12 Adventurous Facts About James Cook

James Cook's journeys took him to New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii.
James Cook's journeys took him to New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii.
National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom // Public Domain

James Cook is one of the most prominent figures of the Age of Exploration. The captain explored vast parts of the South Pacific that no European had ever set eyes on in the middle of the 18th century, before succumbing to a violent death in 1779. If you’re looking to dive deeper into the celebrated seaman’s history, check out these 12 adventurous facts about James Cook.

1. Despite joining the Navy later in life, James Cook quickly became a ship's master.

Cook discovered his love for the sea as a teenager, when he began working as a merchant navy apprentice. Though he was on track to become a captain, the young seaman made the surprising decision to leave his merchant days behind and enlist in the British Royal Navy in 1755. He may have entered the Royal Navy at the unusually late age of 26, but Cook was promoted from able seaman to ship’s master in just two years. His years as an apprentice in the merchant navy, as well as his time serving during the Seven Years’ War, allowed him to hone the navigation and cartographic skills that were so crucial to his success as an explorer. Later in his career, he was so well-respected that sailors from hostile countries were instructed to leave him be if they ran into him at sea.

2. James Cook’s first voyage was part of a secret government mission.


Cook never did find the Terra Australis—because it doesn't exist.

In August 1768, Cook set sail on the HMS Endeavour. He and his crew were heading for Tahiti, where they were sent to observe Venus’s transit across the Sun. But this celestial event was just part of their mission. Cook had been instructed, via sealed message, to find the legendary “Great Southern Continent,” the Terra Australis, which was a hypothetical continent that was said to reach the equator.

3. James Cook was the first European to circumnavigate New Zealand.

James Cook first set foot on New Zealand soil in October 1769, in what is now Gisborne, and became the first European to sail around the two islands. The skilled cartographer also created accurate maps of the landmasses and recorded detailed accounts of the indigenous Māori.

4. James Cook also reached Australia's east coast before any other European.

Cook wasn’t the first European to spot Australia—Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon landed there in 1606. But he still made history on April 19, 1770, by becoming the first European to reach Australia’s east coast. Just 10 days later, he made landfall at Botany Bay, which would later become the site of Europe’s first Australian settlement.

5. The Endeavour nearly wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef.

Aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef
It's beautiful to look at, but this reef doesn't make for an easy sail.

Exploring unmapped territories doesn’t always make for smooth sailing. On June 11, 1770, the HMS Endeavour ran aground on what’s now known as Endeavour Reef. Cook and his crew toiled for more than 20 hours, desperately attempting to plug holes in the ship and chucking ballast overboard. Fortunately, they were able to stop the vessel from sinking and save Cook’s invaluable charts and documents. After nearly two months of repairs, the crew were once again out to sea, where they continued to sail the length of the Great Barrier Reef.

6. James Cook came up with creative solutions to beat scurvy.

Scurvy took a heavy toll on sailors attempting long ocean voyages. And though the disease, which is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, did affect members of Cook’s crew, he is touted as having “conquered” the maritime malady. Some cure-alls that Cook and his surgeon claimed helped ward off the disease included fresh fruit (whenever Cook could get it), malt, soup, vinegar, mustard, and one particularly vitamin-packed, nonperishable food: sauerkraut. Cook convinced his crew to eat the fermented cabbage by having it served at the officer’s table, which led the lower-ranking men to assume it was a delicacy and desire it for themselves. His crew also brewed spruce beer to prevent scurvy, though the boiled beverage likely didn’t contain much vitamin C.

Cook was celebrated for his anti-scurvy skills at the time, with the Royal Society even awarding him the Copley Gold Medal in 1766 for his work toward improving his crew’s health. However, despite the fact that Cook’s surgeon reported no deaths from scurvy during his voyages, it’s now believed at least two of his men died from the disease.

7. James Cook almost discovered Antarctica.

Though Cook may not have found the fabled Great Southern Continent during his first mission, he came close to discovering Antarctica. He crossed the Antarctic Circle for the first recorded time in 1773, and later claimed South Georgia Island for the Crown. Cook and his crew wound up crossing the Antarctic Circle a total of four times. He came close to spotting Antarctica itself during one of his trips, but pack ice forced him to turn back before he could sail closer, the White Continent becoming his white whale.

