Cook, who joined the merchant navy as a teen and the Royal Navy in 1755, when he was in his late 20’s, was a born explorer. While serving in the Seven Years’ War, he surveyed and mapped most of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River, which brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society. He was named commander of HM Bark Endeavor in 1766 and sent of the first of his three voyages to the Pacific.
The Pacific, at that time, was a sort of no-man’s land to most Europeans. Cook had to sail thousands of miles through mostly uncharted waters, exploring areas previously unknown to his countrymen. During his voyages, he mapped New Zealand and Hawaii, recorded several islands, and made first European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and Hawaii. He also made the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.
Sadly, Cook was killed in an altercation with native Hawaiians during his third exploratory voyage in 1779. He left behind a wealth of knowledge that greatly aided later exploration, knowledge, and European expansion (for better or for worse).