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A Narrative of the Death of Captain James Cook. to which are added some particulars, concerning his life and character. And observations respecting the introduction of the venereal disease into the Sandwich Islands.

SAMWELL David (1786.)

£160000.00  [First Edition]

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First edition. 4to. A large uncut copy, unrestored in recent crimson calf, spine gilt, gilt ruled borders & dentelles, contemporary ms. note in ink to bottom of title-page. [iv], 34pp. London, G.G.J. and J. Robinson,

Samwell's account in its English printing is one of the most difficult of all Cook-related pieces to acquire. It is arguably the most important contemporary publication regarding the events at Kealakekua Bay on 14 February 1779. Furthermore, it is one of the earliest books on Hawaii, preceded only by the official account and the handful of unofficial accounts of Cook's third voyage. Of all the early books on Hawaii, it ranks with Shaw's Catalogue of the Different Specimens of Cloth (1787) as among the rarest and most significant.

In the preface, Samwell makes his case and negotiate around Captain King's official account, published two years' prior. "[T]he public opinion seemed to attribute the loss of Captain Cook's life, in some measure, to rashness or too much confidence on his side; whereas nothing can be more ill-founded of unjust ... The author is confident, that if Captain King could have foreseen, that any wrong opinion respecting Captain Cook, would have been the consequence of omitting some circumstances relative to his death; the good natured motive that induced him to be silent, would not have stood a moment in competition with the superior call of justice to the memory of his friend."

The minutely observed account commences properly with the voyage's two ships laying anchor in Kealakekua Bay on February eleventh. We soon learn of a series of petty thefts that culminate in the more serious one of the Discovery's large cutter on the thirteenth. This account of the death centres on Cook's attempt to get Kariopoo, the village chief, onto the Resolution in a bid to negotiate the return of the cutter. The plan soon went awry: "Kariopoo sat down before his door and was surrounded by a great crowd ... In a little time, however, the Indians were observed arming themselves with long spears, clubs, and dagger, putting on thick mats, which they use as armour. This hostile appearance increased, and became more alarming, on the arrival of two men in a canoe fro the opposite side of the bay, with the news of a chief, called Karemoo, having been killed by one of the Discovery's boats, in their passage across."

The situation deteriorated quite quickly thereafter, and Samwell explains how Cook marshalled his forces, "being at the same time surrounded by a great crown, thought his situation rather hazardous: he therefore ordered the lieutenant of marines to march his small party to the water-side." Cook's determination to take Kariopoo soon waned "seeing the tumult increase, and the Indians growing more daring and resolute, observed, that if he were to take the king off by force, he could not do so without sacrificing the lives of many of his people." Thereafter follows a four page description of the struggle that left Cook dead, with his body swiftly degraded and then removed by the Hawaiians.

Samwell apportions some blame to lieutenant John Williamson, "who commanded in the launch, instead of pulling in to the assistance of Captain Cook, withdrew his boat further off, at the moment that ever thing seems to have depended upon the timely exertions of those in the boats. By his own account, he mistook the signal: but be that as it may, this circumstance appears to me, to have decided the fatal turn of the affair."

John Rickman, in his surreptitious account of the third voyage, describes in some detail the actions led by Captain King when they reached China: "...the Commodore called all hands aft, and ordered them to deliver up their journals, and every writing remark, or memorandum that any of them had made of any particular on pain of the severest punishment in case of concealment, in order that all those [documents] ... might be sealed up and directed to the Lords of the Admiralty. At the same time requiring that every chart of the coasts, or of any part of any of the coasts where we had been, or draught of any thing curious might be delivered up in like manner ... all of which was complied with; and the papers were made up and sealed accordingly in sight of the whole crew, the papers of the commissioned officers by themselves, and the papers of the marines and common men by themselves.” Admiralty law stipulated that the first published account of any voyage should be the official one, yet King (who had assumed command of the voyage after the deaths of Cook and Clerke) would have been aware that he was collecting every sailor's account of Cook's death in this process and that the Admiralty would doubtless seek to control how the death of its most famous officer was told. This makes Samwell's account all the more important.

"Apart from its rarity, this pamphlet is one of the greatest importance, since it fills in gaps, e.g., as to the responsibility for Cook's death, which are suppressed in the official account. Samwell's estimate of Cook's character, coming as it did from an educated man who knew him well, needs to be read alongside that of King in the official account to get a true picture of Cook as he appeared to those under his command" (Holmes). Samwell, who sailed as surgeon's mate on the Resolution, became surgeon on the Discovery in mid-1778. His eye-witness account of the events at Kealakekua Bay ("the frankest and most reliable of all contemporary accounts" - Beaglehole) forms the basis of our knowledge of the details of the event, particularly since the visual record is so muddled by myth-making aspects. As a surgeon he was also well placed to make the observations that appear here about venereal disease in the islands.

Samwell's account was also published in French in the same year, but apart from Kippis's use of the material in his later Life of Cook, it was not reprinted until David Magee republished the Samwell text in 1957 (Captain Cook and Hawaii). Magee's work included an introduction by the Cook biographer Sir Maurice Holmes. He noted that "The fullest, most detailed and most objective [account of Cook's death] is that by David Samwell, which is here reprinted. Such a reprint is certainly called for. In its original form it is of great rarity and correspondingly expensive." The Hill catalogue notes of the English edition (acquired at the Streeter sale in 1969) that "this exceedingly rare work may perhaps be considered the highlight of a Cook collection."

Beddie, 1620; Hill, 1521; Forbes, 117; Hocken, p. 25; Holmes, 61; Howes "b", S64; Hunnewell, p. 66; JCB, III, 3096; Kroepelien, 1143; Lada-Mocarski, 39; O'Reilly-Reitman, 452; [RICKMAN, John]. An Authentic Narrative of a Voyage to the Pacific Ocean: Performed by Captain Cook, and Captain Clerke... Philadelphia, 1783; Sabin, 75970; Spence, p. 24.

 

 

Stock Code: 217727