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Captain James Cook

Explorer of the Seas

Captain James Cook


James Cook and his wife Grace lived in a cottage in the village of Marton in Cleveland, where he worked as a farm labourer. It was here on 27th October 1728, their second son, James Cook was born, destined to cross the oceans of the World and venture further as any man might. Captain James Cook FRS became the best British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. He made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

As a small boy, the family moved to Aireyholme Farm, three miles from Great Ayton. The nearby Roseberry Topping prominent against the sky, was the first of many conquered quests to befall James Cook who became the most famous seafarer that Whitby and the World had seen. Thomas Skottowe, the Lord of the Manor of Ayton, who owned the lands on which the Cook family farmed, was a benevolent and kindly master, caring for his tenants. He had noticed that the second son of the Cook family, was a bright boy called James and arranged for him to attend the local village school.
James Cook had been taught to read and write by Mrs Walker in his Marton years and under the guidance of the Great Ayton schoolmaster, Mr Pullen, his studies showed special aptitudes to mathematics. Skottowe`s interest in the boy James did not end there, but followed him throughout his life. It was Skottowe`s influence in the county, that many years later, was very instrumental in the persuading the local Members of Parliament to write to the Admiralty and highly recommending Cook.

School years were followed by a period of working on his father`s farm. Then at the age of sixteen, James went to work in a shop in Staithes, a fishing village not far from Whitby. This again may have been through the direct influence Skottowe was having on the development of James Cook, as the shop keeper was Skottowe`s wife`s brother in law, named William Sanderson. Staithes was a busy thriving fishing port of some one thousand people. The nature of the place was to shape James Cook to become a part of the seafaring community. It was no longer work on his father`s farm that occupied his leisure time, but it was his new found friend`s living in Staithes, that of the sea and not the land. it was in Staithes that James first learnt the art of quietly bringing a small boat and navigating a passage to the shore in the dark. This was a necessity for the coastal smugglers of the day. James Cook`s experience amongst the folk of Staithes fishing community was to be a vital and direct influence in shaping his career. He soon found that a shop- keeper`s boy was not the life for him and expressed his feelings to William Sanderson, having the desire to go to sea.

William Sanderson took James to the port of Whitby, where he introduced him to his friend, John Walker, who was a trader, with ships at sea. When James Cook came to take up a post in Whitby, he arrived to a very busy seaport, where ships were being built, sail making, rope and cordage skills prevailed in their manufacture, together with all the allied trades that went with these. The ancient town and seaport of "Whitby", with its monastic and maritime associations, stretching back to the earliest times, was the very port exactly fitted to capture the imagination and foster the ambitions of such a man as James Cook.

The forty year old John Walker, to whom James Cook was now apprenticed, owned with his brother Henry, several ships. The Walkers were a respected Quaker family and lived in Grape Lane in the town. The house still stands today and the visitor will see the initials of Mark and Susanah Dring, who were the first to live in the house having had it built in 1688. The Walker ships were in the moving of coal by sea trade and the ships were known as "Cats", being extremely sturdy, stubby with bottoms flat and suitable to their type of trading in tidal ports. It was in these ships that James Cook learnt his seamanship.

The "Freelove" on which Captain James Cook served his first voyage to sea, was about 450 tons in weight. James soon made his mark and came under the approving eye of his masters. James helped in the rigging of a new ship being built by the Walker family. She was larger than the Freelove, being about 600 tons and was named "The Three Brothers" During the winter months, when the weather was too severe and the sea too heavy to sail in, the ships underwent the re-rigging, cleaning of the ship`s bottom and general overhaul. James learnt all these skills and they would hold him in good stead on his voyages around the world. At these times of winter, James Cook and other prentice lads staying at the masters house, worked the days on the ships and spent long evenings reading the skills required to be masters of their own ships. James was said to thrive on the knowledge of others and could not wait to put this knowledge into practice.

Having served the Walker family in their ships, James eventually was due for promotion to Captain in the Merchant Navy Service, but took the exceptional step of volunteering for the Royal Navy, as an Able Seaman, (at the time people did not volunteer for such a position, the ships requiring the needs of Able Seamen, went out and "press ganged" people into the service). James rose through the ranks until he became Master, the highest non commissioned post you could obtain. He was highly regarded for his work for General Wolfe, at the siege of Quebec, producing maps, enabling the fleet to move up the Saint Lawrence river. This lead to the defeat of the French General Montcalme on the Heights of Abraham.

