James Cook was born in Marton-in-Cleveland, before moving to nearby Great Ayton, where he went to school. After starting his career as a farm labourer, he moved to work in a merchants store in Staithes. Then, at the age of 18, he became a seaman and joined a Whitby Collier working in the Baltic Sea.
During the war with the French in 1755, the 27 year old Cook enlisted in the Navy and within a month was promoted to Masters Mate. In just 4 years he was promoted to Master and then took command of his first ship.
James Cook made a significant contribution to the British Navy’s war efforts and went on to chart the Eastern coast of Canada over a 4 year period. These charts were still used up until the early part of the 20th century.
The H.M. Bark Endeavour
Similar to our own ship, Captain Cook's Endeavour was constructed in Whitby during 1764 by Thomas Fishburn.
Originally known as the ‘Earl of Pembroke’, the ship was built as a Whitby ‘Cat', or Collier, and designed to carry coals from North East England to London.
In 1768 the Royal Society wanted to send an expedition to Tahiti, in the Pacific Ocean, to observe the Planet Venus crossing the face of the sun. Edmund Halley, after whom the famous Halley‘s Comet is named, had predicted this would happen in June the following year.
King George the Third helped fund the expedition and the ‘Earl of Pembroke’ was purchased for just under three thousand pounds. The ship was then taken to Deptford, near London, to be fitted out and was re-named 'H.M. Bark Endeavour‘ .
The Admiralty chose Captain James Cook to lead the expedition and he departed from Whitby on his first voyage in August 1768 and rounded Cape Horn, before reaching Tahiti almost a year later. Although a necessary scientific instrument was stolen by the natives, the transit of Venus was successfully observed. The Endeavour then spent 6 months charting New Zealand and Cook claimed possession of Eastern Australia, before returning to England via New Guinea, Java and the Cape of Good Hope.
Life at sea
Although over twice the size of our own ship, H.M. Bark Endeavour was still very compact and many areas below deck only had headroom of less than 1.5 metres.
At no more than 30 metres in length, the ship had to accommodate 95 people, plus provisions, supplies and equipment. So, you can imagine this was not the most comfortable place to live in!
The ship's provisions included approximately 5,500 litres of beer, 7,300 litres of spirits, 16 tonnes of bread, 2 tonnes of salted beef, over 3 tonnes of sauerkraut and much more.
Cook became the first Captain to prevent scurvy in his crew by loading large quantities of vegetables on board. And when this was used up, sauerkraut was served.
A typical daily menu on the ship consisted of breakfast with boiled wheat and sugar, otherwise known as gruel, followed by a midday dinner of salted beef stew and vegetables, with an evening meal of soup and an issue of ship‘s biscuits - which were so hard they had to be broken up with a Marlin spike.
All sailors were entitled to a daily ration of 'flip‘, which included 8 pints of beer and 2 tots of rum or brandy. These were often mixed together as a potent drink.
Throughout the journey, salt water was taken from the sea and converted into fresh drinking water using a ‘still’, which was very important to the health of the crew.
Discipline was maintained in the harsh Georgian Navy through flogging, using a device known as the 'cat o' nine tails'. This was a rope whip with 9 ends and 3 blood knots in each strand. Often used as a deterrent, the offender would be flogged leaving terrible wounds to their back. After which, salt would be rubbed in to help the healing process.
During the expedition Cook and his scientists catalogued many thousands of new plants, birds, animals and fish — bringing many specimens back to England with them upon their return.
From the 95 people who embarked on the expedition, 33 died, 3 drowned, 2 were frozen, 1 deserted, 1 was discharged and a total of 55 returned 3 years later in June 1771.
Cook went on to make 2 further voyages of discovery, before being killed by natives in Hawaii during 1779.