Search the Collection
Advanced Search
Image Not Available

Mort de Cook

Date: c 1877
Overall: 240 x 370 mm
Medium: Print on paper.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00002925
Place Manufactured:France
Related Place:Hawaii,

User Terms

    A handcoloured engraving titled 'Mort de Cook' ('Death of Cook'), depicting the death of Captain James Cook on Hawaii in February, 1779.
    This image is based on an original painting by John Webber who was the official artist for Captain Cook's third voyage of the Pacific.
    SignificanceCaptain Cook's death at Kealakekua Bay on 14 February 1779 became a source of great drama and national sorrow back in England. Re-enactments in theatres, poems and engravings such as this, built Cook into a martyr and a figure of almost mythical status.
    HistoryThis engraving is based on the painting of the death of Captain Cook by John Webber that accompanied the official account of Cooks third voyage. The engraving was extensively reproduced and as a result it became widely recognised as 'official' visual record of the event, although we know Webber was not present on the shore or indeed, that he actually witnessed it from the ships moored in the bay. In this version, painted on return to England, Webber portrays Captain Cook in the moment he is trying to stop further aggression on the part of his crew but also the moment just before he is stabbed in the back. As a consequence, Webber helped cement the public image of Cook as a man of peace and understanding, a victim that died far from home on his quest for knowledge and British glory.

    An eyewitness account of the event was recorded by the ships surgeon, David Samwell. It reads:

    "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 need to guard it from the atones, 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 a 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 upon his hand and one knee, and dropped his musket. As he was rising, and before he could re- cover his feet, another Indian stabbed him In the back of the neck with an Iron dagger. He then fell into 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 con- fused state of the crew, it seems that 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 water, 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."

    Discuss this Object


    Please log in to add a comment.