Captain James Cook FRS RN (7 November 1728 – 14 February 1779) was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. Cook made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.
Cook joined the British merchant navy as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. He saw action in the Seven Years' War, and subsequently surveyed and mapped much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege of Quebec. This helped bring Cook to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society. This notice came at a crucial moment in both Cook's career and the direction of British overseas exploration, and led to his commission in 1766 as commander of HM Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages.
In three voyages Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe. He mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously achieved. As he progressed on his voyages of discovery he surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time. He displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.
Cook was attacked and killed in a confrontation with Hawaiians during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific in 1779. He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which was to influence his successors well into the 20th century and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.
Early life and family
James Cook was born on 27 October 1728 in the village of Marton in Yorkshire and baptised on 3 November in the local church of S. Cuthbert, where his name can be seen in the church register. He was the second of eight children of James Cook, a Scottish farm labourer from Ednam in Roxburghshire, and his locally born wife, Grace Pace, from Thornaby-on-Tees. In 1736, his family moved to Airey Holme farm at Great Ayton, where his father's employer, Thomas Skottowe, paid for him to attend the local school. In 1741, after five years schooling, he began work for his father, who had by now been promoted to farm manager. For leisure, he would climb a nearby hill, Roseberry Topping, enjoying the opportunity for solitude. Cooks' Cottage, his parents' last home, which he is likely to have visited, is now in Melbourne, having been moved from England and reassembled, brick by brick, in 1934.
In 1745, when he was 16, Cook moved 20 miles (32 km) to the fishing village of Staithes, to be apprenticed as a shop boy to grocer and haberdasher William Sanderson. Historians have speculated that this is where Cook first felt the lure of the sea while gazing out of the shop window.
After 18 months, not proving suitable for shop work, Cook travelled to the nearby port town of Whitby to be introduced to friends of Sanderson's, John and Henry Walker. The Walkers were prominent local ship-owners and Quakers, and were in the coal trade. Their house is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. Cook was taken on as a merchant navy apprentice in their small fleet of vessels, plying coal along the English coast. His first assignment was aboard the collier Freelove, and he spent several years on this and various other coasters, sailing between the Tyne and London. As part of his apprenticeship, Cook applied himself to the study of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation and astronomy—all skills he would need one day to command his own ship.
His three-year apprenticeship completed, Cook began working on trading ships in the Baltic Sea. After passing his examinations in 1752, he soon progressed through the merchant navy ranks, starting with his promotion in that year to mate aboard the collier brig Friendship. In 1755, within a month of being offered command of this vessel, he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy, when Britain was re-arming for what was to become the Seven Years' War. Despite the need to start back at the bottom of the naval hierarchy, Cook realised his career would advance more quickly in military service and entered the Navy at Wapping on 17 June 1755.
Cook married Elizabeth Batts (1742–1835), the daughter of Samuel Batts, keeper of the Bell Inn, Wapping and one of his mentors, on 21 December 1762 at St Margaret's Church in Barking, Essex. The couple had six children: James (1763–94), Nathaniel (1764–80, lost aboard HMS Thunderer which foundered with all hands in a hurricane in the West Indies), Elizabeth (1767–71), Joseph (1768–68), George (1772–72) and Hugh (1776–93), the last of whom died of scarlet fever while a student at Christ's College, Cambridge. When not at sea, Cook lived in the East End of London. He attended St Paul's Church, Shadwell, where his son James was baptised. Cook has no known direct descendants—all his recorded children either pre-deceased him or died without issue.
Cook's first posting was with HMS Eagle, serving as able seaman and master's mate under Captain Joseph Hamar for his first year aboard, and Captain Hugh Palliser thereafter. In October and November 1755 he took part in Eagle's capture of one French warship and the sinking of another, following which he was promoted to boatswain in addition to his other duties. His first temporary command was in March 1756 when he was briefly master of the Cruizer, a small cutter attached to the Eagle while on patrol.
In June 1757 Cook passed his master's examinations at Trinity House, Deptford, which qualified him to navigate and handle a ship of the King's fleet. He then joined the frigate HMS Solebay as master under Captain Robert Craig.
Conquest of Canada (1758–63)
During the Seven Years' War, Cook served in North America as master of Pembroke (1757). In 1758 he took part in the major amphibious assault that captured the Fortress of Louisbourg from the French, after which he participated in the siege of Quebec City and then the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. He showed a talent for surveying and cartography, and was responsible for mapping much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege, thus allowing General Wolfe to make his famous stealth attack on the Plains of Abraham.
