HERITAGE - 29: DEATH ON THE FORESHORE, Captain Cook's Last Hours On Hawaii

Advent... arrival at Kealakekua Bay

Resolution is greeted by Hawaiian canoes in mid-January 1779 as she nears her anchorage in Kealakekua Bay
Resolution is greeted by Hawaiian canoes in mid-January 1779 as she nears her anchorage in Kealakekua Bay
Kealakekua Bay is situated on the west side of the island (left of the 'H')
Kealakekua Bay is situated on the west side of the island (left of the 'H')
Resolution and Discovery moored close together in Kealekua Bay, close to the village
Resolution and Discovery moored close together in Kealekua Bay, close to the village

Cook and his crews having outstayed their welcome, the Hawaiians were only too glad to see them go again. Cook gave the order,

'Raise the anchor, bosun...Prepare to cast off', he turned to the man on the wheel. 'Starboard fifteen degrees, helmsman, if you will'.

'Aye, aye Sir', the helmsman touched his right hand to the narrow brim of his hat and took the wheel, ready to take the helm and repeated, 'Starb'd fifteen degrees'.

On either side of him, a step behind, stood Cook and first officer Lieutenant William Bligh. Other officers, midshipmen and ratings were stationed around the ship, at their stations.

Amid cries of 'Aloha' and tears for the departing sailors from their sweethearts in the canoes towed aft, Captain James Cook's two ships, HMS 'Resolution' and HMS 'Discovery' set out for the North Pacific from Kealakekua Bay on February 4th, 1779. Cook on 'Resolution' and Captain Charles Clerke on 'Discovery' were happy to allow priests and women aboard. There was little wind as they moved out into the gentle surf.

The king and high priest Koa were with Cook when the high priest told him he had taken the name 'Bretannee' to mark the visit. Emotions were high and men waved to their girlfriends in the canoes following in the ships' wake. This was very likely going to be the last they saw of one another.

Cook asked Bligh to take two boats and report on the suitability of Upolu Point as a suitable anchorage to allow the visitors off and unhitch the canoes before they left the island. Bligh was not happy when the corpulent Koa insisted on being his passenger to incant prayers for their safe, onward voyage. The prayers would come in handy, as things turned out. A dreadful turn of events was to unfold...

For the time being a wind blew up and before Bligh's boats could reach 'Resolution' Koa demanded to be put ashore, not in his own canoe. Perhaps he had lost faith in the power of his own prayers. Anyway all the other canoes had gone back to land by this time, with the sea getting rougher. Bligh's boats fought back to the ship after setting Koa down ashore. An old man and woman were fished out of the water and rowed back to land before Bligh was finally able to make for the ship again.

The wind blew hard for a day and a half, the two ships riding the storm as best they could. Disaster struck on the morning of February 8th when in an almighty gust the top foremast split. Cook was in a quandary. Bligh was sent to 'Discovery' to sound out Clerke about their options, as they would need to seek safe anchorage to undertake repair work. There was also a leak that had manifested itself again in the swell, as well as the foremast to be seen to.

He could go on to Maui and look for an inlet, or go back to Kealakekua. The Hawaiians were not expected to understand Cook's problem. He was their god Orono, after all was he not? They might well be miffed, having seen off Cook and Clerke with provisions they could ill afford to spare - having suffered at least one bad harvest. Not only that, seeing Orono reappear from the wrong direction might rankle.

Taking the risk, Cook set back to an anchorage where everything they needed was on hand. Tall, straight trees were available to replace the cracked timber. The men were as keen as their captain to be on their way again, after all. It was reassuring to Cook to see the canoes come out to greet them, although the earlier emotion was gone. The air was friendly enough. Some trading took place. A wind out of the wrong quarter hindered 'Resolution' from returning to her previous anchorage. When she was finally at anchor an alarming change had come over the Hawaiians. The canoes had almost vanished and no-one could be seen on the shore, waving as before. A brooding silence reigned. Aboard 'Resolution' the Welsh first mate David Samwell recorded:

"Kamehameha, a chief of great consequence... but of clownish and blackguard (brutish) appearance came on board... dressed in an elegant feathered cloak, which he had brought to sell but would part with it for nothing [else] but iron daggers, which they have of late preferred to ... everything else; and all the large hogs they bring us now they want daggers for, and tell us they must be made as long as their arms ... Kamehameha got nine of them for his cloak... The chief had a young boy with him whom he kept fondling..."

