The collection

15th October 1999 at 01:00
Week 32 Wooden clubs. Captain Cook Birthplace Museum,Middlesbrough

Museum and gallery staff put their favourite artefacts on display

These dark brown, solid wood clubs have a sinister story to tell. They come from Hawaii and were reputedly used to bludgeon to death the distinguished navigator and explorer, Captain James Cook.

Cook was born in Marton, North Yorkshire, and spent his early years as a seaman on North Sea vessels before joining the navy. He surveyed much of the area around the St Lawrence River in Quebec and his expedition in the Endeavour took him to Tahiti. He charted parts of Australia, sailed round Antarctica and visited the Pacific islands.

He had given up trying to find a passage round the north coast of America from the Pacific and and was returning by way of Hawaii when he anchored at Kealakekua Bay in February 1779. At first all was amicable, and the Hawaiians who first boarded Cook's ships told their friends amazing tales about the wondrous visitors.

They reported that they had heads horned like the moon (tricorn hats), they carried fires burning in their mouths (pipes) and ate the raw flesh of men (red watermelon). If they wanted for anything they were able to take it from inside their bodies (pockets), and they were voyaging on islands with high trees (ships with masts).

Relations eventually soured and a skirmish took place during which a Hawaiian chief was killed. Surgeon's mate David Samwell wrote down what happened next: "The natives began to arm themselves with spears and tree branches and some had the same iron daggers that we had given them; the captain had with him a double-barrelled piece, one loaded with small shot, the other with ball.

"Cook, a mate, the lieutenant of marines, and some of his men, each with a musket, a cutlass and cartridge boxes, landed at the town on the north side of the bay. He ordered the boats with the rest of the people to lie off at a little distance, and wait for him.

"Mr Phillips, the lieutenant of the marines, repeatedly told Captain Cook of the danger and urged him to retire... which he took not the least notice of. At last, finding that it was impossible to accomplish his design, he ordered the marines to retreat, and was himself following them, and possibly would have got safe off, had not the people in the boats very unfortunately, on hearing his musket, begun to fire upon the natives, which threw them into a state of fury."

These individually crafted and patterned clubs, which measure around 37.5cm long and 9cm in diameter, were used in the subsequent attack in which Cook was killed.

The Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, on the outskirts of Middlesbrough, has recently undergone a pound;1.2 million transformation and features computers, films, special effects and interactive activities.

Ian Stubbs is assistant curator ofMiddlesbrough Museums andGalleries Service. The clubs are on display at the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, Stewart Park, Marton,Middlesbrough TS7 6AS

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