The persons to be conveyed to the Southward were persons ‘intended to be sent thither to observe the Transit of Venus’; and by ‘the Southward’ is to be understood the Southern Hemisphere; and Mr Lane was to take Mr Cook's place in the Grenville because it was intended that Mr Cook should command the vessel fitted out for that purpose. We find ourselves, and Mr Cook, plunged suddenly into the middle of eighteenth-century science, or the post-Newtonian physical branch of it. Cook, we know, as he did not know, was about to begin on a series of immense voyages, which would add enormously to knowledge of the surface of the world. The primary purpose of the voyage now envisaged, however, was at once more limited and larger. It concerned the world not in itself, with all its detail of land and water, but the world in the universe. The method was to be astronomical, to determine not the latitude of a cape on an island in the north-west Atlantic, but the dimensions of the universe. Astronomy had its post-Newtonian triumphs in this century already, in between superficial geography, as it were, and the universe. Newton's theory of the shape of the earth had been confirmed by the observations to measure the arc of a meridian by the French expeditions led by La Condamine to Peru in 1735–43 and Maupertius to Lapland in 1736. French science took the lead in organising the observations with which it was hoped to mark the decade of the sixties: observations which, reaching outwards from the earth, would provide the data necessary for the calculation of the distance between the earth and the sun—which distance, in its turn, would serve as a unit for the measurement of the universe itself, as suggested by Kepler. The method for calculating the distance between the earth and the sun was the method of parallax: that is the method with which Cook, as a surveyor, was familiar, of observing angles with his theodolite at each end of his base line, and working out trigonometrically therefrom the distance to his marker. But now, though the base line might be something like the radius of the earth in length, the marker
—the sun—was so far away that the parallax counted for hardly anything, and an intermediate help—a sort of observational stepping-stone—was needed. This intermediate help or point was provided by the planet Venus.
It was provided—or we may speak in the present tense and say it is provided in human lives but rarely: at those times only when Venus is in a direct line between the earth and sun, and its black shadow as this passes across the face of the sun can be observed and timed. The time taken by such a ‘Transit of Venus’ depends on the rate at which the line joining the observer's eye to Venus sweeps across the face of the sun. If the earth were not rotating, this line would move at the same speed for all observers, but because it does rotate, the observer's end of the line moves at a speed determined by his position on the earth and by the apparent size of the earth as seen from Venus. The different times taken for the transit, as measured by different observers, can with much calculation yield the parallax, and hence the total distance from earth to Venus and earth to sun. The mathematician had also to remember that Venus appears to follow slightly different paths across the sun seen from different places. The thing of absolute importance was the so-rarely to be observed ‘Transit of Venus’ across the face of the sun. Not only were there factors in observation and calculation that had to be allowed for, but the incalculable weather could determine whether the transit would be seen at all.1
The young, brilliant, short-lived Jeremiah Horrocks
had first observed it, in 1639, and the astronomers had realised its potential value for their science; it would occur again on 6 June 1761 and 3 June 1769, and thereafter not till the years 1874 and 1882, and then 2004 and 2012. Edmond Halley, that great man of science, was speaking of the eighteenth-century events when he addressed the Royal Society
in 1716, knowing that he, who was born in 1656, could do nothing but prophesy and exhort: ‘I could wish that many observations of this famous phenomenon might be taken by different persons at separate places, both that we might arrive at a greater degree of certainty by their agreement, and lest any single observer should be deprived, by the intervention of clouds, of a sight which I know not whether any man living in this or the next age will ever see again, and on which depends the certain and adequate solution of a problem the most noble, and at other times not to be attained to. I recommend it therefore again and
again to those curious astronomers who, when I am dead, will have an opportunity of observing these things, that they would remember this, my admonition … and I earnestly wish them all imaginable success.’1
Joseph Nicolas Delisle, one of the elders of a large family of astronomers, mathematicians, geographers and cartographers, was the man who deployed a vast correspondence and organising power, after Halleys death, to ensure that the astronomers of the western world should perform their scientific duty in 1761.2
From the Jesuits of Peking, westwards through Siberia, India, Turkey and Sweden, south to Rodriguez island in the Indian Ocean
, the Cape of Good Hope
and St Helena, across the Atlantic to Newfoundland, from a number of points in Europe and some in Britain, a hundred and twenty observers gazed—French, German, Swedish, English, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Danish, Spanish. There were eminent men among them, the French Pingré at Rodriguez and Chappe d'Auteroche at Tobolsk, the English Bliss at Greenwich and Maskelyne at St Helena. The French took the lead in numbers, even in that desperate time of war, with their empire crashing about them, with thirty-two observers; the English, rapidly becoming masters of the world, came only fourth in the list, with eighteen. The chances of war, travel and cloudy skies baffled some chief observers, who solaced themselves with scientific work of other kinds: in the end, when results were collated, it was undeniable that the observations of 1761, so far as the grand end was concerned, had not been a success. All the more was a supreme effort called for in 1769; and in England the Council of the Royal Society determined that it would not be remiss, that it would make the admonition of Halley sound in the ears of Government. It must have many observers; it must have the
seats of observation widely spread; it must go to the southern as well as to the northern hemisphere; it must go not merely beyond the Arctic Circle but into the Pacific Ocean
Into the Pacific Ocean: but where, in that large expanse, with which geography was so inadequately acquainted?—To some point where, for the six hours' duration of the Transit, the phenomenon would be clearly visible, well above the horizon, and the danger of interference from clouds would be minimal. This was obvious to Dr Thomas Hornsby, the professor of astronomy in the University of Oxford, when in 1765 he reminded the Royal Society of its duty; and he reviewed the discoveries recorded as having been made by Spaniards in earlier centuries. He also cast his thought beyond astronomy, and the Royal Society; he was aware that science needed more support than the Royal Society could give it; he remarked that it would be a worthy ‘object of attention to a commercial nation to make a settlement in the great Pacific Ocean.’1 His was not the only voice, in those early days after the Treaty of Paris, to utter this sentiment. Indeed it was by then a commonplace; and we may note that already in the previous year the first of a series of British vessels, a frigate commanded by Commodore Byron, late of the North American station, had sailed for the Pacific—not certainly to make a settlement but to investigate more than one matter deemed worthy of the attention of a commercial nation. In June 1766 the Council of the Society resolved to send observers to various parts of the world, though the only person mentioned by name was the Jesuit father Boscovich, professor of mathematics at Pavia, who might go to California. Then the president of the Society, the Earl of Morton, sounded the Admiralty, suggesting that naval officers who might find themselves in the southern hemisphere at the right time should be directed to take observations and make remarks; to which the Admiralty agreed.2
There the thing rested, so far as formal discussion was concerned, until November 1767, when the Council of the Society, perhaps beginning to feel some urgency, set up a Transit Committee. This committee decided that observers should be sent to Fort Churchill in Hudson Bay, to the North Cape, and to the South Seas. It suggested names. The last of these names was that of Mr Dalrymple: ‘a proper person to send to the South Seas, having a particular Turn for Discoveries, and being an able Navigator, and well skilled in Observation.’3
Government should be applied to for a ship. When the