Samwell was disgusted at this 'detestable part of his character'.

Adzes, chisels, axes that were earlier highly valued were turned away. Long daggers became preferred 'currency'. Cook and Clerke noted the tendency with concern (something was afoot). Nevertheless repairs had to begin, as they would take a fortnight to begin. When the carpenters set up they experienced no difficulties, 'lodged' as they were at the site of their earlier.encampment.

The bay was now crowded with the natives who seemed restless, provocative. They began to steal without fear of punishment. King Terreeoboo looked anoyed at the reappearance of the ships when he arrived one morning aboard his catamaran. Heavily escorted, the canoe made for 'Resolution' and his sons helped him aboard. Formalities were brief. He had questions for Cook - why was he back, how long would he be? Cook's answers left the king unhappy. Terreeoboo visited 'Discovery' next. Clerke was too ill to receive him (it would transpire he was suffering from Tubercolosis, contracted in debtor's prison after he had taken on a brother's responsibilities). The king left the gift of a cloak and a hog and returned to shore.

'Discovery was blighted by theft all morning, the worst of a chisel and a pair of tongs from the forge which the blacksmith used to make the daggers. The thief was stopped before he could flee the ship. On hearing of his arrest the irate Clerke ordered him to be punished with forty lashes (standard Navy punishment for theft aboard ship to deter repetition at sea).

The previously forthcoming Chief Parea was now darkly angry with Clerke, telling him he had erred grievously with his treatment of the man. Meanwhile another chief arrived on board 'Resolution'. He asked to know who the fighting men (warriors) were on the ship and Cook showed him an old wound on one hand, suffered years earlier on service in Canada. Satisfied, the chief then showed his array of wounds. He was 'Tata toa'*. Back on 'Discovery' Clerke and Parea were still locked in heated discussion. A cry went up, 'Thief! Thief! There he goes!' An ill Clerke made his way up the gangway to be shown another native who had made off with the same chisel and tongs. This thief was already swimming to safety. The marines awaited orders to shoot.

'Open fire!' Clerke ordered, although the man was already a distant target. Four men set off in pursuit in the small cutter, although they would plainly not catch the man, now in a canoe.

Cook, already ashore to visit the carpenters was armed. A marine carried his double-barrelled shotgun, a fowling piece perhaps**. John Gore, temporarily in command aboard 'Resolution' saw the scene unfold.

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*Tata toa: origin of 'tattoo'?, (although Cook had on another voyage come across Maori warriors in New Zealand who wore inked patterns on their skins).

**What in the US might be termed a 'bird-gun'.

Work begins, problems arise

Captain Cook at the shore encampment, possibly consulting on progress of the work in hand
Captain Cook at the shore encampment, possibly consulting on progress of the work in hand
Captain James Cook portrayed by the artist with a chart. Cook's great contribution to the Admiralty was in his gift for drawing up and interpreting charts of hitherto uncharted regions
Captain James Cook portrayed by the artist with a chart. Cook's great contribution to the Admiralty was in his gift for drawing up and interpreting charts of hitherto uncharted regions | Source

Trouble brews

Ashore a watering party ordered by Clerke was at Kealakekua village. Previously the task had been light-hearted, the unmarried girls - the wahines - flirted, the menfolk helped roll the full casks to the boats. This time the men under quartermaster William Hollamby became the target for slingers who shouted insults. Hollamby's men were unarmed so he hastend to the encampment to Second Lieutenant James King, in command of the work party.

'The rascals are becoming very insolent, Sir', Hollamby told King. 'They only seem to pay regard to a musket'.

So King, armed with a musket and in company with a marine and Hollamby - now also armed - marched back to where the watering party sheltered. King fearlessly walked into the palm grove, found the chief and ordered him to stop the slingers. as calmly, the chief ordered his men to stop and led them back to their village.

'If you have more insults, inform me at once, Mister Hollamby', King told him before going back to the camp.

Cook's pinnace landed at the camp just then. On being told about the affray Cook exploded,

'All day we have been troubled with these Indian (sic) thieves', he grumbled. 'Please instruct Corporal Ledyard (in charge of the camp marines) to have the muskets loaded with ball instead of shot, and if there is more stone throwing or insolence, fire upon them'.

