Captain James Cook

From humble beginnings to national hero, Captain James Cook is one of history's best known and most controversial explorers. Read all about his life, from expertly charting the coasts of New Zealand and Australia and crossing the Antarctic Circle, to his fatal end in Hawaii.

Discover his story, and the legacy of his actions, in our Sackler Gallery: Pacific Encounters


The Board of Longitude contributed to many Georgian voyages of 'science' and exploration, as did individual Commissioners including Astronomers Royal like Nevil Maskelyne and Presidents of the Royal Society like Joseph Banks. The surviving archives of the Board reveal much about the scientific and technological endeavours carried out at sea and on land during these journeys and a certain degree about the general conditions and experiences encountered by the crew. However, they shed less (and more biased) light on another important expedition variable - the interactions of the voyagers with the indigenous peoples whom they encountered.


Our item of the month is is the two volume work The Voyage of La Perouse round the world in the years 1785, 1786, 1787 and 1788.


Today's guest blog was written by Jack Ashby, Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology and curator of the Strange Creatures exhibition. He talks to us about the appearance of Stubbs' kangaroo and the ways in which imagery has been used to bring newly discovered animals into the public eye.


No one before (and few since) rose so far and so fast from a simple rural background to national fame. Cook was marked for greatness from the outset.

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

Views in the South Seas... The Resolution beating through the ice with the Discovery in the most eminent danger in the distance.jpg

All of Cook's remarkable discoveries were undertaken in relatively humble ships designed for hauling coal. 


Science and secret missions in the South Seas; innovations, discoveries and derring do. Cook’s first great voyage quickly became the stuff of legend.

A View of Cape Stephens in Cook's Straits with Waterspout

Polite society was thrilling to the idea of an undiscovered continent in the south. Was it even there and what would count as proof if it didn’t exist?

The Death of Captain James Cook by the Indians of Owhyee, one of the Sandwich Islands.jpg

While Cook fails to find the North-West Passage, it is his discovery of Hawaii that will prove to be his undoing.


The artist William Hodges accompanied Captain Cook on his second voyage to the Pacific in 1772-74.