Friday, 14 February 2014

The Murder of Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook, FRS, RN (Marton, Middlesbrough, England, 7th November 1728 – Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, 14th February 1779)


Portrait of James Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1776
Captain James Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1776

Well, it occurs to me that today's post should be one with a little romance but I've plumped for something a little darker! It is off to Hawaii for a tale of murder and the final hours of Captain James Cook.

By February 1779 Captain James Cook was well-embarked on his exploration of the Hawaiin Islands, then known as the Sandwich Islands, and had spent an enjoyable period at Kealakekua Bay where he participated in festivities for the Makahiki, a Hawaiian celebration. However as the Resolution resumed her exploration of the ocean her foremast broke, and Cook ordered her return to Kealakekua Bay.

With their festivities concluded the islanders did not welcome the returning crew and tensions rose between the Hawaiians and their visitors that reached a head on 14th February. With thefts not uncommon, the theft of one of Cook's smallest boats was hardly unexpected, nor was the method of taking hostages that would be held as collateral for the stolen property. However, Cook decided to make a point by taking the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, as hostage against the stolen boat.


The Death of Captain James Cook, 14 February 1779 by Johann Zoffany, 1795
The Death of Captain James Cook, 14 February 1779 by Johann Zoffany, 1795

The Hawaiians furiously defended their king and in the confusion a chief named Kalimu was shot dead. Pursued by the islanders, Cook and his men were forced to retreat to the beach, intending to return to their boats. However, before they could flee Cook was struck on the head by the pursuing villagers and fell to the ground, where he was stabbed to death. According to Hawaiian lore Cook's killer was a chief named Kalaimanokahoʻowaha or Kanaʻina, and following Cook's death and that of some of his men, the murdered captain's body was carried away by the islanders.

Due to their earlier respect for Cook, the Hawaiians prepared his corpse according to rituals reserved for their most illustrious people. His body was first disemboweled before being baked in order for the flesh to be removed and boned cleaned to be presented as religious icons. Some of the captain's remains were eventually presented to his crew and were buried at sea.

10 comments:

Gem Twitcher said...

What a way to end up.Madame!!!....or maybe better than dissection after Tyburn?? Hrmmmmm??

Madame Gilflurt said...

Of the two options, Tyburn is certainly the darker!

Linda Root said...

At least he was respected on Hawaii and still seems to be.

Madame Gilflurt said...

I believe so!

Debra Brown said...

Well, all this "I'll take your property, please," work that went on in those days... if not that, bringing fresh disease and certain death to peoples without immunity--it didn't always pan out well for the newcomers even if they weren't always trying to take the land.

Madame Gilflurt said...

Very true...

Mary Seymour said...

If I may, I would like to challenge the suggestion that the South Sea Islanders showed more respect for a corpse than the members of the Barber-Surgeons' Company. Those who were dissected following hanging at Tyburn were decently disposed of. The Barber-Surgeons provided a coffin and paid for a funeral and burial (according naturally to the Book of Common Prayer) in the overspill churchyard of the derelict church of St Olave, Silver Street. {This church, formerly the Barber-Surgeons' Guild Church had burned down in the Great Fire and never been rebuilt - but it was still consecrated ground. It still is!] This burial ground was known as "The Anatomists Ground" and those interred there certainly had a more dignified funeral than they might have had if buried as paupers by their parish or by their inebriated fellow criminals!

Madame Gilflurt said...

I"m actually working on a little bit of a fictional something regarding the Barber-Surgeons' Company (very, very early days at the moment though). It's a topic that has long since fascinated me for all sorts of reasons!

Catherine Lloyd said...

I live on the Big Island of Hawaii and Captain Cook is indeed remembered very well by the native Hawaiians. There is a monument to him on the coast, which is very small but the land it is built on is forever considered to be British territory. And the Hawaiian state flag still has the Union Jack in the corner. :) As a Brit and a newly minted citizen of the USA, I find these things make me feel very at home.

Catherine Curzon said...

It's always nice to feel at one - I can't wait to feature your guest post this week!