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Capt. Cook's Final Voyage

"A lot of things started going wrong from the very beginning," historian Hampton Sides says of Cook's last voyage, which ended in the British explorer's violent death on the island of Hawaii in 1779. His book is The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact, and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook. Ken Tucker reviews Beyoncé's album Cowboy Carter .

captain cook's last voyage

“A General Chart: Exhibiting the Discoveries Made by Captn. James Cook in This and His Two Preceeding Voyages, with Tracks of the Ships under His Command.” Copperplate map, 36 × 57 cm. From the atlas volume of Cook’s A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean . . . (London, 1784). [Rare Books Division]

Cook’s legacy: a revealed world. His world map was the most accurate at its time. During his life, he had explored farther north (70°44′ N) and farther south (71°10′ S) in the Pacific than any previous human being.

Captain James Cook - His Third Voyage

His achievements over the past seven years were immense. He had made two tremendous journeys across the Pacific sweeping clear the imaginings of academics, pinned down Antarctica, defeated Cape Horn twice, established sailing routes to Australia and New Zealand, and set up excellent relations with the "noble savages" of the South Seas, the Polynesians. He had accurately mapped the locations of Australia and New Zealand, either achievement would have been a sufficient life's work. He had discovered or rediscovered almost every island group of importance in the South Seas and precisely charted them. He had lead crews of ordinary seamen through shipwreck and hazards in little ships twice around the Earth sailing a total of over 120,000 miles, loosing not one man to scurvy.

James Cook was promoted post Captain, a notable achievement for the ex-mate of a Whitby cat, but long overdue. He was again presented to King George III, and read accounts of his voyages to the Royal Society. For a paper written on the preservation of health for long voyage seamen he was awarded the Society's Copley Gold Medal. Cook and his wife dined with some of England's most prominent citizens. He was recognized across Europe as one of the great discoverers of the age. He had also proven that the Harrison chronometer was the answer to accurately calculating longitude.

A World Map Not Yet Completed

But there remained one great unknown, this time in the North Pacific. Could it be that there were a passage north of or through North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific? A more direct passageway from Europe to China and the East had been sought after from the Atlantic side. No effort had been made to discover such a route starting from the Pacific except by John Byron, who had discovered much of nothing.

In James Cook, however, admiralty saw a man who not only carried out his orders but used his judgment to better them. His ordered goals were to find a Northwest Passage around North America and if this route did not exist, look for a Northeast Passage around Siberia and back to Europe from the Pacific side.

In England at this time, knowledge of the west coast of the Americas started at the southern end of South America and ended at Drake's New Albion, which today was officially recognized by the United States Department of the Interior in October 2012 as Point Reyes, California. But in 1775 nobody quite knew where this was. James Cook would have to find Drake's Bay first, and start from there.

James Cook accepted the assignment from Admiralty. He was 47 years old, had been at sea for most of the past 30 years and deserved a longer leave, if not retirement. But there was no one better suited for the task than him.

It was 1775 and the 462 ton Resolution had been back in England for less than six weeks when Admiralty ordered that she be reconditioned for yet another “voyage to remote parts.” There was great demand on the shipyards as a consequence of war in American. The Resolution received a hasty retrofit even though Cook had returned her in good condition, considering what she had been through. The ship was indifferently caulked and poorly rigged but when the time for departure came she was well manned and stored, Cook made sure of this.

On this voyage Cook was to be his own astronomer and scientist, while William Anderson would serve as botanist and naturalist. The role of Executive Officer was filled by John Gore, a good fit as he had also served aboard the Endeavour for Cook’s first voyage. The crew included six midshipmen, a cook and his assistant, six quartermasters, twenty marines, and forty-five seamen. Another ship named Discovery , a 300 ton Whitby collier, would serve as the expeditions sister ship, commanded by Charles Clerke.

The Resolution was about 111 ft long, 30 ft wide, with a draught of 13 ft . She carried 112 crew including 20 marines along with 24 cannons. The Discovery was a bit smaller, 91 ft long, 27 ft wide, with a draught of 11 ft , and carried a complement of 70 seamen and 8 cannons.

On July 12, 1776, almost 1 year from his return from the second voyage, James Cook took the Resolution out to sea from Plymouth, England. They sailed through a channel filled with ships bound for the American Revolutionary War. Many thought the voyage to seek new discoveries on the west coast of North America was a little odd, since the east coast was battling for independence from those same discoverers.

But no one knew anything about the American west coast as of yet except for a few brave Spanish explorers and maybe an isolated Russian fur trader or two. And the longitude of the area had yet to be determined acurately. Cook's orders were to first sail to the South Indian Ocean to check on certain discoveries made by the French and assess their value as possible naval bases. Then he was to make way to the familiar islands of Tahiti. After that he was to sail into the North Pacific and explore everything north of Drakes Bay (northern California) until he found a sea passage to the North Atlantic.

This would take at least two summers with winter refuge anchored in Kamchatka (Russia) or elsewhere. If he were to find the Northwest Passage he was to sail back to the Atlantic by that means, making detailed surveys along the way. All this added up to the toughest and longest voyage Cook had ever made: Sailing down both Atlantics, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, crossing almost the entire length and breadth of the Pacific from sub Antarctic to Arctic and then back to England.

A Rough Start

As soon as they were off into the Atlantic the Resolution began to leak terribly. The crew could see the chaulker's shoddy work as the ship lifted and plunged through the sea. All the crew's quarters were soaked and the spare sails became sodden and moldy. Water seeped down through ceilings, not seriously but miserable none the less.

The crew aired the sails, reworked the rigging, and set charcoal fires wherever they could inside the ship as she made her way south. This was especially annoying for the crew since they had returned the ship to port in such good condition.

Cook blamed himself for the state of the Resolution . A ship in the dockyard has to be looked after even more carefully than when on voyage. And Cook had tried to enjoy his appointment at Greenwich Hospital as much as he could. With all of his duties it was not easy to get from his home to the dockyard. And Mrs. Cook knew nothing of the voyage until it was nearly time to leave. Its seems James Cook tried to enjoy the year at home to its fullest extent.

The crew did what they could to sustain the ship. There is evidence that Cook was not himself during this voyage. His digestive system was still strained and his iron will not quite as strong as it was. Before they reached the Cape of Good Hope the mizzen topmast was found to be cracked and not able to bear sail. A ship on such a long journey needs all of her masts. At the Cape Cook bought a replacement. Both the Resolution and the Discovery were recaulked at port.

On November 30, 1776, both ships sailed on to almost 50° S. They passed Tasmania and Cook's favorite, Queen Charlotte's Sound in New Zealand. A shift of wind threw the ship and the mizzen mast came down, thankfully clearing the decks. On January 19 near 45° S the fore topmast came down and brought the topgallant mast with it. This was a mess but the crew worked tirelessly to rebuild the ship as she rolled violently through the sea. She was fitted with enough sail for the Roaring Forties.

Cook diverted towards Adventure Bay on the southeast of Tasmania to find trees for new masts and fresh food. This was his only visit to Tasmania, a beautiful island with excellent harbors and some of the best ship building timber in the world. Cook notes that there were very few natives to the island, and that they did not have any kind of sea transport, not even canoes for fishing. He was in a hurry, hoping to reach the northern coasts of North America by summer. The crew caught an abundance of fish, cut a few spars, harvested grass and firewood and sailed on.

It was near the end of February when the ships passed New Zealand. This time Cook made a northeasterly course which brought him to Hervey Islands (now the Cook islands), which offered no anchorages and little refreshments. Cook now accepted that he could not reach North America that summer and made for the nearby Friendly Islands.

Here they received good reception from the locals. There was however the immense problem of thievery. Even the local chiefs were not above bold faced robbery and having caught one Cook fined him one hog and gave him a dozen lashes which he accepted stoically and fairly due. The stealing became so bad that Cook began to shave the heads of those who were caught. They hated to lose their long locks, but they still stole.

In spite of the thievery, their time in the Friendly islands was rather good. A private house was given to Cook. The natives were giving seeds for all types of new vegetables as was customary. The two ships sailed on for Tahiti, where two crewmen from the Discovery deserted. Cook knew that any successful desertion could start an exodus, as a casual life in Tahiti was more appealing than life in Victorian England. Cook seized canoes, houses, and chiefs, demanding the crewmen be returned. Armed searches were performed and the two men were finally found in Bora Bora and returned.

In the meantime Cook made a discovery in another field. He had been suffering badly from rheumatism, especially from his hips to his feet. A friendly chief offered to help and Surgeon Anderson approved. Twelve women, the chief's relatives, were paddled out ceremoniously to the Resolution and descended into the great cabin. Cook was told to lie down on a mattress whereby the women began pummeling, squeezing, and massaging his entire body unmercifully, especially the rheumatic joints. After about 15 minutes Cook stood up and to his astonishment felt much better. Two more treatments cured him. The rheumatism went away and did not return.

North Across the Pacific

Now it was time to leave familiar islands. Cook's plan was to sail north with the southeast trade wind on the starboard beam, make their way through the doldrums as best they could, then pick up the northeast trades and sail north out of them running eastward from there on. It was futile to sail against the trade winds, better to use them for latitude.

On Christmas Eve of 1777, Cook sighted the island named Christmas. They pressed on until they saw three high mountain islands. It was January, 1778. They approached the island and managed to get an anchor down. Canoes were sent out by unarmed natives who spoke Tahitian. The crew wondered how the Tahitians could have sailed over such great distances. Cook and his seamen had encountered these same people over an enormous area, from Bora Bora to New Zealand to Tahiti and now to this island called Atui by to locals. This island is now called Kauai, in the Hawaiian Islands. The site of their landing is near the present day town of Waimea, Kauai, Hawaii. This marks the first contact with ancient Hawaiians by a European.

Islanders brought out pigs, potatoes, sugar cane, and traded them for whatever they were offered. The sight of strange men from Europe and enormous sailing ships was like nothing they had ever seen and could hardly believe. When Cook landed all the natives in sight fell upon their faces "and remained in that very humble posture till, by expressive signs I prevailed upon them to rise," wrote the captain.

A long speech was made, presents exchanged, and friendships pledged. As Cook and his party moved about the island, never far from the beach, the locals "fell prostrate on the ground and remained in that position until we passed." The crew thought the practice was only a way of paying respect. It dawned on none of them that it could be something more than that.

With fresh supplies the two ships set sail once again. On 40° N in February of 1778, the west winds found the ships. A month later the coast of a great continent came in sight, North America. Beautiful distant snowcapped mountains were seen. Cook turned north and made a running survey of the land as they went.

The discovery of a sailing route across what is now Canada and the northern United States was now obviously impossible to Cook, as he could see great mountains blocking the way. It could hardly matter what bays, inlets, or gulfs might be found as these majestic mountains could be seen far inland. He was now well aware of the immense stretch of land in place of where this open water was hoped to be. He had previously surveyed the eastern side of the continent, Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He now knew the longitude of the west coast as well.

From Cape Race in Newfoundland to the coast of Oregon, 70° of longitude, over 4,000 miles! What a magnificent country! As they trekked north the coast trended westward. And the wind was west, always forcing towards land. There were intense squalls and fogs. The coast of Washington and Oregon were notorious in the sailing ship era and Cape Flattery (named by Cook) was rated then with Hatteras, the Horn, and Good Hope as the four most dangerous headlands in the world.

Cook took the ships into Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The natives traded fish and furs and practiced even more thievery. Sailing on, it was now April of 1778 and the Resolution began to leak badly again. Water could be heard and seen entering the ship but it appeared the gaps were all above the waterline. Water was pumped and bailed overboard as the ship rocked violently through the rough weather.

This was a bad shape for the Resolution to approach the Arctic in. Cook was in desperate need of a good harbor to make repairs. He was now well inside Alaskan waters and had already sailed past the sheltered and beautiful bays of the Puget Sound. He kept well out to sea as this was a north-south passage. The coast was sheltered by offshore islands at the base of picturesque mountains and fed by glaciers. This was a beautiful place in the summer but futile towards any hope of a Northwest Passage.

It is a shame that here Cook missed Valdez off of Prince Williams Sound, as it would make for a good location for repairs and is ice free year round. They were above 60° N now off the coast of British Colombia and northwest Alaska. From here the Alaskan mainland turned south, to Cook's surprise. The hazy weather made finding a suitable harbor difficult. Off of Prince William Sound, not far from Valdez, Cook found a sheltered spot he named Snug Corner Bay, north of Montague Island. Making anchor they found all the oakum gone below the wooden sheathing. This was repaired while Eskimos came out in kayaks and canoes in an attempt to seize the Discovery , armed with knives. Cook demonstrated that they could kill at range and the Eskimos turned away. None were killed, Cook wanted no one murdered.

Observations showed the ships to be over 1,500 miles west of any part of Hudson's Bay. Despite the appearance of many arms leading off from the Sound, the behavior of the tides showed that it was a waste of time to seek a Northwest Passage there. It was now May. Cook must push north somehow. To do this he must first go southwest along the Alaskan coast. The more promising gulfs were inspected by boat, but they were all useless.

The two ships had not gone far to the southwest before coming to a headland that swung around to the north. Could this be the passage they had been looking for? It was at least the best lead Cook had seen so far. Passage or not it was a considerable discovery. Before long it was observed that their newly discovered waterway was fed only by rivers. Its waters became shallow and almost fresh water, abundant signs that they were in a large river. Today it is called Cook Inlet, famous mountain lined broad waters that lead to the city of Anchorage, Alaska.

Sailing on down the Alaskan coast they met with natives to discuss their knowledge of the local geography and to trade iron for salmon. At Unalaska, they met a party of Russian fur traders. They showed the Englishmen their charts of the area between Kamchatka and Alaska, but had no knowledge of a Northwest Passage. The English and Russians got along wonderfully.

Beyond Unalaska and the Aleutian Islands were the Bering Sea and the Bering Strait. Beyond these was the Chuckchee Sea and the impassible ice jam of the Arctic. Cook sailed on, noting the outflow of the Yukon River. They sailed around Alaska and right up to the Arctic ice, huge impregnable fields of it, not far from Point Barrow. If a sea passage reached the Atlantic from here, which it did, it was ice jammed even in the summer and was therefore useless.

Cook reached nearly 71° N and sailed east between the mainland and crushing sea ice to just beyond Point Barrow, Alaska, about 1,000 miles south of the North Pole. The ice could be heard moving and appeared as an endless line of gnashing teeth waiting to wreck the two ships. Cook turns back west towards the Asian continent, looking for a northeast passage instead. But he runs into the same ice wall.

Cook does what he can to chart the northern coasts of North America and Asia. The crew survive on walrus steak, excellent fish, and berries picked from ashore, all washed down with Cook's own spruce "beer." They now pass south, back through the Bering Strait and by October are in Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. They are now 12,000 miles from home and had been at sea for two years.

Onward Home

The two ships were once again badly in need of major repairs. A good base was needed where the ships could be refitted and the crew refreshed. His loose orders were for him to make for Petropavlovsk on the east coast of Russia and at the end of the Aleutian Islands. This meant the ships would spend another winter in the Arctic, and one could only guess if they would ever see England again after that.

So Cook looked over his charts in search of something better. With a number of his crew suffering from tuberculosis, he decided instead to make for those pleasurable Sandwich Islands where Kauai and Niihau he had visited on their way north. They offered refreshment, pleasurable natives, and sunshine, which they all badly needed.

"I had other reasons for not going to Petropaulowska," wrote Cook. "The first ... was the great dislike I had to lying idle six or seven months which would be the consequence of wintering in any of these northern parts. No place was so conveniently within our reach, where we could expect to have our wants supplied, as the Sandwich Islands." He also held the opinion that these were an important discovery, and he could make better use of the winter by exploring and charting them further.

In hindsight, it is a shame that he did not have a better look at Vancouver Island. Or find the Strait of Juan de Fuca and sail into some lovely bay to refit in the Puget Sound of present day Washington State.

The Hawaiian Islands

Even today the Hawaiian Islands provide not much in the way of good harbor for ships the size of the Resolution and Discovery . After sailing down from the Arctic, Cook sailed for many days from Maui to Hawaii, to Oahu, Molokai, and back against the wind to the big island which he called Owhyee. He found no good harbor. The two ships were kept out at sea for 8 weeks, trading for fruit by means of canoes.

At last, on the western side of the big island, he noted a shallow bay. Two miles wide and a mile deep it was wide open to the southwest storms, but otherwise easy to sail into and simple to leave.

As soon as they made anchor canoes came out by the hundreds. It seems most of the islands population came out, thousands of them. The sight of so many smiling faces with the volcanic Mauna Loa in the background almost made the weary sailors glad they had not found a Northwest Passage across the top of the world and back to England.

It was January 17, 1779. The Hawaiians said their bay was called Kealakakua. All these islands from Kauai to Hawaii were new discoveries. Hogs, greens, coconuts, and fruits were abundandt and fairly traded with the English explorers or brought out as gifts. Sails were patched and rigging was refitted. An observatory was set up ashore.

