transporting the large amount of scientific equipment and supplies needed for such a long voyage. Among the supplies, Cook included "7860 pounds of sauerkraut". (This was why no one on Cook's ships developed scurvy.)
Rounding the Cape Horn , Cook headed for Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus, then on to New Zealand . After spending several months charting the coasts of both islands (the first man to do so), Cook headed west for the east coast of Van Diemen's Land (
Finding in many places a deep black soil which produced, besides timber, as fine meadow as ever was seen and which I believe is capable of producing any kind of grain. . . . Fruits and roots of every kind would flourish were they once brought thither and planted and cultivated by the hand of industry, as there was provender for more cattle at all seasons of the year than ever could be brought into the country.
Historian Clark commented: "Substitute sheep for cattle, and this became a prophecy in broad outline of the pastoral period in the history of Australia ". Cook's description of the eastern coast was largely responsible for the choice of Botany Bay as the location for a penal colony by the British Parliament in 1779. It contrasted sharply with Dampier's earlier dismal description of the western coast, "that barren and miserable country" and its inhabitants. Through enlightened eyes, Cook commented on the idyllic life of the Aborigines in glowing terms:
[The inhabitants] are a timorous and inoffensive race . . . in no ways inclinable to cruelty. They may appear to some [Dampier, for example], to be the most [unhappy] people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans; being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them. They live in a Tranquillity which is not disturbed by the Inequality of Condition: the Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life, they covet not Magnificent Houses, Household-stuff etc., they live in a warm and fine climate and enjoy a very wholesome air, so that they have very little need of Clothing./
As Cook continued sailing up the east coast, an incident occurred that almost terminated the voyage and their lives. There was a danger lurking beneath the waters of which Cook was unaware. It was the Great Barrier Reef . On Trinity Sunday, 10 June, the Endeavour struck a reef and stuck fast. After much work, the crew managed to free her and steered the damaged ship towards a river-mouth, where the banks were suited to laying the vessel ashore for repairs. That was 16 June. It was not until 4 August that Cook was ready to leave, but it was not long before the Endeavour was headed for the reef again. Without any wind and the seas being too deep to cast anchor, the ship was slowly but surely driven by the force of the tides towards certain destruction. Cook knew the Endeavour would smash and sink in a moment when it struck that perpendicular wall. The men manned the boats and tried to tow her away; it was useless. They were eighty yards away when "suddenly, a little breath of air moved, blew for a few minutes, faded, the merest cat's-paw". It was enough to carry them towards a narrow opening in the reef, but there was still no wind. How much longer could the Endeavour endure? Another narrow opening was seen in the reef and Cook pulled the head of the ship around. At last a light breeze sprang up, and with the tide being in their favour, hurried the vessel through this "Providential Channel" as Cook named it, as he anchored in safe waters.
It had been "the narrowest escape we ever had and had it not been for the immediate help of Providencewe must inevitably have perished", said Richard Pickersgill, the master's mate. Cook, in his entry for 16 August 1770, after describing their desperate situation, wrote, "It pleased God at this very juncture to send us a light air of wind, which, with the help of our boats, carried us about half a cable's length from the present danger".
Cook completed charting the east coast as far as Cape York Peninsula . In his journal, he commented: "This Eastern side is not that barren and miserable country that Dampier and others described the western side to be". On
As a result of Cook's own suggestion, the Admiralty commissioned him to make a second voyage to search for the southern continent. So, on
On 30 January 1774 , however, he was forced to stop because he had run up against a solid mass of packed ice. The latitude was 71 degrees 10' south, the longitude 106 degrees 34' west. This was the most southern point any man had reached. Cook, in an unguarded moment, left us the most revealing statement he had ever made about himself:
I, who hope ambition leads me not only further than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go, was not sorry at meeting with this interruption.
Although he did not know it, Cook was only two hundred miles from the nearest coastline. He had not discovered the Antarctic, but when finally Cook turned the Resolution north, he had settled forever the question of the existence of the fabled southern continent, unless it existed in a much reduced form. He arrived at Spithead on
In July 1776, the Admiralty commissioned Cook to attempt to find a north-west passage by sea from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, and to distribute presents among the natives of the Friendly Islands and of the countries they might discover in the northern hemisphere. On
From there, Cook sailed south to the Sandwich Islands for the winter. On 14 February 1779 , at Karakakoa Bay on Hawaii Island , some natives stole the cutter (a small fast boat) of the Discovery. Cook attempted to take hostages of the natives until the cutter was returned--a practice he had used many times before with success. However, an angry native, incensed at the shooting of one of their chieftains by a member of Cook's crew, fired a shot at Cook. This caused fighting to break out, and, in a moment when Cook's back was turned, Koa, the high priest, who just days before had deified Cook as one of their gods, struck him down with a club; others stabbed him to death. Cook was fifty years old.
