James Cook (1728-1779)

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James Cook (1728-1779)

James Cook was a British naval captain, navigator and explorer. The story of Cook's three historic voyages between 1768 and 1780 remain some of the most remarkable in history. Until James Cook's voyages to the Pacific, this large ocean was only an "imagined" space to Europeans.

His first voyage on the Endeavour in 1768, was planned by the Royal Society as part of its quest to observe the 1769 transit of Venus (when Venus would pass between the Earth and the Sun). He had also been secretly directed by the Admiralty to search for lands in the South Pacific, including the mysterious Great Southern Land.

 The voyages of Cook, and their outcome, remain contentious.  Many modern viewpoints are often not as flattering as those promoted at the time.  The British Library has collected some modern-day responses from people of the Pacific to Cook's expeditions, including those of Indigenous Australians.

Library Resources
Web Resources

Library Resources

On our shelves

Books on James Cook, the Endeavour and his three voyages can be found in many places in the Library.  The best way to locate most of these resources by using a keyword search in our catalogue:

Diaries and journals


Collection highlights

James Cook

Joseph Banks

 John Harrison - Longitude

  • Sobel, Dava: Longitude: the true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time 


James Cook

  • Collingridge, V 2006, 'James Cook', The Seventy great journeys in history', Thames & Hudson, London, pp. 143-147.
  • McEwan, M [1085], 'James Cook, navigator', Great Australian explorers, Bay Books, Kensington, N.S.W., pp. 17-29.

John Harrison & Longitude

  • Williams, B 2002, 'The Time has come', Latitude & Longitude, Cherrytree Books, Berkshire, pp. 20-21.
  • Williams, B 2002, 'Small is beautiful', Latitude & Longitude, Cherrytree Books, Berkshire, pp. 22-23.

Joseph Banks

Web Resources


Australia - Botany Bay

Australia - Cooktown

HMS Endeavour


Northwest Passage

Transit of Venus

Web resources - University of Wellington

The New Zealand historian and academic J.C. Beaglehole is famous for editing the three journals of James Cook and his exploration of Oceania, New Zealand and Australia.  Many of his Beaglehole's material is now available online from NZETC (New Zealand Electronic text collection]. The following would be of particular interest when conducting research on Captain James Cook:

Web resources - John Harrison

James Cook took several clocks, including a copy of the one made by John Harrison on his second voyage to the South Seas.  Cook wrote in his journal that the watch was 'our trusty friend'. 

Web resources - Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) was a naturalist and a patron of science.  He accompanied James Cook on his first voyage. 

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