CAPTAIN COOK’S life, or the account of so much of it as is recoverable, has been so often recounted that there is no occasion to insert more in this publication than is necessary as a reference to the reader, to enable him to realise the career and character of the man.
Cook’s first biographer, Andrew Kippis, wrote in 1788, and his work has recently been republished.*
(* “A Narrative of the Voyage round the World, performed by Captain James Cook, with an Account of His Life” by A. Kippis, D.D., F.R.S. London: Bickers & Son 1889.)
The latest and best life is by Walter Besant,* whose graceful pen has given us a fascinating, interesting, and, as far as is possible, complete picture of this great Englishman. Many details of Cook’s private life are lost, but enough has been collected by Mr. Besant to place our hero vividly before us, and a perusal of his work is strongly recommended.
(* “Captain Cook” by Walter Besant: “English Men of Action” London, Macmillan & Co. 1890.)
Many things in the following sketch are taken from Mr. Besant, to whom I wish to tender my acknowledgments.
James Cook rose from nearly the lowest ranks. The second son of James Cook, a Yorkshire labourer, and Grace his wife, he was born on the edge of the Cleveland Hills on February 27th, 1728, in the little village of Marton, which lies about four miles south-south-east of Middlesborough, and five miles west of the well-known hill and landmark, Roseberry Topping. Eight years later his father removed to Great Ayton, which lies close under Roseberry Topping.
At the age of thirteen Cook, who, it is recorded, had had some elementary schooling both at Marton and Great Ayton, was apprenticed to one Sanderson, a draper and grocer of Staithes, a fishing village on the coast, about fourteen miles from Ayton and nine north-west of Whitby.
A year later Cook went, or ran away, to sea, shipping at Whitby on board the Freelove, a collier belonging to the brothers Walker.
In this hard school Cook learnt his sailor duties. No better training could have been found for his future responsibilities. Here he learnt to endure the utmost rigours of the sea. Constant fighting with North Sea gales, bad food, and cramped accommodation, taught him to regard with the indifference that afterwards distinguished him, all the hardships that he had to encounter, and led him to endure and persevere where others, less determined or more easily daunted by difficulties, would have hurried on, and left their work incomplete.
All details of Cook’s life during his thirteen years in the merchant service are lost: what voyages he made, how he fared, whether he advanced in general knowledge, all is gone. The only fact known is that in May 1755, when Cook was twenty-seven years of age, and mate of a vessel of Messrs. Walker, then in the Thames, he, to avoid the press, then active on account of the outbreak of the war with France, volunteered on board H.M.S. Eagle, of 60 guns, as an able seaman.
Captain Hugh Palliser, who succeeded to the command of this ship in October, was certainly Cook’s warmest patron, and it would appear that Cook did work superior to that of an able seaman in the Eagle. Be that as it may, all that is absolutely known is that that ship took her share of the fighting at the taking of Louisbourg and elsewhere on the North American and West Indian Station, and returned to England in 1759.
By Palliser’s interest Cook was now appointed master of the Mercury. It is therefore evident that his qualifications as a navigator recommended themselves to Palliser.
The Mercury went to North America, and here Cook did his first good service recorded, namely, taking soundings in the St. Lawrence, to enable the fleet then attacking Quebec to take up safe positions in covering the army under Wolfe. This he accomplished with great skill, under many difficulties, in the face of the enemy, much of it being done at night. He was immediately employed in making a survey of the intricate channels of the river below Quebec, and for many years his chart was the guide for navigation. Cook was indeed a born surveyor. Before his day charts were of the crudest description, and he must have somehow acquired a considerable knowledge of trigonometry, and possessed an intuitive faculty for practically applying it, to enable him to originate, as it may truly be said he did, the art of modern marine surveying.
The expedition to Quebec concluded, Cook was appointed master of the Northumberland, bearing Admiral Lord Colville’s flag, and during that ship’s winter at Halifax he applied himself to further study of mathematics and astronomy.
In 1762, the Northumberland being at Newfoundland during the capture of that island from the French, Cook again was employed in surveys. This attracted the attention of Captain Graves, the Governor, who conceived a high opinion of his abilities in this respect.
In the latter part of 1762 Cook returned to England and married Elizabeth Batts, daughter of a man in business at Wapping; but a few months afterwards he was called upon by Captain Graves to go again to Newfoundland to make marine surveys.
In this important work he was engaged until 1767, Captain Palliser, who succeeded Captain Graves as Governor, being only too glad to avail himself of Cook’s services.
The charts he made during these years in the schooner Grenville were admirable. The best proof of their excellence is that they are not yet wholly superseded by the more detailed surveys of modern times. Like all first surveys of a practically unknown shore, and especially when that shore abounds in rocks and shoals, and is much indented with bays and creeks, they are imperfect, in the sense of having many omissions; but when the amount of the ground covered, and the impediments of fogs and bad weather on that coast is considered, and that Cook had at the most only one assistant, their accuracy is truly astonishing. The originals of these surveys form part of the most precious possessions of the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty.
We now approach the crowning achievements of Cook’s life.
After many years’ neglect the exploration of the Pacific was awaking interest. This great ocean, which very few, even to this day, realise occupies nearly one half of the surface of the globe, had been, since the first voyage of Magellan, crossed by many a vessel.
Notwithstanding, very little was known of the islands occupying its central portion.
For this there were two reasons. First, the comparatively small area covered by islands; secondly, the fact that nearly all who traversed it had followed Magellan’s track, or, if they started, as many did, from Central America, they made straight for Magellan’s discovery, the Ladrone Islands. For this, again, there was a reason.
Few sailed for the purpose of exploration pure and simple; and even those who started with that view found, when embarked on that vast expanse, that prudence dictated that they should have a moderate certainty of, by a certain time, falling in with a place of sure refreshment. The provisions they carried were bad at starting, and by the time they had fought their way through the Straits of Magellan were already worse; water was limited, and would not hold out more than a given number of days. Every voyage that is pursued tells the same story — short of water, and eagerly looking out for an opportunity of replenishing it. The winds were found to blow in fixed directions, and each voyager was fearful of deviating from the track on which it was known they would be fair, for fear of delays. And ever present in each captain’s mind was the dread of the terrible scourge, scurvy. Every expedition suffered from it. Each hoped they would be exempt, and each in turn was reduced to impotence from its effects.
It was the great consideration for every leader of a protracted expedition, How can I obviate this paralyzing influence? And one after another had to confess his failure.
It is yearly becoming more difficult for us to realise these obstacles.
The prevailing winds and currents in each part of the ocean are well known to us: the exact distance and bearing from one point to another are laid down in the chart; steam bridges over calm areas, and in many cases conducts us on our entire journey at a speed but little inferior to that of land travelling by railroad; modern science preserves fresh and palatable food for an indefinite period; and, in a word, all the difficulties and most of the dangers of long voyages have disappeared.
Take one element alone in long voyages — the time required. The average progress of a ship in the eighteenth century was not more than fifty miles a day. Nowadays we may expect as much as four hundred miles in a full powered steamer, and not less than one hundred and fifty in a well-fitted sailing ship.
But navigation, and more especially the navigation of the unknown Pacific, was very different in Cook’s days, when all the obstacles above mentioned impeded the explorers, and impelled them to follow a common track.
There were a few who had deviated from the common track.
The Spaniards, Mendana, Quiros, Torres, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, starting first from their colonies in Peru, had ventured along the central line of the Pacific, discovering the Marquesas, certain small coral islands, the Northern New Hebrides, and the Solomon Islands; but their voyages, mainly for fear of Drake and his successors, were kept so secret that no one quite knew where these islands lay.
Abel Tasman, in 1642, coming across the Indian Ocean from the westward, had touched at Tasmania, or, as he called it, Van Diemen’s Land, had skirted the western coast of the north island of New Zealand without landing, and had stretched away to the north-east, and found the Tonga Group.
The English Buccaneers were not among these discoverers; Dampier, Woods Rogers, and others, all went from Acapulco to the Ladrones, looking out for the valuable Spanish galleons from Manila, and they added little or nothing to the knowledge of the Pacific and what it contained.
It was not therefore strange that the imagination of geographers ran riot amongst the great unknown areas. They were impressed, as they looked at the globes of the day, with the fact that, while the northern hemisphere contained much land, the southern showed either water or blank spaces; and starting with the ill-founded idea that the solid land in either hemisphere should balance, they conceived that there must be a great unknown continent in the southern part of the Pacific to make up the deficiency. This was generally designated Terra Australis Incognita, and many is the ancient chart that shows it, sketched with a free and uncontrolled hand, around the South Pole. It was held by many that Tasman had touched it in New Zealand; that Quiros had seen it near his island of Encarnacion, and again at Espiritu Santo (New Hebrides), but no one had been to see.
In George III’s reign the desire to know more of this unknown ocean arose in England. The king himself took great interest in it, and for the first time since Queen Elizabeth’s age, when Davis, Frobisher, Drake, Narborough, and others, had gone on voyages of discovery, the pursuit was renewed.
