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Title: A Narrative of the Death of Captain James Cook

Author: David Samwell

Editor: Bruce Cartwright

Release date: December 13, 2010 [eBook #34634]
Most recently updated: January 7, 2021

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Patrick Hopkins, Cindy Horton, Chris Curnow
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


Transcriber's Note

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Historical Society Reprints, (No. 2)


A Narrative of the Death
Captain James Cook


Surgeon of The Discovery

Printed for G. C. J. and J. Robinson, Pater-Noster-Row

(The Edition of this Reprint is Limited to 500 Copies)

Captain James Cook Captain James Cook

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[Photographic reproduction of the original title page.]

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In presenting this reprint to our members the editor wishes to express his thanks to Professor W. T. Brigham of the Bishop Museum for furnishing him with a photograph of Captain Cook, from which the cut in this reprint was made; to Mr. John F. G. Stokes of the Bishop Museum for his assistance in identifying the Hawaiian names, and to Mr. J. W. Waldron for furnishing a typewritten copy of the book of which this is a reprint.

The modern Hawaiian names are inserted in brackets following those given in the text.

This reprint was edited and indexed for the Hawaiian Historical Society by Bruce Cartwright, Jr.

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To those who have perused the account of the last voyage to the Pacific Ocean, the following sheets may, at first sight, appear superfluous. The author, however, being of the opinion, that the event of Captain Cook's death has not yet been so explicitly related as the importance of it required, trusts that this Narrative will not be found altogether a repetition of what is already known. At the same time, he wishes to add his humble testimony to the merit of the account given of this transaction by Captain King. Its brevity alone can afford an excuse for this publication, the object of which is to give a more particular relation of that unfortunate affair, which he finds is in general but imperfectly understood. He thinks himself warranted in saying this, from having frequently observed, that the public opinion seemed to attribute the loss of Captain Cook's life, in some measure, to rashness or too much confidence on his side; whereas nothing can be more ill-founded or unjust. It is, therefore, a duty which his friends owe to his character, to have the whole affair candidly and fully related, whatever facts it may involve, that may appear of a disagreeable nature to individuals. The author is confident, that if Captain King could have foreseen, that any wrong opinion respecting Captain Cook, would have been the consequence of omitting some circumstances relative to his death; the goodnatured motive that induced him to be silent, would not have stood a moment in competition with the superior call of justice to the memory of his friend. This publication, he is satisfied, would not have been disapproved of by Captain King, for whose memory he has the highest esteem, and to whose friendship he is under many obligations. He is sanguine enough to believe that it will serve to remove a supposition, in this single instance, injurious to the memory of Captain Cook, who was no less distinguished for his caution and prudence, than for his eminent abilities and undaunted resolution.

The late appearance of this Narrative has been owing to the peculiar situation of the writer, whose domestic residence is at a great distance from the metropolis, and whose duty frequently calls him from home for several months together. He has the pleasure of adding, that, in publishing the following account of Captain Cook's death, he acts in concurrence with the opinion of some very respectable persons.

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Narrative of the Death of Captain Cook

In the month of January, 1779, the "Resolution" and "Discovery" lay about a fortnight at anchor in the bay of Kerag,e,goo,ah[1] (Kealakekua), in the Island of Ou-why-ee (Hawaii). During that time, the ships were most plentifully supplied with provisions by natives, with whom we lived on the most friendly terms. We were universally treated by them with kind attention and hospitality; but the respect they paid to Captain Cook, was little short of adoration. It was, therefore, with sentiments of the most perfect good-will towards the inhabitants, that we left the harbour, on the fourth of February. It was Captain Cook's intention to visit the other islands to leeward, and we stood to the westward, towards Mowee (Maui), attended by several canoes full of people, who were willing to accompany us as far as they could, before they bade us a final adieu.

On the sixth, we were overtaken by a gale of wind; and the next night, the "Resolution" had the misfortune of springing the head of her foremast, in such a dangerous manner, that Captain Cook was obliged to return to Keragegooah (Kealakekua), in order to have it repaired; for we could find no other convenient harbour on the island. The same gale had occasioned much distress among some canoes, that had paid a visit from the shore. One of them, with two men and a child on board, was picked up by the "Resolution," and rescued from destruction: the men, having toiled hard all night, in attempting to reach the land, were so much exhausted, that they could hardly mount the ship's side. When they got upon the quarter-deck, they burst[Pg 6] into tears, and seemed much affected with the dangerous situation from which they had escaped; but the little child appeared lively and cheerful. One of the "Resolution's" boats was also so fortunate as to save a man and two women, whose canoe had been upset by the violence of the waves. They were brought on board, and, with the others, partook of the kindness and humanity of Captain Cook.

On the morning of Wednesday, the tenth, we were within a few miles of the harbour; and were soon joined by several canoes, in which appeared many of our old acquaintances; who seemed to have come to welcome us back. Among them was Coo,aha[2] (Kuaha), a priest: he had brought a small pig, and some cocoa nuts in his hand, which, after having chaunted a few sentences, he presented to Captain Clerke. He then left us, and hastened on board the "Resolution," to perform the same friendly ceremony before Captain Cook. Having but light winds all that day, we could not gain the harbour. In the afternoon, a chief of the first rank, and nearly related to Kariopoo (Kalaniopuu), paid us a visit on board the "Discovery." His name was Ka,mea,mea (Kamehameha): he was dressed in a very rich feathered cloke, which he seemed to have brought for sale, but would part with it for nothing except iron daggers. These, the chiefs, some time before our departure, had preferred to every other article; for having received a plentiful supply of hatchets and other tools, they began to collect a store of warlike instruments. Kameamea (Kamehameha) procured nine daggers for his cloke, and being pleased with his reception, he and his attendants slept on board that night.

