James Cook rose from nearly the lowest ranks. The second son of James Cook, a Yorkshire labourer, and Grace his wife, he was born on the edge of the Cleveland Hills on February 27th, 1728, in the little village of Marton, which lies about four miles south-south-east of Middlesborough, and five miles west of the well-known hill and landmark, Roseberry Topping. Eight years later his father removed to Great Ayton, which lies close under Roseberry Topping.

At the age of thirteen Cook, who, it is recorded, had had some elementary schooling both at Marton and Great Ayton, was apprenticed to one Sanderson, a draper and grocer of Staithes, a fishing village on the coast, about fourteen miles from Ayton and nine north-west of Whitby.

A year later Cook went, or ran away, to sea, shipping at Whitby on board the Freelove, a collier belonging to the brothers Walker.

In this hard school Cook learnt his sailor duties. No better training could have been found for his future responsibilities. Here he learnt to endure the utmost rigours of the sea. Constant fighting with North Sea gales, bad food, and cramped accommodation, taught him to regard with the indifference that afterwards distinguished him, all the hardships that he had to encounter, and led him to endure and persevere where others, less determined or more easily daunted by difficulties, would have hurried on, and left their work incomplete.