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Death of Cook

by Captain Cook's Hawaii

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The Death of Captain Cook

Artist: John Webber
Plate: 63
Engraver: Figures by F. Bartolozzi, Landscapes by W. Byrne

Printed by: Lahaina Printsellers, Ltd., 2016

Cook departed Kealakekua Bay for the waters of the North Pacific on February 4th, 1779, but a vicious storm damaged the Resolution's foremast and forced Cook to return to the bay on February 11.

It was to prove an inauspicious return, for the makahiki had just ended, and the spirit of hospitality and reverence that had attached to Cook's earlier landfalls was noticeably missing. The broken mast and the ship's distressed return seem to have diminished the sense of awe Cook had previously inspired.

Once ensconced in the harbor, petty thievery by the natives to obtain iron started up once again, and several skirmishes between the sailors and the natives ensued.

On February 13, a watering party was nearly stoned and later, a native boarded the Discovery and stole a pair of tongs and a chisel. Shots were fired and a boatload of sailors pursued the canoe to shore but the thief escaped. In attempting to seize the canoe, a scuffle broke out and a chief named Palea was hit on the head with an oar. In reprisal, several sailors were beaten, but Palea eventually managed to restore order.

During the night, a cutter from the Discovery was stolen and the following morning, Cook sent out armed boats to blockade the bay. Accompanied by three additional boats, Cook led an armed party to shore with the intention of taking King Kalaniopuu hostage until the cutter was returned.

Not understanding the full meaning of Cook's invitation to visit the Resolution, the king proceeded toward the beach but was persuaded by his wife and chiefs not to go any further. Confused about what to do, the king sat down. A great crowd had been gathering and most of them were armed with spears, clubs, daggers and stones.

A native messenger arrived bearing news that a chief had been killed attempting to cross the blockaded bay. The crowd grew angry and pressed close to the landing party. In response, the marines formed a defensive line at the water's edge. A dagger flashed, a shot was fired, stones were thrown, more shots were fired, and a general melee broke out.

Cook was heading towards his boats when he was clubbed from behind. Before he could get to his feet, he was stabbed in the back and hit again. Whether he drowned or was clubbed to death is unknown.

Though most of the landing party managed to get to the waiting boats and escape, four English marines were killed and their bodies were left behind. Cook's body was retrieved and subjected to the ceremonial rites accorded to those of the highest rank.

When Captain Cook died at the age of 51, he was at the height of his career, but he never fully realized the religious importance the natives had placed upon him as the reincarnation of the god, Lono. Each of his two visits had coincided with the makahiki season, and his death in symbolic conflict occurred at the close of that period.

After the Discovery and the Resolution departed the Hawaiian Islands, under the command of Captain Clerke, no other foreign ships would visit the islands again until 1786.

Though this image does not appear in the original atlas of the voyages, it is one of the great pictures of the 18th century and is essential to the story of Captain Cook in the Hawaiian Islands.

We custom-print this facsimile on waterproof canvas in our Lahaina studio using the finest archival inks, which are tested and guaranteed not to fade or shift under normal circumstances for over 100 years. Modern printing techniques allow us to improve and enhance the historical subject matter, even as we're careful to preserve and maintain its historical and artistic integrity.