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#February 14, 1779: Captain James Cook’s last adventure

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Captain James Cook, the legendary British explorer, was savagely murdered on this day, February 14 (but in 1779!) after a confrontation with islanders at Hawaii who had mistaken him for a god.
He discovered and charted New Zealand and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, since noted as one of the world’s most dangerous areas to navigate.
His voyages around the world helped guide other explorers for generations and, in addition, he provided the first accurate map of the Pacific and many believe that he did more to fill the map of the world than any other explorer in history.

The son of a Scottish farm worker, James Cook was born in 1728 and worked on the land alongside his father until he was 18, when he was offered an apprenticeship by a Quaker shipowner.
With seafaring blood soon coursing through his veins, he joined the Royal Navy and became ship’s master at the age of 29. In 1768, he took command of the first scientific expedition to the Pacific aboard his ship, the Endeavour, leading to the discovery of New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef.
During his third major voyage, he became the first European to set foot on Hawaii, landing his ship Discovery at Kealakekua Bay. Ironically, his arrival coincided with an annual festival in honour of the fertility god Lono.
For the Hawaiian people, who had never seen white men before, nor anything like the huge sailing ship in which they arrived, the only logic explanation was that Captain Cook must be Lono himself and as a result he and his men were lavished with feasts and gifts.
Soon, however, one of Cook’s sailors died from a stroke, possibly brought on by over-indulgence. But, in any case, whatever the cause, the Hawaiians realised that their guests were not immortal after all, and as a result relationships became strained.

Any doubts were vanished for the Hawaiians after James Cook set sail, but had to return for repairs when his mast was broken in a storm: setbacks that do not happen to gods!
While anchored offshore, one of his boats had been stolen and the explorer was furious. Thus, he went ashore to confront the Hawaiian king.
Unfortunately, crew aboard the Discovery fired its cannons at another group of Hawaiians, which caused James Cook to panic and flee to a waiting boat.
He didn’t make it: staggering after being pelted by stones and struck by a club, the explorer was then stabbed in the back by a warrior brandishing a knife, that had been a gift from James himself. When he fell, he was repeatedly stabbed and pounded with rocks.

Ironically, the Hawaiians ritualistically prepared James’ corpse as they would that of a king. They preserved his hands in sea salt, then roasted the rest of his body in a pit before cleansing his bones.
Do you remember? There is also a controversial memorial in Captain James Cook’s honor…..but this is another story, tell by another collaborator!

A plaque in East London showing where Captain Cook lived.
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