The supreme chief of the island, Kalaniopu'u was rowed around the ships in ceremony and visited aboard. Cook was presented with magnificent red-feather cloaks and expensive helmets. Now ashore the natives praised Cook wherever he went. He gathered he had been named "Orono," and thought of this as a prestiegeous Hawaiian title. Senior priests went with him wherever he visited.

Exactly what was an Orono ? Or who was the Orono? "Some of these ceremonies," said Lieutenant King, "seem to border on adoration." The Orono was in fact Lono the god, a cheerful earthly Hawaiian of long ago who had been exiled and who was prophecized to return in a large island, with trees, bringing gifts including swine and dogs. Well here were the "islands" (ships) complete with "trees" (masts). Here too was a tall, comanding but friendly reincarnation of Lono in the form of Captain Cook.

The very day before his arrival off of Mauai, chief Kalaniopu'u had been victorious in a battle there, obviously because the great Lono was coming to celebrate his victory. Honaunau, on Kealakua Bay, is a much revered place in old Hawaii. Time and setting were right for the return of a god. The sailors and their "islands" were no ordinary men. The astonished Hawaiians noted them carrying fires burning in their mouths (pipes), when they needed anything they reached into their skins (jackets) and pulled them out, some had heads horned like the moon (officer's felt hats), they could take off the tops of their heads (wigs), and whipe their faces with a cloth of impossible softness (linen handkerchiefs). Where could they have come from but the home of the gods?

Perhaps. The sailors also had some distasteful traits and they consumed an aweful lot of food. The priests and chiefs had to constantly take from the locals to supply these sailors. In time this could become irritating. But the ammount of food and gifts brought to the ships was none of Cook's asking. He had no idea it was forecefully taken from the people by the priests for the god Lono's happiness.

The priests, chiefs, and everyone else were happy when at last the Resolution and Discovery took up their anchors and left those shores. Lono spread his white banners high on his trees and moved out of the bay. It had been a wonderful visit but the island was now significantly depleted of resources.

Cook was happy with his visit to Kealakekua and writing in his journal, delighted "to enrich our voyage with a discovery which, though the last, seemed in many respects to be the most important that had hitherto been made by Europeans throughout the extent of the Pacific Ocean."

It was now kona season, the time of storms. And the Resolution had not sailed far before her topmast began to roll more than it should. Serious damage was quickly done to the rigging. Cook looked upward from the deck and could see the fore lower mast was split again, the tenth time of the voyage. The topmast had been repaired with splints but closer inspection showed damage enough that it could not be repaired at sea.

The ship must be repaired again. But where? They were now down to six sails from the usual twelve. Cook was against returning to Kealakekua, but there was no other known place for anchorage in the Hawaiian Islands.

Back Again in Kealakekua Bay

The sailors received no warm welcome this time. The islanders were in no place to supply more sustinance for the two ships, much less themselves. Lono's first visit had been a tremendous strain. Cook wasted no time floating the mast ashore for repair. How long would he and his 200 followers stay? The priests offered welcome, the citizens threw stones.

Cook tried his best to explain why they were there and how they intened to leave quickly. The people seemed to understand, but there were "incidents." Thieving became bold and serious. Some retaliation was made.

There was increased awareness that whoever Lono Cook might be, these seamen were no gods. When a seaman named William Watman died, he was buried ashore. The natives watched with some shock and now saw that these men were mortal, they could die.

Thieving grew worse. The natives began diving under the two ships and prying out nails from their outer sheathing. This was intollerable. It was difficult to defend the ships when so many of the men were ashore repairing the mast. Cook refused to use the ship's superior firepower against the locals.

One night a large boat, the Discovery 's cutter, was stolen. The cutter was vital and could not be replaced. Cook had a regular drill for such instances, take a local high chief hostage until the item was returned. Armed boats were sent to prevent canoes from leaving the bay until the cutter was returned.

In full uniform Cook rowed ashore, carrying his double barrel shotgun along with an armed guard of nine marines under Lieutenant Phillips. King Kalaniopu'u was ashore and told of the theft, agreed to come as a hostage. He began to walk with Cook very calmly towards the beach.

They were within 25 yards of the boats when a large crowd began to form. A woman stood between the beach and the king, she was his favorite wife. With tears she begged him not to go any farther. Several local chiefs joined the crowd which was now growing closer. Lieutenant Phillips noted some of the crowd gathering stones. Others darted into houses, returning with spears and clubs and fastening breast plates.

Two young chiefs pushed the king down to a sitting position such that he could not walk any further. The marines drew up in line along the beach, at the ready.

The crowd grew angry. Cook left the king, telling Phillips that he and the marines must go back to prevent serious bloodshed. A warrior rushed up to Captain Cook with a stone in one hand and a dagger in the other.

"Put those things down!" ordered the captain. The warrior made ready to fling the stone. Cook fired at once. One barrel of his shotgun was loaded with small shot, which he used. The pellets bounced off of the warrior's breastplate. He laughed and came at Cook with his dagger. This time Cook fired his other barrel, loaded with ball. The warrior dropped to the ground.

A general attack with stones began at once. The marines fired, but the warriors had only noticed the captains first shot and believed the muskets to be nothing more than a brief flash and flame. Warriors were killed but there were too many to resist. The marines were rushed before they could reload and four of them were struck down. Now the seamen came in the boats, opening fire.

For a moment Cook stood there, facing the crowd of blood thirsty Hawaiians. He did not reload. He turned to the boats, raising a hand to command a cease-fire. He had reached the water's edge but his commands could not be heard.

A warrior rushed him from behind, clubbing him violently. He sank to his knees, half in the water. The warrior stabbed again and again. A roar erupted from the crowd and men rushed into the sea, stabbing, clubbing, and holding James Cook under water. Once he raised his head and looked at them. They dragged his body ashore and all began stabbing him in a frenzy. Seizing the dagger from each other's hands as if each one must assure they had a part in the act.

This all took only seconds. The unpremeditated, gastly, unnecessary murder was done. Now no one could stop the sailors and surviving marines. Warriors now saw their breast plates were not armor as many were mowed down by musket fire. The beach cleared at once.

The boats pulled back with their incredible news. When it was told, a great silence filled the ships and a great sorrow filled Kealakekua Bay. It was February 14, 1779, and Captain James Cook R.N., aged 50, had met his end on that Hawaiian beach.

Some of the Hawaiians later took his body back to their village and prepared it with funerary rituals usually reserved for the chiefs and highest elders of their society. He was buried by his crew at Kealakekua Bay. Today, above the bluff, a town has been settled and aptly named: Captain Cook, Hawaii.

Continuing without James Cook

The crew finishes the repairs to the Resolution in harbor. The locals are now not allowed anywhere near the beach or the ships. Lieutenant Clerke takes over as acting captain of the Resolution and the voyage as a whole, but he is slowly dying of tuberculosis.

Lieutenant James King is promoted First Lieutenant of the Discovery and takes the task of completing the narrative portion of Cook's journals. It is here that King devotes two full pages describing surfboard riding as practiced by the locals in Kealakekua Bay. Thus in 1779, Lieutenant James King records in the ship's logs the first written description of Hawaiian surfing by a European.

The repairs are made quickly and the expedition heads for the Arctic for one last shot at finding a Northwest Passage. There is no use. The ice fields of 1779 were larger and farther south than they had been the previous year.

The ships continued to deteriorate. One day some wood floated by, it was part of the Resolution 's own sheathing. The Discovery suffered minor hull damage from ice, but nothing that could not be repaired. Captain Clerke succumbs to his tuberculosis and dies at the age of 38. Lieutenant Gore takes command of the Resolution with Lieutenant King commanding the Discovery .

They were now offshore of Petropavlovsk, Russia. It is now October of 1799 and the two ships decide the expedition’s goals are completed, and begin their trek back home to England. Gore sends a letter overland containing copies of Cook's reports along with his own account of Cook's death. The letters were carried by dog sleds across Siberia, then by horse and finally by coastal shipping across the North Sea to England.

Six months later the letters arrived in London, bringing dismay to the whole nation. Another six months after that, in early October of 1780, the expedition returned at last to England after a voyage of 4 years and 3 months.

Gore made a careful journey back, as they heard tales of one American naval commander named John Paul Jones. He sailed around the west coast of Ireland and down the North Sea before entering the Thames. Now in port, the Resolution would be refitted as an armed transport, sent to the East Indies, and would later disappear from the records.

Mrs. Cook was awarded £200 per year plus £25 a year for each of their three children. She was also awarded half of the profits from books on her husband's voyages. She retired to Clapham, London. She lived there into the steam age and passed in 1835 at the age of 93, surviving her husband by 56 years.

Sir Walter Besant (1836-1901) wrote an account of Mrs. Cook in a biography of her husband. Like many ship captain's wives, she could not sleep on nights of high winds, thinking of her husband out at sea. She read from her husband's Bible daily. On Thursdays she entertained her friends with dinner at her home.

Sadly, she destroyed all private letrers from her husband, as she thought they should remain only between the two. Mrs. Cook is buried in Cambridge at St. Andrews Church. She left money to erect a memorial to her husband in the church.

In 1878 a Memorial to Cook was erected at his place of death in Hawaii. Today the Hawaiian flag has the Union Jack (Flag of England) as the principle emblem. A statue of Cook has also been erected at the site of his landing in Waimea, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

The Effects of Cook's Voyages

To the average Englishman, the discoveries and explorations of James Cook were so remote that they almost belonged to another world. Before these discoveries, even Americans knew nothing of the west coast of the continent to which there new country was established.

Three volumes of Cook's voyages are published. They accurately describe with latitude and longitude the locations and coastlines of Australia, New Zealand, the Hawaiian Islands, the west coast of North America as well as the north coast of Alaska, the east and north coasts of Asia, and countless islands in the South Pacific.

We know very little about James Cook the man. He was of Scottish and Yorkshire ancestry. He was raised to work hard, on a Yorkshire farm. He served for years on Whitby colliers. His hard upbringing surely contributed to his qualities of leadership and competence. His seamen and officers knew him well and many came back with him voyage after voyage, some to their death.

Apart from his character, James Cook can be described as a loyal Englishman who became one of Western Civilization's great contributors. The best description of him is left on the map of the globe. The names of his brave ships stand in the history books: Endeavour, Resolution, Discovery, and the Adventure. During his life, he had explored farther north (70°44′ N) and farther south (71°10′ S) in the Pacific Ocean than any previous human being. The farmer's son from Yorkshire who became Captain R.N. and gold medalist of the Royal Society can easily be seen as one of the greatest explorers the world has ever known.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105

Other Classic History articles on the voyages of Captain James Cook include:    Captain James Cook - His First Voyage    Captain James Cook - His Second Voyage

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Romantic - The History of a Word

73 - 209 - Thanks for the detailed story of the Battle of Lepanto… as a dedicated lover-of-Venice, I have seen the paintings in the Doges Palace and knew of its significance. Here are the details. As noted, this ranks w/the defense of Vienna in 1683(?); check,as well, the legendary defense of Malta sometime in the late 1400’s; as deep as it gets.

71 - 187 - Thank you so much for this.

71 - 189 - You're welcome. Thank you for reading.

71 - 204 - Too kind :) Thanks for reading Karen.

71 - 203 - Wonderful precise information, Thanks so much !

69 - 177 - Sorry, but I do wish people who write articles mentioning astrology would go to the trouble of actually learning about astrology. The zodiac has nothing whatsoever to do with constellations, apart from the Greeks giving names to the signs from some of the constellations at that time. The zodiac was designed by ancient Babylonians, based on their calendar of 12 (and occasionally 13) lunar months, with 12 equal signs fixed to the March equinox. It has always been about the signs. The Western Tropical Zodiac will always begin with 0 degrees Aries on the March equinox and the stars have no relevance to this at all. The precession of the equinoxes and the alleged astrological ages are a minor oddity which astrologers generally have very little interest in.

69 - 186 - If the stars have no relevance to astrology, what relevance do the planets have? Are the positions of the planets determined in relation to the “signs” as given by astrology, or are their positions determined in relation to their apparent positions relative to the ecliptic and the stars visible in that celestial band.? If we’re to disregard the apparent positions of the stars, why bother to observe the positions of the planets, either?

69 - 199 - This article is about precession, which is obviously tangential to astrology, but the article never mentions the word. I'm not sure what you're going on about. The subject matter, especially in reference to constellations, is absolutely appropriate, as the ancients clearly were concerned about the positions of stars and planets, to think otherwise is absurd. The Egyptians understood the ages beginning and ending with certain star positions, whoever built the lion sphinx statue aimed it at Leo (the Lion CONSTELLATION), which tells us that it was likely built during that zodiacal age. I'm not sure how you can disregard the obvious tie-ins to key moments in history with what's marked out in the sky via constellations.

66 - 176 - Truly David Livingstone was a greatest missionary and explorer in Africa no one else other than him from Europe has left such a record. He will always be remembered for his great work in Africa.

64 - 128 - Wonderful story. Excellent history. Great Christmas Song too! Especially Luke 6:38

64 - 130 - I enjoyed playing piano recitals of Good King Wenceslas as a child - for the old folks in the nursing homes in our town. Thank you for the history on this beloved King.

64 - 135 - Thank you Teresa for your kindness to the elderly. Nursing homes are filled with lonely souls who sincerely appreciate such acts of generosity.

64 - 210 - I’ve played this for years! even posted a recording on YouTube under “Safe Sax Trio” from December 2020. it has a special connotation as Mi amor,Blanka, is Czech, born and grew up in Prague,Bohemia…St.Wenceslas being the patron Saint of the Czech People.????

61 - 95 - h

60 - 125 - "The Indo-Europeans were a people group originating in the plains of Eastern Europe, north of the Baltic and Caspian Seas in present day Ukraine and southern Russia." Surely you meant the Black sea and not the Baltic....

60 - 126 - Ha, yes I meant the Black Sea. Thanks Pgolay.

56 - 83 - Wild temperature swings throughout the years!

56 - 84 - Indeed! All the more reason to be thankful for the forests we are enjoying today.

55 - 137 - Interesting article! I'm curious, what were the sources about Hippocrates and his communications with Athens and Persia in regard to the plague?

55 - 138 - Thank you! Hippocrates' own writings on this subject have been translated into English. Wesley D. Smith has some good modern English translations: https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0674995260 Artaxerxes sends a letter to Hippocrates begging for help: "the renown of whose techne has reached even to me, as much gold as he wants, and anything else that he lacks in abundance, and send him to me" Hippocrates replies: "Tell the King I have sufficient food, clothing, and shelter, and all the necessities that I require for life, and that I have no wish for Persian wealth or to save foreigners from disease, since they are enemies of the Greeks."

55 - 145 - I really like Athens because it is truly a unique place with a rich history and unique distinctive features. Of course, there are a great deal of reasons to fall in love with this city because it’s a true calling card of Greece. After reading your article, I became more convinced that it is an incredible city in which ancient traditions and modernity harmoniously intertwine with each other into a single whole. It is so cool that you mentioned the Temple of Poseidon because I think that it’s such a wonderful way to delve into the history of Athens and feel the atmosphere of ancient times. I think that Athens is the best city in Greece for wine connoisseurs because it seems to me that you can try delicious and rare Greek wines there, getting unforgettable impressions. Art and culture in Athens are so incredible and multifaceted that it can’t leave you indifferent. It is an indisputable fact that the halls of the Museum of Cycladic Art are impressive in their scope and they have very interesting interactive expositions. It is so cool that there are so many incredible things and I think you will always find something to look at.

43 - 14 - Interesting article. An enjoyable read. Thanks

43 - 15 - Glad you enjoyed it!

40 - 149 - I was wondering where that cross at the top of the page is located? It is quite impressive and I stare at it a great deal! If you can help me I would greatly appreciate it! God bless you!!!

40 - 152 - William, The peak is Punta Selassa in the province of Cuneo, Italy. You can hike to the cross starting from the village of Calcinere on the Po River in the valley below. God bless you too!

39 - 81 - IS IT Possible to buy a hybrid checknut IMMUNE TO THE BLIGHT?

39 - 116 - very good information,we have many of these trees in our neighborhood. they were originally planted in the 1930's when the area was a berry farm and orchard. they have now spread over about a 50 acre residential area growing in just about any vacant space and producing huge amounts of nuts. Gig harbor washington.

39 - 180 - god, I had never heard of this. what a tragic story. Those forests must have been a true sight to see.

39 - 181 - I appreciate that you mentioned that chestnut trees are included in our holiday experience. My aunt mentioned last night that she and my mother planned to have information about hybrid chestnut trees for the farm project development they want. She asked if I had any idea what would be the best option to consider. I love this helpful article, I'll tell her she can consult a trusted hybrid chestnut trees service in town as they can provide information about their trees.

39 - 184 - This is incredibly sad. We have lost so much….thank you…anyone who has protected this wonderful, God given tree.

38 - 65 - Wow! That was quite an ordeal.

38 - 124 - Amazing story! Growing up in the Antelope Valley (Edwards AFB's location), we heard of a great number of accidents as really smart and competent test pilots pushed the limits of technology. My dad knew one "sled driver" who flew sailplanes as a hobby!

37 - 61 - The Frost Fair sounds like fun.

37 - 62 - Interesting article. This is the first I've heard of " Frost Fair ".