In 1764 the Dolphin and Tamor, under the command of Commodore Byron and Captain Mouat, sailed on a voyage round the world. They spent some time, as ordered, in exploring the Falkland Islands, and, after a two months’ passage through Magellan Strait, they stood across the Pacific. They, however, also followed near the well-beaten track, and passing north of the Paumotus, of which they sighted a few small islands, they too made for the Ladrones. As usual, they suffered much from scurvy, and the one idea was to get to a known place to recover. Byron returned in May 1766, having added but little to the knowledge of the Pacific, and the Dolphin was again sent in the August of the same year, with the Swallow, under the command of Captains Wallis and Carteret, on a similar voyage.
They did somewhat better. After the usual struggle through the long and narrow Strait of Magellan, against the strong and contrary winds that continually blow, and which occupied four months, they got into the Pacific.
As they passed out they separated, the Dolphin outsailing the Swallow, and a dispassionate reader cannot well escape the conclusion that the senior officers unnecessarily parted company.
The Dolphin kept a little south of the usual route, fell in with some of the Paumotu Group, and finally discovered Tahiti, where she anchored at Royal Bay, after grounding on a reef at its entrance, with her people, as usual, decimated by scurvy. They were almost immediately attacked by the natives, who, however, received such a reception that they speedily made friends, and fast friends too. The remainder of the month of the Dolphin stay was marked with the most friendly intercourse, and she sailed with a high opinion of Tahiti and the Tahitians; the Queen, Cook’s Obereia, being especially well disposed to them. Their communication with the natives must, however, have been limited, as they remained too short a time to learn the language, and we gather little of the manners and customs from the account of the voyage.
After sailing from Tahiti we hear the same tale — sickness, want of water, doubt of what was before them. After sailing by several small islands, and an attempt to water at one, course was steered as before for the Ladrones. Let Wallis tell his own story. He says:—
“I considered that watering here would be tedious and attended with great fatigue; that it was now the depth of winter in the southern hemisphere; that the ship was leaky, that the rudder shook in the stern very much, and that what other damage she might have received in her bottom could not be known. That for these reasons she was very unfit for the bad weather which she would certainly meet with, either in going round Cape Horn or through the Streight of Magellan; that if she should get safely through the streight or round the Cape, it would be absolutely necessary to refresh in some port; but in that case no port would be in her reach. I therefore determined to make the best of my way to Tinian, Batavia, and so to Europe by the Cape of Good Hope.
“By this rout, as far as we could judge, we should sooner be at home; and if the ship should prove not to be in a condition to make the whole voyage, we should still save our lives, as from this place to Batavia we should probably have a calm sea, and be not far from a port.”
These are scarcely the sentiments of a bold explorer, and we shall look in vain for any similar ideas on the part of Cook. Here was a ship just a year from England, just come from a convenient and friendly island, where every refreshment and opportunity for refit were to be found, and the only thought is how to get home again!
It was the vastly different conduct of Cook’s voyages; the determination that nothing should stop the main object of the expedition; his resource in every difficulty and danger; that caused, and rightly caused, him to be hailed as a born leader of such expeditions.
Wallis followed nearly on Byron’s track: went from the Ladrones, through the China Sea, to Batavia, and so home, arriving in May 1768.
The Swallow, under Captain Carteret, was navigated in a different spirit. She was badly fitted out for such a voyage, had not even a forge, and all the articles for trade were on board the Dolphin. But Carteret was not easily daunted. He might, under the circumstances, when he found himself alone, have abandoned the voyage; but he boldly went forward. Passing from the Strait of Magellan, he touched at Juan Fernandez, and steering somewhat south of Wallis’s line, he passed south of Tahiti, discovering Pitcairn’s Island on his way, and some of the islands south of the Paumotus.
By this time his people were severely afflicted with scurvy, and his ship in a bad state; but Carteret only thought of getting to some place of refreshment, from which he might afterwards pass on his voyage towards the south, in the hope of falling in with the great southern Continent.
In this he was not fortunate. Missing all other islands, he fell across the Santa Cruz Group, and hoping that he had found what he wanted, he anchored and tried to water. The party were, however, attacked by the natives, and several, including the master, were wounded and died by poisoned arrows. All hope of a quiet refit was over, and his ship’s company being in a wretched condition, no forge or tools on board to enable him to effect his many repairs, Carteret, who was himself very ill, was obliged to give up all intention of exploration to the southward. He got enough water to last him, and sailed on toward the Solomon Islands. These he also just missed, but fell in with New Britain, and passing between it and New Ireland, demonstrated for the first time that these two large islands were not one, as had been supposed. He here managed to do something to repair his leaky vessel, heeling and caulking her, but got little but fruit for his scurvy-stricken crew. He was attacked by the fierce islanders, and was altogether unable to do as much as he evidently earnestly desired towards examining the islands.
Thence they struggled on by Mindanao to Makassar in Celebes, delayed by contrary winds, disappointed of refreshments at every place they tried, and losing men from scurvy. At Makassar they met with but an inhospitable reception from the Dutch, who refused to permit them to receive refreshments there, and after waiting at Bonthain, a place in Celebes, several months, for the monsoon to change, they at last arrived at Batavia, the only port in the Dutch Indies really open to ships, in June 1768. Thence, after heaving down and a thorough repair, they reached home, via the Cape, on March 20th, 1769.
Of all the voyages before Cook’s, Carteret’s showed most determination and true spirit of enterprise; and had his ship been better supplied, and more suited to the exigencies of such a long cruise, he would, but for one thing, have accomplished far more. This was the fatal disease, which no captain had as yet succeeded in warding off, and which hampered and defeated the efforts of the most enthusiastic. No man could go beyond a certain point in disregarding the health of his crew.
These, then, were the kind of voyages, with their scanty fruits, to which the English people were getting accustomed, and they were not such as to encourage repetition.
In all the years that had elapsed since the Spaniards first sailed on the Pacific, but little real knowledge of the lands in it had been gained.
Let us attempt to give a picture of what was known.
The Marquesas and Santa Cruz Group were known to exist; but of the Solomons grave doubts were felt, as no man had seen them but Mendana, and they were, if placed on a map at all, shown in very different longitudes.
Several voyagers had sighted different members of the extensive Paumotu Group, but the varying positions caused great confusion.
Tahiti had been found by Wallis.
Tasman had laid down the south point of Tasmania, the western coast of the North Island of New Zealand, and the Tonga Islands. Dampier and Carteret had shown that New Britain and New Ireland were separate islands, lying north-east of New Guinea. Quiros had found the northern island of the New Hebrides.
But of none of these lands was anything really known. Those who had visited them had merely touched. In no case had they gone round them, or ascertained their limits, and their descriptions, founded on brief experience, were bald and much exaggerated.
Let us turn to what was unknown.
This comprises the whole of the east coast of Australia, or New Holland, and whether it was joined to Tasmania on the south, and New Guinea to the north; the dimensions of New Zealand; New Caledonia and the New Hebrides, with the exception of the fact that the northern island of the latter existed; the Fiji Islands; Sandwich Islands; the Phoenix, Union, Ellice, Gilbert, and Marshall Groups, with innumerable small islands scattered here and there; the Cook Islands, and all the Society Islands except Tahiti. The majority of the Paumotu Group. The coast of North America north of 45 degrees north was unknown, and there was the great, undefined, and imaginary southern Continent to disprove.
Whether other voyages of exploration would have been undertaken one cannot say; but in 1768 the Royal Society put in a word.
A transit of Venus over the sun’s disc was to occur in 1769, and astronomers were anxious to take advantage of it, the object of the observation being to ascertain the distance of the earth from the sun, the fundamental base line in all astronomical measurements, and which was very imperfectly known.
The Central Pacific afforded a favourable position, and the Royal Society memorialised the king to send a ship for the purpose. The request was granted, and at first Alexander Dalrymple, who had conducted marine surveys in the East Indies, and was known as a scientific geographer, was selected as observer. As, however, it was found that he also expected to command the ship, the Admiralty positively refused to have anything to do with him, and after some discussion James Cook was selected.
This says volumes for Cook’s reputation at the time. To have risen absolutely from the ranks was a great deal, but to be chosen as a master, to command a ship, and undertake a scientific observation of this importance, was a most exceptional occurrence, and speaks well for the judgment of those who had the selection.
It seems that Mr. Stephens, the Secretary to the Admiralty, had much to do with it. How Stephens had become acquainted with Cook history does not relate, but doubtless his personal visits to the Admiralty in connection with the completion of his charts of Newfoundland, from which he returned every winter, had brought him into contact with the Secretary, who had clearly formed a high opinion of him.
Cook, we may be sure, jumped at the chance, and his pride must have been great when he found he was to receive a commission as Lieutenant.
This in itself was a most unusual step. The occasions on which a master had been transferred to the executive line of the Royal Navy were very rare, and many an admiral used his influence in favour of some deserving officer in vain.
