Captain James Cook - His Third Voyage

James Cook Resolution and Dicovery

Upon returning from his second voyage in July of 1775, Captain James Cook was granted a captain's berth at the historic Greenwich Hospital, a much sought after position that assured a reasonable income with no excess of duties for the rest of his life. Here at last Cook might have finally settled down, and for a while he did.

His achievements over the past seven years were immense. He had made two tremendous journeys across the Pacific sweeping clear the imaginings of academics, pinned down Antarctica, defeated Cape Horn twice, established sailing routes to Australia and New Zealand, and set up excellent relations with the "noble savages" of the South Seas, the Polynesians. He had accurately mapped the locations of Australia and New Zealand, either achievement would have been a sufficient life's work. He had discovered or rediscovered almost every island group of importance in the South Seas and precisely charted them. He had lead crews of ordinary seamen through shipwreck and hazards in little ships twice around the Earth sailing a total of over 120,000 miles, loosing not one man to scurvy.

Captain James Cook Captain James Cook

James Cook was promoted post Captain, a notable achievement for the ex-mate of a Whitby cat, but long overdue. He was again presented to King George III, and read accounts of his voyages to the Royal Society. For a paper written on the preservation of health for long voyage seamen he was awarded the Society's Copley Gold Medal. Cook and his wife dined with some of England's most prominent citizens. He was recognized across Europe as one of the great discoverers of the age. He had also proven that the Harrison chronometer was the answer to accurately calculating longitude.

A World Map Not Yet Completed

But there remained one great unknown, this time in the North Pacific. Could it be that there were a passage north of or through North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific? A more direct passageway from Europe to China and the East had been sought after from the Atlantic side. No effort had been made to discover such a route starting from the Pacific except by John Byron, who had discovered much of nothing.

In James Cook, however, admiralty saw a man who not only carried out his orders but used his judgment to better them. His ordered goals were to find a Northwest Passage around North America and if this route did not exist, look for a Northeast Passage around Siberia and back to Europe from the Pacific side.

In England at this time, knowledge of the west coast of the Americas started at the southern end of South America and ended at Drake's New Albion, which today was officially recognized by the United States Department of the Interior in October 2012 as Point Reyes, California. But in 1775 nobody quite knew where this was. James Cook would have to find Drake's Bay first, and start from there.

James Cook accepted the assignment from Admiralty. He was 47 years old, had been at sea for most of the past 30 years and deserved a longer leave, if not retirement. But there was no one better suited for the task than him.

The Ships

James Cook's Resolution and Discovery The Resolution and Discovery
photo credit: Captain Adrian Small

It was 1775 and the 462 ton Resolution had been back in England for less than six weeks when Admiralty ordered that she be reconditioned for yet another “voyage to remote parts.” There was great demand on the shipyards as a consequence of war in American. The Resolution received a hasty retrofit even though Cook had returned her in good condition, considering what she had been through. The ship was indifferently caulked and poorly rigged but when the time for departure came she was well manned and stored, Cook made sure of this.

On this voyage Cook was to be his own astronomer and scientist, while William Anderson would serve as botanist and naturalist. The role of Executive Officer was filled by John Gore, a good fit as he had also served aboard the Endeavour for Cook’s first voyage. The crew included six midshipmen, a cook and his assistant, six quartermasters, twenty marines, and forty-five seamen. Another ship named Discovery, a 300 ton Whitby collier, would serve as the expeditions sister ship, commanded by Charles Clerke.

The Resolution was about 111ft long, 30ft wide, with a draught of 13ft. She carried 112 crew including 20 marines along with 24 cannons. The Discovery was a bit smaller, 91ft long, 27ft wide, with a draught of 11ft, and carried a complement of 70 seamen and 8 cannons.

The Voyage

On July 12, 1776, almost 1 year from his return from the second voyage, James Cook took the Resolution out to sea from Plymouth, England. They sailed through a channel filled with ships bound for the American Revolutionary War. Many thought the voyage to seek new discoveries on the west coast of North America was a little odd, since the east coast was battling for independence from those same discoverers.

But no one knew anything about the American west coast as of yet except for a few brave Spanish explorers and maybe an isolated Russian fur trader or two. And the longitude of the area had yet to be determined acurately. Cook's orders were to first sail to the South Indian Ocean to check on certain discoveries made by the French and assess their value as possible naval bases. Then he was to make way to the familiar islands of Tahiti. After that he was to sail into the North Pacific and explore everything north of Drakes Bay (northern California) until he found a sea passage to the North Atlantic.