In the morning of the eleventh of February, the ships anchored again in Keragegooah bay (Kealakekua Bay), and preparation was immediately made for landing the "Resolution's" foremast. We were visited but by few of the Indians, because there were but few in the bay. On our departure, those belonging to other parts, had repaired to their several habitations, and were again to collect from various quarters, before we could expect to be surrounded by such multitudes as we had once seen in that harbour. In the afternoon I walked about a mile into the country, to visit an Indian friend, who had, a few days before, come near twenty miles, in a small canoe, to see me, while the ship lay becalmed. As the canoe had not left us long before a gale of wind came on, I was alarmed for the consequence; however, I had the pleasure to find that my friend had escaped unhurt, though not without some difficulties. I take notice of[Pg 7] this short excursion, merely because it afforded me an opportunity of observing, that there appeared no change in the disposition or behaviour of the inhabitants. I saw nothing that could induce me to think, that they were displeased with our return, or jealous of the intention of our second visit. On the contrary, that abundant good nature which had always characterised them, seemed still to glow in every bosom, and to animate every countenance.

The next day, February the twelfth, the ships were put under a taboo, by the chiefs, a solemnity, it seems, that was requisite to be observed before Kariopoo (Kalaniopuu), the king, paid his first visit to Captain Cook, after his return. He waited upon him the same day, on board the "Resolution," attended by a large train, some of which bore the presents designed for Captain Cook, who received him in his usual friendly manner, and gave him several articles in return. This amicable ceremony being settled, the taboo was dissolved, matters went on in the usual train, and the next day, February the thirteenth, we were visited by the natives in great numbers; the "Resolution's" mast was landed, and the astronomical observatories erected on their former situation. I landed, with another gentleman, at the town of Kavaroah (Kaawaloa), where we found a great number of canoes, just arrived from different parts of the island, and the Indians busy in constructing temporary huts on the beach, for their residence during the stay of the ships. On our return on board the "Discovery," we learned that an Indian had been detected in stealing the armourer's tongs from the forge, for which he received a pretty severe flogging, and was sent out of the ship. Notwithstanding the example made of this man, in the afternoon another had the audacity to snatch the tongs and a chizel from the same place, with which he jumped overboard, and swam for the shore. The master and a midshipman were instantly dispatched after him, in the small cutter. The Indian seeing himself pursued, made for a canoe: his countrymen took him on board, and paddled as swift as they could towards the shore; we fired several muskets at them, but to no effect, for they soon got out of the reach of our shot. Pareah (Palea), one of the chiefs, who was at that time on board the "Discovery," understanding what had happened, immediately went ashore, promising to bring back the stolen goods. Our boat was so far distanced, in chasing the canoe which had taken the chief on board, that he had time to make his escape into the country. Captain Cook, who was then on shore, endeavoured to intercept his landing; but it seems, that he was led out of the way by some of the natives, who had officiously intruded them[Pg 8]selves as guides. As the master was approaching near the landing-place, he was met by some of the Indians in a canoe; they had brought back the tongs and chizel, together with another article, that we had not missed, which happened to be the lid of the water-cask. Having recovered these things, he was returning on board, when he was met by the "Resolution's" pinnace, with five men in her, who, without any orders, had come from the observatories to his assistance. Being thus unexpectedly reinforced, he thought himself strong enough to insist upon having the thief, or the canoe which took him in, delivered up as reprizals. With that view he turned back; and having found the canoe on the beach, he was preparing to launch it into the water when Pareah (Palea) made his appearance, and insisted upon his not taking it away, as it was his property. The officer not regarding him, the chief seized upon him, pinioned his arms behind, and held him by the hair of his head: on which, one of the sailors struck him with an oar: Pareah (Palea) instantly quitted the officer, snatched the oar out of the man's hand, and snapped it in two across his knee. At length, the multitude began to attack our people with stones. They made some resistance, but were soon overpowered, and obliged to swim for safety to the small cutter, which lay farther out than the pinnace. The officers, not being expert swimmers, retreated to a small rock in the water, where they were closely pursued by the Indians. One man darted a broken oar at the master; but his foot slipping at the time, he missed him, which fortunately saved that officer's life. At last, Pareah (Palea) interfered, and put an end to their violence. The Gentlemen, knowing that his presence was their only defense against the fury of the natives, entreated him to stay with them, till they could get off in the boats; but that he refused, and left them. The master went to seek assistance from the party at the observatories; but the midshipman chose to remain in the pinnace. He was very rudely treated by the mob, who plundered the boat of everything that was loose on board, and then began to knock her to pieces, for the sake of the ironwork: but Pareah (Palea) fortunately returned in time to prevent her destruction. He had met the other gentleman on his way to the observatories, and suspecting his errand, had forced him to return. He dispersed the crowd again, and desired the gentlemen to return on board; they represented, that all the oars had been taken out of the boat: on which he brought some of them back, and the gentlemen were glad to get off, without further molestation. They had not proceeded far, before they were overtaken by Pareah (Palea), in a canoe; he delivered the midshipman's cap, which had been taken from him in the scuffle,[Pg 9] joined noses with them, in token of reconciliation, and was anxious to know, if Captain Cook would kill him for what had happened. They assured him of the contrary, and made signs of friendship to him in return. He then left them, and paddled over to the town of Kavaroah (Kaawaloa), and that was the last time we ever saw him. Captain Cook returned on board soon after, much displeased with the whole of this disagreeable business; and the same night, sent a lieutenant on board the "Discovery," to learn the particulars of it, as it had originated in that ship.

It was remarkable, that in the midst of the hurry and confusion attending this affair, Kanynah[3] (Kanaina), a chief who had always been on terms particularly friendly with us, came from the spot where it happened, with a hog to sell on board the "Discovery:" it was of an extraordinary large size, and he demanded for it a pahowa (pahoa), or dagger, of an unusual length. He pointed to us, that it must be as long as his arm. Captain Clerke not having one of that length, told him, he would get one made for him by the morning; with which being satisfied, he left the hog, and went ashore without making any stay with us. It will not be altogether foreign to the subject, to mention a circumstance, that happened to-day on board the "Resolution." An Indian Chief asked Captain Cook at his table, if he was a Tata Toa (Hakaka Koa); which means a fighting man, or a soldier. Being answered in the affirmative, he desired to see his wounds: Captain Cook held out his right-hand, which had a scar upon it, dividing the thumb from the finger, the whole length of the metacarpal bones. The Indian, being thus convinced of his being a Toa (Koa), put the same question to another gentleman present, but he happened to have none of those distinguishing marks: the chief then said, that he himself was a Toa (Koa), and showed the scars of some wounds he had received in battle. Those who were on duty at the observatories, were disturbed during the night, with shrill and melancholy sounds, issuing from the adjacent villages, which they took to be the lamentations of the women. Perhaps the quarrel between us, might have filled their minds with apprehensions for the safety of their husbands: but, be that as it may, their mournful cries struck the sentinels with unusual awe and terror.

