|Captain James Cook. © NMM|
He led three great voyages of scientific exploration to the Pacific Ocean. By sailing around the world further south than anyone had done before, he disproved the long-established theory that there was a southern continent.
He was the first to chart Australia’s east coast and sail around New Zealand. His voyages to the Pacific had a tremendous impact on European society, for whom the area was very little known.
|Chart showing the tracks of the ships on Cook's three voyages. © NMM|
He was born the son of a farm worker in Yorkshire and worked on colliers (ships made to carry coal) before joining the Royal Navy as an able seaman at the age of 26. He rose through the ranks making a reputation as an excellent seaman and a talented chartmaker.
He was chosen to lead the first voyage to the Pacific after he made a detailed survey of parts of Nova Scotia. He became famous through his Pacific voyages and met Geroge III and other leading figures of his time. He was also given the honour of being elected a fellow of the Royal Society, the pre-eminent scientific society of its day.
Cook was killed on 14 February 1779 on a beach on Hawaii halfway through his third voyage. His death was a great shock back in Europe – the queen of France, Marie Antoinette is said to have wept at the news. He is rightly regarded as one of the greatest maritime explorers whose charts gave an accurate picture of the huge Pacific Ocean for the first time.