James Cook, explorer (b near Marton, Eng 27 Oct 1728; d at Kealakekua Bay, Sandwich Is [Hawaii] 14 Feb 1779). The greatest navigator of his era, he served as master of the Pembroke at the siege of LOUISBOURG (1758) during the SEVEN YEARS' WAR. He charted part of Gaspé and helped prepare the map that enabled James WOLFE's armada to navigate the St Lawrence River. He was a painstaking surveyor, and was chiefly responsible 1763-67 for mapping the intricate and treacherous coast of Newfoundland, which England acquired at the end of the war; he had charted part of its east shore in 1762, including St John's harbour.
Cook revolutionized Europe's knowledge of the South Pacific in his great circumnavigations 1768-71 and 1772-75. In July 1776 he began a third voyage, to search for a NORTHWEST PASSAGE. He sailed east across the Pacific and anchored in NOOTKA SOUND, on Vancouver Island (29 March 1778). His men repaired his ships and carried on a lucrative trade with the Nootka for otter pelts. He departed 26 April 1778 and sailed into Bering Strait in search of the passage, retreating in the face of a wall of ice. He was killed in the Sandwich Islands in an altercation with the local people.
Cook was not the first to explore the NORTHWEST COAST, but he and his men were the first to reveal its attractions, particularly the FUR TRADE. Among those who followed was George VANCOUVER, who had sailed with Cook on his second and third voyages.