There have been many interpretations of the precipitating circumstances that led to Cook's death. Historian F. B. Goodrich comments:
The last time Cook was seen distinctly, he was standing at the water's edge, calling out to the people in the boats to cease firing. It is supposed that he was desirous of stopping further bloodshed, and wished the example of desisting to proceed from his side. His humanity proved fatal to him; and he lost his life in attempting to save the lives of others. It was noticed that while he faced the natives, none of them offered him any violence, deterred, perhaps, by the sacred character he bore as an Orono; but the moment he turned round to give his orders to the men in the boats, he was stabbed in the back and fell, face foremost, into the water.
When news of Cook's death reached England , the nation mourned his passing. Cook was beloved by his men; they knew him best, but none knew him well. We know much about what he did, but little about what he thought. His words were few. His journals and the little private correspondence that remains reveal little more. In his last letter, written to Lord Sandwich from Capetown in 1776, he wrote: "My endeavour shall not be wanting to achieve the great object of this voyage". James Cook was a man of action. He will be remembered for what he did.
It was Cook's discovery of the fertile east coast of Australia that led directly to the English settlement of Australia , in God's perfect timing. Moreover, it was Captain Cook's Voyages that inspired William Carey, as a young man, to take the Gospel to India . Cook's voyages made Englishmen aware of the existence of new lands. In 1784, nonconformists began to pray for one hour every month for the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. This concern resulted in the greatest period of missionary endeavour since apostolic times. So when the First Fleet with seven hundred and fifty convicts set sail for Australia in 1787, God had his man, Richard Johnson, ready..i).European explorers;
Alistair MacLean, Captain Cook (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1972), pp. 8-13. The Principle of Individuality: Each individual God used in the preparation of Australia for the introduction of the Gospel and the English form of government, was unique and had a distinctive background and time of preparation that equipped him for the task for which God had called him. That is why, in evaluating each individual's contribution, the author pays considerable attention to the individual's history, including Christian influences and character. The Providential hand of God must first be seen in the lives of individuals before it can be recognised in the history of nations, since nations are made up of individuals.
Beaglehole, ed., The Journals of Captain James Cook: The Life of Captain James Cook, pp. 5-6, and Australian Dictionary of Biography, ed. A. G. L. Shaw and C. M. H. Clark (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1980) 1: p. 243.
______________ ,Captain Cook's Voyages (London: Cassell, 1897), writes (on page 153): "It was a maxim with Captain Cook to punish the least crimes of any of his people, committed against these uncivilised nations. Their robbing with impunity is by no means a reason why Europeans should treat these uninformed people in the same manner." On another occasion, Cook, when commenting on the unauthorised shooting of a native by the commanding officer, wrote in his journal: "I must own that it did not meet with my approbation, because I thought the punishment a little too severe for the crime, and we had now been long enough acquainted with these people to know how to chastise trifling faults like this, without taking away their lives." (Quoted by the same author on page 59.)
Clark, A History of Australia, 1: p. 45. Cook exemplified the Principle of Christian Character: qualities of steadfastness, diligence, industry, initiative, self-reliance, and brotherly love. For a further discussion of Cook's character, see ______________ , Voyages Round the World (London: A. M. Gardner, date?), pp. 308-12.
Charles Lyte, Sir Joseph Banks: 18th Century Explorer, Botanist and Entrepreneur (London: David & Charles, 1980), p. 19. This was contrary to a popular belief that toads were evil and instruments of evil.
ibid., pp. 1-45. See also Beaglehole, ed., The Journals of Captain James Cook: The Life of Captain James Cook, pp. 142-7. For a full treatment of Banks, see J. C. Beaglehole, ed., The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1962), 2 vols.
Quoted in MacLean, Captain Cook, pp. 31-9. See also Beaglehole, ed., The Journals of Captain James Cook in His Voyages of Discovery: The Life of Captain James Cook, p. 135. A supply of two pounds per week for seventy men for twelve months .
HRNSW, vol. 1, pt. 1., pp. 157, 169-70. Neither Cook nor his officers used the name "New South Wales". It was first used by Cook's editor, Hawkesworth, who published the account of this voyage, after Cook had already left on his second voyage round the world.
MacLean, Captain Cook, pp. 178-80. For further details, see also _____________ , Voyages Round the World (London: A. M. Gardner & Co.), pp. 308-11 and Beaglehole, The Journals of Captain James Cook: The Life of Captain James Cook, pp. 472-688.