8. James Cook explored the Arctic as well as the Antarctic.

Historic sketch of a polar bear
Cook found polar bears, not polar passages.
Internet Archive Book Images, Wikimedia Commons // No known copyright restrictions

In 1776, Cook turned his attention north. He had hoped to find the Northwest Passage, the ribbon of sea that weaves through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to connect the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. Unfortunately, the Russian map he had been using was bunk, and he and his crew never found their watery portal through the ice. But the journey—which wound up being Cook’s third and final big voyage—did lead to one major discovery for Europeans: the Hawaiian Islands.

9. James Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to visit the Hawaiian Islands.

In 1788, Cook stepped ashore the Hawaiian Islands, which he christened the Sandwich Islands after the Earl of Sandwich. The indigenous Hawaiians welcomed the foreign men as gods—a treatment the Europeans took advantage of—and offered them priceless gifts. The relationship between the two groups soured when Cook and his crew returned in 1779, leading to devastating consequences.

10. James Cook was brutally murdered after a kidnapping plot went awry.

When one of the crew’s long boats went missing during their 1779 return to Hawaii, Cook suspected one of the native Hawaiians had stolen it. To seek revenge, according to most historians, Cook attempted to kidnap Kalaniʻōpuʻu, the chief of Hawaii. The locals crowded the beach to intervene, resulting in a bloody clash. On February 14, 1779, Cook was fatally stabbed in the neck, then repeatedly clobbered with rocks. Despite popular lore, he was not eaten by cannibals.

11. The site where James Cook died is still technically British territory.

James Cook Monument
The monument stands atop a tiny bit of Britain.

A plaque marks the general area where Cook met his gruesome end, and a white obelisk stands on the shore. The tiny patch of earth the obelisk crowns is the only British territory to still exist within the United States. The monument is a bit hard to get to—you either have to arrive by kayak or boat, or hike a 2-mile trail. The nearby water is now a popular snorkeling spot.

12. You can visit James Cook’s parents’ cottage.

A quaint part of Cook family history stands in Melbourne, Australia’s Fitzroy Gardens. It’s unclear if James Cook ever lived in this cottage, which was once owned by his parents, but it’s believed he likely visited. In the 1930s, the 18th-century home was disassembled and shipped across the globe. Today, the historic house—which is the oldest building in Australia—is filled with period furnishings. The ivory crawling down the exterior walls grew from cuttings that were snipped from the building when it still stood in England.

13 Father's Day Gifts for Geeky Dads

Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk
Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk

When in doubt, you play the hits. Watches, flasks, and ties are all tried-and-true Father’s Day gifts—useful items bought en masse every June as the paternal holiday draws near. Here’s a list of goodies that put a geeky spin on those can’t-fail gifts. We’re talking Zelda flasks, wizard-shaped party mugs, and a timepiece inspired by BBC’s greatest sci-fi series, Doctor Who. Light the “dad” signal ‘cause it’s about to get nerdy!

1. Lord of the Rings Geeki Tikis (Set of Three); $76

'Lord of The Rings' themed tiki cups.
Toynk

If your dad’s equally crazy about outdoor shindigs and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, help him throw his own Lothlórien luau with these Tiki-style ceramic mugs shaped like icons from the Lord of the Rings saga. Gollum and Frodo’s drinkware doppelgängers each hold 14 ounces of liquid, while Gandalf the Grey’s holds 18—but a wizard never brags, right? Star Wars editions are also available.

Buy it: Toynk

2. Space Invaders Cufflinks; $9

'Space Invaders' cufflinks on Amazon
Fifty 50/Amazon

Arcade games come and arcade games go, but Space Invaders has withstood the test of time. Now Pops can bring those pixelated aliens to the boardroom—and look darn stylish doing it.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Legend of Zelda Flask; $18

A 'Legend of Zelda' flask
Toynk

Saving princesses is thirsty work. Shaped like an NES cartridge, this Zelda-themed flask boasts an 8-ounce holding capacity and comes with a reusable straw. Plus, it makes a fun little display item for gamer dads with man caves.

