05c James Cook The Final Voyage
Cook’s third Pacific voyage once more took him into Antarctic waters. He sailed on the Resolution again, this time accompanied by the Discovery. The stated purpose was to return a native of Tahiti to his home, but the scope of the voyage was much wider: he was to find the Northwest Passage—the long-sought northern shortcut from Europe to Asia. He sailed via Cape Town to inspect some islands discovered by French captain Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen-Trémarec in 1772 in the southern Indian Ocean. Today they are called Iles Kerguelen, but Cook thought Desolation Islands a more apt name for them. He proceeded through the Pacific, along the west coast of America and through the Bering Strait to cross the Arctic Circle. On the voyage north he had discovered the Hawaiian Islands (which he named the Sandwich Islands), and when the Arctic winter set in he returned there. On 14 February 1779 he intervened when one of his boats was stolen. A fight ensued, and Cook was killed. It was a tragic end to a remarkable life.
By happy chance, William Wales, the astronomer on Resolution, went on to teach at the Mathematical School at Christ’s Hospital in London. Young Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of his pupils in the 1780s, and the schoolmaster’s account of ice and albatrosses inspired the poet’s later masterpiece, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which vividly and remarkably accurately evokes an environment he experienced only through hearsay.
author: David McGonigal