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No Greater Shock



We sighted Ohwayhee on the fifth day of January, but the lack of any convenient harbour on the windward side of the island compelled us to stand off, and to seek a better landing to the west. To begin, it was an amusement and a distraction to have the land near; I frequently joined my marines at the rail to take a view of the small villages near the shore and the cultivations upon the higher slopes. Nor were the natives less curious than we, coming out in their long-canoes from the island to trade with us, which Cook allowed, though with the usual prohibitions against any trade in musketry, powder or shot.

Our metals were much prized by their men, and for a single nail I got a very fine piece of cloth, richly decorated in the island style. Their women being more desirous of our utensils, our beads and our buttons, they obliged our men very willingly, which indulgence I held off from, along with most of the officers.

But whatsoever novelty that first sighting of Ohwayhee held for us, the view palled when we found ourselves still confined to the ship after several days more of sailing. We had, by then, been many weeks at sea, and every man of us would now have the ground firm beneath his feet. Instead, we beat against the baffling winds and currents, and each day Cook sent the cutter to seek out some good harbour, myself oftentimes the commander of the party. But the waves broke so violently on some parts of the shore that even the cutter must take care to stand-off from the danger.

I shall not be contradicted, I think, if I say that Cook was much out of humour at this time. Indeed, since our failed attempts upon the Passage, his wonted equanimity had quite failed him, a fact attested by the increased number of floggings now recorded in the Resolution’s log. The rash and intemperate violence in Moorea I have already written of, and I mention it here only because the feeling aboard our ship (and, I believe, aboard the Discovery) was becoming very like to those earlier days, with our captain out of temper, the officers on tenterhooks, and the men something a great deal worse than merely restive.

It was with a universal relief, then, when after two weeks’ fruitless searching, and an almost complete circumnavigation of the island, we at last found a safe harbour in a broad and peaceful bay. The wind failed us (of course) on our approach into the quiet waters, and so our boats were put down to tow us in. Our tow-lines were barely tied, and the oarsmen pulling, when we noticed the first canoes coming out to meet us.

‘We need fear no harm from these fellows, Mr Phillips,’ Cook told me as the canoes neared. ‘Only have a care of the stores and the grog, and we may look to a peaceful recuperation here.’ There being some matter of the astronomical instruments to be dealt with, Cook left me, and that was all the instruction I had from him concerning the general protection of the ships.

That day of our arrival, the natives came out to us in numbers such as we had not seen before, neither in the Sandwich Islands nor at any other place in our voyage. In each canoe was breadfruit, tarrow, and island food of every kind. Hogs, too, were brought in the larger canoes, trussed-up and ready for slaughter. Though all this was very welcome, I could not help but think it a strangeness how often these good things were pressed upon us as gifts by the natives, with no attempt made at any barter.

Upon the arrival of the local chief, Palea, the half-naked fellows crowded the Resolution’s deck and pressed forward against my marines. But all was good-natured, and they showed not the least surprise at how this Palea prostrated himself upon the deck before Cook – though it was to us an act of submission quite remarkable. Cook then helped the fellow to his feet, shaking his hand in a manly European fashion, and after a brief exchange in the islanders’ lingo, he agreed to accompany the chief ashore.

I took six of my men to go with me as an escort to the Captain and Lieutenant King. In the mid-afternoon our bargemen rowed us in, with Palea and a native priest by the name of Koa joining us in the boat. Now this Koa, who aboard ship had put a red cloth about Cook’s shoulders whilst chanting a heathen prayer, kept with him an intricately carved ceremonial stick; this stick he continually flourished to larboard and starboard as we went, whereupon the natives in every nearby canoe stopped paddling and prostrated themselves, truly as if an idol were passing, or a god.

