The Poison Chalice of Captain James Cook, its Medical Background and Similar ‘Cures’

Michael T. Connell


This article seeks to investigate the nature of the eventual instability of Captain James Cook, and, importantly, to shed light on the actual causes of the great navigator's obvious ill-health long prior to his death. What is uncovered is that he used a 'purging cup' as part of his self-medication, causing him to ingest antimony, which attacked his nervous system and adversely affected his personality. Antimony ingestion has a long history of causing madness in those who purged themselves. Antimony purging cups were first used in Roman times and continued to be used by many notable figures thereafter. In Cook's case this ‘selfmedication' led to critical changes in the personality of the normally mild-mannered Yorkshire Captain, and various forms of madness became observable in his behaviour. These were manifested in a display of cruelty, floggings, murder and vindictiveness all uncharacteristic of Cook, and all received, scant mention by his biographers.


Folkloristics; James Cook;

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