James Cook in Hawaii

Captain James Cook discovered Hawaii on his third voyage in an attempt to find the famed Northwest Passage. His small fleet consisted of HMS Resolution, which Cook commanded himself, and HMS Discovery under Captain Charles Clerke. William Bligh, who later became famous as the captain of the HMS Bounty, was master on HMS Resolution.

The expedition departed Plymouth on July 12, 1776. Cook sailed down the African coast, around the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and reached New Zealand in March in 1777. Then he headed northward to Tahiti and from there towards the West Coast of North America. Hawaii was discovered purely by accident.

The first landfall on Hawaii was recorded on January 20, 1778 at Waimea harbor, Kauai. In the center of Waimea, a memorial commemorates the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by Captain James Cook. The statue of Cook is a copy of the original by John Tweed in Whitby, Great Britain. The inscription reads: “1778 – 1928. To Commemorate the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. Captain James Cook R.N. who made his first landing at Waimea on the island of Kauai January 20 1778. Erected by the people of Kauai”.

Cook in Waimea

Cook Weimea 2010 LL

Cook in Waimea

Cook Memorial in Waimea.

Cook named the archipelago he discovered the "Sandwich Islands" after John Montague, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, the acting First Lord of the Admiralty.

After several failed attempts to sail through the Bering Strait, Cook returned to Hawaii in 1779 and entered the sheltered waters of Kealakekua Bay on the morning of Jan 17, 1779, on the Kona coast of the Big Island. Many theories exist about the events that followed. According to one explanation, Cook's arrival may coincided with the Makahiki, a Hawaiian harvest festival of worship for the Polynesian god Lono. Thinking Cook was a returning God, the Hawaiians welcomed and honored him.

On February 1, 1779, William Watman, an old seaman and gunner on the HMS Resolution, had a stroke and died. William Watman was buried with an unusual for Europeans ceremony. As Cooks men were filling the Hawaiians would throw in a dead pig and some coconuts, plantains to show their respect for the dead. This episode certainly shows the good will of the Hawaiians at that point in time /"The Life of Captain James Cook"; J. C. Beaglehole p. 656/. The grave of William Watman can be found at Kealakekua Bay. The inscription reads: “In this Heiau, January 28, 1779, Captain James Cook R.N. read the English burial service over William Watman, Seaman. The first recorded Christian Service in the Hawaiian Islands. Erected by the Kona Civic Club, 1928”.

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William Watman memorial at Kealakekua Bay.

After a month's stay, Cook got under sail again to resume his exploration of the Northern Pacific. However, shortly after leaving Big Island, the foremast of HMS Resolution broke and the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs.

This time, tensions rose and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians. On 14 February at Kealakekua Bay, one the small cutters from the Discovery went missing and it was presumed by the crew of the Discovery to have been stolen by the Hawaiians. Cook was quoted saying "I am afraid…that these people will oblige me to use some violent measures…they must not be left to imagine that they have gained some advantage over us" (Cook, 1842, vol II, p. 385). Cook then made the fateful decision to lead a landing party to retrieve the cutter. A fight developed which resulted in multiple deaths. Cook was struck on the head and then stabbed to death as he fell into the surf. Four of the Cook’s men were also killed and two wounded in the confrontation.

An account of Cook's death can be found in “Tour through Hawaii” by William Ellis, 1827. "After his death, we all wailed. His bones were separated - the flesh was seared off and burnt, as was the practice in regard to our own chiefs when they died" (Ellis, 1827, p. 117).

Some of Cook's remains, disclosing some corroborating evidence to this effect, were eventually returned to the British for a formal burial at sea.

The inscription on the Cook memorial at Kealakekua Bay reads, "In memory of the great circumnavigator, Captain James Cook, R.N., who discovered these islands on the 10th of January, A.D. 1778 and fell near this spot on the 14th of February, A.D. 1779." This monument is only approachable by a rugged foot trail or by kayak. 

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Cook memorial at Kealakekua Bay. Closer views can be found here.

“RESOLUTION and DISCOVERY off Waimea, January 19, 1778”. Courtesy www.masseymarineart.com

 


 

Cook in Hawaii
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