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Video clip synopsis – James Cook’s temperament has become unstable during the long and unsuccessful hunt for the North West passage. He picks a fight with the Hawaiians after a series of thefts by them from the ships and dies on the beach after a fierce battle.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 3min 3sec
Tags - Australian History, Bligh, Captain Cook, discovery, DIY Doco, documentary, exploration, Interpretation, see all tags


Captain Cook - The Death of Cook

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About the Video Clip


Captain Cook- The Death of Cook is an excerpt from Northwest Passage, the final episode of the 4 x one-hour series Captain Cook – Obsession and Discovery, produced in 2007.

Captain James Cook FRS RN (October 27, 1728 – February 14, 1779) was an English explorer, navigator and cartographer. Cook made three epic voyages around the world.

In this excerpt the events leading up to Cook’s death on 14 February 1779 are dramatised in the documentary and analysed by Vanessa Collingridge. The commentators used throughout the series sum up his career that has led him to this point of time. He has created a legacy very few can match as a scientist, explorer and commander.

After six weeks in Hawaii Cook has set sail but has had to return when Resolution breaks a sail. The Hawaiians do not welcome him back, considering him to have overstayed his welcome. Now he and his crew are no longer treated as honoured guests there has been a spelt of thefts from the ship. On this day Cook wakes to learn that a boat has been stolen and Collingridge believes that he decided to pick a fight. He blockades the bay with the two ships

Curriculum Focus

  • Knowing and understanding historical events.
  • Using evidence to assist in the drawing of conclusions and understanding of the past
  • Demonstrate an understanding of motivation, causation and empathy to assist one in drawing conclusions about the past.

Background Information


“I had ambition not only to go farther than any man had been before, but as far as it was possible for a man to go.” James Cook

In the series, best selling British author Vanessa Collingridge, a Geographer and Cook expert tells the story of the explorer James Cook. The series traces him from his origins as son of an English farm labourer, at the very bottom of Britain’s class-bound 18th Century society, through his rise as the best cartographer of the 18th Century, to his incredible voyages of discovery which resulted in Cook describing more of the globe than any other man.

The series relives what it was like to navigate uncharted and unknown waters in search of a legendary 'Great Southern Continent’ and then a North West passage through the Arctic ice; as well as to be among the first Europeans to visit exotic Pacific islands like Tahiti. The harshness and danger of life on the sea is depicted graphically as well as the rigid social structure of the time. The series includes direct descendants of the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Hawaii who Cook met 240 years ago and the men of the Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure and Discovery, particularly the famous gentleman botanist Joseph Banks and the young William Bligh.

All of Cook’s major achievements are dramatised and analysed including his discovery of Hawaii, sailing the uncharted coast of New Zealand, proving it isn’t part of the ‘Great Southern Continent’ and the landing at Botany Bay as he claimed Australia for king and country, to death on a beach on the far side of the world.

A hero to some, a villain to others, Cook is depicted from different points of view: as an historic figure of the great stature to the British Royal Navy of the 18th Century and contemporary western culture, and as an exploiter of the Indigenous peoples he came across.

Classroom Activities


Operation Brainstorm

In this clip the historians and commentators describe Cook as:

  • “founding father of modern navigation.”
  • “an inspirational leader.”
  • “an emissary of British Imperialism.”
  • “a man of his times but a man of all times.”
  • “created a legacy very few could match.”
  • “one of the great heroes of the British Empire.”
    Use these points as a basis for class discussion. Was Cook a hero?
  1. Divide up in to groups, each group to take one of these descriptions of Cook.
  2. Draw up a table and try to find evidence for and against the description of Cook.
  3. Groups rotate after a five minute brainstorm. After each five minutes the group is presented with another description where they can add to or refute evidence presented.
  4. After all descriptions have been discussed by the group, reconvene as a class to discuss ‘Was Cook a hero?”

Representation of Cook

  1. In this series of clips, what characteristics of Cook seem to be reiterated?
  2. If you can, look at the opening scenes of the documentary. What does the presenter note about her own experiences of learning about Captain Cook?
  3. Describe how this clip depicts the following individuals, noting down images or words and phrases that are used:
  • Cook
  • Bligh
  • The Hawaiians

Teachers could ask open ended questions such as:

  • “What sort of feelings do the words used to describe each of these people evoke?”
  • “Why do you think that these words have been used?”

From the information that you collected in the previous question, how do you think the documentary makers want us to see Cook?
What sort of effect does the final scene of the clip have on the audience? How effective is this technique in representing history?
What conclusions do you draw regarding the way the documentary has represented Cook? Do you think that the representation is an ‘accurate’ one? Why? Why not?

Extended Response: Using Documentary films to understand history

Write an extended response to the question:
“To what extent does the documentary Captain Cook: Obsession and Discovery help us understand the life and achievements of Captain Cook?”
In your answer, consider the strengths and limitations of the historical documentary as a medium for representing history.

Further Resources


Resources for essay writing

Captain Cook Country

Captain Cook Society