James Cook was an outstanding mathematician and a brilliant navigator. During his voyages across the world he discovered new lands and provided accurate charts of the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia. Cook took on board with him artists, astronomers and botanists to provide a record of the discoveries that were made. It was under Cook's command that Harrison's prize-winning chronometer was first tested at sea – and proved a success.

Unlike many commanders of his time, Cook had great success in preserving the health of his crew. He insisted on good diet, cleanliness and exercise. As a result, far fewer of his men suffered from scurvy than was usual on long voyages.


  • 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.


There are many Cook-related objects within the Museum collection:


Holdings include a number of oil paintings, prints and drawings related to Cook and his voyages. These include Nathaniel Dance's famous oil painting, several works of William Hodges and scenes of Cook's death at Hawaii.


Holdings include items that were brought back from the exotic places that Cook visited. These items include spears, clubs, bowls and other tools of native peoples.

Personal effects

Holdings include examples of Cook's navigational instruments notably his sextant, his chronometer (K1), and other personal effects including furniture and household artefacts.

Commemorative items

Holdings include many ceramics, sculptures, medals etc made in his honour and/or likeness.

Paper collections

Holdings include rare books related to Cook and his voyages across the world. These include several copies of Cook's account of his second and third voyages and other contemporary accounts of his discoveries. The manuscripts collection contains several letters from Cook, drafts of sections of the narrative of the second voyage and his journals from Endeavour and Resolution (to be viewed on microfilm). The ship plans collection contains copies of the plans for Cook's ships which are available for reproduction.

Other sources


In 1890, the Australian Museum received from the New South Wales government a collection of Cook relics displayed in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886. In 1955, the collection minus the ethnography items, was transferred to the Mitchell Library which is part of the State Library of New South Wales.

The National Library of Australia also holds a wide variety of items relating to Cook.

Electronic sources and links


There are a great many published works relating to Captain Cook and his voyages. Listed below is a selection of some of the most useful.

  • Beaglehole, J.C. The Life of Captain James Cook, A & C Black, 1974
  • Beaglehole, J.C. (ed) The Journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of Discovery, 7 vols, Hakluyt Society 1955–1974
  • Beaglehole, J.C. (ed) The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks 1768–1771, Public Library of NSW, 1962
  • Cordingly, D. Captain James Cook, navigator: the achievements of Captain James Cook as seaman, navigator and surveyor, Campbell, 1988
  • Smith, B. Art as Information: reflections on the art from Captain Cook's Voyages, SUP, 1979

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching Captain Cook:

For general research help see:

Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.