Today I Discovered Captain Cook Was Never A Captain

Today I Discovered Captain Cook Was Never A Captain
Image: Getty Images

Here’s an interesting piece of trivia you won’t find in your high school history book. When Captain James Cook “discovered” the southeastern coast of Australia in 1770, he wasn’t actually a Captain. Furthermore, he never held this rank at any point during his naval career. Blame alliteration.

Prior to the HMS Endeavour’s maiden voyage of discovery, Cook was promoted from Officer to Lieutenant to grant him sufficient status to take the command. He was still a Lieutenant when the ship reached the Australian mainland. ‘Captain’ is an honorific that was granted posthumously by Aussie historians.

During his two subsequent voyages, Cook was a Commander and a Post-Captain (which relates to smaller ships), respectively. In other words, he never officially sailed as a Captain before meeting his untimely demise in the Hawaii islands.

While it’s true that the rank of Post-Captain was usually abbreviated to ‘captain’ in spoken conversation, it can’t be denied that Cook wasn’t a Captain in 1770. When discussing his adventures in Australia, ‘LT Cook’ is much more accurate. At the very least, we should be using captain with a lower-case ‘c’.

But ‘Captain Cook’ has a nice ring to it, so here we are.

You can read a thorough breakdown of Cook’s erroneous rank of Captain over on SMH.

[Via SMH]

Today I Discovered is a daily dose of facts for Lifehacker readers – the weird, wonderful and sometimes worrying. Most of the time, it’s just mind-blowing. Let us know if you discovered anything that blew your mind in the comments!


  • Any naval officer who commands a ship is addressed by naval custom as “captain” while aboard in command, regardless of his or her actual rank, even though technically an officer of below the rank of captain is more correctly titled the commanding officer, or C.O. O.

  • Love this story. It fits the SBS Australian history series with Tony Robinson. Basally the history was written, and made it way back to mother England were it stayed. Australians were taught whatever rubbish the government saw fit at the time.

    Has anything changed since the convict days?

  • I have a good friend who was qualified to the level of captain but never took charge of a ship. In the British Navy, he couldn’t call himself captain but apparently in some places he could use the moniker. As a businessman later in life, he was told that he could call himself Captain in Hong Kong, for example.

  • In my job in the Education Department I was sent to James Cook Primary School to look at a computer problem and I spent a few fruitless minutes in the car park looking up the Melways for a ‘Captain Cook Primary School’. (in pre-GPS days, everyone had a Melways).

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