This would take at least two summers with winter refuge anchored in Kamchatka (Russia) or elsewhere. If he were to find the Northwest Passage he was to sail back to the Atlantic by that means, making detailed surveys along the way. All this added up to the toughest and longest voyage Cook had ever made: Sailing down both Atlantics, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, crossing almost the entire length and breadth of the Pacific from sub Antarctic to Arctic and then back to England.

A Rough Start

As soon as they were off into the Atlantic the Resolution began to leak terribly. The crew could see the chaulker's shoddy work as the ship lifted and plunged through the sea. All the crew's quarters were soaked and the spare sails became sodden and moldy. Water seeped down through ceilings, not seriously but miserable none the less.

The crew aired the sails, reworked the rigging, and set charcoal fires wherever they could inside the ship as she made her way south. This was especially annoying for the crew since they had returned the ship to port in such good condition.

Cook blamed himself for the state of the Resolution. A ship in the dockyard has to be looked after even more carefully than when on voyage. And Cook had tried to enjoy his appointment at Greenwich Hospital as much as he could. With all of his duties it was not easy to get from his home to the dockyard. And Mrs. Cook knew nothing of the voyage until it was nearly time to leave. Its seems James Cook tried to enjoy the year at home to its fullest extent.

The crew did what they could to sustain the ship. There is evidence that Cook was not himself during this voyage. His digestive system was still strained and his iron will not quite as strong as it was. Before they reached the Cape of Good Hope the mizzen topmast was found to be cracked and not able to bear sail. A ship on such a long journey needs all of her masts. At the Cape Cook bought a replacement. Both the Resolution and the Discovery were recaulked at port.


On November 30, 1776, both ships sailed on to almost 50° S. They passed Tasmania and Cook's favorite, Queen Charlotte's Sound in New Zealand. A shift of wind threw the ship and the mizzen mast came down, thankfully clearing the decks. On January 19 near 45° S the fore topmast came down and brought the topgallant mast with it. This was a mess but the crew worked tirelessly to rebuild the ship as she rolled violently through the sea. She was fitted with enough sail for the Roaring Forties.

Cook diverted towards Adventure Bay on the southeast of Tasmania to find trees for new masts and fresh food. This was his only visit to Tasmania, a beautiful island with excellent harbors and some of the best ship building timber in the world. Cook notes that there were very few natives to the island, and that they did not have any kind of sea transport, not even canoes for fishing. He was in a hurry, hoping to reach the northern coasts of North America by summer. The crew caught an abundance of fish, cut a few spars, harvested grass and firewood and sailed on.

New Zealand New Zealand, from Cook’s A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London, 1784)
photo credit: Princeton University

It was near the end of February when the ships passed New Zealand. This time Cook made a northeasterly course which brought him to Hervey Islands (now the Cook islands), which offered no anchorages and little refreshments. Cook now accepted that he could not reach North America that summer and made for the nearby Friendly Islands.

Here they received good reception from the locals. There was however the immense problem of thievery. Even the local chiefs were not above bold faced robbery and having caught one Cook fined him one hog and gave him a dozen lashes which he accepted stoically and fairly due. The stealing became so bad that Cook began to shave the heads of those who were caught. They hated to lose their long locks, but they still stole.

In spite of the thievery, their time in the Friendly islands was rather good. A private house was given to Cook. The natives were giving seeds for all types of new vegetables as was customary. The two ships sailed on for Tahiti, where two crewmen from the Discovery deserted. Cook knew that any successful desertion could start an exodus, as a casual life in Tahiti was more appealing than life in Victorian England. Cook seized canoes, houses, and chiefs, demanding the crewmen be returned. Armed searches were performed and the two men were finally found in Bora Bora and returned.

In the meantime Cook made a discovery in another field. He had been suffering badly from rheumatism, especially from his hips to his feet. A friendly chief offered to help and Surgeon Anderson approved. Twelve women, the chief's relatives, were paddled out ceremoniously to the Resolution and descended into the great cabin. Cook was told to lie down on a mattress whereby the women began pummeling, squeezing, and massaging his entire body unmercifully, especially the rheumatic joints. After about 15 minutes Cook stood up and to his astonishment felt much better. Two more treatments cured him. The rheumatism went away and did not return.

