The Greatest Navigator, Discoverer Of All Times: James Cook
Captain James Cook had great love for the sea right from his childhood. He came from an impoverished background and lived in the village of Staithes which was near the port of Whitby. He would regularly see the ships coming in with whale oil and timber from Norway and the Baltic countries.
Coal, iron and stone went to London and Bremen from Whitby port. The ships magnetised him completely and he could not get enough of the sea and the ships.
One night, he ran away in a cargo ship that carried coal. He was kept as a cabin boy by the steward and received cruel treatment from the officers. He endured the hardships with great silence.
Young James Cook was a smart lad, a quick learner and had a curious mind. He felt like a man among men.
Very soon he rose to be a deck hand, mate, and at last a master. He hardened his life in such a way that he could eat anything and endure any weather.
He was always studying mathematics, astronomy and geography. In 1755, he volunteered for naval service when England and France went to war. Four years after war, he was sent to Quebec. He married in 1762, but spent very little time with his family in his entire lifetime.
On June 3, 1769, James Cook was selected by the Navy for a scientific expedition. Venus was to cross the sun?s disc, an event which would not occur again for over a century. It was important to take observations from many points by comparing the times of the transit in various latitudes. That would be possible only by triangulation to learn the distance of the sun and the earth. He was selected purely for his astronomical knowledge. He sailed to Tahiti with a group of scientists. Thus it was a great scientific opportunity for James Cook.
Tahiti was a splendid harbour with very kind natives. He established good relations with the naives and as a result of his upright conduct, this island became his future base for supplies.
The transit of Venus was successfully observed and he sailed to a mysterious continent that lay south westward.
His first landfall was New-Zealand, which proved to be not one but two large islands. He circumnavigated both the islands, charting 2400 miles of coastline with astonishing accuracy.
Then he sailed to the southeast coast of Australia. There the naturalists accompanying him discovered many new unknown plants that were not recorded in botanical science. James Cook named that inlet as Botany Bay.
But the treacherous southeast coast challenged James Cook many times, for the waters were the most dangerous in the world. His brilliant seamanship saved him from close disasters. He charted the whole east coast and in August 19, 1770, took formal possession of his discovery, Australia in the name of the King. He added 2 precious jewels to the British Crown ? Australia and New-Zealand. While sailing back home, he explored en route a great stretch of the southern coast, New Guinea.
He saved many seafarers lives by finding a cure for scurvy, every sailor?s enemy in those days. Today we know scurvy is caused by deficiency of vitamin C. Somehow, James Cook knew about this. He included lot of vitamin C in the sailor?s diet. This saved them from imminent death. He was a caring man.
Later James Cook discovered big islands as New Caledonia and Norfolk in the northeast of Australia, and in the South Atlantic he secured the South Georgia for Great Briton.
However, he could not explore the Bering Strait of the northern tip of Alaska as the Northwest Passage around North America was not feasible as a sailing route. That was in 1778.
While returning he made a happy discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, the greatest of the far flung Polynesian lands. This sunny archipelago beckoned him and he anchored there for a much needed rest.
By then he was a tired man who had led a life of hardships on the sea. The much needed rest was short lived.
A great tragedy fell on the great man. On February 4, 1779, a tremendous storm arose, tearing the sails of his ships to tatters and destroying the fleets completely. With such a huge natural destruction, the natives of Hawaii went berserk.
After a brief skirmish between his men and the natives on the beach, he was suddenly struck on the head from behind while giving command to his men. Spears were thrust into his back as he tried to rise from the waters. He died in the sea and the mortal shell of one of the greatest seafarers and discoverer who ever lived went home to the sea.