James Cook, Captain – HMS Endeavour – 1

London is one of the world’s great cities, and the United Kingdom is a great nation, but Britain looks tiny on the world map.  However, British contributions have been immense, in every area of knowledge. Therefore, while you are traveling Britain, take every opportunity to learn its rich history, and enjoy getting to know the descendants of an illustrious group of adventurers!

Especially when visiting Greenwich, you can learn more about Capt. James Cook and Britain’s other famous sailors at the National Maritime Museum.

As background, in the 1700’s the Pacific Ocean was still virtually uncharted by Europeans (although the Chinese and others navigated it); in fact the Chinese are thought to have been the first to cross, to Mexico’s western shore, “finding” the Americas long before Columbus.

But, for Europeans, since Magellan made the first non-Asian crossing in 1520, there had been rumors of a large southern continent called “Terra Australis Nondum Cognita” (the southern land not yet known).

Captains from many European sea-faring nations – French, Dutch and English – including Sir Francis Drake, hunted in vain for this mythical land. Did it exist?

The British Government decided they must know, but who was brave enough to tackle that voyage into the unknown, especially with no usual technology that gave them a reasonable chance of ever returning!

The British Admiralty also wished to embark on a scientific expedition to observe the Venus’ transit in June 1769, during which the planet would cross the face of the Sun. The Admiralty decided that scientific expedition would be given a “secret mission” – find the southern continent!

So, 240 years ago, the Admiralty chose a brilliant young navigator named Captain James Cook (who had already successfully charted the St Lawrence River in Quebec, “Canada”). (His charts helped British General Wolfe capture Quebec from the French in 1759, just before America’s Revolution.)

Additionally, Cook had observed and described an eclipse of the Sun in 1766.

Cook had very humble beginnings, but rose to the top ranks because of his great skill — both as a sailor and as a leader of men. James Cook had been born in the village of Marton, Yorkshire, 27 October 1728 (that’s 7 November on the Gregorian calendar). He was one of five children; his parents were a Scottish migrant farm laborer, also named James Cook, and his Yorkshire wife, Grace.

At 17, young James worked for a shopkeeper in Staithes near Whitby. Here he decided that a life at sea was what he really wanted so he became apprenticed to a firm of Whitby coal shippers.

He also worked hard at mathematics and at astronomy (which was very important for navigators). Soon he was offered command of a merchant ship, but instead, in a surprise move, he chose to join the Royal Navy, as a seaman.

James Cook was one of a very few men to ever rise through the ranks of the Royal Navy, from seaman to command, and was thus much more sympathetic to the needs of ordinary sailors. Though still hard, conditions on his ships were much better than on many others in Navy and in commercial shipping.

For this dangerous naval assignment, Cook chose a type of vessel that he respected and knew to be sturdy and practical – the Whitby collier.

HMS Endeavour was solidly built, broad of beam and shallow in draft so the small ship was: unlikely to run aground, could hold lots of provisions and be managed by a small crew if necessary. According to Captain Cook, ‘a better ship for such service I never could wish for.’

The collier was adapted for its new role in Deptford Royal Dockyard, on the Thames River, near Greenwich. Learn who was on board and how the voyage fared in Part 2.

Captain Cook and new Pacific adventures

©2009 Mystic at Travel Vacation Review