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Fatal Voyage
The Last Great Voyage of Captain James Cook
Peter Aughton

6 1/8 x 9 1/4 • 200 pages • 8-page color section, maps
ISBN 9781566566100 • hardback • $24.95

It is no longer possible for any ship to cross the Pacific Ocean without encountering the ghost of Captain Cook. He and his voyages are the stuff of maritime legend. The Fatal Voyage is the story of his final epic journey when he led an expedition to search for the elusive North West Passage. He set sail from England in July 1776 but was never to return. He was killed in a bloody encounter at Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii in 1779.

Captain Cook was the greatest explorer of his age. He had captained two long voyages of discovery and charted the east coast of Australia, the whole of New Zealand and innumerable exotic islands in the vastness of the Pacific. At the age of forty-seven he was rewarded with a comfortable pension for life and looked set to spend his retirement with his family at Greenwich.

But it was not enough for him. After many years at sea he could not succumb to the monotony of life on shore. The Admiralty wanted a man to lead a new expedition to the west coast of America in search of the Pacific entrance to the fabled North West Passage. They had no problem in convincing Cook that he was the best person to lead it. Against the advice of his doctors, and no doubt against the wishes of his long-suffering wife, Cook volunteered to be the commander on the dangerous voyage to the bitterly cold seas in the extreme north of the Pacific Ocean.

The great ocean, which covers a third of the world’s surface, still had many secrets to unfold. Cook fell by chance upon the idyllic archipelago of the Hawaiian Islands, which was a major discovery and a further foray into a new branch of Polynesian culture. Once again the issue of whether Cook exploited the South Pacific people he encountered is brought to the fore.

He and his sailors then spent many long months mapping and charting the formidable northwest coast of America from Vancouver Island right up to the frozen northern coastline of Alaska. They encountered Native Americans from different tribes—some friendly, others hostile—and Russian fur trappers who were eager to help them. Cook sailed through the Bering Straits and his wooden ships Resolution and Discovery actually reached the entrance to the North West Passage but he was defeated by a sheer wall of solid ice blocking his way to the east.

Cook returned to the Hawaiian Islands to rest for the winter before making another attempt to find the passage in the following spring. At first he was welcomed as a god by the islanders, but unknowingly he broke some of the island’s strict taboos. His ability to make peace deserted him and a series of misjudgements ended in his brutal and tragic death on the island’s shore.

In The Fatal Voyage, Peter Aughton uses the letters, log records and diaries of the participants to give an enthralling and accurate account of Captain Cook’s last days at sea and sums up what his extraordinary life meant for the world.



Peter Aughton
was born in Southport, England but has lived for nearly forty years in Bristol. He is a visiting lecturer at the University of the West of England. He is married with two daughters and has two granddaughters. His previous books include a biography of Isaac Newton, Newton’s Apple, and the first published biography of the young astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks, The Transit of Venus. The Fatal Voyage is his third book on James Cook. Endeavour, describing Cook’s first voyage has now been published in five languages and Resolution, which relates Cook’s second voyage, has recently been published in paperback.


Media Reviews
A clear and enjoyable narrative...Aughton takes the reader along at a rattling pace. -Times Literary Supplement

"Aughton's brisk, clear-eyed narrative arrestingly lets the tale speak for itself." -The Sunday Times (London)

"Peter Aughton tells the story clearly and without pretension. A scientist himself he is able vividly to communicate the excitement of the enterprise which the Endeavour undertook." -History Today

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Of Related Interest:
A Traveller's History of Australia
A Traveller's History of New Zealand
Hawaii
Alaska
A Traveller's History of the U.S.A.