Captain James Cook timeline

Follow the key events in Captain Cook’s life of adventure from a simple start to global fame and a grizzly death.

Captain Cook rose from humble beginnings in Yorkshire to become a national hero. He is known today as one of the great discoverers of all time but to his contemporaries in the Navy he was just as renowned for his precise surveying, innovations in keeping his crew healthy and early championing of Harrison’s solution to the problem of longitude.

  • 1728: Born in Marton in Yorkshire.
  • 1746: Accepted as a sea apprentice by John Walker, head of a shipping firm engaged in the East Coast coal trade.
  • 1755: Volunteers for the Royal Navy.
  • July 1757: Promoted master of the Solebay, later the Pembroke.
  • 1763–1766: Surveys the coast of Newfoundland, observes an eclipse.
  • Summer 1768: Sails for Tahiti on HMS Endeavour to record observations of the Transit of Venus.
  • June 1769: Opens secret instructions from the Admiralty – he is to sail south in search for Terra Australis Incognita and explore the coast of New Zealand.
  • Autumn 1769: Sails around New Zealand, expertly charting the coast and proving that it is not part of a great southern continent.
  • Spring 1770: Lands in Botany Bay encountering the first aborigines.
  • October 1770: The Endeavour lands at Batavia for a much-needed refit. Many of Cook's men suffer and die from malaria and dysentery.
  • July 1772: Cook, now a commander, sets out with two colliers, Resolution and Adventure.
  • January 1773: Cook becomes the first navigator to cross the Antarctic Circle.
  • Summer 1773: The crews return to Tahiti and then visit Tonga. When they turn south to explore the Antarctic once more, the two vessels lose touch and Furneaux, in command of Adventure, leaves New Zealand and heads home.
  • January 1774: Cook's travels in the South Pacific have proved that there is no habitable continent. Instead of returning home, he continues to explore.
  • Spring 1774: Cook explores and accurately charts Easter Island, the Marquesas Islands and the Friendly Isles and others.
  • November 1774: Resolution heads for home.
  • Summer 1776: Cook sets off again with the Resolution and Discovery in search of the North-West passage.
  • December 1776: After a spell at Tahiti, Cook sets out for the Sandwich Islands (named in honour of the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Sandwich).
  • Summer 1778: The two ships head north, charting the southern coast of Alaska. An impenetrable ice wall forces them back to Alaska. Initially, Cook is greeted as a god but relations between the sailors and the islanders soon deteriorate.
  • February 1779: Cook and his men depart but are forced back two days later when the Resolution springs her foremast. Relations are again strained and after a series of thefts Cook goes ashore. He is attacked, overpowered and stabbed to death.
  • 1779–October 1780: Clerke, previously in charge of the Discovery, now takes command but dies of consumption six months later. Lieutenant Gore of the Resolution eventually brings the ships home.

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