Council met on 3 December, the Astronomer Royal, the Rev. Nevil Maskelyne
, confirmed his definition of the best possible station for observing: it would lie in an area between the latitudes of 5° and 35° S, and longitudes 172° E to 124° W in the north, and 139° W to 172° W in the south, a sort of trapezium. Within those limits, according to the history of voyages, were to be found the islands called the Marquesas, in the north-east, and those called Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the west. The former group would be preferable, as it was known to have a good harbour. Other persons made other suggestions, some of them extremely vague—such as that of Dr Bevis, who favoured the first island fit for the purpose in ‘the tropick’ west of 120° or 130° of longitude west of London. There was also the proposal that Captain Campbell, ‘if he pleases to go … or some such lover of Astronomy (a Captain of a man of war) would be a proper Person to command the Ship.’ Captain John Campbell
, a member of the Transit Committee, a first-rate sailor with origins like Cook's in the coal-trade, an able scientist who had developed the sextant from the quadrant, would have been a proper person; but it appears he did not choose to go. Maskelyne was interviewing the possible observers. On 18 December some of them appeared before the Council to state their terms, and obviously the Council thought some of the terms extravagant. Mr Dymond would go to the northward for £250 per annum and expenses; Mr Dunn would go north at a guinea a day, and south at £400 per annum and expenses; Mr Green would go to the south at £300 per annum and expenses; Mr Wales specified a warm climate, £300 per annum and expenses (he went to Hudson Bay).1
Mr Dalrymple had a different proposition. He had written to the Society's secretary, Dr Morton, already to signify his pleasure at ‘the favourable Intentions of the Council of the Royal Society.’ He said more: ‘Wherever I am in June 1769 I shall most certainly not let slip an opportunity of making an Observation so Important to Science as that of the Transit of Venus—I believe the Royal Society's Intentions make it unnecessary for me to say that there is but one part of the World, where I can engage to make the Observations.’ He added, perhaps in view of the mention of Captain Campbell or some other naval man to command the ship, ‘However it may be necessary to observe that I can have no thought of undertaking the Voyage as a Passenger going out to make the Observations, or on any other footing than that of having the management of the Ship intended for the Service.’2
The Council of the Royal
Society was quite prepared to accept this condition—no discussion or dissenting voice is recorded—and for the next three and a half months assumed, as Dalrymple himself assumed, that he would command the expedition to the South Seas. It is therefore necessary to scrutinise this remarkable person a little more closely.
No contemporary would deny that Alexander Dalrymple
was a passionate man. Few would deny his ability, his knowledge, his enthusiasm, assiduity, vanity. One can see, it is true, a certain lack of balance about many of the arguments of which so much of his life consisted; not the least of his talents was a talent for jumping to conclusions. He talked some sound sense, he did a number of valuable things. Yet he could also cast speculation or unwise belief into terms of the most vehement and wide-ranging dogma, and was pursued by a profound fatality that took his utterances even when they were most vehement and wide-ranging and proved them nonsense. Succeeding generations therefore have tended to accentuate his weaknesses rather than his virtues, his failures rather than his strength. The most practical of sailors owed a debt to Dalrymple the hydrographer and cartographer; scholars of discovery leant hard on his historical work. But, it must be admitted, he could be very foolish. He was born in 1737, a younger son in a large Scots family.1
His eldest brother was to attain a more conventional, though undoubted, eminence as the jurist Lord Hailes. Alexander, with a minimum of education, was sent out in 1752 to Madras, to the employ of the East India Company, in which he showed his quality first by surviving, and then by the study of all the documents and books he could lay hands on. The documents were the old records of Madras; the books were mainly those of the library of Robert Orme, later the historian of Hindustan, who had come out to join the Council of Fort St George. From the documents he learnt a good deal about the old English spice trade in the East Indies; from the books he derived a vast interest in the history of Spanish exploration in the Pacific, to his learning on which subject he was able to add when he acquired some of the effects of William Roberts, a supercargo on voyages to Manila, killed in the defence of Fort St George against the French. He decided that he himself wanted to explore: not immediately in the Pacific, but in the East Indies. His ambition was to revive there the British trade which had been ended by the Dutch; and, going further, to use that as an element in a greatly expanded trade with China which would outflank the monopoly of
Canton. He pictured a base in the Borneo archipelago, part of the Sultanate of Sulu. His industry made him deputy-secretary of Madras by 1758; in 1759 he declined the secretaryship in favour of a preliminary voyage; in 1760 he sailed in the schooner Cuddalore
for Sulu, to secure a treaty of commerce with the sultan, and to go on to his exploration of the eastern seas; on his next voyage he got the cession to the Company of Balambangan, an island off the north-east coast of Borneo. He took possession of it in January 1763. He was backwards and forwards among the islands until the end of 1764, at one time elected deputy-governor of Manila, acquired by the British in 1762—always concerned with the effective settlement of Balambangan. He had carried his masters at Madras a certain distance with him, but he needed the backing of the Company in England. There he returned in 1765, with his strong plea for East Indian trade; and also with more information, collected at Manila, about the Spanish in the Pacific. He persuaded the Company, though the process lasted three years; eighteen months more went by before the Company could be certain of government encouragement. In the interval Dalrymple had ample time to devote himself to his other great passion. He would never forget the Cuddalore
and the scented islands among which he had adventured, he would never forget the vision, he would always ignore the difficulties, of the commerce his mind had conjured up; he would drag the pearl-fisheries of Sulu into the most unlikely contexts; but while he was composing pamphlets and memoranda and arguments he was also conjuring up a vision of the south Pacific. Whatever his vision, part of it was always the figure of Alexander Dalrymple
It is not certain what practical accomplishment Dalrymple had as a sailor. He thought he had a great deal, though he had served no apprenticeship and had never, in the technical sense, commanded a ship. He certainly, as we have seen, persuaded the Royal Society that he was ‘an able navigator’. When he returned to England, an intelligent man still short of his thirtieth year, he could not fail to be caught up in intelligent discussion; and two of the objects of discussion were the South Seas and the Transit of Venus. Dalrymple began, to cultivate Government and the Royal Society. Commodore Byron was back from his circumnavigation in May 1766; Captain Wallis set out on another in the following July; at the end of that month Lord Shelburne became Secretary of State for the Southern Department, and Lord Shelburne was certainly a person of high intelligence as well as high station. Dalrymple wrote to him, 24 November, a letter that might itself be called exploratory: ‘Having
had five years’ experience in voyages of this kind, thro' seas unknown, and amongst people with whom we have no intercourse, I presume to think myself qualified to be usefully employed in such an under-taking. At the same time, I am not insensible, notwithstanding the instances of Dampier, Halley, etc., how foreign to rules of office it is, to form the most distant expectations, that a person may be employed in the publick Service by Sea, who has no rank in the Navy.’1 How Shelburne replied to this we do not know: perhaps he did not reply because early in 1767 we have the ambitious man trying again, through an intermediary. He had been made known by his brother Lord Hailes to Adam Smith, and Adam Smith was induced to speak for him; the subject was not now only Dalrymple, but a southern continent.
… Whether the continent exists or not may perhaps be uncertain; [wrote Smith with more caution than Dalrymple himself exhibited] but supposing it does exist, I am very certain you will never find a man fitter for discovering it, or more determined to hazard everything in order to discover it.