To widen the breach between us, some of the Indians in the night, took away the "Discovery's" large cutter, which lay swamped at the buoy of one of her anchors: they had carried her off so quietly, that we did not miss her till the morning, Sunday,[Pg 10] February the fourteenth. Captain Clerke lost no time in waiting upon Captain Cook, to acquaint him with the accident; he returned on board, with orders for the launch and small cutter to go, under the command of the second lieutenant, and lie off the east point of the bay, in order to intercept all canoes that might attempt to get out; and, if he found it necessary, to fire upon them. At the same time, the third lieutenant of the "Resolution," with the launch and small cutter, was sent on the same service, to the opposite point of the bay; and the master was dispatched in the large cutter, in pursuit of a double canoe, already under sail, making the best of her way out of the harbour. He soon came up with her, and by firing a few muskets, drove her on shore, and the Indians left her: this happened to be the canoe of Omea (Mea), a man who bore the title of Orono (Lono). He was on board himself, and it would have been fortunate, if our people had secured him, for his person was held as sacred as that of the king. During this time, Captain Cook was preparing to go ashore himself, at the town of Kavaroah (Kaawaloa), in order to secure the person of Kariopoo (Kalaniopuu), before he should have time to withdraw himself to another part of the island, out of our reach. This appeared the most effectual step that could be taken on the present occasion, for the recovery of the boat. It was the measure he had invariably pursued, in similar cases, at other islands in these seas, and it had always been attended with the desired success: in fact, it would be difficult to point out any other mode of proceeding on these emergencies, likely to attain the object in view. We had reason to suppose, that the king and his attendants had fled when the alarm was first given; in that case, it was Captain Cook's intention to secure the large canoes which were hauled upon the beach. He left the ship about seven o'clock, attended by the lieutenant of marines, a serjeant, corporal, and seven private men: the pinnace's crew were also armed, and under the command of Mr. Roberts. As they rowed towards the shore, Captain Cook ordered the launch to leave her station at the west point of the bay, in order to assist his own boat. This is a circumstance worthy of notice; for it clearly shows, that he was not unapprehensive of meeting with resistance from the natives; or unmindful of the necessary preparation for the safety of himself and his people. I will venture to say, that from the appearance of things, just at that time, there was not one, beside himself, who judged that such precaution was absolutely requisite; so little did his conduct on the occasion bear the marks of rashness, or a precipitate self-confidence! He landed, with the marines, at the upper end of the town of Kavaroah (Kaawaloa): the Indians immediately[Pg 11] flocked round, as usual, and showed him the customary marks of respect, by prostrating themselves before him. There were no signs of hostilities, or much alarm among them. Captain Cook, however, did not seem willing to trust to appearances; but was particularly attentive to the disposition of the marines, and to have them kept clear of the crowd. He first enquired for the king's sons, two youths[4] who were much attached to him, and generally his companions on board. Messengers being sent for them, they soon came to him, and informing him that their father was asleep, at a house not far from them, he accompanied them thither, and took the marines along with them. As he passed along, the natives every where prostrated themselves before him, and seemed to have lost no part of that respect they had always shown to his person. He was joined by several chiefs, among whom was Kanynah (Kanaina), and his brother Koohowrooah (Kuhaulua?). They kept the crowd in order, according to their usual custom; and being ignorant of his intention in coming on shore, frequently asked him if he wanted any hogs, or other provisions; he told them that he did not, and that his business was to see the king. When he arrived at the house he ordered some of the Indians to go in, and inform Kariopoo (Kalaniopuu), that he waited without to speak with him. They came out two or three times, and instead of returning any answer from the king, presented some pieces of red cloth to him, which made Captain Cook suspect that he was not in the house; he therefore desired the lieutenant of marines to go in. The lieutenant found the old man just awaked from sleep, and seemingly alarmed at the message; but he came out without hesitation. Captain Cook took him by the hand, and in a friendly manner, asked him to go on board, to which he very readily consented. Thus far matters appeared in a favourable train, and the natives did not seem much alarmed or apprehensive of hostility on our side; at which Captain Cook expressed himself a little surprized, saying, that as the inhabitants of that town appeared innocent of stealing the cutter, he should not molest them, but that he must get the king on board. Kariopoo (Kalaniopuu) sat down before his door, and was surrounded by a great crowd: Kanynah (Kanaina) and his brother were both very active in keeping order among them. In a little time, however, the Indians were observed arming themselves with long spears, clubs, and daggers, and putting on thick mats, which they use as armour. This hostile appearance increased, and became more alarming, on the arrival of two men in a canoe from the opposite side of the bay, with the news of a[Pg 12] chief, called Kareemoo (Kalimo), having been killed by one of the "Discovery's" boats, in their passage across: they had also delivered this account to each of the ships. Upon that information, the women, who were sitting upon the beach at their breakfasts, and conversing familiarly with our people in the boats, retired, and a confused murmur spread through the crowd. An old priest came to Captain Cook, with a cocoa nut in his hand, which he held out to him as a present, at the same time singing very loud. He was often desired to be silent, but in vain: he continued importunate and troublesome, and there was no such thing as getting rid of him or his noise: it seemed, as if he meant to divert their attention from his countrymen, who were growing more tumultuous, and arming themselves in every quarter. Captain Cook, being at the same time surrounded by a great crowd, thought his situation rather hazardous: he therefore ordered the lieutenant of marines to march his small party to the water-side, where the boats lay within a few yards of the shore: the Indians readily made a lane for them to pass, and did not offer to interrupt them. The distance they had to go might be about fifty or sixty yards; Captain Cook followed, having hold of Kariopoo's (Kalaniopuu's) hand, who accompanied him very willingly: he was attended by his wife, two sons, and several chiefs. The troublesome old priest followed, making the same savage noise. Keowa (Keoua)[5], the younger son, went directly into the pinnace, expecting his father to follow; but just as he arrived at the water-side, his wife threw her arms about his neck, and, with the assistance of two chiefs, forced him to sit down by the side of a double canoe. Captain Cook expostulated with them, but to no purpose: they would not suffer the king to proceed, telling him, that he would be put to death if he went on board the ship. Kariopoo (Kalaniopuu), whose conduct seemed entirely resigned to the will of others, hung down his head, and appeared much distressed.

