James Cook, an English navigator, born at Marton, Yorkshire, Oct. 27, 1728, killed at the Sandwich islands, Feb. 14, 1779. His father was a farm laborer; and in his 13th year the future navigator was apprenticed to a haberdasher in Staiths, a little fishing town near Whitby. His father dying, he persuaded his master to give up his indentures, and engaged himself as cabin boy in one of the coasting vessels of Whitby. Having spent several years in this service and become master of a vessel, in 1755 he shipped in the royal navy, and was speedily promoted to the quarter deck for his efficiency. Having been master successively of the sloop Grampus and the Garland, in 1759 he had his master's rank confirmed by the admiralty and was appointed to the Mercury, a frigate belonging to the squadron sent out to cooperate with Gen. Wolfe at Quebec. He piloted the boats of the squadron to the attack of Montmorency; conducted the disembarkation of the troops for the assault on the heights of Abraham; made careful soundings, and afterward published a chart of the channel of the St. Lawrence from Quebec to the sea. Being promoted to the flag ship Northumberland, he made use of his leisure to study mathematics and astronomy.

In 1762 he was present at the recapture of Newfoundland. Returning to England, he married, and in 1763 came out to survey the coast of Newfoundland, and in the following year was appointed marine surveyor of that coast and of Labrador. Meantime he had published a number of charts, and while near Cape Ray was able to observe an eclipse of the sun. The record of his observations, published in the " Philosophical Transactions," showed an accuracy which gave him a high reputation as an astronomer. When the roynl society obtained the consent of the king to fit out an expedition for the purpose of observing the transit of Venus over the sun's disk, which could only be done in the Pacific ocean, he was chosen to command the vessel. He received a royal commission as lieutenant, chose the Endeavor, of 370 tons, as the expedition ship, and sailed Aug. 23,1768, from Plymouth, accompanied by Mr. Green as astronomer, and Mr. (afterward Sir Joseph) Banks as naturalist of the expedition. On April 13, 1769, the Endeavor reached Tahiti, where the necessary astronomical observations were successfully made.

He next sailed in search of the Antarctic continent, then believed to exist near the south pole; rediscovered New Zealand, and first saw the narrow strait which divides it into two parts; took possession of the coast of Australia about Botany bay in the name of the king of Great Britain, and laid down 1,300 m. of the coast line; proved by actual investigation the entire separation of that island and Papua; after various escapes from shipwreck and native hostility, put into Batavia to refit, where 30 of his men died of the country sickness; and finally reached England, June 11, 1771, having in less than three years circumnavigated the globe and fulfilled the various objects of the expedition. His journal and the papers of Banks were used by Dr. Hawkesworth as material for his account of the voyage. Australia being demonstrated to be an island, the great southern continent was supposed to lie nearer the pole. To settle this point, it was determined to send out another expedition. Two ships, the Resolution, of 462 tons and 112 men, commanded by Cook, and the Adventure, of 336 tons and 81 men, commanded by Tobias Furneaux, sailed from Plymouth, July 13,1772, with instructions to "circumnavigate the whole globe in high southern latitudes, making traverses from time to time into every part of the Pacific ocean which had not undergone previous investigation, and to use his best endeavors to resolve the much agitated question of a southern continent." After sailing over 3,660 leagues, reaching lat. 71° 10' S., in lon. 106° 54' W., and being out of sight of land 117 days, the Resolution (May 18, 1775) rejoined the Adventure at New Zealand. Cook was now satisfied that no continent existed at the south; but after wintering in the Society islands, he examined the waters to the eastward of his former cruise, between lat. 60° and 70°; then explored the ocean between lat. 43° and 56°, from Easter island to the New Hebrides; discovered and named the island of New Caledonia; and finally turned eastward toward Cape Horn, and returned by way of the Cape of Good Hope to England, arriving July 30, 1775, after an absence of three years and 16 days, in which time the vessels had sailed over 20,000 leagues.

He was now made post captain, and appointed a captain of Greenwich hospital. He was also chosen member of the royal society, Feb. 29, 1776, and received the Copley gold medal for the best experimental paper of the year, in which he gave an account of his method of preserving the health of his men. The possibility of achieving a northwest passage to Asia had begun again to occupy the public mind, and Cook volunteered to take charge of an expedition to ascertain its practicability by making the attempt by way of Behring strait. He sailed from Plymouth July 12, 1776, with two ships, the Resolution and Discovery, the latter under command of Capt. Charles Gierke. After spending some time in exploring the islands of the South Pacific, he set out for Behring strait, and on his way, in January, 1778, discovered the group which he named the Sandwich islands. Circumnavigating these, and laying down their position on the chart, he reached the coast of America in March, sailed up a sound since known as Cook's inlet, and finding no passage through set out for Behring strait. Here he was stopped by an impassable barrier of ice.

He determined the most westerly point of America and its distance from Asia, reached the point still known by the name he gave it, Icy cape, Aug. 18, 1778, and did not turn back till the end of the month, when he found it impossible to proceed. Returning to the Sandwich islands to prepare for another attempt northward the next year, he discovered Hawaii, the largest of the group, and Maui. He cruised about Hawaii several weeks, and found the natives peaceably disposed, but addicted to stealing. One of his boats being stolen on the night of Feb. 13, 1779, he determined to seize the person of the king and hold him until the property was restored. Going ashore for the purpose on the 14th, with a lieutenant and nine men, he aroused the suspicions of the natives, and a fight ensued in which he was killed. The body, and those of several marines who were slain, were afterward cut up and probably devoured, only the bones of the great navigator being recovered by the expedition seven days later. These were deposited in a coffin, and buried in the sea.

After another unsuccessful attempt in Behring strait, the expedition returned home by way of China. Cook's widow received a pension of £200 per annum, and each of his children £25. An account of his last voyage was prepared from his journal, and a continuation of it by Lieut. King. The charts and plates illustrating it were executed at the expense of the government, and half the profits of the work were bestowed on the family of the navigator.