The terms he would ask are, first, the absolute command of the ship with the naming of all the officers, in order that he may have people who both have confidence in him and in whom he has confidence; and secondly, that in case he should lose his ship by the common course of accident before he gets into the South Sea, that the Government will undertake to give him another. These are all the terms he would insist upon.
The ship properest for such an expedition, he says, would be an old fifty-gun ship without her guns. He does not, however, insist upon this as a sine qua non, but will go in any ship with a hundred to a thousand tons. He wishes to have but one ship with a good many boats. Most expeditions of this kind have miscarried from one ship's being obliged to wait for the other, or losing time in looking out for the other.2
Once again we do not know how Shelburne replied. Nor was Shelburne the First Lord of the Admiralty. It is clear, however, that Dalrymple was not particularly interested in observing the Transit of Venus, or the far reaches of astronomy; attending Royal Society
dinners, contributing to its proceedings a paper on the formation of islands, he had in view what he regarded as a larger purpose. He was convinced that in the prosecution of that purpose, whatever lesser conditions might be imposed, he must be sole director, unimpeded, answerable to no rival command. It is time to consider the matter—
the Cause, as it were, to which he had mortgaged his soul—the Continent.
Terra australis incognita, the unknown southern land—or, more hopefully, nondum cognita, not yet known but in due course to be revealed: the brief words trail a long history, are aromatic with an old romance, as of great folios in ancient libraries, compassing all philosophical and geographical knowledge, with pages and double-pages of maps whose very amplitude and pattern ravish the mind; and they present us also with one of the great illusions. It was an illusion raised by abstract thought, buttressed by fragments of discovery that seemed to fit into a likely pattern, demolished by experienced fact. There is a southern land, of course, and even now it is not fully known; but it was not this of which so many generations dreamed. The Antarctic is the fact which has survived; and Antarctica is not the provincia aurea, the golden and spicy province, the land of dye-woods and parrots and castles, the jumble of fable and misinterpretation that was piled on Greek reasoning and Marco Polo.
We do not need, for our present purpose, to probe deeply into the history of classical thought on this subject. We may note the fundamental speculations of Pomponius Mela, about A.D. 50, and Claudius Ptolemy, the brilliant Alexandrian astronomer of the second century. Both accepted the theory of the spherical earth, though they differed on its nature: Pomponius Mela pictured a sphere consisting of land, or rather a number of continents, surrounded by water; Ptolemy one of water, or rather a number of seas, surrounded by land. Ptolemy's Cosmographia
, first printed in 1477, with maps, was largely the basis of Renaissance geographical thought; but Pomponius Mela, with a southern hemisphere largely ocean, washing the shore of a continent, in this one respect, seems to have been more influential on the future. To both, nevertheless, a continent was essential; the physical argument had to be accepted that to maintain the equilibrium of a spherical earth flowing motionless in space a landmass in the southern half was necessary to balance the familiar land-mass of Europe, Asia and Africa in the northern half. Two hundred years before Ptolemy was printed, Marco Polo went to China. His account of his travels was widely circulated in manuscript, and was first printed, in German, in 1477, the year of Ptolemy's first printing; and Marco Polo seemed, in a way to validate the continental hypothesis. For the text of Marco Polo, as written and printed, became confused. He described his homeward
passage from Cathay, first by sea to the rich country of Chamba or Annam, and then for 1200 miles between south and south-west to another country called Locac, ‘a good country and a rich’, which was the Malay Peninsula. In this country there was gold in incredible quantity, and elephants and much game, and all the porcelain shells which were used for small change in those regions; its people were idolators; it was a wild region, visited by few people; ‘nor does the King desire that any strangers should frequent the country, and so find out about his treasure and other resources’.1
The confusion of the text, however, set Locac 1200 miles between south and west of the island of Java, which Marco Polo
had not visited, though he described it from hearsay; and this would carry a traveller well into the southern hemisphere. It was the result of this confusion that riveted itself on the European mind, with corruption even of the name Locac into Lucach or Beach, both of which names appear on sixteenth-century maps: ‘Lucach regnum
’ has Mercator in his world-chart of 1569; and ‘Beach provincia aurifera quam pauci ex alienis regionibus adeunt propter gentis inhumanitatem
’, ‘Beach the golden province where come few foreigners because of its people's inhumanity’. The great ‘Typus Orbis Terrarum’ of Abraham Ortelius
of 1587 displays a tremendous expanse of land—for geographers no less than nature seem to have abhorred a vacuum—stretching right round the world, with appropriate gulfs and projections, one corner of which bears the inscription ‘Hanc continentem Australem, nonnulli Magellanicam regionem ab eius inventore nuncupant
’: ‘This southern continent some call the region of Magellan after its discoverer’. To Ptolemy and Marco Polo, had by that time been added the real discoveries to Terra australis nondum cognita
,of actual voyagers, not of Magellan alone: there were the East Indies, Tierra del Fuego, Magellan's strait, the Mar del Zur or South Sea, El Mar Pacific, Nova Guinea, the Islas de Salomon: a host of Spanish names mingled with the Latin. The age of exploration was born, the cartographers were endlessly busy; after Columbus came Balboa, first of western men to set eyes upon the Pacific; after him Magellan, first to drive a line across the ocean and reveal its staggering immensity; after him three centuries of agitation, elucidation, and verification. Agitation certainly there was, because no process of discovery ever went on in a serene air of regular and passionless scientific development: elucidation, because the process produced problems, sometimes, more easily than it solved them; verification, because in a day before men could navigate scientifically, no geographical statement could
be accepted at its face value. It was the fortune of Cook, in good time, not to have to agitate; it was part of his developed character to be as ready to elucidate and verify as to discover.
The great difficulty of Pacific exploration was not merely the immense size of the ocean—‘a sea so vast that the human mind can scarcely grasp it’, as one of Magellan's chroniclers wrote1
—a third of the whole earth's surface, in which all the land of earth, if sliced off below sea-level, could be sunk; nor merely that, in spite of its thousands of islands, it contained so much water and so little land. It was not even that, in the exploration of an ocean, apart altogether from the dangers of wreck, disease and starvation, whole wind and current systems had to be learnt. It was that useful exploration depended on the explorer's knowing where he was, at sea, day by day; knowing where he was, in some harbour of a new found country, well enough to report on it reliably when he reached home—if he reached home—so that he or a successor could find the place again. Exploration by land could be arduous enough, but the explorer had landmarks—mountains, rivers, cities—and guides. At sea he had only himself and his skill in navigation. If he were a good seaman he could, taking a sight of the sun or of some known star with cross-staff or quadrant, work out his latitude reasonably well; though another man, equally careful, might reach a different result. That was half a position: then how to find the other half, how to calculate the longitude? For centuries it was impossible; techniques and instruments simply did not go so far. The good sailor might be a master of dead reckoning; he could guess closely the speed of his ship, use his compass, allow something for its variation, observe the current and the swell, estimate leeway, arrive at course made good; but the practical seaman—the sensible seaman, as he deemed himself—when it came to real longitude, threw up his hands. So, in truth, did the seaman who prided himself on his learning, who might write a treatise on navigation for the instruction of others, like Pedro Fernandez
de Quiros, highly remarkable among Pacific discoverers.2
There were striking examples of inaccuracy, like that of the pilot in Magellan's fleet who, trying to calculate the longitude of the Philippine islands, was almost fifty-three degrees out. There were no striking examples of accuracy. Before the latter part of the
eighteenth century, then, the history of Pacific exploration is a history of faith, hope, accidental discovery, missed objectives, disillusionment, disaster. Nothing once found, it seemed, could ever be found again, unless on the western perimeter of the ocean it were as large as the Philippines or New Guinea or Australia, or as frequented for commerce as the islands of the East Indies. We have the new discoveries firmly placed on the world map of Ortelius. We have, equally firmly placed, a vast amount of fancy—or, as some of the geographers would have preferred to call it, rational deduction. In somebody's mind was always the continent.