North Across the Pacific

Now it was time to leave familiar islands. Cook's plan was to sail north with the southeast trade wind on the starboard beam, make their way through the doldrums as best they could, then pick up the northeast trades and sail north out of them running eastward from there on. It was futile to sail against the trade winds, better to use them for latitude.

Kauai, Hawaii Kauai, Hawaii

On Christmas Eve of 1777, Cook sighted the island named Christmas. They pressed on until they saw three high mountain islands. It was January, 1778. They approached the island and managed to get an anchor down. Canoes were sent out by unarmed natives who spoke Tahitian. The crew wondered how the Tahitians could have sailed over such great distances. Cook and his seamen had encountered these same people over an enormous area, from Bora Bora to New Zealand to Tahiti and now to this island called Atui by to locals. This island is now called Kauai, in the Hawaiian Islands. The site of their landing is near the present day town of Waimea, Kauai, Hawaii. This marks the first contact with ancient Hawaiians by a European.

Contact with locals in Kauai, Hawaii Contact with locals in Kauai, Hawaii
photo credit: Surfing For Life

Islanders brought out pigs, potatoes, sugar cane, and traded them for whatever they were offered. The sight of strange men from Europe and enormous sailing ships was like nothing they had ever seen and could hardly believe. When Cook landed all the natives in sight fell upon their faces "and remained in that very humble posture till, by expressive signs I prevailed upon them to rise," wrote the captain.

A long speech was made, presents exchanged, and friendships pledged. As Cook and his party moved about the island, never far from the beach, the locals "fell prostrate on the ground and remained in that position until we passed." The crew thought the practice was only a way of paying respect. It dawned on none of them that it could be something more than that.

With fresh supplies the two ships set sail once again. On 40° N in February of 1778, the west winds found the ships. A month later the coast of a great continent came in sight, North America. Beautiful distant snowcapped mountains were seen. Cook turned north and made a running survey of the land as they went.


Oregon Coast Oregon Coast

The discovery of a sailing route across what is now Canada and the northern United States was now obviously impossible to Cook, as he could see great mountains blocking the way. It could hardly matter what bays, inlets, or gulfs might be found as these majestic mountains could be seen far inland. He was now well aware of the immense stretch of land in place of where this open water was hoped to be. He had previously surveyed the eastern side of the continent, Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He now knew the longitude of the west coast as well.

From Cape Race in Newfoundland to the coast of Oregon, 70° of longitude, over 4,000 miles! What a magnificent country! As they trekked north the coast trended westward. And the wind was west, always forcing towards land. There were intense squalls and fogs. The coast of Washington and Oregon were notorious in the sailing ship era and Cape Flattery (named by Cook) was rated then with Hatteras, the Horn, and Good Hope as the four most dangerous headlands in the world.

Oregon Coast The Resolution and Discovery in Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island
original by: John Webber, 1778
photo credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Cook took the ships into Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The natives traded fish and furs and practiced even more thievery. Sailing on, it was now April of 1778 and the Resolution began to leak badly again. Water could be heard and seen entering the ship but it appeared the gaps were all above the waterline. Water was pumped and bailed overboard as the ship rocked violently through the rough weather.


Prince William's Sound on the Alaskan Coast Prince William's Sound on the Alaskan Coast
photo credit: Australian National Maritime Museum

This was a bad shape for the Resolution to approach the Arctic in. Cook was in desperate need of a good harbor to make repairs. He was now well inside Alaskan waters and had already sailed past the sheltered and beautiful bays of the Puget Sound. He kept well out to sea as this was a north-south passage. The coast was sheltered by offshore islands at the base of picturesque mountains and fed by glaciers. This was a beautiful place in the summer but futile towards any hope of a Northwest Passage.

It is a shame that here Cook missed Valdez off of Prince Williams Sound, as it would make for a good location for repairs and is ice free year round. They were above 60° N now off the coast of British Colombia and northwest Alaska. From here the Alaskan mainland turned south, to Cook's surprise. The hazy weather made finding a suitable harbor difficult. Off of Prince William Sound, not far from Valdez, Cook found a sheltered spot he named Snug Corner Bay, north of Montague Island. Making anchor they found all the oakum gone below the wooden sheathing. This was repaired while Eskimos came out in kayaks and canoes in an attempt to seize the Discovery, armed with knives. Cook demonstrated that they could kill at range and the Eskimos turned away. None were killed, Cook wanted no one murdered.

