trevenens account of Cook's death

Eye-witness account of Captain Cook’s death

Account of Cook’s death written by midshipman Trevenen who was present in Resolution‘s cutter literally only metres away from Cook when he was killed in Carricacoolah Bay, Hawaii, on 14th February 1779. Likely written on board Resolution.

Manuscript, 12 pages. Two central pages missing.


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Cook’s death convulsed Europe and was the subject of endless discussion and representation. The official version of Cook’s death written by the surviving commanders, Clerke and King, showed Cook dying tragically despite the best efforts of the sailors and marines overwhelmed by the vastly superior numbers of warriors on the beach. However, the exact circumstances of the event had polarised the officers and crew of Resolution and Discovery, as it was believed by many that Cook might well have been saved were it not for the indecision and cowardice of Lieutenant Williamson. Williamson was in command of the ship’s launch which remained offshore with only the pinnace and the small cutter attempting to assist Cook and the marines remaining on the beach. Many observers felt that the boats’covering fire had driven the Hawaiians back far enough for Cook to have been rescued if the launch had also pressed home the advantage. Williamson claimed that he misunderstood his orders but his action, together with the fact that he also did not later retrieve Cook’s body which was desecrated and dismembered, was considered culpable.

Written account of Cook’s final moments were made at the time by many of the ships’ officers and crew but Clerke, commander of Discovery and in charge of the expedition following Cook’s death, destroyed virtually all of these after writing his account. Other than official voyage logs which would have been handed into the authorities and potentially censured, this account by midshipman Trevenen is likely the only eye-witness deposition ot have survived, albeit this too is missing a couple of key pages. It is probable that the authorities had no wish to see Cook’s memory tarnished by an act of cowardice so it is conjectured that the official reports deliberately omitted references to Williamson’s actions. This manuscript and later accounts such as that written by Discovery‘s surgeon, Samwell, provide compelling evidence of what is believed to be the full story of Cook’s death. The Silentworld collection also holds a first edition of King’s account and a copy of Samwell’s account.

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Date

1779