March 31, 2003

The spear that killed Captain Cook

A gruesome souvenir of explorer Captain James Cook has fetched 135,000 at auction. The gold-tipped cane, said to be made from the spear which killed the famous Middlesbrough-born explorer, had been expected to attract bids of up to 20,000.

The historic walking stick went under the hammer at a sale on Wednesday in Edinburgh. A private buyer from London, who wishes to remain anonymous, fought off rivals telephone bids from America, Australia and Hawaii to secure the relic.

The cane has a gold tip and the inscription "From Admiral C B H Ross to Admiral Sir David Milne: Made from the spear which killed Captain Cook".

From the BBC.

Posted by David on March 31, 2003 9:00 PM


I've been puzzled by this story since well before the auction. Cook's death was witnessed and documented at the time. Until the publicity for this auction began, there appeared from the histories and contemporary accounts no doubt that Cook was killed by blows from daggers and clubs -- not spears. (Check Beaglehole's definitive life of Captain Cook, citing contemporary sources.) I have found no reference to Cook being killed by a spear in any book, and no indication that Bligh (who was not on the beach at the time) returned to the beach at any time after Cook's death. Bligh was not the next senior officer, and it's odd he'd get the implement if anyone did. I asked the auction house in advance if they had any other information re Cook's death or Bligh's possession of this piece of wood -- they did not. (I specifically asked if there is any record of Bligh ever having referred to it.) I asked them if the walking stick is made from a native Hawaiian wood. They didn't know, although they said it was a heavy wood of some sort. I don't want to pretend to be an expert (I am certainly not) nor would I desire to disturb the new owner of this undoubtedly historical implement, which would be of interest even if had nothing to do with Cook or Bligh. But still, isn't there a story here one way or the other, something to investigate and report upon? Why does everyone seem so incurious about it, when Cook's death is so well-documented (and Bligh's life is hardly obscure, too)? I'm not upset or angry in the least, merely puzzled. (Maybe I've just missed some key bit of historical information known to others, in which case, I apologize for my armchair quizzicality.)

Posted by: Eric Redman on September 14, 2003 8:56 PM

Interesting note by Mr. Redman. I just checked about this auction again because I had just finished a book which described Cook's death in detail, citing references in Mr. Redman's comment. I had learned the spear cum walking stick was going up for sale a while back. Since then, having read this book, my curiousity was stirred up. There had been no mention of a spear! It's quite amazing that this item fetched so much with a somewhat incomplete provenance.

Posted by: G. Love on October 23, 2003 12:13 PM
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