Observations showed the ships to be over 1,500 miles west of any part of Hudson's Bay. Despite the appearance of many arms leading off from the Sound, the behavior of the tides showed that it was a waste of time to seek a Northwest Passage there. It was now May. Cook must push north somehow. To do this he must first go southwest along the Alaskan coast. The more promising gulfs were inspected by boat, but they were all useless.

Cook Inlet Cook Inlet, Alaska - 1788
photo credit: Princeton University

The two ships had not gone far to the southwest before coming to a headland that swung around to the north. Could this be the passage they had been looking for? It was at least the best lead Cook had seen so far. Passage or not it was a considerable discovery. Before long it was observed that their newly discovered waterway was fed only by rivers. Its waters became shallow and almost fresh water, abundant signs that they were in a large river. Today it is called Cook Inlet, famous mountain lined broad waters that lead to the city of Anchorage, Alaska.

Sailing on down the Alaskan coast they met with natives to discuss their knowledge of the local geography and to trade iron for salmon. At Unalaska, they met a party of Russian fur traders. They showed the Englishmen their charts of the area between Kamchatka and Alaska, but had no knowledge of a Northwest Passage. The English and Russians got along wonderfully.

Beyond Unalaska and the Aleutian Islands were the Bering Sea and the Bering Strait. Beyond these was the Chuckchee Sea and the impassible ice jam of the Arctic. Cook sailed on, noting the outflow of the Yukon River. They sailed around Alaska and right up to the Arctic ice, huge impregnable fields of it, not far from Point Barrow. If a sea passage reached the Atlantic from here, which it did, it was ice jammed even in the summer and was therefore useless.

Barrow, Alaska Barrow, Alaska

Cook reached nearly 71° N and sailed east between the mainland and crushing sea ice to just beyond Point Barrow, Alaska, about 1,000 miles south of the North Pole. The ice could be heard moving and appeared as an endless line of gnashing teeth waiting to wreck the two ships. Cook turns back west towards the Asian continent, looking for a northeast passage instead. But he runs into the same ice wall.

Cook does what he can to chart the northern coasts of North America and Asia. The crew survive on walrus steak, excellent fish, and berries picked from ashore, all washed down with Cook's own spruce "beer." They now pass south, back through the Bering Strait and by October are in Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. They are now 12,000 miles from home and had been at sea for two years.

Onward Home

The two ships were once again badly in need of major repairs. A good base was needed where the ships could be refitted and the crew refreshed. His loose orders were for him to make for Petropavlovsk on the east coast of Russia and at the end of the Aleutian Islands. This meant the ships would spend another winter in the Arctic, and one could only guess if they would ever see England again after that.

So Cook looked over his charts in search of something better. With a number of his crew suffering from tuberculosis, he decided instead to make for those pleasurable Sandwich Islands where Kauai and Niihau he had visited on their way north. They offered refreshment, pleasurable natives, and sunshine, which they all badly needed.

"I had other reasons for not going to Petropaulowska," wrote Cook. "The first ... was the great dislike I had to lying idle six or seven months which would be the consequence of wintering in any of these northern parts. No place was so conveniently within our reach, where we could expect to have our wants supplied, as the Sandwich Islands." He also held the opinion that these were an important discovery, and he could make better use of the winter by exploring and charting them further.

In hindsight, it is a shame that he did not have a better look at Vancouver Island. Or find the Strait of Juan de Fuca and sail into some lovely bay to refit in the Puget Sound of present day Washington State.

The Hawaiian Islands

The Sandwich Islands or Hawaiian Islands The Sandwich Islands or Hawaiian Islands
photo credit: Captain Adrian Small

Even today the Hawaiian Islands provide not much in the way of good harbor for ships the size of the Resolution and Discovery. After sailing down from the Arctic, Cook sailed for many days from Maui to Hawaii, to Oahu, Molokai, and back against the wind to the big island which he called Owhyee. He found no good harbor. The two ships were kept out at sea for 8 weeks, trading for fruit by means of canoes.

At last, on the western side of the big island, he noted a shallow bay. Two miles wide and a mile deep it was wide open to the southwest storms, but otherwise easy to sail into and simple to leave.

