Captain James Cook

About JCU History Captain James Cook

Portait of Captain James Cook by Dance

"I had the ambition to not only go farther than man had
gone before, but to go as far as it was possible to go."

James Cook (1728-1779) was a remarkable navigator and explorer, whose legacy is still with us. His three voyages across the Pacific had profound influence on many areas of human endeavour: astronomy, marine surveying, cartography, geography, natural history and anthropology.

Cook was the first to map the coastline of eastern Australia, New Zealand and many islands of the Pacific. He sailed further south than any explorer before him. Amongst Cook’s great achievements was his ability to navigate with a chronometer to calculate longitude. This transformed mapping. He was also a remarkably humane commander, concerned for the health of his crews and the prospects of the indigenous peoples he encountered.

Born in Marton in Yorkshire, the son of a farmer, James Cook was apprenticed as a teenager to a seafaring family, before volunteering for the Royal Navy. In a time when sons of the working class were rarely considered for promotion, Cook’s talents spoke for themselves and he rose through the ranks to command three great voyages; become an accomplished astronomer, navigator and surveyor; and the world’s foremost explorer of his age.

The connection with our region

On his first Pacific voyage and under royal orders, the then Lieutenant James Cook, aboard HM Bark Endeavour, observed and recorded the transit of Venus at Tahiti then sailed on and charted the coast of New Zealand, the east coast of Australia and part of the southern coast of New Guinea.

Resolution and Discovery off the coast of Tahiti

During this voyage the young officer set foot on Australian shores only twice; the first at a landing point he would name Botany Bay; the second two months later when the Endeavour grounded on a reef off the north east coast of the country. The ship was successfully beached in sheltered waters on a river mouth while it underwent repairs. This location was 260kms north of the city of Cairns, and the settlement there became Cooktown. Many coastal features in our region were named by Cook, including Green Island, Cape Tribulation, Dunk Island and Magnetic Island, to name just a few.

Continuing in his footsteps, James Cook University aims to encourage and support world-class research and exploration to provide the knowledge and understanding needed to meet the challenges facing northern Australia and the tropics worldwide.

James Cook University is about people and place. As we enter our fourth decade we continue to offer our students a comprehensive range of courses and opportunities. We will adopt new methods, new approaches and new technologies to help our students develop the skills, abilities, knowledge and intellectual curiosity they need to succeed and make a difference, just as Captain James Cook did 200 years ago.

Visit the following sites to learn more about James Cook: