Captain James Cook, a British Navigator, Cartographer and explorer was one of the pre-eminent sailors and innovators of his age. Now a controversial figure for indigenous cultures who see him as the instigator and symbol of European colonial expansion and genocide; the real James Cook was actually quite a different man to what has been imagined.
Coming from abject poverty in rural Yorkshire England; raised among the pacifist and hard working Quakers, he dreamed of sailing to far off lands in the pacific since he was a boy. Working as an apprentice aboard a grubby Whitby Cat collier, he soon proved himself a hard working and competent sailor. He was later to join the Royal Navy and sail to Canada, taking part in the siege of Louisburg and Quebec, while learning the cartography and surveying skills that were to revolutionise the Navy from that time on.
James Cook circumnavigated the globe three times, charted approximately a third of the unknown coastlines of the globe; beginning with his first voyage aboard the Endeavour, with Naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. He was the first man to sail both below, and above the 70th parallel, and his regime of hygiene and fresh food revolutionised the management of scurvy while at sea. For this, he was admitted as a fellow to the Royal Society, as well as raised from the rank of Master, to Lieutenant and then Post Captain -something that would otherwise have caused a scandal among the high society gentry, if it were not for his incredible reputation.
In all three of his major voyages, spanning twenty years, he never lost one crew member to the disease, which was an astonishing achievement when compared to a 40% plus death rate that was typical of long range voyages in the time preceding his. His untimely murder in Hawaii robbed the world of a humble, humane and dedicated leader, whose legacy now risks being tarnished by historical revisionists more focused on political activism than historical reality.