Cook Inlet Kealakakua Bay, Hawaii
photo credit: Princeton University

As soon as they made anchor canoes came out by the hundreds. It seems most of the islands population came out, thousands of them. The sight of so many smiling faces with the volcanic Mauna Loa in the background almost made the weary sailors glad they had not found a Northwest Passage across the top of the world and back to England.

It was January 17, 1779. The Hawaiians said their bay was called Kealakakua. All these islands from Kauai to Hawaii were new discoveries. Hogs, greens, coconuts, and fruits were abundandt and fairly traded with the English explorers or brought out as gifts. Sails were patched and rigging was refitted. An observatory was set up ashore.

The supreme chief of the island, Kalaniopu'u was rowed around the ships in ceremony and visited aboard. Cook was presented with magnificent red-feather cloaks and expensive helmets. Now ashore the natives praised Cook wherever he went. He gathered he had been named "Orono," and thought of this as a prestiegeous Hawaiian title. Senior priests went with him wherever he visited.

Exactly what was an Orono? Or who was the Orono? "Some of these ceremonies," said Lieutenant King, "seem to border on adoration." The Orono was in fact Lono the god, a cheerful earthly Hawaiian of long ago who had been exiled and who was prophecized to return in a large island, with trees, bringing gifts including swine and dogs. Well here were the "islands" (ships) complete with "trees" (masts). Here too was a tall, comanding but friendly reincarnation of Lono in the form of Captain Cook.

The very day before his arrival off of Mauai, chief Kalaniopu'u had been victorious in a battle there, obviously because the great Lono was coming to celebrate his victory. Honaunau, on Kealakua Bay, is a much revered place in old Hawaii. Time and setting were right for the return of a god. The sailors and their "islands" were no ordinary men. The astonished Hawaiians noted them carrying fires burning in their mouths (pipes), when they needed anything they reached into their skins (jackets) and pulled them out, some had heads horned like the moon (officer's felt hats), they could take off the tops of their heads (wigs), and whipe their faces with a cloth of impossible softness (linen handkerchiefs). Where could they have come from but the home of the gods?

Perhaps. The sailors also had some distasteful traits and they consumed an aweful lot of food. The priests and chiefs had to constantly take from the locals to supply these sailors. In time this could become irritating. But the ammount of food and gifts brought to the ships was none of Cook's asking. He had no idea it was forecefully taken from the people by the priests for the god Lono's happiness.

The priests, chiefs, and everyone else were happy when at last the Resolution and Discovery took up their anchors and left those shores. Lono spread his white banners high on his trees and moved out of the bay. It had been a wonderful visit but the island was now significantly depleted of resources.

Cook was happy with his visit to Kealakekua and writing in his journal, delighted "to enrich our voyage with a discovery which, though the last, seemed in many respects to be the most important that had hitherto been made by Europeans throughout the extent of the Pacific Ocean."

It was now kona season, the time of storms. And the Resolution had not sailed far before her topmast began to roll more than it should. Serious damage was quickly done to the rigging. Cook looked upward from the deck and could see the fore lower mast was split again, the tenth time of the voyage. The topmast had been repaired with splints but closer inspection showed damage enough that it could not be repaired at sea.

The ship must be repaired again. But where? They were now down to six sails from the usual twelve. Cook was against returning to Kealakekua, but there was no other known place for anchorage in the Hawaiian Islands.

Back Again in Kealakekua Bay

Cook Hawaiian Islands Cook's sailing chart for the Hawaiian Islands
From the atlas volume of Cook’s A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London, 1784)
photo credit: Princeton University

The sailors received no warm welcome this time. The islanders were in no place to supply more sustinance for the two ships, much less themselves. Lono's first visit had been a tremendous strain. Cook wasted no time floating the mast ashore for repair. How long would he and his 200 followers stay? The priests offered welcome, the citizens threw stones.

Cook tried his best to explain why they were there and how they intened to leave quickly. The people seemed to understand, but there were "incidents." Thieving became bold and serious. Some retaliation was made.

There was increased awareness that whoever Lono Cook might be, these seamen were no gods. When a seaman named William Watman died, he was buried ashore. The natives watched with some shock and now saw that these men were mortal, they could die.

Thieving grew worse. The natives began diving under the two ships and prying out nails from their outer sheathing. This was intollerable. It was difficult to defend the ships when so many of the men were ashore repairing the mast. Cook refused to use the ship's superior firepower against the locals.