While the king was in this situation, a chief, well known to us, of the name of Coho (Koho), was observed lurking near, with an iron dagger, partly concealed under his cloke, seemingly, with the intention of stabbing Captain Cook, or the lieutenant of marines. The latter proposed to fire at him, but Captain Cook would not permit it. Coho (Koho) closing upon them, obliged the officer to strike him with his piece, which made him retire. Another Indian laid hold of the serjeant's musket, and endeavoured to wrench it from him, but was prevented by the lieutenant's making a blow at him. Captain Cook, seeing the[Pg 13] tumult increase, and the Indians growing more daring and resolute, observed, that if he were to take the king off by force, he could not do it without sacrificing the lives of many of his people. He then paused a little, and was on the point of giving his order to reimbark, when a man threw a stone at him; which he returned with a discharge of small shot, (with which one barrel of his double piece was loaded). The man, having a thick mat before him, received little or no hurt; he brandished his spear, and threatened to dart it at Captain Cook, who being still unwilling to take away his life, instead of firing with ball, knocked him down with his musket. He expostulated strongly with the most forward of the crowd, upon their turbulent behaviour. He had given up all thoughts of getting the king on board, as it appeared impracticable; and his care was then only to act on the defensive, and to secure a safe embarkation for his small party, which was closely pressed by a body of several thousand people. Keowa (Keoua), the king's son, who was in the pinnace, being alarmed on hearing the first firing, was, at his own entreaty, put on shore again; for even at that time, Mr. Roberts, who commanded her, did not apprehend that Captain Cook's person was in any danger: otherwise he would have detained the prince, which, no doubt, would have been a great check on the Indians. One man was observed, behind a double canoe, in the action of darting his spear at Captain Cook, who was forced to fire at him in his own defence, but happened to kill another close to him, equally forward in the tumult: the serjeant observing that he had missed the man he aimed at, received orders to fire at him, which he did, and killed him. By this time, the impetuosity of the Indians was somewhat repressed; they fell back in a body, and seemed staggered; but being pushed on by those behind, they returned to the charge, and poured a volley of stones among the marines, who, without waiting for orders, returned it with a general discharge of musketry, which was instantly followed by a fire from the boats. At this Captain Cook was heard to express his astonishment: he waved his hand to the boats, called to them to cease firing, and to come nearer in to receive the marines. Mr. Roberts immediately brought the pinnace as close to the shore as he could, without grounding, notwithstanding the showers of stones that fell among the people; but Mr. John Williamson, the lieutenant, who commanded in the launch, instead of pulling in to the assistance of Captain Cook, withdrew his boat further off, at the moment that everything seems to have depended upon the timely exertions of those in the boats. By his own account, he mistook the signal: but be that as it may, this circumstance appears to me, to have decided the fatal turn of the[Pg 14] affair, and to have removed every chance which remained with Captain Cook, of escaping with his life. The business of saving the marines out of the water, in consequence of that, fell altogether upon the pinnace; which thereby became so much crowded, that the crew were, in a great measure, prevented from using their fire-arms, or giving what assistance they otherwise might have done, to Captain Cook; so that he seems, at the most critical point of time, to have wanted the assistance of both boats, owing to the removal of the launch. For notwithstanding that they kept up a fire on the crowd from the situation to which they removed in that boat, the fatal confusion which ensued on her being withdrawn, to say the least of it, must have prevented the full effect, that the prompt co-operation of the two boats, according to Captain Cook's orders, must have had, towards the preservation of himself and his people. At that time, it was to the boats alone, that Captain Cook had to look for his safety; for when the marines had fired, the Indians rushed among them, and forced them into the water, where four of them were killed: their lieutenant was wounded, but fortunately escaped, and was taken up by the pinnace. Captain Cook was then the only one remaining on the rock: he was observed making for the pinnace, holding his left-hand against the back of his head, to guard it from the stones, and carrying his musket under the other arm. An Indian was seen following him, but with caution and timidity; for he stopped once or twice, as if undetermined to proceed. At last he advanced upon him unawares, and with a large club,[6] or common stake, gave him a blow on the back of the head, and then precipitately retreated. The stroke seemed to have stunned Captain Cook: he staggered a few paces, then fell on his hand and one knee, and dropped his musket. As he was rising, and before he could recover his feet, another Indian stabbed him in the back of the neck with an iron dagger. He then fell into a bite of water about knee deep, where others crowded upon him, and endeavoured to keep him under: but struggling very strongly with them, he got his head up, and casting his look towards the pinnace, seemed to solicit assistance. Though the boat was not[Pg 15] above five or six yards distant from him, yet from the crowded and confused state of the crew, it seems, it was not in their power to save him. The Indians got him under again, but in deeper water: he was, however, able to get his head up once more, and being almost spent in the struggle, he naturally turned to the rock, and was endeavouring to support himself by it, when a savage gave him a blow with a club, and he was seen alive no more. They hauled him up lifeless on the rocks, where they seemed to take a savage pleasure in using every barbarity to his dead body, snatching the daggers out of each other's hands, to have the horrid satisfaction of piercing the fallen victim of their barbarous rage.

I need make no reflection on the great loss we suffered on this occasion, or attempt to describe what we felt. It is enough to say, that no man was ever more beloved or admired; and it is truly painful to reflect, that he seems to have fallen a sacrifice merely for want of being properly supported; a fate, singularly to be lamented, as having fallen to his lot, who had ever been conspicuous for his care of those under his command, and who seemed, to the last, to pay as much attention to their preservation, as to that of his own life.

