Sharks that walk on land. Palmer, Ron. 2003

Sharks that walk on land. Palmer, Ron. 2003

Palmer, Ron. 
Sharks that walk on land.
Trafford Publishing.
ISBN 1-4120-0688-0.

Many books and millions of words have been written about the life of arguably the world's greatest navigator and explorer James Cook. This book is different from the rest. Firstly it is written as a novel but is as factual as possible. The author has a lifelong regard for Cook and a lifetime's experience at sea. These facts, together with his Yorkshire coast upbringing and on the ground research in Hawaii means that the book becomes as true a reflection of the events described as is possible some 236 years after.
Secondly the book concerns itself only with the last week of Cook's life, and the week after. Cook's death at the hands of Hawaiian natives on St Valentines Day, 14th February, 1779 brought to a tragic and horrific end Cook's life at the (for then) old age of 50.

This life had been one of fabulous exploits but by this time the harshness of sea life had begun to get to him. His first voyage had led to the charting of all of New Zealand and virtually the whole of the eastern coast of Australia. His second consisted of trying to find a further Southern continent and now, on his third voyage an unsuccessful attempt to find a North West passage.

His ship, the Resolution, used by him on the 2nd voyage, was showing her age, mainly due to shoddy dockyard work prior to the voyage, and the urgent repairs necessary had forced him to seek somewhere to effect them. After 3 years at sea you can imagine the state of things.

The book is not for the fainthearted. The bestial behaviour of Cook's men and the butchering practices of the Hawaiian warriors are all accurately described as well as the humane qualities often shown at times. The two stand side by side and it may be difficult for some readers to understand, but that is certainly how it was. It was a completely different world in those days and the reader is brought into graphic contact with it.

The author helps the reader understand this with good descriptions of events that lead up to eventually shape this shocking and gory piece of history. Many will be surprised to see the parts played by other famous seamen, all under Cook's command at the time, notably Bligh and Vancouver.

The reader is left to perhaps decide for himself the main contributing fact to the tragedy.

The author brings out the one fact that is known for sure and that is that almost to a man, Cook was without doubt loved by those who worked with him and was treated with a respect which had been earned by actions, not by responsibilities placed upon him. Buy the book and see for yourself. This book is a must for all those with an affinity towards Captain Cook.

The author now lives on Pender Island, British Columbia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland. By a quirk of fate on Cook's last voyage he made one of his (for him) very rare navigational mistakes and "missed" out the Juan de Fuca straits separating Vancouver Island from the mainland of Canada/USA. This was due to gales blowing him from the coast which he did not regain until landing at Nootka Sound. It was of course left to Vancouver on a future trip to complete the accurate survey of this part of the Canadian coast. The author is also planning a voyage round the world in his yacht he constructed himself named Ron's Endeavour. Not bad for someone of 70 years of age.

Norman Scholes

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 31, volume 27, number 2 (2004).

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