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Death of Captain Cook

Date: 1785
Dimensions:
Overall: 300 x 410 mm, 4.1 kg
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Classification:Art
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00004025
Place Manufactured:London

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    Description
    This engraving by F Bartolozzi is after a drawing by John Webber, who was the official artist on Captain Cook's third and last voyage. Webber was with Cook at Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii on 14 February 1779, but was not an eye witness to his death. This engraving, based on Webber's interpretation of events, depicts his interpretation of the scene of Cook's death and was widely copied.
    SignificanceThe publication of Webber's images as engravings reflects the late eighteenth century widespread popular interest in the circumstances of Captain Cook's death and the location where it took place.
    HistoryHawaii is well known for being 'discovered' by Captain James Cook as well as being the place of his death on the shore of Kealakekua Bay. The incident occurred after the Hawaiians stole a small cutter from the Europeans and Cook retaliated by taking their Chief hostage. Conflict broke out culminating in Cook being clubbed and stabbed to death. Cook's death came as a great shock - initially to the crews of the RESOLUTION and DISCOVERY, and later to the general public in England. Kealakekua Bay became synonymous with Cook's death and was the subject of several paintings and engravings.

    John Webber (1751-1793) was the official artist on Captain James Cook's third voyage of exploration from 1776 to 1780. Cook sailed the RESOLUTION which had served him well on his second voyage and was accompanied by Captain Charles Clerke on the DISCOVERY. Their goal was to search for the elusive Northwest Passage in North America and to return the Polynesian Omai, who had accompanied Cook's second voyage to England, back to Huahine in the Society Islands.

    The expedition left England in 1776 sailing via the Cape of Good Hope and re-provisioning at Adventure Bay in Tasmania. Cook then made for the Pacific via New Zealand and after visiting the Cook Islands, spent time in various Tongan Islands before heading to Tahiti.

    In December 1777, Cook sailed for the North Pacific and reached a new group of islands, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). The expedition then continued toward North America and spent time charting the Alaskan and Siberian coasts and searching for a passage, until the ships were blocked by ice near the Arctic Circle.

    In January 1779 the expedition returned south to Hawaii and Cook and several crew members and Hawaiians were killed in a fight when the RESOLUTION unexpectedly returned to Kealakekua Bay. Clerke took command and resumed the unsuccessful search for the Northwest Passage. The ships returned to England via Japan and Macao in October 1780.

    Soon after returning to England, Webber completed several large scale paintings. He supervised the engraving of his work that accompanied the publication of various accounts of the voyage and exhibited several paintings at the Royal Academy. In 1785 he assisted Philippe De Loutherbourg's London stage spectacle Omai, or a trip around the world. From 1786 Webber produced his own softground etching series titled, Views in the South Seas, and continued to profit from his Pacific images until his death in 1793.

    Hawaii was annexed by the United States of America as a territory in 1898 and became the 50th state in 1959. In 1900, Hawaii was granted self-governance. Despite several attempts to become a state, Hawaii remained a territory for sixty years.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: DEATH OF CAPTAIN COOK. FIGURES BY F BARTOLOZZI RA, LANDSCAPE BY BYRNE, W. WEBBER WAS THE OFFICIAL ARTIST ON COOK'S THIRD VOYAGE AND WAS WITH COOK AT KEALAKUA BAY

    Web title: Death of Captain Cook

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