If any thing could have added to the shame and indignation universally felt on the occasion, it was to find, that his remains had been deserted, and left exposed on the beach, although they might have been brought off. It appears, from the information of four or five midshipmen, who arrived on the spot at the conclusion of the fatal business, that the beach was then almost entirely deserted by the Indians, who at length had given way to the fire of the boats, and dispersed through the town: so that there seemed no great obstacle to prevent the recovery of Captain Cook's body; but the lieutenant returned on board without making the attempt. It is unnecessary to dwell longer on this painful subject, and to relate the complaints and censures that fell on the conduct of the lieutenant. It will be sufficient to observe, that they were so loud, as to oblige Captain Clerke publicly to notice them, and to take the depositions of his accusers down in writing. The Captain's bad state of health and approaching dissolution, it is supposed, induced him to destroy these papers a short time before his death.

It is a painful task, to be obliged to notice circumstances, which seem to reflect upon the character of any man. A strict regard to truth, however, compelled me to the insertion of these facts, which I have offered merely as facts, without presuming to connect with them any comment of my own: esteeming it the part of a faithful historian, "to extenuate nothing, nor set down ought in malice."[Pg 16]

The fatal accident happened about eight o'clock in the morning, about an hour after Captain Cook landed. It did not seem, that the king, or his sons, were witnesses to it; but it is supposed that they withdrew in the midst of the tumult. The principal actors were the other chiefs, many of them the king's relations and attendants: the man who stabbed him with the dagger was called Nooah (Nuaa). I happened to be the only one who recollected his person, from having on a former occasion mentioned his name in the journal I kept. I was induced to take particular notice of him, more from his personal appearance than any other consideration, though he was of high rank, and a near relation of the king: he was stout and tall, with a fierce look and demeanour, and one who united in his figure the two qualities of strength and agility, in a greater degree, than ever I remembered to have seen before in any other man. His age might be about thirty, and by the white scurf on his skin, and his sore eyes, he appeared to be a hard drinker of Kava (awa). He was a constant companion of the king, with whom I first saw him, when he paid a visit to Captain Clerke. The chief who first struck Captain Cook with the club, was called Karimano-craha[7] (Kalaimanokahoowaha), but I did not know him by his name. These circumstances I learnt of honest Kaireekea (Keliikia), the priest; who added, that they were both held in great esteem on account of that action; neither of them came near us afterwards. When the boats left the shore, the Indians carried away the dead body of Captain Cook and those of the marines, to the rising ground, at the back of the town, where we could plainly see them with our glasses from the ships.

This most melancholy accident, appears to have been altogether unexpected and unforeseen, as well on the part of the natives as ourselves. I never saw sufficient reason to induce me to believe, that there was any thing of design, or a pre-concerted plan on their side, or that they purposely sought to quarrel with us: thieving, which gave rise to the whole, they were equally guilty of, in our first and second visits. It was the cause of every misunderstanding that happened between us: their petty thefts were generally overlooked, but sometimes slightly punished: the boat, which they at last ventured to take away, was an object of no small magnitude to people in our situation, who could not possibly replace her, and therefore not slightly to be given up. We had no other chance of recovering her, but by getting the person of the king into our possession: on our attempting to do that, the natives became alarmed for his safety, and naturally opposed[Pg 17] those whom they deemed his enemies. In the sudden conflict that ensued, we had the unspeakable misfortune of losing our excellent Commander, in the manner already related. It is in this light the affair has always appeared to me, as entirely accidental, and not in the least owing to any previous offence received, or jealousy of our second visit entertained by the natives.

Pareah (Palea) seems to have been the principal instrument in bringing about this fatal disaster. We learnt afterwards, that it was he who had employed some people to steal the boat: the king did not seem to be privy to it, or even apprized of what had happened, till Captain Cook landed.

It was generally remarked, that at first, the Indians shewed great resolution in facing our fire-arms; but it was entirely owing to ignorance of their effect. They thought that their thick mats would defend them from a ball, as well as from a stone; but being soon convinced of their error, yet still at a loss to account how such execution was done among them, they had recourse to a stratagem, which, though it answered no other purpose, served to show their ingenuity and quickness of invention. Observing the flashes of the muskets, they naturally concluded, that water would counteract their effect, and therefore, very sagaciously dipped their mats, or armour in the sea, just as they came on to face our people: but finding this last resource to fail them, they soon dispersed, and left the beach entirely clear. It was an object they never neglected, even at the greatest hazard, to carry off their slain; a custom, probably, owing to the barbarity with which they treat the dead body of an enemy, and the trophies they make of his bones.[8]

[Pg 18]