Once our boat landed, it seemed the bargemen were not to be outdone by the natives’ treatment of Cook. They would not suffer the Captain to step out; they lifted him bodily and carried him high up the beach. Mr King looked in amusement at me as we followed Palea and Koa in their pursuit. Beneath the palms many natives came out from a nearby village, and did not wait for Koa’s stick, but were upon their bellies at Cook’s approach. It was then, for the first time, that I heard him hailed as ‘Lono’, a name very different from ‘Tute’, Cook’s common designation in the islands. Though I heard it, I cannot pretend to have had any sure understanding of its portent or meaning.

The priest Koa took charge, leading our party to a heiau that is, a heathen shrine or holy place – where yet more priests awaited. Palea then requested my men put aside their weapons before going nearer. When I understood him, I ordered them to keep their muskets, but to stay from the shrine; there was no walled temple, and the graven idols stood in plain view, so I might call for a sharp round of musketshot at any time. I put off my own sword and pistol, as did Mr King. Cook, after his customary manner, was already unarmed. We three then proceeded under priestly escort to the great stone shrine, whereon was raised up a curious wooden scaffold.

The waiting priests broke into chanting, and there followed a repetition of that small ceremony we had witnessed shipboard, with an even finer red cloth being draped over Cook’s shoulders, and a tied hog of quite prodigious size being laid at his feet. This was only the prelude; for while King and I were invited to join the priests in sitting upon the ground at the base of the shrine, Cook was led by that head-priest Koa onto the shrine itself, and thence up onto the wooden scaffold where Koa made it very clear Cook must be seated.

Cook’s uneasiness at this was quite evident in the uncertain glance he threw down at Mr King; but being by this time high-mounted on the scaffold, and that scaffold by no means a solid construction, Cook soon determined upon safety over Christian scruples and sat himself upon the fragile heathenish throne.

‘Lono!’ broke again from those natives now crowded around the heiau’s perimeter. My marines, I was pleased to see, remained ready, but kept their distance.

From this point was nothing of note. For two hours or more, Cook stayed the central figure of the rites, both aloft and continuing when he was brought down from the scaffold and seated with us in the hollow, to partake of a feast with the priests. When at last Cook made it known to the natives that he must return to the ship, even then they would not leave him. Canoes escorted our boat out to the Resolution, amidst much flourishing of priestly sticks, and cries of ‘Lono!’ from those natives who made way for us.

Aboard ship that evening was much lively discussion and debate among the officers concerning the seeming adoration of Cook by the natives; but when Mr Williamson that night at the Captain’s table made passing mention of it, Cook stopped any further talk on the matter with a cold eye.

For the next two days there was a busy movement twixt ships and shore, with the observatory tent being put up near the priests’ huts, while our sailmakers and sundry idlers took up residence in a house above the beach. A goodly number of the native women stayed shipboard in the night, but in the daytime Cook sent them ashore, that they make no disruption to the men’s work. These women were gathering to leave when I went below to fetch the sergeant, and I had to raise my voice to be heard above their chattering.

‘You will accompany the Captain with Mr King and Mr Webber ashore,’ I told him. ‘You will be under Mr King’s orders.’

Myself, I had business to attend to with those of my marines aboard the Discovery, and so it was only upon my return to the Resolution in the evening that I learned how our shore party had fared. The bones of it I had from the sergeant, but it was from Mr Webber, the artist of our expedition, that I received the more considered account. Again, there had been a ceremony conducted by the priests, in the presence of the chief Palea, but this time near the houses, with neither shrine nor any scaffold. Webber showed me the sketches he had made. Cook and some officers sat with the priests, and rearing up behind them were two wooden idols, grotesqueries done after the manner of the islands.

‘You will note the likeness of the cloaks,’ Webber remarked, drawing my attention to the cloth about Cook’s shoulders, and then to that which adorned the larger idol. ‘It will show better when I have coloured them, but you may trust me for it, the one was the veriest copy of the other.’

He spoke as one who had been much struck by the sight. I enquired what he thought the twinned cloaks might signify.

‘Heard you the word “Lono” when you went ashore, Mr Phillips?’