This was not without good reason, as the whole training of the Master of those days was unfavourable to success in command of ships or men. The exception was, however, in this case amply justified.
Cook was allowed to choose his vessel, and bearing in mind the dangers of grounding in unknown seas, he pitched upon his old friends, the stoutly-built, full-bottomed colliers of the North Sea trade.
His ship, the Endeavour, was a Whitby built vessel of three hundred and seventy tons, and was known as H.M. Bark Endeavour, there being another vessel, a cutter, of the same name in the Royal Navy. She was brought to the dockyard at Deptford to fit out. Her appearance was, of course, wholly different from that of a vessel built as a man-of-war, and we shall see that this caused trouble at Rio Janeiro, where the combination of merchant build and officers in uniform in an armed ship, aroused suspicions in the mind of the Portuguese Viceroy.
It is nowhere directly stated whether the Endeavour was sheathed with copper or not; but as Cook in the account of his second voyage expresses himself as adverse to this method of protecting ships’ bottoms, and the operation is recorded of heeling and boot topping, which was cleaning and greasing the part of the ship just below waterline, it may be concluded that her sheathing was wood.
She proved a most suitable vessel. The log states she was a little crank, but an admirable sea-boat. Her rate of sailing was of course, with her build, slow, but her strength and flat bottom stood her in good stead when she made acquaintance with a coral reef.
She mounted ten small carriage guns and twelve swivels.
Mr. Banks, a scientific botanist, afterwards well known as Sir Joseph Banks, and for a long time President of the Royal Society, a gentleman of private means, volunteered to accompany Cook, and took with him a staff of his own, of artists and others.
He also induced Dr. Solander, a Swedish naturalist, afterwards attached to the British Museum, to accompany him.
Mr. Charles Green, one of the assistants at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, was sent as astronomer.
This scientific staff added much to the success of the expedition.
Banks and Solander, both men of observation, were able to collect specimens of natural history, and study the manners and customs of the natives with whom they came in contact, which neither the time at Cook’s disposal nor his training enabled him to undertake; and though the Journal of the former has never yet been published, and cannot at the present time be traced, many interesting remarks were extracted by Dr. Hawkesworth from it and went far to make his account of the voyage complete.
Mr. Green also demands special notice.
One great question of the day amongst seamen and geographers was the discovering of some ready and sure method of ascertaining the longitude. Half the value of the explorations made up to this time had been lost from this want. The recognised means of finding longitude was by the observation of lunars; that is, accurately measuring the angular distance between the centres of the moon and of the sun, or of the moon and some star.
The motion of the moon is so rapid that this angular distance changes from second to second, and thereby, by previous astronomical calculation, the time at Greenwich at which its distance from any body is a certain number of degrees can be ascertained and recorded.
By well-known calculations the local time at any spot can be obtained, and when this is ascertained, at the precise moment that the angular distance of sun and moon is observed, the difference gives the longitude.
This seems simple enough, but there is a good deal of calculation to go through before the result is reached, and neither the observation nor the calculation is easy, especially with the astronomical tables of those days, and there were very few sailors who were capable of, or patient enough to make them, nor was the result, as a rule, very accurate. For one thing, the motions of the moon, which are extremely complicated, were not enough known to allow her calculated position in the heavens to be very accurate, and a very small error in this position considerably affects the time, and therefore the longitude.
Luckily for Cook, the Nautical Almanac had just been started, and contained tables of the moon which had not previously been available, and which much lightened the calculations.
The great invention of the chronometer, that is, a watch that can be trusted to keep a steady rate for long periods, was at this time completed by Harrison; but very few had been manufactured, and astronomers and sailors were slow to believe in the efficacy of this method of carrying time about with a ship. Thus Cook had no chronometer supplied to him.
Green had accompanied Mr. Maskelyne, afterwards Astronomer Royal, to Barbados in 1763 in H.M.S. Princess Louisa, in order to test Harrison’s timekeeper, and also a complicated chair, from which it was supposed observations of Jupiter’s satellites could be observed on board ship; and as this trial afforded the final triumph of the new method, one would have thought that on a voyage of circumnavigation he would have made every effort to get one of these watches.
Be this as it may, the Endeavour had no chronometer, and lunars were the mainstay of the expedition.
In these observations Green was indefatigable. Cook, an excellent observer himself frequently took part in them; but it was Green’s especial business, and no doubt to him is due the major part of the determinations of accurate longitude, which is one of the very remarkable points of this voyage.
Green’s log, which is extant, is filled with lunar observations, and the extraordinary coincidence between different observations attests the care with which they were made. I dwell upon this because, while full of admiration for Cook’s knowledge, and his untiring zeal in every detail of his expedition, it is evident, from a study of the original documents, that without Green many opportunities of getting longitude would have been lost, Cook having no time to spare to make use of them. Let us give honour to whom honour is due.
The final results of the observations are not equally good, but this arises from the errors, before referred to, in the moon’s place in the heavens as given in the almanac, which would vary with her position, and affect the longitude accordingly. The astonishing thing is, not that some longitudes are considerably in error, but that the majority of them are so near the truth.
The Endeavour sailed from the Thames on June 30th, 1768, and was in Plymouth Sound from July 14th to the 26th, when she finally sailed, Banks and the scientific staff having joined here.
She carried a complement, all told, of ninety-four, and very close stowage it must have been.
A list is given in this book, immediately before the “Journal,” of every person on board when the ship sailed from Plymouth.
The draught of the ship was 13 feet 6 inches, and her provisions were calculated to last eighteen months. The original intention had been that the transit of Venus should be observed at the Marquesas; but the Dolphin’s return before Cook sailed, with the news of the discovery of Tahiti and its friendly inhabitants, caused this island to be finally selected.
The exact text of Cook’s orders cannot be given. They were secret orders; but, curiously enough, while the covering letter, which enjoined him to show them to nobody, which is dated July 30th, 1768, is duly entered in Admiralty Records, the orders themselves, which should follow in the letter book, are omitted. They have never been published. Nevertheless, we can gather what they were.
Cook, in the published account of his Second Voyage, says he had instructions to proceed directly to Tahiti, and afterwards to prosecute the design of making discoveries in the Pacific by proceeding southward to the latitude of 40 degrees, and if he did not find land to continue his voyage to the west till he fell in with New Zealand, which he was directed to explore, and thence to return to England by such route as he should judge most convenient.
Precautions against the terrible scourge, scurvy, had not been forgotten.
Besides the supply of all anti-scorbutics then known, a special letter was written to Cook directing him to take a quantity of malt to sea, for the purpose of being made into wort, as a cure for scorbutic disorders, as recommended by Dr. McBride.
The directions for its use were as follows:—
“The malt must be ground under the direction of the surgeon, and made into wort, fresh every day, in the following manner:—
“1. Take one quart of ground malt, and pour on it three quarts of boiling water. Stir them well, and let the mixture stand close covered up for three or four hours, after which strain off the liquor.
“2. The wort, so prepared, is then to be boiled into a panada, with sea biscuit or dried fruits generally carried to sea.
“3. The patient must make at least two meals a day of the said panada, and should drink a quart or more of the fresh infusion as it may agree with him, every twenty-four hours.
“4. The surgeon is to keep an exact account of its effects.”
Though it is somewhat anticipating events, it is convenient to record here the result of these efforts to defeat the hitherto unconquerable enemy. Mr. Perry’s report at the termination of the voyage is as follows:—
“Sour krout, mustard, vinegar, wheat, inspissated orange and lemon juices, saloup, portable soup, sugar, molasses, vegetables (at all times when they could be got) were, some in constant, others in occasional use. These were of such infinite service to the people in preserving them from a scorbutic taint, that the use of the malt was (with respect to necessity) almost entirely precluded.
“Again cold bathing was encouraged and enforced by example; the allowance of salt beef and pork was abridged from nearly the beginning of the voyage, and the sailors’ usual custom of mixing the salt beef fat with their flour, etc., was strictly forbad.
“Upon our leaving England, also, a stop was put to our issuing butter and cheese, and throughout the voyage raisins were served with the flour instead of pickled suet. At Tierra del Fuego we collected wild celery, and every morning our breakfast was made with this herb, with ground wheat and portable soup.
“We passed Cape Horn, all our men as free from scurvy as on our sailing from Plymouth.
“Three slight cases of scorbutic disorders occurred before arriving at Otaheite. Wort was given, with apparently good effect, and the symptoms disappeared.
“No other cases occurred during the voyage, but the wort was served out at sea as a regular article of diet.”
To this it may be added, that no opportunity was, as appears by the Journal, ever lost of getting wild celery and any other wild herb that presented itself.
The personal washing is mentioned by Mr. Perry, and the tradition in the Navy is, that the men’s deck was more constantly scrubbed than had then been usual; in fact, that unusual attention was paid to cleanliness. Stoves were used to dry the decks below even in hot weather.
As this voyage forms the subject of this book, its events may be passed over briefly.