Some Particulars Concerning the Life and Character of Captain Cook

Captain Cook was born at Marton, in Cleaveland, in the county of York, a small village, distant five miles south-east from Stockton. His name is found in the parish register in the year 1729 (so that Captain King was mistaken, in placing the time of his birth in the year 1727). The cottage in which his father formerly lived, is now decayed, but the spot where it stood is still shewn to strangers. A gentleman is now living in that neighbourhood, with whom the old man formerly worked as a common day-labourer in the fields. However, though placed in this humble station, he gave his son a common school education, and at an early age, placed him apprentice with one Mr. Saunderson, a shopkeeper at Staith (always pronounced Steers), a small fishing-town on the Yorkshire coast, about nine miles to the northward of Whitby. The business is now carried on by the son of Mr. Saunderson, in the same shop, which I had the curiosity to visit about a year and a half ago. In that situation young Cook did not continue long, before he quitted it in disgust, and, as often happens in the like cases, betook himself to the sea. Whitby being a neighbouring sea-port, readily offered him an opportunity to pursue his inclination; and there we find he bound himself apprentice, for nine years, in the coal trade, to one Mr. John Walker, now living in South Whitby. In his employ, he afterwards became mate of a ship; in which station having continued some time, he had the offer of being master, which he refused, as it seems he had at that time turned his thoughts towards the navy. Accordingly, at the breaking out of the war in 1755, he entered on board the "Eagle," of fifty-four guns, and in a short time after, Sir Hugh Palliser was appointed to the command of that ship, a circumstance that must not be passed unnoticed, as it proved the foundation of the future fame and fortune of Captain Cook. His uncommon merit did not long escape the observation of that discerning officer, who promoted him to the quarter-deck, and ever after patronized him with such zeal and attention, as must reflect the highest honour upon his character. To Sir Hugh Palliser is the world indebted, for having first noticed in an obscure situation, and afterwards brought forward in life, the greatest nautical genius that ever any age or country has produced. In the year 1758, we find him master of the "Northumberland," then in America, under the command of Lord Colville. It was there, he has been heard to say, that[Pg 19] during a hard winter he first read Euclid, and applied himself to the study of astronomy and the mathematics, in which he made no inconsiderable progress, assisted only by his own ingenuity and industry. At the time he thus found means to cultivate and improve his mind, and to supply the deficiency of an early education, he was constantly engaged in the most busy and active scenes of the war in America. At the siege of Quebec, Sir Hugh Palliser made him known to Sir Charles Saunders, who committed to his charge the conducting of the boats to the attack of Mount Morenci, and the embarkation that scaled the heights of Abraham. He was also employed to examine the passage of the river St. Laurence, and to lay buoys for the direction of the men of war. In short, in whatever related to the reduction of that place in the naval department, he had a principal share, and conducted himself so well throughout the whole, as to recommend himself to the commander in chief. At the conclusion of the war, Sir Hugh Palliser having the command on the Newfoundland station, he appointed him to survey that Island and the coast of Labradore, and gave him the "Grenville" brig for that purpose. How well he performed that service, the charts he has published afford sufficient testimony. In that employment he continued till the year 1767, when the well known voyage to the South Sea, for observing the transit of Venus, and making discoveries in that vast ocean was planned. Lord Hawke, who then presided at the Admiralty, was strongly solicited to give the command of that expedition to Mr. Alexander Dalrymple; but through the interest of his friend Sir Hugh Palliser, Captain Cook obtained the appointment, together with the rank of lieutenant. It was stipulated, that on his return, he should, if he chose it, again hold the place of surveyor of Newfoundland, and that his family should be provided for, in case of an accident to himself.

He sailed from England in the "Endeavour," in the year 1768, accompanied by Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander, and returned in 1771; after having circumnavigated the globe, made several important discoveries in the South Sea, and explored the islands of New Zealand, and great part of the coast of New Holland. The skill and ability with which he conducted that expedition, ranked his name high as a navigator, and could not fail of recommending him to that great patron of naval merit, the Earl of Sandwich, who then presided at the board of Admiralty. He was promoted to the rank of master and commander, and a short time afterwards, appointed to conduct another expedition to the Pacific Ocean, in search of the supposed Southern continent, and added[Pg 20] many valuable discoveries to those he had before made in the South Sea. His own account of it is before the public, and he is no less admired for the accuracy and extensive knowledge which he has displayed in that work, than for his skill and intrepidity in conducting the expedition. On his return, he was promoted to the rank of post-captain, and appointed one of the captains of Greenwich hospital. In that Retirement he did not continue long: for an active life best suiting his disposition, he offered his services to conduct a third expedition to the South Sea, which was then in agitation, in order to explore a northern passage from Europe to Asia: in this he unfortunately lost his life, but not till he had fully accomplished the object of the voyage.

The character of Captain Cook will be best exemplified by the services he has performed, which are universally known, and have ranked his name above that of any navigator of ancient or of modern times. Nature had endowed him with a mind vigorous and comprehensive, which in his riper years he had cultivated with care and industry. His general knowledge was extensive and various: in that of his own profession he was unequalled. With a clear judgment, strong masculine sense, and the most determined resolution; with a genius particularly turned for enterprize, he pursued his object with unshaken perseverence:—vigilent and active in an eminent degree:—cool and intrepid among dangers; patient and firm under difficulties and distress; fertile in expedients; great and original in all his designs; active and resolved in carrying them into execution. These qualities rendered him the animating spirit of the expedition: in every situation, he stood unrivalled and alone; on him all eyes were turned; he was our leading-star, which at its setting, left us involved in darkness and despair.

His constitution was strong, his mode of living temperate: why Captain King should not suppose temperance as great a virtue in him as in any other man, I am unable to guess. He had no repugnance to good living; he always kept a good table, though he could bear the reverse without murmuring. He was a modest man, and rather bashful; of an agreeable lively conversation, sensible and intelligent. In his temper he was somewhat hasty, but of a disposition the most friendly, benevolent, and humane. His person was above six feet high, and though a good-looking man, he was plain both in address and appearance. His head was small, his hair, which was a dark brown, he wore tied behind. His face was full of expression, his nose exceedingly well-shaped, his eyes, which were small and of a brown cast, were quick and[Pg 21] piercing; his eyebrows prominent, which gave his countenance altogether an air of austerity.

He was beloved by his people, who looked up to him as to a father, and obeyed his commands with alacrity. The confidence we placed in him was unremitting; our admiration of his great talents unbounded; our esteem for his good qualities affectionate and sincere.

In exploring unknown countries, the dangers he had to encounter were various and uncommon. On such occasions, he always displayed great presence of mind, and a steady perseverance in pursuit of his object. The acquisition he has made to our knowledge of the globe is immense, besides improving the art of navigation, and enriching the science of natural philosophy.

He was remarkably distinguished for the activity of his mind: it was that which enabled him to pay an unwearied attention to every object of the service. The strict economy he observed in the expenditure of the ship's stores, and the unremitting care he employed for the preservation of the health of his people, were the causes that enabled him to prosecute discoveries in remote parts of the globe, for such a length of time as had been deemed impracticable by former navigators. The method he discovered for preserving the health of seamen in long voyages, will transmit his name to posterity as the friend and benefactor of mankind: the success which attended it, afforded this truly great man more satisfaction, than the distinguished fame that attended his discoveries.

England has been unanimous in her tribute of applause to his virtues, and all Europe has borne testimony to his merit. There is hardly a corner of the earth, however remote and savage, that will not long remember his benevolence and humanity. The grateful Indian, in time to come, pointing to the herds grazing his fertile plains, will relate to his children how the first stock of them was introduced into the country; and the name of Cook will be remembered among those benign spirits, whom they worship as the source of every good, and the fountain of every blessing.

It may not be amiss to observe, that the plate engraved by Sherwin, after a painting by Dance, is a most excellent likeness of Captain Cook; and more to be valued, as it is the only one I have seen that bears any resemblance to him.