Cook's inspection was interrupted by gunfire from 'Discovery' at the time the thief got away with the chisel and tongs. He watched the thief clamber into the canoe and he watched the subsequent fruitless chase by the cutter manned by Tom Edgar the master from 'Discovery' and George Vancouver. He watched the proceedings from the exact opposite angle viewed by John Gore on 'Resolution'. Neither could do anything, although Cook set in motion a bid to rectify the situation.

'Come, Mister King', he ordered his lieutenant. 'There has clearly been a serious theft and we must endeavour to recover the article'.

Cook and King, with two marines saw Vancouver at the cutter's prow, pointing to the shore at Kealakekua, shouting. The two officers ran with their escort to where the canoe was headed. Nothing further was heard as the vessel was surrounded by a howling crowd of natives as they welcomed the thief with his 'haul'.

King looked back for orders. Cook's change of direction, running in the opposite direction, puzzled him, although he did not see it as running away in fear. He chased after Cook in the gathering darkness. Lanterns were were lit on the two ships. What was Cook up to? King kept up with his captain, all the while wondering why they were running away from the village. Anger showed on Cook's face, his long strides outpacing King's. Near Palemano Point they came across groups of natives. These did not go down on their knees to 'Orono' now, although they looked fearful as Cook called on them to ask about the thief. They were alarmed when he pointed to his gun carried by a marine. Gestures showed Cook south whilst King suspected they were being led on a merry dance.

Cook stopped, panting,

'We shall never apprehend the rascal by this means', he puffed. They took an opposite course.

Much had happened whilst Cook and King had been away. Parea's canoe - in which the thief had got away - was launched again to collect the chief from 'Discovery'. It was joined by another canoe with the offending articles. Parea had plainly ordered their return. This should have been the end of the matter. The items were back where they belonged. There was little likelihood of getting the thief himself. Edgar came up with a poor idea, to seize Parea's canoe and hold it against the production of the thief, set on punishing the man. He took hold of the prow but he and Vancouver were seen before they could launch it.

When Parea started to object to the Master he was brushed aside. Parea pinioned his arms behind his back one-handed, Edgar's hair held in the other. A sailor leapt from the pinnace and set about Parea with his oar. Fighting spread, stones flew and natives crowded around the crew of the pinnace. Parea seized the oar he had been beaten with and broke it in two.

Edgar and Vancouver retreated to an offshore rock and the rest of the crew brandished the remaining oars to hold off Parea's men. With the affray at its height men were being hurt. Parea roared above the din, fearful of fatal injuries being inflicted by either side. A cessation of hostilities was demanded. Edgar and his men paddled away, shamed, to 'Discovery', showing they were only human without their guns.

Arriving back at the camp Cook and King were wearied and downcast. Cook was enraged on hearing of the fracas on the beach. He upbraided the coxswain for getting into a fight needlessly, without ensuring they had firearms. He then took Edgar and Vancouver to task. Lastly he addressed King.

'I am very sorry Mister King, but the behaviour of these Indians (sic) must at least oblige me to use force', Cook told King before returning to 'Resolution'. 'They must not imagine they have gained an advantage over us by what has happened today'.


Tensions heighten

Volcanic rocks on Kealakekua Bay
Volcanic rocks on Kealakekua Bay | Source
Over-king of Hawaii, Kamehameha 'the Great' ruled at the time Cook's ships came to the islands
Over-king of Hawaii, Kamehameha 'the Great' ruled at the time Cook's ships came to the islands | Source
Landing re-enactment, 14th February, 1779 - the wrong kind of Valentine's Day greeting!
Landing re-enactment, 14th February, 1779 - the wrong kind of Valentine's Day greeting! | Source

'Sir, the cutter has been taken!'

When at anchor in hot climes captains would have all but one boat in the sea overnight, filled with water to protect the timbers against the sun's drying heat - as well as a security measure against theft. Aboard 'Discovery' Jem Burney was the 'officer on watch' in charge of the first watch on Sunday, 14th February, the day after the ruckus. In the first light of day Burney undertook his regular round of inspection.