One night a large boat, the Discovery's cutter, was stolen. The cutter was vital and could not be replaced. Cook had a regular drill for such instances, take a local high chief hostage until the item was returned. Armed boats were sent to prevent canoes from leaving the bay until the cutter was returned.

In full uniform Cook rowed ashore, carrying his double barrel shotgun along with an armed guard of nine marines under Lieutenant Phillips. King Kalaniopu'u was ashore and told of the theft, agreed to come as a hostage. He began to walk with Cook very calmly towards the beach.

They were within 25 yards of the boats when a large crowd began to form. A woman stood between the beach and the king, she was his favorite wife. With tears she begged him not to go any farther. Several local chiefs joined the crowd which was now growing closer. Lieutenant Phillips noted some of the crowd gathering stones. Others darted into houses, returning with spears and clubs and fastening breast plates.

Two young chiefs pushed the king down to a sitting position such that he could not walk any further. The marines drew up in line along the beach, at the ready.

The crowd grew angry. Cook left the king, telling Phillips that he and the marines must go back to prevent serious bloodshed. A warrior rushed up to Captain Cook with a stone in one hand and a dagger in the other.

"Put those things down!" ordered the captain. The warrior made ready to fling the stone. Cook fired at once. One barrel of his shotgun was loaded with small shot, which he used. The pellets bounced off of the warrior's breastplate. He laughed and came at Cook with his dagger. This time Cook fired his other barrel, loaded with ball. The warrior dropped to the ground.

A general attack with stones began at once. The marines fired, but the warriors had only noticed the captains first shot and believed the muskets to be nothing more than a brief flash and flame. Warriors were killed but there were too many to resist. The marines were rushed before they could reload and four of them were struck down. Now the seamen came in the boats, opening fire.

For a moment Cook stood there, facing the crowd of blood thirsty Hawaiians. He did not reload. He turned to the boats, raising a hand to command a cease-fire. He had reached the water's edge but his commands could not be heard.

James Cook Death in Hawaiian Islands James Cook's Death in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii
photo credit: Princeton University

A warrior rushed him from behind, clubbing him violently. He sank to his knees, half in the water. The warrior stabbed again and again. A roar erupted from the crowd and men rushed into the sea, stabbing, clubbing, and holding James Cook under water. Once he raised his head and looked at them. They dragged his body ashore and all began stabbing him in a frenzy. Seizing the dagger from each other's hands as if each one must assure they had a part in the act.

This all took only seconds. The unpremeditated, gastly, unnecessary murder was done. Now no one could stop the sailors and surviving marines. Warriors now saw their breast plates were not armor as many were mowed down by musket fire. The beach cleared at once.

The boats pulled back with their incredible news. When it was told, a great silence filled the ships and a great sorrow filled Kealakekua Bay. It was February 14, 1779, and Captain James Cook R.N., aged 50, had met his end on that Hawaiian beach.

Some of the Hawaiians later took his body back to their village and prepared it with funerary rituals usually reserved for the chiefs and highest elders of their society. He was buried by his crew at Kealakekua Bay. Today, above the bluff, a town has been settled and aptly named: Captain Cook, Hawaii.

Continuing without James Cook

The crew finishes the repairs to the Resolution in harbor. The locals are now not allowed anywhere near the beach or the ships. Lieutenant Clerke takes over as acting captain of the Resolution and the voyage as a whole, but he is slowly dying of tuberculosis.

Surfing in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii Surfing in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii
photo credit: Hawai'i State Archives

Lieutenant James King is promoted First Lieutenant of the Discovery and takes the task of completing the narrative portion of Cook's journals. It is here that King devotes two full pages describing surfboard riding as practiced by the locals in Kealakekua Bay. Thus in 1779, Lieutenant James King records in the ship's logs the first written description of Hawaiian surfing by a European.

The repairs are made quickly and the expedition heads for the Arctic for one last shot at finding a Northwest Passage. There is no use. The ice fields of 1779 were larger and farther south than they had been the previous year.

The ships continued to deteriorate. One day some wood floated by, it was part of the Resolution's own sheathing. The Discovery suffered minor hull damage from ice, but nothing that could not be repaired. Captain Clerke succumbs to his tuberculosis and dies at the age of 38. Lieutenant Gore takes command of the Resolution with Lieutenant King commanding the Discovery.