37 - 63 - I imagine it would be a lot of fun. Spontaneous community events like this always have a unique feeling to them.

37 - 64 - It was definitely a special phenomenon in the history of England.

36 - 11 - Very informative article. I love watching the lady play the organ at church and have always wondered what's under the hood.

36 - 12 - A very interesting and informative article. I have often wondered what the stops were for. The history and description of operation answered many questions.Thankyou.

36 - 13 - Glad it could help Kim. There is certainly quite a bit going on inside of these beautiful machines.

36 - 79 - Very well thought out article. I ran a small organ shop for 40 years that built some major organs around the world - one in Toyota-shi Concert Hall with about 4000 pipes. I am now retired, but want to write a book to pass my thoughts on to future generations of organ builders. Could I borrow some of the historical information you put together as you have said so much with less words and really good. Thanks!

36 - 80 - Thanks for your kind words John. Yes please use whatever you feel would be useful, just reference this website as a source. The goal of this website is to simply pass on our history to future generations. So if I can help with your book at all please reach out to me. Use any of the images or references in this article if you think they would be useful.

36 - 87 - A most helpful article which has answered many questions The organ is fascinating and invaluable. It hasn’t yet replaced orchestras

36 - 88 - A very interesting article, but who squeezed the bellows? Was it done by boys and how many and would they have been building up the air pressure for a time before the organ was to be played?

36 - 89 - In all my research I found that a volunteer from the church would power the smaller organs. For larger organs someone was paid to pump the bellows. These larger ones would have 3 or more bellows.

36 - 96 - Liked it! Very useful

36 - 140 - The article mentions that Roman and Byzantine organs were made of bronze (copper + tin) pipes, but there's nothing mentioned about modern organs. Are they made of brass (copper + zinc)?

36 - 188 - Thanks for this great article

35 - 58 - Such an incredible voyage.

35 - 59 - you should write an article about cook's third voyage

35 - 60 - Its in the works, check back here in a few months. Glad you enjoyed this one.

34 - 54 - This article is a nice little gift for the upcoming Christmas season.

34 - 55 - The song touches my life day by day and I needed musical copy of the same (notation). Thanx

34 - 56 - thanks NOEL! I pick a theme for Christmas each year and this is it for 2019. Christmas is everyday - as Jesus is with us everyday, renewing us with his love! Noel! Maria

34 - 57 - Great choice! True that Jesus is with us every day, not only around Christmas. Merry Christmas Maria

33 - 52 - Nice article!!!

33 - 53 - Thank you! It was a lot of work but I think it turned out not half bad.

31 - 46 - This makes me curious as to why Christianty succeeded spreading predominately westward from its Roman epicenter, yet failed doing the same eastward. Any ideas?

31 - 47 - How does the basilica and its parts like the nav relate to the Christian ceremony?

31 - 48 - Hi! I'm an architecture student and I would like to know what are other examples of Early Christian Churches and also their parts (name of the rooms, space, etc.); I just wanted them as references for my future subjects :D Thanks a lot

31 - 49 - I would have to do some more research on the later years of Christianity, but I would say that Christianity did spread eastward. This was likely halted by the pushback of Islam in the seventh century. Egypt was as much of a Christian stronghold as Rome until the Muslim conquest in the seventh century.

31 - 50 - The Nave is a space specifically reserved for procession of the choir or acolytes from the entrance towards the front of the church. Church goers sit in pews on the outer sides of the nave. Next is the Transept, which is where a priest or minister gives the sermon. Above that and at the front of the sanctuary is the choir loft.

31 - 51 - I spent quite a bit of time researching the churches in this article and these were the oldest ones I could find. If I find more I will certainly add them to the article. See the comment above for a list of the separate rooms of a church. Thanks for reading and good luck to you in architecture school!

31 - 75 - Are there any other examples of early Christians of this time period translating roman civic buildings into their new society?

31 - 76 - Ben, the churches listed in this article are the earliest ones that I could find that were constructed originally for the specific purpose of housing Christian worship services. Other churches exist from this time period that were simply converted from the worship of Roman gods. The Temple d'Auguste et de Livie in France is one such example. So old Roman temples were converted to churches but there is very little evidence that Roman civic buildings were converted to churches.

31 - 90 - Hello, thank you for an intresting article. Would you recommend any online resources or books one could use to explore Christian Architecture space? I will appreciate your feedback.

31 - 91 - Monuments of the Early Church by Walter Lowrie was my main source for this article. You can read it here . Other than this book, there are very few sources available for architecture of the early church, so I had to look at individual churches and compare them to established architectural norms from the rest of society at the time. There are plenty of resources available for church architecture after 1000 AD, such as Britannica.

31 - 97 - hi,this is malar.thank you for your wonderful and helpfull article. i need an article about egptian civilization like this. did you have any idea about preparing it?

31 - 98 - Glad you enjoyed it Malar. I have not thought of looking into Egyptian architecture. But it would certainly be interesting to see if the architecture made some kind of progression as the centuries went on. I may look into that in the future, thanks for your suggestion!

31 - 101 - Hi, i enjoyed reading your post. I wanted to know in what period does Paleo-Christian architecture took place?

31 - 103 - Thanks! Paleo-Christian describes the time period before the Byzantine Era. This could be before the dedication of Constantinople in 330, or before the Age of Justinian in the 6th century.

31 - 105 - A roof is arguably the most important aspect of every house - it protects your property and those living in it. As time goes by, the structure or appearance of the roof may be damaged, and need repairs or maintenance. Contact our roofing experts today for a free, no-obligation appointment and estimate. https://www.stgeorgeroofing.com.au/

31 - 117 - Hi, thank you for all the historic information here. Please can you throw more light on how the church started under the trees and haw they transcended to church buildings. Thanks.

31 - 200 - One of the most iconic features of early Christian architecture is the basilica plan, characterized by a rectangular nave, side aisles, and an apse.

30 - 112 - Thank you for the story of 3 amazing musicians

30 - 113 - Thanks for reading David!

30 - 133 - beautiful story! i love her work and im so happy her storys getting told more and more

30 - 178 - I was watching the movie song of Love and I wanted to find out some different questions and this website popped up and I was mesmerized. I love this! Thank you for sharing this

30 - 179 - Thank you for reading! I have never seen that movie, thanks for recommending it.

30 - 190 - Wonderful story, on May 7th I am going to Toronto for the concert in memory of Brahms(it his birthday),very excited !

30 - 191 - That sounds amazing! I hope you enjoy the concert, thanks for reading.

30 - 212 - i first learnt it from my piano teacher,but i love this story,so i decided to search it up.Your web was the first to pop up, so i clicked in and discovered a lot more deeper in their relationship.Overall,i love your informational text!

30 - 213 - i first learnt it from my piano teacher,but i love this story,so i decided to search it up.Your web was the first to pop up, so i clicked in and discovered a lot more deeper in their relationship.Overall,i love your informational text!

29 - 44 - What a beautifully written and illustrated article.

29 - 45 - Thanks Paul. Its a lot of fun to put yourself in the shoes of people in the past, and try to see the Universe from their perspective.

29 - 104 - I enjoyed your paper very much. Thank you for writing it.

29 - 201 - Thanks for the wrintings please provide more coz i loved these ones.

28 - 42 - Makes one wonder: without horrific barbarism, would have global civilization expansion been delayed?

28 - 43 - The threat of unexpected attacks probably did motivate people to work together a little more for the purpose of defense. I would say that adversity of any kind betters individuals as well as civilization as a whole.

27 - 40 - Wowzers! I can't wait till the next solar eclipse!!!

27 - 41 - I loved your blog article. Really Cool. dkekkcedkdca

26 - 37 - This website really helped me when doing an assignment on James Cook! Thanks so much for the great information on here

26 - 38 - write an article about his third voyage as well

26 - 39 - Glad it could help Ben! I have an article about Cook's third voyage in the works so check back here in the future. Thanks for reading!

25 - 36 - Thank you Janet! I try to make these articles as short and concise as possible but most of the time they end up being so long because there's just so much to say. Glad to hear I accomplished those goals on this article and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

25 - 35 - Enjoyed your history of personal wealth. Quick, easy to read and understand and interesting! Looking forward to reading the other articles. Thank you for sharing Janet ( In California )

25 - 169 - Very nice… I really like your blog as well as website. Very useful information and worth reading. Thanks.

24 - 71 - Thank you for your summation of the Christmas Truce. I was searching for the hymn, "Dona Nobis", when I came across your article. Now I can share both historical items with my nine-year-old granddaughter who is very interested in what our soldiers have endured and done for us.

24 - 72 - Thank you for reading Susan. I'm happy to hear that younger people are interested in our ancestor's sacrifice for us. Its wonderful that you're taking the time to talk to her about these kinds of things, they are not easy to hear or completely understand. When she is older you could share another article I have regarding The Great War titled Western Civilization prior to World War I .

24 - 93 - I heard about this truce many years ago and just had to try and find the background. I have thought of this for many many years and it pulls at my heart strings every time I hear Silent Night. Nit being directly connected to Military I wonder, “do this truce still happen each year on Christmas Eve?” I sure hope it do. War is such a terrible thing. My wish is for everyone lot live in peace. What a wonderful world it would be.

24 - 214 - very cool article.

24 - 215 - Hi, why this passage

23 - 25 - Years ago we sang with a quire the song Dona Nobis. During that song I had to sing English text. The words were if I rember well If I had word... Do you happen to know where I can find this version of Dona Nobis. Gr, Frans Pennings Cuijk. Holland.

23 - 26 - If this is in reference to the Mozart traditional Dona Nobis Pacem that is commonly featured many times on U Tube etc, The one with 5 verses each of different melody. why can it not be found as a recording, cd or whatever for sale, anywhere. Do you know a source? John P. Thank you.

23 - 27 - lovely

23 - 28 - I live in a retirement village and am aged 80. Eight of us, with the aid of one who was a music teacher, are trying to learn Dona Nobis Pacem to sing at our village's annual variety concert - without an accompanist! Please wish us luck! :)

23 - 29 - 1. Snobbish attitude towards "folk Music) 2. Peace is welcomed all the year round, not only at Christmastime.

23 - 30 - Frans, If you are wanting to download the version on this page you should try this link below. They have three versions of the song there. If you are looking for a version of the text in another language please let me know and I will make a page with the text in that language for you. http://www.westminsterdayton.org/music/listen.html

23 - 31 - More like a distain for what is called "academic." I agree but the point still stands that it is sung more often around Christmastime.

23 - 32 - Good luck Margaret. Our Men's choir in Sydney sang another (non-Mozart) version of Pacem. Halfway through, we froze, and only slowly found our peace.

23 - 33 - Thank you, John. Hope we don't freeze, but then it's warmer up here in Brisbane. :)

23 - 34 - Good luck to you Margaret! Post a link to your performance if at all possible. This is a beautiful song and every rendition is unique.

23 - 92 - no

23 - 121 - I must say I'm really impressed by the nice write-up you have here. You actually did a great job, unlike most bloggers I've seen on the internet talking about this same topic. Just reading the first few paragraphs, I was already locked in the content. Bravo and keep up the good work. If you have the time, I would appreciate it if you could help me rate my blog .

23 - 127 - Thank you for providing this service! My husband and I are doing a concert at a retirement home tomorrow (voice and Ukrainian bandura) with a mixture of Ukrainian and other music,and I couldn't locate the sheet music to check what to say about this song's origins in the introduction. I typed Dona Nobis Pacem into Google, and boom, there was your article with exactly what I needed! 16th-17th century unknown German composer.

23 - 134 - Bach's "Dona Nobis Pacem" in his great B minor mass is as beautiful as music or man can get.

22 - 119 - not good

21 - 22 - Abd al Rahman needed just a little more patience. Islam would take over Europe. Sadly,the pride, heritage and national boundaries of these countries are disappearing.

21 - 23 - Damn i love history i hope i dont die soon so i can see the advancement of modern society.

21 - 24 - That does appear to be the case at the moment. But it is anyone's guess what the next era in history will be like.

21 - 82 - This is a great summary of the Battle of Tours. It amazes me that this great battle is not more known to western society. As you say in the final para "a major turning point in western civilisation" yet very few know it.

21 - 86 - Thanks Peter. I wish we were taught more history in general but especially events like this one. We all have an amazing story.

21 - 85 - If you do then make sure to write your experiences down somehow. People in the future will be very interested in your perspective.

21 - 114 - Tg

21 - 171 - Thanks, I love history and believe that it is important for us all to understand our past so that we can learn from our mistakes. This article gave me heaps of info. Thanks for being willing to take the time to help others learn about our past. It truly is amazing - Anonymous

19 - 18 - Thanks for an astute summary. I am currently reading Barbara Tuchman's book on this period "The Proud Tower". What an amazing era. Such hubris. Such arrogance. Unfortunately, as always those taking the risks and making idiot decisions did not pay the bill. In fact they became more wealthy out of the war. What do you thing the next period in world history will bring? At least today there is no irrational optimism about the future as at the end of the nineteenth century. Maybe that is a start?

19 - 19 - Very interesting and insightful. Perhaps an article on the Lost Generation would be a good companion piece. I believe WW2 broke out in 1939, not 1940 (unless one counts the Asian-Pacific theater in which hostilities began in 1937).

19 - 20 - The end of any era in history severely challenges a culture's values. If you were to question national pride or absolute duty to your country prior to WWI you would likely have been executed. This shows just how entrenched cultural values can be. That being said, any prediction of what the next era in our history will be would be offensive to just about anyone who read it. I will guess that a civil war in England will be the event at which historians in the future will determine as the marker for the end of the Modern Era. I tend to wish there was more irrational optimism about the future in our time. WWI was a tremendous event matched only by the 30 years war or the Plague in its destructiveness. Maybe quite a bit of our cultural energy was destroyed as a result of the Great War. Thank you for the book recommendation, I'll definitely give it a look.

19 - 21 - Thanks for the suggestion! I will add that to my list of future articles. The great thing about writing these is that in doing the research you find so many ideas for new articles. Fixed the date too, thank you RT.

19 - 136 - Hitler was not good!

19 - 173 - What is a troy a reference to?

18 - 17 - This explanation is an oft-repeated myth. The bedrock is deeper below the surface in the areas below Canal Street than it is in region from the Flatiron district up to 42nd between. See http://observer.com/2012/01/uncanny-valley-the-real-reason-there-are-no-skyscrapers-in-the-middle-of-manhattan/

18 - 198 - Engaging read! This post brilliantly unpacks the geological foundations of NYC, underpinning its architectural prowess. It's the unseen hero of the city's skyline.

17 - 70 - A very interesting piece of history.

17 - 73 - Glad you enjoyed it!

17 - 74 - Love reading history raise of christianity.

17 - 99 - wow! so interesting. helped so much!

17 - 100 - is this site credible?

17 - 102 - It is as credible as the available source material. I list all references on each article. If you have a different perspective please feel free to email me or leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

17 - 107 - Thanks for this information. This helped me a lot! :D

17 - 108 - Thanks for this information. This helped me a lot! :D

17 - 111 - HI

17 - 115 - Very interesting information. How the living religion, Christianity has spread around the world like this miracle is an open proof that JESUS is living and He changes lives and a help in times of helplessness.

17 - 118 - Constantine was a jerk

17 - 120 - thanks

17 - 139 - Very nice article I am a student and this helped me learn a lot in the 6th grade!

17 - 144 - Very Good!

17 - 142 - Very interesting about his conversion to Christianity

17 - 143 - learning heaps

17 - 146 - Interesting

17 - 147 - Constantine is a very interesting bloke. Thanks to all the chaps at Classic History!

17 - 148 - thanks

17 - 156 - This is a great resource of knowledge for my kindergarteners!!!

17 - 158 - Thanks Ian! I'm happy it has helped!

17 - 159 - I love this cite! very credible 10/10 great resource for some fun reading!

17 - 175 - love it !!!

17 - 185 - i dont like this cause it didnt talk about MLK

17 - 206 - ????????????

17 - 205 - stupid

17 - 202 - You are so fake. There is no god. Shut up, just, shut up!

17 - 207 - Very good

17 - 211 - All thanks to Jesus,for his mercy

17 - 216 - this app is so amazing it js makes me want to slap eian

16 - 16 - Meine Mutter war eine geborene Bach.Besteht Event.eine Verbindung zu Johann Sebastian?Ich wurde es unbedingt wissen wollen .Irgend wo ist mir das ubermittelt worden.Bitte helfen Sie mir.Danke im Voraus-

15 - 182 - I'd like to use the above graphic as a sidebar to an upcoming equinox post at EarthSky. My article informs the reader of the intriguing fact that the tip of a shadow stick (gnomon) follows a straight (west-to-east) path on the day of an equinox. If given permission, I plan to credit the graphic to Classic History and to provide a link to this Eratosthenes page. Thank you for your consideration!

15 - 183 - Bruce, Yes please feel free to use anything you want so long as you reference this website as a source. Here is a slightly larger resolution image. Thanks for reading!

