Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from A-E

Cook, James

pacific scientific royal expedition

(1728–79) British explorer: founder of modern hydrography and cartography; explored the Pacific and showed that scurvy was preventable on a long voyage.

The son of an agricultural labourer, Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755 and was given his own command 2 years later. He is remembered for his voyages of discovery, which transformed knowledge of the Pacific and set the pattern for the great scientific expeditions of the 19th-c. After much hydro-graphic work of the highest quality, Cook was charged with taking the Endeavour to Tahiti in 1768 with observers for the transit of Venus, on behalf of the Royal Society. At that time observations of transits of inner planets across the face of the Sun were one of the principal means of estimating the Earth–Sun distance. Cook went on to chart the east coast of Australia and the coast of New Zealand, showing it to consist of two main islands, and his voyage set an upper limit to the size of any possible southern continent. Both for this voyage and his second expedition, the Admiralty’s secret orders to Cook required him to explore the South Pacific where they had ‘reason to imagine that a continent, or land of great extent, may be found’, and ‘to take possession of it in the King’s name’. These expeditions had both scientific and political objectives. Cook’s second expedition in 1772–5 further delineated the possible extent of Antarctica and also demonstrated that fresh fruit and vegetables were all that were needed to prevent scurvy, a major problem on long sea voyages at the time.

In 1776 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. His last expedition, begun in 1776, was intended to discover a northern route between the Atlantic and the Pacific but ended in his tragic death when he was attacked by natives in Hawaii.

Improved sextants and other instruments, and especially Cook’s talent and energy, ensured that more survey work and scientific research was done by him than by any previous expeditions. Modern maps of the Pacific with its coasts and islands owe much to him, and he set new standards of cartography and hydrography.

Cook, John, Jr.(1833–1910) - Educator, government official, Chronology [next] [back] Conway, Jill Ker (1934–) - U.S. History, Autobiography

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or