Cook's surveying ability was put to good use mapping the jagged coast of Newfoundland in the 1760s, aboard HMS Grenville. He surveyed the north-west stretch in 1763 and 1764, the south coast between the Burin Peninsula and Cape Ray in 1765 and 1766, and the west coast in 1767. At this time Cook employed local pilots to point out the "rocks and hidden dangers" along the south and west coasts. During the 1765 season, four pilots were engaged at a daily pay of 4 shillings each: John Beck for the coast west of "Great St Lawrence", Morgan Snook for Fortune Bay, John Dawson for Connaigre and Hermitage Bay, and John Peck for the "Bay of Despair".
His five seasons in Newfoundland produced the first large-scale and accurate maps of the island's coasts and were the first scientific, large scale, hydrographic surveys to use precise triangulation to establish land outlines. They also gave Cook his mastery of practical surveying, achieved under often adverse conditions, and brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society at a crucial moment both in his career and in the direction of British overseas discovery. Cook's map would be used into the 20th century—copies of it being referenced by those sailing Newfoundland's waters for 200 years.
Following on from his exertions in Newfoundland, it was at this time that Cook wrote that he intended to go not only "farther than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go."
Voyages of exploration
First voyage (1768–71)
In 1766, Admiralty engaged Cook to command a scientific voyage to the Pacific Ocean. The purpose of the voyage was to observe and record the transit of Venus across the Sun for the benefit of Royal Society inquiry into a means of determining longitude. Cook, at the age of 39, was promoted to lieutenant to grant him sufficient status to take the command. For its part the Royal Society agreed that Cook would receive a one hundred guinea gratuity in addition to his Naval pay.
The expedition sailed from England on 26 August 1768, rounded Cape Horn and continued westward across the Pacific to arrive at Tahiti on 13 April 1769, where the observations of the Venus Transit were made. However, the result of the observations was not as conclusive or accurate as had been hoped. Once the observations were completed, Cook opened the sealed orders which were additional instructions from the Admiralty for the second part of his voyage: to search the south Pacific for signs of the postulated rich southern continent of Terra Australis. Cook then sailed to New Zealand and mapped the complete coastline, making only some minor errors. He then voyaged west, reaching the south-eastern coast of Australia on 19 April 1770, and in doing so his expedition became the first recorded Europeans to have encountered its eastern coastline.
On 23 April he made his first recorded direct observation of indigenous Australians at Brush Island near Bawley Point, noting in his journal: "…and were so near the Shore as to distinguish several people upon the Sea beach they appear'd to be of a very dark or black Colour but whether this was the real colour of their skins or the C[l]othes they might have on I know not." On 29 April Cook and crew made their first landfall on the mainland of the continent at a place now known as the Kurnell Peninsula. Cook originally christened the area as "Stingray Bay", but he later crossed it out and named it "Botany Bay" after the unique specimens retrieved by the botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. It is here that James Cook made first contact with an aboriginal tribe known as the Gweagal.
After his departure from Botany Bay he continued northwards. On 11 June a mishap occurred when HMS Endeavour ran aground on a shoal of the Great Barrier Reef, and then "nursed into a river mouth on 18 June 1770". The ship was badly damaged and his voyage was delayed almost seven weeks while repairs were carried out on the beach (near the docks of modern Cooktown, Queensland, at the mouth of the Endeavour River). The voyage then continued, sailing through Torres Strait and on 22 August Cook landed on Possession Island, where he claimed the entire coastline that he had just explored as British territory. He returned to England via Batavia (modern Jakarta, Indonesia where many in his crew succumbed to malaria), the Cape of Good Hope, and arriving on the island of Saint Helena on 12 July 1771.
Cook's journals were published upon his return, and he became something of a hero among the scientific community. Among the general public, however, the aristocratic botanist Joseph Banks was a greater hero. Banks even attempted to take command of Cook's second voyage, but removed himself from the voyage before it began, and Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg Forster were taken on as scientists for the voyage. Cook's son George was born five days before he left for his second voyage.
Second voyage (1772–75)
Shortly after his return from the first voyage, Cook was promoted in August 1771, to the rank of commander. In 1772 he was commissioned to lead another scientific expedition on behalf of the Royal Society, to search for the hypothetical Terra Australis. On his first voyage, Cook had demonstrated by circumnavigating New Zealand that it was not attached to a larger landmass to the south. Although he charted almost the entire eastern coastline of Australia, showing it to be continental in size, the Terra Australis was believed to lie further south. Despite this evidence to the contrary, Alexander Dalrymple and others of the Royal Society still believed that a massive southern continent should exist.
Cook commanded HMS Resolution on this voyage, while Tobias Furneaux commanded its companion ship, HMS Adventure. Cook's expedition circumnavigated the globe at an extreme southern latitude, becoming one of the first to cross the Antarctic Circle (17 January 1773). In the Antarctic fog, Resolution and Adventure became separated. Furneaux made his way to New Zealand, where he lost some of his men during an encounter with Māori, and eventually sailed back to Britain, while Cook continued to explore the Antarctic, reaching 71°10'S on 31 January 1774.
Cook almost encountered the mainland of Antarctica, but turned towards Tahiti to resupply his ship. He then resumed his southward course in a second fruitless attempt to find the supposed continent. On this leg of the voyage he brought a young Tahitian named Omai, who proved to be somewhat less knowledgeable about the Pacific than Tupaia had been on the first voyage. On his return voyage to New Zealand in 1774, Cook landed at the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu.
Before returning to England, Cook made a final sweep across the South Atlantic from Cape Horn and surveyed, mapped and took possession for Britain of South Georgia, which had been explored by Anthony de la Roché in 1675. Cook also discovered and named Clerke Rocks and the South Sandwich Islands ("Sandwich Land"). He then turned north to South Africa, and from there continued back to England. His reports upon his return home put to rest the popular myth of Terra Australis.
Cook's second voyage marked a successful employment of Larcum Kendall's K1 copy of John Harrison's H4 marine chronometer, which enabled Cook to calculate his longitudinal position with much greater accuracy. Cook's log was full of praise for this time-piece which he used to make charts of the southern Pacific Ocean that were so remarkably accurate that copies of them were still in use in the mid-20th century.
Upon his return, Cook was promoted to the rank of post-captain and given an honorary retirement from the Royal Navy, with a posting as an officer of the Greenwich Hospital. He reluctantly accepted, insisting that he be allowed to quit the post if an opportunity for active duty should arise. His fame now extended beyond the Admiralty; he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and awarded the Copley Gold Medal for completing his second voyage without losing a man to scurvy. Nathaniel Dance-Holland painted his portrait; he dined with James Boswell; he was described in the House of Lords as "the first navigator in Europe". But he could not be kept away from the sea. A third voyage was planned and Cook volunteered to find the Northwest Passage. He travelled to the Pacific and hoped to travel east to the Atlantic, while a simultaneous voyage travelled the opposite route.
Third voyage (1776–79)
On his last voyage, Cook again commanded HMS Resolution, while Captain Charles Clerke commanded HMS Discovery. The voyage was ostensibly planned to return the Pacific Islander, Omai to Tahiti, or so the public were led to believe. The trip's principal goal was to locate a Northwest Passage around the American continent. After dropping Omai at Tahiti, Cook travelled north and in 1778 became the first European to begin formal contact with the Hawaiian Islands. After his initial landfall in January 1778 at Waimea harbour, Kauai, Cook named the archipelago the "Sandwich Islands" after the fourth Earl of Sandwich—the acting First Lord of the Admiralty.
From the Sandwich Islands Cook sailed north and then north-east to explore the west coast of North America north of the Spanish settlements in Alta California. He made landfall on the Oregon coast at approximately 44°30′ north latitude, naming his landing point Cape Foulweather. Bad weather forced his ships south to about 43° north before they could begin their exploration of the coast northward. He unknowingly sailed past the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and soon after entered Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. He anchored near the First Nations village of Yuquot. Cook's two ships remained in Nootka Sound from 29 March to 26 April 1778, in what Cook called Ship Cove, now Resolution Cove, at the south end of Bligh Island, about 5 miles (8 km) east across Nootka Sound from Yuquot, lay a Nuu-chah-nulth village (whose chief Cook did not identify but may have been Maquinna). Relations between Cook's crew and the people of Yuquot were cordial if sometimes strained. In trading, the people of Yuquot demanded much more valuable items than the usual trinkets that had worked in Hawaii. Metal objects were much desired, but the lead, pewter, and tin traded at first soon fell into disrepute. The most valuable items which the British received in trade were sea otter pelts. During the stay, the Yuquot "hosts" essentially controlled the trade with the British vessels; the natives usually visited the British vessels at Resolution Cove instead of the British visiting the village of Yuquot at Friendly Cove.
After leaving Nootka Sound, Cook explored and mapped the coast all the way to the Bering Strait, on the way identifying what came to be known as Cook Inlet in Alaska. In a single visit, Cook charted the majority of the North American north-west coastline on world maps for the first time, determined the extent of Alaska, and closed the gaps in Russian (from the West) and Spanish (from the South) exploratory probes of the Northern limits of the Pacific.
By the second week of August 1778 Cook was through the Bering Strait, sailing into the Chukchi Sea. He headed north-east up the coast of Alaska until he was blocked by sea ice. His furthest north was 70 degrees 44 minutes. Cook then sailed west to the Siberian coast, and then south-east down the Siberian coast back to the Bering Strait. By early September 1778 he was back in the Bering Sea to begin the trip to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands. He became increasingly frustrated on this voyage, and perhaps began to suffer from a stomach ailment; it has been speculated that this led to irrational behaviour towards his crew, such as forcing them to eat walrus meat, which they had pronounced inedible.
Return to Hawaii
Cook returned to Hawaii in 1779. After sailing around the archipelago for some eight weeks, he made landfall at Kealakekua Bay, on 'Hawaii Island', largest island in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Cook's arrival coincided with the Makahiki, a Hawaiian harvest festival of worship for the Polynesian god Lono. Coincidentally the form of Cook's ship, HMS Resolution, or more particularly the mast formation, sails and rigging, resembled certain significant artefacts that formed part of the season of worship. Similarly, Cook's clockwise route around the island of Hawaii before making landfall resembled the processions that took place in a clockwise direction around the island during the Lono festivals. It has been argued (most extensively by Marshall Sahlins) that such coincidences were the reasons for Cook's (and to a limited extent, his crew's) initial deification by some Hawaiians who treated Cook as an incarnation of Lono. Though this view was first suggested by members of Cook's expedition, the idea that any Hawaiians understood Cook to be Lono, and the evidence presented in support of it, were challenged in 1992.
After a month's stay, Cook attempted to resume his exploration of the Northern Pacific. Shortly after leaving Hawaii Island, however, the Resolution's foremast broke, so the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs.
Tensions rose, and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay. An unknown group of Hawaiians took one of Cook's small boats. The evening when the cutter was taken, the people had become "insolent" even with threats to fire upon them. Cook was forced into a wild goose chase that ended with his return to the ship frustrated. He attempted to kidnap and ransom the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu.
That following day, 14 February 1779, Cook marched through the village to retrieve the King. Cook took the King (aliʻi nui) by his own hand and led him willingly away. One of Kalaniʻōpuʻu's favorite wives, Kanekapolei and two chiefs approached the group as they were heading to boats. They pleaded with the king not to go until he stopped and sat where he stood. An old Kahuna (priest), chanting rapidly while holding out a coconut, attempted to distract Cook and his men as a large crowd began to form at the shore. The king began to understand that Cook was his enemy. As Cook turned his back to help launch the boats, he was struck on the head by the villagers and then stabbed to death as he fell on his face in the surf. He was first struck on the head with a club by a chief named Kalaimanokahoʻowaha or Kanaʻina (namesake of Charles Kana'ina) and then stabbed by one of the king's attendants, Nuaa. The Hawaiians carried his body away towards the back of the town, still visible to the ship through their spyglass. Four marines, Corporal James Thomas, Private Theophilus Hinks, Private Thomas Fatchett and Private John Allen, were also killed and two others were wounded in the confrontation.
The esteem which the islanders nevertheless held for Cook caused them to retain his body. Following their practice of the time, they prepared his body with funerary rituals usually reserved for the chiefs and highest elders of the society. The body was disembowelled, baked to facilitate removal of the flesh, and the bones were carefully cleaned for preservation as religious icons in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of the treatment of European saints in the Middle Ages. Some of Cook's remains, thus preserved, were eventually returned to his crew for a formal burial at sea.
Clerke assumed leadership of the expedition, and made a final attempt to pass through the Bering Strait. He died from tuberculosis on 22 August 1779 and John Gore, a veteran of Cook's first voyage, took command of Resolution and of the expedition. James King replaced Gore in command of Discovery. The expedition now returned home, reaching England in October 1780. After their arrival in England, King completed Cook's account of the voyage.
