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

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Captain James Cook has certainly left a legacy that still has many impacts today. For starters, his three voyages of exploration throughout the Pacific Ocean piqued the interest of imperialists and economic adventures back in Great Britain. Patterns of European settlement in the Pacific Northwest of North America were established,...

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Captain James Cook has certainly left a legacy that still has many impacts today. For starters, his three voyages of exploration throughout the Pacific Ocean piqued the interest of imperialists and economic adventures back in Great Britain. Patterns of European settlement in the Pacific Northwest of North America were established, partly in response to Cook's report on the bounties of this coastline, particularly sea-otter furs.

Furthermore, Cook's navigational charts showed the way to Australia and New Zealand. The fact that significant numbers of British settlers ended up there in the decades after Cook's death is a result of his voyages. Simply put, if you live in the American Northwest, Australia, or New Zealand, the history of your home would be very different if it were not for the voyages of Captain Cook.

Really, it was Cook's voyages that showed the potential of the Pacific Ocean to Europeans. Not long after these voyages, other Europeans began making their own. Whether they were hunting whales, spreading the word of Christianity as missionaries, or merchants looking for new markets, the vast Pacific Ocean was no longer as mysterious as it had been to these Europeans beforehand. Now that new routes and locations around the Pacific Ocean were known to Europeans, the following century would be one marked by imperialism and exploitation of Pacific peoples by European powers. In many ways, the legacy of imperialism is still being felt across the region.

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Aside from his enormous contributions to science in exploration (which another educator has already outlined), Captain James Cook's voyages drastically shaped the history of the Australian continent.

When Cook "discovered" Australia in 1770 and claimed it for the British Empire, he set a chain of events in motion that would shape millions of lives.

After Cook's exploration, Britain began using Australia as a penal colony, exiling convicts halfway across the world for a variety of crimes (often as simple as stealing a loaf of bread.) This established a booming, primarily Anglo population on an island previously inhabited by only indigenous tribes. Thanks to Cook's voyages, these tribes suffered massive displacement and abuse at the hands of British colonists, including the establishment of schools meant to "civilize" the natives by "re-educating" indigenous children in the English ways so as to quash their native culture.

Without Cook, Australia would not be the primarily white, English speaking country it is today. Many unique plants and animals would have remained unknown in Europe. Aboriginal tribes may also have had a chance to continue their traditional ways of life without Western interference.

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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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