Buy it: Toynk

4. AT-AT Family Vacation Bag Tag; $12

An At-At baggage tag
ShopDisney

Widely considered one of the greatest movie sequels ever made, The Empire Strikes Back throws a powerful new threat at Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion: the AT-AT a.k.a. Imperial Walkers. Now your dad can mark his luggage with a personalized tag bearing the war machine’s likeness.

Buy it: ShopDisney

5. Flash Skinny Tie; $17

A skinny Flash-themed tie
Uyoung/Amazon

We’ll let you know if the Justice League starts selling new memberships, but here’s the next best thing. Available in a rainbow of super-heroic colors, this skinny necktie bears the Flash’s lightning bolt logo. Race on over to Amazon and pick one up today.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Captain America Shield Apron; $20

A Captain America themed apron
Toynk

Why let DC fans have all the fun? Daddy-o can channel his inner Steve Rogers when he flips burgers at your family’s Fourth of July BBQ. Measuring 31.5 inches long by 27.5 inches wide, this apron’s guaranteed to keep the cookout Hydra-free.

Buy it: Toynk

7. Doctor Who Vortex Manipulator LCD Leather Wristwatch; $35

A Doctor Who-themed watch
Toynk

At once classy and geeky, this digital timepiece lovingly recreates one of Doctor Who’s signature props. Unlike some of the gadgets worn on the long-running sci-fi series, it won’t require any fancy chronoplasm fuel.

Buy it: Toynk

8. Wonder Woman 3-Piece Grill Set; $21

Wonder Woman three-piece gill set
Toynk

At one point in her decades-long comic book career, this Amazon Princess found herself working at a fast food restaurant called Taco Whiz. Now grill cooks can pay tribute to the heroine with these high-quality, stainless steel utensils. The set’s comprised of wide-tipped tongs, a BBQ fork, and a spatula, with the latter boasting Wonder Woman’s insignia.

Buy it: Toynk

9. Harry Potter Toon Tumbler; $10

Glassware that's Harry Potter themed
Entertainment Earth

You can never have too many pint glasses—and this Father’s Day, dad can knock one back for the boy who lived. This piece of Potter glassware from PopFun has whimsy to spare. Now who’s up for some butterbeer?

Buy it: EntertainmentEarth

10. House Stark Men’s Wallet; $16

A Game of Thrones themed watch
Toynk

Winter’s no longer coming, but the Stark family's propensity for bold fashion choices can never die. Manufactured with both inside and outside pockets, this direwolf-inspired wallet is the perfect place to store your cards, cash, and ID.

Buy it: Toynk

11. Mr. Incredible “Incredible Dad” Mug, $15

An Incredibles themed mug
ShopDisney

Cue the brass music. Grabbing some coffee with a Pixar superhero sounds like an awesome—or dare we say, incredible?—way for your dad to start his day. Mom can join in the fun, too: Disney also sells a Mrs. Incredible version of the mug.

Buy it: ShopDisney

12. Star Wars phone cases from Otterbox; $46-$56

Star Wars phone cases from OtterBox.
Otterbox

If your dad’s looking for a phone case to show off his love of all things Star Wars, head to Otterbox. Whether he’s into the Dark Side with Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, the droids, Chewbacca, or Boba Fett, you’ll be able to find a phone case to fit his preference. The designs are available for both Samsung and Apple products, and you can check them all out here.

Buy it: Otterbox

13. 3D Puzzles; $50

3D Harry Potter puzzle from Amazon.
Wrebbit 3D

Help dad recreate some of his favorite fictional locations with these 3D puzzles from Wrebbit 3D. The real standouts are the 850-piece model of Hogwarts's Great Hall and the 910-piece version of Winterfell from Game of Thrones. If dad's tastes are more in line with public broadcasting, you could also pick him up an 890-piece Downton Abbey puzzle to bring a little upper-crust elegance to the homestead.

Buy it: Hogwarts (Amazon), Winterfell (Amazon), Downton Abbey (Amazon)

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8 Trade Routes That Shaped World History

Tourists on a camel caravan explore he dunes around the city of Dunhuang, along the ancient Silk Road.
Tourists on a camel caravan explore he dunes around the city of Dunhuang, along the ancient Silk Road.
Tiago_Fernandez/iStock via Getty Images

Trade routes have popped up throughout ancient history, stitching places of production to places of commerce. Scarce commodities that were only available in certain locations, such as salt or spices, were the biggest driver of trade networks, but once established, these roads also facilitated cultural exchanges—including the spread of religion, ideas, knowledge, and sometimes even bacteria.

