after a drawing by John Webber.
The death of Captain Cook. London, 1774
(item no. 52)
Conflicting accounts regarding his death circulated as there was some confusion over whether Cook was facing the Hawaiians and whether he had ordered his men to shoot at the islanders. Lieutenant James King, who was on the voyage but did not witness the incident, reported that "it was remarked that while he faced the natives, none of them had offered him any violence, but that having turned about, to give his orders to the boats, he was stabbed in the back, and fell with his face into the water."
Regardless of the details of the actual event, Cook, his achievements, and his death were immortalized in accounts, elegies, dramatic and visual representations, and memorials in the decades following his death.
A contemporary reviewer in The Gentleman's Magazine wrote of Seward's elegy, "With the assistance of the Muse, she has raised a trophy worthy of one of the greatest men this or any age or nation has produced." In addition to the heroic portrayal of Cook in the poem itself, numerous footnotes referring to passages in the official accounts of the voyages are included.
Brooke's pamphlet is primarily concerned with the existence of a northern passage between Europe and Asia. As indicated on the title page, it was "intended by the author as a prelude or introduction to a future publication on the subject of the northeast passage." In his tribute to Cook, the author states, "every feeling man must be sensibly affected at the melancholy account of the death of that brave and renowned seaman." He also declares, "The ocean may be his grave, but the whole globe is his monument! His circumnavigating tracks have marked and have measured it almost thrice round in a curious variety of mazes and meanders; and I hope that the galaxy will be traced with his surer pilotage on high."
A contemporary reviewer in The Gentleman's Magazine wrote with some justice if not with any kindness: "This Ode, we understand, is by Sir Alexander S-------- to whom it can be no disparagement to say that we doubt not he is a better officer than a poet." Although dedicated to his memory, Cook's name is not mentioned once in the ode.
Cooksey writes of Cook's death in the second to the last stanza of this ode:
The event is also described in prose in a footnote:
In this engraving dedicated "to the right honourable the Lords Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain," Cook is situated slightly to the right of center and stands out as he is represented in lighter tones than the other sailors and natives. He faces his men and, while armed with a rifle, has his back to the islanders. The Hawaiian directly behind Cook is armed and is about to attack him. The figures were engraved by Bartolozzi and the landscape by Byrne, after a drawing by the official artist of Cook's third voyage, John Webber. It was published by Webber and Byrne five years after the event depicted.
An elegy read before the Royal Academy of Florence, this handsome bilingual publication has the Italian text and its English translation on facing pages.
Samwell was a surgeon's mate on the third voyage, first on the Resolution and subsequently on the Discovery. His account of Cook's death is considered the most reliable of all contemporary accounts and was printed or excerpted in numerous formats including magazines and Andrew Kippis's Biographia Britannica. The major portion of this account was also reprinted by Kippis in The Life of Captain James Cook, the first biography of Cook printed in 1788.
This dramatic performance opened in Paris in October 1788. The scene is set in Hawaii and the plot is an ingenious, if unhistorical, account of Cook's death. In the pantomime, Cook assists the King of Hawaii in defeating his enemies. The ruler wishes to put the prisoners to death but Cook is able to save them. Nevertheless, he is attacked and murdered by the enemies as they regarded him to be responsible for their defeat.
This English version of Cook's death is largely based on, but not identical to, the French pantomime performed in Paris the previous year. Another English version, very much based on this text, was printed in Limerick in 1790, mentioning performances in "London, Dublin, and Paris, with universal applause."
Performances related to Cook and his death continued into the nineteenth century. This playbill for a performance on September 23, 1818 at the Theatre-Royal, Newcastle, announces "(for the last time) the grand Historical Pantomime, called Captain Cook." The spectacle included a view of the island of Hawaii, an Indian marriage ceremony, conflict between the natives and the English, and finally Cook's death, "with many other interesting and affecting circumstances."
This eulogy begins with a footnote from the Odyssey, clearly placing Cook in the pantheon of heroic and mythic mariners. Of particular interest to historians of publishing and reader reception is a long note describing the public demand for the official accounts of the voyages and their consequent rise in price:
"Such was the avidity of the public to obtain the first impression of such interesting compilations, from the journals of Captain Cooke, that the whole large impression was bought up in the course of a few days, and the price of the book with the learned and curious, on account of the first impression of such elegant charts and engravings, rose from four guineas the set to eighteen guineas, in seven days."
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