Calling at Madeira — where the log records that the Endeavour was fired upon by the fort on the Loo Rock through some misapprehension while shifting berth, though Cook passes this by in silence — and Rio Janeiro, Cook proceeded to double Cape Horn. His predecessors had struggled through the Strait of Magellan, losing much time and wearing out their men with the continual anchoring and weighing in that long and narrow passage, rendered necessary by the constant foul and strong winds that prevail. The idea was to avoid the heavy seas and gales of the open sea; but Cook’s action was amply justified by a more rapid passage without any danger. Discovering several of the low coral atolls of the Paumotu Group, he arrived at Tahiti on April 13th, 1769.
On July 13th, the transit of Venus having been observed under favourable conditions on June 1st, he left Tahiti, exploring and mapping the Society Islands immediately to the westward, never before visited, and then stood to the southward. It may here be mentioned that it is only during the last decade that Cook’s charts of the Society Group have been superseded by more elaborate surveys by the French.
Cook went to 40 degrees south, discovering one of the Austral Group on his way, when, finding no sign of the hypothetical southern Continent, and getting into very dirty weather, he first gained a more northern latitude and favourable winds, and then stood for New Zealand.
On October 7th he arrived at Poverty Bay, and during the next six months he completely circumnavigated and mapped the islands of New Zealand. He had received on board at Tahiti a native, one Tupia, formerly the high priest, and a man of much intelligence. Tupia proved to be of the utmost service, as, to their astonishment and delight, they found that the languages were sufficiently identical to enable him to act as a most efficient interpreter; which made it possible to obtain information, and establish relations with the New Zealanders which they could never have succeeded in doing without him.
Cook now, after consideration, determined to explore the unknown east coast of New Holland. The health of his ship’s company, and the good order on board, permitted him to make this good use of his time, instead of hurrying on to a civilised port, as all his forerunners had had to do.
He struck Australia at its south-east point, and followed the whole coast to the northward, mapping it as he went.
When nearing the northern end the voyage nearly came to a premature conclusion by the ship grounding on a coral reef, twenty miles from the land. Cook’s seamanship was, however, equal to the occasion. The ship was got off, much damaged and leaking severely, and carried into a little port they discovered not far off. Here she was cleared out and laid upon the ground, the tide sufficing to dry enough of her bottom to let the carpenters repair it.
The wisdom of Cook’s choice of a ship of the build of the Endeavour was here very apparent. It was not every ship that could be safely beached in this way without danger of falling over. After long delay she proceeded on her voyage, and soon had a second narrow escape. The long line of coral reefs that front the northern part of Eastern Australia, for a distance of 1200 miles, approach the coast about the place where the ship had grounded. The passage between the outer reef and the land is strewn with shoals, and finding his further progress much impeded by them, and fearful of a repetition of his disaster, Cook with some difficulty found a channel to seaward, and gained the open ocean. He was, however, yet determined to follow the land he was exploring, and more especially to solve the great question as to whether Australia was joined to New Guinea or no; and three days after his escape from the line of reefs he found himself with a light wind, embayed on the outer side of them, with the reefs close to him, and the ship drifting slowly but surely on them, the heavy swell of the great ocean breaking mountains high on their outer edge.
Here again calmness and promptitude saved him, and the ship was pushed through a narrow channel in these terrible reefs into the smooth, though reef-dotted, waters within. No event in the voyage is more dramatically narrated, though without any exaggeration, than this hair-breadth escape.
With the caution born of recent dangers, Cook now slowly found his way through the maze of reefs, by a route that no one has again followed, to the northern point of Australia, and was rewarded for his pertinacity by finding the channel now known as Torres Strait, which led him between New Guinea and Australia.
Thus far Cook’s enthusiasm in adventure and desire to explore had been fully shared by his companions; but it is apparent that at this point they fell short of his high standard. Cook, having secured his direct passage to Batavia, and having still a little provision left, was anxious to do still more in the way of discovery, and stood over to the little-known New Guinea shore. It is evident, however, from Cook’s expressions, though he does not complain, that his people were pining for fresh food and civilisation. Australia had produced them little but occasional fish and a few turtle. The salt provisions of those days were most unpalatable, and the effect of their continued hard work and inadequate food for so long, for they were now over two years from England, with no communication of any kind with the outer world, were telling on them, though they were still free from scurvy.
Cook, therefore, after landing once in New Guinea, unwillingly turned his ship’s head towards Batavia.
The complaints grew louder as he passed by Timor without attempting to communicate, and falling in with the island of Savu, he yielded to importunity, and touched there to get refreshments.
Thence he went by the south shore of the chain of islands to Sunda Strait and Batavia.
So far all had gone well. It was undoubtedly far the most successful voyage ever made. Much had been done — more than his orders directed — to explore unknown lands, and the dire enemy of seamen, scurvy, had been conquered.
But his luck was not to last.
It was absolutely necessary to remain some time at Batavia, while the roughly repaired damage to the ship was made good in the Dutch dockyard.
Two months and a half in the sickly climate of Batavia, during a bad time of the year, wrought a sad change in his ship’s company. The port they so much desired proved but the door of the grave to many of them, and Cook sailed for England on December 27th, 1770, with dysentery pervading the ship. The surgeon had already died of it; so had the poor Tahitian, Tupia, with two seamen, and one of Mr. Banks’ artists.
Worse was, however, to follow. Day by day, as the ship slowly found her way over the Indian Ocean towards the Cape, against the wet and unhealthy north-west monsoon, the sick list grew larger. Man after man succumbed, and before half the distance to Capetown was traversed twenty-two more were carried off. Green, the astronomer, two more of Banks’ staff, two midshipmen, the boatswain and carpenter were among the number. The crew was more than decimated.
The ship touched at the Cape, and war with France being expected, the Endeavour joined the East India convoy, under H.M.S. Portland, at St. Helena. The heavy-sailing, collier-built craft was not, however, when the ships had crossed the line and got upon a wind, able to keep up with them, and she once more found herself alone on her way.
Two more officers, the First Lieutenant, Mr. Hicks, and the Master, Mr. Molineux, died after leaving the Cape, but not of dysentery, and the ship finally reached England on June 12th, 1771.
Ninety-four persons left England in the Endeavour, of whom fifty-four returned. Thirty-eight died on the voyage, out of which number thirty-one died after reaching Batavia, most of them from fever and dysentery contracted at that place.
After paying off in August 1771, the Endeavour was sold in 1775, and for many years sailed as a collier in the North Sea.
This voyage gave a new impetus to discovery, and the immediate thought was to resume it, under this heaven-born leader.
Cook was given little leisure, as it was nearly at once decided to send him out again, and he was appointed to command the Resolution on November 28th, 1771, the interval having been occupied in considering what ships should be employed.
Cook’s experience of the qualities of the Endeavour caused him to uphold the selection of similar vessels, for there were to be two, and the Resolution and Adventure, of 462 and 336 tons respectively, both Whitby built colliers, were bought for the voyage. Cook was promoted to Commander, and Tobias Furnaux, in the Adventure, was placed under his command. It was not, however, until April 1772 that they sailed.
It was originally intended that Banks should again accompany Cook, and with a view to his better accommodation a poop was added to the Resolution. The short trip, however, from Deptford to Sheerness proved to Cook that the ship was dangerously over-weighted, and the poop was removed, with the consequence that Banks did not sail. The alteration delayed final departure until June 22nd from Sheerness, and July 13th from Plymouth.
The naturalists on this voyage were two Forsters, Germans, father and son; and as astronomers Mr. Wales sailed in the Resolution, and Mr. Bayley in the Adventure. Two of Cook’s former companions sailed as Lieutenants: Clerke, who was Lieutenant, and Pickersgill, who was master of the Endeavour when she reached England. This witnesses to the confidence and enthusiasm that Cook inspired amongst those under him. There were also other Endeavours amongst the junior officers.
The main object of the voyage was the settlement of the great question of the southern Continent. Cook was directed to explore the whole region about the South Pole, starting from the Cape of Good Hope, and working eastward. The winter of the southern hemisphere was to be employed as Cook thought fit.
This voyage brought Cook’s qualities as a seaman and commander more prominently to view even than the former. The conditions were very different. Instead of mapping coasts and islands, the principal duty was exploration of tempestuous seas in high latitudes, amongst ice, searching in vain for the illusive southern land.
Cook carried it out thoroughly. No gales, no temperatures deterred him from searching wherever the ships would safely sail, and it was only ice in dense masses that turned him back.
What his people thought of it we do not know, but the Forsters have given a piteous account of the privations and hardships of an exploration that gave them little chance of exercising their special knowledge.
Cook was better provided with instruments for the determination of longitude than before, and the ships carried four chronometric timekeepers; but the proper method of making use of them was scarcely yet realised, and the course of his voyage did not permit them to be of much service.