I acknowledged that I had.

‘There were villagers gathered about me while I sketched,’ he said. ‘They were very taken with my rendering of the idol. It is one of their chief gods, called Lono.’

‘But that is how they called the Captain.’

‘Yes. And that it how they named him also in my sketch. Here is Lono, the idol. And here is Lono, our Captain.’

I own I laughed at this, for it was a childish muddling quite typical of the island peoples. Webber smiled too, but more circumspect, and explained to me that he had been a good while with his sketching, and so had the opportunity to discover from the natives the reason of the confusion. By his understanding, it appeared that while our ships had circled the island seeking shelter, the totem of Lono had by a strange coincidence been carried upon its annual pilgrimage along a parallel circuit ashore. Our arrival in the bay being likewise coincident with the arrival of the totem to its shrine, native superstition had now made some spurious unity between the god and our Captain.

Afterward among the officers I heard various speculations upon the natives’ veneration of Cook, but none so neat or so fanciful as the explanation from Mr Webber. But whatever the cause of the veneration, it remained a fact as readily observable as the tides. No movement of Cook about the bay was unaccompanied by some native priestly flummery.

Then came the news that the king of the island, a certain Terreeoboo, was to set out from his village across the bay to meet with Cook.

In honour of his coming, a taboo was put on the bay by the priests, and for two days no native canoe moved on the water. The unaccustomed stillness set up an expectation in us, and on the Resolution a lookout was kept aloft, and changed every watch, that we might have timely warning of the royal arrival.

It was early morning when they came, the three double-hulled canoes like spears from out of the east, and the sun rising behind the shoulder of the hills; as they came nearer there was a shimmer and glinting from the feathered head-dress and the cape of the king. It happened that I was by Cook at the rail, and I fancy that I glimpsed in his eye, for the only time on the voyage, the boyish wonder that must have first sent him to sea.

But he was himself again by the time Terreeoboo came aboard, and sufficiently himself to conceal any astonishment that this king Terreeoboo was none other than that same wizened old fellow we had met earlier in our voyage upon a different island. There, he had been unheralded, and quite undistinguished from his fellows. But there could be no doubt that he was the king here, both from the high-dignity of his manner toward Cook now, and from the great respect shown him by his own people. And so we took our lead from Cook, treating Terreeoboo as an honoured guest whilst aboard, and also ashore the next day, when Cook and Terreeoboo met formally in the observatory tent, and exchanged gifts and names, as is the custom in these islands.

Foodstuffs we now had in plenty, for the taboo being lifted, the native canoes were once more upon the bay, and there was never one that came out to the ships not laden with fruits and fish. This extreme generosity, though very welcome to us, could not long continue; for at this rate the natives must soon deplete their own stores beyond recovery, and so reduce themselves to famine. It was for this reason, I believe, that by January’s close there was a question asked us with an increasing frequency by the Terreeoboo and the priests: namely, the day of our departure.

Upon Cook’s announcement that we should leave in the first week of February, there came a last great surge of gifts from the natives, so that what we before had in plenty, we now had in a magnificent abundance.

The ships were now ready, and Mr King struck the observatory tent and brought all the equipment aboard the Resolution. Then on the fourth day of February, the wind and tide being favourable, we weighed anchor and sailed from the bay under friendly escort of many native canoes. The priest Koa stayed aboard with Cook until we were upon the open sea, and then he bid us farewell and got down into a long-canoe with his fellows. For a time I watched them from the stern with Mr Webber, and they had already disappeared into the bay when I rejoined Cook and the officers near the wheel.

‘You look unduly pleased, Mr Phillips,’ remarked Cook; to which I replied that I was always pleased to have my marines aboard again, and not a shot fired ashore. A sentiment that Cook acknowledged, I recall, with the merest nod.