[Pg 22]

Observations Respecting the Introduction of the Venereal Disease Into the Sandwich Islands

This publication affording a convenient opportunity, I embrace it, to offer a few remarks upon a subject in some degree affecting the reputation of the late voyages to the South Sea Islands. If we for a moment suppose, that they have been the means of disseminating the venereal disease among the inhabitants, the evil is of such a magnitude, that we are induced to wish they had never been undertaken. For who would not sooner remain ignorant of the interesting discoveries which have been made, than bear the reflection of their having been attended with such an irreparable injury to a happy and uncontaminated race of people!

It is a point of dispute between Captain Wallis and Mons. Bougainville, which of their ships it was, that introduced the disease to Otaheite. And we find, that Captain Cook was apprehensive of his people having left it at the Friendly Islands. Without enquiring into the grounds of conviction they had in former voyages, I am strongly inclined to believe, from my observations in the last, that it is a subject about which they are very liable to be deceived; and that what is laid down as positive fact, could be no more than matter of opinion.

In the last voyage, both Captains Cook and King were of opinion, that the inhabitants of Sandwich Islands received that distemper from our people. The great deference I pay to their judgment on every occasion, will hardly allow me to dissent from it in the present instance; and yet I must be allowed to say, that the same evidence which proved convincing to them in this case, did by no means appear so to me, and I will endeavour to assign my reasons. When we first discovered Sandwich Islands, in the month of January, 1778, the ships anchored at two of them (viz. Atowai (Kauai) and Neehaw (Niihau)) where parties were sent ashore for water, and to purchase provisions of the natives. On this occasion, I must bear my testimony (for I was then in the "Resolution") to the very particular care taken by Captain Cook, to prevent any of his people who were not in perfect health, from having communication with the shore, and also to prevent women from coming on board the ships. That this humane precaution answered the intended purpose, we had great reason to believe; for not one of those who did go on shore was afterwards in the surgeon's list, or known to have any complaint; which was the most convincing proof we could have, of their being well at[Pg 23] the time. We therefore were under no apprehensions on this head, when we visited these islands a second time, about eleven months from our first discovering them. We then fell in with two islands, (viz. Mowee (Maui) and Ouwhyee (Hawaii)) belonging to the group, which we had not seen before; and very soon found that the venereal disease was not unknown to the natives. This excited no little concern and astonishment among us, and made us anxious to learn whether or no, so dreadful a calamity had been left at Atowai (Kauai) by our ships, and so propagated to these islands. But the scanty knowledge we had of their language, made this a matter of great difficulty, and rendered the best intelligence we could get, but vague and uncertain. While we were cruising off Ouwhyee (Hawaii), I was told, that some Indians had visited the "Resolution" with that complaint upon them, and that they seemed to intimate, that our ships had left it at Atowai (Kauai); whence it had found its way to this island.

This account, I confess, appeared at once very improbable to me, and rendered me very desirous of an opportunity to examine some of them myself: for I found the above story gaining universal belief, and felt somewhat hurt, that we should take to ourselves the ignominy of such an imputation, without sufficient proof of its being just. During our stay at Keragegooah bay (Kealakekua Bay), where we had constant opportunities of directing our enquiries to the most intelligent of the natives, I met with none who could give me any information on the subject, nor could I learn that they had the least idea of our having left it at Atowai (Kauai), or that it was a new thing amongst them. This circumstance, added to the very slight reliance, which experience had taught me to place in any intelligence obtained from the Indians, through the medium of their language, confirmed me in the opinion I had entertained from the first, that the meaning of those Indians had been misunderstood on board the "Resolution." An instance happened soon afterwards which convinced me, that no credit whatsoever is to be given to such information. We had not been long arrived at Atowai (Kauai) a second time, before an Indian came on board the "Discovery," who appeared to the gentleman who first spoke to him, clearly to charge us with having left the disease at that island, on our former visit. As I was known to be an unbeliever, the man was at last referred to me; and, I confess, I was a little staggered at first with the answers he gave me; but presently, suspecting from his manner, that he would answer every question proposed to him in the affirmative, I asked him, if they did not receive the disease first from Oahoo (Oahu); a neighbouring[Pg 24] island, which we had not touched at, when we were in these parts before: the man directly answered, that they had; and strenuously persisted in the same, every time the question was put to him, either by myself, or the gentleman who had first examined him. Such contradictory accounts as these, prove nothing, but our ignorance of their language, and consequently, how apt we are to be misled in enquiries of this sort. I never put any confidence in them myself, and have often been surprised to see others put so much. Yet those who have maintained that we left the disease at Sandwich Islands, have no better foundation than this, to rest their opinion upon. Whether it be sufficient to support such an accusation, I will leave others to judge, after what I have related above; and proceed to point out such other circumstances as tend to prove, that the disease was not left at these islands by our ships. From everything we could learn, it appeared, that there is but little intercourse between Atowai (Kauai) and the islands to windward, especially Ouwhyee (Hawaii), which is about fifty leagues distant; and the nearest to Atowai (Kauai), which is Oahoo (Oahu), is five and twenty leagues. There is generally some misunderstanding between them, and, excepting for hostile purposes, the inhabitants rarely visit each other. But were we even to allow, that there is a frequent intercourse between them, which from the distance alone is highly improbable, yet it is hardly possible, that the disease should have spread so far, and so universally, as we found it at Ouwhyee (Hawaii), in the short space of time which intervened between our first and second visit to the Sandwich Islands. On the same supposition, it will appear very extraordinary, that we should have found it more common by far at Ouwhyee (Hawaii) than at Atowai (Kauai), the place where we are supposed to have first left it. That this was the case, however, from my situation at that time, as surgeon of the "Discovery," I am able to pronounce with some certainty. The priests pretended to be expert at curing it, and seemed to have an established mode of treatment; which by no means implied, that it was a recent complaint among them, much less that it was introduced only a few months before.

Whence, or at what time, the inhabitants of those islands received disease, or whether or not it be indigenous among them, is what I do not pretend even to guess: but from the circumstances above-mentioned, I think myself warranted in saying, that there are by no means sufficient proofs of our having first introduced it; but that, on the contrary, there is every reason to believe, that they were afflicted with it before we discovered those islands.