A look below filled him with horror. Another look confirmed his worst fears and he hastened to Clerke's cabin. The captain was awake, sleep eluded him with the pain he endured, when Burney burst in and informed him that the large cutter was gone. Clerke asked Burney to summon his servant and said he would have to relay the message to Captain Cook. Fully dressed when Clerke stepped aboard 'Resolution', Cook fumed but kept his temper. He agreed the matter was serious,

'They are set upon doing us every injury, and we must not allow them to get the upper hand'. Kealakekua Bay was to be blockaded, Cook said. 'Resolution's' own boats should head for the north-west point of the bay, and Clerke's to the south-east to keep any canoes from fleeing. '...Instruct your officers to drive any canoes onshore if they should attempt to go away. we shall fire our great guns ...if necessary'.

Back on 'Discovery' Edgar, Burney and Second Lieutenant John Rickman stood to for orders. The four-pounders were primed and the two remaining boats were drained and ready. Rickman had charge of the launch and Burney would man the jolly boat. All men were to be armed. Williamson commanded the launch from 'Resolution'; Bligh had the cutter and was away first, his blood up. He had frowned on Cook's softness, as he saw it, regarding the natives. Not trusting the marines, he had picked his own men. Ball was ordered to be loaded.

The men became aware of a humming, the same sound the watering party had heard he day before. Warriors lined the black clifftop in their hundreds, more waited in the woods, all were armed and wore protective 'mats' on their chests. The women and children of Kealakekua, Kalama and Kaawaloa and other neighbouring villages were now refugees in their own back yard and hastened inland through the woods. It was obvious these Hawaiians were on a war footing.

Cook took the first lead due to William Bligh, who had witnessed the launch of several canoes from Kaawaloa and watched the largest heading for the north-west entry to the bay. Bligh pressed his men into cutting it off, threatening them with a dozen lashes if it eluded them. The canoe's sail was hoisted and it soon left them behind. Aboard 'Resolution' a cannon boomed. The ball was well aimed and splashed yards ahead of the canoe's prow. The canoeists went on paddling without let-up, trying to use the gap between a black volcanic rock shore and the launch.

Bligh ordered his men to rest on their oars and take up their muskets. 'Fire!' The balls flew at the still racing canoe. Bligh ordered, 'Reload!' but it was unnecessary. Many canoeists leapt overboard, the remainder, those not yet dead or wounded steered frantically for a narrow inlet amongst the rocks. Those aboard 'Resolution' saw the effect of Bligh's fusillade on the canoe's occupants. John Gore seemed pleased at the outcome. Cook said nothing to that but let Gore know he was going ashore with an escort, Lieutenant Philips, Sergeant Gibson, Corporal Thomas and seven marine privates.

'I shall bring back with me the king, to detain him on board'. He added, 'I believe it necessary to act swiftly against these Indians (sic). We have witnessed the effect of musket fire upon them. So also have the Indians. They will not stand the fire of a single musket now'.

He turned to his servant and ordered his double-barrelled gun to be brought to him quickly. Gore was taken aback at his captain's plan, suicidal in the light of the natives' mood. There was also a large army assembling less than a mile off, inland. He also knew from looking at Cook that it would be useless to demur. Gore answered instead,

'I trust, Sir, that you will not proceed without powerful protection. You may be sure that I will keep all our starboard battery trained on this town'.

King came on board 'Resolution' then from the shore camp. He wanted to know what was afoot. Cook loaded his gun, one barrel with shot and the other with ball. He reiterated his intentions,

'Your business, Mister King, is to quieten the Indians on your side of the bay. Inform them that they will not be hurt. And Mister King, keep your party together - and on their guard'.

'Aye, aye Sir'. King and Gore set off to their pre-set posts at the same time. King, as upset as Gore about Cook's plan, was reassured when he saw the strength of Cook's escort. Aside from the marines he had summoned Williamson in the launch. William Lanyon in the small cutter had four young gentlemen [officers], Trevenen, Ward, Taylor and Charlton. They were armed with pistol and musket as were the others.

Bayly waited at the landing and King informed Cook what was happening. He ordered the American marine corporal to post his men, muskets ball-loaded, and not to hold back if provoked. King marched away to Koa's house in the village. Koa was not alone.

'I found that they had already heard of the cutter's being stolen', he would report later. 'I assured them that although Captain Cook was resolved to recover it, and to punish the author(s) of the theft, yet they and the people of the village on our side need not be under the smallest apprehension of suffering any evil from us'.

