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Captain James Cook in Atlantic Canada
The adventurer and map maker's formative years

By (author) Jerry Lockett


Biographical note (a single note referring to all contributors to a product – see PR.8.17 for a biography which is linked to a single contributor)

JERRY LOCKETT is an independent historian and editor. A two-time Atlantic Journalism Awards finalist, his work has appeared in New Scientist, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Geographical Magazine, Equinox, Cruising World, Blue Water Sailing, and other publications. An experienced sailor and yachtmaster, he spent five years as a charter yacht captain in the Caribbean and now lives and sails in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


Excerpt from book

Introduction

I who had Ambition not only to go farther

than any one had done before,

but as far as it was possible for man to go.

James Cook

Captain James Cook was arguably the greatest explorer the world has ever seen. He is certainly one of the most celebrated, his acclaim stemming from the three epic voyages he led to the Pacific Ocean an ocean so vast that all the landmasses on Earth would fit into it with room to spare. Cook was the first man to put large areas of that ocean firmly on the world map.

Between 1768 and 1779 Cook charted the entire coastline of New Zealand and a large chunk of Australia's east coast. He braved near shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef, sailed deeper into Antarctic waters than any previous explorer, and discovered and charted several other Pacific Islands. He disproved the popular notion that there was a Great Southern Continent and searched in vain for the Pacific entrance to the Northwest Passage that was believed to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In addition, Cook and the men who sailed with him encountered many native peoples of the South Seas, and discovered much about their cultures, while the expeditions' naturalists gathered enormous collections of exotic flora and fauna never before seen or heard of in Europe.

We know a great deal about these exploits, largely because of the detailed journals kept by James Cook and other members of the expeditions. Yet we know very little about Cook's life before he became an explorer.

James Cook started life in the most humble of circumstances and received only the most rudimentary formal education. He went to sea at the age of eighteen and spent almost eight years in the merchant service before joining the Royal Navy. Unlike the voluminous journals he kept during the Pacific voyages which are packed with detailed accounts of events, descriptions of what he observed, and musings on the natural world his written records from his first ten years in the navy are purely formal ship's logs. Their official purpose leaves no room for reflection or anecdote; even a personal log he kept at this time is written this way.

As war with France was breaking out, Cook spent nearly three years patrolling the English Channel, the coast of France, the Irish Sea, and the waters off Scotland before sailing to Atlantic Canada, where he was to spend most of the next nine years in Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Newfoundland. In fact, he spent more time in this region of Canada than in any other place during his adult life, and probably got to know Halifax and its harbour better than any other place he visited. Biographies of James Cook, for obvious reasons, tend to focus on his discoveries and adventures in the Pacific. Very few make more than a passing reference to his years in eastern Canada.

Yet these years were critical to his development from a skilled seaman into a world explorer. When James Cook first set foot in Canada in 1758 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, he was already a highly competent but undistinguished warrant officer in His Majesty's Royal Navy. When he left Newfoundland for the last time in 1767, he had acquired the skills and the reputation that made him the natural choice to lead an important British voyage of discovery to the Pacific.

In Canada Cook acquired a thorough working knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, largely through his own efforts. He learned how to manage a ship and its crew. He honed his seamanship and navigation skills to perfection. He also learned the importance of keeping a crew healthy and employed at least one effective means of doing so that he was to use again on his voyages of exploration. In Nova Scotia he learned the art of surveying, a skill he mastered so thoroughly that he became not only the founding father of modern hydrography the science of surveying and charting the oceans but also one of its finest exponents. In Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Newfoundland he also encountered a handful of influential men who became his patrons, and others who became his mentors. All of them had a profound impact on his career. Some, men such as Hugh Palliser, Alexander Colvill, and Thomas Graves, were his captains. He learnt much from these senior officers, who were also perceptive enough to recognize his extraordinary talents. Others, like Samuel Holland and Joseph Des Barres, were military surveyors it was a chance meeting in Nova Scotia with Holland that led to Cook's interest in surveying.

Cook became so proficient as a surveyor that he was engaged by the navy to carry out an extensive survey of the little-known coast of Newfoundland, a task that was to occupy him for four and a half years. And it was in Newfoundland that he added one final string to his bow. His observation of the solar eclipse in August 1766 brought h


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