Mindful of his former success in combating scurvy, and making use of his experience, Cook carried with him all his former anti-scorbutics, and redoubled his general precautions as to cleanliness, both of person and ship. The result was complete immunity from more than symptoms of scurvy. He was able to say, when he returned, that no man had died not only of this disease, but of any other, due to the exposures of the voyage. Three lost by accidents, and one from a complaint contracted before leaving England, were the sole losses on a voyage lasting three years, and during which the exposure to heat, cold, rain, and all the hardships of a sea life was probably never surpassed.
Leaving the Cape on November 22nd, Cook stood at once to the southward, intending to pass over a spot in latitude 54 degrees South, where in 1739 M. Bouvet sighted land that was generally supposed to be a part of the Southern Continent, and which he had been especially directed to examine. Gales, however, drove him from his course, and to this day Bouvet’s Islands (for Cook proved they could be nothing else) are doubtfully shown upon charts.* Cook soon got into the ice, and fought with it and gales of wind, in snow and sleet and fog, working gradually eastwards from the longitude of the Cape for four months. The ship penetrated to 67 degrees South at one point, and kept as high a latitude as ice permitted everywhere, but without discovering any land. Cook found to his great joy that the ice yielded good fresh water, and replenished his water casks in this manner, without any fear of falling short. With all his power of communicating his enthusiasm to others, it may be doubted if they shared his pleasure at finding that the search in these inclement regions need not be curtailed from lack of this necessary.
(* They were again reported in 1825 by the Sprightly, an English whaler, but Sir James Ross searched for them in 1840 without success.)
At last, in the longitude of Tasmania, Cook hauled to the northward, and headed for New Zealand, where, after sailing over eleven thousand miles since leaving the Cape without once sighting land, he anchored in Dusky Bay on March 26th, 1774, with the Resolution only, the Adventure having parted company in thick weather on February 9th. Moving on to Queen Charlotte’s Sound, his old anchorage at the north end of Middle Island, he found the Adventure there on May 18th. Captain Furneaux had, after vainly searching for his consort, run for Tasmania, and explored the east coast. He did not, however, clear up the point for which he states he visited this coast, namely, whether it joined New Holland or not, as strong winds from the eastward made him fearful of closing what he thought was a deep bay, though really the Strait, and he sailed for the rendezvous in New Zealand under the impression that Tasmania and Australia were one.
The ships left New Zealand on June 7th, 1773, and, after making a wide circuit to the south and east in search of land, arrived at Tahiti on August 16th. A good many of the Adventure’s people were ill with scurvy, and Cook is much puzzled to know the reason why they were attacked while his own crew were free. He puts it down to the greater trouble he had taken to make all his men use wild celery and other herbs in New Zealand, and no doubt this had its effect; but one cannot but suspect that the constant care on his part to keep the ship clean and sweet below had much to do with it. The Adventure had the same anti-scorbutics, and Cook especially mentions that they were in use; but the personal efforts of the captain in the direction of general sanitary precautions were, we know, exercised in one case, while we know nothing of the other.
After a month’s stay at Tahiti and the Society Islands, where the crews were much benefited by fresh provisions, the ships sailed for the Friendly Islands, never visited since Tasrnan’s time, and touched at Eoa and Tongatabu, or, as Tasman had called them, Middleburg and Amsterdam. These were finally left on October 7th for New Zealand, which was made on the 21st, and from this day to November 2nd the time was spent in fruitless endeavours to get into Cook’s Strait. Gale succeeded gale — no uncommon thing here — and in one of them the Adventure parted company never again to rejoin. Cook anchored in Queen Charlotte’s Sound on November 2nd, and waited until the 25th for his consort in vain. Whilst here they gained further and indisputable proof of the cannibalistic tendencies of the Maoris, some of the natives eating human flesh before them. Cook has been much blamed for permitting this scene, which took place on board; but there had been so much disputing in England as to the possibility of the fact, that he could not resist the opportunity of putting it beyond a doubt.
It was, however, to be shortly proved in a much more horrible manner, for the Adventure, which only arrived at Queen Charlotte’s Sound after the Resolution left, had a boat’s crew attacked, overpowered, and eaten by the natives. The circumstances were never wholly known, as not a man escaped; but the cooked remains were found, the natives decamping as the search-party approached.
Cook sailed south on November 25th, 1773, and was soon again battling with the ice, into which he pushed as far as was safe with as much hardihood as if he had still had the second ship with him. He gained the latitude of 67 degrees south, and worked eastward, searching religiously for land — which, needless to say, he never found — his ropes frozen, and sails like, as he says, plates of metal. Whatever the feelings of others on board were, Cook never flinched from every effort to get south, penetrating in one place to 71 degrees south, where he was stopped by dense pack, until he found himself nearly in the longitude of Tierra del Fuego, when, satisfied that no Southern Continent existed in the Pacific, he, on February 6th, steered north, to continue exploration in more genial weather and more profitable latitudes. All this time there was no scurvy, and very little sickness of any kind; an indisputable proof of the untiring supervision Cook exercised over the health of his men. The object of his voyage, so far as the Southern Pacific was concerned, was now accomplished, and Cook might have rounded Cape Horn, and made for the Cape of Good Hope, completing his tour of the world in southern latitudes; but such was not his idea of his duty. His own nervous words will explain his feelings best:—
“We undoubtedly might have reached the Cape of Good Hope in April, and so have put an end to the expedition so far as related to the finding of a continent, which indeed was the first object of the voyage; but for me at this time to have quitted this Southern Pacific Ocean with a good ship expressly sent out on discoveries, a healthy crew, and not in want either of stores or provisions, would have betrayed not only a want of perseverance, but of judgment, in supposing the South Pacific Ocean to be so well explored that nothing remained to be done in it. This, however, was not my opinion; for, although I had proved there was no continent but what must lie far to the south, there remained, nevertheless, room for very large islands in places wholly unexamined, and many of those which were formerly discovered are but imperfectly explored, and their situation as imperfectly known. I was, besides, of opinion that my remaining in this sea some time longer would be productive of improvements in navigation and geography, as well as other sciences.”
Cook mentions that, on communicating his intentions to his officers, they all heartily concurred; and he adds, “Under such circumstances it is hardly necessary to say that the seamen were always obedient and alert, and they were so far from wishing the voyage at an end that they rejoiced at the prospect of its being prolonged another year.” This, be it remembered, without a prospect of news from home or contact with civilisation, for Cook’s design was to pass again through the breadth of the Pacific searching for islands as far as Quiros’ discovery of Espiritu Santo, which lay due north of New Zealand, and then to return through the tempestuous regions they were now quitting to Cape Horn. Perhaps the charms of Tahiti reconciled them.
This design Cook triumphantly carried out; though shortly after leaving southern latitudes he was so ill of what he describes as a bilious cholic, that his life was despaired of. He first searched for, and visited, Davis’ discovery of Easter Island, where he examined and described the wonderful colossal, though rude, statues there found. He then went to the Marquesas, a group but little known, where, after the usual attempt of the natives to appropriate sundry articles, and the consequent necessity of firing upon them, peaceful relations were established, and a brisk trade in much-wanted refreshments was set up. This did not last long, however, as the market was spoiled by some red feathers, obtained at the Friendly Islands, being given for a pig; after which nothing would buy provisions but these same red feathers, and these being scarce, trade ceased. Cook therefore sailed once more for Tahiti.
On his way he touched at some of the coral atolls of the innumerable Paumotu Group, and arrived at Matavai on April 22nd, again with not a sick man on board.
Three weeks were spent here with much satisfaction to all. Provisions were in plenty, the king and people very friendly, and all went well. The islanders were preparing for an attack on Eimeo, a neighbouring island, and a gathering of the fleets gave Cook an opportunity of learning much of their naval power and manner of conducting war. He observed that the general prosperity of Tahiti seemed to be at a much higher point than on his former visit.
After another three weeks’ stay at Huaheine, and Ulietea, also amongst old friends, the Resolution sailed on June 4th to the west.
Discovering Palmerston and Savage Islands on the way, she called at Namuka, one of the Friendly Group, thus extending the knowledge of those islands gained the year before. Thence Cook sailed west, discovering Turtle Island, but just passing out of sight to the southward of the large Fiji Group, and thus lost the chance of adding them to his other finds.
He was now bound for the New Hebrides, of which the northern island had been discovered by Quiros. Bougainville, the French explorer, had, in 1768, passed just south of Quiros’ Island, and named one or two others he sighted, but had made no stay, and knew nothing of the extent of the Group.
This was not Cook’s fashion. He explored and circumnavigated the whole Group, which extends in a long line for three hundred and fifty miles. He touched first at Mallicolo, where, after a temporary disagreement, friendship was formed. Passing Sandwich Island, Erromanga was landed upon; but the suspicion of the natives here impelled them to attack the boats, and no intercourse was established.
The ship then anchored in the convenient harbour of Resolution Bay in the island of Tanna, and remained a fortnight, wooding and watering. Observations on the hot springs that gush from the side of the volcano bordering the harbour were made, and the relations with the natives were altogether friendly. Sighting Anityeum, the southern member of the New Hebrides, and making sure there was nothing beyond it, Cook returned along the west side of the islands, passing eastward of them again, between Mallicolo and Espiritu Santo. The latter island was closely followed round its whole extent, and Quiros’ Bay of St. Philip and St. James identified in the great inlet in the northern side. Having laid down the whole of this extensive group of islands, and very accurately fixed the longitude by many lunar observations, Cook, on August 31st, sailed to the westward to search for more lands.