1. The Silk Road

The Silk Road is the most famous ancient trade route, linking the major ancient civilizations of China and the Roman Empire. Silk was traded from China to the Roman Empire starting in the first century BCE, in exchange for wool, silver, and gold coming from Europe. In addition to fostering trade, the Silk Road also became a vital route for the spread of knowledge, technology, religion, and the arts, with many trading centers along the route, such as Samarkand in modern-day Uzbekistan, also becoming important centers of intellectual exchange.

The Silk Road originated in Xi’an, China, and travelled alongside the Great Wall of China before crossing the Pamir Mountains into Afghanistan and on to the Levant, where goods were loaded on to ships destined for Mediterranean ports. It was rare for tradespeople to travel the full 4000 miles, so most plied their trade on sections of the route. As the Roman Empire crumbled in the fourth century CE, the Silk Road became unsafe and fell out of use until the 13th century, when it was revived under the Mongols. Italian explorer Marco Polo followed the Silk Road during the 13th century, becoming one of the first Europeans to visit China. But the famous route may have spread more than trade and cross-cultural links—some scientists think it was merchants traveling along the route who spread the plague bacteria that caused the Black Death.

2. The Spice Routes

Anonymous map c.1550 of Eastern Africa, Asia and Western Oceania.
Portugal had a significant presence in Asia and maintained a monopoly on the spice trade.

Unlike most of the other trade routes in this list, the Spice Routes were maritime paths linking the East to the West. Pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg were all hugely sought-after commodities in Europe, but before the 15th century, North African and Arab middlemen controlled access to trade with the East, making such spices extremely costly and rare. With the dawning of the Age of Exploration (15th to 17th centuries), as new navigation technology made sailing long distances possible, Europeans took to the seas to forge direct trading relationships with Indonesia, China, and Japan. Some have argued it was the spice trade that fueled the development of faster boats, encouraged the discovery of new lands, and fostered new diplomatic relationships between East and West (it was partly with spices in mind that Christopher Columbus set out on his famous voyage in 1492).

The Dutch and English especially profited from the control of the spice trade in modern-day Indonesia, particularly the area known as the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, which was the only source of nutmeg and cloves at that time. Wars were fought, lands colonized, and fortunes made on the back of the spice trade, making this trade route one of the most significant in terms of globalization.

3. The Incense Route

The Incense Route developed to transport frankincense and myrrh, which are only found in the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula (modern Yemen and Oman). Frankincense and myrrh are both derived from tree sap that’s dried in the Sun; these nuggets of sap can then be burned as incense or used as perfume, and were also popular in burial rituals to aid embalming. The camel was domesticated around 1000 BCE and this development allowed the Arabs to begin transporting their valuable incense to the Mediterranean, an important trade hub. Frankincense and myrrh became a significant commodity for the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians—it was said the Roman emperor Nero had a whole year’s harvest of frankincense burned at the funeral of his beloved mistress.

The trade flourished, and the overland route was, at its height, said to have seen 3000 tons of incense traded along its length every year. Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote that it took 62 days to complete the route, although it’s clear that at times, the exact route shifted when greedy settlements pushed their luck and demanded taxes that were too high from the caravans coming through. By the first century CE, this ancient overland route was largely redundant, as improved boat design made sea routes more attractive.

4. The Amber Road

A piece of amber with insects inside it
A chunk of Baltic amber containing preserved insects.
Anders L. Damgaard, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Amber has been traded since about 3000 BCE, with archaeological evidence revealing amber beads from the Baltics having reached as far as Egypt. The Romans, who valued the stone for both decorative and medicinal purposes, developed an Amber Road linking the Baltics with the rest of Europe.

Large deposits of amber are found under the Baltic Sea, formed millions of years ago when forests covered the area. The amber washes ashore after storms, and can be harvested from the beaches across the Baltic, which is how many local amber traders built their business. However, during the crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Baltic became an important source of income for the Teutonic Knights, who were granted control of the amber-producing region. The Knights persecuted the local Prussians brutally, and put anyone attempting to harvest or sell amber to death. Today, you can find traces of the old Amber Road in Poland, where one of the major routes is known as the “Amber Highway.”

