This Halloween we're exploring the darker side of our archives with a special event at The Queen's House. Going to sea is a dangerous business and our collection is full of tales of death and disaster. We'll be looking at Franklin's lost expedition, the life and Death of Captain Cook and offer the chance to watch live taxidermy demonstrations. You can book online for Death in the Archives.
Captain James Cook was no stranger to near death experiences. On his first voyage to the Pacific, the process of charting the east coast of Australia led the ship to run aground on the Great Barrier Reef. Hours were spent trying to pull the Endeavour off, while desperately pumping away the water that ran in through breaches in the hull. As Cook recorded in his Journal 'this was an alarming and I may say terrible circumstance and threatened immediate destruction to us.'
But Cook did get his crew safely to land, and the time spent repairing the ship, in what would be called Endeavour River, proved one of the most profitable for collecting and recording botanical specimens. It's also most likely where the voyage naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander were able to observe and catch a kangaroo. Its skin would provide the basis for Stubbs' well-known portrait. It has also provided the idea for one element of our Halloween 'Death in the Archives' event, when Margot Magpie will give taxidermy demonstrations.
Cook's death on Hawaii in 1779, though, was the main inspiration behind the event. The Art and Science of Exploration exhibition in the Queen's House includes Zoffany's large, unfinished history painting of Cook's death, which creates a particular view of Cook and his opponents by putting them in recognisable poses from classical statuary. The National Maritime Museum collections include many other responses to Cook's death, from the voyage artist John Webber's print after the event, to Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant's eulogy to Cook as the hero explorer. Come and see for yourself on Halloween, and see what other stories we have of Death in the Archives.