13 - 166 - Please include date of publication as I am trying to cite this article for school

12 - 10 - I was intrigued by Origin of Romanticism, how it changed its meaning over in a short span of time. From its lovers escapade into beautiful spots of nature to non- tangent expression of emotion and dramatism. thank you very much for this insight. grateful - sheera Betnag

12 - 69 - And wonder how it might change in the future as well. Glad you enjoyed the article and thank you for reading Sheera.

12 - 150 - This post was truly worthwhile to read. I wanted to say thank you for the key points you have pointed out as they are enlightening.

12 - 208 - As a Chinese, I've got the origin of romance! Thank u a lot.

9 - 0 - test'

5 - 151 - how should i reference this website?

5 - 153 - You could use Source: www.ClassicHistory.net Author: Thomas Acreman

4 - 7 - Keep on writing, great job!

4 - 8 - Congratulations. Agrees with the Welsh versions I was taught at school in the 1930s and 40s and what I read and gathered afterwards. I am now interested in finding out how much effect would 350 year of Roman rule have had on the Britons and why was it that the Romano Britons were so complacent and lax to be overtaken by the pagan immigrant settlers from Saxony in c400B.C.

4 - 9 - Thanks so much! I plan to keep on writing for years. My goal is to write at least one article per month.

4 - 78 - Thanks Gordon. I should have read my own title, where it was named Britain.

4 - 77 - "The island nation currently known as England?!" That's funny; I live here, and we call it Great Britain.

4 - 131 - Misspellings: "every forrest and hillside" (forest) "the furry of battle" (fury) "He employed them all to weather their captivity with bravery and courage, and to be strong men and women" (implored? impelled?) "an ivory thrown" (throne)

4 - 132 - Thanks JD. This is one of the first articles I wrote for this website and I really need to rewrite it.

4 - 167 - This story does, at least, acknowledge that the tale of Julius Caesar conquering Britain is not true! JC was ejected more than once. It was Cartimandua who betrayed Caradoc.. in the time of Claudius. BTW… No celts in Britain which was named for Brutus, grandson of Anaeas of Troy. Anaeas also features in the story of the founding of Rome. I.e., the peoples were related. The Cymry were not ‘primitive’!

3 - 1 - I love visiting the cross but, there's one thing that drives me nuts. Vietnam was not a war it was an armed conflict, not one of the 5 presidents that were in office during this time [1945 to 1972] did NOT declare war on the Viet Cong nor on North Vietnam.

3 - 3 - Are small weddings allowed Infront of the cross ?

3 - 4 - What camera was used here?

3 - 2 - Indeed, but the purpose of the cross is to remember those who answered their call to service and how much better the world is for their sacrifice. To that goal I think the cross does a fine job.

3 - 5 - I am not affiliated with Sewanee in any way but yes, I have seen a wedding there. It looked very peaceful and beautiful. There is a link to their website on this page which would be a good place to look for a contact number for the University.

3 - 6 - I believe I just used an old iPhone 4s for both of these photos.

3 - 109 - Why are those who severed in the Civil War not memorialized as well?

3 - 110 - Because the cross was originally built to memorialize those who served and died in World War I. Plaques were only added for those who served in wars after WWI. It was ultimately decided that the cross would only serve as a memorial for those who served and died in wars during the 20th century. From The University of the South: "Sewanee’s Memorial Cross honors the students and alumni of the University of the South and the Sewanee Military Academy and the citizens of Franklin County who fought and those who lost their lives in service to their country in the wars of the last century."

3 - 161 - Can someone in a wheelchair be able to get to the cross fairly easy?

3 - 162 - Yes, parking is available at the cross and the walkway to the cross is only slightly uphill.

2 - 0 - Nice article. The lake actually rarely freezes and only enough to walk on less than once every 10 years and only for a few days. In 2006 it was 29 days but otherwise it is clear and the ferries run year round.

-1 - 66 - Thanks for sharing your thoughts on History. Regards

-1 - 67 - I enjoyed your article on Charles Martel. Thank you for maintaining this beautiful site!

-1 - 68 - Thank you! I enjoyed researching and writing that one too. Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas.

-1 - 193 - Thanks very much for this mentally engaging, attention-grabbing articles. This content is right up mu intellectual alley, and I'll be a regular frequenter.

-100024 - 106 - test comment!! ©

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The canonized and vilified Capt. James Cook is ready for a reassessment

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The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook

By Hampton Sides Doubleday: 432 pages, $35 If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop.org , whose fees support independent bookstores.

The story of Capt. James Cook’s third voyage has all the elements of a Greek tragedy — hubris, good intentions gone awry, fatal error. The English sea captain, an old man by 18th century standards, had already made two worldwide voyages of discovery when he was coaxed by his admirers into one more journey. Though his expedition touched down in some of the world’s most pristine, magical places, it set in motion their decay by introducing lethal diseases and invasive species. And finally and fatally, Cook, a brilliant leader with the mind of a strategist and the sensibilities of an anthropologist, made a huge strategic misstep that led to his gruesome death on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1779.

Cover of the book "The Wide Wide Sea"

Since his death, countless writers and scholars have minutely examined the improbable life of Cook, who for better or worse opened the lands of the Pacific Ocean to the Western world. As the perspective on Cook’s record has shifted, evaluations have turned from eulogies to reassessments to sharp critiques of his role as advance man for the all-consuming English empire.

Now Hampton Sides, an acclaimed master of the nonfiction narrative, has taken on Cook’s story and retells it for the 21st century. In his new book, “The Wide Wide Sea,” Sides examines every aspect of Cook’s superhuman accomplishments, re-creates the largely untouched world he witnessed and weighs the strengths and frailties of both Cook and his all-too-human crew.

A black-and-white portrait of a man with short hair, a slight smile and a scruffy goatee.

Sides, author of “Ghost Soldiers,” “Hellhound on His Trail” and “On Desperate Ground,” tapped a vast amount of source material, including the journals of Cook, his officers and his crew, and did some epic travel of his own. The result is a work that will enthrall Cook’s admirers, inform his critics and entertain everyone in between.

The purpose of Cook’s final trip — to find a sea passage through North America that would link England to the riches of Asia — was considered critical to English ambitions for empire, and on July 12, 1776, Cook, 47, set sail, just as England was becoming embroiled in war with its American colonies. His two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, did not just maneuver around storms and shoals — they evaded Spanish and French ships determined to stop them. With Cook was Mai, a Tahitian whom Cook had picked up on a previous trip and transported to England. After several years in England as a guest of the king and object of curiosity, Mai wanted to go home.

The voyage had a rocky beginning. Shoddy repairs caused the boat to leak, the many farm animals the king had sent along as gifts to the Tahitians had to be tended to, and a disorienting fog enveloped the ships for weeks on end. But there was something more. From the beginning, Cook’s crew sensed that something was amiss about their leader. “He seemed restless and preoccupied,” Sides writes. “There was a peremptory tone, a raw edge in some of his dealings. Perhaps he had started to believe his own celebrity. Or perhaps, showing his age and the long toll of so many rough miles at sea, he had become less tolerant of the hardships and drudgeries of transoceanic sailing.”

The ships managed to get around the Cape of Good Hope to New Zealand, where Cook took on the role of homicide detective, investigating an incident during a previous voyage in which English crew members who clashed with the Maoris were killed and eaten. Cook’s dispassionate response — that the Maoris were following their own traditions of ingesting their enemies after battle — provoked a restive response in his own crew after Cook decided against any retribution.

The expedition proceeded to Tahiti, where the crew received a relatively warm welcome, witnessed impressive displays of expert seamanship by the Tahitians and reveled in their paradisiacal surroundings. But the sailors passed sexually transmitted infections to the population, and rats jumped ship and set about decimating many of the islands’ native species. Ominously, Cook’s skills as a diplomat seemed to desert him. After Tahitians on the island of Mo‘orea stole a goat, Cook grossly overreacted, looting their food and razing their villages to the ground. The crew was aghast. Sides speculates that some unnamed physical ailment was wearing Cook down.

By the time Cook’s crew left, the Tahitians were glad to see them go. With supplies restored and ships repaired, the English left Mai on an island with a country-style cottage, a few animals and a trove of useless artifacts. Then the expedition headed northwest into more uncharted territory, mapping the west coast of North America as it searched for a western entry to the Northwest Passage.

Sailing close to the top of the world, the crew basked in the summer Arctic sun and kept company with whales, seals and dolphins. “We all feel this morning as though we were risen in a new world,” wrote one officer. But they finally confronted an unnavigable Arctic ice shelf, and Cook, swallowing the bitterest of pills, knew he had failed. He turned his ships west to eastern Russia, then sailed south to Hawaii’s Big Island, where an argument over the theft of one of the expedition’s longboats escalated into Cook’s decision to take the local king hostage. It was there that Cook’s life ended and arguments over his place in history began.

Captain Cook’s story is the apotheosis of the adventure stories Sides tells so well. Humans will never lose their yearning for exploration, and Cook was the master. From the perspective of his crews, they were sailing into a void of space and time, completely cut off from the world they knew, and Cook led them successfully through the direst conditions. He was a ruthless strategist who did not hesitate to use violence to achieve his aims, and he embodied an age of colonization that eventually brought uncountable horrors. Sides has retold a story worthy of an ancient hero, that of a man of awesome power undone by his own ambitions. We know his fate, but we cannot look away.

Mary Ann Gwinn, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who lives in Seattle, writes about books and authors.

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History and Headlines

The Last Voyage of Captain James Cook

Major Dan

A Brief History

On July 12, 1776, famous explorer English Captain James Cook set sail from Plymouth on what was to be his final voyage.  The premier English explorer of the Pacific, Cook had taken voyages from 1768-1771 and 1772-1775, greatly expanding British knowledge of the Pacific, its islands, aits people.  Cook’s third voyage would take the route around Africa to the Indian Ocean and on to the Pacific.

Digging Deeper

Captain Cook was given the task of returning a young man named Omai (Mai in his native language) to his homeland of the island of Raiatea, one of the Society Islands near Tahiti.  The British expedition included the HMS Resolution under the command of Captain Cook, and the HMS Discovery under the command of Captain Charles Clerke, with Cook in overall command.  Returning Omai to his native island was the public reason for the trip, though the main reason Cook and his ships had been sent to the Pacific was to search for a Northwest passage, a navigable water route across the top (North) of North America which would provide a greatly abbreviated route to the Pacific from Europe rather than going around the Southernmost tip of South America or the Southernmost tip of Africa.

Captain Cooks first Pacific voyage (he was just Lieutenant Cook then) took him 3 years and circled the globe.  He became the first European to visit what is now New Zealand since Abel Tasman went ashore there an astounding 127 years earlier!  That visit did not go well for the native Maori people, with the British leaving at least 5 of the natives dead.  The purpose of this voyage was to chart the path of the planet Venus and to ascertain if there was indeed a large land mass in the area of what we now know as Australia, and indeed, Cook and his crew became the first known Europeans to land at Australia.  His ship for that first voyage was a converted collier (coal hauler) renamed the Endeavor . The ship was tiny by modern standards only 106 feet long and 28 feet wide, with a displacement of only 368 tons.  She was armed with a dozen swivel guns and 10 four pound cannons.  Intended for exploration and landing on exotic shores, the ship was also equipped with 3 boats and provisioned with the necessities of a sea voyage, namely 17 barrels of rum, 44 barrels of brandy and 250 barrels of beer!  Cook and friends returned to England to a heroes’ welcome 3 years later, with rumors of the ship and men having been lost at sea or sunk by the French giving the English folk a nice surprise when Endeavor showed up with its crew intact.

Cook’s second voyage also circumnavigated the globe, taking him around New Zealand and the East coast of Australia where he charted the lands down under.  Another notable achievement of Cook’s second voyage was his sailing past the Antarctic circle, the first known Europeans to have gone South of that latitude.  This second voyage was a 2 ship affair, with the Resolution and the Adventure making up the little fleet.  Resolution was slightly bigger than Endeavor and marginally better armed, with 6 pounder guns instead of Endeavor’s 4 pounders.  A main goal of this second voyage was to determine the presence or absence of a fabled land called Terra Australis Incognita, not to be confused with what we call Australia.  (There was no such land found.)  Another accomplishment of the second voyage was navigational advances using a new type of chronometer.  The success of the second voyage earned Cook a promotion to Captain.

Now a renowned explorer, Cook was dispatched on his third voyage to explore more of the Pacific and hopefully discover a Northwest Passage around the Northern coast of North America.  Unfortunately for James Cook, not only was the search for the Northwest Passage a failure, but the Captain was also killed in a battle with native Hawaiians on the Big Island of Hawaii in February of 1779.  His crew returned to England via the Westerly route through the Indian Ocean and around Africa back to Great Britain, arriving home in October of 1780, almost 3 and a half years after the voyage began.  Upon the death of Captain Cook, Charles Clerke assumed command, but he also died during the voyage in August of 1779, from the insidious enemy, tuberculosis.  Command then reverted to John Gore, a British naval officer from the Virginia Colony in North America.  Gore stayed loyal to the Crown when the American colonies, including Virginia, declared independence in 1776. (Gore died in 1790 having circumnavigated the globe a total of 4 times during his naval career.)

The encounter that led to the death of Captain Cook concerned the Hawaiians stealing one of Cook’s small boats, a not uncommon occurrence when dealing with Pacific Islanders during the 18 th Century voyages of discovery.  Normally, the British would take natives and hold them hostage under the British property was returned, but this time Cook made the mistake of seizing the Hawaiian king as his hostage, evoking a violent response by the natives.  Hawaiian legend has it that Cook was killed personally by a chieftain named Kalanimanokahoowaha.  (Say that 3 times fast!)

When the Resolution and Discovery made it back to the British Isles in October of 1780, they were blown past England and ended up in the Orkney Islands of Northern Scotland!  News of the deaths of Cook and Clerke had preceded the arrival of the ships, and this time the welcome was somewhat restrained.

The voyages of James Cook and his intrepid sailors and the journals compiled by Cook and others expanded the European knowledge of the Pacific and its lands and peoples.  James Cook goes down in history as one of the great explorers in the Age of Discovery.

Question for students (and subscribers): Who is your favorite explorer and why?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Dugard, Martin.  Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook . Washington Square Press, 2002.

Hough, Richard. Captain James Cook: A Biography . W. W. Norton & Company

The featured image in this article, the Death of Captain Cook by John Webber (–1793), is in the  public domain  in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the  copyright term  is the author’s  life plus 100 years or fewer .

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.

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captain cook's last voyage

James Cook North-West Passage expedition 1776–78

What prompted Cook out of retirement for one last expedition?

Captain James Cook came out of retirement to look for the North-West Passage in 1776. It was to be his last expedition and he never returned home.

Captain James Cook is one of the most celebrated navigators and explorers in British history. By 1775 he had retired but was lured back to sea by the possibility of discovering the North-West Passage – the seaway across the Arctic, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Cook’s journey was, in many ways, one of the greatest journeys of exploration ever made. During it he discovered the Hawaiian Islands and charted swathes of the North American Pacific coastline, but the North-West Passage was not to be found and Cook himself would never see England again.

Exploration from the west coast

Before 1776, all the explorers searching for the North-West Passage had been attempting to find it from the Atlantic (east) coast. Cook’s plan was to find it from the Pacific (west) coast. Explorer Samuel Hearne’s overland journey from Hudson Bay to the Arctic and back in 1770–72 had established that a passage could not lie through the North American continent, but it might lie around it. Added to that, the publication of a Russian map by Jacob von Stählin showed Alaska as an island, with a wide strait between it and America, through which ships could sail north.

No strait to be found

Hoping to find the strait shown on the Russian map, Cook, along with Captain Charles Clerke, took the ships Discovery and  Resolution up the Pacific coast of North America. But the strait could not be found. In his journal Cook wondered what could have made von Stählin publish such an inaccurate map. He wrote: ‘Indeed, it is a map to which the most illiterate of his illiterate seafaring countrymen would have been ashamed to set his name.’

Cook's death

The expedition carried the ships round the Alaskan peninsula and through the Bering Strait where they turned east, the crew optimistic they would sail from here to the Atlantic. It was not to be. In mid-August they were halted by impenetrable ice and were forced to turn back. By October, they had reached Hawaii where Cook was killed on 14 February 1779.

Captain Clerke took command of the Discovery and Resolution and returned to the Arctic to continue the search for the passage. He too would never see England again: he died of consumption (tuberculosis) and was buried at Vladivostock, Siberia. Lieutenant John Gore finally brought the ships home.

George Vancouver's voyage, 1791–95

One of the men on Cook’s final voyage, George Vancouver, would lead later attempts to find the North-West Passage, approaching from the Pacific. On a voyage lasting from 1791 to 1795, Vancouver surveyed many channels and inlets on the west coast of today’s Canada. Finding no navigable waterways he was forced to conclude that if any passage did exist it must be much further north. If it were, he considered it would be impossible to pass through owing to the polar ice.

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How Captain James Cook Got Away with Murder

By Elizabeth Kolbert

Portrait of James Cook overlaid by a map of Hawaii.

