By Bryn Davies
Hawaii. Sun. Sea. Sand. DEATH.
Read below to find out more about Captain James Cook!
In 1778 Captain James Cook, pioneer of maritime exploration found himself, not for the first time, sailing the Pacific. Cook was in search of the fabled North-West Passage, a sea route north of Canada that was believed to link the Atlantic to the Pacific. A discovery on this scale would have huge economic and political significance for the British Empire. The discovery of such a passage failed to materialise, but the voyage would still prove fruitful, as once again Cook would stretch the boundaries of the known world.
In January 1778 Cook proceeded north from Christmas Island where he soon observed “signs of the vicinity of land” as a result of the sudden existence of turtles and birds. One island, then a second were sighted. These were not inhospitable atolls, but high and substantial islands. Cook and the crews of the HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery had stumbled across what would later become the 50th United State; Hawaii.
Soon Cook could identify crowds of people on the headland. Shortly after this canoes were also observed heading towards the two ships. Every officer and man aboard Resolution and Discovery was on deck and the approaching Hawaiians showed caution and surprise in equal measure. Cook and his crew were the first outsiders to visit Hawaii for more than 500 years. The canoes seemed reluctant to get too close to the European ships, so Cook’s crew resorted to waving and calling out to them in order to coax them nearer. When one of the canoes approached closer than the others, Cook held out a piece of red cloth, which he threw into the boat as it came alongside. This action was enough to reassure the Hawaiians and (as an equal gesture of friendship) they hurled handfuls of concealed stones, their ammunition, into the open water. The people now felt comfortable enough to come aboard Resolution and appeared amazed at what they saw. Cook wrote of this moment in his journal:
“I have never saw Indians so much astonished at entering a ship before, their eyes were continually flying from object to object, the wildness of their looks and actions fully express’d their surprise and astonishment at the several new objects before them and evinced that they never had been on board a ship before.”
When Cook arrived in Hawaii, the island was celebrating the festival of Ho’oilo during a season of peace. It was a literal party island with feasts, dancing and festivities a plenty. Upon Cook’s arrival, the Hawaiian king presented him with magnificent gifts. He was given a grand reception by the islanders and awarded a feathered helmet and matching gown. He was treated as a god.
After Cook spent several weeks as a guest to the Hawaiians, both his ships left the island to head north in a continued search of the north-west passage. Shortly after leaving, a mast on Resolution was damaged and both ships returned to Hawaii in order to make repairs.
This time around the atmosphere on Hawaii was much different. It was now the season of Kau Wela and the Hawaiian god of war. The indigenous population was much less welcoming, first ignoring and later becoming overly hostile towards Cook. Several incidents broke out between the Hawaiians and Cook’s crew. One such incident included the Hawaiian’s theft of a boat from one of Cook’s ships. Cook acted decisively and adopted a tactic he had used successfully before. He was intending to invite the chief aboard the Resolution and hold him hostage there until the missing items were returned. As Cook and the captured chief walked on the beach at Kealakekua Bay, the chief’s men grew suspicious of Cook’s intentions, raised the alarm and in the resulting melee, Cook was killed.
Death in paradise indeed.