DAVID SAMWELL (1751-1798)
A Narrative of the Death of Captain Cook. London: G.G.J. and J. Robinson, 1786. , 34p. [Bound with:] JAMES COOK. A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean. London: 1784. Volume III, 4°. 5 engraved maps, one plate, letterpress table. Both 4° (291 x 226mm). Contemporary calf with contrasting morocco labels (rubbed, joints split).
FIRST EDITION OF SAMWELL'S 'VERY RARE' PAMPHLET 'focusing on the death of Cook at Kealakekua and on the subject of venereal disease' (Forbes). Having joined Cook's third voyage as first mate on the Resolution, Samwell succeeded John Law as surgeon of the Discovery, and it was in this capacity that he became an eye-witness to Cook's catastrophic murder. Although there were several contemporary periodical appearances of his Narrative, the French edition, also issued in 1786 with a joint London and Paris imprint, but probably printed in Paris, was the only other separate edition to appear before 1957. Andrew Kippis helped with its publication, using it as a source for his Life of Cook, published in 1788. It differs in several important respects from King's official narrative, leading Holmes to say that 'Apart from its rarity, this pamphlet is one of the greatest importance, since it fills in gaps, e.g. as to the responsibility for Cook's death, which are suppressed in the official account'. In his introduction to the 1957 reprint, Holmes describes it as 'the fullest, most detailed and most objective' account of Cook's death, while Hill considers that 'this exceedingly rare work may perhaps be considered the highlight of a Cook collection'. Besides being one of the most elusive of Cook-related items to acquire, Samwell's Narrative constitutes one of the earliest books on Hawaii after the official and unofficial accounts of Cook's third voyage. According to ABPC, no more than 4 copies have appeared at auction since 1975, three in the 1980s, the last in 2000. Beddie 1620; Forbes Hawaiian National Biography 117; Hill p. 265; Holmes 61; Sabin 75970.