On this day 235 years ago, the great Captain James Cook was killed in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. I wanted to take a moment to give my regards to the man who essentially came from nothing to become one of the greatest navigators of history.
Born to a Scottish father and English mother, James successfully worked his way up the ladder from farmer’s son to Captain, pissing off Navy elite in the process — his selection as commander of his first voyage was unpopular due to his limited experience, low birth and lack of education. Well, he proved them all wrong, didn’t he?
Cook is my type of people. However, I have always had a shamefully limited knowledge about his voyages. This is all about to change, though.
In writing for this blog I’ve started to gather quite the collection of travel memoirs to read and cover for my Travel Lit Tuesday posts. In looking at the titles of books I’ve purchased, I noticed that a substantial amount of them cover travels in the South Pacific. Frankly, I’m not surprised in the least bit.
I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with this part of the world, and yes, I know I’ve expressed this before. I can’t help it. Above all other regions to travel to, this area of the globe has always, always, always been at the top of my list. Whether it’s Hawaii, Easter Island, Fiji, the Cook Islands (yes, named after the Captain), or Tonga (which I’ll be visiting in August), the South Pacific has always had an innate pull on me. Add to this my love for tall ships, and you have yourself a girl who’s constantly daydreaming about sailing through the myriad of islands found in this region.
I’ve already read a few of my books dedicated to the Pacific, and I’ve noticed that some names frequently pop up throughout the writing: William Bligh, Ferdinand Magellan, Pedro Fernandes de Queirós (with whom, might I add, I share one of my Portuguese family surnames), and Francis Drake to name a few. However, one name, that of Captain James Cook, intrigues me above all the rest.
I recently obtained Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz, and although I’m only a few chapters in I’ve already become captivated by the history. Cook circumnavigated the globe on three separate voyages, all of which held historical import. Us Canadians also have him to thank for creating detailed maps of Newfoundland that were so accurate they were used for 200 years. He was the first recorded European to discover Australia’s eastern coastline and the first to cross the Antarctic Circle. He was an explorer, a navigator, a cartographer and a captain. He also changed the face of the world as we know it.
“More than any other person, he helped to make the world one.” — Bernard Smith, historian
Cook left a legacy in Britain, Canada, and Oceania, and he did it all over two hundred years ago. I’ll be able to share more with you about his voyages once I’m done reading Blue Latitudes, but for now, let’s all just take a moment to thank the Captain for everything he discovered, mapped, sailed and explored. He was courageous and ambitious and his tenacity inspires people to this day.
“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.” — The Journal of Captain James Cook
Rest in peace, James. May the winds forever be in your sails.