Two days out, we sailed into a storm, which – though not severe – after a further two further days of high squalls sprung the Resolution's foremast, and thereby rendered it useless. When the wind and rain died, we resighted the Discovery, and signalled to tell her of our difficulty. Then, after a conference between Cook, the ship’s officers and the carpenters – during which every expedient was considered – Cook decided that only one means of repair was practicable, which necessitated a retreat to our earlier safe-harbour at Kealakekua Bay.

With no sail upon the foremast, the ship handled poorly, but we soon came about and set course again for Ohwayhee.

Strange it might seem the disappointment of the men in this return; but our long voyage had schooled us to the forward view, and to be driven back against our will was a most unhappy turn. And when after three days under half-sail we re-entered the bay, there was mingled with our disappointment something of puzzlement; for our entrance, and anchoring, was an affair very different from our first arrival in that place.

Greetings, there were none; canoes, there were none; people, there were none.

In short, the waters of the bay were empty save only for our vessels, the whole appearing perfectly lifeless, and as if under taboo. I was sent ashore with Mr Bligh and several of our men to ascertain the disposition of the natives, who at last came down to meet us on the beach. Their king, Terreeoboo, they told us, was to come the next day, for which reason the bay was indeed under taboo, and so we returned to the ship somewhat easier in mind. Though Bligh drew to Cook’s attention the lack of any gifts from the natives, I noticed that Cook was not much troubled by this report.

The Captain was more disturbed, I believe, by his meeting aboard ship with Terreeoboo the following day. They made no retreat to the cabin, for Terreeoboo seemed almost impatient of any ceremony, and he would have an answer from Cook, and directly, as to the meaning of our return. Upon Cook’s pointing out the sprung foremast, with an explanation of the trouble we must now be at to make the repair – and the impossibility of attempting any such repair at sea – Terreeoboo spoke privately with that priest Koa. There was evidently some suspicion that our departure had been but theatre, and that they had been deceived. Yet after many placatory assurances from Cook, there was an agreement reached that our observatory tent might be set up ashore again, and that the natives might trade with us whilst the foremast was repaired and reset.

This unexpectedly cool reception of us, so unlike the raucous happy scenes upon our first arrival, cast a shadow, and not least over the Captain. So much so, that within minutes of Terreeoboo’s departure, Cook was railing against the nearest unfortunate officer (who was Mr Williamson) until that man finally retired below, whence most of his fellow officers had already taken the precaution to remove themselves.

Then, when the Captain had calmed himself, the business of lifting the foremast was put in hand, which work was still proceeding the next day when I took six marines ashore with Mr King and his men to establish the temporary observatory. The natives kept clear of us, but by the time the tent was put up we could see their canoes going out again to the ships, and it looked as though trade was being done, for soon a number of their people were climbing aboard Discovery and  Resolution.  Though this promised a return of those friendly relations we had enjoyed with these people, I still made sure of my sergeant’s vigilance in keeping a careful guard over the observatory. I had seen two of the native priests watching us from up by the palms, stone-faced, all through the afternoon.

The first trouble, however, happened in a quite different quarter of the bay, at a place where a stream emptied into the sea. Here a watering party had gone to fill the ships’ butts, and their actions at the stream had caused some unintended offence to the natives there. An altercation followed, during which – though no shot was fired – our own men were showered with stones before making a hasty retreat to the ships. All this we had from Cook, who came at once from the Resolution to warn us of the trouble. He dismissed my assurance that our men stood ready with small-shot, and he ordered ball to be loaded. This order, I saw, surprised Mr King as much as myself; for every officer knew of Cook’s accustomed reluctance to use ball as a first resort against the natives. But now he seemed well-satisfied at the sight of the marines reloading their muskets, and several times made vehement exclamation against the stoning of the watering party.

The whole incident might have ended here, for we at the observatory tent were certainly under no threat from the natives. But in the next minute we heard the sound that I most feared: a musketshot. Turning in the direction of the shot, I saw a canoe paddling furiously away from the Discovery, and then I saw our men climbing down into a boat and setting off in pursuit.