David Samwell, who sailed with Cook on Resolution, wrote of him: "He was a modest man, and rather bashful; of an agreeable lively conversation, sensible and intelligent. In temper he was somewhat hasty, but of a disposition the most friendly, benevolent and humane. His person was above six feet high: and, though a good looking man, he was plain both in dress and appearance. His face was full of expression: his nose extremely well shaped: his eyes which were small and of a brown cast, were quick and piercing; his eyebrows prominent, which gave his countenance altogether an air of austerity."
The Australian Museum acquired its Cook Collection in 1894 from the Government of New South Wales. At that time the collection consisted of 115 artefacts collected on Cook's three voyages throughout the Pacific Ocean, during the period 1768–80, along with documents and memorabilia related to these voyages. Many of the ethnographic artifacts were collected at a time of first contact between Pacific Peoples and Europeans. In 1935 most of the documents and memorabilia were transferred to the Mitchell Library in the State Library of New South Wales. The provenance of the collection shows that the objects remained in the hands of Cook's widow Elizabeth Cook, and her descendants, until 1886. In this year John Mackrell, the great-nephew of Isaac Smith, Elizabeth Cook's cousin, organised the display of this collection at the request of the NSW Government at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. In 1887 the London-based Agent-General for the New South Wales Government, Saul Samuel, bought John Mackrell's items and also acquired items belonging to the other relatives Reverend Canon Frederick Bennett, Mrs Thomas Langton, H. M. C. Alexander, and William Adams. The collection remained with the Colonial Secretary of NSW until 1894, when it was transferred to the Australian Museum.
Cook's 12 years sailing around the Pacific Ocean contributed much to European knowledge of the area. Several islands such as Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) were encountered for the first time by Europeans, and his more accurate navigational charting of large areas of the Pacific was a major achievement.
To create accurate maps, latitude and longitude must be accurately determined. Navigators had been able to work out latitude accurately for centuries by measuring the angle of the sun or a star above the horizon with an instrument such as a backstaff or quadrant. Longitude was more difficult to measure accurately because it requires precise knowledge of the time difference between points on the surface of the earth. The Earth turns a full 360 degrees relative to the sun each day. Thus longitude corresponds to time: 15 degrees every hour, or 1 degree every 4 minutes.
Cook gathered accurate longitude measurements during his first voyage due to his navigational skills, the help of astronomer Charles Green and by using the newly published Nautical Almanac tables, via the lunar distance method—measuring the angular distance from the moon to either the sun during daytime or one of eight bright stars during night-time to determine the time at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and comparing that to his local time determined via the altitude of the sun, moon, or stars. On his second voyage Cook used the K1 chronometer made by Larcum Kendall, which was the shape of a large pocket watch, 5 inches (13 cm) in diameter. It was a copy of the H4 clock made by John Harrison, which proved to be the first to keep accurate time at sea when used on the ship Deptford's journey to Jamaica, 1761–62.
Cook succeeded in circumnavigating the world on his first voyage without losing a single man to scurvy, an unusual accomplishment at the time. He tested several preventive measures but the most important was frequent replenishment of fresh food. It was for presenting a paper on this aspect of the voyage to the Royal Society that he was presented with the Copley Medal in 1776. Ever the observer, Cook was the first European to have extensive contact with various people of the Pacific. He correctly postulated a link among all the Pacific peoples, despite their being separated by great ocean stretches (see Malayo-Polynesian languages). Cook theorised that Polynesians originated from Asia, which scientist Bryan Sykes later verified. In New Zealand the coming of Cook is often used to signify the onset of colonisation.
Cook carried several scientists on his voyages; they made several significant observations and discoveries. Two botanists, Joseph Banks, and Swede Daniel Solander, were on the first Cook voyage. The two collected over 3,000 plant species. Banks subsequently strongly promoted British settlement of Australia.
Several artists also sailed on Cook's first voyage. Sydney Parkinson was heavily involved in documenting the botanists' findings, completing 264 drawings before his death near the end of the voyage. They were of immense scientific value to British botanists. Cook's second expedition included William Hodges, who produced notable landscape paintings of Tahiti, Easter Island, and other locations.
Several officers who served under Cook went on to distinctive accomplishments. William Bligh, Cook's sailing master, was given command of HMS Bounty in 1787 to sail to Tahiti and return with breadfruit. Bligh is most known for the mutiny of his crew which resulted in his being set adrift in 1789. He later became governor of New South Wales, where he was subject of another mutiny—the only successful armed takeover of an Australian government. George Vancouver, one of Cook's midshipmen, later led a voyage of exploration to the Pacific Coast of North America from 1791 to 1794. In honour of his former commander, Vancouver's new ship was also christened HMS Discovery (1789). George Dixon sailed under Cook on his third expedition, and later commanded his own expedition. A lieutenant under Cook, Henry Roberts, spent many years after that voyage preparing the detailed charts that went into Cook's posthumous Atlas, published around 1784.
