Biography of Captain James Cook

Portrait of James Cook

Captain James Cook was an eighteenth century seafarer chiefly remembered for discovering Australia and New Zealand.

When and Where was he Born?

27th October 1728, Marton in Cleveland, Yorkshire, England. (Now part of Middlesbrough).

Family Background:

Cook was the son of a Scottish migrant farm worker and a local girl.


Local School paid for by his father’s employer.

Timeline of Captain James Cook:

1745: After many years helping his father on the farm he leaves home aged seventeen to take up an apprenticeship in Staithes, North Yorkshire, at Mr Sanderson’s grocery and haberdasher’s shop.

Cook's House, Stithies
The house in which Cook lived as an apprentice in Staithes (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1746: Mr Sanderson realises his apprenticeship is not suited and transfers him to the Quaker ship owners, John and Henry Walker at Whitby which is nearby.

1747: Cook spends several years sailing aboard coasters beginning with the collier ship “Freelove” plying its trade between the Tyne and London.

1752: Cook is promoted to Mate on the Colllier Brig “Friendship”.

1755: Although he had been a success and even offered the Command of his own craft he decides to join the Royal Navy as an Able Seaman. As Britain was rearming for the Seven Years War he felt the chances of a successful career would be more likely with the military service. On the 17th June he takes up his post on H.M.S. Eagle and is quickly promoted to Master’s Mate.

1757: After the “Eagle” is damaged in a skirmish Cook transfers to the 64 Gun Ship of the Line H.M.S. Pembroke on the 27th October. The Captain of the “Eagle”, Hugh Pallister had recognised his talent and he was now warranted as a Master of the Ship. He is ordered to Canada to survey the St. Lawrence River to help with the navigation of that area by British warships. When the main fleet is ordered back to Britain he transfers to Admiral Colville’s flagship.

1762: On 21st December he marries Elizabeth Batts after a brief courtship at St. Margaret’s Church, Barking, London. He moves to the Mile End Road in London with his new wife.

Statue of James Cook
Statue of Captain Cook near Admiralty Arch, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1763-67: He begins surveying the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador during the summers in the Schooner “Grenville” and spends the winters at home preparing his charts for publication. He gained a reputation for accuracy which made his maps widely admired.

1768: Cook is commissioned as First Lieutenant aboard H.M.S. Endeavour and sails from Plymouth on 26th August. He is asked by the Royal Society to take an expedition to the Pacific, amongst other things, to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun.

HMS Endeavour
A 40% actual size replica of the Barque Endeavour 
which gives public sightseeing trips from Whitby Harbour (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1769: Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun on 3rd June. The ship’s boy Nicholas Young sights New Zealand on 7th October. Cook rounds the northernmost point of New Zealand on 18th December and begins exploration of the West coast. He discovers the Society Islands.

1770: “Endeavor” reaches Botany Bay in Australia on 28th April and Cook claims the land for Britain. He rounds the Northern part of Australia on 26th August. On 11th October Cook arrives in Batavia.

1771: Captain Cook arrives back in Britain on 12th July.

1772: He is promoted to Commander on 13th July and sails again from Plymouth, this time in H.M.S. Resolution. H.M.S. Adventure is also sent as part of the expedition.

1773: Cook crosses the Antarctic Circle on 17th January. The ships reach Tahiti on 15th August. They discover the Hervey Islands on 4th September. “Resolution” and “Adventure” become separated on 3rd November.

1774: Cook arrives at Easter Island on 12th March. He discovers Norfolk Island on 10th October.

1775: He arrives back in Britain on 30th July.

1776: Cook sets sail from Plymouth again on 12th July in H.M.S. Resolution but this time with H.M.S. Discovery in the expedition. He is charged with discovering a passage around the north coast of America from the Pacific.

1777: He arrives in New Zealand on 12th February, Tonga on 29th April, Tahiti on 11th August. He discovers the Christmas Island on 24th December.

James Cook Statue
Statue of James Cook overlooking Whitby Harbour with the Abbey on the opposite headland (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1778: Cook sights the coast of Oregon in North America on 7th February. He crosses the Bering Strait which separates North America from the main continental landmass on 8th August. He arrives back in Hawaii were he is greeted with enthusiasm and takes part in a ceremony which the locals think make him a god.

1779: Captain Cook leaves Kealakekua Bay on 4th February but has to return four days later due to damage to the ship. The local people were at first friendly but on the 14th February he set ashore on Kealakekua Beach to retrieve a ship’s boat which had been stolen by the inhabitants. A priest felled him with his club as he wished to show that he was a mortal and then he was set upon by the mob and several daggers plunged into him. Several of Cook’s marines were also killed in the melee. Clerke, now in charge, stopped his men from taking reprisals and collected all that remained of Cook when things had calmed down. He then went on to try and finish Cook’s work but was thwarted and set sail for Britain once more, unfortunately dying himself enroute. The ships reached port in Plymouth harbour on the 4th October 1780.

When and Where did he Die?

14th February 1779, Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii.

Age at Death:



21st December 1762 to Elizabeth Batts after a brief courtship at St. Margaret’s Church, Barking, London.

Site of Grave:

Remains committed to the sea off Hawaii.

Places of Interest:


The Vache, Cook Memorial by Palliser, Chalfont St. Giles.


St Andrew the Great Church, Cambridge has marble memorial on walls and also the graves of Elizabeth his wife and two children James and Hugh.


James Cook Birthplace Museum, Stewart Park, Marton, Middlesbrough.
St. Cuthbert’s Church, Marton has stained glass window memorial.
Captain Cook Heritage Trail.
“Bottle of Notes” Sculpture, Middlesbrough.
Cleveland Centre, Middlesbrough has a model of the Endeavour and a map of the world showing its route.
Endeavour replica held on River Tees at Stockton-on-Tees.


58 Notte Street, Plymouth has a plaque commemorating Cook’s visit before Endeavour voyage.


National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.( Also has full Statue outside the Queen’s House).
Full Statue, The Mall.
89 Mile End Road, Plaque marks site of Cook’s house at 7 Assembly Row.
St Paul’s Church, Shadwell, holds baptismal records of Cook’s son James.
340 Highway, Shadwell, plaque marks site of Cook’s house at 126 Upper Shadwell.


Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Grape Lane, Whitby.

James Cook Museum, Whitby
Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Grape Lane, Whitby (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Resolution Project, Whitby.
Full Statue, West Cliff, Whitby.
All Saint’s Church, Great Ayton has graves of his mother and five of his brothers and sisters.
Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum, 101 High Street, Great Ayton.
Captain Cook Obelisk, Easby Moor, Great Ayton.
Statue of Cook as a boy, Upper Green, Great Ayton.
Captain Cook Heritage Centre, Staithes.


Plaque marking visit of ships Resolution and Discovery, Stromness, Orkney.

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