After Magellan and a few attempts, costly in men and ships, to follow his route, official Spanish enterprise in the Pacific settled down into regular trading voyages between Acapulco in Mexico and Manila on the other side of the ocean. A feasible return passage was found in the westerly winds of forty degrees north. The Spaniards, on their earlier voyages, encountered a number of the Marshall and Caroline islands, north of the equator, as well as New Guinea, but never the principal group of the northern ocean, Hawaii: they were always well south or well north of it. There were, however, three connected Spanish voyages of great endurance and some success, independent of this regular trade: all in the forty years from 1567, all based on the Peruvian port of Callao, all marked by a quite violent mingling of personal qualities and ambitions, jealousies and rebellions—a history wherein the secular passions for conquest, settlement and gold vied with the Franciscan yearning for conquista espiritual, new and noble empire founded on a peaceful Christian subjection of heathen people. These were the voyages of Alvaro de Mendaña and the pilot Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, already mentioned. The first of them was stimulated by a third man, able, energetic and ambitious—Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, who in his Peruvian studies had come on the legend of the Inca Tupic Yupanqui. This ruler, so it was said, on a voyage to the west had discovered rich islands: six hundred leagues distant they must be, thought Sarmiento, outliers of the great, and rich, continent. Some-how, for other people, they were mixed up with another legend, the one of King Solomon's Ophir, that abode of gold, now put down as an island or island-group near the East Indian Moluccas. The Viceroy of Peru was persuaded to support a voyage of discovery. He provided two ships, giving the command, however, not to the masterful Gamboa but to his own young nephew Mendaña, a man without seamanship or experience of command, but at once sweet-tempered and tenacious. He was to find the continent and settle
there. The ships, built for the fine-weather Peruvian coastal passages and provisioned for a short voyage, manned by argumentative officers and mutinous crews, sailed in November 1567; they were to know starvation, the worst of hurricanes, be given up for lost; they survived and after nearly two years turned up again at Callao with two-thirds of their company safe. They had sailed outwards for eighty days, from one side of the ocean to the other, before they came to the impressive group called after their return the Solomon Islands. There they stayed six months, exploring and observing; found or made the people too hostile to permit settlement; found no gold and no continent; made no spiritual conquest; reached home in the last extremity of privation. Mendaña, at least, was eager to go again.
Not until 1595 could he do so. Official hostility and tardiness had been underlined by the Pacific incursion of Francis Drake, fruit of a theory that, once into the ocean in Magellan's track, you could outwit the Spaniards by quitting it through what we would now call a north-west passage, a strait through the northern parts of America between Pacific and Atlantic. While you were in the Pacific you might discover the continent. Drake had no talent for discovery, nor in any case could he discover what was not there; but the effect of his foray and of others, was to discourage Spanish exploration which might simply present a new attraction to pirates. Nevertheless, Mendaña did, at last, make his second voyage. He could not find his Solomon Islands again, nor could anybody else for two hundred years: so vague indeed were his ideas of longitude that he at first thought he had arrived when he sighted the Marquesas, a sort of half-way point. Coming after many weary weeks to Santa Cruz, not far short of his goal, he decided to settle there. Quarrels, native enmity, and dreadful malaria quashed the attempt; Mendaña himself died; a starving remnant was, brought over unknown seas to Manila only through the superb navigation of the chief pilot, the Portuguese seaman Quiros. It was Quiros who, undeterred, took up the mission, a mission to him evangelical as well as geographical. A man of extraordinary qualities, with something Franciscan in his spirit, he combined professional skill with a continental faith that swept him far beyond the touch of reality, that made his path both a triumphant and a dolorous one; so that in the end, foredoomed to failure as he was from the nature of things, it perhaps mattered little that he was a poor leader of men. After much travail, he sailed from Callao in December 1605—further south than Mendaña had done, then north-west through the Tuamotu archipelago, and
west when he was in the latitude of Santa Cruz. If he had kept on he would have reached it: three or four degrees beyond it lay the islands of Solomon. He was diverted from an island a little short of it, the latest of a series discovered by him, to turn south, so that he fetched up at something quite different, though close, the land he called Austrialia del Espiritu Santo, the northernmost large island of the New Hebrides group; and here, he was sure, where he proclaimed the city of New Jerusalem, was the much-desired continent. Sickness, at the critical moment infirmity of purpose, unreliable subordinates, finally the cruel luck with the wind, drove him away before a settlement was made, in a vast sweep north that took him to Mexico in October 1606. The wind had parted him from the real hero of the voyage, his principal lieutenant, Luis Vaez de Torres, who made his way from Espiritu Santo to the southern coast of New Guinea, along it through the strait named after him, and so to Manila, thus solving one of the great problems of geography: New Guinea, it was clear, was the northern projection of no continent, it was insular. The solution was not bruited abroad. Quiros returned to Spain, ceaselessly and fruitlessly to importune crown and councils, with memorials and charts, for still another expedition. The Spanish effort was over. His memorials, glowing with their confident transmutation of hopes into matter of fact, spread through Europe. Quiros, who had discovered a dozen islands, became the publicist of the continent. Had he failed in his great purpose? He could hold up a light to the future.
