Captain James Cook (17th November 1728 to 14th February 1779)

 

If youíre asked to name a famous explorer you probably think of Captain Cook. I would anyway. Iím a bit thick and canít think of any others. Itís 11pm as Iím writing this and Iíve had a Cadbury Chocolate Roll so my brainís a bit fuzzy. Here I am up at Whitby standing outside the house where Captain Cook lodged and studied in the attic.

 

James was born in 1728 in a small village in Middlesborough and joined the British merchant navy as a teenager. He was being groomed to become a captain but aged 26 he shocked his superiors by giving up his sailing career to enlist in the Royal Navy. He was much older than his peers but soon shot up the ranks. By the age of 37 he had come to the notice of the Admiralty and they commissioned him to command HM Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages. He sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted parts of the globe, witnessing islands and coastlines land not seen before, making maps from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in great detail. This explorer, navigator, cartographer and captain was highly respected on land and ships. He could be trusted to navigate in uncharted territory and bring home precise maps of the lands heíd discovered. He was an all-round seaman, was effective at controlling his team in appalling weathers, had exceptional surveying and cartographic skills and physical courage. He often fought freezing weather, violent currents, heavy ice floes and a crew on the brink of mutiny.

 

He succeeded in keeping his crew free of the curse of the marine - scurvy (a lack of vitamin C.) He did this by getting as much fresh food at various stops as he could, particularly pickled cabbage (the toilets canít have been a pleasant place to visit.

 

It wasnít all plain sailing. Aged 41 his ship Endeavour hit a coral reef and began to sink. The crew and his priceless charts could be lost if action wasnít taken. He ordered men to throw cannons and heavy equipment overboard and used a sail to plug the hole in their hull. After twenty exhausting hours pumping out water and plugging the ever-widening leak Endeavour remained afloat. It would take two months for James to repair his baby back to a seaworthy standard.

 

Aged 50 he was attacked, killed and eaten. While docked in Hawaii for ship repairs he was enraged when the natives stole one of his small single-sail boats. On 14th February 1779 he marched through a village to retrieve the chief as a sort of ransom. He found him and began to lead him away to a ship. One of the chiefís wives and two other chiefs approached James and a large crowd began to form at the shore. As James turned his back to help launch the boats he was clubbed on the head and fell on his face into the surf, was stabbed with an iron dagger and then pelted with rocks. The Hawaiians carried Jamesís floppy body back to their town, preserved his hands in sea salt, roasted his body in a pit and ate part of him. They believed that the power of a person lay in their bones so they removed certain bones and cleaned them up. A week later these bones were formally buried at sea in Kealakekua Bay.

 

No descendants live on. Though James and his wife Elizabeth had six children only three lived passed childhood. Two died at sea whilst serving in the Royal Navy and the youngest lad died whilst at college at Cambridge. None had married nor had children.

 

I found the red home where James lived and studied up in the attic. It was home to Quaker shipowner John Walker who James was apprenticed to for a few years. A few lads jeered a bit as I tried to take some photos. Iím sure they would rather have preferred to explore Whitby for noteworthy buildings/locations and graves than knock back ten pints of Guinness.

 

I looked up at the windows where James had studied in the 1700ís. Who have thought the lad who learnt about the sea up in that attic would sail round the globe twice and help fill in many of the blank spots on world maps?

 

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Pointing down to Whitby where James lodged as a young manÖ

 

Down in Whitby. That woman was a hot snoggerÖ

 

Wandering aroundÖ

 

Lads youíre ruining my photoÖ