On this day in 1778, British explorer Captain James Cook sailed past the Hawaiian island of Oahu with his ships the HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, making him the first European to lay eyes on Hawaii. Two days later he landed—this time on the island of Kauai—at Waimea. Cook made an impressive entrance, with his grand ships, loud firearms, and unusually pale crew. Some of the Hawaiians mistook the captain and his crew as gods; the Englishman didn’t bother to correct the inaccuracy. Alas, it didn’t end well for the intrepid sailor. By the time he reached the Big Island of Hawaii, some of his crew were acting in a less-than-godly manner. After several skirmishes and a bit of gunfire, Captain James Cook was killed by a mob of Hawaiians.
When the islands were “discovered,” so was Koa wood, an indigenous variety of Acacia found only in Hawaii. Koa wood was once plentiful and used from ancient times for canoe-building. In the nineteenth century, Koa was used for furniture-making, flooring, and paneling—especially for the royalty and other wealthy people. Today, Koa wood is as precious as ever; diseased and fallen trees are carefully recovered by craftsmen holding carefully-issued permits.
The dovetailed collector’s Watch Box, shown above, is made of Koa on Kauai—the very island Captain Cook visited nearly 250 years ago.