His chart of the New Hebrides is still, for some of the islands, the only one; and wherever superseded by more recent surveys the general accuracy of his work, both in outline and position, is very remarkable. On several occasions up to the present year (1893) Cook’s recorded positions have saved the adoption of so-called amendments reported by passing ships, which would have been anything but amendments in reality.
Four days after leaving the New Hebrides Cook discovered New Caledonia. He explored the whole of the eastern side of this large island, which is three hundred miles in length, anchoring in one harbour inside the reefs which border it, and making friends with the natives. Other attempts to get inside the reefs were, however, unsuccessful, and after several narrow escapes from shipwreck Cook gave up, to his regret, a complete circumnavigation of the island. The summer approaching, he wished to refit and recruit in New Zealand before once more standing south.
Norfolk Island was discovered and landed upon on the way, and Queen Charlotte’s Sound was once more reached on October 19th.
The Adventure’s visit was ascertained from the Maoris, but Cook was much puzzled by incompletely understood accounts of white men having been killed. As far as could be gathered a ship had been lost on the coast, and Cook was led to believe that this disaster had no reference to the Adventure.
It was found that pigs and fowls left here on the former visit were still in existence, and presumably thriving. It may here be mentioned, that wherever Cook touched he invariably, so far as his stock allowed, left animals to stock the country, and that New Zealand was, when the settlers eventually came, found to be well supplied with pigs.
After a stay of three weeks the Resolution sailed, on November 10th, for Cape Horn. She kept farther north than on the last occasion, the object being to pass over new ground, and more completely disprove the existence of any land.
The western part of Tierra del Fuego being reached, Cook followed the shore to the south-east, mapping the outside of this dangerous and inhospitable archipelago. On December 20th he put in to what he afterwards called Christmas Sound, where large numbers of kelp geese were obtained, giving the crew what Cook describes as a dainty Christmas feast, though the flesh of these birds is as tough, fishy, and unpalatable as can well be imagined; on this occasion, however, the seamen seemed to have concurred in the verdict of their omnivorous commander, to whom nothing ever came amiss. Be it remembered, however, how long they had been on salt provisions, and that the South Sea Islands, though pleasant in many respects, produced but little solid food — no beef, mutton, or flesh of any quadruped but pigs, and those in not very great plenty — while New Zealand gave them nothing but fish.
Rounding Cape Horn, he passed through the Strait Le Maire, and followed the north shore of Staten Island, anchoring at one place to obtain seals and birds.
Whilst praising the flavour of a young seal cub, Cook is compelled to admit that the flesh of an old sea lion is abominable; a remarkable statement as coming from him.
Leaving Staten Island, Cook steered east and discovered South Georgia, named after the king. He followed the north coast of this desolate and ice-clad island, obtaining more refreshment in the shape of seals, penguins, and shags — unpalatable, but welcome food to men who had so long subsisted on bad salt meat. From South Georgia the ship’s head was once more turned southwards, and before many days ice was again encountered. In stormy and thick weather the Resolution made her way, disproving the existence of a great tract of land laid down by speculative geographers, until January 31st, 1775, when Sandwich Land was discovered in about latitude 60 degrees south. This ice-covered group of islands was sketched under great difficulties from gales, fogs, snow, and numerous icebergs; and Cook then bore away along their parallel, to seek once more for Bouvet’s Islands to the eastward.
He found nothing, and on February 26th steered for the Cape of Good Hope, even he being glad to leave this trying, tempestuous latitude. On March 23rd he anchored in Table Bay, having learnt from some vessels outside of the safe arrival of the Adventure in England the year before, and of her boat’s crew having been eaten by the Maoris, which cleared up the mystery of the wrecked ship.
The Resolution finally arrived at Spithead on July 29th, 1775, after an absence of three years and eighteen days.
Captain Furneaux had, on leaving New Zealand, sailed straight for Cape Horn, the Cape of Good Hope, and England, arriving just a year before the Resolution.
Cook speaks most warmly of Captain Furneaux; but one cannot help contrasting his action with Cook’s. Left, by the separation, his own master, he might have continued exploration, as did Cook. His ship was staunch, his provisions in much the same condition as the Resolution’s; but he went straight home. His crew had suffered from scurvy, whereas Cook’s had not; but he says not one word of this, nor does he give any reason why he gave up any further thought of the objects of the voyage, except a search for Bouvet’s Islands, which he also looked for on his way.
It was the indomitable perseverance that led Cook to act so differently that raised his reputation so far above all other leaders.
Thus ended this very remarkable voyage. Never was a ship’s crew exposed to more continual hardships, with so little to keep up interest and excitement, as the people of the Resolution; and yet Cook is able to record, with allowable pride, that only four lives had been lost, and only one by a sickness contracted before leaving England.
Once more the scurvy was defeated; and, without a doubt, owing to the intelligent action and untiring supervision of the captain. He gives a full description of the measures adopted, and while giving full acknowledgment to the anti-scorbutics with which he was supplied, he is of opinion that the general sanitary precautions formed the best prevention. Cleanliness of persons, bedding, clothes, and ship, were continually enforced. All these were foreign to the sailors of the time, and extraordinary it is that it was a man born in the lower rank of life, and brought up in a collier, who had the sense to perceive that in these lay the surest preventatives against this paralysing scourge.
Cook was promoted to captain — a proud position for the collier boy — and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society; perhaps even a greater distinction for a man of his bringing up. He contributed papers on his methods of preventing scurvy, and on the tides of the Pacific.
He also employed himself in publishing the account of his recent voyage, the only one which he himself edited.
He was not, however, long at rest. The Admiralty wished to send an expedition to explore the north-western coasts of North America, and to examine the Polar Sea from the Bering Straits side, with a view of the discovery of a north-west passage. Cook seems to have volunteered for the command without being actually asked, and, needless to say, was at once accepted.
In February he once more received his commission to command the Resolution, this time accompanied by the Discovery, a vessel very similar to the Adventure, his consort during the last voyage. Clerke, a master’s mate in the Endeavour, and second lieutenant in the Resolution, was appointed as commander to the Discovery. He, like Cook, was fated not to return from this third journey to the great Pacific.
Others who had sailed with Cook before were ready to accompany him, once more to encounter privations and find new lands.
Cook’s orders were long and detailed, but were to the effect that he was to proceed by way of the Cape of Good Hope to search in the Indian Ocean for the land recently seen by M. Kerguelen; thence via Tahiti, on to the coast of North America in about latitude 45 degrees, which he was to follow to latitude 65 degrees, searching especially for any channel which might lead to the north-east, as it was supposed there might be a passage communicating with Hudson’s Bay. He was further to look for any passage north of North America to the Atlantic, and to make such other explorations as might seem fit to him. A money reward of 20,000 pounds was also offered in case of success in finding such a passage.
Chronometers were again carried, and more confidence in them being felt, more use was made of them.
Cook took with him Omai, a young Society islander, who had induced Captain Furneaux to take him to England, and whom Cook now engaged to return to his native country.
The ships sailed on July 11th, 1776, and arrived at Table Bay on October 18th.
Sailing thence on November 30th, he passed and roughly mapped Prince Edward’s, Marion, and Croset’s Islands, all of which had been discovered by Marion de Fresne. He then struck Kerguelen’s Land, spent Christmas Day in one of its harbours, and mapped the eastern side of this large but desolate island. He was unaware that Kerguelen had visited this island a second time, and had gained much more information about it than he did in his first voyage.
Cook had taken on board at the Cape as many cattle, horses, bulls, cows, goats, and sheep as he could stow, with a view of landing them at Tahiti or elsewhere, and it is without surprise that we learn that after several weeks in these stormy seas a good many of them had died. When we consider the size of the ships the wonder is where they found room for these animals.
On January 26th the ships arrived in Tasmania, and anchored in Adventure Bay, principally with a view of getting fodder for the remaining cattle. Pigs were left here, according to Cook’s usual custom.
After four days the ships sailed, and arrived in Queen Charlotte’s Sound, New Zealand, on February 12th, 1777. Here Cook learnt the history of the attack on the Adventure’s boat’s crew from the chief who led it, but made no attempt at reprisals, although urged by many other natives to kill him. He seems to have been guided by the consideration that, as related by the natives, it was a dishonest act of barter on the part of one of the sailors which commenced the disturbance; and that occurring so long before, no good purpose would be served by punishment. It says much for his humane treatment of natives.
On leaving this, Cook records that he had at different times left about a dozen pigs in New Zealand. These increased, and stocked the whole island by the time the English settlers arrived.
