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Captain James Cook

Cook's later years

Retirement... but not for long

John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich, 1718-92, First Lord of the Admiralty.
View full size image John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, 1718-92, First Lord of the Admiralty. © NMM
After his second great voyage to the Pacific from 1772 to 1775, Cook was made a captain of Greenwich Hospital. The idea was to reward him with a respectable retirement post while he wrote the official account of the voyage.

However, Cook stayed in the job for little more than a few months. He was soon tempted out of retirement for a third voyage by Lord Sandwich who had long been a great supporter and patron of Cook's (Cook acknowledged his debt to the Earl when he 'discovered' the Hawaiian islands and called them the Sandwich Islands).

The Tschuktschi and their habitations.
View full size imageCook visited Siberia during his search for the North-West Passage. © NMM
The plan was to look for the North-West Passage between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The British government had offered a prize of £20,000 if a navigable passage could be found.

We now know that at least seven such passages exist, although until recent years they have only been practicable for ships such as icebreakers and nuclear submarines.

The death of James Cook

The Death of Captain James Cook
View full size imageThe death of Cook in Hawaii. © NMM
James Cook was killed on the beach of Hawaii's Keleakekua Bay on 14 February 1779. The reasons why he was killed are still hotly debated, but what is certain is that his death had a great impact in London. 

George III is said to have wept at the news and Zoffany's huge unfinished canvas, shown here, was only one of a large number of paintings, engravings, plays, poems and commemorative ware to show a national sense of loss at the death of the 'great explorer'. 


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