The immediate future, however, needed no light from Spain. The next century of Pacific exploration was almost entirely in the hands of the Dutch: not quite entirely, because one must remember Dampier and the buccaneers on the fringe. The Dutch were the best cartographers of the seventeenth century; they made important advances in naval architecture; they organised a great overseas trade, and a great eastern empire. The empire was a commercial empire; their exploration was an aspect of trade. As the empire was that of the Dutch East Indies Company, so the exploration was that approved of by the Company, the value of discoveries was judged by the Company; though again one must say not entirely so. The Company, or its captains in their passages from the Cape of Good Hope to the East Indies, placed fairly solidly on the map the western coast of Australia—their New Holland—and a good part of the southern coast. Exploring the north coast, they registered its essential outline, though they were never able to decide whether that north coast was altogether continuous, nor whether New
Guinea and New Holland were different countries. An easy passage into the Pacific south of New Guinea might have been of great commercial importance: indeed the first Dutch visit to Australia, that of the Duyfken, two months before Torres sailed through the strait, resulted from exploration of its possibility. There is no real reason to think that Australia had been discovered by any European before, or that the ‘Dieppe’ group of maps, to which an occasional geographer still pins his faith, had anything to do with Australia at all.1 It may be surprising that there was little tendency to identify this mass of land, set down so hugely between the Pacific and the Indian oceans, with the Terra australis incognita; but its shore-line was unpromising, its cliffs and sand-dunes called up no vision of Locac, the Dutch deemed its people poor and abject; and within less than forty years after its first sighting a Dutch seaman had circumnavigated it, without laying eyes on it—except for the island, Van Diemen's Land or Tasmania, that sits off its south-eastern, coast. This was the voyage of Abel Janszoon Tasman, a voyage aimed principally at the discovery of the continent, or—there were other objectives—a clear route to Chile and a highly-fancied trade, or the rediscovery of the Solomon Islands. Tasman, in his great round voyage, Batavia to Mauritius, south to 49° and eastward, discovered not merely Van Diemen's Land but the west coast of high surf-struck New Zealand—perhaps this was the continent?—before he turned north to Tonga, escaped the desperately dangerous fringe of Fiji, and passed along the northern coast of New Guinea into the East Indies home.—‘God be praised and thanked.’ His masters were not highly pleased with this voyage. He had not beaten up any trade.
Not the great Company only, however, had its men in the Pacific, nor did all explorers come from the west. While the Dutch were still experimenting in their approach to eastern trade, through Magellan's strait, one tempest-driven captain, Dirck Gerritsz or Gerrards, in 1599, reported seeing the snow-covered mountains of the great south land, stretching off from latitude 64° in the direction of the Solomon Islands. In 1624 the Orange
, from a fleet that set out to attack the Spaniards in Peru, reported two sightings, the first in latitude 50°, the second in 41°. This was doing better than the first Dutch expedition which had the continent for its objective, that of Willem Schouten
and Jacob Le Maire
, in 1615 and 1616, which made no
illusory landfalls, but did discover the Strait of Le Maire and Cape Horn, some of the Tuamotus, the northernmost island of the Tongan group, and the Hoorn islands not far from Fiji, passing thereafter north-west round the Solomons and New Guinea to Batavia. Nor, after another century, in 1721–2, did Jacob Roggeveen
have more luck. Sponsored by the Dutch West India Company, he also made a Horn passage into the ocean, going far south, almost to latitude 61° His most striking discovery was Easter Island; he lost a ship in the Tuamotus; found, but would not tarry for, the Samoan group; followed the old route north of New Guinea to Batavia. The number of islands was accumulating; but where was the continent?
We are in the eighteenth century. It was a busy century, in science and speculation and writing, in economic expansion and war, in building and art; a revolutionary century, far beyond the confines of politics and social relations. Mathematical physics and chemistry made immense steps; botany, zoology, physiology, astronomy, geography, were all in movement. The great names are thick. Science had not become part of a polite education, but it was written about, lectured upon, demonstrated, applied, made elegant. Newton was the elder prophet; innumerable followers preached. Leadbetter represents one class of them; Robertson, with his instruction of rising navigators, another. Navigation could not fail to be affected. There was an important discovery in the ascertaining of latitude—the method of ‘double altitudes’, before and after noon, which could be utilised for days when a noon sighting of the sun was impossible: we shall find double altitudes thick in the records of Cook's voyages. This was due to Cornelis Douwes of Amsterdam, who about 1749 worked out logarithmic tables for the method. Accurate results in calculation depended not merely on tables but upon accurate observation, accurate measurement, and the century was a great age of scientific and mathematical instrument makers. Hadley's octant, farther developed by Captain John Campbell into the sextant, may almost stand as its symbol, though we are not to forget the reflecting telescope, the achromatic telescope, the micrometers. We cannot forget the problem of longitudes. As the century grew, interest grew; we may almost say that excitement grew. The principle involved is plain. Longitude—to put the matter crudely—is wrapped up with time. As the earth makes its daily revolution, time alters regularly from place to place; a difference of one hour is equivalent to fifteen degrees of longitude. One can observe certain astronomical phenomena all round the world, but at different points they occur at different times. If one knows precisely at what time one of them will
occur at a fixed point on the earth's surface—Greenwich, for example, or Paris—and observes the time of the same occurrence at any different point—for example again, a spot in the Burgeo Islands —then the difference in hours of time, multiplied by the number 15, will give one the longitude in degrees. As early as 1474 the German astronomer Regiomontanus, stating the principle, had put forward as a basis for calculation ‘lunar distances’—that is, the angular distance between the moon and the sun or one of a number of fixed stars. The principle remained undoubted: almost three hundred years were to elapse before the development of instruments and techniques enabled it to be put in practice. An eclipse of the sun would serve, but not for the navigator; for the sun was not eclipsed every day, and the navigator did not know the time of the eclipse at any point of departure. The best Cook could do, after observing in 1766, was to hand in his results to the mathematicians when he arrived home. Much better, some men had said, to send able mathematicians to sea, than to send the observations of seamen to able mathematicians on land; but what good would that do, when all the mathematics in the world could not tell men at sea the time at Greenwich or at Paris?
Astronomers and mathematicians did not lose their interest. There were those who thought that the prospect of a large reward would stimulate sufficient ingenuity; disasters at sea directly attributable to errors in reckoning were all too frequent; the British government, alarmed at some of these, in 1714 offered £20,000 to anyone who could produce a ‘generally practicable and useful method’ of fixing longitudes at sea within thirty miles at the end of a six weeks' voyage, and lesser rewards to persons who, without solving the problem, made some appreciable contribution towards its solution. The act of Parliament which regulated the matter also set up the Board of Longitude, ‘for the discovery of longitude at sea and for examining, trying and judging of all proposals, experiments and improvements relating to the same.’1
The act was of course an encouragement to the eccentric, almost an inducement to insanity: longitude became all the rage: one need not be surprised to find, among the scenes of active horror in the mad-house print of Hogarth's Rake's Progress
, of 1736, a comparatively peaceful lunatic working away at a solution. There were, in fact, two ways of solving the problem: the astronomical-mathematical, and the mechanical. About the first enough has been said. The second depended on the production of a clock, a ‘watch-machine’ so highly sophisticated that it would go at
a uniform rate, permanently and precisely, under any conditions of cold or heat or storm or wave, on land or at sea—so that once set at a point of departure, it would continue to show the time at that point. The difference between that time and the time at any other point, as we have seen, would provide the longitude, and more quickly than by the method of astronomical observation. Both methods came to success almost simultaneously, in the 1760'5. The first was made possible by the lunar tables which Tobias Mayer, an astronomer of Göttingen, calculated on Newtonian principles; it was developed by Maskelyne, Cook's junior by four years, who was to become Astronomer Royal in 1765, moving force of the Board of Longitude and of the Royal Society
on its astronomical side, and intimately concerned with the great voyages. In 1761 Maskelyne went on a voyage to St Helena to observe that year's transit of Venus. Clouds were spread upon the sky; on the outward and homeward passages, however, he made regular observations with his Hadley's quadrant of lunar distances. Mayer and Maskelyne together gave the longitude. In 1763, the year after Mayer's death, Maskelyne published The British Mariner's Guide
, which conveyed instruction in his system. In 1766, as Astronomer Royal, he published the first number of the Nautical Almanac
, which contained tables based on Mayer's, calculated for every day in the following year at three-hour intervals. He had reduced the process, after the initial observation, to arithmetic and not very advanced trigonometry. It was not quite simple: there had to be corrections for refraction and parallax, as George Witchell had applied corrections to Cook's figures for the solar eclipse; the local time of observation also had to be corrected by astronomical means. The calculations, to begin with, took about four hours, but improvement in the system reduced this time to a quarter of an hour—anyhow for a mathematician. The ordinary conservative sea captain tended to look at this estimate rather morosely, and to cling to his dead reckoning. We shall see a more lively interest in Cook, without being able to say exactly when he learnt the technique. As for the ‘watch-machine’ or chronometer, that life-work of the practical genius John Harrison
, it passed with triumph the stringent test of a voyage to Barbados in 1764, when one of its guardians and examiners was Maskelyne himself. Harrison's ‘machine’ had a cardinal defect, its expense: if that would be sufficiently lowered, the future lay with it. One might be more correct in saying that the future lay with the chronometer, because there were other makers than Harrison; but he had made the vast step. The watch-machine did not instantaneously render the lunar method
superfluous, as we shall see. Both are essential parts of the life of Cook.
