Captain Cook’s ceremonial club comes home

Captain Cook’s Ceremonial Club

An object of global historical and cultural significance, received by explorer Captain James Cook from a Canadian First Nation during his final voyage to the Pacific (1776-1779), has been donated to UBC’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA).

Cook became the first European to set foot on the Northwest Coast when he arrived at BC’s Nootka Sound on March 28, 1778. The Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation greeted and hosted Captain James Cook in 1778 at Yuquot (Friendly Cove) in Nootka Sound and presented him with the ceremonial club. A year later, Cook was killed in Hawaii.

Recently purchased through a private dealer in New York, and valued at $1.2 million, the rare ceremonial club was the last remaining object from Captain Cook’s personal collection not housed in a public museum. Thanks to Michael Audain and the Audain Foundation for the Visual Arts, the club has been returned to BC.

Like much of Cook’s personal collection, the club found its way from his family into the private Leverian Museum in London, where it was sold in 1806, passing through several private collections until it was obtained by the foundation.

Considered the oldest known and most finely executed club of this style, it is carved from yew wood in the shape of a hand holding a sphere. It may have been both a ceremonial symbol of its owner’s high rank and a functional tool or weapon. The club was carved by an Aboriginal Northwest Coast artist as early as the mid-1700s, placing it within the last generation of traditional objects created before European contact.

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