How Did Captain James Cook Die?

Incredibly, Captain James Cook soon grew restless. In July 1776, Cook led two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, back into the unknown. This time, Cook hoped to find the Holy Grail of explorers, the Northwest Passage through North America.

Cook sailed through the Indian Ocean, around Australia, and in among the islands that were by now familiar to him. On January 18, 1778, Cook spotted a string of magnificent islands, rising like green jewels out of the Pacific Ocean. He named them the Sandwich Islands.

Today, they are called Hawaii. Cook continued east, sighting the Oregon coast on March 7. He turned north and sailed along the North American coast until he entered the Bering Strait, which separates Asia and North America.

No passage broke the coastline. As it had been around Antarctica, Cook’s ship was wrapped in bitter cold. The men shot giant walruses for food. Cook continued into the Arctic and was halted by a wall of ice 12 feet thick.

Disappointed but vowing to return, Cook turned back south and arrived in Hawaii on January 17, 1779. This time, Cook encountered a group of Hawaiians who considered him a returning god. They piled gifts of food at his feet and Cook could do nothing to halt their generosity. But when he realized that the natives were depriving themselves of food for his sake, Cook hastily gave the order to sail.

Unfortunately, the next day a storm split the sails and snapped the mast, forcing Cook to return. The natives, who had been angered and betrayed by Cook’s sudden departure, received him coldly and began to steal items from the ships. When a large boat disappeared from the Discovery, Cook stormed ashore with a party of armed men and tried to take the king of Hawaii hostage.

A battle took place on the beach, and Cook was stabbed fatally in the back. Saddened but determined to carry on Cook’s mission, his captains returned to the Bering Strait. They were blocked again by ice, forcing them to return to England by sailing back across the Pacific and around the tip of Africa.

Thousands in England mourned Cook’s death. The skeleton of Cook’s body was recovered and buried at sea on February 21, 1779. He was posthumously awarded a coat of arms with the inscription: “He left nothing unattempted.”

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