Ward's Book of Days.

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On this day in history in 1779, died James Cook.

Captain Cook was a navigator and explorer who conducted three expeditions to the Pacific.

Cook was born in Marton, Yorkshire on 27th October 1728. His birthplace is now a museum in his honour. [Captain Cook birthplace Museum, Stewart Park, Marton, Middlesbrough, TS7 8AT] He was the son of a Scottish farm labourer and he spent his youth working on the farms where his father was employed. Aged 18, Cook was apprenticed to a ship owner at Whitby, where he learned basic navigation and nautical mathematics.  

In 1752, Cook volunteered for the Royal Navy, as an able seaman, and rose to become master’s mate, then boatswain and at the age of 29, Cook was made master of HMS Pembroke. Cook saw action in the Seven Years War, and it was his charting of the St Lawrence River that assisted General Wolfe to capture Quebec.  

At the age of 40, Cook was sent on an expedition of the Royal Society and given command of his own vessel, a coal-hauling bark, renamed with the grandiose title HMS Endeavour. The mission was to find the alleged southern continent Terra Australis, which theorists argued must exist to balance the land masses of the northern hemisphere. Cook discovered and charted New Zealand and, crossing the Tasman Sea, he came to the eastern shores of Australia, where he charted The Great Barrier Reef, now reckoned to be one of the greatest navigational hazards in the world.  

After sailing home, Cook was presented to king George III, promoted to commander, and sent on an even more ambitious mission. He set sail on HMS Resolution to discover the western section of Terra Australis. Cook sailed beyond latitude 70S and, although he discovered the Antarctic, New Caledonia and the Sandwich Islands, he could find no trace of the mythical continent Terra Australis. He concluded that the alleged continent did not exist and that the only significant land mass, existing entirely within the southern hemisphere was what is now known as Australia. On his return, Cook was elected a fellow of the Royal Society for his outstanding achievements.  

Cook was sent out on a third voyage in an attempt to find a passage around what is now known as Canada. Cook discovered the coast of California but failed to find a navigable passage, as one did not exist. He returned to the Sandwich Islands, now Hawaiian Islands, where after a confrontation with the natives, he was struck down and killed. His body was buried by the natives and not eaten by cannibals as was once popularly supposed. Cook had made more discoveries than any other person in history and these findings changed the face of the globe. Cook’s bones were eventually returned by the natives for formal burial at sea.

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