James Cook crosses Antarctic Circle

Give credit to Captain James Cook: he would not be stopped from his mission no matter what. Not long after his first successful ocean exploration he was given command of two ships and charged to find the Terra Australis Incognita – the great continent laying below the equator. Sporadic reports from sailors talked of it, but nothing certain was known when Cook set out on his long journey south.

On this day, January 17, in 1773, Captain James Cook’s ship Resolution unwittingly became the first one to cross the Antarctic Circle, and the first ship to ever sail that far south. Still not finding the rumored continent, Cook ordered further exploration of the area, sailing where the ice allowed passage and spending the icy winters in New Zealand. Finally encountering a solid wall of ice blocking his path, he concluded the continent as was envisioned did not exist, and turned back for England.

Cook made yet a third voyage to seek out another rumor (and claim the £20,000 for its discovery) – the Northwest Passage trade route that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Cook found that impassable due to ice as well, and turned back for the warmer lands, ultimately discovering Hawaii. There he met his end – a dispute with the native Hawaiians let to a small skirmish during which Cook and several other sailors were killed. He was given a native funeral, and some of his remains returned to the surviving crew for their traditional burial at sea.