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The Death of Captain Cook

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This work depicts the affray which took place in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, on 14 February 1779, in which Cook, four marines, and seventeen Hawaiians lost their lives. It is January 1779, two and half years into his third voyage and having circumnavigated the largest island of Hawaii, Cook anchored his ships, Resolution and Discovery. The voyagers were welcomed, and relations between the Hawaiians and Europeans remained largely peaceful during the expedition’s stay. Shortly after departing Kealekekua, Cook returned to make repairs and relations then deteriorated. Things came to a head when Cook decided to force the return of a stolen ship’s cutter by taking the Hawaiian king hostage. He went ashore with ten men to bring the plan into effect. Shots were fired and in the confusion a Hawaiian chief was killed. As the Captain and his men retreated to their boats Cook shot and killed another warrior and in return was stabbed. 

News of Cook’s demise reached England ahead of the return of the expedition and quickly became the subject of souvenir images. Engravers Francesco Bartolozzi and William Byrne issued this work in 1784, basing it closely on John Webber’s oil painting of the awful events in Hawaii. Webber was not an eye-witness to Cook’s death, but he was the official artist for the expedition and on his return to England painted what were to become the most famous of all depictions of Cook’s death; at least one in watercolours and a second in oils. Francesco Bartolozzi was responsible for the figures in the engraving and William Byrne provided the landscape. The view appeared at about the same time as the official third voyage account was published; although lavishly illustrated by Webber, the official account did not include any depiction of this scene. As a result, this image is often bound into extra-illustrated editions of the third voyage account.

Published as the Act directs 1 Jany. 1784 by J. Webber, No.312 Oxford Street and W.Byrne, No.79 Titchfield Street, London.

English circa 1784, within a fine pear-wood-faced moulding frame with carved sight and back edge.

A finely repaired tear into the image top centre (approx 1 inch).

27.5 in x 22.5 in 


Item Code: 2774

£ 4800

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