‘You will stay here, Mr Phillips,’ said Cook, watching the canoe veer toward a place further around the bay. ‘Mr King, bring one of the marines.’ We could now hear very clearly the cries of ‘Thief!’ issuing from the pursuing boat; and without waiting a moment more, Cook set off along the beach.

What he intended I can hardly say, for the canoe moved so swiftly that it would reach the shore far ahead of his arrival at the place, making interception impossible. But Cook was in anger, which carried him far ahead of King and the marine. I took a spyglass from the tent and watched the canoe finally beach and the thieves flee, then Cook arriving among the natives now gathering by the canoe. He did not stop, but only paused and seemed to get some information concerning his quarry, before hurrying on, King and the marine now trailing far behind. Then came a sound almost worse than the musketshot, and that was the laughter and cheering of the natives. Though it pained me to hear it, I was in no place to quiet them, and when at last I lost sight of Cook, I put down the glass.

It was dark before King returned, and he in high dudgeon with Cook, who had by this time embarked for the Resolution. In private, King gave me the tale. After my last sight of him, Cook had continued the vain pursuit for some miles. In fact, the stolen chisel had been recovered before the pursuit even began. It was quite evident that Cook’s actions had drawn a childish amusement from the natives; and equally evident to me that King resented the part he had been obliged to play in the farcical proceedings. To complete the sorry picture, upon their return to the beach they had discovered that a fight had taken place between our boatmen and several natives, concerning the beached canoe.

‘You are to go back to the ship, Mr Phillips,’ King concluded, ‘and I do not envy you your seat at the Captain’s table tonight.’

Indeed, we officers dined that night almost in silence beneath Cook’s brooding gaze. The incidents of the day had much wearied me, and I excused myself before the meal was ended and went below.

I did not sleep well, and was poorly rested when called from my bunk at daybreak.

‘They have stolen a boat – the cutter,’ Cook told me as I came above. ‘They have stolen it, but they shall not keep it. Mark me, they shall not.’

Now this cutter, which had been moored near the Discovery, was our largest boat, and one that we could ill-afford to lose. Cook was therefore very correct in his determination, for it was no petty theft as on the previous day, but a bold assault upon our expedition.

‘What marines you have aboard, we shall take with us,’ said Cook; and while I gave the order to my marines, Cook loaded the two barrels of his musket, one with small-shot and the other with ball. Nine marines and the sergeant went down into the launch, and Cook went with me into the pinnace. Then our coxswains cast off, and the two boats made direct for that nearest village where Terreeoboo had kept a temporary accommodation since our second arrival.

To the south-east of the bay I descried the Discovery’s boats, which Cook had ordered Clerke to send out, both to make a blockade, and to take a hold on any stray canoe as a ransom for our cutter. Cook saw them too, and glanced at me, with his face set very hard. Then he turned his gaze upon the palm-fronded huts, from where the villagers were coming down to meet us in ever-increasing number as we neared.

Cook’s intention, of which our men were informed before we left the ship, was to invite Terreeoboo aboard the Resolution, and there hold him an honoured hostage until our cutter had been returned to us. This same method we had used to good effect at other islands whenever a substantial thievery was committed upon the expedition. And so once the launch had landed our marines, and I had gone ashore with Cook from the pinnace, the two boats stood off, to await our return with the king.

Now, as we went up the beach to the huts, there was a rather pressing curiosity among the natives of what Cook intended. The sergeant and a marine came up with us to open a way through the people. Terreeoboo, we were told, was sleeping; but his son, who gave us this information, was quite content to take us to his father. We soon found ourselves in the company of not only Terreeoboo, but also of his several wives. After the usual palaver, Cook extended his invitation to Terreeoboo, that he come with us back to the ship. The king must have known of the stolen cutter, though neither he nor Cook mentioned it; and so must have understood the true reason of our coming. Yet he accepted Cook’s invitation quite readily, which made me think he had no part in the theft, but rather sided with us, and now sought the speedy return of the cutter. There was, though, some private murmuring among the wives and as we left the hut they spoke to him; it was clear they would attempt to dissuade him from accompanying us out to the ship.

