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James Cook was born in Marton, Yorkshire, England on October 27, 1728. Unlike most of the famous explorers of the period, Cook was not born of noble blood. Just the opposite, he was one of seven children born to a Scottish farm laborer and a Yorkshire girl. He received his basic schooling like most children did, from the village school. Then he was sent to Staithes, England. It was a nearby fishing village. This is where he developed his love for the sea. However, Cook was by no means content with his job. Working as a grocer did not give him the satisfaction for which he yearned. In July 1746, at 17 years old, young James became an apprentice for the Walker family, who were ship owners in the town of Whitby. Cook started off working on a coal ship called “Freelove” and soon developed a great appreciation for these ships. He used these types of ships in all of his three famous voyages.

Cook became so well versed in the art of seamanship that he was offered command of his own ship. He refused the offer and joined the Royal Navy as a seaman. Within two years of enlisting, he was promoted to Master and was given his own ship, the Pembroke. His first mission was to map out the St. Lawrence River in Canada. Later, he would also map out and survey the coast of Newfoundland. It appeared as though Cook had found his gift. His surveys were so accurate that they were in use well into the early part of the twentieth century.

James returned home to England in 1762. Here he met and married Elizabeth Batts. She was from the town of Shadwell, England. In all of his writings, there is no mention of his family. In their seventeen years of marriage, they only saw each other a few months, though they did have six children together.

Though many people considered him inexperienced, Cook was chosen to command an expedition to the Pacific Ocean. The purpose was to follow up on Edmund Haley’s prediction that on June 3, 1769, Venus would eclipse the Sun. This would allow astronomers to calculate the distance between Earth and Venus. Cook chose a well-built Whitby collier (coal ship) as his flagship. It was dubbed Endeavour. Cook arrived in Tahiti, the place the tracking and observation was to take place, in 1769. His stay there was unexpectedly extended when his crew came down with a venereal infection.

He continued on his voyage. While at sea he discovered New Zealand, Australia, and various other islands. He was meticulous about naming places and did so at every location, duly declaring them the property and territories of England. Cook finally made it back to England in 1771. The British Empire had grown vastly due to Cook’s exploration and discoveries.

One question had bothered scholars and sailors for years. Was the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere all water or was there another continent? The British Admiralty decided to find out. They promoted Cook to commander and sent him on his way. Interestingly enough, Cook did not believe that there was a seventh continent. However, the orders stood, so Cook outfitted a new flagship, the Resolution, for his voyage. He also had the aid of a newly invented instrument called the chronometer. This instrument was supposed to measure longitude with the aid of the stars and time. Cook became the first to accurately use this device.

It is thought that James Cook is the first to have crossed the Antarctic Circle. He sailed until he came upon a vast mass of ice. He sailed alongside it for miles. He only turned and went back north due to ice preventing further travel. He wintered in New Zealand and continued his search. After three attempts, he decided that either the ice was connected to a land mass and had been for centuries, or the ice continued to the pole. During this voyage he once again contributed to the Empire of Great Britain by proclaiming numerous islands its property.

Upon Cook's return, the Admiralty decided to retire him. They gave him the appointment as Fourth Captain at Greenwich Hospital. He accepted on the condition that at anytime he deemed right, he could return to active service. In 1776 he was given the chance to return. He was asked to seek out the famous Northwest Passage. The passage was theoretically a quicker route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Cook accepted and set out upon his voyage. He made a number of stops on his way and even took time to return a native to Tahiti.

On his way north, Cook surveyed the western coast of North America and discovered Christmas Island and many others. He crossed the Arctic Circle and tried to locate the nonexistent passage but was met by ice at every turn. Thus, Cook decided that the venture was futile and turned back south. He then came across a group of islands he called the Sandwich Islands. Cook and his crew spent eight weeks there preparing the ship for the return home but soon realized their welcome had worn thin and headed for home. However, severe storms in the Pacific forced them to return. While back at the Sandwich Islands, a native stole one of the boats from the ship. Cook went ashore to confront the king and take him back to the ship as a hostage. The king was cooperative, but the locals had other ideas. On the beach, Cook and his party were surrounded by an estimated 20,000 natives. In the following melee Cook was struck in the head and killed. The natives proceeded to stab his already lifeless body numerous times. With the end of Cook's life on February 14, 1779, English exploration also began to fall.