James Cook: Celebrated North Country Explorer

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TIMELINE ~ CANADA 1755 - 1768

In 1755 Cook joined the Royal Navy as an able seaman aboard the ship “Eagle” and saw active service in the English Channel and Atlantic. By 1757 Cook had passed his master’s examination and was assigned first to HMS Solebay and then HMS Pembroke where his talents were noticed by the captain.

Early in the Seven Years War (1756-1763) against France, Halifax, Nova Scotia, was the main British base in Canada. Cook sailed with the fleet to Canada, arriving in Halifax in May 1758. There he took part in the blockade of Louisbourg, which the French finally surrendered in July 1758, and was taught how to survey and make charts by Samuel Holland, an army surveyor-engineer.

Cook spent the next few winters and the whole of 1761 in Halifax where he made charts of the town and harbour.

Following the fall of Louisbourg the British wintered in Halifax but in May 1759 set off up the St. Lawrence River to capture the main French stronghold of Quebec. Cook’s ship assisted with the ferrying of troops and the charting of the St.Lawrence River in preparation for the assault on Quebec. The town fell to the British in September 1759 after an assault by the army of General Wolfe.

Cook’s talents as a surveyor and mapmaker had come to the notice of Admiral Saunders and he was transferred to the 70-gun ship Northumberland that remained in Canada as part of a small detachment for the next two years. Saunders, with the main fleet, returned to Britain where he arranged for Cook’s charts to be published.

In mid-1762 the French turned their attention to Newfoundland and the important cod fisheries there. Cook started to survey the south east coastal areas of Newfoundland, a task he continued with for the next five years.
South Channel of Orleans, Quebec

In October 1762 Cook returned to England and married Elizabeth Batts in Barking. Elizabeth lived at ‘The Bell’ public house, Wapping, before she married and probably met Cook there on one of his many visits to London. The couple first lived in Shadwell but soon moved to Mile End in 1763. They had five sons and one daughter, the first, James, being born in 1763.
Purse made from Mrs. Cook's wedding dress

In July 1762 the French attacked the important British cod fishing bases in south east Newfoundland but the British quickly took these back. By the Treaty of Paris in 1763 France retained small areas in south Newfoundland but gave up other claims to Canada. Realising the importance of having accurate charts of the coast, the Governor of Newfoundland commissioned Cook and others to produce them.

For the next five years Cook surveyed the coast of Newfoundland during the summer periods, returning to Britain for the winters. In 1762-63 Cook surveyed the coast of Placentia, south east Newfoundland; 1763-64 north Newfoundland; 1765 south Newfoundland; 1766 southwest Newfoundland; and 1767 west Newfoundland. Cook returned to London in November 1767.
Plan of the Harbour of St.Peters

Early Life | Canada1st Voyage2nd Voyage3rd Voyage


Project partners: British Library, North East Libraries and Archives Council, Captain Cook Birthplace Museum

All enquiries to Phil_Philo@middlesbrough.gov.uk
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Captain Cook Birthplace Museum
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