The sergeant looked to me, and I to Cook, who said only, ‘Let us get him quietly down to the beach, where we may put the marines about him.’ Then the king and his wives came out from the hut, and so we started down.

It was then that we saw two canoes fast approaching, the paddlers in a wild agitation as they shouted to the villagers on the beach. Their news we could not hear, but it stirred the crowd of natives something considerable; now the senior wife of the king (who was the fattest among them) was very insistent that he must not go with us, but wait to hear what had happened across the bay, whence the news had just come.

As we arrived at the beach, Terreeoboo, without warning, and much to our surprise and consternation, sat himself upon the ground.

‘It is but a short way yet,’ said Cook, and extended his hand, as if to help the king rise.

But the king would neither reply, nor take the hand.

The sergeant, with a glance, directed my gaze back to the village. Clubs were being brought out from the huts, whilst the women and children, who had crowded onto the beach, now withdrew.

Then one of the paddlers rushed up to us, crying that a certain chief had been killed by our men across the bay, the untimely revelation sending the king’s wives into a loud and wailing lamentation.

‘Will you not come, sir?’ said Cook, seeming almost oblivious to the tumult building around us. ‘You have said that you will come.’

‘Captain,’ I urged. ‘They are arming.’

‘We are not enemies,’ said Cook; but whether to me, the king, or himself, I know not. Then he again proffered his hand to the king. ‘Here, sir.’

It was in my mind that we might snatch up the king and haul him bodily down to the boats. But when I looked about me it was evident that such a bold action must certainly miscarry; for the natives near to us were in great agitation now, and those further off were busy tying reed-matted armour around their chests, which was their custom before any fighting.

‘We must get back, sir,’ my sergeant told me.

By the shore, not thirty yards from us, our marines had formed into a line, waiting apprehensively. I said to Cook, ‘We may return here later, sir.’

If he heard or understood me, there was no outward sign to begin. But after a moment he stepped away from the king, looked around at the natives, and with seeming regret started down toward the water. ‘We are spurned,’ he said. ‘You are a witness to it, Mr Phillips, that I offered him my hand.’

Terreeoboo’s rejection of Cook's hand was the very least of my concerns. I ordered the sergeant to call the boats in.

But even as I gave the order, Cook turned to face a fellow who had pushed forward through the crowd. This fellow had a reed-mat strapped about his chest, and held in his hand a stone. He made as if to throw the stone at Cook, but it was a feint, and he kept the stone firm in his fist. This he did thrice, with an expression of utmost malevolence upon his face. And in the next moment, Cook raised his musket and fired.

It shocked, like a quake, and I braced. The only man moving was that fellow who had taken Cook’s small-shot, as he staggered back against the crowd. But the shot had not penetrated the matting about his chest, and he stayed upon his feet. But then other men stepped forward, armed with stones and spears, and those long iron spikes, now sharpened, that we had traded from the ships.

We swiftly moved, the three of us, to make a union with the marines, the sergeant shouting at the boats to come in. A stone struck my shoulder, another flew past my head, and a fellow nearby raised a dagger and threatened me.

Cook shot him. Not small-shot this time, but a ball, and the man fell instantly dead at my feet. The natives hesitated in their advance, but raised their spears, and Cook called to the marines, ‘Fire! Push them back!’

The marines fired, and so too did our men in the boats, though they came no further in, but seemed to hold off, as if in fear of their safety.

In the general firing I loosed a round, as did the sergeant who was cursing most bitterly at Cook’s rash firing.

We were almost to the water when Cook cried, ‘Hold!’ and reached out his hand to the marines and boatmen. But all was confusion, and whether Cook meant to stop the boats going further off, or to cease from firing, even I, stood near to him, could not tell.

