James Cook (Marton, Yorkshire, 27 October 1728 – Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, 14 February 1779) was a British explorer and navigator. The son of a Yorkshire farmer, he served as an apprentice to a firm of shipowners at Whitby and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. During the Seven Years’ War he charted in detail the Saint Lawrence River (1760) and the coasts of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Labrador (1763–1766).
Due to his growing reputation as a cartographer and astronomer the Royal Society employed him to undertake some extensive voyages. On a first expedition he sailed in 1768 with the Endeavour from England, rounded Cape Horn and continued westward across the Pacific Ocean to arrive at Tahiti on 13 April 1769. From there he continued to New Zealand, where he discovered that it consisted of two islands. He then explored the east coast of Australia and returned to Great Britain in 1771.
From 1772 to 1775 he commanded a second expedition to the South Pacific with two ships, the Resolution and the Adventure. On this expedition he disproved the rumor of the existence of a great southern continent, explored the Antarctic Ocean and the New Hebrides and discovered New Caledonia.
On a third voyage, started in 1776, Cook crossed the Pacific in eastward direction, sailed to the west coast of North America and then further north to the Bering Strait to find a passage to the Atlantic (in which he failed). On the return voyage he was killed by natives on the Hawaiian Islands.
Cook’s discoveries laid the foundation of the British empire in Australia and Oceania. His fame is further based on his nautical, astronomical and cartographic knowledge and the fact that he was the first who was able to prevent scurvy—the scourge of long voyages—by the observance of strict dietary and hygienic rules. He became Fellow of the Royal Society on February 29, 1776.