James Cook's father was born in 1694 near Kelso, Scotland. Following the unsuccessful Jacobite rebellion of 1715-1716, James senior migrated to England in search of a better life. He found work in Yorkshire and married a girl named Grace in 1726. James and Grace's first son was born in 1727 and was named John. Their second son was born on October 27, 1728, and was named James. At the time of James's birth the family was living in Morton where James Senior worked as a farm laborer. The family was well-thought-of and James Senior was appointed bailiff. In 1745 young James was apprenticed to William Sanderson, a shop keeper in the village of Staithes on the Yorkshire coast. James remained in Staithes for a year and a half during which time he was introduced to the sea by the local fishermen. Early in 1747 Sanderson assisted James in obtaining an apprenticeship with John Walker, shipowner and master mariner, in the nearby port of Whitby. James lived with the Walker family and studied navigation and the fundamentals of seamanship.
In February 1747 Cook went to sea in one of Walker's ships - the Freelove, a 450 ton coal collier transporting coal from Tyne to London. In 1748 Cook assisted in fitting out a new Walker ship - the Three Brothers. Both the Freelove and the Three Brothers were captained by John Jefferson and, over the next year and a half, Cook proved himself an avid student and an able seaman. He completed his apprenticeship in April 1750, was promoted to mate in 1752, and Walker offered him the position of master of his own ship in 1755. Cook turned Walker down and, on June 17, 1755, joined the Royal Navy as an able bodied seaman instead. On June 25, 1755, he joined the 60 gun ship of the line, HMS Eagle, which was fitting out at Portsmith. Within one month his skills were recognized by Captain Joseph Hamar and he was promoted to master's mate.
The Seven Years War was in progress and the Eagle was ordered to take up blockade duty off Ireland. Following a particularly heavy storm, Captain Hamar took the Eagle into port for repairs. The Admirality was not pleased and replaced Hamar with Captain Hugh Palliser. Like Hamar, Palliser was impressed with Cook. On November 15, 1755, the Eagle engaged and sank the Esperance, a French ship of the line. On May 30, 1757, the Eagle engaged and captured the French 50 gun ship of the line, the Duq d'Aquitaine. Cook received a share of the prize money and was promoted to full master. He next joined the HMS Pembroke a 60 gun ship of the line captained by John Simcoe. In 1758 HMS Pembroke and Cook participated in the capture of the French Fort at Louisburg controlling the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Following the capture of Louisburg, Cook helped survey the St. Lawrence River in preparation for the investiture of Quebec in 1759.
Following the defeat of the French at Quebec, Cook was transferred to the HMS Nortumberland, a slightly larger ship of the line than the Pembroke. The Northumberland was captained by Lord Colville. Cook remained aboard the Northumberland on station in North American waters until November 11, 1862, when his ship returned to England. On December 21, 1762, Cook married Elizabeth Batts. On February 10, 1763, the Treaty of Paris greatly expanded the British Empire in North America. Captain Thomas Graves, the Governor of Newfoundland, specifically requested that Cook be assigned to survey the coastal waters of his province. The HMS Antelope was provided to Graves as his floating office and Cook came aboard to conduct the survey. In November 1763 Cook returned to England to visit his family. Elizabeth had given birth to their first son during his absence in North America. In June 1764, Cook returned to his survey of Newfoundland, once again working under Hugh Palliser who had replaced Thomas Graves as Governor.
In August 1764 Cook's right hand was badly injured when a powder horn accidently exploded, but after a month or so was able to continue his survey work. He returned to London in December 1764 in time for the birth of his second son. The following spring he returned to Newfoundland and his survey work and on August 5, 1766, made observations related to the eclipse of the sun. He finished the Newfoundland survey in May 1767 and returned to London. On May 5, 1768, the Royal Society selected Cook to captain a ship that would proceed to the Pacific Ocean and make astronomical observations of the transit of Venus in 1769. On May 28, 1768, he was promoted to First Lieutenant and given command of the sloop, HMS Endeavor. After preparing his ship he departed Portsmouth on August 26, 1768, and succeeded in observing the transit of Venus on June 3, 1769, from Tahiti.
In addition to observing Venus, Cook also had secret orders to explore the southern seas for a massive continent that was rumored to exist there. His explorations went a long way toward effectively disproving the existence of such a continent, and he also expanded on existing knowledge of New Zealand and Australia. During his voyage in Australian waters the Endeavor ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef and nearly sank. Cook and the Endeavor returned to England on July 13, 1771. That winter Cook and his wife visited his father in Yorkshire. On July 13, 1772 he departed on his second voyage of discovery aboard the HMS Resolution. On this voyage a second ship, the Adventure, was captained by Tobias Furneaux. This voyage once again probed the Antarctic and found nothing but impenetrable ice. The two ships were separated, but the Resolution and Cook went on to explore the Pacific Islands before returning to England on July 30, 1775. Cook was promoted to Post Captain and assigned to shore duty.
In January 1776 Cook was consulted on a new voyage of discovery that was being planned to explore for the Northwest passage. Although he was having health problems and had apparently not planned to return to the sea, he volunteered and was selected to lead the new voyage. On June 25, 1776, Cook sailed once again in the HMS Resolution. This time his second ship was the HMS Discovery captained by Charlie Clerke. It was during this voyage that Cook discovered the Hawaiian Islands. On January 18, 1778, Cook's two ships made their first sighting of the islands that Cook named the Sandwich Islands after the First Lord of the Admiralty - Earl John Montagu Sandwich. After leaving the Hawaiian Islands Cook sailed east to the North American continent and proceeding north along the coast of today's Canada and Alaska, then through the Aleutian Islands, and north till stopped by the Arctic ice. Intending to try again the following summer, Cook decided to return to the Hawaiian Islands to rest and refit.
The Resolution and Discovery sighted Maui Island on November 26, 1778, and a few days later sighted Hawaii Island. In January 1779 they sheltered in Kealakekua Bay where Cook was thought to be the god Orono. After replenishing their supplies, the two ships departed Hawaii only to run into a severe storm that forced them to return to Kealalekua Bay to repair storm damage to the Resolution's foremast. On February 14, 1779, a fight broke out on shore and a number of the ship's personnel were killed including Captain Cook. Cook's body was taken by the Hawaiians and cut to pieces. The next day several body parts were recovered and buried at sea on February 22, 1779. Following Cook's death, the Resolution and Discovery returned to England on October 4, 1780.