James Cook [A New Biographical Dictionary, 1805]

[Editor: This is the entry for James Cook in A New Biographical Dictionary (1805), by Stephen Jones. It is interesting to note that the text does not mention Cook’s discovery of the east coast of New Holland (Australia), although it does mention that he had unsuccessfully searched for Terra Australis Incognita (the hypothesized southern land mass, i.e. the continent of Antarctica).]

COOK (JAMES) a celebrated English navigator, was born at Marton in Yorkshire, Oct. 27, 1728, of poor parents, and apprenticed on board a vessel in the coal-trade. In the war of 1755, between England and France, he entered as a seaman in the royal navy. His behaviour in this station soon endeared him to the officers; and on the 15th of May 1759, he obtained a master’s warrant for the Mercury, which was soon after employed in the famous siege of Quebec.

During this siege a difficult and dangerous service was to be performed; namely, to take soundings in the channel of the river St. Laurence, directly in front of the French fortified camp. This he performed at the imminent hazard of his life, with which indeed he very hardly escaped; and was successively rewarded with the appointments of master of the Northumberland man of war, marine-surveyor of Newfoundland and Labradore, lieutenant in the navy, and commander of the Endeavour bark, fitted out for the purpose of taking some astronomical observations, and making discoveries in the Pacific Ocean. On this expedition he sailed from Deptford July 30, 1768, and returned to England July 12, 1771.

He sailed again April 2, 1772, in the Resolution, accompanied by Captain Furneaux in the Adventure, to determine the existence or non-existence of a southern continent. By this voyage, from which he returned in 1775, the illusions of a terra australis incognita to any purposes of commerce, colonization, or utility, were dispelled; but as a reward for captain Cook’s important improvements for preserving the healths of seamen, very happily manifested in this voyage, the Royal Society bestowed on him the medal of Sir Godfrey Copley.

Another grand question was, the practicability of a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean; to determine which, captain Cook sailed in 1776, on board the Resolution, accompanied by captain Clerke in the Discovery. This voyage served to prove that there was no practicable passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans towards the north; but, on his return, it unfortunately happened, that our navigator was killed in an affray with the natives of Owhyhee, one of the Sandwich Isles, Feb. 14, 1779.

His death was universally regretted, not only in Great Britain, but throughout all Europe, where his great merits and public services were known.

Stephen Jones, A New Biographical Dictionary: Containing a Brief Account of the Lives and Writings of the Most Eminent Persons and Remarkable Characters in Every Age and Nation, London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme [et al], 1805, [page 131]

Editor’s notes:
The text is as given in the book, including lower case for “royal navy” and “captain” (e.g. “captain Cook”), and the plural “healths” (instead of “health”) in “preserving the healths of seamen”.

Owhyhee = archaic spelling of “Hawaii”

terra australis incognita = (Latin) “unknown land of the south” (or “unknown southern land”); from the Latin words “terra” (earth; land), “australis” (south), and “incognita” (unknown); when used as a name for a hypothetical land, it is commonly capitalized (Terra Australis Incognita), although the phrase is also rendered in lower case

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