Let’s Cast-Off for the Great Pacific Ocean … Who’s With Me?

Portrait of Captain Cook

Portrait of Captain Cook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love the ocean. I like being on the beach, but for me being on the beach just does not quite get the job done … I have to be at sea. Walking on the beach almost gets it done. But it is still second best to having my feet firmly planted on a heaving deck with a salt spray in my face. Today I am going to share with you one of my maritime heroes. This man inspired me to go to sea; he was the last great nautical explorer. I admire men like John Paul Jones and Sir Francis Drake, both great tacticians who frequently started and won battles others would have avoided. These two men never thought about odds, and never withdrew from a fight.

Some people would think that Sir Francis Drake (a relative of mine) would be the one who inspired me to go to sea. As our family’s genealogist, I have found a few inspiring people in our family tree. But, each and every one of us create our own life story based on the decisions we make in life. Our relationship to the famous or infamous has no influence on our successes or failures. A relationship to someone of note does not make us any better or worse than anyone else. One last point I want to make in this distasteful paragraph is that each and every one of us have black-sheep and heroes in our family tree if we go back far enough. It does not change who we are. We decide who we are by the choices we make in life.

It was the life choices of James Cook that made him into one of England’s greatest mariners and explorers. Captain James Cook was born on 27 October 1728. This was a time when the circumstances of your birth determined how far in life you were allowed to go. This was an age when commanding officers of His Majesty’s Royal Naval ships were gentlemen, by class and birth if not always by manners. The second son of a common laborer, born far from the ocean, could be an able seaman, but never a ship’s captain. However, that is exactly what James Cook became.

Official portrait of Captain James Cook

Official portrait of Captain James Cook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a teenager, James Cook first went to sea in merchant ships. From the beginning, he vigorously dedicated himself to the study of mathematics, navigation, and astronomy. He slowly rose through the ranks, and was within a month of becoming a commander of his own merchant ship when the Seven Year War broke out with France. James Cook quickly left the merchant marine for the Royal Navy. He had to start over again from the bottom, but he believed he would have the opportunity for more rapid advancement in the Royal Navy during wartime.

Cook saw action and handled himself well, but there was nothing to make him standout against his fellow officers. It was during the siege of Quebec that James Cook surveyed and mapped the mouth of the St. Lawrence in 1758. General Wolfe used Cook’s maps for his famous surprise attack on the Plains of Abraham in 1759. His work during the siege of Quebec revealed Cook as a talented surveyor and cartographer.

After the siege of Quebec, Cook was sent to survey and map Newfoundland. Cook’s work in Newfoundland in the 1760’s was the first large scale, scientific hydrographic survey of Newfoundland’s coasts. His charts of Newfoundland’s coast were so accurate they were still being used 200 years later, well into the 20th century. Cook’s achievements as a surveyor and cartographer were duly noted by the Admiralty and the Royal Society.

In 1766, the Royal Society ordered Cook to the Pacific Ocean to observe and record Venus transiting across the sun. He left England on 26 August 1768 and rounded Cape Horn; arriving at Tahiti on 13 April 1769. It was in Tahiti that Cook made his Venus observations. After this was completed, Cook opened his sealed and secret orders from the Admiralty for the second part of this his first great voyage to the Pacific. Cook was to search for the fabled continent of Terra Australis.

Statue of Captain James Cook at Admiralty Arch...

Statue of Captain James Cook at Admiralty Arch, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cook left Tahiti and mapped the entire coastline of New Zealand. He also became the first European to discover the eastern coastline of Australia, and the first European to meet indigenous Australians, Aboriginals of the Gweagal tribe. Making landfall in Australia at Kurnell Peninsula, he named the area Stingray Bay, because of the numerous stingrays. After the many unique plant specimens discovered by his botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander he renamed Stingray Bay, Botany Bay.

Captain Cook returned to England by the Cape of Good Hope and the isle of St. Helena, arriving 12 July 1771. It would be five years before his second voyage to the Pacific. During this time, his journals were published, Cook became a hero in the scientific community. His charts of the east coast of Australia clearly showed Australia was a continent, but it was believed Terra Australis was further to the south.

It is impossible for me to do justice to Captain Cook’s voyages in the context of my blog. Any one of the accomplishments of this first voyage (that have unfortunately been left out due to time and space) is worthy of a book length treatment in its own. If you are interested in finding out more about Captain Cook and his voyages, I highly recommend downloading his journals from your favorite e-book store (they can be found as a free download on Amazon.com) or your local library.

Map showing the first voyage of Captain James ...

Map showing the first voyage of Captain James Cook. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In future articles on Captain Cook I will discuss his next two voyages to the Pacific, his exploration of the northwest coast of North America (the area that is today Washington State, Oregon, and the west coast of Canada), and his death. The death of Captain Cook and his relationship with the Hawaiian people has been somewhat misunderstood and misrepresented in our modern times; I hope to give you a greater insight to this incident so you may come to your own conclusions.

As always, take care of yourself,

Love those dear to you,

And have a good week.


Filed under history, navy, ships, thoughts

2 responses to “Let’s Cast-Off for the Great Pacific Ocean … Who’s With Me?

  1. Not only were Captain Cook’s (and Michael Lane) charts still being used but so, too, were the often fanciful place names that he devised or at least made official. We have, for example, a:
    Cow head–because part of the headland resembled a cow and;
    Dildo–yes, I am not kidding. I always assumed that, in times past the name meant something else but, no, it was that to Captain Cook, again, part of the headland resembled…ummmm…you know. The people of the place have staunchly hung on to the name too; good for tourism.


  2. Related to Sir Drake? too cool. but terra firma for me 🙂