On Valentine’s Day, 1779, Captain James Cook invited Hawaii’s King Kalani‘ōpu‘u to visit his ship, the Resolution. Cook and the King were on friendly terms, but, on this particular day, Cook planned to take Kalani‘ōpu‘u hostage. Some of the King’s subjects had stolen a small boat from Cook’s fleet, and the captain intended to hold Kalani‘ōpu‘u until it was returned. The plan quickly went awry, however, and Cook ended up face down in a tidal pool.

At the time of his death, Cook was Britain’s most celebrated explorer. In the course of three epic voyages—the last one, admittedly, unfinished—he had mapped the east coast of Australia, circumnavigated New Zealand, made the first documented crossing of the Antarctic Circle, “discovered” the Hawaiian Islands, paid the first known visit to South Georgia Island, and attached names to places as varied as New Caledonia and Bristol Bay. Wherever Cook went, he claimed land for the Crown. When King George III learned of Cook’s demise, he reportedly wept. An obituary that ran in the London Gazette mourned an “irreparable Loss to the Public.” A popular poet named Anna Seward published an elegy in which the Muses, apprised of Cook’s passing, shed “drops of Pity’s holy dew.” (The work sold briskly and was often reprinted without the poet’s permission.)

“While on each wind of heav’n his fame shall rise, / In endless incense to the smiling skies,” Seward wrote. Artists competed to depict Cook’s final moments; in their paintings and engravings, they, too, tended to represent the captain Heaven-bound. An account of Cook’s life which ran in a London magazine declared that he had “discovered more countries in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans than all the other navigators together.” The anonymous author of this account opined that, among mariners, none would be “more entitled to the admiration and gratitude of posterity.”

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Posterity, of course, has a mind of its own. In 2019, the two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of Cook’s landing in New Zealand, a replica of the ship he’d sailed made an official tour around the country. According to New Zealand’s government, the tour was intended as an opportunity to reflect on the nation’s complex history. Some Māori groups banned the boat from their docks, on the ground that they’d already reflected enough.

Cook “was a barbarian,” the then chief executive of the Ngāti Kahu iwi told a reporter. Two years ago, an obelisk erected in 1874 to mark the spot where Cook was killed, on Kealakekua Bay, was vandalized. “You are on native land,” someone painted on the monument. In January, on the eve of Australia Day, an antipodean version of the Fourth of July, a bronze statue of Cook that had stood in Melbourne for more than a century was sawed off at the ankles. When a member of the community council proposed that area residents be consulted on whether to restore the statue, a furor erupted. At a meeting delayed by protest, the council narrowly voted against consultation and in favor of repair. A council member on the losing side expressed shock at the way the debate had played out, saying it had devolved into an “absolutely crazy mess.”

Into these roiling waters wades “ The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook ” (Doubleday), a new biography by Hampton Sides. Sides, a journalist whose previous books include the best-selling “ Ghost Soldiers ,” about a 1945 mission to rescue Allied prisoners of war, acknowledges the hazards of the enterprise. “Eurocentrism, patriarchy, entitlement, toxic masculinity,” and “cultural appropriation” are, he writes, just a few of the charged issues raised by Cook’s legacy. It’s precisely the risks, Sides adds, that drew him to the subject.

Cook, the second of eight children, was born in 1728 in Yorkshire. His father was a farm laborer, and Cook would likely have followed the same path had he not shown early promise in school. His parents apprenticed him to a merchant, but Cook was bored by dry goods. In 1747, he joined the crew of the Freelove, a boat that, despite its name, was designed for the distinctly unerotic task of ferrying coal to London.

After working his way up in the Merchant Navy, Cook jumped ship, as it were. At the age of twenty-six, he enlisted in the Royal Navy, and one of his commanders, recognizing Cook’s talents, encouraged him to take up surveying. A chart that Cook helped draft of the St. Lawrence River proved crucial to the British victory in the French and Indian War.

In 1768, Cook was given command of his own ship, H.M.S. Endeavour, a boxy, square-sterned boat that, like the Freelove, had been built for hauling coal. The Navy was sending the Endeavour to the South Pacific, ostensibly for scientific purposes. A transit of Venus was approaching, and it was believed that careful observation of the event could be used to determine the distance between the Earth and the sun. Cook and his men were supposed to watch the transit from Tahiti, which the British had recently claimed. Then, and only then, was the captain to open a set of sealed orders from the Admiralty which would provide further instructions.

The Endeavour departed from Plymouth, made its way to Rio, and from there sailed around the tip of South America. Arriving in Tahiti, where British and French sailors had already infected many of the women with syphilis, Cook drew up rules to govern his crew’s dealings with the island’s inhabitants. The men were not to trade items from the boat “in exchange for any thing but provisions.” (That rule appears to have been flagrantly flouted.)

The day of the transit—June 3, 1769—dawned clear, or, as Cook put it, “as favourable to our purposes as we could wish.” But the observers’ measurements differed so much that it was evident—or should have been—that something had gone wrong. (The whole plan, it later became clear, was fundamentally flawed.) Whether Cook had indeed waited until this point to open his secret instructions is unknown; in any event, they pointed to the true purpose of the trip. From Tahiti, the Endeavour was to seek out a great continent—Terra Australis Incognita—theorized to lie somewhere to the south. If Cook located this continent, he was to track its coast, and “with the Consent of the Natives to take possession of Convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain.” If he didn’t locate it, he was to head to New Zealand, which the British knew of only vaguely, from the Dutch.

The Endeavour spent several weeks searching for the continent. Nothing much happened during this period except that a crew member drank himself to death. As per the Admiralty’s instructions, Cook next headed west. The ship landed on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island on October 8, 1769. Within the first day, Cook’s men had killed at least four Māori and wounded several others.

A ship like the Endeavour was its own floating world, its commander an absolute ruler. A Royal Navy captain was described as a “King at Sea” and could mete out punishment—typically flogging—as he saw fit. At the same time, in the vastness of the ocean, a ship’s captain had no one to turn to for help. He had to be ever mindful that he was outnumbered.

Cook was known as a stickler for order. A crew member recorded that Cook once performed an inspection of his men’s hands; those with dirty fingers forfeited the day’s allowance of grog. He seemed to have a sixth sense for the approach of land; another crew member claimed that Cook could intuit it even in the dead of night. Although in the seventeen-seventies no one knew what caused scurvy, Cook insisted that his men eat fresh fruit whenever possible and that they consume sauerkraut, a good source of Vitamin C.

Of Cook’s inner life, few traces remain. When he set off for Tahiti, he had a wife and three children. Before she died, Elizabeth Cook burned her personal papers, including her correspondence with her husband. Letters from Cook that have been preserved mostly read like this one, to the Navy Board: “Please to order his Majesty’s Bark the Endeavour to be supply’d with eight Tonns of Iron Ballast.” Cook left behind voluminous logs and journals; the entries in these, too, are generally bloodless.

“Punished Richard Hutchins, seaman, with 12 lashes for disobeying commands,” he wrote, on April 16, 1769, when the Endeavour was anchored off Tahiti. “Most part of these 24 hours Cloudy, with frequent Showers of Rain,” he observed, from the same spot, on May 25th. The captain, as one of his biographers has put it, had “no natural gift for rhapsody.” Sides writes, “It could be said that he lived during a romantic age of exploration, but he was decidedly not a romantic.”

Still, feelings and opinions do sometimes creep into Cook’s writing. He is by turns charmed and appalled by the novel customs he encounters. A group of Tahitians cook a dog for him; he finds it very tasty and resolves “for the future never to dispise Dog’s flesh.” He sees some islanders eat the lice that they have picked out of their hair and declares this highly “disagreeable.”

Many of the Indigenous people Cook met had never before seen a European. Cook recognized it was in his interest to convince them that he came in friendship; he also saw that, in case persuasion failed, the main advantage he possessed was guns.

In a journal entry devoted to the Endeavour’s first landing in New Zealand, near present-day Gisborne, Cook treats the killing of the Māori as regrettable but justified. The British had attempted to take some Māori men on board their ship to demonstrate that their intentions were peaceful. But this gesture was—understandably—misinterpreted. The Māori hurled their canoe paddles at the British, who responded by firing at them. Cook acknowledges “that most Humane men” will condemn the killings. But, he declares, “I was not to stand still and suffer either myself or those that were with me to be knocked on the head.”

After mapping both New Zealand’s North and South Islands, Cook headed to Australia, then known as New Holland. The Endeavour worked its way to the country’s northernmost point, which Cook named York Cape (and which is now called Cape York). The inhabitants of the coast made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with the British. Cook left gifts onshore, but they remained untouched.

Cook’s response to the Aboriginal Australians is one of the most often cited passages from his journals. In it, he seems to foresee—and regret—the destruction of Indigenous cultures which his own expeditions will facilitate. “From what I have said of the Natives of New Holland they may appear to some to be the most wretched People upon Earth; but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans,” he writes.

The earth and Sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for Life. They covet not Magnificient Houses, Household-stuff, etc.; they live in a Warm and fine Climate, and enjoy every wholesome Air. . . . They seem’d to set no Value upon anything we gave them, nor would they ever part with anything of their own for any one Article we could offer them. This, in my opinion, Argues that they think themselves provided with all the necessarys of Life, and that they have no Superfluities.

If Cook’s first voyage failed to turn up the missing continent or to calculate the Earth’s distance from the sun, imperially speaking it was a resounding success: the captain had claimed both New Zealand and the east coast of Australia for Britain. (In neither case had Cook sought or secured the “Consent of the Natives,” but this lapse doesn’t seem to have troubled the Admiralty.) The very next year, Cook was dispatched again, this time in command of two ships, the Resolution and the Adventure. Navy brass continued to insist that Terra Australis Incognita was out there somewhere—presumably farther south than the Endeavour had ventured—and on his second voyage Cook was supposed to keep sailing until he found it. He crossed and recrossed the Antarctic Circle, at one point getting as far as seventy-one degrees south. Conditions on the Southern Ocean were generally terrible—frigid and foggy. Still, there was no sign of a continent. Cook ventured that if there were any land nearer to the pole it would be so hemmed in by ice that it would “never be explored.” (Antarctica would not be sighted for almost fifty years.)

Once more, Cook hadn’t found what he was seeking, but upon his return he was again hailed as a hero. Britain’s leading scientific institution, the Royal Society, granted him its highest honor, the Copley Medal, and the Navy rewarded him with a cushy desk job. The expectation was that he would settle down, enjoy his sinecure, and finally spend some time with his family. Instead, he set out on yet another expedition.

Two traffic cones think about the fire and spiders they are surrounding.

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“The Wide Wide Sea” focusses almost exclusively on Cook’s third—and for him fatal—voyage. Sides portrays Cook’s decision to undertake it as an act of hubris; the captain, he writes, “could scarcely imagine failure.” The journey got off to an inauspicious start. Cook’s second-in-command, Charles Clerke, was to captain a ship called the Discovery, while Cook, once again, sailed on the Resolution. When both vessels were scheduled to depart, in July, 1776, Clerke was nowhere to be found. (Thanks to the improvidence of a brother, he’d been tossed in debtors’ prison.) Cook set off without him. A few weeks later, the Resolution nearly crashed into one of the Cape Verde Islands, a mishap that Sides sees as a portent. The ship, it turned out, also leaked terribly—another bad sign.

The plan for the third voyage was more or less the inverse of the second’s. Cook’s instructions were to head north and to look not for land but for its absence. The Admiralty wanted him to find a seaway around Canada—the fabled Northwest Passage. Generations of sailors had sought the passage from the Atlantic and been blocked by ice. Cook was to probe from the opposite direction.

The expedition also had a secondary aim involving a Polynesian named Mai. Mai came from the Society Islands, and in 1773 he had talked his way on board the Adventure. Arriving in London the following year, he entranced the British aristocracy. He sat in on sessions of Parliament, learned to hunt grouse, met the King, and, according to Sides, became “something of a card sharp.” But, after two years of entertaining toffs, Mai wanted to go home. It fell to Cook to take him, along with a barnyard’s worth of livestock that King George III was sending as a gift.

Clerke, on the Discovery, finally caught up to Cook in Cape Town, where the Resolution was docked for provisioning and repairs. Together, the two ships sailed away from Africa and stopped off in Tasmania. In February, 1777, they pulled into Queen Charlotte Sound, a long, narrow inlet in the northeast corner of New Zealand’s South Island. There, more trouble awaited.

Cook had visited Queen Charlotte Sound (which he had named) four times before. During his second voyage, it had been the site of a singularly gruesome disaster. Ten of Cook’s men—sailors on the Adventure—had gone ashore to gather provisions. The Māori had slain and, it was said, eaten them.

Cook wasn’t in New Zealand when the slaughter took place; the Adventure and the Resolution had been separated in a fog. But, on his way back to England, he heard rumblings about it from the crew of a Dutch vessel that the Resolution encountered at sea. Cook was reluctant to credit the rumors. He wrote that he would withhold judgment on the “Melancholy affair” until he had learned more. “I must however observe in favour of the New Zealanders that I have allways found them of a Brave, Noble, Open and benevolent disposition,” he added.

By the time of the third voyage, Cook knew the stories he’d heard were, broadly speaking, accurate. Why, then, did he return to the scene of the carnage? Sides argues that Cook was still searching for answers. The captain, he writes, thought the massacre “demanded an inquiry and a reckoning, however long overdue.”

In his investigation, Cook was aided by Mai, whose native language was similar to Māori. The sequence of events that Mai helped piece together began with the theft of some bread. The leader of the British crew had reacted to this petty crime by shooting not only the thief but also a second Māori man. In retaliation, the Māori had killed all ten British sailors and chopped up their bodies. Eventually, Cook learned who had led the retaliatory raid—a pugnacious local chief named Kahura. One day, Mai pointed him out to Cook. The following day, the captain invited Kahura on board the Resolution and ushered him down into his private cabin. Instead of shooting Kahura, Cook had his draftsman draw a portrait of him.

Mai found Cook’s conduct unfathomable. “Why do you not kill him?” he cried. Cook’s men, too, were infuriated. They made fun of his forbearance by staging a mock trial. One of the sailors had adopted a Polynesian dog known as a kurī. (The breed is now extinct.) The men accused the dog of cannibalism, found it guilty as charged, then killed and ate it.

Sides doesn’t think that Cook knew about the cannibal burlesque, but the captain, he says, sensed his crew’s disaffection. And this, Sides argues, caused something in Cook to snap. For Cook, he writes, the “visit to Queen Charlotte Sound became a sharp turning point.” It would be the last time that the captain would be accused of leniency.

As evidence of Cook’s changed outlook, Sides relates an incident that occurred eight months after the trial of the dog, this one featuring a pregnant goat. The Resolution had anchored off Moorea, one of the Society Islands, and animals from the ship’s travelling menagerie had been left to graze onshore. One day, a goat went missing. Cook was told that the animal had been taken to a village on the opposite end of the island. With three dozen men, he marched to the village and torched it. (Most of the villagers had fled before he arrived.) The next day, the goat still had not been returned, and the British continued their rampage. Such was the level of destruction, one of Cook’s men noted in his journal, that it “could scarcely be repaired in a century.” Another crew member expressed shock at the captain’s “precipitate proceeding,” which, he said, violated “any principle one can form of justice.”

Having wrecked much of Moorea, Cook couldn’t leave Mai there, so he installed him and his livestock on the nearby island of Huahine. A few years later, Mai died, apparently from a virus introduced by yet another boatload of European sailors.

Cook spent several months searching fruitlessly along the coast of Alaska for the Northwest Passage. But, on the journey north from Huahine, he had stumbled upon something arguably better—the Hawaiian Islands. In January, 1778, the Resolution and the Discovery stopped in Kauai. The following January, they landed at Kealakekua Bay, on the Big Island.

What the Hawaiians thought of the strange men who appeared on strange ships has been much debated in academic circles. (Two prominent anthropologists, Marshall Sahlins, of the University of Chicago, and Gananath Obeyesekere, of Princeton, engaged in a high-profile feud on the subject which spanned decades.) Cook and his men happened to have landed on the Big Island at the height of an important festival. The captain was greeted by thousands of people invoking Lono, a god associated with peace and fertility. According to some scholars, the Hawaiians gathered for the festival saw Cook as the embodiment of Lono. According to others, they saw him as someone playacting Lono, and, according to still others, the whole Cook-as-Lono story is a myth created by Europeans. What Cook himself thought is unknown, because no logs or journal entries from the last few weeks of his life survive. It is possible that he just let his record-keeping slide, and it is also possible that the entries contained compromising information and were destroyed by the Admiralty.

After Cook had been on the Big Island for several days, King Kalani‘ōpu‘u appeared with a fleet of war canoes. (He had, it seems, been off fighting on another island.) At first, Kalani‘ōpu‘u welcomed the British—he presented Cook with a magnificent cloak made of feathers, and he dined several times on the Resolution—then he indicated that it was time for them to go. It’s unclear whether the King’s impatience reflected the religious calendar—the festival associated with Lono had concluded—or more mundane concerns, such as feeding so many hungry sailors, but Cook got the message. The expedition soon departed, only to suffer another mishap. The foremast of the Resolution snapped. There was no way for it to go forward, so both ships made their way back to Kealakekua Bay.