The carpenters had started on the foremast, aware that there was something going on. They also knew the repairs were necessary. Their muskets were stacked close at hand and they had also been told not to hold back on using them under provocation.

There was a new outbreak of musket fire, screams and crying followed. Conditions for working were not ideal.

Last moments

Matters come to a head ashore near the village
Matters come to a head ashore near the village | Source
Cook meets his end - a romanticised view of the killing scene. He was on the rocks in the sea when he was clubbed for the last time
Cook meets his end - a romanticised view of the killing scene. He was on the rocks in the sea when he was clubbed for the last time | Source
The site where Cook was slain on the volcanic rocks, trying to get to Williamson's boat
The site where Cook was slain on the volcanic rocks, trying to get to Williamson's boat | Source

Disaster unfolds before Burney's very eyes

Jem Burney on 'Discovery' was best placed to watch events on both sides of the bay. Through his glass he could see Cook land on the volcanic rocks where he always made landfall to visit Kaawaloa. He was on his way along the track, his height making it easy to see him. Philips was at his side, with Sergeant Gibson, Corporal Thomas and the seven privates. The coconut groves hid them from sight and Burney turned to see the launch, small cutter and Cook's pinnace just offshore at the landing place. The crew dipped the oars continually to keep them 'on station'.

'Resolution' opened fire at an unseen target, the thunder of the volley echoed off the high cliff. Bligh chased another canoe and Burney expected to hear another volley of musket fire. Instead he and Clerke heard new shouting from the stationary canoe that had been fired at earlier at Kaawaloa. Then Rickman in the launch fired another volley.

A small canoe left the larger one to cross the bay unhindered toward 'Discovery'. Burney told the guard not to fire unless ordered. Clerke ordered the jolly boat away just then, 'to find out how matters stand with Mister Rickman - also to bring any seized canoes to the ship'.

Four men were in the canoe, stirred and chattering so fast and angrily that even the fluent Burney could not make out what they said. The names 'Orono' and 'Katimu' cropped up several times. Eventually Burney told Clerke that he thought they were telling him Chief Kalimu had been killed. They remembered this brute from dealings in Keakalekua Bay and thought Rickman must have been sore-tried before opening fire.

Agitated and frustrated, the canoeists set off toward 'Resolution', shouting 'Orono', perhaps not knowing Cook was ashore. The canoe did not stayed long at the ship, plainly the men had found no-one could help them, and they set off to Kaawaloa where the four men dashed off toward the village.

The humming noise in the background now escalated. There was the sudden noise of conch shells being blown into, which signalled the onset of a fight. Cook, Philips and the marines ashore also heard the conch shells. Cook made for Terreeoboo's house, a simple thatched dwelling at the heart of the village, met on the way by the king's young sons who called him 'Toote' rather than 'Orono'. Ever cheerful and welcoming, this time they were no different towards him despite his armed escort of scarlet-coated marines.

Cook told Philips to go in and tell the king he awaited him outside. Terreeoboo was just waking when Philips entered. It took him some time to realise there was someone there, and what he said in his halting Polynesian. The king rose shakily, pulled on a cloak and shuffled to the doorway where he showed mild surprise at the sight of 'Orono'. Cook took his hand and invited him to his ship. The king accepted gladly and with a son on either side to help, Terreeoboo took a few unsteady steps toward the landing. Cook told Philips he thought the king looked very innocent of what had happened with the cutter.

A crowd of warriors gathered around them, almost all armed. Cook ignored the crowd and talked calmly to the king. The marines formed a wedge like a ship's prow to protect them as they walked. It was not far to the black rocks through the coconut grove to where the three boats awaited them.

Almost at the same time the four canoeists landed and spread word of Chief Kalimu's death, and then one of the king's women broke from the crowd and fell, shrieking at the king's feet, begging him not to leave. Terreeoboo either lost his balance or fell due to the people milling around him. Cook roared angrily to be heard above the din of the amassed warriors. Sitting now, the king took on a very un-royal bearing, 'dejected and frightened', as Philips would describe him later.

Philips shouted in Cook's ear,

'Shall I order my men to arrange themselves in order among the rocks by the waterside, Sir?' To which Cook nodded.

'Do that, Mister Philips. We can never think of compelling the king to go on board without killing a number of these people'.

