Captain Cook's career as a great explorer has been very well documented, but the thirteen years he spent in the Royal Navy before being given command of the Endeavour are less well known (even his time in Cleveland and the North Sea is better covered, having interested local historians in 'Captain Cook Country', on the northern edge of the North York Moors.
Robson's book fills that gap, looking at Cook's rise from the ranks to command of his own ship. He volunteered for the navy at the start of the Seven Years War, taking part in Wolfe's capture of Quebec. During the war Cook rose to the rank of Master, the highest rank normally reached by anyone from 'below decks'.
Cook's first independent command came after the war, when still as a Master he was given command of the schooner Grenville, to help him produce a more accurate map of Newfoundland.
This is a very detailed book, supported by a large number of extracts from Cook's own logs, journals and other writings, as well as those of his contemporaries. There is a very effective plates section which includes a two-page spread showing Cook's first map of Newfoundland, produced in 1763 before the start of his own survey, and the much superior map of 1770 produced at the end of the survey.
One minor quibble - Robson has included a large number of useful snippets of information (including biographies, naval definitions, brief histories of particular towns and important concepts). These have been inserted into the main flow of the text, where they are distinguished by a small font and lines across the page. As a result it is too each to turn a page and start reading the wrong piece of text. These very useful notes should have been included in proper sidebars, or (dare I say it) actual footnotes.
This interesting study fills a gap in our knowledge of Cook's career, and makes it very clear why he was chosen to command the Endeavour on her expedition into the Pacific. Robson has also produced a useful picture of the Royal Navy during the period that saw it win command of the seas.
1 Captain Cook's War, 1755-1762
2 Joining the Royal Navy, 1755
3 HMS Eagle, 1755-1757
4 HMS Solebay, 1757
5 HMS Pembroke, 1757-1758
6 Louisbourg, 1758
7 Surveyor, 1758
8 Quebec, 1759
9 HMS Northumberland, 1759-1761
10 St John's, Newfoundland, 1762
11 Captain Cook's Peace, 1763-1768
12 Newfoundland, 1763
13 Northern Peninsula, 1764
14 South Coast of Newfoundland, 1765
15 South-west Coast of Newfoundland, 1766
16 West Coast of Newfoundland, 1767
17 HMB Endeavour, 1768
Author: John Robson