‘Come in!’ I cried to the boats; but in turning I had made of my back a fair target, and as I called, was I stabbed. The stroke – thanks to God – was a poor one; and though I went to my knees in the water, I did not go fully down. As I turned to fire my second shot, I saw Cook flailing against the natives with his musket-butt, and then he stretched out his hand, calling again, ‘Hold!’

An iron spike rose up from the mob and came down hard, straight into Cook's back. I loosed my shot, then stumbled in the water, and when I next looked I could not see Cook, for he was gone down into their midst. The sergeant was just by me, and in spite of his own wounds he bellowed to the marines yet standing, who came into the water with us, and I thought we must surely be overwhelmed then, but at that moment the ships’ guns opened.

The first shot smashed directly into the crowd, and the sudden slaughter brought a pause in the advance. We made good use of their hesitation and waded chest-deep out to our boats, all the while under the covering fire of the seamen. Once they had hauled us aboard, we rowed further out and stood off, keeping ourselves clear of the stones hailing down continually from the shore.

Of the nine marines landed, only five now returned to the boats, the others gone down with Cook beneath the islanders’ fury. As for any thought of rescue, there was none; it was plain that any man gone down in that raging mob was lost, and that to take a boat in now would be a waste of our own lives. We waited a short while, in the hope that Terreeoboo or some other chief might quiet their rage and that we might collect the bodies of our fallen; but upon perceiving that this would not happen, I at last gave the order – with what sorrow may be imagined – for our ignominious retreat to the ships.

Captain Cook was dead. It was a thing no one had thought of, a fact that baffled understanding, for his solid presence, and absolute command, had been till now unquestioned parts of our voyage, and no greater shock might there be to us but only shipwreck. It was the expedition’s very soul taken, and felt so by each one of us. And yet at once there was a question raised of his judgement in attempting to take Terreeoboo hostage, and of his first firing upon the angry crowd. The rights of this I must leave to others; for being myself present at these actions, and my own subordinate judgement involved in Cook’s, it must be better here to merely record than to try any partial defence.

Our foremast, by this time repaired, was quickly brought aboard the  Resolution.  Captain Clerke came across from the Discovery to now stand in Cook’s place. After losing both Cook and those marines, we would gladly be far from the cursed isle, and every man worked willingly, that we might the sooner weigh anchor.

But then on the night of the fifteenth, with the foremast still unset, a canoe came out to us, with two natives paddling. When the sentries shot at them, the frightened fellows hailed us, and we recognized one as that priest, Koa, who had often accompanied Cook ashore. We officers gathered about this priest with a wary curiosity when he came aboard. And he for his part then made a performance of his regret at Cook’s death (always calling Cook ‘Lono’): he wailed and gnashed his teeth, and spilled many tears. After several minutes of this show, he produced from beneath his arm a bundle. Then drawing open the cloth, he showed us the pieces of meat within, and it was some moments before it broke upon us that this was no gift or offering, but pieces of Cook’s very own flesh. Our outrage was exceeded only by our horror. Which horror was compounded by the priest’s improbable story of how the stripping of Cook’s flesh, and its subsequent distribution among the native chiefs, had been done only to honour our dead captain. Perceiving the effect of both his words and the bundle upon us, the priest did not linger; but before he left us we had a promise from him to work for a return of any more of Cook’s remains that he might get.

When I later asked Clerke what he thought had been done to Cook, he said only, ‘Never think on it.’

The next day, we had provoking proof that Cook’s death was not universally lamented by the natives, for a bold fellow paddled out near the Resolution and flourished at us Cook’s own hat . Not content with this, he then turned his bare buttocks upon us in contemptuous display, while a crowd of his friends cheered from the shore. Clerke ordered the firing of our four-pounders; and though this firing scattered the crowd and sent the vile fellow hurrying on his way, our people were now hotly primed against the natives, and hereafter awaited only the opportunity of a proper retribution. As we could not sail without our water being first replenished, two days later Clerke sent me and my marines to guard a watering party hand-picked from among his men, every one of them armed.

