The Death of Captain Cook

Creator: Francesco Bartolozzi and William Byrne

Context: This 1784 engraving was based on a 1780 painting by John Webber, the official artist on Cook's final voyage. It depicts the 1780 slaying of Cook in the Hawaiian islands.

Audience: The engraving made this image available to a much wider public than the painting. Webber had always intended his painting to serve as a model for an engraving that could reach a larger segment of the general public.

Purpose: To glorify Captain Cook and demonize the natives who killed him. The painting shows Cook being stabbed in the back and does not mention that he had already fired at one native and killed another in this final confrontation.

Historical Significance: This engraving shows a darker side of the relations between Europeans and Pacific Islanders, in contrast to many other images of this era that showed these islands simply as a paradise for sailors and adventurers. Webber did not see this event (he collected eyewitness accounts from his shipmates), but he used his painting to aggrandize the dangers of non-Christian cultures.