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James Cook - the age of exploration

Age of exploration

James Cook

James Cook was born on 27th October, 1728, in Morton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, England. He was the son of a farmer of Scottish decent [mravov]. As a young teenager, Cook was apprenticed to a seafaring family [zauceny do moreplavectva]. In 1755, he joined Great Britain's Royal Navy and soon proved himself an expert navigator. Later, he was chosen by the Royal Society of London to undertake a scientific journey to Tahiti to observe and document the planet Venus as it passed between the earth and the sun. These observations would help scientists calculate the distance of the earth from the sun.

On 25th August 1768, Cook departed England abroad the Endeavour with 94 crewmen and scientists. He was carrying secret orders from the Royal Navy to be opened upon completion of his scientific mission.

Cook was determined to keep his crew healthy. He insisted his men eat onions and pickled cabbage every day, and made sure that the ship kept fresh fruit and vegetables on board. He ordered his men to bathe every day, to clean their clothing, and to air out their bedding. He did not know the scientific reasons behind these measures, but he knew they worked to prevent scurvy and other diseases in his crew.


On 11th April 1769, the Endeavour arrived on the shores of Tahiti. After viewing the passing of Venus between the earth and sun for several weeks, Cook opened a sealed envelope with Royal Navy's orders. He was to seek out the famous southern continent and claim it to England. Early mapmakers in 1570s assumed there were two major continents at each of the earth's poles. Dutch explorers searched for the southern continent in the 17th century, but did not find it. Cook left Tahiti on 13th July and headed southwest to find the southern continent if it existed.

When James Cook reached New Zealand on 6th October, the native Maori people proved too be unfriendly and his crew was forced to fire on them. The Endeavour spent a few months exploring New Zealand and proved it was not part of the great southern continent. On 9th April [1770], Cook explored and documented the location of Australia. While sailing around this great continent, the Endeavour ran aground [narazit na dno] on the Great Barrier Reef. After months of exploring the coastline of Australia, Cook concluded that this continent was not the great southern continent.


Cook's second voyage began on 13th July 1772 from Plymouth, England. He took two Whitby colliers (coal ships) - The Resolution and the Adventure. The Adventure measured 97 feet in length with 80 crewmen and scientists abroad. The Resolution, Cook's flagship was 111 feet in length with 110 crewmen and scientists abroad. His orders were still the same - to find the southern continent. While this search, Cook used a sea clock, also known as a chronometer (invented by John Harrison), which kept perfect time under rough sea conditions.

The ships headed south around the Cape of Good Hope and toward Antarctica. They crossed the Antarctic Circle for the first time in January 1773. Too much ice blocked Cook's way. After stops in New Zealand and Tahiti, Cook discovered more islands in the south Pacific. He never sighted the continent of Antarctica, and returned back in England on 29th July 1775.


Cook's final voyage began on 12th July 1776. The purpose of his 3rd voyage was to find the famous Northwest Passage. He was abroad the Resolution with a crew of 112, joining the sister ship the Discovery. Cook attempted a route from the Pacific side, making stops in New Zealand and Tahiti. On 18th January 1778, Cook sighted the Hawaiian Islands for the first time. He named them the Sandwich Islands after his friend, the Earl of Sandwich. The Hawaiians thought that Cook was a god and that his men were supernatural beings, so they were very friendly.

After two weeks of trading and good relations, the ships departed heading north. Once he reached the coast of present-day Oregon, he followed the coastline north to Alaska and west through the Bering Strait. By August, Cook concluded there was no Northwest Passage and decided to head for warmer waters for the winter.

By 17th January 1779, the two ships once again landed off the shores of the Hawaiian Islands. This time there was great tension between Englishmen and Natives. One of ship's boats was stolen, and Cook took a Hawaiian chief as a hostage until the boat was returned. When returning on 14th February, James Cook was stabbed [pichnut] in the back by one of the natives. As he fell, dozens of natives attacked his body with knives and clubs.

The contribution of James Cook were extraordinary. He was the first explorer to map the coastline of Australia. He discovered several island groups in the Pacific Ocean, used chronometer to chart his exact position on the globe and he was one of first sea captains to discover the cure for scurvy. He sailed farther south than any other explorer before him, and he proved once and for all that there was no Northwest Passage.

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