The Natives Account of Captain Cook’s Death…

There are a number of persons at Kaavaroa, and other places in the islands, who either were present themselves at the unhappy dispute, which in this vicinity terminated the valuable life of the celebrated Captain Cook, or who, from their connection with those who were on the spot, are well acquainted with the particulars of that melancholy event. With many of them we have frequently conversed, and though their narratives differ in a few smaller points, they all agree in the main facts with the account published by Captain King, his successor. “The foreigner,” they say, “was not to blame; for, in the first instance, our people stole his boat, and he, in order to recover it, designed to take our king on board his ship, and detain him there till it should be restored. Kapena Kuke” and Taraiopu our king were walking together towards the shore, when our people, conscious of what had been done, thronged round the king, and objected to his going any further. His wife also joined her entreaties that he would not go on board the ships. While he was hesitating, a man came running from the other side of the bay, entered the crowd almost breathless, and exclaimed, ‘It is war!” the foreigners have commenced hostilities, have fired on a canoe from one of their boats, and killed a chief.” This enraged some of our people, and alarmed the chiefs, as they feared Captain Cook would kill the king. The people armed themselves with stones, clubs, and spears. Kanona entreated her husband not to go. The king sat down. The captain seemed agitated, and was walking towards his boat, when one of our men attacked him with a spear: he turned, and with his double-barreled gun shot the man who struck him. Some of our people then threw stones at him, which being seen by his men they fired on us. Captain Cook then endeavoured to stop his men from firing, but could not, on account of the noise. He was turning again to speak to us, when he was stabbed in the back with a pahoa, a spear was at the same time driven through his body; he fell into the water, and spoke no more. After he was dead, we all wailed.

We have several times inquired, particularly of the natives acquainted with the circumstances, whether Captain Cook was facing them, or had his back towards them, when he received the fatal thrust; and their answer, in general, has been as here stated, which accords very nearly with Captain King’s account, who says, “Our unfortunate commander, the last time he was seen distinctly, was standing at the water’s edge, and calling out to the boats to cease firing, and pull in. If it be true, as some of those present have imagined, that the marines and boatmen fired without his orders, and that he was desirous of preventing any further bloodshed, it is not improbable, that his humanity, on this occasion, proved fatal to him: for it was remarked, that whilst 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.” (Ellis)

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 (These are excerpts from a book by William Ellis that has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired.)

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