A famous artwork depicting the violent death of Captain James Cook, the first European to define the outline of New Zealand, will go under the hammer in Auckland this month.

The Death of Captain Cook was etched by John Webber, official artist of Cook's third and final voyage to the Pacific in 1776 to 1779.

The mission's purpose was to locate the much-sought after North-West Passage, a longed-for, ice-free sea route linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

On February 14, 1779, the great English explorer and navigator was murdered by natives of Hawaii during his third visit to the islands.


It took 11 months for the news of Cook's death to reach the British Admiralty in London.

Webber, whose 1776 portrait of Captain Cook is now held in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, captured the dramatic moment of his death in the 29.5 x 40cm image, published in July 1785.

Now, a "very good copy" of the famous impression is going under the hammer at Cordy's Auction House in Auckland.

"It was not engraved in time for the publication of the accompanying atlas to the voyage for the British Admiralty and was thus issued separately," said Cordy's director Andrew Grigg.

"It is considered an integral part of any collection specialising in South Sea and Cook material."

The image will go under the hammer with an estimate of $8000-$12,000 on March 15.