Year
1778
Month Day
January 18

Captain Cook reaches Hawaii

On January 18, 1778, the English explorer Captain James Cook becomes the first European to travel to the Hawaiian Islands when he sails past the island of Oahu. Two days later, he landed at Waimea on the island of Kauai and named the island group the Sandwich Islands, in honor of John Montague, who was the earl of Sandwich and one his patrons.

In 1768, Cook, a surveyor in the Royal Navy, was commissioned a lieutenant in command of the H.M.S. Endeavor and led an expedition that took scientists to Tahiti to chart the course of the planet Venus. In 1771, he returned to England, having explored the coast of New Zealand and Australia and circumnavigated the globe. Beginning in 1772, he commanded a major mission to the South Pacific and during the next three years explored the Antarctic region, charted the New Hebrides, and discovered New Caledonia. In 1776, he sailed from England again as commander of the H.M.S. Resolution and Discovery and in 1778 made his first visit to the Hawaiian Islands.

Cook and his crew were welcomed by the Hawaiians, who were fascinated by the Europeans’ ships and their use of iron. Cook provisioned his ships by trading the metal, and his sailors traded iron nails for sex. The ships then made a brief stop at Ni’ihau and headed north to look for the western end of a northwest passage from the North Atlantic to the Pacific. Almost one year later, Cook’s two ships returned to the Hawaiian Islands and found a safe harbor in Hawaii’s Kealakekua Bay.

It is suspected that the Hawaiians attached religious significance to the first stay of the Europeans on their islands. In Cook’s second visit, there was no question of this phenomenon. Kealakekua Bay was considered the sacred harbor of Lono, the fertility god of the Hawaiians, and at the time of Cook’s arrival the locals were engaged in a festival dedicated to Lono. Cook and his compatriots were welcomed as gods and for the next month exploited the Hawaiians’ good will. After one of the crewmembers died, exposing the Europeans as mere mortals, relations became strained. On February 4, 1779, the British ships sailed from Kealakekua Bay, but rough seas damaged the foremast of the Resolution, and after only a week at sea the expedition was forced to return to Hawaii.

The Hawaiians greeted Cook and his men by hurling rocks; they then stole a small cutter vessel from the Discovery. Negotiations with King Kalaniopuu for the return of the cutter collapsed after a lesser Hawaiian chief was shot to death and a mob of Hawaiians descended on Cook’s party. The captain and his men fired on the angry Hawaiians, but they were soon overwhelmed, and only a few managed to escape to the safety of the Resolution. Captain Cook himself was killed by the mob. A few days later, the Englishmen retaliated by firing their cannons and muskets at the shore, killing some 30 Hawaiians. The Resolution and Discovery eventually returned to England.

Tags
terms:

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

“Mandy” is Barry Manilow’s first #1 pop hit

Barry Manilow’s scores his first #1 single with “Mandy” on January 18, 1975. He would go on to sell more than 75 millions records over the course of his career. At the height of Barry Manilow’s popularity, none other than Frank Sinatra himself said of Manilow, “He’s next.” Yet ...read more

Robert Falcon Scott reaches the South Pole

After a two-month ordeal, the expedition of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott arrives at the South Pole only to find that Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, had preceded them by just over a month. Disappointed, the exhausted explorers prepared for a long and difficult ...read more

GM auctions off historic cars

January 18, 2009, marks the final day of a weeklong auction in which auto giant General Motors (GM) sells off historic cars from its Heritage Collection. GM sold around 200 vehicles at the Scottsdale, Arizona, auction, including a 1996 Buick Blackhawk concept car for $522,500, a ...read more

Post-World War I peace conference begins in Paris

On January 18, 1919, in Paris, France, some of the most powerful people in the world meet to begin the long, complicated negotiations that would officially mark the end of the First World War. Leaders of the victorious Allied powers—France, Great Britain, the United States and ...read more

China and Soviet Union recognize Democratic Republic of Vietnam

The People’s Republic of China formally recognizes the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam and agrees to furnish it military assistance; the Soviet Union extended diplomatic recognition to Hanoi on January 30. China and the Soviet Union provided massive military and economic ...read more

NHL is integrated

On January 18, 1958, hockey player Willie O’Ree of the Boston Bruins takes to the ice for a game against the Montreal Canadiens, becoming the first Black to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). Born in 1935 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, O’Ree was the son of a civil ...read more

President Jefferson requests funding for Lewis and Clark expedition

On January 18, 1803, Thomas Jefferson requests funding from Congress to finance the Lewis and Clark expedition. Jefferson officially asked for $2,500 in funding from Congress, though some sources indicate the expedition ultimately cost closer to $50,000. Meriwether Lewis was ...read more

Coen brothers release debut film, “Blood Simple”

The hard-boiled, often gruesome black comedy Blood Simple, the debut offering from the Minnesota-born brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, premieres on January 18, 1985. The film told the story of Julian Marty (played by Dan Hedaya), a bar owner who hires a private detective (M. Emmett ...read more

Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry arrested on drug charges

At the end of a joint sting operation by FBI agents and District of Columbia police, Mayor Marion Barry is arrested and charged with drug possession and the use of crack, a crystalline form of cocaine. At the Vista International Hotel in downtown Washington, Barry was caught ...read more

President John Tyler dies

On January 18, 1862, former U.S. President and Confederate congressman-elect John Tyler dies at age 71 in Richmond, Virginia. Tyler, who was born in Virginia in 1790, served as a U.S. congressman and as governor of his home state before winning election to the U.S. Senate. state ...read more