Samwell later noted the natives had become more daring and irksome, throwing stones, threatening the spears at Cook. On seeing the man Cook shot him. The sergeant then told him he had shot the wrong man, and Cook told him to shoot the right man, which he did. The warriors fell back but stones showered on Cook's shore party, prompting the marines to fire a volley. They were now left without reserve. Firing followed from the boats, at which Cook.showed surprise, telling them to hold fire and come closer.

This was when it seemed Cook's prediction would be borne out, that the natives would not stand up to musket fire. The crowd pulled back like a wave. Samwell thought the marines would stand their ground well and everything might have turned out for the better. However, aware they might be overwhelmed before they could reload. Several turned and fled across the rocks to the boats, dropping their muskets. The panicked men were seen by those in the boats and by many aboard the ships through their telescopes. They saw, too, that not all were able to get away. Corporal Thomas, like Philips, had stood his ground and reloaded. A sagger was thrust into his stomach and he fell, unable to rise again.

Philips also reloaded but fell, stabbed in one shoulder as he lay. The plucky lieutenant seized his musket and shot his attacker at lose range. Other marines fell on the rocks, trying to wade out, close to rescue. Private Harrison was seen by the boat crews to be hacked to pieces. Tom Fatchett fell, head gushing blood. Tom Jackson, eldest of the privates and a veteran who had lived through a German campaign was struck in the face by a spear, close below one eye. Screaming in pain he tried to pull it out and it broke off. With blood pouring from the wound he waded out and fell in the waves, unable to swim. Stones tore into the water around him. Theo Hinks did not reach the water, being stabbed by a dozen screaming warriors. Philips struggled on, badly wounded. He was struck on the head by stones that were either thrown or slung at him. He stumbled on a slippery rock, held, and hurled himself into the waves. He was a strong swimmer, unlike his men, and reached the gunwhale. On doing so he he saw the hapless Jackson, half drowned, and dragged him to the pinnace. On seeing the boat was already dangerously overloaded, he made for Lanyon's small cutter manned by the young gentlemen officers.

He would be unlucky. Lieutenant Williamson thought Cook's hand signal meant he should pull back. Cook's own crew saw it as a signal for help and were incensed at Williamson's desertion. When one of the men on the cutter stood and fired off a round at hopelessly long range - more a gesture of support than use - Williamson threatened to shoot the next man who did the same.

Richard Hough takes you from birth and early childhood at Marton-in-Cleveland (now a suburb of Middlesbrough), via early youth at Aireyholme Farm near Ayton a few miles to the south-east, apprenticeship to the Whitby trading ship owner John Walker, recruitment into the Royal Navy and service in Canada with General Wolfe's invasion force to global voyages (Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii)... Cook's skills at charting the islands of the southern seas led the way for trade and colonisation, and are the basis for many modern charts

Captain James Cook - A Biography

One of Terreeoboo's young sons had run ahead in the early stage of the procession to the shore to surprise his father in greeting him as he was helped aboard Cook's pinnace. Instead he found himself in the midst of the musket firing at the height of the confrontation. He inadvertently found himself on the receiving end of blows from his own people, and from stones that rained down on him. Bewildered and frightened the young lad dived into the waves and swam out into the bay.

Aboard the two sloops eight bells rang out. All who were able were up on deck, shouting, agitated at the sight of their comrades being cut down ashore. Only those with telescopes on the further 'Discovery' could make out what was going on, and it seemed Cook was the only survivor on the rocky foreshore. The corpses of his marines lay around him, along with those of the dead warriors. Stooped, his tall frame presented a target for the rocks thrown at him, he had one hand to the back of his head. They wondered why he walked so slowly. Was he hurt - or maybe he tried to show disdain by not hurrying?

The warriors still held back from attacking 'Orono', as if fearful of punishment. Then came the fatal attack, as Samwell recorded:

"An Indian (sic) came running behind him, stopping once or twice as he advanced, as if he was afraid he [Cook] would turn round. Then taking him unaware, he sprung to him, knocked him on the back of his head with a large club taken out of a fence, and instantly fled with the greatest precipitation. The blow made Captain Cook stagger two or three paces. He then fell on his hand and one knee and dropped his musket. As he was rising another Ibdian came running at him, and before he could recover himself from the fall, drew out an iron dagger he [the native] concealed under his feathered cloak and struck with all his force into the back of his [Cook's] neck. This made Captain Cook tumble into the water where [it] is about knee deep. Here he was followed by a crowd of people who endeavoured to keep him under water, but struggling very strongly wityh them he got his head up, and, looking towards the pinnace - which was not above a boat's hook length from him, waved his hands to them for assistance, which it seems was not in their power to give".

