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The death of Captain Cook

3 bloody and brutal events that happened on Valentine's Day

Death of Captain Cook by eyewitness John Webber

Giving is the spirit of Valentine's Day. Whether in the form of a box of chocolates, a romantic poem, or any other sign of affection. However, throughout history, many have given up their lives on February 14th instead. Here are some of the bloodiest events that have taken place on Valentine's Day. After reading these the price of that diamond ring might just seem like a modest sacrifice

1 - The death of Captain James Cook

On the quiet morning of February 14th 1779 on the island of Hawaii, renowned Captain James Cook was unfolding a devious plan. Cook’s crew had been welcomed by the native Hawaiians only a month earlier. Yet the relationship between the Hawaiians and British explorers had soured.

Cook had insisted on cutting down the trees around the “Morai”, the sacred Hawaiian burial ground, and had accused the Hawaiians of stealing a boat from the HMS Resolution. The Hawaiians, furious at the accusation, reacted by stealing two longboats from the British. The tension between the two parties increased day by day.

Seeking to regain the native’s loyalty, Cook devised an ill-fated plan. On that Valentine’s Day morning he attempted to coerce the ali’i nui (or High Chief), Kalaniʻōpuʻu, into boarding the Resolution. While the Chief followed along, Cook’s plan had not gone unnoticed.

As Cook’s party reached the shore, Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s wife cried out to her husband, who at that moment realized what was happening and refused to board. Incensed by this and by the chanting and clashing of coconuts from the Kahuna (priest), Cook’s men threatened Kalaniʻōpuʻu to board the ship. When they looked up they saw a crowd of Hawaiians staring back at them.

Anger turned to blind fear, as Cook’s men raised their guns to the encroaching natives. A nobleman named Kanaʻina reprimanded Cook, only to receive a strike from the flat edge of Cook’s sword. To return the favour, Kana’ina drew a steel dagger he had bought from the British and buried it into Cooks’ chest.

Cook’s men retreated to the Resolution only after having opened fire on the natives. Afterwards, one of the ship’s crewmen claimed he saw the captain’s body being torn to pieces by the natives.

What at first had seemed like an amicable friendship had quickly turned to mutual spite and ultimately ended in heartbreak for one of the most famous explorers in history.

2 - Battle of Kettle Creek

On the very same Valentine’s Day as the death of Captain James Cook, in the deep country of Georgia, United States, an army of around 400 American revolutionaries prepared to charge a force of around 700 British Imperial soldiers.

Things had looked bleak for the revolutionaries. They had lost the city of Savannah the year before and the British were amassing new recruits, plundering the countryside as they went.

Their hope was a man named Colonel Andrew Pickens, a devoted patriot under whose leadership the American militiamen marched against the British camp. While they were much fewer in number, the revolutionaries had the element of surprise as the British had failed to spot their advance.

A hastily assembled force of 100 British soldiers formed a line to defend their camp and allow the rest of the army to form up. Yet the Americans had speed, and a bit of luck, on their side. The Americans had split into three forces. The first engaged the British in a brutal firefight, whilst the others wheeled about to flank the British position.

In the fighting, Lt. Colonel John Boyd, leader of the Imperial forces, was fatally struck by a bullet and the British, seeing their position as untenable, fled the field. By the end of the day between 45 - 70 British lay dead with 75 captured, for only a handful of American casualties.

It was a small but noteworthy victory for the American Revolutionaries. British recruitment in the area was halted for a time. Though the victory was undone by the British victory over the Americans at the Battle of Brier Creek only a couple of weeks afterwards.

3 - Battle of Cape Saint Vincent

Finally, let’s set sail to the seas of Southern Portugal, a lovely destination for a romantic getaway. But for the Spanish fleet under Don Jose de Corboda y Ramos, Valentine’s Day 1797 was to be a disastrous one.

On a dreary, foggy morning, the fleet of Admiral Sir John Jarvis of around 22 ships, one of which was captained by the famous Commodore Horatio Nelson, engaged a fleet of 37 Spanish ships. Only a year before the British and Spanish navies had fought as allies, but the Spanish had aligned themselves with the French against their former allies.

The British had been unable to count the Spanish ships through the fog, and only discovered that they were outnumbered once battle became inevitable. A victory, Jarvis knew, would prevent the Spanish and French navies from linking together. For Britain, retreat was unacceptable.

The battle was a chaos of fog, smoke and spray, yet the disciplined and experienced British Navy were able to overcome their foes. By the end of the day the British had captured 4 ships of the line and 3000 Spanish prisoners, killing 250 and wounding 550 Spanish soldiers. The British lost 73 men, with 227 wounded.

This victory allowed the British to contain the Spanish fleet at Cadiz, effectively neutralizing them until the temporary truce with the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. After war resumed, the ships Culloden and Goliath were crucial in the defeat of the French Navy in the Battle of the Nile.

After all is said and done, love can be a tricky thing. But count yourself lucky that your Valentine's Day won’t end in bloodshed, as it did for these men