Captain Cook's journal


  • Intro

    Captain James Cook (1728-1779) had a mission to boldly go where no white man had gone before - pioneering voyages to explore and survey Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. He was a brave, practical and thorough Yorkshireman, always concerned with his crew's welfare.


    This is a description in his journal of an encounter with cannibals from 1775, near the end of his second voyage of discovery on the ships Resolution and Adventurer. Putting indignation aside for the sake of scientific observation, Cook tests rumours of cannibalism. He cooks a piece of flesh from a corpse found on the beach, to find that 'one of the Canibals [sic] eat it with surprising avidity'.


    Shelfmark: MS 27888, f.150.

  • Transcript

    Captain Cook's journal

    Original text:


    [some of the officers went on shore to amuse themselves among the Natives where they saw the head and bowels of a youth] who had lately been kill'd, lying on the beach, and the heart was stuck on a forked stick which was fixed to the head of one of the largest Canoes. One of the gentlemen bought the head on board with them where a piece of the flesh was broiled and eat by one of the Natives before all the officers and [most?] of the crew. I was on shore at this time but soon after returned on board and was informed of the above circumstances, and found the quarter deck crowded with the Natives and the mangled head, or rather part of it for the under jaw and lips were wanting, lying on the [?]. The scul had been broke on the left side just above the temples, the remains of the face had all the appearence of a youth under Twenty.

    The sight of the head and the relating the above circumstances struck me with horror and filled my mind with indignation against these Canibals; curiosity however got the better of my indignation, especially when I considered it would avail but little, and being desireous of becoming an eye wittness to a fact which many had their doubts about, I ordered a piece of the flesh to be broiled and brought on the quarter deck, where one of these Canibals eat it with a surprising avidity. This had such effect on some of our people as to make them [warn?] who came onboard with me.

    [Bediddie/Bediddu?] was so affected with the sight as to become perfectly motionless and seemed as if metamorphosed into the [Statue?] of horror: it is, utterly impossible for Art to depict that passion with half the force that it appeared in his Countinance. When roused from this state by some of us, he burst into tears, continued to [?] and scold by turns; told them they were Vile men and that he neither was, nor would be no longer their friend. He even would not suffer them to touch him, he [?] the same language to one of the gentlemen who cut off the flesh, and refused to accept or even to touch the knife with which it was done. Such was this islanders indignation against this vile Custom and worthy of imitation by every rational being—

Explore more timeline content: