Saturday, February 7, 2009
Captain James Cook’s Discoveries
In 1768, the Royal Admiralty organized the first scientific expedition to the South Pacific and appointed James Cook as Commander of the HMS Endeavor. He was called on to find the mysterious southern continent, or Terra Australis, which was believed by philosophers to exist in order to balance the northern continents. On this voyage, Cook charted all of New Zealand and in 1770 came across the southeast coast of Australia. With the success of this voyage behind him, he began to organize a more ambitious voyage. Cook was sent with two ships to make the first circumnavigation and penetration of Antarctica. On this voyage (1772-1775), he successfully completed the first circumnavigation in the high latitudes and charted Tonga, Easter Island, New Caledonia, the South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia Island. The third voyage (1776-1779) was in search of a northwest passage around Canada and Alaska or a northeast passage around Siberia. This was unsuccessful because a passage navigable by sail ships did not exist. However, he did succeed in charting much of the North American coast. It was this voyage that led to his death. During an argument, he was slain by Polynesian natives on the beach at Kealakehua Bay, Hawaii. James Cook’s discoveries extended to the fields of anthropology, natural science, medicine, seamanship, navigation and geography. His contributions changed the map of the world more than any single man in history.