The Compassion of Captain Cook
Paperback, 120 pages, $22.95
Release date: February 2023
New Zealand 1773. A week before Christmas. A rowboat carrying ten
sailors disappears. Next day butchered bodies are found on a beach. All
have been killed by Maori warriors. Captain Cook will not retaliate.
Warning his crew against vengeance, Cook assures local Maoris his
expedition has come in peace. When the Chief who lead the attack later
appears, Cook meets with him and takes no action.
James Cook is now the subject of heated argument. Serious claims
circulate about his motives in exploring the Pacific, his relation to
colonisation, especially his conduct toward natives.
This evidence-based book cuts through a crust of rhetoric and
misinformation, investigating afresh Cook’s behaviour among indigenous
It reveals the Royal Society’s orders on dealing with natives, how
Cook put them into practice, how he punished sailors who mistreated
indigenes. It traces the actions of a humane man, who saw how native
communities suffered through contact with Europeans, and was anxious for
the future of peoples he befriended.
Pointing to how Cook’s expeditions were science-focussed, not efforts
at a British land-grab, the book exposes as a fiction certain popular
tales, and visually unpacks key pictures by John Webber, the illustrator
who recorded for perpetuity events on Cook’s historic final voyage.
This book will challenge what you thought you knew about Captain Cook.
Tell me what the Natives of the whole extent of America have gained by the commerce they have had with Europeans? — James Cook
Christopher Heathcote, author of Drysdale: Defining the Modern
Australian Landscape, writes books on historic works of art which
illuminate shifting Australian values. He lives on the original track to
Victoria’s first gold field.