Captain James Cook

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By Teresa Saunderseducation journalist and children’s writer

Find out about the courageous captain who travelled across the world and claimed Australia as a British colony

The explorer, Captain James Cook, was an extraordinary character and his real-life achievements are every bit as exciting and inspiring as any fictional tale of adventure. His story presents an exciting and meaningful context for exploring Australia’s history – and also offers excellent opportunities to develop children’s non-fiction reading and writing skills and to investigate biography and autobiography.

As Cook voyaged around the world, he was excited at what he saw and was eager to record it. Both he, and those who sailed with him, made copious notes and drawings. These included: personal journals; ships’ logs and maps, drawings, paintings and descriptions of landscapes, people and animals.

All of these documents offer a huge amount of detailed information about where and why he went on his voyages, what he found and how he felt about the people and places he discovered. They also give valuable geographical information about his skills as a mariner and cartographer. Cook’s remarkable achievements – and the shock of his violent death at the hands of Hawaiian warriors less than ten years after he landed in Australia – mean that he has captured the interest of biographers and writers ever since.

Essential facts

  • In April 1770, Captain James Cook sailed his ship, Endeavour, into a sheltered bay along an uncharted coastline on the other side of the world – and started a chain of events that changed forever the country we now know as Australia. He laid claim to the land in the name of England’s King George III and reported to the British Government that the country would be ideal for settlement as a British colony.
  • James Cook’s remarkable rise from farm boy to one of the most successful explorers and maritime navigators of all time gives us some indication of his greatness. As a naval captain he was fair and compassionate – he disliked the brutal punishments that were typical of navy life. He also realised that the poor diet on board ship gave many sailors scurvy, so insisted on taking fruit, particularly lemons, and as much fresh food as possible on all his voyages.
  • As well as a great sea captain, he was also a geographer, scientist, astronomer and writer – and for many years European knowledge about what the New World looked like was based on his discoveries and reports.
  • At a time when exploration was at its height, he was its most courageous and motivated leader, fearlessly exploring and charting lands from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from eastern Australia to the west coast of America. Many of his maps were so accurate that they were still used by mariners in the early 20th century.
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