Thursday, May 13, 2010

Biography of Captain James Cook by Tica

Creative writing entries are in the works, but first, here is an excerpt from a big project the kids have undertaken on two European explorers that were instrumental in the "discovery" and settlement of the areas we've visited this year, James Cook and Abel Tasman. Below is Tica's biography of Captain James Cook. -- Brooke

Captain James Cook 1728-1779
Pioneering Explorer in The Age of Exploration

Captain Cook was one of the greatest explorers of all time. In his short 51-year life span, he went from being a lowly apprentice in Yorkshire, England to the head of major explorations in the Pacific Rim, claiming many new lands for Great Britain and starting a new era of colonization.

James Cook was born in the Yorkshire area of England in 1728. He was destined to become a farmhand like his father, but he succeeded in becoming one of the world’s greatest explorers. In his younger years, Cook attended school and showed a great talent for arithmetic. When he was 17, he moved to the nearby Port of Staithes. He was apprenticed to a shopkeeper named William Sanderson, exchanging work for learning how to eventually run a shop. In his free time, Cook loved wandering around the docks. He had fallen in love with the sea.
After 18 months of his apprenticeship, Cook decided to become a sailor. Sanderson kindly let Cook out of his obligation and arranged for him to go to sea. After working his way up through the ranks, Cook finally joined the British Navy as a sailor. After 13 more years of hard work, he became the captain of his own ship in 1768. During that time, he gained valuable experience navigating and mapping such areas as the St. Laurence River in North America. This work prepared him well for his first commission as captain of the Endeavor.

The ship set sail from Plymouth, England on the 26th of August 1768. Captain Cook and his crew were tasked with recording the transit of the planet Venus across the sun from Tahiti in 1769. By measuring the planet’s movements and by using the newly invented chronometer, it was thought that the expedition would once and for all be able to determine longitude or the horizontal position of any body on the globe. The expedition was successful in this undertaking, making the expedition the first in history to know the group’s longitudinal position at every point along the journey.

Mount Cook, New Zealand

After they left Tahiti, Cook and his crew sailed to New Zealand, where they spent the next five months exploring and mapping the two islands. The Endeavor was the first European ship to sail through the passage between the North and South Islands, now called the Cook Straight. It is said that Cook himself drew the first map of New Zealand, more than a century after its European discovery by Abel Tasman.

In March 1770, Cook left New Zealand and sailed west to the land of New Holland, now known as Australia. Cook and his crew managed to map the entire east coast of the continent. They also found a safe passage between the Great Barrier Reef and Papua New Guinea, but not before the Endeavour hit the Great Barrier Reef and had to undergo two months of repairs at a spot now named the Endeavour River. On the 22nd of August 1770, Cook claimed the colony of New South Wales for Great Britain. After being gone for a little more than three years, Captain Cook arrived back in England a hero.

From 1773 to 1775, Cook captained The Resolution and The Adventure on another voyage to the Pacific. This time, he sailed very far south and became the first explorer to cross into the Antarctic Circle. Cook tried to sail to the South Pole. However, huge icebergs blocked his way and forced him to sail back up north. Later in his voyage, Cook re-visited New Zealand, the New Hebrides, the Cook Islands (named after him) and Tahiti.

When Cook returned from his second journey, he was offered a comfortable retirement. After a year however, he be came restless for life at sea and embarked upon his third and final exploration of the Pacific in 1776. He was instructed to guide The Resolution and The Discovery to find the famed “Northwest Passage,” an alternate sailing route connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. They were unsuccessful in their quest but managed to explore the far north reaches of the Pacific Northwest and Bering Sea. Realizing that winter was about to set it, the Expedition sailed south with plans for more exploration of islands in the South Pacific, including the newly discovered Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii. However, angry warriors killed Captain Cook in Hawaii’s Kealakekua Bay in 1779. The Expedition returned to England, spreading the almost-year-old news that Captain Cook was dead at the age of 51.

During his lifetime, Captain James Cook filled in many large gaps on the map of the world. He added tremendously to human knowledge of navigation and about the lands and peoples of the Pacific Rim. Cook also contributed to the outcome of future expeditions by solving the problem of scurvy, a disease caused by not consuming regular doses of vitamin C found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Scurvy was a major health problem for crews on extended expeditions, causing many deaths. Cook found that he could reduce the incidence of scurvy significantly by supplying the crew with fresh produce on a regular basis. In reward for this new and very helpful discovery, he was awarded a Copley Gold Medal, the highest prize awarded by the British Royal Society.

Without Cook’s explorations, we would not know the world as we do today. It is perhaps for this reason that Captain Cook has so many statues and namesakes around the world, like Cook Strait and Mount Cook in New Zealand and like the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. Some would say though that Captain Cook’s successes spelled the beginning of the end of an era for native peoples in these areas. His accomplishments in the field of navigation made it much easier for Europeans to travel to the South Pacific and exploit the peoples and resources there. Many would say that opening up so much area to the Europeans meant a dark future for natives of the South Pacific-- illness, wars and land confiscation. This is ironic considering Cook was considered to be one of the most fair and reasonable explorers in his dealing with island natives.

Cook was a groundbreaker in the Age of Exploration. I’m glad we’ve gotten a chance this year to explore some of the lands that he “discovered.”

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