It was while the British were trying to repair the Resolution that someone made off with the small boat and Cook decided to take the King hostage. The captain had often resorted to this tactic to get—or get back—what he wanted; it had usually worked well for him, but never before had he dealt with someone as powerful as Kalani‘ōpu‘u. Cook was leading the King down to the beach—Kalani‘ōpu‘u seems to have been convinced he was being invited for another friendly meal—when warriors started to emerge from the trees. Sides argues that Cook could have saved himself had he simply turned and run, but, as one of his men put it, “he too wrongly thought that the flash of a musket would disperse the whole island.” In the fighting that ensued, Cook, four of his men, and as many as thirty Hawaiians were killed. As was customary on the island, Cook’s body was burned. Some of his singed bones were returned to the British; those that remained in Hawaii, according to Sides, were later paraded around as part of the festival associated with Lono.

Though Sides says he wants to “reckon anew” with Cook, it’s not exactly clear what this would entail at a time when the captain has already been—figuratively, at least—sawed off at the ankles. “The Wide Wide Sea” portrays Cook as a complicated figure, driven by instincts and motives that often seem to have been opaque even to him. Although it’s no hagiography, the book is also not likely to rattle teacups at the Captain Cook Society, members of which receive a quarterly publication devoted entirely to Cook-related topics.

Like all biographies, “The Wide Wide Sea” emphasizes agency. Cook may be an ambivalent, even self-contradictory figure; still, it’s his actions and decisions that drive the narrative forward. But, as Cook himself seemed to have realized, and on occasion lamented, he was but an instrument in a much, much larger scheme. The whole reason the British sent him off to seek Terra Australis Incognita was that they feared a rival power would reach it first. If Cook hadn’t hoisted what he called the “English Colours” on what’s still known as Possession Island, in northern Queensland, it seems fair to assume that another captain would have claimed Australia for England or for some other European nation. Similarly, if Cook’s men hadn’t brought sexually transmitted diseases to the Hawaiian Islands, then sailors from a different ship would have done so. Colonialism and its attendant ills were destined to reach the many paradisaical places Cook visited and mapped, although, without his undeniable navigational skills, that might have taken a few years more. ♦

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The Adventure of a Lifetime: John Ledyard and Captain Cook’s Last Voyage

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A View of Snug Corner Cove, in Prince William’s Sound . Engraving after a drawing by John Webber, published 1783. Captain Cook and his crew explored Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska in 1778 - Connecticut Historical Society , Daniel Wadsworth 1848.16.3.28

By Ben Gammell

In 1783, as Americans adjusted to peace time following the Revolutionary War , a young man’s incredible adventure story was published in Hartford . John Ledyard’s Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage recounted Ledyard’s travels with the world-famous British explorer on his third and last exploration of the Pacific Ocean. Between 1776 and 1780, while most Americans were fighting against British soldiers and seamen, John Ledyard , born in Groton , Connecticut, was aboard Captain Cook’s ship, the Resolution , encountering new lands and new peoples in the northern and southern Pacific, the Arctic Ocean, and along the coast of Alaska.

Ledyard was a unique and independent character, an adventurer at heart with great ambitions and a deep interest in indigenous people and cultures. At the age of 20 he quit Dartmouth College by building his own dugout canoe and fleeing down the Connecticut River to Hartford. He became a sailor, was coerced into joining the British Navy, sailed with Captain Cook, traversed Russia and Siberia by himself without any money (until he was arrested and thrown out of the country), and began an exploration of Africa before dying of an intestinal ailment in Cairo at the age of 37.

His tale of Captain Cook’s voyage was a best-seller in Connecticut and the newly-independent United States, and it led to some fame but little fortune. The book’s success was eclipsed by Cook’s own three-volume A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean , published posthumously less than a year after Ledyard’s account. (Cook was killed during the voyage in a confrontation with native Hawaiians.) Cook’s “official” account included a series of 87 engraved maps, charts, and illustrations. Ledyard’s book had no illustrations except for one map.

In 1783, the same year both books were published, Jeremiah Wadsworth, a successful merchant from Hartford, purchased Cook’s volume in London; it’s possible he sought it out after reading Ledyard’s book. The engravings that came with the volume were unbound, and Wadsworth framed and displayed many of them in his home. In 1848 his son, Daniel Wadsworth, founder of the Wadsworth Atheneum , willed the engravings to the Connecticut Historical Society. Today, the engravings are accessible in the CHS Research Center. These vivid illustrations complement the adventurous narrative of Connecticut’s own world explorer, John Ledyard.

Ben Gammell is Coordinator of Interpretive and Education Projects at the Connecticut Historical Society .

© Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network and Connecticut Historical Society. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared on Connecticut History | WNPR News

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Captain Cook’s 1768 Voyage to the South Pacific Included a Secret Mission

The explorer traveled to Tahiti under the auspices of science 250 years ago, but his secret orders were to continue Britain’s colonial project

Lorraine Boissoneault

Lorraine Boissoneault


It was 1768, and the European battle for dominance of the oceans was on. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands had already spent several centuries traversing the globe in search of new land to conquer and resources to exploit, but the Pacific—and specifically, the South Seas—remained largely unknown. In their race to be the first to lay claim to new territory, the British government and the Royal Navy came up with a secret plan: Send a naval officer on a supposedly scientific voyage, then direct him to undertake a voyage of conquest for the fabled Southern Continent. The man chosen for the job was one James Cook, a Navy captain who also had training in cartography and other sciences.

Europeans already knew the Pacific had its share of islands, and some of them held the potential for enormous wealth. After all, Ferdinand Magellan became the first European to cross the Pacific Ocean way back in 1519, and by then it was already known that the “Spice Islands,” (in modern-day Indonesia) were located in the Pacific. Magellan was followed by a dozen other Europeans—especially Dutch and Spanish captains—over the next two centuries, some of them sighting the western shores of Australia, others identifying New Zealand. But the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, combined with the unreliability of maps, meant no one was sure whether the Southern Continent existed or had been discovered.

Even among the British, Cook wasn’t the first to set his sights on the South Pacific. Just a year earlier, Captain Samuel Wallis piloted the ship Dolphin to make first landing on Tahiti, which he christened George III Island. As for the British government, they had publicized their interest in the region since 1745, when Parliament passed an act offering any British subject a reward of £20,000 if they found the fabled northwest passage from Hudson Bay in North America to the Pacific. The British government wasn’t alone in its imperialist interests; the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman had already sighted an island off the south coast of Australia that would later be named after Tasmania him, and the Spanish had built fortifications on the Juan Fernández Islands off the west coast of Chile.

“For the Spaniards to fortify and garrison Juan Fernández meant that they intended to try to keep the Pacific closed,” writes historian J. Holland Rose . “The British Admiralty was resolved to break down the Spanish claim.”

But to do so without drawing undue attention to their goals, the Admiralty needed another reason to send ships to the Pacific. The Royal Society presented the perfect opportunity for just such a ruse. Founded in 1660 , the scientific group was at first little more than a collection of gentlemen with the inclination and resources to undertake scientific projects. As historian Andrew S. Cook (no apparent relation) writes , “The Society was in essence a useful vehicle for government to utilize the scientific interests of individual fellows, and for fellows to turn their scientific interests into formal applications for government assistance.” When the Royal Society approached the Navy, requesting they send a ship to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus that would occur in 1769, it probably seemed like the perfect cover, Cook the scholar says.

Captain Cook’s 1768 Voyage to the South Pacific Included a Secret Mission

The 1769 transit of Venus was the mid-18th-century version of the mania surrounding last year’s solar eclipse. It was one of the most massive international undertakings to date. Captain Cook’s crew, complete with astronomers, illustrators and botanists, was one of 76 European expeditions sent to different points around the globe to observe Venus crossing the sun. Scientists hoped that these measurements would help them quantify Earth’s distance from the sun and extrapolate the size of the solar system. The rare event was deemed so important that the French government, fresh off fighting the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War) with England, issued an instruction to its war ships not to harass Cook. It wasn’t an undue precaution; French astronomer Guillaume Le Gentil traveled to India to observe the 1761 transit of Venus but ultimately missed the event because his ship had to outrun English men-of-wars, according to historian Charles Herdendorf .

Captaining the Endeavour , Cook departed from Plymouth 250 years ago on August 26, 1768, in order to arrive in Tahiti on time for the transit, which would happen on June 3, 1769. His path carried him across the Atlantic and around the difficult-to-traverse Cape Horn in South America toward the south Pacific. He carried with him sealed secret instructions from the Admiralty, which he’d been ordered not to open until after completing the astronomical work. Unfortunately for the scientists, the actual observations of the transit at points around the world were mostly useless. Telescopes of the period caused blurring around the planet that skewed the recorded timing of Venus passing across the sun.

But for Cook, the adventure was just beginning. “Cook left no record of when he opened the sealed packet of secret orders he’d been given by the Admiralty,” writes Tony Horwitz in Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before . “But on August 9, 1769, as he left Bora-Bora and the other Society Isles behind, Cook put his instructions into action. ‘Made sail to the southward,’ he wrote, with customary brevity.”

The gist of those instructions was for Cook to travel south and west in search of new land—especially the legendary “Terra Australis,” an unknown continent first proposed by Greek philosophers like Aristotle, who believed a large southern continent was needed to balance out the weight of northern continents. In their instructions, the Royal Navy told Cook not only to map the coastline of any new land, but also “to observe the genius, temper, disposition and number of the natives, if there be any, and endeavor by all proper means to cultivate a friendship and alliance with them… You are also with the consent of the natives to take possession of convenient situations in the country, in the name of the King of Great Britain.”

Cook went on to follow those instructions over the next year, spending a total of 1,052 days at sea on this mission. He became the first European to circumnavigate and meticulously chart the coastline of New Zealand’s two islands, and repeatedly made contact with the indigenous Maori living there. He also traveled along the east coast of Australia, again becoming the first European to do so. By the time he and his crew (those who survived, anyway) returned to England in 1771, they had expanded the British Empire’s reach to an almost incomprehensible degree. But he hadn’t always followed his secret instructions exactly as they were written—he took possession of those new territories without the consent of its inhabitants, and continued to do so on his next two expeditions.

Captain Cook’s 1768 Voyage to the South Pacific Included a Secret Mission

Even as he took control of their land, Cook seemed to recognize the indigenous groups as actual humans. On his first trip to New Zealand, he wrote , “The Natives … are a strong, well made, active people as any we have seen yet, and all of them paint their bod[ie]s with red oker and oil from head to foot, a thing we have not seen before. Their canoes are large, well built and ornamented with carved work.”

“It would be as wrong to regard Cook as an unwitting agent of British imperialism as [it would be] to fall into the trap of ‘judging him according to how we judge what happened afterwards,’” writes Glyndwr Williams . “His command of successive voyages indicated both his professional commitment, and his patriotic belief that if a European nation should dominate the waters and lands of the Pacific, then it must be Britain.”

But the toll of that decision would be heavy. Cook estimated the native population on Tahiti to be 204,000 in 1774. By the time the French took control of the territory and held a census in 1865, they found only 7,169 people of native descent . And as for the British Empire, the 1871 census found 234 million people lived in it—but only 13 percent were in Great Britain and Ireland, writes Jessica Ratcliff in The Transit of Venus Enterprise in Victorian Britain . From the Caribbean and South America to Africa to South Asia to now, thanks to Cook, Australia, the aphorism “the sun never sets on the British Empire” was borne. Cook’s expedition to conquer inhabited territory had repercussions for millions of people who would never actually see the nation who had claimed their homes.

For centuries, the myth of Cook’s voyage as an essentially scientific undertaking persisted, although plenty of people had already surmised the government's hand in Cook's journeys. Still, a full copy of the Admiralty’s “Secret Instructions” weren't made public until 1928. Today, Cook’s legacy is recognized more for what it was: an empire-building project dressed with the trappings of science.

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Lorraine Boissoneault

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Lorraine Boissoneault is a contributing writer to SmithsonianMag.com covering history and archaeology. She has previously written for The Atlantic, Salon, Nautilus and others. She is also the author of The Last Voyageurs: Retracing La Salle's Journey Across America. Website: http://www.lboissoneault.com/

A portrait of a muscular man with well-coifed gray hair in an 18th-century naval uniform. He has a stern, almost maniacal look and a furrowed brow.

What Happened When Captain Cook Went Crazy

In “The Wide Wide Sea,” Hampton Sides offers a fuller picture of the British explorer’s final voyage to the Pacific islands.

The English explorer James Cook, circa 1765. Credit... Stock Montage/Getty Images

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By Doug Bock Clark

Doug Bock Clark is the author of “The Last Whalers: Three Years in the Far Pacific with a Courageous Tribe and a Vanishing Way of Life.”

  • April 9, 2024

THE WIDE WIDE SEA: Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook, by Hampton Sides

In January 1779, when the British explorer James Cook sailed into a volcanic bay known by Hawaiians as “the Pathway of the Gods,” he beheld thousands of people seemingly waiting for him on shore. Once he came on land, people prostrated themselves and chanted “Lono,” the name of a Hawaiian deity. Cook was bewildered.

It was as though the European mariner “had stepped into an ancient script for a cosmic pageant he knew nothing about,” Hampton Sides writes in “The Wide Wide Sea,” his propulsive and vivid history of Cook’s third and final voyage across the globe .

As Sides describes the encounter, Cook happened to arrive during a festival honoring Lono, sailing around the island in the same clockwise fashion favored by the god, possibly causing him to be mistaken as the divinity.

Sides, the author of several books on war and exploration, makes a symbolic pageant of his own of Cook’s last voyage, finding in it “a morally complicated tale that has left a lot for modern sensibilities to unravel and critique,” including the “historical seeds” of debates about “Eurocentrism,” “toxic masculinity” and “cultural appropriation.”

Cook’s two earlier global expeditions focused on scientific goals — first to observe the transit of Venus from the Pacific Ocean and then to make sure there was no extra continent in the middle of it. His final voyage, however, was inextricably bound up in colonialism: During the explorer’s second expedition, a young Polynesian man named Mai had persuaded the captain of one of Cook’s ships to bring him to London in the hope of acquiring guns to kill his Pacific islander enemies.

A few years later, George III commissioned Cook to return Mai to Polynesia on the way to searching for an Arctic passage to connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Mai brought along a menagerie of plants and livestock given to him by the king, who hoped that Mai would convert his native islands into a simulacra of the English countryside.

The cover of “The Wide Wide Sea” is a photograph of the sun setting over the sea. The title is in white, and the author’s name is in blue.

“The Wide Wide Sea” is not so much a story of “first contact” as one of Cook reckoning with the fallout of what he and others had wrought in expanding the map of Europe’s power. Retracing parts of his previous voyages while chauffeuring Mai, Cook is forced to confront the fact that his influence on groups he helped “discover” has not been universally positive. Sexually transmitted diseases introduced by his sailors on earlier expeditions have spread. Some Indigenous groups that once welcomed him have become hard bargainers, seeming primarily interested in the Europeans for their iron and trinkets.

Sides writes that Cook “saw himself as an explorer-scientist,” who “tried to follow an ethic of impartial observation born of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution” and whose “descriptions of Indigenous peoples were tolerant and often quite sympathetic” by “the standards of his time.”

In Hawaii, he had been circling the island in a vain attempt to keep his crew from disembarking, finding lovers and spreading more gonorrhea. And despite the fact that he was ferrying Mai and his guns back to the Pacific, Cook also thought it generally better to avoid “political squabbles” among the civilizations he encountered.

But Cook’s actions on this final journey raised questions about his adherence to impartial observation. He responded to the theft of a single goat by sending his mariners on a multiday rampage to burn whole villages to force its return. His men worried that their captain’s “judgment — and his legendary equanimity — had begun to falter,” Sides writes. As the voyage progressed, Cook became startlingly free with the disciplinary whip on his crew.

“The Wide Wide Sea” presents Cook’s moral collapse as an enigma. Sides cites other historians’ arguments that lingering physical ailments — one suggests he picked up a parasite from some bad fish — might have darkened Cook’s mood. But his journals and ship logs, which dedicate hundreds of thousands of words to oceanic data, offer little to resolve the mystery. “In all those pages we rarely get a glimpse of Cook’s emotional world,” Sides notes, describing the explorer as “a technician, a cyborg, a navigational machine.”

The gaps in Cook’s interior journey stand out because of the incredible job Sides does in bringing to life Cook’s physical journey. New Zealand, Tahiti, Kamchatka, Hawaii and London come alive with you-are-there descriptions of gales, crushing ice packs and gun smoke, the set pieces of exploration and endurance that made these tales so hypnotizing when they first appeared. The earliest major account of Cook’s first Pacific expedition was one of the most popular publications of the 18th century.

But Sides isn’t just interested in retelling an adventure tale. He also wants to present it from a 21st-century point of view. “The Wide Wide Sea” fits neatly into a growing genre that includes David Grann’s “ The Wager ” and Candice Millard’s “ River of the Gods ,” in which famous expeditions, once told as swashbuckling stories of adventure, are recast within the tragic history of colonialism . Sides weaves in oral histories to show how Hawaiians and other Indigenous groups perceived Cook, and strives to bring to life ancient Polynesian cultures just as much as imperial England.