Cook's contributions to knowledge were internationally recognised during his lifetime. In 1779, while the American colonies were fighting Britain for their independence, Benjamin Franklin wrote to captains of colonial warships at sea, recommending that if they came into contact with Cook's vessel, they were to "not consider her an enemy, nor suffer any plunder to be made of the effects contained in her, nor obstruct her immediate return to England by detaining her or sending her into any other part of Europe or to America; but that you treat the said Captain Cook and his people with all civility and kindness, ... as common friends to mankind." Unknown to Franklin, Cook had met his death a month before this "passport" was written.
Cook's voyages were involved in another unusual first. The first recorded circumnavigation of the world by an animal was by Cook's goat, who made that memorable journey twice; the first time on HMS Dolphin, under Samuel Wallis and then aboard Endeavour. When they returned to England, Cook had the goat presented with a silver collar engraved with lines from Samuel Johnson: "Perpetui, ambita bis terra, praemia lactis Haec habet altrici Capra secunda Jovis." She was put to pasture on Cook's farm outside London, and also was reportedly admitted to the privileges of the Royal Naval hospital at Greenwich. Cook's journal recorded the date of The Goat's death: 28 March 1772.
A US coin, the 1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial half dollar carries Cook's image. Minted for the 150th anniversary of his discovery of the islands, its low mintage (10,008) has made this example of Early United States commemorative coins both scarce and expensive. The site where he was killed in Hawaii was marked in 1874 by a white obelisk set on 25 square feet (2.3 m2) of chained-off beach. This land, although in Hawaii, was deeded to the United Kingdom. A nearby town is named Captain Cook, Hawaii; several Hawaiian businesses also carry his name. The Apollo 15 Command/Service Module Endeavour was named after Cook's ship, HMS Endeavour, as was the space shuttle Space Shuttle Endeavour. Another shuttle, Discovery, was named after Cook's HMS Discovery.
The first institution of higher education in North Queensland, Australia was named after him, with James Cook University opening in Townsville in 1970. In Australian rhyming slang the expression "Captain Cook" means "look". Numerous institutions, landmarks and place names reflect the importance of Cook's contributions, including the Cook Islands, the Cook Strait, Cook Inlet, and the Cook crater on the Moon. Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest summit in New Zealand, is named for him. Another Mount Cook is on the border between the US state of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon Territory, and is designated Boundary Peak 182 as one of the official Boundary Peaks of the Hay–Herbert Treaty.
One of the earliest monuments to Cook in the United Kingdom is located at The Vache, erected in 1780 by Admiral Hugh Palliser, a contemporary of Cook and one-time owner of the estate. A huge obelisk was built in 1827 as a monument to Cook on Easby Moor overlooking his boyhood village of Great Ayton, along with a smaller monument at the former location of Cook's cottage. There is also a monument to Cook in the church of St Andrew the Great, St Andrew's Street, Cambridge, where his son Hugh, a student at Christ's College, was buried. Cook's widow Elizabeth was also buried in the church and in her will left money for the memorial's upkeep. The 250th anniversary of Cook's birth was marked at the site of his birthplace in Marton, by the opening of the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, located within Stewart Park (1978). A granite vase just to the south of the museum marks the approximate spot where he was born. Tributes also abound in post-industrial Middlesbrough, including a primary school, shopping square and the Bottle 'O Notes, a public artwork by Claes Oldenburg, that was erected in the town's Central Gardens in 1993. Also named after Cook is the James Cook University Hospital, a major teaching hospital which opened in 2003. The Royal Research Ship RRS James Cook was built in 2006 to replace the RRS Charles Darwin in the UK's Royal Research Fleet, and Stepney Historical Trust placed a plaque on Free Trade Wharf in the Highway, Shadwell to commemorate his life in the East End of London. In 2002 Cook was placed at number 12 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.
The death of Cook was interesting to artists and writers of the time because its brutality was a contrast to the idea that primitive humans were naturally good-natured – the "noble savage". There were no eye-witness accounts of the death and so the incident was open to artistic interpretation and myth-making.