Shortly after this event, the Admiralty in combination with the Royal Society, were planning a major expedition to the South Seas. It was the custom for the Captain of his Majesty`s ships to be one of rank and was much sought after, that bribes or corruption took place to fill these posts. The Lords of the Admiralty resisted such pressures and appointed a newly promoted Lieutenant, James Cook. On James Cook`s advice, the Admiralty bought a Whitby built ship known as "Cats", its name was the "Earl of Pembroke" built in 1765 and was used for moving coal from Newcastle to London. The Royal Navy had it refitted and renamed her the "HMS Endeavour Bark". She was little more than 100 feet long, broad in beam and shallow in draft, with blunt bows and flattened stern. This was the ideal ship for Captain James Cook, built stoutly to withstand the pounding seas, built by the trustworthy shipwrights of Whitby, a craft James knew very well.


Endeavour a Whitby built boat  The Endeavour Bark sailed from the sheltered waters of Plymouth in England on August 26th 1768, sailing alone with no other vessel as support ship. She carried 94, officers, scientists and crew, two greyhounds plus a milking goat and stores for the voyage. As she was originally built to carry a crew of seventeen, she must have been bursting at her seams. The Endeavour Bark returned to port in 1771, a voyage of three years, having been reported missing, lost to the unknown seas, but the battered Whitby built ship with pennants flying and the great Royal Navy Ensign clearly to be seen on her quarter deck, sailed up the Channel and anchored off the Downs. There were only 56 aboard her now, plus the indestructible goat. The Endeavour Bark - Resolution - Adventurer and the Discovery, a splendid quartet of Whitby built ships, commanded by Cook, conveys a maritime memorial to his aspirations and to the skills of Whitby shipwrights.

On Captain James Cook`s third voyage, he was killed by the natives of "Owhyhee", one of the Sandwich Islands. His body was never to be seen again, believed to be eaten by those natives. The story of Captain Cook ships after his death is largely one of neglect and indifference. These splendid vessels which had served England well and had successfully opened up the Southern Ocean, revealed the nature and extent of the islands of New Zealand, the continent of Australia and gone to the very gates of Antartica, had voyaged with the greatest maritime explorer of all time and yet were allowed to fall into oblivion. By contrast, Lord Nelson`s "Victory" had been preserved, becoming a place to pay homage to one of England`s other great mariners. Captain James Cook`s and the Whitby built ships, sturdy in all that came their way, should therefore take a place alongside the "Santa Maria", the "Mayflower" as well as the "Victory". Great ships, all of them, carving out the destiny of men and giving historical events for the world to remember them by.

HMS Resolution
The genius of Captain James Cook was readily recognised by the Admiralty after the first great voyage of discovery. Plans were made almost immediately for a second voyage - this time to make a complete circumnavigation in the high Antarctic latitudes. Cook had very vivid memories of near disaster while sailing through unknown waters and his choice of ships was accepted by the Admiralty who were very conscious of the magnitude of the undertaking.

The Navy Board purchased two vessels, the Marquis of Granby and the Marquis of Rockingham. Both were similar types to the Endeavour but were not really barks or barques. They could have been classed as ship-rigged sloops-of-war and were built by Thomas Fishburn in 1770 at Whitby. They were commissioned under the names of Drake - Raleigh. Lord Rockford, Secretary of State, thought the names might offend the Spanish and consulted both the King and the Earl of Sandwich. The Earl advised him they were to be renamed the Resolution and Adventure.

The Resolution impressed Cook greatly and he called her "the ship of my choice," the fittest for service of any I have seen." She was 14 months old and her tonnage of 462 was 100 more than the Endeavour. She had the same flat-floored, apple-cheeked hull as the Endeavour.
Her dimensions were.....
Lower deck length 110 feet 8 inches
Keel 93 feet 6 inches
Maximum beam 35 feet 3 inches and depth 13 feet l inches.
She was fitted out at Deptford with the most advanced navigational aids of the day, including a Gregory Azimuth Compass, ice anchors and the latest apparatus for distilling fresh water from sea water. Twelve carriage guns and twelve swivel guns were carried. At his own expense Cook had brass door-hinges installed in the great cabin.