They were now offshore of Petropavlovsk, Russia. It is now October of 1799 and the two ships decide the expedition’s goals are completed, and begin their trek back home to England. Gore sends a letter overland containing copies of Cook's reports along with his own account of Cook's death. The letters were carried by dog sleds across Siberia, then by horse and finally by coastal shipping across the North Sea to England.

James Cook Third Voyage Map Map of Captain James Cook's Third Voyage
photo credit: Captain Adrian Small

Six months later the letters arrived in London, bringing dismay to the whole nation. Another six months after that, in early October of 1780, the expedition returned at last to England after a voyage of 4 years and 3 months.

Gore made a careful journey back, as they heard tales of one American naval commander named John Paul Jones. He sailed around the west coast of Ireland and down the North Sea before entering the Thames. Now in port, the Resolution would be refitted as an armed transport, sent to the East Indies, and would later disappear from the records.

Mrs. Cook

Mrs. Elizabeth Batts Cook Mrs. Elizabeth Batts Cook
photo credit: State Library of New South Wales

Mrs. Cook was awarded £200 per year plus £25 a year for each of their three children. She was also awarded half of the profits from books on her husband's voyages. She retired to Clapham, London. She lived there into the steam age and passed in 1835 at the age of 93, surviving her husband by 56 years.

Sir Walter Besant (1836-1901) wrote an account of Mrs. Cook in a biography of her husband. Like many ship captain's wives, she could not sleep on nights of high winds, thinking of her husband out at sea. She read from her husband's Bible daily. On Thursdays she entertained her friends with dinner at her home.

Sadly, she destroyed all private letrers from her husband, as she thought they should remain only between the two. Mrs. Cook is buried in Cambridge at St. Andrews Church. She left money to erect a memorial to her husband in the church.

In 1878 a Memorial to Cook was erected at his place of death in Hawaii. Today the Hawaiian flag has the Union Jack (Flag of England) as the principle emblem. A statue of Cook has also been erected at the site of his landing in Waimea, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Map of James Cook's Third Voyage The first published map to show Cook’s third voyage and the first map to show Hawaii. Published 1780.
photo credit: Princeton University

The Effects of Cook's Voyages

To the average Englishman, the discoveries and explorations of James Cook were so remote that they almost belonged to another world. Before these discoveries, even Americans knew nothing of the west coast of the continent to which there new country was established.

Three volumes of Cook's voyages are published. They accurately describe with latitude and longitude the locations and coastlines of Australia, New Zealand, the Hawaiian Islands, the west coast of North America as well as the north coast of Alaska, the east and north coasts of Asia, and countless islands in the South Pacific.

We know very little about James Cook the man. He was of Scottish and Yorkshire ancestry. He was raised to work hard, on a Yorkshire farm. He served for years on Whitby colliers. His hard upbringing surely contributed to his qualities of leadership and competence. His seamen and officers knew him well and many came back with him voyage after voyage, some to their death.

Apart from his character, James Cook can be described as a loyal Englishman who became one of Western Civilization's great contributors. The best description of him is left on the map of the globe. The names of his brave ships stand in the history books: Endeavour, Resolution, Discovery, and the Adventure. During his life, he had explored farther north (70°44′ N) and farther south (71°10′ S) in the Pacific Ocean than any previous human being. The farmer's son from Yorkshire who became Captain R.N. and gold medalist of the Royal Society can easily be seen as one of the greatest explorers the world has ever known.

James Cook's World Map A General Chart: Exhibiting the Discoveries Made by Captn. James Cook in This and His Two Preceeding Voyages, with Tracks of the Ships under His Command.
From the atlas volume of Cook’s A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London, 1784)
photo credit: Princeton University

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Psalm 119:105

Originally published
Researched and Written by: Thomas Acreman

  Captain James Cook by
  The Horizon History of the British Empire edited by

Other Classic History articles on the voyages of Captain James Cook include:
  Captain James Cook - His First Voyage
  Captain James Cook - His Second Voyage

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Welcome new readers!

In a hope to share any interesting historical stories I come across in the future I will be writing and posting articles whenever I can. Hopefully quite often.

I'll also be keeping you up to date on any good reads I come across in the Recommended section.

Looking for something in particular? Find it more quickly on the Search page.

And here is a complete list of all articles since the beginning.

H. G. Wells Portrate

"It is possible to believe that all the past is but the beginning of a beginning, and that all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn."


The Discovery of the Future

 Captain James Cook
Link - Commissions Earned


Captain James Cook - His Third Voyage

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