It was not yet the end, however. He raised his head and tried to scramble over the rocks. Another warrior dealt him a shattering blow and Cook dropped for the last time. Those close by witnessed the frenzied assault on the body when it was draped on the rocks. Warriors (?) pressed to bludgeon and stab Cook's corpse.

A great sigh and a wail went up ashore as if the realisation had come, as to what had been done. However, some of the warriors provoked the strongest reaction from the crews by turning en masse and showing their backsides. The dead marines' tunics were paraded as trophies and a canoe was paddled to beyond musket range, where its crew turned and showed their backsides through Cook's torn coat.

This brought a salvo from both ships, their four-pounders unleashed a hail of cannon shot at the amassed warriors. Bligh was all for destroying the village, such was his regard for Cook (although it may have been his killing of Chief Kalimu that brought on the attack on the foreshore). Reason prevailed, King and Clerke stemmed the crews' anger. Bligh had always regarded King with scorn, although it was Williamson who bore the greatest scorn and derision. He barely survived the day and near mutiny had been threatened aboard his boat as he turned his gun on the rowers.

Bligh led a company of marines to the village, killing all those they came across, beheading some.

Eventually reason won out, anger spent, although the fragile peace was strained when Terreeobooo said various chiefs had taken some of Cook's bones as trophies. Finally he was able to retrieve the remains - under threat of further revenge attacks - and left them on the foreshore where Cook was killed. He was given a sea burial with due ceremony, cannon salvoes fired in salute.

Before 'Resolution' and 'Discovery' sailed again peace was restored. Fruits and other foodstuffs were stored aboard, peace offerings. Before the ships sailed two of the native men swam out to the anchor chains and rested there whilst they sang a long dirge. Then they swam back to shore. The ships set sail on February 23rd, 1779.

So much had happened in the last five weeks that would live on in everyone's memories. Eighteen year old Midshipman James Trevenen wrote:

"An universal gloom and strong sentiments of grief and melancholy were very observable throughout all ranks on board the ship on our quitting this bay without the great and revered commander".

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Cook was more than their commander. He was a father figure to them, looked after them and saw to it they never fell ill with the sailor's scourge - scurvy. The farmer's lad from Marton-in-Cleveland had risen through his own skills and effort to the rank of captain in command of two ships. It was unheard of in 18th Century England that any but the privileged would rise in the Royal Navy as commissioned officers. His promotion had been long in coming, but his superiors knew that in him they had something unique.

However... his thinking in Hawaii in those last days is unfathomable. Reason seems to have left him, even to think of the bid to hold King Terreeoboo captive aboard 'Resolution' as a guarantee of safety for his men. Desperation can be a cruel master of the mind. Bligh would one day learn that for himself.

The end, and in memory...

The memorial plaque near the site of Cook's death - a little piece of Yorkshire on Hawaii!
The memorial plaque near the site of Cook's death - a little piece of Yorkshire on Hawaii! | Source
The approach to Captain Cook's monument on Easby Moor - overlooking Great Ayton and Aireyholme Farm
The approach to Captain Cook's monument on Easby Moor - overlooking Great Ayton and Aireyholme Farm | Source
North Yorkshire Moors, the lower Tees Valley to the north - Staithes, where Cook found a taste for sea-going is on the coast (right), north-west of Whitby near where Boulby is marked. Marton, south of Middlesbrough, is the site of a dedicated museum
North Yorkshire Moors, the lower Tees Valley to the north - Staithes, where Cook found a taste for sea-going is on the coast (right), north-west of Whitby near where Boulby is marked. Marton, south of Middlesbrough, is the site of a dedicated museum | Source

Disaster log - how events overtook the captain's crews

1778, 18th January: First Hawaiian islands sighted on the way east to the west coast of America;

1778, 27th October: Cook celebrates his fiftieth birthday aboard HMS Resolution;

1778, 26th November, Back at the Hawaiian Islands, sights Maui;