On the way to Tahiti Cook fell across several islands belonging to what was afterwards called after him, the Cook Group. He visited Mangaia, Atiu, Takutea,* and the Hervey Islands. Relations were established with the natives, and Cook was much interested at finding on Atiu three natives of the Society Islands, the survivors of twelve, who had been blown away in a canoe, and landed on this island, five hundred miles distant. As he remarks, this throws great light on the manner in which the different islands of the Pacific have been peopled.
(* Spelt by Cook Mangeea, Wateeo, and Otakootaia.)
Cook now made up his mind that he was too late to prosecute discovery this year on the American Continent, it being well into April, and being anxious to save the remaining cattle that he wished to land at Tahiti, and which had been taken on board especially for this purpose, the island being still far to windward, he bore away for the Friendly Islands for fodder and refreshments. He landed on Palmerston on the way — an island discovered last voyage — and arrived at Namuka* on May 1st, with not a sick man in the ships.
(* Cook’s Anamooka.)
The ships remained in the Friendly Group for two months and a half, visiting and mapping the different islands, and learning much of the manners of this interesting race, seeing their great concerted dances, and the ceremonies of coming of age of the heir to the throne. Cook here first became acquainted with the mysterious rite of Tabu, which was closely connected with his own death. A selection of useful animals, including horses, were left at Tongatabu.
While at the Friendly Islands Cook heard of the Fiji Group, and saw some of the natives, who had come over in a canoe. The intelligence he was able to gather concerning them was imperfect, and he saw no reason to justify a long detour to leeward to search for them, when his object was to stock the Society Islands with the animals he had. Had he known their size and importance, his course might possibly have been different. As it was, he sailed for Tahiti, and discovering Tubuai, one of the Austral Group, on his passage, arrived there on August 13th, 1777.
Six weeks were spent here, and the old friendships further cemented. Bulls and cows and other animals were presented to the king. Cook also attended at several ceremonies consequent on war being declared against Eimeo, which included the offering of the dead body of a man, previously killed for the purpose, to the war god. He positively refused to aid in this war, which very shortly came to an end.
Eimeo was next visited, and here the theft of a goat, which Cook intended to land at Huaheine, induced him to take severe measures to get it back. Several war canoes and houses were destroyed before it was returned. At Huaheine, Omai was established, with many valuable European articles in his possession. Here again Cook acted with considerable severity in the case of a thief cutting off his ears, and confining him on board. His action has been questioned, but considering his humane character, and the judgment that he always displayed in these questions, we are justified in believing that he had good reason for departing from his ordinary custom of mild treatment of natives. At Ulietea, or Raiatea, next visited, a midshipman and a seaman of the Discovery deserted. Cook took his usual step of confining some natives of importance, and informing their relatives that they would be retained until the deserters were returned. In this case he impounded the king’s son and daughter, with the desired effect, as the stragglers were soon brought back from Bolabola, whither they had gone; but both Cook and Captain Clerke were nearly captured by the natives when on shore in the interval.
It is only surprising that more of Cook’s people did not attempt to remain in these pleasant islands. The hardships of the sea press much on certain natures, and the allurements of the easy and careless life of a tropical island offered such a contrast, that it scarcely required the desire of the natives to get white men with their superior knowledge, and above all superior arms, to remain with them, to induce them to desert. This last, however, made desertion more easy, and had not Cook taken strong measures, no doubt the epidemic would have spread.
After visiting Bolabola, Cook sailed north, to prosecute the main object of his voyage, the exploration of the north-west coast of America. On December 24th he fell in with Christmas Island, which he so named from the season. After mapping it, and getting many turtle, he continued his course to the north, and discovered Atooi or Kauai, the western island of the Sandwich Group.
Communicating with this island and another, he finally left on February 3rd, 1778, and on March 7th made the coast of North America, a little south of the Columbia River. Gales ensued, and Cook missed the entrance of Juan de Fuca Strait, making the land again a little north of it.
Anchoring first in Nootka Sound in Vancouver Island — though Cook did not know it was an island — the ships continued their exploration to the north-west, skirting the coast as near as stormy weather permitted them, and calling at various places until the north-west extremity of the Alaska Peninsula was reached. In one place, afterwards called Cook’s River, it was hoped that the desired passage eastward was found; but it was soon discovered that it was merely an inlet.
Passing through the Aleutian Chain, east of Unalaska, Cook visited that island, and continued his voyage through the Bering Sea, clinging to the land as much as possible, and finally got into Bering Strait. Here he had both continents in sight, and communicated with both sides.
Standing further north, he, in latitude 70 degrees 30 minutes north, came across the icy barrier of the Arctic Sea. After vainly trying for a passage in fog and strong wind, surrounded by loose ice, and after mapping a good deal of the shores on both sides, the ships again turned south at the end of August, exploring as they went first on the Asiatic side, and afterwards on the American, especially examining Norton Sound. In the beginning of October they once more arrived at Unalaska, and the Resolution having sprung a dangerous leak, the opportunity was taken to stop it.
On October 26th the ships sailed for the Sandwich Islands, where Cook had determined to winter, for the double purpose of refreshing his crew, gaining more knowledge of the Group, and being in a convenient position for resuming his exploration in the spring.
The voyage just accomplished was very remarkable, whether for the amount of coast mapped, which extended for between three and four thousand miles, or for the determination with which it was prosecuted in tempestuous and thick weather, on a most dangerous and inhospitable coast, part of the time in ice. The crews were perfectly healthy, with no sign of scurvy, and he brought both his ships off without any damage.
Maui, another of the Sandwich Group, was made on November 26th, and after communicating, the ships stood over to Owhyhee (Hawaii). Wind was against them, and it was not until January 17th that the two ships, having passed along the north side of the island to the eastward, at last anchored in Kealakekua Bay, on the south-west side.
The events which followed the arrival of the ships at Hawaii, which terminated in Captain Cook’s death, were not understood at the time, but have been elucidated by the inquiries of the early missionaries, which throw much light upon the beliefs of the islanders.
It appears that a tradition existed that a chief of earlier times, one Rono, Orono, or Lono (the R and the L in the Pacific languages are almost interchangeable), had, after killing his wife, become frantically insane, and after travelling through the islands boxing and wrestling with all he met, had departed in a canoe, prophesying that he would some day return in an island with trees, hogs, and dogs. He was deified, and temples erected in his honour.
When Cook’s ships arrived it was believed that the prophecy was fulfilled. Rono had returned as he had said, and the natives flocked to do him honour. When Cook landed he was received with adoration, the crowds prostrating themselves, and the priests escorting him with much ceremony. Led to a temple, he was clothed with red cloth, had pigs offered to him, and was generally treated in a manner which, though satisfactory as showing the friendly feelings of the natives, was puzzling to the Europeans. This continued throughout their stay, presents of all kinds being showered upon them. The officers, however, observed that the warrior chiefs were not so enthusiastic as the priests and common people. The death of a seaman, who was buried on shore in the presence of a large concourse, would seem to have been the first circumstance that threw doubts upon the godlike character of the visitors; but the ready way in which the fence of a Morai or sacred inclosure, which included various images, was granted for fuel, shows that the priests still held to their idea. The king, Taraiopu (or Terreooboo, as his name was written by Captain King), arrived shortly after the ships anchored, and showed himself to be as much impressed with the public belief as any of his subjects.
Thus matters continued during the eighteen days the ships remained; but towards the end of this time the natives began to show anxiety that they should be gone. The drain of hogs and other provisions, which were poured upon the visitors, doubtless led to anxious thoughts as to how long this was to last; and probably those members of the community who were less amenable to the influence of the priests, and were jealous of their own authority, were by no means so certain that the popular opinion of the supernatural nature of the white men was correct.
The ships sailed on February 4th, but, as ill-luck had it, the Resolution sprung her foremast in a gale, and Cook resolved to return to Kealakekua Bay for repairs. Here they again anchored on the 11th.
Their reception was, however, very different.
No crowd of canoes round the ship; no enthusiastic mass of natives on shore. Everything was silence.
What had happened was that the king had departed, leaving the bay under “tabu,” i.e., a sacred interdict.
The priests, however, received them with as much friendliness as before, and the Morai was given up to them as a place of repairs for the damaged mast.
The king hurried back on hearing of the return of the ships, and removed the tabu; but the native disposition was changed. Some of the party on shore had persuaded women to break the tabu.
Whether this affected relations is uncertain, but the inhabitants generally exhibited considerable hostility, and headed by some chiefs, showed an inclination to attack a watering party. Thefts followed, and the capture of a canoe as a reprisal caused a scuffle on the beach, in which the Englishmen were worsted by the crowd, though a friendly chief soon restored order.
Instructions were now given to the party on shore at the Morai to permit no natives to approach in the night, and a musket was fired at one of them who came near.
On the morning of February 14th the Discovery’s cutter was found to have been stolen.