The Resolution cost the Admiralty 4,151 pounds. It was originally planned that Joseph Banks with an appropriate entourage would sail again with Cook. A heightened waist, an additional upper deck and a raised poop or round house were built to suit Banks, but the ship was found to be top heavy in short sea trials. Under Admiralty instructions, the offending structures were removed. Banks refused to travel under "adverse conditions" and was replaced by Johann Forster and his son, George. The conversion bill had cost a further 6,565 pounds.

Her complement when she sailed from Plymouth on 13 July 1772 was 112, and this included 20 volunteers from the Endeavour. On her second voyage (Cooks third voyage) she again carried 112.

On his first voyage Cook had calculated longitude by the usual method of lunars but on her second voyage the Board of Longitude spared no expense. It sent William Wales, a highly qualified astronomer, with Cook and entrusted a new chronometer, recently completed by Larcum Kendall (K1), together with three chronometers made by John Arnold of Aldophi. Kendalls K1 was remarkably accurate and was to prove to be most efficient in determining longitude on board the Resolution.

The Resolution was responsible for some remarkable feats and-was to prove one of the great ships of history. She was the first ship to cross the Antarctic Circle (17 January 1773) and crossed twice more on the voyage. The third crossing on 3 February 1774, was the deepest penetration. As a consequence the Resolution was instrumental in proving Dalrymples Terra Australis Incognita (Southern Continent) to be a myth. On his third voyage, Cook in the Resolution crossed the Arctic Circle on 17 August 1778. Charles Clerke, who took over the command after Cooks tragic death again crossed it on 19 July 1779.

The Resolution was back in England in 1780. She was converted into an armed transport and sailed for the East Indies in March 1781. She was captured by De Suffrens squadron on June 9, 1782. His journal states he was joined by the Sylphide and her prize the Resolution, a ship made famous by the voyages of Captain Cook. After the action at Negapostam, the Resolution was sent to Manila for wood, biscuit and rigging, and to enter any seaman she found there. She sailed on July 22, 1782 and on June 5, 1783 De Suffren expressed a notion that she had either foundered or fallen into the hands of the English and was last seen in the Straits of Sunda. An extract from the Melbourne Argus, February 25, 1879 says that the Resolution ended her days as a Portuguese coal-hulk at Rio de Janeiro, but this is unconfirmed. In the possession of Viscount Galway, a Governor-General of New Zealand, is a ships figurehead described as that of the Resolution. A photograph of it does not agree with the figurehead depicted in Holmans watercolour.

It was zeal and resolution which kept Cook at his tasks and helped him surmount so many obstacles. It is so befitting the man that such a noble ship of his choice should have been called the Resolution.

There are 57 stamps issued which depict the Resolution, and there is no doubt this number will be greatly increased by the anniversary of Cooks death. The 1968 Cook Island issue is a beautiful set, but for sheer atmosphere my choice is the 1973 Norfolk Island 35c stamp issued for the Bicentenary of the First Crossing of the Antarctic Circle. It has been adapted from a watercolour by William Hodges.

The Adventure
The Admiralty purchased two near new Whitby-built colliers for Cooks second voyage of discovery, the Marquis of Granby, 402 tons, and the Marquis of Rockingham, 340 tons. They were commissioned under the names of Drake and Raleigh which subsequently became the Resolution and Adventure.  Sir Joseph Banks had suggested a forty-gun ship or an East India Company ship, but the Admiralty had no hesitation in following Cooks recommendations. The ships had a larger hold than the other types and more space between decks where the men were berthed. This allowed for a greater amount of fresh air and light and also less damp conditions. Cook supervised the fitting out of the ships with the help of Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty.

