The End of a Great Navigator

Captain James Cook is widely known as one of Britain’s great sailors, navigators and whose voyages investigated the existence of the North West Passage, and made possible the settlement of Australia and New Zealand, as well as increasing the safety of men at sea. He died in the Sandwich Islands in 1778. This is the account by Captain King, one of the officers of the Resolution which accompanied Cook’s Discovery.  The natives had thought Cook to be a long-expected god, and were offended by the behaviour of some of the English. A small cutter from the Discovery was stolen and Cook went on shore to get it back and to teach the natives a lesson. This is the account of his end, with his body cut into pieces by the natives ad partly burnt. Some of his remains were recovered and buried.

“Next morning the 14th February 1779, at daylight, I went on board the Resolution for the time-keeper, and in my way was hailed by the Discovery, and informed that their cutter had been stolen during the night from the buoy wehr it was moored.

When I arrived on board I found the marines arming, and Captain Cook loading his double barrelled un. It had been his usual practice whenever anything of consequence was lost at any of the islands in this ocean, to get the king or some of the principal earees [chiefs] on board, and to keep them as hostages till it was restored. this method, which had always been attended with success, he meant to pursue on the present occasion.

It was between 7 and 8 o’clock when we quitted the ship together; Captain Cook in the pinnace, having Mr Phillips and 9 marines with him, and myself in the small boat. The last orders I received from him were, to quiet the minds of the natives on our side of the bay, by assuring them they should not be hurt; to keep my people together and to be on my guard. We then parted; the Captain went toward Kowrowa, where the king resided, and I proceeded to the beach. My first care on going ashore was, to give strict orders to the marines to remain within the tent. to load their pieces with ball, and not to quit their arms. Afterwards I took a walk to the huts of old Kaoo and the priests, and explained to them as well as I could the object of the hostile preparations, which had exceedingly alarmed them. I found that they had already heard of the cutter’s being stole, and I assured them, that though Captain Cook was resolved to recover it, and to punish the authors of the theft, yet that they, and the people of the village on our side, need not be under the smallest apprehension of suffering any evil from us. Kaoo asked me with great earnestness if Terreeoboo [the native king] was to be hurt? I assured him he was not; and both he and the rest of his brethren seemed much satisfied with this assurance.

In the meantime Captain Cook having called off the launch, which was stationed at the north point of the bay, and taken it along with him, proceeded to Kowrowa, and landed with the lieutenant and 9 marines. He immediately marched to the village, where he was received with the usual marks of respect, the people prostrating themselves before him, and bringing their accustomed offerings of small hogs. Finding that there was no suspicion of his design, his next step was to inquire for Terreeoboo, and the 2 boys, his sons, who had been his constant guests on board teh Resolution. In a short time the boys returned along with the natives, who had been sent in search of them, and immediately led Captain Cook to the house wher the king had slept. They found the old man just awoke from sleep; and after a short conversation about the loss of the cutter, from which Captain Cook was convinced that he was in nowise privy to it, he invited him to return in the boat, and spend the day on board the Resolution. to this proposal the king readily consented, and immediately got up to accompany him.

Things were in this prosperous train; the two boys being already in the pinnace, and the rest of the party having advanced near the waterside, when an elderly woman, called Kanee-kaba-reea, the mother of the boys, and one of the king’s favourite wives, came after him, and with many tears and entreaties, besought him not to go on board. At the same time, 2 chiefs, who came along with her, laid hold of him, and insisting that he should go no further, forced him to sit down. The natives, who were collecting in prodigious numbers along the shore, and had probably been alarmed by the firing of the great guns, and the appearances of hostility in the bay, began to throng round Captain Cook and their king. In this situation, the lieutenant of marines observing that his men were huddled close together in the crowd, and thus incapable of using their arms, if any occasion should require it, proposed to the Captain to draw them up along the rocks close to the water’s edge; and the crowd readily making way for them to pass, they were drawn up in a line at the distance of about 30 yards from the place where the king was sitting.

All this time the old king remained on the ground with the strongest marks of terror and dejection on his countenance; Captain Cook, not willing to abandon the object for which he had come on shore, continuing to urge him in the most pressing manner to proceed; whilst on the other hand, whenever the king appeared inclined to follow him, the chiefs, who stood round him, interposed, at first with prayers and entreaties, but afterwards having recourse to force and violence, insisted on his staying where he was. Captain Cook therefore finding that the alarm had spread too generally, and that it was in vain to think any longer of getting him off without bloodshed, at last gave up the point, observing to Mr Phillips, that it would be impossible to compel him to go on board without running the risk of killing a great number of the inhabitants.

Though the enterprise, which had carried Captain Cook on shore, had now failed and was abandoned, yet his person did not appear to have been in the least danger, till an accident happened which gave a fatal turn to the affair. The boats, which had been stationed across the bay, having fired at some canoes that were attempting to get out, unfortunately had killed a chief of the first rank. The news of his death arrived at the village where Captain Cook was, just as he had left the king and was walking slowly toward the shore. The ferment it occasioned was very conspicuous; the women and children were immediately sent off, and the men put on their war mats, and armed themselves with spears and stones. One of the natives, having in his hands a stone and a long iron pike (which they called a pahooa), came up to the Captain, flourishing his weapon by way of defiance, and threatening to throw the stone. The Captain desired him to desist, but the man persisting in his insolence, he was at length provoked to fire a load of small shot. the man having his mat on, which the shot was not able to penetrate, this had no other effect than to irritate and encourage them. Several stones were thrown at the marines, and one of the earees attempted to stab Mr Phillips with his pahooa, but failed in the attempt, and received from him a blow with the butt-end of his musket. Captain Cook now fired his second barrel loaded with ball, and killed one of the foremost natives. A general attack with stones immediately followed, which was answered by a discharge of musketry from the marines and the people in the boats. the islanders, contrary to the expectations of every one, stood the fire with great firmness; and before the marines hadtime to releoad, they broke in upon them with dreadful shouts and yells. What followed was a scene of the utmost horror and confusion .

Four of three marines were cut off amongst the rocks in their retreat, and fell a sacrifice to the fury of the enemy; 3 more were dangerously wounded, and the lieutenant, who had received a stab between the  shoulders with a pahooa, having fortunately reserved his fire, shot the man who had wounded him, just as he was going to repeat his blow. Our unfortunate commander, the last time he w seen distinctly, was standing at the water’s edge, and calling out to the boats to cease firing and to pull in. whilst he faced the natives none of them had offered him any violence, but having turned about to give his orders to the boats, he was stabbed in the back and fell with his face into the water. On seeing him fall, the islanders set up a great shout, and his body was immediately dragged on shore and surrounded by the enemy, who, snatching the dagger out of each other’s hands, showed a savage eagerness to have a share in his destruction.

Thus fell our great and excellent commander! After a life of so much distinguished and successful enterprise, his death, as far as regards himself, cannot be reckoned premature, since he lived to finish the great work for which he seems to have been designed, and wa rather removed from the enjoyment, than cut off from the acquisition of the glory. How sincerely his loss was felt and lamented by those who had so long found their general security in his skill and conduct, and every consolation under their hardships in his tenderness and humanity, it is neither necessary nor possible for me to describe, much less shall  I attempt to paint the horror with which we were struck and the universal dejection and dismay which followed so dreadful and unexpected a calamity.

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