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James Cook brought a scientific approach to his captaincy of the Pacific voyages. He made careful observations of the people and places he encountered — and made efforts to promote the health of sailors.
During his naval service in the Atlantic, Cook had seen crews decimated by the disease scurvy, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C. Sailors with scurvy would first develop spongy gums and lose their teeth. Then their limbs would stiffen and turn black. Movement became an agony, and death soon followed. Scurvy usually appeared on ships after dry rations replaced fresh food on board. Physicians realised that eating fruit and vegetables — particularly citrus fruit — could treat and prevent scurvy.
Right: The Wedgwood medallion of James Cook. Photo: George Serras.
By frequently replenishing stocks of fresh food, requiring his crew to eat sauerkraut and malt, and keeping the ship scrupulously clean, Cook succeeded in not losing a man to scurvy during Endeavour's three year voyage.
Right: Artist William Hodges probably painted this portrait of Captain James Cook as they sailed home from Cook's second Pacific voyage in 1775, or just after their return to Britain. Courtesy: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.