The Adventure, which cost the Navy 2,103 pounds, was placed under the command of Captain Tobias Furneaux, a Devonshireman who had been Second Lieutenant under Wallis on the Dolphin. Furneaux was an excellent seaman but unfamiliar with Whitby ships. After refitting, the Adventure sailed at 335 tons with a compliment of 81 men and one civilian. The Board of Longitude sent two astronomers on the second voyage and William Bayly sailed with Furneaux. The Adventure was a smaller edition of the Resolution, a good looking ship but she did not achieve the fame of Cooks choice.

By mid-December 1772 the two ships had reached the Antarctic waters. The first crossing of the Antarctic circle occurred in January 1773. They became separated in a heavy fog when only about 75 miles from Enderby Land but did not know that land was close. By prearrangement the future rendevouz was to be Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand.

Furneaux visited Tasmans Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) and named Adventure Bay. He concluded there was no strait between Van Diemens Land and New Holland. However, astronomer Bayly insisted that there were coastal islands and a strait. Bayly was proven correct by the ships surgeon, George Bass who sailed through the strait which bears his name - some 20 years later.  Cook met up with Furneaux at Queen Charlotte Sound on 18 May 1773 where he found that his strict anti-scorbutic diets had not been followed. Half of Furneauxs men had contracted scurvy and one crew member subsequently died. By a quirk of fate it was the ships Cook, Mortimer Mahoney, known as Murduck Mahoney. Passing on to Tahiti, the Adventure was nearly wrecked when swept onto some reefs. She lost three anchors before getting clear.

After discovering islands named by Tasman, the Resolution and Adventure returned to New Zealand where they once again became separated near Cook Strait in a gale. Nine of Furneauxs men were murdered by Maoris at Queen Charlotte Sound and he returned to England twelve months ahead of Cook.  Furneauxs Adventure returned to her Whitby owners and sailed on for a further 35 years. In 1811 she was in the St. Lawrence River, the scene of Cooks magnificent charting work, but Cook was not there to guide her through the treacherous reaches. The great river was determined to perpetuate the memory of Cook and claimed the Adventure for all time when she was wrecked there.

The Discovery
 his third voyage Cook once again advised the Admiralty of the suitability of Whitby ships for the type of exploration being undertaken and chose the Resolution for the second time. The support vessel was the Discovery built by G. & N. Langborn for Mr. William Herbert from whom she was bought by the Admiralty. She was 299 tons, the smallest of Cooks ships. Her dimensions were: lower deck 91.5", extreme breadth 27.5", depth of hold 11.5", height between decks 5.7" to 6.1". She cost 2,415 pounds including alterations. Her complement was 70: 3 officers, 55 crew, 11 marines and one civilian.

Lt. Charles Clerke, who had accompanied Cook on the two previous voyages was appointed to command the Discovery. He had become a very perceptive observer, a devoted officer with a keen sense of duty.

At the time of sailing, England was at war with the American colonies. Benjamin Franklin assisted with the special dispatch issued by the Continental Congress to permit a free and unmolested voyage on the high seas for Cooks ships. France followed suit.

The Resolution sailed from the Nore on 25 June 1776 and from Plymouth on 12 July. She left without the Discovery as Clerke was temporarily in a debtors prison because of debts of his brother. The Resolution anchored in Table Bay on 18 October and the Discovery arrived there on 10 November. At the end of the month sail was set for the Marion, Crozet and Kerguelen Islands. The latter was reached on Christmas Day 1776, and so Christmas Harbour was named. Mindful of being parted from Adventure on his second voyage, Cook set a rendezvous with the Discovery at Furneauxs Adventure Bay in Van Diemens Land and then Ships Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand.

The two ships arrived at Adventure Bay on 26 January 1777 for a brief visit and, just as Cook missed Sydney Harbour, so he again missed one of the worlds great harbours, nearby Storm Bay and the present site of Hobart on the Derwent River.

On 12 February Cook had once again skirted Cape Farewell and Stephens Island to reach his old anchorage in Ships Cove. The ships were repaired, the men rested, and grasses and food collected.

The next call was at Tonga, the Friendly Islands, where the Captains spent 2+  months. Cook met Fijians on Tongatapu from whom he acquired a store of Fijian red feathers, a very highly prized possession. (The 1971 $1 stamp depicting the "Collared Lory," a red parrot, was the main source of supply.) While he knew of the Fiji Island group, Cook did not go there, merely passing close to the outskirts and the island of Vatoa, as he wished to venture in the opposite direction to Tahiti.

