Captain James Cook

Our History and the Christian Connection

He was standing at the water’s edge facing advancing Hawaiian warriors. Unfortunately at that crucial moment some of his men started shooting from the boats. As he turned to stop his men from firing he was fatally stabbed and fell face first in the water.

Captain James Cook was dead and the nation of England mourned the loss. Many considered him the greatest combination of seaman, explorer, navigator and cartographer the world had known.

Cook and the seamen under him had first met the Hawaiian warriors in an atmosphere of friendliness and welcome. However this broke down after a series of thefts from the British stores. Tensions came to a head when the Discovery’s cutter (a small boat) was stolen.

The next morning Cook, his Lieutenant and nine marines went ashore and attempted to take Terreeoboo, the Hawaiian King hostage (until such time as the boat was returned). In the resulting confrontation and confusion, Cook’s men started firing and killed a high-ranking chief, Kalimu. At that point, the crowds on the shore responded angrily. As Cook and the marines turned to their boats, they were attacked and this was when Cook was killed.

This was Cook’s third journey of exploration for the Admiralty of the Royal Navy. It had been ‘a daring feat of navigational engineering’ searching for a north-west passage between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Cook’s father was a farm labourer who encouraged a strong work ethic in his son. He ran errands and helped with the farm chores to pay for his education. James developed a strong physique ideal for the rugged life of a seaman. He was good at mathematics and also showed an early interest in navigation and astronomy. All of these were attributes for the vital role God had planned for him

Serving his apprenticeship with a ship-builder in Whitby he spent three years with the Walker family, who were strong Christians and no doubt contributed to his choosing a devoted Christian wife. He was only twenty seven years of age when he was offered the command of a ship.

The official purpose of the first of Cook’s voyages in the Pacific was to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti. But secretly Cook was instructed to search for a ‘new’ continent. The British were aware that the French were also actively looking for new lands that might yield them great wealth.

Cook’s wife gave him an Anglican Prayer Book, which he used for the Sunday services on board the Endeavour during his trip. It inspired him to name places he discovered, such as Whitsundays, Trinity Bay, Christmas Island and Pentecost Islands. And the book also guided his Godly behaviour and attitudes. Cook was a man of high morals. He would allow no profanity on his ship.

On 6th May 1770 Cook landed at Botany Bay just south of Sydney. His positive report on this great continent was the fore runner of the First Fleet arriving some eighteen years later and the beginning of white settlement in Australia.

The importance of James Cook’s discovery of Australia cannot be overestimated. It paved the way for the English to bring the simple Gospel message to Australia.

The book ‘Captain Cook’s Voyages’, published within a few years of his death, inspired William Carey, a young Englishman, to take the Gospel to India. As he read about many tribes and nations of people who had never heard of Jesus William was moved. He decided he would go and tell these unreached people the Good News. Thus the modern missionary movement began.

Cook allowed God’s word to influence his life and behaviour. As a result many nations heard the Gospel and we in Australia are still blessed by his influence.

Elizabeth Kotlowski:            Author of ‘Stories of Australia’s Christian Heritage’