And yet, such modern retellings also force us to ask how different they really are from their predecessors, especially if much of their appeal lies in exactly the same derring-do that enthralled prior audiences. Parts of “The Wide Wide Sea” inevitably echo the storytelling of previous yarns, even if Sides self-consciously critiques them. Just as Cook, in retracing his earlier voyages, became enmeshed in the dubious consequences of his previous expeditions, so, too, does this newest retracing of his story becomes tangled in the historical ironies it seeks to transcend.

In the end, Mai got his guns home and shot his enemies, and the Hawaiians eventually realized that Cook was not a god. After straining their resources to outfit his ships, Cook tried to kidnap the king of Hawaii to force the return of a stolen boat. A confrontation ensued and the explorer was clubbed and stabbed to death, perhaps with a dagger made of a swordfish bill.

The British massacred many Hawaiians with firearms, put heads on poles and burned homes. Once accounts of these exploits reached England, they were multiplied by printing presses and spread across their world-spanning empire. The Hawaiians committed their losses to memory. And though the newest version of Cook’s story includes theirs, it’s still Cook’s story that we are retelling with each new age.

THE WIDE WIDE SEA : Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook, | By Hampton Sides | Doubleday | 408 pp. | $35

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'The Wide Wide Sea' revisits Capt. James Cook's fateful final voyage


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies.

You may remember the story of the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, when an explosion in the spacecraft of three astronauts forced them to summon the courage, focus and ingenuity to rescue the situation and return home safely. That story came to me often as I read the latest book by our guest, historian Hampton Sides. It's about an 18th-century sea voyage around the world, led by Captain James Cook, an explorer so accomplished that in the 1770s his was a household name in England.

Sides' book is an account of what it took for a ship full of men to sail for months in uncharted waters with only what they had on board to survive, how they coped with hunger, thirst, disease and weather so fierce it could snap a ship's mast in two and still found ways to keep going. It's a tale of fearless exploration, which greatly expanded our understanding of the world's geography. And it's a story of remarkable encounters with Indigenous people, some of whom had never seen Europeans before. All such encounters were unique and most friendly, but one rooted in deep cultural gaps and misunderstandings would lead to a tragic outcome remembered for centuries.

Hampton Sides is a contributing editor to Outside magazine and a historian who's written five previous books on subjects ranging from the exploration of the American West to the Korean War. His latest is "The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact And The Fateful Final Voyage Of Captain James Cook."

Hampton Sides, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

HAMPTON SIDES: Yeah, it's a real pleasure to be back with you.

DAVIES: Let's just begin by giving you a bit of a thumbnail profile of James Cook. What was he known for back in the 1770s?

SIDES: Captain Cook was arguably one of the greatest explorers of all time - you know, the quality of his observations, the sheer number of nautical miles that he traveled, the incredible volumes that emanated from his voyages with beautiful art and descriptions of flora and fauna never before seen by Europeans. He had three voyages around the world, any one of which would have put him on the map and put him in the pantheon of great explorers like Magellan. But there was just a kind of a probity and a kind of almost scientific approach that he applied to his voyages that was unusual for his time.

And, you know, I think you would describe him as a product of the Enlightenment, someone who - yes, of course he understood he was working for the empire. He was working to advance the aims of the crown of England and the admiralty. But he also was a citizen of the world who knew that he was supposed to publish. He was supposed to describe objectively what he saw. And he was supposed to contribute to the global knowledge of the makeup of the planet - what does it look like? How does it look on a map? Who are these people that he was encountering? - and to try to describe them fairly and fully and without a lot of, you know, the typical stuff that you would see prior to his generation where it's like, they're savages. They're heathens. He was - he really approached it in a very different manner.

DAVIES: And what was his style as a commander?

SIDES: His style?

DAVIES: His personality...

SIDES: OK. So this was an age...

DAVIES: ....His approach - you know, we think of these...

SIDES: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...You know, commanding a ship - tough guys, right?

SIDES: Especially in his age. I mean, they were tyrants. They were - it was master and commander. They were absolutely in control of their ships. And so many of the British captains - and, for that matter, almost all the other European captains - were brutal tyrants. Cook, in that context, was quite - at least during his first two voyages, quite lenient, quite tolerant, quite concerned about ship conditions and hygiene and diet, very worried about scurvy and other diseases and had a kind of scientific approach to how to deal with diseases. He seemed to kind of have an almost intuitive understanding of germ theory, cleanliness, all these kinds of things.

Now, I'm not trying to say that he was a soft guy. He was stern and dour and tough and, you know, it was not - you know, he would dole out the discipline. But he was also mindful of the morale of his men. And for those first two voyages, you see a very different captain from his generation.

The third voyage, he begins to change, and you start to see a temper come out and a - just an absolute inflexibility. He starts to apply the lash to his own men and to treat some of the Native folks that he encounters along the way with increasing severity and cruelty. And so it's caused a lot of people to wonder, well, what's up with Cook in this third voyage? What - does he have a parasite? Is there some kind of mental or even spiritual problem that he's dealing with? Is he just simply exhausted from all the hundreds of thousands of miles he's traveled? It's one of the kind of forensic questions that comes up repeatedly in my book - is what's ailing the captain?

DAVIES: You mentioned scurvy. You know, scurvy was a disease, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C, I guess, which could kill up to half of - you know, a half of a crew on many voyages. He had a remarkable record on this - right? - by - I think on his last voyage, which was more than four years, not a single sailor died from scurvy.

SIDES: Yeah, and this was unheard of. Any voyage over a couple of hundred days, men started to drop like flies from scurvy. It was just kind of considered an occupational hazard of long-distance voyaging that most European navies seemed to be willing to tolerate, even though it was so horrendous, such a horrific way to die. Cook seemed to have figured it out, but he didn't really know precisely what was doing the trick. He had all kinds of weird things on board his ship that were supposed to be anti-scorbutic, meaning, you know, combating scurvy.

But what he fundamentally did understand was that eating fresh vegetables, fresh fruit and even fresh meat as opposed to just the constant typical diet of salt, pork and hardtack biscuits - that something in that was the trick, you know, that fresh stuff that he always had his men out hunting and fishing and gathering vegetables and berries and things like that. And that was a major factor. You know, it was only - you know, it was, what, a couple hundred years later before we definitively understood that it was actually vitamin C - a lack of vitamin C.

So when he comes back from his first and then his second voyage without anyone dying of scurvy, people at the admiralty - people at the Royal Society in London - think he's conquered this horrible malady. He hasn't exactly conquered it. He has figured something out. It will take generations before they absolutely figure it out. But - so he's hailed as a hero for this accomplishment.

DAVIES: There are so many writings from not just Captain Cook - he kept journals - but from other members of the crew. Some of them were quite literate. It's sort of remarkable that was - they wrote - a lot to draw on here, wasn't there?

SIDES: Yeah. You know, I think that by the time Cook went out on his third voyage, you know, so many people wanted to be a part of these voyages. They understood that this was a great captain and something interesting was going to happen. And so a lot of really interesting officers came aboard the ship, and they all kept journals. They wrote very well. Captain Cook wrote well but in a kind of stodgy, very emotionless way. But there were some other officers on board who just wrote beautiful, beautiful accounts of things, like, you know, our first detailed description of tattooing, of surfing, of a human sacrifice that was performed on Tahiti - these sorts of things. And I definitely view this story as an ensemble story, not just Cook's account but all these officers on board who wrote their own journals. Sometimes they were approved journals. Other times they were kind of done under the table and published without the approval of the admiralty. But it's a kind of an embarrassment of riches, all the different accounts that I had to draw from and to sort of triangulate them and to come up with this three-dimensional account.

DAVIES: You know, it's interesting - Cook's third voyage, which is the subject of your book, begins in July of 1776, which, you know, Americans will note coincides with another big moment on this side of the Atlantic, right? That's when the colonies declared independence from Great Britain. And a lot of attention was focused on the war in America, which, as you write it, meant that his ship didn't get quite the care it should have when they were preparing it for the voyage. The kind of caulking and reinforcing of the ship was done poorly. What impact did that have?

SIDES: It had a huge impact, because the Resolution was leaking like a sieve much of the voyage. It seemed like - this is a ship that had just returned from Cook's second voyage, so it was a tired ship, captained by a tired captain, and it seemed like a lot of things started going wrong from the very beginning because of - the shipwrights at Deptford had been focused much more on this war that's brewing in the colonies. And they leave.

And as you mentioned, in July of 1776, just as the American Revolution is getting started, it's interesting that, although this is very much a British story with a British captain, it's also very much an American tale, because so much of the action ends up in the present-day United States, whether you're talking about Hawaii or Oregon, Washington, Alaska. They're exploring the Northwest coast of North America just as the revolution is getting started. And by the time they return to England, the revolution is basically over, and it's a whole new world.

DAVIES: So Cook was a famous mapmaker and seaman. He'd done two around-the-world voyages. He didn't want to do another one, but he was kind of talked into it. King George III wanted it. And the Earl of Sandwich - the guy known for inventing the sandwich, who was...

DAVIES: ...In the Admiralty, wanted him to - Cook to command another expedition. What were the goals? What did they want him to do in this round-the-world trek?

SIDES: Well, the British had been obsessed for a long time with the idea of finding the - what they called the Northwest Passage - a shortcut over North America between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean - for trade reasons, for reasons of commerce. But at a certain point, it had become kind of a geographical obsession. And every time they poked into the pinched geography of Canada, they found ice, right?

So this time, the idea was go around to the other side, to the Pacific side, go up through the Bering Strait - which we had some very vague ideas about because of Bering's voyages - and to try to find that Northwest Passage from the Pacific side - the backside of America, as the English called it. It was one of the holy grails of British geography and exploration. And if Cook could have found this elusive Northwest Passage, it would have been the crowning achievement of his career. This was such a tantalizing voyage, with such huge ambitions and rewards behind it, that he decided, oh, I'll go back out.

DAVIES: Let's take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Hampton Sides. His book is "The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact And The Fateful Final Voyage Of Captain James Cook." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with historian Hampton Sides, whose new book is a gripping account of an 18th-century round-the-world sea voyage led by British Captain James Cook. You know, many of the fascinating stories in this book - and there are a lot of them - involve these two ships in Cook's expedition, you know, dropping anchor on an island and interacting with Indigenous people. You open the book with one of them. This was in January 1778, where he visits Kauai, which is in the Hawaiian Island chain. And there's some - you know, some accounts from Hawaiian historians about what the people ashore thought when these two, you know, tall, masted ships showed up. How did they react? What did they think when they saw this?

SIDES: They worried that their world was forever changed. There was a sense of exhilaration and terror and rapture. They talked about maybe these are manta rays that have emerged from the sea. Maybe they are gods. That does come up, even at Kauai, that idea that these may be manifestations of the god Lono, which will come up later in the story. They could tell instantly that these were very different people.

And what they most were fascinated by was all the metal that was on board the ship. They could see it gleaming in the sunlight. It was a substance that they had a very, very faint knowledge of only because some pieces of driftwood had landed on Kauai with - you know, sometimes with nails in it. And they understood this was a magical substance. And they wanted a piece of it and very quickly started to tear the ship apart, trying to get at the nails and any other piece of metal they could find. But they understood this was a new world. This was a new people. And it was very - the initial greeting was quite peaceful, but things escalated in a hurry. A hothead officer fired a musket and killed a Hawaiian man. And things went downhill very quickly.

DAVIES: Now, you write in that case that these were not people who had seen Europeans before, and they mistook their garments for their skin and the tricorn hats for their - for the shape of their heads.

SIDES: Yeah. They thought they had deformed heads that - you know, three-point heads. And they had never seen pockets before and thought, you know, look, they stick their hands into their bodies and they come out with treasure. And there's a lot of really bizarre and wonderful oral history that was done by some Hawaiian - Native Hawaiian historians about these reactions. They didn't understand smoking, and when they saw these white men smoking, they thought they were - they called them the volcano people because they seemed to just be constantly seething smoke.

DAVIES: Yeah. You know, it's kind of as close as you could get to imagining what it would be like for Martians landing on Earth, I guess, if you see someone that - with no preparation...

DAVIES: ...And no context, to see something in these vessels with those garments and all that. You know, you write that Cook's attitude towards and descriptions of the Indigenous folks he encountered was very different from other European explorers, right? More tolerant...

SIDES: I think, you know...

DAVIES: ...More curious?

SIDES: ...I call him a proto-anthropologist. He certainly had no training in that regard, but he was interested in getting it down in a very level and kind of agnostic treatment of just, like, this is what they wear. This is how they converse. This is what the rituals look like. He never tries to convert them to Christian faith, never uses the word heathen or savage, to my recollection, so yeah, he's unique in that regard, and some of that he had learned from his first voyage. A famous scientist, Joseph Banks, was on that ship, and he had learned a little of the language of, you know, science, I guess you would say, and language of the enlightenment. But he was quite fair in his assessment of these people, I think.

DAVIES: And what would be his approach when first going ashore? I mean, you know, one might think, I better bring, you know, he had a platoon of marines onboard with - who were armed with muskets. Do you bring them? Do you bring one or two? Do you go by yourself? Did he have a standard approach?

SIDES: Most of the time, he would march ashore unarmed. He liked to be the first one ashore. He had this kind of, what I call, a minuet of first contact, this sort of dance that he did with the locals, where he, you know, yes, it's probably dangerous, but if I look them in the eye and, you know, present myself in - as a peaceful person, maybe they won't kill me. And it was a dangerous and, some people thought, reckless way of going about things, but he would - yes, there would be marines waiting in the wings, but he would usually be the first one ashore. And so I guess you could say that's very brave, or you could say it's perhaps hubristic and reckless.

DAVIES: Right. And he would sometimes have someone who spoke some Polynesian languages onboard, so there might be some basis for communication. It seems, You know, and it's interesting, because there are so many of these accounts in the books, including tribes that are up in the Arctic. There's the Hawaiian islands, there's, you know, around Tahiti and Tasmania and New Zealand, and it seems that in every case, the Indigenous folks are quickly ready to engage in commerce, barter, trade. They want some things, and not always the same things.

SIDES: Not always the same things, but, there's, you know, that was always the first question was what Cook was interested in when he landed on an island was, can I get some water? Can I get some timber? Can I get some food? And so what am I going to trade with? And one of the things they would trade with, the blacksmiths would generate crude tools and chisels and knives, and they would give these as gifts. Another time, they accumulated a bunch of red feathers on Tonga, the island of Tonga, and found that in some of the islands, red feathers were like gold, considered as valuable as gold. So - but, you know, the native people were also very intrigued by Cook's instruments, partly 'cause they were made out of metal, but things like sextants and quadrants and astronomical gear, and would often be tempted to steal this stuff, not knowing precisely what it did, but perhaps thinking that it had something to do with the heavens and perhaps the gods. So every island, the economy, the barter trade was a little bit different from the next one.

DAVIES: Let's take another break here and we'll talk some more.

We are speaking with Hampton Sides. His new book is "The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, The First Contact And The Fateful Final Voyage Of Captain James Cook" (ph). He'll be back to talk more after this short break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


SHANE MACGOWAN: (Singing) Fare thee well to Prince's Landing Stage. There were many fare thee wells. I am bound for California, a place I know right well. So fare thee well, my own true love. When I return, united we will be. It's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me, but, my darling, when I think of thee. Oh, and I have shipped upon it once before. I think I know it well. The captain's name is Burgess, and I've...

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. We're speaking with historian Hampton Sides, whose new book is a gripping account of an 18th century round-the-world sea voyage led by British captain James Cook. The journey took him and his crew above the Arctic Circle north of Alaska looking for a water passage through North America, and they explored many islands in Hawaii in the South Pacific, having memorable encounters with Indigenous people, including one that would prove deadly for the explorers. Sides' book is "The Wide, Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact And The Fateful Final Voyage Of Captain James Cook."

So let's talk a bit about what an overseas voyage was like in the, you know, 1750s or 1770s when this happened. The main ship he was on was called the Resolution. There was a companionship, the Discovery. The Resolution was 110ft long. That's 37 yards long. About, you know, a middling pass in the NFL. That's the distance. And roughly a hundred men aboard. They might go months without landfall. They had to carry all the water. I mean, well, what kinds of supplies would you have to pack to know that you could go exploring uncharted waters and stay alive?

SIDES: Yeah. It certainly wasn't a Carnival cruise. People were suffering and, you know, living in cramped quarters and swinging in hammocks and dealing with bad food, dealing with the discipline of the ship, obviously and the closeness, the claustrophobic closeness of being with the same group of guys for so long.

DAVIES: How did cook, and his sailors, for that matter, communicate with the locals?

SIDES: A lot of grunting. A lot of gesticulating. A lot of pidgin Polynesian, which many of the men did learn along the way because the language, although it varied from island to island, was largely the same throughout the South Seas, at least. And they communicated mainly through bartering and expressions on their face. It was, you know, certainly true that whatever the men were understanding was only a fraction of what was really going on. And that's a big part of when you're dealing with the documents, you're trying to sift through all this and try to realize well, only getting, you know, sort of the unreliable narrator thing. We're only getting a part of the real story. But, you know, you just try to do the best you can with the documents that you have to work with.

