Cook’s not so romantic Valentine’s Day

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Le Capne. Jacques Cook Membre de la Societe Royale de Londres, circa 1775

As I mentioned in my last post, Valentine’s Day wasn’t always hearts and flowers, sometimes it was a day of blood and guts.  On this day in 1779 the Hawaiians killed one of the world’s most important explorers, Captain James Cook.

Cook started out as a surveyor in the Royal Navy in 1768 and after being commissioned a lieutenant led an expedition that took scientists to Tahiti to document the transit of Venus (during the voyage they also explored the coast of New Zealand and Australia). Beginning in 1772, Cook commanded a major mission to the South Pacific and over the next three years explored the Antarctic region, charted the New Hebrides, and discovered New Caledonia.  In January 1778, he made his first visit to the Hawaiian Islands possibly the first European to ever visit the islands.   Read more

Valentine’s Day…not always hearts and flowers

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Valentine’s Day isn’t always a day of hearts and flowers. Captain James Cook was killed by the Hawaiians on Valentine’s Day.  February 14th also happens to be the anniversary of one of my favorite naval battles—the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. The battle was fought during the French Revolutionary Wars at a time when it seemed like everyone on the planet hated the English. It happened in 1797 when a fleet of 15 British ships battled 25 Spanish ships that were escorting a convoy to Cádiz, Spain.

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Charles B. Tobey’s Watch Stand

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The Sailor Made exhibition finally opened this past weekend. We had so many wonderful objects to choose from and such a small space to fill that we sometimes had to make some really difficult choices about what to include and what to cut from the display.  In one instance, the choice wasn’t too difficult because the piece, a watch stand made by whaleman Charles B. Tobey of Nantucket, is probably the most significant piece of scrimshaw in the collection.

The English settlers in Nantucket were involved in whaling by about 1640, although they were probably not the first nor the most successful.  In 1712, after being caught in a storm and blown far offshore, whaler Christopher Hussey discovered a new species of deep-sea whale—the sperm—which produced oil of unsurpassable quality and in great quantity.  By 1715, Nantucket had six large sloops cruising deep waters and by 1775 Nantucket had 150 whaleships at sea. As these whalers spread throughout the Atlantic they learned of vast herds of sperm whales in the Pacific and Indian oceans.  In 1791, the first six of many Nantucket whalers rounded Cape Horn for the Pacific hunting grounds.   Read more