1778, 30th November, Chief Terreeoboo on board - later sights Owhyhee (Hawaii);

1779, 16th January, Kealakekua Bay sighted;

1779, 4th February : Departs Kealakekua Bay;

1779, 8th February: Resolution loses her top foremast in a storm and returns to Kealakekua Bay;

1779, 14th February: Theft of a cutter by Hawaiian leads to an affray ashore - Cook's failure to kidnap the king leads to his own death and loss of four marines;

1779, 15th February: Part of Cook's corpse returned;

1779, 22nd February: Cook's remains buried at Kealakekua Bay - a small corner of the Pacific will be forever tied with the North Riding

The Museum

Captain Cook birthplace museum in Stewart Park near the Marton Crossroads and opposite James Cook Hospital (South Tees NHS Trust)
Captain Cook birthplace museum in Stewart Park near the Marton Crossroads and opposite James Cook Hospital (South Tees NHS Trust) | Source
An etching that depicts where James Cook was born 27th October, 1728 to local lass Grace and James Cook Snr., a Scots' economic migrant
An etching that depicts where James Cook was born 27th October, 1728 to local lass Grace and James Cook Snr., a Scots' economic migrant | Source

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8 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 12 months ago from Olympia, WA

I can pay you no higher praise than to tell you that you remind me of Bruce Catton and his historical novels about the Civil War. Masterful is the word that comes to mind and believe me, I don't say that often.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 12 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Why shucks Bill, thanks. Mind, this ain't fiction. (You haven't read any of the RAVENFEAST series yet, though, have you?).

Captain Cook was born a few miles down the road from where I lived at Eston near Middlesbrough. Have a look at the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum site for a complete lowdown on the man. His imprint is across North Yorkshire from Marton to Ayton, Staithes (pron. 'Steeaz') to Whitby. That's where he left our radar apart from when he visited his father James at Marske-by-the-Sea (between Saltburn and Redcar). James Cook Senior's retirement cottage from Great Ayton is in a park in Melbourne, Australia. He'd moved to live near his eldest daughter and was buried overlooking the sea at St German's church in Marske village. The school young James went to is a museum at Ayton, opposite the bigger Friend's School on the green, and a statue of James Jnr stands at the heart of the green facing the shops. When you've looked around, stop at Suggitt's across the road from the River Leven and have a coffee and cake - or one of their famous ice creams.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 12 months ago from Queensland Australia

Alan. This is a remarkably thorough and expertly written account of events. Thank you for sharing this account of the life and death of Captain James Cook, very highly regarded by all Australians.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 12 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello John, glad you liked it. Try the link at the end, to the Birthplace Museum, lots of different avenues to explore there, and only a half hour drive from where Cook went to Staithes where he got the taste for the sea. Tell your mates about the page, let's have a barbie, good on yer! The more the merrier - I gather his father's cottage from Ayton is in a Melbourne park.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 12 months ago from Los Angeles

Brilliantly written, Alan! I'm quite impressed by both your research and your ability to weave it into such an engaging read.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 12 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello Cat, it's all part of the 'service'. There's a piece after this in the HERITAGE series, No.30, that gives you the low-down on the background to the ships Captain Cook sailed in before he joined the Royal Navy. When he was asked to pick a ship for his first voyage (to observe the transit of Venus, Tahiti, 1769) he chose a Whitby 'Cat', the local name for the collier ships that transported coals from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to London. Enjoy the read.


lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 11 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

Alan

You brought Captain Cook back to life with this hub. He's revered in these parts not just for his seamanship but also for his respect for local customs and cultures!

Cook treated the indigenous people as equals and that's what is remembered here in New Zealand.

Really enjoyed this hub, though I was surprised that a young Lieutenant Bligh was with him, he's remembered here too for very different reasons!

Lawrence


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 11 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Lawrence

Nice of you to drop by. Bligh's got this reputation, hasn't he. There's a small church behind Lambeth Palace (across Westminster Bridge from HP), where Bligh's family tomb can be seen close to the building. He learnt his navigation well from Cook, and he thought he was copying him in the discipline stakes but he got carried away. He was exonerated by the Admiralty after the event but was told to ease up a bit on the crew in future. It seems to have worked. I don't think we heard any more from him. Every sea-dog has his day.

Alan

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