[1] I take it for granted, that most of those into whose hands these pages may fall, have perused Captain Cook's last Voyage, and therefore, I have all along mentioned the names of the principal actors in this account, as people with whom they are already acquainted. But as I differ so much in the orthography of the language of the Sandwich Islands from that used in the printed Voyage, it becomes necessary for me to explain the names I use in this narrative, by those already known. It may appear strange, how we should differ so much; but so it is:—which is the most accurate, some future visitor may determine.

KarakakooaI call Ke,rag,e,goo,ah (Kealakekua)
Terreeoboo—— Kariopoo (Kaleiopuu, better known as Kalaniopuu)
Kowrowa—— Kavaroah (Kaawaloa)
Kaneecabareea—— Kaneekapo,herei (Kanekapulei)
Maiha maiha—— Ka,mea,mea (Kamehameha)

[2] Called Koah by Cook.—Ed.

[3] Called Kaneena by Cook; Kanina by Fornander.—Ed.

[4] Keoua Kuahuula and Keoua Peeale.—Ed.

[5] Probably Keoua Peeale.—Ed.

[6] I have heard one of the gentlemen who were present say, that the first injury he received was from a dagger, as it is represented in the Voyage; but, from the account of many others, who were also eye-witnesses, I am confident, in saying that he was first struck with a club. I was afterwards confirmed in this, by Kaireekea (Keliikia), the priest, who particularly mentioned the name of the man who gave him the blow, as well as that of the chief who afterwards struck him with the dagger. This is a point not worth disputing about: I mention it, as being solicitous to be accurate in this account, even in circumstances, of themselves, not very material.

[7] Fornander II, page 193, identifies a Kalaimanokahoowaha as Kanaina.—Ed.

[8] A remarkable instance of this I met with at Atowai (Kauai). Tamataherei (Kamakahelei), the queen of that island, paid us a visit one day on board the "Discovery," accompanied by her husband Taeoh (Kaeokulani), and one of her daughters by her former husband Oteeha (Kiha). [Possibly another name for Kaneoneo, the first husband of Kamakahelei and father of Lelemahoalani.] The young princess, whose name was Ore-reemo-horanee (Lelemahoalani), carried in her hand a very elegant fly-flap, of a curious construction: the upper part of it was variegated with alternate rings of tortoise shell and human bone, and the handle, which was well polished, consisted of the greater part of the os humeri of a chief, called Mahowra (Meheula). He had belonged to the neighbouring island of Oahoo (Oahu), and, in a hostile descent he made upon this coast, had been killed by Oteeha (Kiha), who was then sovereign of Atowai (Kauai). And thus we found Orereemohoranee (Lelemahoalani) carrying his bones about, as trophies of her father's victory. The queen set a great value upon it, and was not willing to part with it for any of our iron ware; but happening to cast her eyes upon a wash-hand bason of mine, it struck her fancy, and she offered to exchange; I accepted of her proposal, and the bones of the unfortunate Mahowra (Meheula) came at last into my possession.

[Pg 25]


  Atowai (see Kauai)

  Clerke, Captain, 6, 9, 10, 15, 16

  Coho (see Koho)

  Cooaha (see Kuaha)

  Cook, Captain, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22

  Cook, Life of Captain James, 18, 19, 20, 21

  Disease, Introduction of in Hawaii, 22, 23, 24

  Hawaii, 5, 23, 24

  Kaawaloa, 5, 7, 9, 10

  Kaeokulani (k), 17

  Kaireekea (see Keliikia)

  Kalaimanokahoowaha (k), 16

  Kalaniopuu (k), 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12

  Kaleiopuu (see Kalaniopuu)

  Kalimo (k), 12

  Kamakahelei (w), 17

  Ka,mea,mea (see Kamehameha)

  Kamehameha (k), 5, 6

  Kanaina (k), 9, 11, 16

  Kaneecabareea (see Kanekapulei)

  Kaneena (see Kanaina)

  Kanekapo,herei (see Kanekapulei)

  Kanekapulei (w), 5

  Kaneoneo (k), 17

  Kanina (see Kanaina)

  Kanynah (see Kanaina)

  Karakakooa (see Kealakekua)

  Kareemoo (see Kalimo)

  Karimano,craha (see Kalaimanokahoowaha)

  Kariopoo (see Kalaniopuu)

  Kauai, 17, 22, 23, 24

  Kavaroah (see Kaawaloa)

  Kealakekua, 5, 6, 23

  Keliikia (k), 14, 16

  Keoua Kuahuula (k), 11

  Keoua Peeale (k), 11, 12, 13

  Keowa (see Keona Peeale)

  Kerag,e,goo,ah (see Kealakekua)

  Kiha (see Kaneoneo)

  King, Captain, 4, 22

  Koho (k), 12

  Koohowrooah (see Kuhaulua)

  Kowrowa (see Kaawaloa)

  Kuaha (k), 6

  Kuhaulua (k), 11

[Pg 26]

  Lelemahoalani (w), 17

  Lono (see Mea)

  Mahowra (see Meheula)

  Maihamaiha (see Kamehameha)

  Maui, 5, 23

  Mea (k), 10

  Meheula (k), 17

  Mowee (see Maui)

  Neehaw (see Niihau)

  Niihau, 22

  Nooah (see Nuaa)

  Nuaa (k), 16

  Oahoo (see Oahu)

  Oahu, 17, 23, 24

  Omea (see Mea)

  Ore,reemo,horanee (see Lelemahoalani)

  Orono (see Lono)

  Oteeha (see Kiha)

  Ou,why,ee (see Hawaii)

  Palea (k), 7, 8, 17

  Pareah (see Palea)

  Roberts, Mr., 10, 13

  Taeoh (see Kaeokulani)

  Tamataherei (see Kamakehelei)

  Terreeoboo (see Kalaniopuu)

    "Discovery", 6, 7, 9, 12, 17, 23, 24
    "Resolution", 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 22, 23

  Williamson, Mr. John, 13

Transcriber's Corrections

Following is a list of significant typographical errors that have been corrected.