< Full Calendar

14-02-1779

Captain Cook killed in Hawaii

On February 14, 1779, Captain James Cook, the great English explorer and navigator, is murdered by natives of Hawaii during his third visit to the Pacific island group. In January 1778 he made his first visit to the Hawaiian Islands. He may have been the first European to ever visit the island group. Cook and his crew were welcomed by the Hawaiians, who were fascinated by the Europeans' ships and their use of iron. Cook provisioned his ships by trading the metal, and his sailors traded iron nails for sex. The ships then headed north to look for the western end of a northwest passage from the North Atlantic to the Pacific. Almost one year later, Cook's two ships returned to the Hawaiian Islands and found a safe harbor in Kealakekua Bay. It is suspected that the Hawaiians attached religious significance to the first stay of the Europeans on their islands. In Cook's second visit, there was no question of this phenomenon. Kealakekua Bay was considered the sacred harbor of Lono, the fertility god of the Hawaiians, and at the time of Cook's arrival the locals were engaged in a festival dedicated to Lono. Cook and his compatriots were welcomed as gods and for the next month exploited the Hawaiians' good will. After one of the crewmen died, exposing the Europeans as mere mortals, relations became strained. On February 4, 1779, the ships sailed from Kealakekua Bay, but rough seas damaged the foremast of the ship and the expedition was forced to return to Hawaii. The Hawaiians greeted Cook and his men by hurling rocks. Negotiations with King Kalaniopuu collapsed after a lesser Hawaiian chief was shot to death and a mob of Hawaiians descended on Cook's party. The captain and his men fired on the angry Hawaiians, but they were soon overwhelmed, and only a few managed to escape. Captain Cook himself was killed by the mob. A few days later, the Englishmen retaliated by firing their cannons at the shore, killing some 30 Hawaiians. The Resolution and Discovery eventually returned to England.