Whitby’s most famous adopted son is without doubt James Cook, the circumnavigator. A man of quality and vision, he stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries in exploratory achievement. Renowned worldwide, his three voyages in effect laid the foundation of the British Empire and subsequently the Commonwealth. Whether disproving geographer’s theories of landmasses long thought to exist, or discovering previously unknown islands and mapping continents, Cook always brought back results. Diligence, caution and patience were his watchwords. Using the methods of his era and his skill, he drew charts so accurately and painstakingly, few faults can be found with them today, even utilising all the technology the 20th century can offer.
Not only was he a superb commander, his knowledge of ship handling and man-management were unsurpassed. He continually strove to improve conditions for his crews, ventilating their quarters properly, and taking the unprecedented step of providing fresh fruit and pickled cabbage to prevent scurvy. In some 12 years of command he lost very few men to the disease then prevalent among mariners who spent long periods at sea.
Born in Marton-in-Cleveland 27 October 1728, Cook worked with his father for a year at Airyholme farm at Great Ayton after leaving