Meanwhile we may return to discovery, and to thought upon discovery. On the borders of two centuries, the seventeenth and eighteenth, and not in the Pacific at ail, we have a voyage that strikes the new note of science. It is the South Atlantic voyage from which Halley, investigating the variation of the compass, brought back his material for the first isogonic map, together with a method of finding longitude through the occupations of the fixed stars—another method useless to sailors without tables or instruments or mathematics. He brought back as well reports of land that were, like so many others, illusory. On the borders of two oceans, the Indian and the Pacific, Dampier failed in a voyage on which he had hoped to reveal the east coast of Australia: at least he cut in two the old conception of New Guinea and could indulge his passion for natural history. Neither Halley nor Dampier showed great capacity for dealing with insubordinate men. The year of Cook's birth was the year hi which Vitus Bering
, a Dane in the service of Russia, passed the strait named after him; the year 1741, in which Anson, amid gales and fog, entered the South Pacific on the circumnavigation which was to make the ocean sound in all English ears, was that in which Bering, again, amid gales and fog, crossed the North Pacific to the north-west coast of America. Cook was at school at Ayton when the French Bouvet, at the beginning of 1739, sighted in the southern Atlantic the point of snow-covered land he called Cape Circumcision, thinking that he at last had found the continent; had just come out of his apprenticeship when Buffon published his Theorie de la Terre
, the first volume of the great Historie Naturelle
, in 1749; in 1752, when the brilliant Maupertius published the Lettre sur le Progres des Sciences
addressed to Frederick the Great, he was serving his second year in the Three Brothers
, looking forward perhaps to becoming a mate; in 1756, when the President de Brasses, stimulated by Buffon and Maupertius, published bis magistral Histoire des Navigations aux Terres Australes
, he was in the Eagle
, master's mate, under Palliser; in 1757, when Philippe Buache
, one of the celebrated French geographers, published his memoir on the southern continent and the lands of the Antarctic, their rivers and icy sea,1
he had advanced no farther in rank or philosophy. Hie names were French, and if historical scholarship and scientific speculation could have produced a
continent the French would have produced it. If it had existed where it was supposed to exist their seamen, within a few years, would have produced it too, whatever the British activity; for the rivalry of the Seven Years' War was continued in the decades after the war in exploration and the free traffic of scientific results, and whatever the suspicions of statesmen and the reports of secret agents it is pleasant to consider the friendship between Dalrymple and French scholars and cartographers—just as it is pleasant to consider the respect in which a more experienced Cook held Bouvet and other French sailors.
There are parallels between French and English thought on the uses of a continent, and we may note that French writings, plans and actions no less than English caused disquiet in a temporarily revived Spanish empire. For a brief while Spain was prepared to name the Pacific as a Spanish preserve as much as it was in the sixteenth century; the return of Anson in 1744 with a galleon's treasure was regarded in England much as the return of Drake in the Golden Hind had been. The Falkland Islands were regarded as a key to the Pacific, Spain accordingly would tolerate French settlement there no more than British. Yet how to keep French or British out of that ample ocean, if they were determined to get in, under the excuse either of science or of peaceful trade? There is an obvious connection between the publication in war years, 1744–8, of Dr John Campbell's second edition of ‘Harris's Voyages’, the Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca of 1705, and Anson's famous voyage; and Campbell's two thousand folio pages are a continent in themselves, his eloquence, addressed to ‘the Merchants of Great Britain’, rolls with an appropriate thunder. ‘Let us maintain Trade, and there is no doubt that Trade will maintain us. Let our past Mistakes teach us to, be wise, let our present Wants and Difficulties revive our ancient Industry.’ Let us plant, a new colony for the benefit of trade. He, wastes no time on cosmic principles, will not indulge in hypothesis, knows how far he may safely be dogmatic. ‘It is most evident, from Captain Taxman's Voyage, that New Guinea, Carpentaria, New Holland, Antony van Diemen's Land, and the countries discovered by de Qtdros, make all one Continent, from which New Zeland seems to be separated by a Streight; and, perhaps, is part of another Continent, answering to Africa, as this, of which we are now speaking, plainly does to America. This Continent reaches from the Equinoctical to 44° of South Latitude, and extends from 122° to 188° of Longitude, making indeed a very large country, but nothing like what de Quiros imagined; which shows how dangerous a thing it is to trust too much to Conjecture
in such Points as these.’1 A settlement could be made in this large country; there was reason to believe all that Quiros said about ‘Gold, Silver, Pearl, Nutmegs, Mace, Ginger and Sugar-Canes, of an extraordinary Size’ that existed there; its trade would be invaluable; from it could be discovered Terra australis incognita; such a settlement would greatly increase our shipping and seamen, ‘which are the true and natural Strength of this Country, extend our naval Power, and raise the Reputation of this Nation; the most distant Prospect of which is sufficient to warm the Soul of any Man, who has the least regard for his Country, with Courage, sufficient to despise the Imputations which may be thrown upon him as a visionary Projector, for taking so much Pains upon an Affair, that can tend so little to his private Advantage.’2 However the merchants of Great Britain thought of this appeal and their private advantage, their purchases of the work made a reprint necessary in 1764, the year after peace was made, the year of the first post-war Pacific voyage; they bought innumerable volumes of collections of voyages and travels easier to handle than these, tremendous folios; they bought with eagerness edition after edition of the single volume of Anson's Voyage.