The passage to Tahiti took four weeks and many islands were visited. Cook realised that he must now come to grips with the main purpose of his voyage. After a short stay he headed for New Albion, the Canadian coast and an attempt to find the Northwest Passage. A barren atoll was sighted on 23 December 1777, which Cook named Christmas Island when he landed on Christmas Day. On 2 January the ships headed north to one of Cooks most important discoveries, the Hawaiian Islands on 20 January.

In February 1778 Cook was seeking the west winds to take him to New Albion, and on 7 March the great continent came into sight. Following the Oregon coast Cook travelled north to what is now Nootka Sound, and was greatly impressed with the timber, the high quality furs and the friendly natives.

George Vancouver, aged 19, was a midshipman on the Discovery. He was to return in later years to explore the coastline and have his name laid on prosperity with Vancouver Island and the City of Vancouver.

The two ships continued north along the coast to Alaska, Bering Straits, and the Arctic Ocean. Discovery had proved to be a very able companion ship to the Resolution. Cook was high in praise of her as she was faster and better able to claw off a lee shore than his own ship. After many weeks in the Arctic Ocean the rigging of the two ships was shattered by gales and their hulls were leaking badly from encounters with the ice. Rather than spend a dreary winter of inactivity at Kamchatka, Cook chose to return to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). His fate was decided as he could have chosen Nootka Sound, where there was an abundance of timber and a fine anchorage.

History had spoken and, after Cooks tragic death at Kealakakua Bay, Captain Clerke took command and Lt. Gore was appointed to take charge of the Discovery. Another attempt was made to find the Northwest Passage, which also failed, and the ships sailed to Petropavlosk where, just offshore, Clerke died of tuberculosis which he had. picked up in the debtors prison. He was 38 years old. Lt. Gore took command of the expedition and Lt. King succeeded Gore in the Discovery. Lt. Gore sent a letter and copies of Cooks reports to the Admiralty overland through Siberia and Russia by dogsled, horseback and coastal ship across the North Sea. They arrived 6 months before the two ships.

It was a fitting conclusion to this famous voyage when the ships came home via Ireland, the Orkneys and down the old collier run from Yorkshire to the Thames to anchor in the Nore on 4 October 1780.

Not much is known of the Discovery in her immediate years and it is a tragedy that the last of Cooks great ships was left to rot on the mud at Deptford, the scene of so much honour.

For the sake of these Whitby built ships, ENDEAVOUR, RESOLUTION, ADVENTURE, DISCOVERY, along with the greatest seaman and navigator this world has known in Captain James Cook, Whitby folk and the Society of James Cook will never forget its proud history.

Captain James Cook timeline:
: 27th October. Born at Marton in Cleveland, England
1735 : Family move to Aireyholme Farm.
1740 : Schooling at Great Ayton.
1745 : Works in Sanderson`s shop in Staithes.
1747 : Apprenticed to the Walker family of Whitby.
1748 : Servant on the "Freelove" Oct` 47 - April 48
1749 : Seaman on the "Three Brothers" June 48 - Dec 49.
1750 : Seaman on the "Mary" Feb` 50 - Oct` 50.
1751 : Seaman on the "Three Brothers" July 51 - Jan` 52.
1752 : Mate on the "Friendship" Mar` 52 - June 55.
1755 : : Joins Royal Navy on the HMS Eagle as an Able Seaman.
1757 : Master of HMS Pembroke.
1759 : Master of HMS Northumberland taking part in surveying the St.Lawrence River,Canada.
1760 : Surveys Newfoundland St.Pierre, Miquelon off the coast of Canada on HMS Grenville.
1768 : August, The Endeavour Bark, sails on first voyage.
1771 : July, the Endeavour Bark returns home.
1772 : July, the Resolution and Adventurer sail on the second voyage around the world.
1775 : July, the Resolution and Adventurer return home.
1776 : July, the Resolution and Discovery sail on the third voyage around the world.
1779 : Captain James Cook is killed in the Sandwich Islands, known today as Hawaii, his body was never found.
1780 : October, the remnants of that fatal third voyage return home.