Whitby, North Yorkshire after Joseph William Turner, 1826
Though he eventually sailed further than any Englishman before him and helped lay the foundation of the British Empire in the Pacific, James Cook was born the son of a farmer in Marton, Yorkshire. At the age of ten, his family moved to Great Ayton where his father’s employer paid for him to attend school. At sixteen Cook left the farm and headed to the coast, where he apprenticed as a shop boy to a grocer in the fishing village of Staithes. After just 18 months, Cook was hooked by the lure of the sea and departed for the nearby port town of Whitby, where he became a merchant navy apprentice to ship owners John and Henry Walker. After completing a three-year apprenticeship, Cook began work on Baltic trading vessels and soon moved up the merchant ranks. However, within weeks of taking command of a ship, Cook volunteered for the Royal Navy as the Seven Years War loomed over Western Europe and North America.