In the commentary of dc Brosses on the voyages, collected in his Histoire
, we have a different spirit; for de Brosses was an intellectual of the eighteenth-century French kind, a philosophe
, a lover of mankind as well as of the civilisation of his own country. Commerce and naval power, certainly, were not to be despised while Britain so visibly affected the universal monarchy of the sea; but the fame that discoverers should pursue was the fame of scientific knowledge. The President traversed the voyaged in the southern hemisphere, in the regions he called Magellanica—the Atlantic; Polynesia—the Pacific; Australasia—the Indian Ocean
. Somewhere in those regions must be civilisations that only waited to exchange the lessons of culture with France. Could that whole unknown part of the globe be occupied by nought but the waters of the sea? Capes, fragments of coast, were certain signs of a continent. Must there not be, southwards of Asia, solid land extensive enough to counterweight the northern mass, to maintain in equilibrium the whole rotating globe? It is the classical argument, we see again the Ptolemaic sphere: perhaps it was classical also in the way that the European mind was classical, composing an art and an architecture of elegant and rational balance—so that Buache must have not merely a southern continent, but ice debouching from its rivers through gulfs such as those he designated in the northern hemisphere. De Brosses shows a curious
parallelism with the so different Campbell: he too wishes to see the founding of a colony on land already known, as a centre for commerce and a base for exploration, close to the New Jerusalem of Quiros; but a colony unlike Campbell's, one to which beggars, orphans and criminals might be transported, where in its pure air they might slough off vice and rise to heights of mature and noble virtue. Almost we see, rising above some busy port, a statue—not perhaps of Liberty, but at least of Perfectibility. The strain of eighteenth-century benevolence is clear. Would such settlement mean expense? The expense of conquering one little ravaged province of Europe would be a hundred times greater.
On this the war, with all its ravaged provinces, was the harsh commentary. After it was over, a Scotsman, John Callander, in his Terra Australis Cognita1 even snatched the volumes of de Brasses, and gave his argument a fiercely British twist. Callander was a little cautious about the Terra australis incognita: some wise and knowing people, he conceded, took it to be merely a chimera. Yet one should not be too hasty, too peremptory: it might exist, and for the sake of science and of navigation be extremely worth the finding. Such, it appears, must have been a popular view. The volumes of voyages had done their work. Twenty years later the first biographer of Cook looked back and fully remembered ‘how much his imagination was captivated, in the more early part of his life, with the hypothesis of a southern continent. He has often dwelt upon it with rapture, and been highly delighted with the authors who contended for its existence, and displayed the mighty consequences which would result from its being discovered.’2 Of these authors, the principal one in England, who seems to have felt a rapture himself, was Alexander Dalrymple, and to Dalrymple we must now return.
Dalrymple regarded himself as a scientific specialist. Trade, which he was so much interested in stimulating in the East Indies, in the South Seas had little interest for him; he gave his attention to a particular sort of voyage, with one single object. His researches had yielded the harvest that he brought out in two volumes in 1770 and 1771 as A Historical Collection of Voyages… in the South Pacific Ocean
, the first devoted to Spanish voyages, the second to Dutch. This was a valuable work. Its argumentative part he had already printed in 1767 in An Account of the Discoveries made in the South Pacific Ocean, Previous to 1764
—previous to 1764, presumably, because that was
the year in which the first of a new series of voyages, British ones, began. Trade, certainly, was not to be despised, but why should Britain be concerned so much over the trade of her American colonies, with a population of some two million, compared to the probably more than 50 millions of the Southern Continent?—a continent that in the latitude of 40° stretched over 4596 geographic, or 5323 statute miles, ca greater extent than the whole cieilised part of Asia, from Turkey, to the eastern extremity of China. There is at present no trade from Europe thither, though the scraps from this table would be sufficient to maintain the power, dominion, and sovereignty of Britain, by employing all its manufactures and ships.’1
Magnificent vision! Dalrymple's proofs are both ‘philosophical’ and historical, as well from the analogy of nature, as from the deduction of past discoveries.’ The ‘analogy of nature’ is the argument from counterpoise: the quantity of land in the northern hemisphere implied the ‘probable conjecture’, the seeming necessity, of a like quantity in the southern, a conformity of hemispheres. Then ‘it rests to shew, from the nature of the winds in the South Pacific Ocean, that there must
be a Continent
on the south
’. He shows this. He introduces an ingenious argument from the existence of ‘fair-haired
people’ in the islands, a fact ‘entirely contrary to the common circumstance within the tropic’.2
He registers all the past ‘sightings’ of land, from latitude 64° to 40°: ‘…. It cannot be doubted from so many concurrent testimonies, that the Southern Continent has been already discovered
on the east side; and it appears more than probable, that Tasman's discovery, which he named Staat's Land, but which is in the maps called New Zealand, is the western
coast of this Continent
…. The north of this vast Continent
appears to be hitherto undiscovered…. Although the signs of land
seen by Roggevein, previous to the discovery of Easter Island, denote the vicinity of the continent
, it is from his description of that
island we are enabled to form some idea of the adjacent Continent
; no voyage hitherto performed, points out so strongly the original
of the Peruvian manners and religion.’3
He proceeds to examine the conduct and courses of the explorers: of Quiros he cannot speak too highly; of Roggeveen, who ignored obvious signs of the continent, he frankly disapproves. He makes it plain that what is needed is a Hero, a Columbus or Magellan, a man of the nobler virtues that flourished in that elder time, one in whom stands forth ‘a sublimity
, followed by
and perseverant resolution
… .’ Much was still within the power of men, ‘rather emulous
of the glorious spirit of that age
, than devoted
to the mercenary, or indolent disposition of the present
and so on. With a large effort of imagination, one may be able to step back to the year 1767 and read all these words anew. Is one communing with a new Hakluyt or merely participating in a vast and shining day-dream? Day-dream—one can hardly avoid the ultimate conviction—it is, wherein the Hero, the companion in history of heroes, is Alexander Dalrymple
. We can now understand the terms of employment that he laid down to Adam Smith
, and Adam Smith
transmitted to Lord Shelburne; and understand his willingness to serve the Royal Society
, without much interest in the Society's grand design.