5. The Tea Horse Road

This ancient route winds precipitously for more than 6000 miles, through the Hengduan Mountains—a major tea-producing area in China—and on to Tibet and India. The road also crosses numerous rivers, making it one of the most dangerous of the ancient trade routes. The main goods traveling the route were Chinese tea and Tibetan warhorses, with direct trades of tea-for-horses and vice versa being the main goal of merchants plying the route. Parts of the route were used starting c.1600 BCE, but people began using the entire path for trade from around the seventh century CE, and large-scale trade began taking place starting in the Song dynasty (960–1279).

At least one piece of research suggests that between 960–1127, some 20,000 Tibetan warhorses were traded along the route every year in exchange for an eye-watering 8000 tons of tea. As sea routes became more popular, the road’s significance lessened. But during World War II, it once again gained importance as the Japanese blocked many seaports, and the Tea Horse Road became a key route for supplies traveling between inland China and India.

6. The Salt Route

salt pans in malta
Salt pans in Malta.
foursummers, pixabay // Public Domain

Salt has long been a precious commodity—it’s been used to flavor and preserve food, and as an antiseptic, for example. But easily harvested salt was a scarce commodity in antiquity, so areas rich in the mineral became important trading centers. Routes connecting these centers to other settlements also became commonplace. Of the many such routes that sprang up, one of the most famous was the Roman Via Salaria (Salt Route), which ran from Ostia, near Rome, across Italy to the Adriatic coast. Salt was so precious, it made up a portion of a Roman soldier’s pay. It is from this that we get the word salary (from sal, the Latin word for salt) and the phrase “not worth his salt”—the latter because a soldier’s salt pay was docked if he did not work hard.

Another important salt route across Europe was the Old Salt Road. This path ran 62 miles from Lüneburg in northern Germany, which was one of the most plentiful salt sources in northern Europe, to Lübeck on the north German coast. During the Middle Ages, this route became vital for providing salt for the fishing fleets that left Germany for Scandinavia, as the crews used salt to preserve the precious herring catch. It would take a cart delivering salt some 20 days to traverse the Old Salt Road, and many towns along the way grew wealthy by levying taxes and duties on wagons as they passed through.

7. The Trans-Saharan Trade Route

The Trans-Saharan Trade Route from North Africa to West Africa was actually made up of a number of routes, creating a criss-cross of trading links across the vast expanse of desert. These trade routes first emerged in the fourth century CE. By the 11th century, caravans composed of more than a thousand camels would carry goods across the Sahara. Gold, slaves, salt, and cloth were traded along the route, as were objects like ostrich feathers and European guns.

The trade route was instrumental in the spread of Islam from the Berbers in North Africa into West Africa, and with Islam came Arabic knowledge, education, and language. The Trans-Saharan trade route also encouraged the development of monetary systems and state-building, as local rulers saw the strategic value in bringing large swathes of land, and thus their commodities, under their control. By the 16th century, as Europeans began to see the value in African goods, the Trans-Saharan trade routes became overshadowed by the European-controlled trans-Atlantic trade, and the wealth moved from inland to coastal areas, making the perilous desert route less attractive.

8. The Tin Route

An abandoned tin mine in Cornwall, England.
An abandoned tin mine in Cornwall, England.
Edmund Shaw, Geograph // CC BY-SA 2.0

From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, the Tin Route was a major artery that provided early settlements with access to a vital ingredient for metal-making: tin. Copper must be alloyed with tin to make bronze, an advance that occurred in the Near East around 2800 BCE and created a stronger, better metal than the type used previously. This new technology created a demand for tin, and as it is not found in many places, the resource became an important item for trade.

One such tin route flourished in the 1st millennium BCE. It stretched from the tin mines in Cornwall in the far southwest of Britain, over the sea to France, and then down to Greece and beyond. Evidence for this route is provided by the many hillforts that sprung up along the way as trading posts. Historians believe trade passed both ways up and down this route, as the hillforts provide evidence of exotic artifacts, including coral and gold. No written accounts survive from this period, but the archaeological record shows technology and art traveled the route between northern Europe and the Mediterranean alongside tin—thus providing a vital link across Europe.