James Cook, the man who explored the coast of Australia and made it British, came from a poor family. He first went to sea at the age of 18, which was late for that time. Ten years later, having learned all about the sea on private ships, he was asked to be captain of one. But he decided instead to join the Navy as a simple seaman, which his friends found hard to understand.
Because he was such an experienced sailor, it wasn't long before he was put in charge of a Navy ship. But having come so late to the Navy, it took much longer before he was made a captain.
Known to be a good explorer, 40-year-old James Cook was put in charge of the "Endeavour" for a voyage to the South Pacific in 1768. Having landed at Tahiti a year later, he made maps of all the islands in the area, taking them for Britain. He then sailed round both islands of New Zealand and proved that this land was not, as some people thought, part of a big continent. His next stop was what we now know as Botany Bay on the east coast of Australia. Frightened by some dangerous-looking Aboriginals on the coast, Cook's men were going to shoot them, but James Cook stopped them in time. He named this new land New South Wales and made maps of its 2,000-mile-long east coast. Taking a scientific interest in the Great Barrier Reef, he sailed very close and nearly lost his ship.
Having sailed all round the world, and gone through many dangers, the "Endeavour" reached home in 1771. Impressed by Cook's success, the Navy sent him on two more round-the-world voyages.
His third and last trip ended in Hawaii, where he was killed by some natives.