The Death of Captain Cook | State Library of New South Wales

The Death of Cook

Poor Captain Cook is no more...

Lord Sandwich wrote these words about his friend to Joseph Banks when the news of Cook’s death finally reached England. The mail packages had taken eleven months to travel from Kamchatka, across Russia to the British Admiralty in London.

Cook’s third and final voyage of discovery was an attempt to locate the North-West Passage, an ice-free sea route which linked the Atlantic to the Pacific.

After an unsuccessful tour along the coast of Alaska to the Arctic Circle, Cook decided to spend the northern winter in Hawaii. This fateful decision led to the tragic deaths of Cook, four marines and seventeen Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay on the island of O’why’he (Hawaii).

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Initially relations between the Europeans and the Hawaiians were friendly and peaceful. The genial atmosphere broke down after a series of thefts from the European stores. Tensions came to a head on the night of the 13-14 February, 1779 when the Discovery’s cutter boat was stolen. On the morning of the 14th of February, Cook, Lieutenant Molesworth Phillips and nine marines went ashore and attempted to take hostage Terreeoboo, the Hawaiian King.

This strategy of Cook’s intended to force the Hawaiians to return the cutter. However in the confusion, shots were fired and one of the high-ranking chiefs, Kalimu, was killed. At that point, the crowds on the shore responded in anger. As Cook and the marines returned to their boats, they were attacked on the beach. Cook fired his gun and killed a Hawaiian warrior. In return, he was struck on the head by a club and speared by an iron dagger. Falling into the water, he was not seen alive again.

First lieutenant on the Discovery, James Burney, recorded in his diary that ‘the whole affair, from Capt’n Cook leaving the Resolution to the return of the boats, happened in the short space of one hour’. 

> Read an account of Cook's death by first lieutenant on the Discovery, James Burney

Link to James Burney's journal 

> In 1784 David Samwell published his account of the death of Captain Cook

Link to David Samwell's Narrative on the death