What effect did the voyages of Captain James Cook have on our lives?

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nyoung11 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most significant fruits borne from the voyages of Captain James Cook revolve around the use of science in exploration, rather than exploration itself. He sailed to Australia in 1770 and claimed the island for the British Empire, shaping the the history of the nation. He charted the coast of New Zealand and discovered several islands in the area, making contact with aboriginal tribes along the way. However, the discoveries he made by bringing a team of scientists on board his ships created the most significant changes that are relevant today.

For example, he often instituted dietary restrictions for his sailors, including taking on board fresh fruits that he encountered during his voyage. He kept a strict diary as well, and these entries later led to the discovery of scurvy, the disease that had previously killed so many sailors. It turns out that many sailors were not getting enough vitamin c on long voyages. It was Cook's diet and diary entries that led to the conquering of this disease.

He studied navigation techniques and brought scientists on board his ships to study the earth's position in the cosmos. He tracked the position of Venus and its relationship to earth's distance from the sun. Previously, the earth's position from the sun was measured by tracking the moon. Cook's measurements of Venus from the island of Tahiti would contribute to the accuracy of ocean navigation in the future.

Since Cook's time, very few exploratory voyages left port without the accompaniment of a group of scientists. Cook's voyages showed the importance of science and the significance of scientific thought in new corners of the globe. Previously, the world of exploration revolved around arriving and looking around, often resulting in conquering people inhabiting the lands. Cook showed that importance of using science to observe and analyze rather than just to look. His meticulous diary entries also placed a newfound importance on recording in these voyages. 

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