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COOK, James (1728-1779)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0402 SSC/24
Held at: Royal Geographical Society
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Full title: COOK, James (1728-1779)
Date(s): 1774-1971
Level of description: Collection level
Extent: 1 large box and 4 files
Name of creator(s): Cook | James | 1728-1779 | explorer


Administrative/Biographical history:

James Cook was born on 27 October 1728 in the village of Marton in Cleveland, North Riding of Yorkshire; attended Postgate School, Great Ayton; later signing an apprenticeship agreement with John Walker, a highly respected Quaker shipowner, whose ships, based on Whitby, were employed in the North Sea coal trade; in 1755 Cook was offered the command of one of Walker's ships, but instead enlisted in the Royal Navy as an able seaman. In 1757, he passed the examination for master and becoming responsible for the navigation and handling of ships of the Royal Navy. Cook spent most of the Seven Years' War in North American waters and after meeting Major Samuel Holland, took an active interest in hydrographic surveying. During a raid on French settlements in the Gulf of St Lawrence, Cook surveyed the Bay of Gaspé; the chart was published by Mount and Page the following year.

On 19 April 1763, Cook took passage for Newfoundland in Graves's ship the Antelope; on arrival Graves sent Cook to survey the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon which were to be restored to France; over the next four years Cook surveyed the whole of the west and south coasts of the island, returning to England each autumn to draw his charts and refit the schooner. In 1766, with permission from the Admiralty, Cook began publishing his surveys and sailing directions; his surveys were published in 1769 in a folio atlas by Thomas Jeffreys, who republished Cook's sailing directions in the same year in The Newfoundland Pilot. These were incorporated in the famous North American Pilot published by Sayer and Bennett in 1775. Cook returned to England on 15 November 1767 and was appointed by the Royal Society for an expedition to the South Pacific to observe the transit of Venus across the face of the sun, which would enable the distance between the earth and the sun to be calculated. The astronomer Charles Green was appointed by the Royal Society to observe the transit of Venus, with Cook as the second observer. The Endeavour set sail in 1768 and, after calling at Madeira and Rio de Janeiro and rounding Cape Horn, anchored in Matavai Bay on the north coast of Tahiti on 13 April 1769. The east coast of New Zealand was sighted on 6 October and Cook spent the next six months carrying out a running survey of New Zealand's North and South islands; next carrying out a running survey of the unknown east coast of Australia. The voyage was judged a success and Cook was promoted to commander on 29 August 1771.

In spite of the achievements of Cook's first voyage there were vast areas in the Southern Ocean where a great land mass might yet be found and Cook therefore proposed that a search for it should be made by circumnavigating the globe from west to east in a high southern latitude. Cook sailed the Resolution from Plymouth on 13 July 1772 and in 1773 became the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle. On his return to England Cook was promoted to post captain on 9 August 1775 and appointed fourth captain of Greenwich Hospital. In March 1776, Cook was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and at the same time awarded the society's Copley medal for his work on the prevention of scurvy. Cook commanded a further expedition to the Pacific, 1776-1779 in October 1776, the ship anchored in Table Bay, where Cook was joined by the Discovery. On crossing the Indian Ocean, Cook fixed the position of Prince Edward and Marion islands and carried out a running survey of the north coast of Kerguelen, establishing the island's longitude accurately with the aid of K1; later sighting Oahu and Kauai, at the western end of the Hawaiian Islands, 1778. After carrying out a running survey of the easternmost of the Hawaiian Islands, Cook anchored in Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawaii on 17 January 1779. At first he was well received, however an extended stay was not welcomed, resulting in the theft of the Discovery's cutter. Cook landed with an escort of marines in an attempt to persuade the local chief to return on board where he intended to hold him as a hostage against the return of the cutter. This resulted in an altercation, with Cook and four others being killed. Cook died 14 February 1779.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of James Cook, 1774-1971, comprise a photograph of a letter to Captain John Walter of Whitby, 13 Sept 1774, describing his discoveries in the South Seas; photocopy of accounts for food purchased, headed 'Captain Cook on board the Resolution at Long Reach', June 8 1776 and correspondence, 1899-1937, relating to the Tahiti Memorial to Captain Cook.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Arranged as in Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

Accessed via the Foyle Reading Room. Free of charge for Fellows, Members and those with valid academic identification. All other users pay a charge and must bring identification in order to register on arrival.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopying at the discretion of the Archivist and subject to completion of 'application for copies' form. No reproduction or publication without permission of the RGS-IBG Archivist.

Finding aids:

Card index available in Foyle Reading Room.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:


Allied Materials

Related material:

RGS also holds Correspondence block 1851-1860, E W Beckett, 1881-1910, Matthew Corner correspondence 1851-1860, The Royal Society correspondence 1881-1910, Admiral Marcus Lowther correspondence 1881-1910, H Gairdner correspondence 1834-1840, Admiralty correspondence 1841-1850 and 1921-1930, Selina White correspondence 1881-1910, F P Corkill correspondence 1881-1910, John Kealey correspondence 1881-1910, Captain James Cook correpsondence 1911-1920, College of Arms 1921-1930, Library Y108.2 and Y227.32.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Prepared by an archives volunteer using existing finding aids and edited by Samantha Velumyl, AIM25 cataloguer.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
10 January 2002 and modified in May 2008.

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