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Video clip synopsis – Captain James Cook’s untimely return to Hawaii ended with his violent death, the details of which are portrayed in numerous conflicting illustrations.
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 5min 30sec
Tags - Captain Cook, DIY Doco, documentary genre, historical representations, imperialism, media production, media text, representations, television documentaries, see all tags


Captain Cook’s Tragic Death

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About the Video Clip


From the series Hidden Treasures – Inside the National Library of Australia.

The National Library of Australia is the country’s largest reference library with over nine million items in its collection, including a surprising number of art works. In a new series of Hidden Treasures, Betty Churcher presents an insider’s guide to some of the little known and rarely displayed art treasures held by the National Library. From her unique vantage point, Churcher makes intriguing historical connections between paintings and engravings, photography, manuscripts and artifacts, illustrated journals and diaries. These are fascinating tales about the creative process and the works themselves that offer a tantalising insight into Australia’s culture and heritage.
A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Early Works. Produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. With special thanks to the National Library of Australia.

Curriculum Focus


Students will learn:

  • how documentaries represent their time of production through style and content
  • how historical figures are represented in documentaries
  • to critically anyalse the codes and conventions of contemporary documentaries
  • to critically analyse the clip’s production values and point of view
  • to create different texts using the clip as an inspiration

Curriculum links
National: The Statements of Learning for English- Year 9
Reading, viewing and interpreting information and argument texts

  • Students read and view texts that entertain, move, parody, investigate,
    analyse, argue and persuade. These texts explore personal, social, cultural
    and political issues of significance to the students’ own lives.
  • Students understand that readers and viewers may need to develop knowledge
    about particular events, issues and contexts to interpret texts.


  • When students write information or argument texts, they make appropriate selections of information from a few sources and attempt to synthesise and organise these in a logical way.
  • Students write imaginative texts in print and electronic mediums that contain personal, social and cultural ideas and issues related to their own lives and communities and their views of their expanding world.

This resource is also relevant to Media Studies- Documentaries, Australian History, Geography and Visual Arts.

These outcomes relate generally to English curricula across Australia. Teachers and students should consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.

Go to The National Curriculum Statements for English

Background Information


Captain James Cook’s untimely return to Hawaii in 1779, 10 days after he had left, ended with his violent death, the details of which are portrayed in numerous illustrations in the National Library collection. Many artists, including the official artist for the voyage, John Webber, recreated the scene in the years following Cook’s death. Each artist portrayed a different view: Cook the white knight, Cook the peacemaker, Cook the leader of a military offensive. But we know that Webber didn’t witness the death so it seems likely that an engraving made from the drawings of DP Dodd and other witnesses are more likely to represent what really happened.

Students are encouraged to view Episode 5 of Hidden Treasures entitled Captain Cook in Hawaii. Taken together, they help us to explore the nature of and reasons for Cook’s death in 1779. Your task is to use the information in the programs to create a narrative or a storyboard that sets out the sequence of events, explains the reasons for, and comments on the degree to which we can be certain about the events of Cook’s death.

Classroom Activities


1. View the introductory segment several times that finishes with Vanessa Collingridge, and then discuss:
a) why the filmmakers have chosen the scenes that review the story to this point.
b) how Cook is represented overall in this introductory segment- consider framing (camera shot size and angle), lighting, the narration and the sequence of images.
c) the function of review sequences such as these in TV series and serials.
d) in groups create an alternative sequence of scenes from the series that emphasises other aspects of Cook’s life and personality. Each group could be allocated a different point of view, eg: Cook as family man, Cook as emissary of British Imperialism, Cook as obsessive, Cook as overly ambitious etc

2. Cook’s last day is represented in the clip in very fast contracted scenes, How do the filmmakers move the narrative along so that a whole day can be represented? Discuss:
a) the role of Vanessa Collingridge’s on camera narration. How effective is the use of location, props (the boat etc), in creating the representation?
b) the visual codes used and the hand held camera effects- do these speed up or slow down the action?
c) the language used, eg: “The beach erupts in a volley of stones’.
d) the style of the dramatisation of the events on the beach.

3. The clip finishes on part of a play performance of Cook’s last day. If possible, view the entire episode and discuss why the film makers decided to include this alternative form of representation in the episode.

Create a text
In groups create different short text versions of the death of Cook, eg: a poem, a song, a mock up of a computer game, a front page of a newspaper announcing the death, a death notice in a newspaper, an online article etc

Further Resources


For teachers notes and further information go to the Film Australia Captain Cook – Obsession and Discovery showcase.

For extensive historical information about Cook go to Aussie Educator and the Captain Cook Society

Go to Screen Education and Metro Magazine for excellent articles and study guides for studying Australian documentaries and how to produce media.

Read Media 1 by Roger Dunscombe, Melinda Anastasios- Roberts, Juliet Francis, Karen Koch, George Lekatsas and Nick Ouchtomsky and Media 2 by Roger Dunscombe, Melinda Anastasios-Roberts, Kevin Tibaldi and Andrew Hyde. Heinemann Harcourt Education, Port Melbourne, 2007. Two recommended texts for classroom use for discussing representation and video production as well as many other key media concepts that relate to this clip. Go to the books online at Heinemann Media for more detail.