The stream from which we drew was just by the second village of the bay. Hardly had the work begun than a few natives of the place sought to amuse themselves by throwing stones at us. The sergeant looked to me in keen expectation. And I confess that I did not hesitate to give the order.

‘Have at them,’ I said, very still.

A brisk round of musketry soon stopped the hail of stones. But I made no attempt to prevent the sergeant, with my marines and several of the seamen, from then advancing up into the village.

How the torching of the huts began, I am not rightly sure; but once commenced, it did not stop till the village was ablaze, and the natives fleeing inland to escape our shot.

Throughout, I kept by the stream and supervised the few remaining seamen; with the water-butts at last filled, I went up to fetch back my sergeant and the men. It was the seamen I now saw rushing about with lit torches, waving cutlasses and laughing like crazed demons as they finished the destruction. I finally got them from there and down to the boats, but it was only after we had shoved off that I saw the two native heads which the seamen had taken as trophies and kept hid from me. One was now mounted upon a spike, the other tied like a ghastly figurehead to the prow of the other boat.

With the seamen having resolved on this grisly entertainment, and my own marines still hot in blood and equally entertained, I did not order an end to the business, but turned a blind eye, allowing them to row out before us with their trophies to the Resolution. The bloodied heads were taken aboard amidst much merriment, and what was done with them after, I never enquired.

It was our depredation of the village, I believe, that prompted some better counsel among the natives; for two days after, I found myself again ashore, this time in company with Captain Clerke and Mr King, who had got a message by one of the native priests saying that Cook’s remains were to be given up to us. We did not hold any great apprehension of the natives now, as those few who came out to the ships seemed in every wise regretful of Cook’s death, and in fear even (such was their credulity) lest ‘Lono’ return and take a violent revenge upon them.

Terreeoboo, we were told, had withdrawn himself into a sacred cave of the island, to perform some heathen rites, both for his own dead and for Cook. So it was a lesser chief that came down to the beach in ceremonial procession behind the beating drums. He presented a bundle to Clerke, neatly wrapped in white cloth, which Clerke opened straightaway.

Upon my life, I did not think there could be any worse than the pieces of flesh from off Cook’s bones. But here was worse. The stripped arm- and leg-bones themselves, and the topmost part of his skull, and, what was worst of all, his hands – Cook’s very hands – severed, the skin gone grey. From the hands came a powerful odour. Clerke controlled his horrified revulsion at both sight and smell, and quickly rewrapped the dreadful bundle.

‘We are done here,’ he said; and we turned our backs on the natives without ceremony, and so returned to the ship.

Once aboard, the manner of Cook’s funeral was soon agreed upon; and after the natives had brought out to us the next day a few personal belongings of Cook’s that might be retrieved from the sanguinary dispersal (namely his shoes, a part of his musket, torn clothing, a few smaller bones, but no hat) the full complement of both ships came above-decks. Nothing moved on the water, for Clerke had demanded of the native priests that they put a taboo over the bay, which they had done without murmur after learning that we would fire our guns as part of the funeral rites.

The Ensign on each ship was hoisted. Aboard Resolution, the Service was read over Cook’s remains, and the remains were then placed in a coffin. At Clerke’s signal the Resolution’s bell tolled, and continued tolling while our guns fired the salute. Once the final shot had died away, the coffin was carried by two seamen to the rail and thrown into the sea where it floated a short while before slipping at last into the deep.

With nothing now to hold us in that place but the memory of Cook, and of how he had met his unhappy end there, we weighed anchor the next morning and sailed without escort from the bay.

Fair weather all that day; heavy squalls in the night.

  © Grant Sutherland

If you enjoyed this story, you may like to try the novels The Cobras of Calcutta,The Hawks of London and The Eagles at York Town, all of which are set in the eighteenth century.