DAVIES: You know, there's one fascinating figure here who was on Cook's voyage, or much of it, who was not an Englishman. He was a Polynesian man named Mai, who had joined Cook's second voyage, was interested in joining the Navy, did so, became a seaman, and then goes to England, where he becomes kind of a celebrity, this Polynesian guy. Tells us something about his experience.

SIDES: Mai was amazing. He was the first Polynesian man to set foot on English soil, and he very quickly became a celebrity. He learned English. He hung out at the estates of the aristocracy. He learned to hunt and, you know, he learned to play backgammon and chess. And he met with the Royal Society. He met with King George. He met with Samuel Johnson and all the sort of intelligentsia of the times. And England just fell in love with this guy. He was the personification of, as they put it, the noble savage. He had a wonderful smile. He had a wonderful - he was a very handsome guy that - quite popular with the ladies. And he had a two-year period of London where they really rolled out the red carpet for him.

And - but then the king, King George, said, we're going to take you home. We've got to find a way to get you home. And that ended up being errand number one on Captain Cook's third voyage, which is to bring him home, bring Mai home to Tahiti with his belongings and with a bunch of animals, and ensconce him back in his home island, partly for his own good, but also because they wanted to sort of show Tahitian society how great England was and all these belongings that they had given him. They wanted to impress the Tahitian society that, you know, England was the best, better than Spain, better than France. So that's a big part of the voyage and a big part of the - really, a big part of the book.

DAVIES: Yeah. Like infusing stem cells of British culture in Tahiti.

SIDES: That's a great way to put it. Yeah.

DAVIES: You know, it is interesting because Mai spent two years in England and was a big hit and learned to speak English pretty well and met all these notables. When he left to go on the voyage, he wasn't traveling light, was he? I mean, tell us some of the stuff he brought with him to impress his Tahitian friends when he got back.

SIDES: Well, they - he had been given lots of muskets. He had been given, like, all kinds of trinkets and completely, for the most part, useless things, toys and all kinds of things that, you know, were really kind of meant to impress people but weren't exactly useful.

DAVIES: Well, and also a full suit of armor, right?

SIDES: Oh, he was given also - he was also given - yeah, a full suit of armor. What are you going to do with chainmail and a, you know, full suit of armor in a tropical Tahiti? I'm not really sure. But there was an ulterior motive going on the whole time, which was that he wanted guns. He wanted ammunition because he - his father had been murdered by the warriors from Bora Bora, and he wanted to reclaim his home island from the Bora Bora. And so he wanted - he ventured to England, really, to get guns. And he did get guns. And that's a whole nother part of after Cook leaves and deposits Mai in the Society Islands. Unfortunately, Mai's story is sad and tragic and, you know, kind of an example of what happens, I think, when you cross-pollinate cultures, you know, it was like he was a man without a country.

He wasn't really English and he wasn't really Tahitian anymore. He was something else. He had all these belongings, but he didn't really know what to do with them. And he immediately started using his guns to cook up a battle with the Bora Borans. And things do not go well for him, tragically, in the end.

DAVIES: It was interesting because they, you know, Cook wanted to integrate him into Tahitian society. But he goes and he meets with the chief and, you know, he was a little station when he left. Now he thinks he's big stuff. He goes riding on the beach on a horse in a full suit of armor. They are less than impressed. They kind of just did not ingratiate him with Tahitian culture. The British end up building him a house with a lock on it, which was a new thing. Just didn't...

SIDES: Right.

DAVIES: ...Work at all, did it?

SIDES: It's just like a completely grafted from England trying to make it work in a completely different society. The thing is, Mai came from basically nothing. He was a commoner, and apparently, no amount of possessions or guns or suit of armor could change that. You know, Tahitian society was very stratified. The kings and chiefs were all powerful. And here comes this impostor - this poser - trying to now say, oh, I'm powerful, and I'm well-connected, so you should treat me differently. Well, they didn't treat him differently. They're just like, you're still Mai.

DAVIES: We're going to take another break here.

We are speaking with Hampton Sides. His new book is "The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact And The Fateful Final Voyage Of Captain James Cook." We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with historian Hampton Sides. His new book is a gripping account of an 18th-century, round-the-world sea voyage led by British Captain James Cook.

After he spent time in the South Pacific with - near islands around Tahiti, he actually "discovers," quote-unquote, I mean, the islands in the chain that includes Hawaii, that we now know as our - the state of Hawaii. I mean, I say discovered, because obviously people had been living there for centuries, but Europeans somehow didn't know about this. But then he goes on to explore the west coast of North America, looking for this long-sought water passage that would allow, you know, Europeans to go through North America to the Pacific Ocean. So he's trying to do it from the backside - plenty of encounters with local communities, plenty of times he had to stop and repair his ship, explores all kinds of inlets and rivers and estuaries, does not find this passage.

So he does try to go north up to the Arctic Circle to see if - is there a chance you can sail, you know, over the north - over the top of the world, bypass Greenland and go to Great Britain. This was in the summer. And there were some thinking that this might be possible. A guy named Daines Barrington you write about had opinions about Arctic sea travel. Tell us - what were the expectations here?

SIDES: There was a lot of weird ideas back then and pieces of kind of pseudoscience and rumor that - for example, one of the ideas was that sea ice cannot freeze. And so if you can get far enough from land, the only ice is along the shore coming from rivers. So the idea was, you know, if you can find a big, wide passage somewhere up there that's just in the broad ocean, it will not freeze, and you'll find your way over Canada. This is obviously very flawed science. And a lot of science - a lot of explorers had to suffer and die to try to disprove it. But Cook was willing to give it a try. And he also understood that this whole part of the world was - it was not known at all. It was terra incognita. Yeah, it was a mystery what was up there. The Russians had been there, but they didn't really share their information.

And we do see Cook, during this phase of the voyage, at his very best. He's back to what he does best, which is mapping and charting and exploring something entirely new and trying to understand the lay of the land. He was a brilliant cartographer. And he was an amazing captain in these kinds of dicey sailing situations. So he goes, I mean, he basically gives us the outline of the entire northwest part of the continent, you know, Oregon to Alaska. And he goes up and over Alaska. And he's heading toward what we now call Point Barrow, Alaska, when he finally encounters an impenetrable wall of ice. And he understands immediately, not only is this not going to lead to the Atlantic but we've got to get the hell out of here, because we're going to get trapped in this ice. And he nearly does get trapped. And if that had happened, we'd never hear - heard from him again.

And so most people, at that point, would have said, well, time to go home. But he decided, no, we're going to try it one more season. We're going to come back during the next summer in the hope that we'll - maybe the ice will have shifted, and we can find that way through. But in the meantime, winter's coming. I got to go somewhere to replenish the ships and let the men have some R&R. So why don't we go back to that amazing archipelago we stumbled upon, Hawaii - the Hawaiian chain. And so that's what they do. They head back to Hawaii to thaw out and relax for a short while.

DAVIES: Yeah. This is just an amazing moment in the book. Like, OK, you've, like, you've given it a shot. There is no northwest passage. The Arctic is frozen. Go home. But no, no. And he's going to extend the voyage by another full year. He's going to wait and go back the next summer. Captain Cook would not make it home from this voyage. He would be killed on the island of Hawaii. The circumstances are a little too intricate for us to cover here, and it's frankly a fascinating story that I think folks, along with other great stories, will get when they read the book.

You know, Cook is revered by many as, you know, one of the greatest explorers and sailors ever. And, you know, a man of the enlightenment who cared about expanding knowledge and being precise. He's also reviled as, you know, an agent of European imperialism. I mean, his - monuments to him in the islands have been, you know, desecrated. And I noticed that the copy in the jacket to your book says Cook's scientific efforts were the sharp edge of the colonial sword. From his writings, did he care deeply about colonial conquest and rivalries with, you know, Spain, which was really active in the Pacific?

SIDES: Yes. He - you know, he wasn't naive. He knew that he was doing the work of Empire. He certainly was a devoted, you know, follower of the Crown and was a dutiful employee, if you want to call it, of the Admiralty. And he understood that this enormous chess game that was going on between the European powers, particularly the Spanish and the French and the English and the Dutch, was happening all around, and that he was working in the service of all that. He wasn't naive. But you get the feeling when you read his journals that the places places where he's most animated, when he's most excited, when he's most interested is when he's describing something totally new, when he's playing the role of even an anthropologist or a, you know, ethnographer or when he's mapping something that's never been seen by Europeans before.

I say in the book that he's more empirical than imperial and that he's more inquisitive than acquisitive, and I think that's true. I do think that he was operating in a very, very unique time when there was still this kind of ethic of the Enlightenment. But there's no question that exploration is the first phase of colonial conquest. You know, these explorers come, they describe the bays and places where you can anchor and where the food is, and then here come the occupiers, and here comes the alcohol and the diseases and, you know, just the entire dismantling of these fragile island communities. So that's why he's hated so much, I think. He was - it's not really so much what he did. It's what came immediately after him as a consequence of his voyages.

DAVIES: Yeah. It's interesting. You know, he didn't claim lands for the crown, and he didn't conquer and subjugate and exploit the locals. I mean, he made a point of not getting into local wars with them. They would want him to kind of help them. He wouldn't get involved in that. But the interactions in some way undermined the traditional societies in ways that were not helpful.

SIDES: You know, he did claim some lands for England occasionally, especially in his first two voyages, because it was required by the admiralty, but by the third voyage, you can tell he's rolling his eyes at the whole thing. In fact, he would have his younger officers, junior officers, go out and raise the flag and, you know, have a little ceremony 'cause he thought it was absurd. But, you know, he understood that these were new lands that probably one of the European powers was going to try to take over, and he was consciously writing notes to the admiralty saying, you know, the Spanish are probably going to come here next, or, you know, what are the French going to do? So, you know, this imperial game is still going on in the background, and it still has reverberations to this day.

DAVIES: Hampton Sides, thanks so much for speaking with us.

SIDES: It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

DAVIES: Hampton Sides' book is "The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact And The Fateful Final Voyage Of Captain James Cook." Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews Beyonce's new album, "Cowboy Carter." This is FRESH AIR.

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Watch CBS News

Captain James Cook and the controversial legacy of Western exploration

By Ben Tracy

April 7, 2024 / 9:52 AM EDT / CBS News

On the Big Island of Hawaii, where the waves roll into Kealakekua Bay, a white obelisk 27 feet tall looms over the shoreline. It's a tribute to the great circumnavigator Captain James Cook. It stands just feet from where he died.

Akoni Palacat-Nelsen is a native Hawaiian (or kanaka, as they call themselves) who works for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs advocating for the native population. He says there is a lot of frustration that many people think history began here with Captain Cook.

"He brought a lot of diseases, he brought a lot of problems to our society, he introduced westernization," said Palacat-Nelsen.

Captain Cook is a controversial figure – villain or hero, colonizer or trailblazer, depending on who is telling the story. But what is not in dispute is that in the 1700s the British explorer literally put much of what we now know as the Pacific Ocean on the map, creating detailed diagrams of the places he was the first European to discover, including New Zealand, Australia, the Cook Islands (which still bear his name), and the islands of Hawaii.

"Whatever you think about Cook, he's certainly in the pantheon of the greatest explorers of all time," said writer Hampton Sides. "He gave us the contours of the Pacific Ocean."

Sides is author of the new book, "The Wide Wide Sea," documenting Cook's final and fateful voyage. "He had three voyages around the world; each one was monumental," said Sides.


Cook's third voyage left England in July of 1776, just as the American Revolution was taking off. His mission was to go around the Cape of Good Hope and then proceed to the west coast of North America, all the way up to Alaska, in pursuit of the elusive, fabled Northwest Passage. On his way, he stumbled upon islands in the Pacific. "He couldn't believe that he had found these islands," Sides said. "These aren't just lowly atolls somewhere out in the Pacific. These are massive volcanic islands with thousands and thousands of people living here, a whole thriving, flourishing civilization. He couldn't believe it. He was astounded."

Cook and his men came ashore on the Big Island of Hawaii, warmly welcomed by the islanders at a temple during a religious festival.

Sides writes in his book that, unlike many of his contemporary explorers, Cook took a genuine interest in the people he encountered. He treated them with respect, tried to prevent his men from spreading venereal disease, and made little attempt to convert them to Christianity.

And yet, "On this third and final voyage, something was wrong with Cook," Sides said. "He was mercurial. He was violent. He was cruel to the native people that he encountered as well. He just was losing it all the time near the end."

That end came when Cook and his men overstayed their welcome, attempting to hold the king of Hawaii ransom to get back a rowboat taken by the local people. Sides said, "It turned into a brawl and a melee, and things did not go well for Captain Cook."

Cook was killed on the shore of Kealakekua Bay on Valentine's Day 1779.

Illustration of the Death of Captain James Cook

And yet, nearly 250 years later Cook's story is still being told, revisited and revised as the age of imperialism has not aged so well. Statues of Cook have recently been toppled in Canada and Australia, his monument in Hawaii defaced. Cook was the leading edge of what Pacific Islanders call the "fatal impact," and the death and loss of their culture that followed.

Sides said, "I get the fact that he's become a symbol of imperialism, because he was the first. It's easy just to assign the blame to one person rather than all the people that came after him." 

Yet, on the Big Island you still find Cook's name on a post office, roadside stands, and an apartment complex. There is no simple break from this piece of the past.

The Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is one of the last places on the Big Island that still looks like what Captain Cook and his crew would have seen centuries ago. It was known as a place of refuge, where if you broke a rule or a law you could get a second chance. 

It's also a place where Hawaiians get to preserve and share their history, said Keola Awong, the chief of interpretation and education. "It's a second chance for us to get to tell our story, and tell it from our perspective," she said. 

She wants people to see Hawaii as more than a tourist attraction – more than white sands and scarlet sunsets, a place that existed long before it was "discovered" by a Captain named Cook.

Awong said she feels most tourists who come to Hawaii don't know much about the true history. "I think they see the history told by the western point of view," she said. "Our culture is very much alive. Our culture carries on and continues."

      READ AN EXCERPT:  "The Wide Wide Sea" by Hampton Sides

      For more info:

  • "The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook"  by Hampton Sides (Doubleday), in Hardcover, Large Print Trade Paperback, eBook and Audio formats, available April 9 via  Amazon ,  Barnes & Noble  and  Bookshop.org
  • hamptonsides.com
  • Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Hawaii

      Story produced by John Goodwin. Editor: Ben McCormick. 

Ben Tracy

Ben Tracy is CBS News' senior national and environmental correspondent based in Los Angeles. He reports for all CBS News platforms, including the "CBS Evening News with Norah O'Donnell," "CBS Mornings" and "CBS Sunday Morning."

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Book Review: Hampton Sides revisits Captain James Cook, a divisive figure in the South Pacific

This book cover image released by Doubleday shows "The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook" by Hampton Sides. (Doubleday via AP)

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Captain James Cook’s voyages in the South Pacific in the late 1700s exemplify the law of unintended consequences. He set out to find a westward ocean passage from Europe to Asia but instead, with the maps he created and his reports, Cook revealed the Pacific islands and their people to the world.

In recent decades, Cook has been vilified by some scholars and cultural revisionists for bringing European diseases, guns and colonization. But Hampton Sides’ new book, “The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook,” details that Polynesian island life and cultures were not always idyllic.

Priests sometimes made human sacrifices. Warriors mutilated enemy corpses. People defeated in battle sometimes were enslaved. King Kamehameha, a revered figure in Hawaii, unified the Hawaiian Islands in 1810 at a cost of thousands of warriors’ lives.

Sides’ book is sure to rile some Indigenous groups in Hawaii and elsewhere in the Pacific Islands, who contend Cook ushered in the destruction of Pacific Island cultures.

An obelisk in Hawaii marking where Cook was killed in 1779 had been doused with red paint when Sides visited as part of his research for this book. Over Cook’s name was written “You are on native land.”

But Cook, Sides argues, didn’t come to conquer.

Sides draws deeply from Cook’s and other crew members’ diaries and supplements that with his own reporting in the South Pacific.

Cook emerges from the book as an excellent mariner and decent human being, inspiring the crew to want to sail with him. However, on the voyage of the late 1770s, crew members noted that Cook seemed agitated, not his usual self.

What may have ailed Cook on that final voyage we probably never will know, but we do know that his voyages opened the Pacific islands to the world, and as new arrivals always do, life is changed forever.

Was Cook a villain for his explorations?

Sides make a persuasive case in 387 pages of diligent, riveting reporting that Cook came as a navigator and mapmaker and in dramatically opening what was known about our world, made us all richer in knowledge.

When his journals and maps reached England after his death, it was electrifying news. No, an ocean passage across North America to the Pacific did not exist, but Europeans now knew that islands in the Pacific were populated by myriad cultures; Sides’ reporting is clear that Cook treated them all with respect.

He and his fellow British mariners, though, did lack one skill that would seem vital for sailors and would have better connected the British sailors to the peoples of the Pacific, whose cultures and livelihoods were closely connected to the ocean: Neither Cook nor any of his fellow officers could swim.

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