Captain James Cook Rare Book
Whitby, a small town on the East coast of Yorkshire, has a fame which belies its modest population (circa 13,000). It was where Count Dracula came ashore in England in Bram Stoker's novel. It was also where the Synod of Whitby between the Roman and Celtic Churches, in 664, determined the
dates of Easter. It is also the breeding ground for some of the finest oysters in England. It’s greatest fame, however, is that it is the adopted town of Captain James Cook, a man who can fairly claim to be the greatest explorer of the modern era, and the place where the first ship to take him to the Pacific Ocean, HMS Endeavour, was built.
In three great voyages Cook did more to clarify the geographical knowledge of the southern hemisphere than all his predecessors had done together. He was the first truly scientific navigator and his voyages made great contributions to many fields of knowledge. He left behind him a body of work including the official accounts of each of his voyages, the last of which includes a magnificent atlas of plates with stunning views of the South Pacific. In addition the scientists and crew who took
part in the voyages published numerous works, as did the artists who journeyed with Cook to the Pacific: Webber’s Views in the South Seas being the only colour plate book relating to Cook’s voyages to have been published.
The first voyage (1768-1772) under Cook’s command on the Endeavour was primarily of a scientific nature, the mission being to observe the transit of Venus at Tahiti. Once his duties were completed Cook sailed South on to New Zealand which he circumnavigated and surveyed, before going on to Australia where he discovered and named New South Wales. Both Australia and New Zealand were
annexed by Great Britain as a result of this voyage which was also notable for the fact that none of the crew died from scurvy.
The second voyage (1772-1776) on HMS Resolution accompanied by the Adventure, was an expedition in search of a southern continent. Cook disproved the existence of the fabled Terra Australis, supposed to exist between New Zealand and South America, but became convinced that there was land beyond the ice-fields. This expedition became the first to cross the Antarctic Circle.
As if this was not enough, Cook went on to discover and rediscover Easter Island, the Marquesas, New Hebrides, Tahiti, Tonga, and many other island groups. After rounding Cape Horn he discovered and charted South Georgia. It was this voyage, which produced a vast amount of information concerning the Pacific peoples and islands, also proved the value of the chronometer as an aid to
finding longitude. Cook’s third and final voyage (1776-1780), also undertaken on the Resolution and later joined by the Discovery, was an expedition in search of the Northwest Passage with a remarkable crew including William Bligh, George Vancouver, and James Burney. After calling at Tasmania and New Zealand
Cook sailed north, discovering Christmas Island and the Sandwich Islands, later to be named the Hawaiian Islands. Cook charted the American west coast from Northern California through the Bering Strait before being stopped by pack ice at latitude 70° 44'. It was in 1779, whilst wintering over at Hawaii that he was killed in a fracas with natives over a boat.
Apart from his discoveries, Cook left a lasting legacy to the British Navy in that his great skill as a draughtsman and surveyor led to the formation of the Royal Navy Survey Squadrons and the admiralty charts which laid the basis for all British expeditions up to modern times.