Cook at once decided to have recourse to his usual practice, and get either the king or some principal chief on board, as a hostage till it was returned. He at the same time gave orders to prevent any canoes from leaving the bay, in order that he might, if necessary, seize them, and sent his boats to carry this out. Guns were fired from the ships at two large canoes that attempted to pass. Cook himself landed with a small armed force, and went in search of the king, who at once consented to come on board. The conduct of Taraiopu throughout showed that he had perfect confidence in Cook, and was entirely friendly, whether he still believed in the Rono theory or not.
While walking down to the boat, the natives, who were momentarily increasing in numbers, implored the king not to go. His wife joined her entreaties. Taraiopu hesitated. At this moment a man ran up and cried, “It is war; they have killed a chief!” One of the guard boats had, in fact, fired at a canoe attempting to leave the bay, and killed a man. The natives at once ran to arms, and Cook, seeing his intentions frustrated, walked towards the boat. A native attacked him with a spear, and Cook shot him with his gun. Still, no further attack was made, but the men in the boats hearing Cook’s shot, and seeing the excited crowd, commenced to fire without orders. Cook still moved to the shore, calling to his men to cease firing; but whilst so doing, and with his back to the exasperated natives, he was stabbed in the back with a dagger, and fell with his face in the water.
There was then general confusion. The boats were a little way from the beach, and several of the marines were also killed, before they could reach them. Cook’s body was at once dragged off by the natives.
The boats returned on board amid general consternation, and it is mentioned that a general silence reigned on board when it was known that their beloved commander had fallen.
The party at the Morai were shortly after attacked, but beat off the assailants, and reinforcements were sent from the ships. Lieutenant King, a favourite officer of Cook’s, behaved with great discretion, and assisted by some of the priests, made a truce, during which the mast and other articles on shore for repairs were got off.
The sailors were mad for reprisals, but Captain Clerke, on whom the command devolved, decided on pacific measures, and every attempt was made to recover Cook’s body. All that was obtained, however, were some of his bones, which were brought down with much solemnity by a chief, and delivered wrapped up in new cloth and red feathers.
It was known in after years that Cook’s body had been instantly cut up; the flesh was burnt, as was the custom with great chiefs and many of the bones were preserved with great honour in a Morai dedicated to Rono.
It seems clear that Cook’s death was due to a revulsion of feeling on the part of some of the natives, who no longer believed in his divine character, but that many regarded the outrage with horror. When the first Europeans came to reside on the island, and learnt the story from the native side, they found universal regret prevailing at this untoward occurrence.
Cook left officers imbued with his own noble sentiments. No general attack was made in revenge for what they saw was the result of misunderstanding, although they were ignorant of the exact circumstances which led, first to the uncommon and extraordinary veneration with which he had been treated, and then to the sudden change in the native behaviour.
It was found necessary to fire on the natives who prevented the watering party from working, and some of the sailors on this duty burnt some houses; but before the ships left, friendly relations were again established, and many natives visited them.
After Cook’s remains had been committed to the sea, the prosecution of the voyage was determined upon, although Captain Clerke was in the last stage of consumption, and as soon as the Resolution’s mast could be repaired, the two vessels once more departed, on February 22nd, 1779.
Cook’s intentions were carried out as if he had still been in command. The remainder of the Sandwich Group was mapped, and the ships proceeded once more to the north. Calling at Petropavlovsk in Avatcha Bay, Kamtchatka, they again passed through Bering Strait, and sought in vain for a passage either to the north-east or north-west, being everywhere baffled by dense masses of ice. Captain Clerke at last abandoned the struggle, and repassed Bering Strait on his way south on August 1st.
On August 22nd Captain Clerke died.
This officer had accompanied Captain Cook in all his voyages, and had also circumnavigated the globe in the Dolphin with Captain Byron before. No man had seen more of the Pacific, and he proved himself, during his short period of command, a worthy successor of Cook.
Captain Gore, who had been with Cook on his First Voyage, now succeeded, King being put as Commander into the Discovery, and the two ships made the best of their way home, via Macao and the Straits of Sunda, arriving at the Nore on October 4th, 1780, after an absence of four years and two months. During the whole of this voyage not the slightest symptom of scurvy appeared in either ship, so completely were Cook’s precautions successful.
Cook had six children. Three died young. Of the others, all boys, the eldest, James, entered the Navy, and lived to be a Commander, when, in 1794, he was drowned. The second, Nathaniel, also in the Navy, was lost in a hurricane in 1780. The third died when at Cambridge. They none of them lived to be married, and no descendant of the great navigator has perpetuated his race.
Of Cook’s private life during his brief intervals at home we know nothing. A man rising from the ranks, and of his reserved character, would have but few friends, when he had such short time to make them in his new sphere. He lived at Mile End when at home, but after his death his widow removed to Clapham, living there for forty years, at first with her cousin, Isaac Smith, who had served with Cook in the Endeavour and Resolution. She died in 1835, at the great age of ninety-three.
Of Cook’s character, none could be a better judge than Captain King, who writes as follows, after describing his death:—
“Thus fell our great and excellent commander. After a life of so much distinguished and successful enterprise, his death, as far as regards himself, cannot be considered premature, since he lived to finish the great work for which he seems to have been designed. How sincerely his loss was felt and lamented, by those who had so long found their general security in his skill and conduct, and every consolation in their hardships in his tenderness and humanity, it is neither necessary nor possible for me to describe. The constitution of his body was robust, inured to labour, and capable of undergoing the severest hardships. His stomach bore without difficulty the coarsest and most ungrateful food. Indeed, temperance with him was scarcely a virtue, so great was the indifference with which he submitted to every kind of self-denial. The qualities of his mind were of the same hardy, vigorous kind with those of his body. His understanding was strong and perspicacious. His judgment in whatever related to the service he was engaged in quick and sure. His designs were bold and manly, and both in the conception and in the mode of execution bore evident marks of a great original genius. His courage was cool and determined, and accompanied by an admirable presence of mind in the moment of danger. His manners were plain and unaffected. His temper might, perhaps, have been justly blamed as subject to haughtiness and passion, had not these been disarmed by a disposition the most benevolent and humane. Those intervals of recreation, which sometimes unavoidably occurred, and were looked for by us with a longing that persons who have experienced the fatigues of service will readily excuse, were submitted to by him with a certain impatience whenever they could not be employed in making further provision for the more effectual prosecution of his designs.”
This is a pretty complete picture, and of a great man; a man who had before him continually his duty, and who had in an eminent degree the capacity to carry it out.
Though, under his determination to do this, he drove his people hard; though he tried them with his irascibility; their conviction of his greatness, their confidence in his leadership and in his justice, led them to love him. He had no sympathy with the ordinary foibles and weaknesses of his men. The charms of Tahiti, the paradise of the sailor, were no charms for him; he hardly notices the attractive ladies of that island; the attractions of the place to him were the abundance of provisions, as a means of fitting his expedition for further exploration and hardship. The strongest proof of his capacity as a commander is the devotion of his officers. Those who know the Navy know how difficult it is for any man who rises from the ranks to be successful in command. But Cook was a gentleman born; he had the intuition of great minds for fitting themselves to every position to which they may rise, and there is never a whisper of disinclination to submit to the rule of the once collier boy, the son of a labourer.
His intelligence is remarkably shown in his greatest triumph, the suppression of scurvy. That it should be left to a man of little education to discern the combination of means by which this enemy of long voyages could be conquered, is the most remarkable thing about this remarkable man. He himself notices the disinclination of the sailor to any new article of food, especially when not particularly palatable; but he soon found the means to induce them to understand that their lives greatly depended upon these rather nasty messes. Sour krout; the unsavoury portable soups of that day; the strange greens that Cook insisted on hunting up at every land he visited, and boiling with their ordinary food; the constant washing between decks; the drying below with stoves, even in the hottest weather; the personal baths; the change of wet clothing; the airing of bedding, were all foreign and repugnant to the notions of the seamen of the day, and it required constant supervision and wise management to enforce the adoption of these odd foods and customs.
It is evident that it is to Cook’s personal action the success was due. Wallis and Byron had anti-scorbutics, but they suffered from scurvy; Furneaux, sailing with Cook in the second voyage, under precisely similar circumstances, suffered from scurvy. It was only in Cook’s ships, and in the Discovery, commanded and officered by men who had sailed with Cook, and seen his methods, that exemption occurred.
Cook did more, incomparably more, than any other navigator to discover new lands. This was only accomplished by dint of hard work; and yet his men suffered less than in any ships, British or foreign, or similar expeditions. Though his tracks were in new and unknown waters, we never hear of starvation; he always manages to have an abundant supply of water.
The completeness and accuracy of his accounts and charts are no less remarkable.
M. de La Perouse, one of the foremost of the great French navigators, told Captain Phillip, the founder of the Colony of New South Wales, that “Cook had left him nothing but to admire.” This was all but literally true; wherever Cook went he finished his work, according to the requirements of navigation of his time. He never sighted a land but he determined its dimensions, its shape, its position, and left true guides for his successors. His charts are still for some parts unsuperseded, and his recorded observations still save us from hasty and incorrect alterations desired by modern navigators.
Well may Englishmen be proud that this greatest of navigators was their countryman.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07