Cook's Death

Narrative of the Death of Captain Cook.

By DAVID SAMWELL, Surgeon of the Discovery.

Sunday, February 14th 1779, Island of Ou-why-ee (Hawaii).

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, 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 sergeant, 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 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 (Keoua Kuahuula and Keoua Peeale) 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 everywhere 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 surprised, 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 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), 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 cloak, 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 sergeant'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 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 sergeant 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 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, 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 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.

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 (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 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.

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