Meanwhile, even before Dalrymple returned from the East, the British Government had shown itself not quite immune to ideas of Pacific discovery. As long ago as 1749, just after an earlier war, Anson had persuaded his colleagues on the Admiralty to prepare an expedition, and only protests from the agitated Spaniards had prevented it from sailing; and a strain in Anson's strategic thought, the acquisition of the Falkland Islands as the key to the Pacific, had been transmitted to Lord Egmont, First Lord of the Admiralty from 1763 to 1776. Egmont was interested in the continent, wherever it might lie; he was also interested in a grand conception of oceanic control, not merely through control of the Magellanic entrance, the southern, but also through that of a northern passage—the North-West Passage, in fact, in which, despite all failures to find it, there were still devout believers. 70 control both those entrances would give, obviously a strategic command superior to anything else that could exist. Hence the despatch in June 1764 of the first post-war expedition, that of Commodore the Hon. John Byron
, the two ships Dolphin
, instructed to examine not the south Pacific but the south Atlantic—any continental mass that might exist ‘within Latitudes convenient for navigation and in the Climates adapted to the Produce of Commodities usefull in Commerce’, the Falkland Islands, and a ‘Pepys Islands alleged to lie in the Atlantic somewhere east of the Falklands; having done which, they were to pass into the Pacific and up to Drake's New Albion, about latitude 380 on the North American coast, examining that coast closely as far northward as possible for a passage through the land, returning through it to England if it existed; if passage there was none, they were to make
for China or the Dutch East Indies, returning by way of the Gape of Good Hope.1
Byron found nothing in the Atlantic beyond the Falk-lands which he formally annexed for his monarch, charting the northern coast before he sailed into the Strait of Magellan. Here he decided that his ship would not withstand the voyage to New Albion, decided instead to run straight across the Pacific in the hope of finding the Solomons; picked up a few small islands, quite missed the Solomons, and reached England in May 1766 with one resounding story, that of the huge men and women of Patagonia, who had made the British sailors interviewing them seem such pygmies. When the Spanish ambassador enquired of the Duke of Richmond, the secretary of state, what Byron had been looking for, the agreeable nobleman could thus reply, with perfect truth though an economy of it, ‘giants'. Lord Egmont, having made sure, as he thought, of the Falklands, could now turn his attention to the continent in the Pacific. He just had time, before he relinquished office, to send out the Dolphin
again, in August 1766, under the command of Captain Samuel Wallis
, to look for this—to quote Wallis's instructions, ‘Land or Islands of Great extent, hitherto unvisited by any European Power… between Cape Horn and New Zeeland’, which he should find by stretching to the westward from the-Horn for about 100 or 120 degrees of longitude, ‘losing as little Southing as possible’.2
There were in France, at the same time, ambitions nourished not dissimilar to those so freely fed in England, though the merchants of France seem to have been less concerned than were individual patriots, administrators, or adventurers. De Brosses had his influence. The Falklands stretched a beckoning-strategic hand. There was Bouvet's cape. There were Frenchmen anxious for a continent that would provide a secure port of call for their ships on the long passage to India, there was a French obsession with spiceries, wherein a Pacific settlement might snatch a world-trade from the Dutch, there was a natural French, rivalry with the British—why should unimpeded Albion monopolise all the profits of that to-be-discovered hemisphere? The French contemporary of Byron and Wallis is Bougainville, aristocratic, brilliant, a fellow of the Royal Society
, the military comrade-in-arms of Montcalm, the disciple of de Brosses, anxious to spend himself and his estate on compensating France abroad for her lost American empire.3
When Byron surveyed the
north coast of the Falklands there was already a French settlement on the south coast founded by Bougainville. When Spain insisted that neither British nor French would be allowed there she indemnified him both by a money payment and by permission to make a Pacific voyage, which would put de Brosses to the test. When Wallis was entering the ocean Bougainville was at the Falklands handing over his colony. He was nine months behind Wallis on his Pacific traverse, but he made a famous voyage, he installed the French presence, and the astronomer with him, Pierre Antoine Veron
, by his use of lunar observations, established the longitude of the Philippine Islands,—and thus, for the first time, the width of the ocean.
All this was quite distinct from the astronomical ambitions of the Royal Society or the Academy of Sciences in Paris. Yet Dr Hornsby in 1765 had seen the possible connection between discovery, or even a settlement made by a commercial nation in the Pacific ocean, and the needs of science. The connection now became very clear. The Royal Society had been actively prosecuting its idea of a South Sea observation of the Transit of Venus. This entailed getting observers to the South Sea, which entailed the expenditure of money. The Royal Society had no money. In February 1768, therefore, the Council as its next step prepared a memorial to its patron, a document nicely calculated to appeal to a patriot king. It pointed out the importance of accurate observation for the improvement of Astronomy, ‘on which Navigation so much depends’. It pointed out that ‘several of the Great Powers in Europe, particularly the French, Spaniards, Danes and Swedes are making the proper dispositions for the Observation thereof: and the Empress of Russia has given directions for having the same observed in many different places of her extensive Dominions… . That the British Nation have been justly celebrated in the learned world, for their knowledge of Astronomy, in which they are inferior to no Nation upon Earth, Ancient or Modern; and it would cast dishonour upon them should they neglect to have correct observations made of this important phenomenon.’ The places proper for observing were detailed. The expense would amount to about £4000, ‘exclusive of the expense of the ships which must convey and return the Observers that are to be sent to the Southward of the Equinoctial Line and to the North Cape’. The Society's annual income was scarcely sufficient to carry on its necessary business. ‘The Memorialists, attentive to the true end for which they were founded by Your Majesty's Royal Predecessor, The Improvement of Natural Knowledge, conceived it to be their duty
to lay their sentiments before Your Majesty with all humility, and submit the same to Your Majesty's Royal Consideration.’1
His Majesty, well disposed, granted the Society £4000, ‘clear of fees’. As this was additional to the ship and its company, to be provided by the Admiralty, one must allow that the British Grown was doing its duty by science. It appears that the Council was still naive enough to assume that Dalrymple would be appointed commander of the ship. The matter was clarified at a Council meeting of 3 April. A letter from the Admiralty, first, announced the purchase of a ship, ‘a Cat of 370 tons’, for the expedition, and enquired who was to go and what instructions the Society wanted given to her commander.2
Secondly, the president repotted that he had recommended Mr, Dalrymple to the Lords as commander, and had been told that such an appointment would be ‘totally repugnant to the rules of the Navy’. Indeed the First Lord, Sir Edward Hawke
, either at this interview or at some other time, said roundly that he would suffer his right hand to be cut off rather than sign such another commission as had gone to Halley in the Paramour
pink in 1698—a civilian in command of a naval vessel on a scientific voyage, whose difficulties with his officers had been painful;3
or, he might have added, as had gone at the same time to Dampier, who was at least a professional sailor. Dalrymple himself had foreseen the difficulty. He thought it could be solved by his appointing all the ship's officers himself. This was a staggering naivety, if the navy were to be concerned at all; and who was Dalrymple, with his two or three years in the schooner Cuddalore
, sailed by Captain Baker, and his longest ocean passage of nineteen days, to suggest—let alone insist—that he should have the command of a voyage to the Pacific Ocean The answer of course is that Dalrymple was a man with a mission, and that he did not conceive his mission to be limited to observing the transit of Venus. On this same 3 April he attended on the Council; he was told of the Admiralty sentiment; and, quite consistently and finally, he declined the voyage.4
was prepared to be philosophic; it resolved to think of someone else.
All this is traditionally considered part of the biography of Cook. The history of Pacific exploration is part of the biography of Cook; the fact that Cook became an observer of the Transit is part of his biography; the fact that Dalrymple became a sort of natural and perpetual critic of Cook's proceedings is perhaps part of the biography of Cook, though much more of that of Dalrymple. In relation to Cook's command of the Transit voyage, however, Dalrymple's cultivation of the Royal Society, Dalrymple's vision of himself as the new Columbus, Dalrymple's conditions of command, were quite irrelevant. To the Lords of the Admiralty Dalrymple was irrelevant. For Cook, in due course, his geographical learning was both relevant and important, even though Cook was forced into becoming the most destructive critic of Dalrymple. It is difficult not to see. them as antagonists. But in 1768 there was not the slightest question of rivalry. So far as we can see from the documents, the Admiralty, having bought a ship to carry the astronomers to the South Seas, some time between 5 April and 12 April decided to take Cook temporarily from the Newfoundland survey and appoint him to her command. We may ask, why Cook?—and answer with another question:—Considering Cook's capacities and equipment, and that the voyage was also to be a voyage of discovery, was not that the most natural thing in the world? This is to rely too heavily on hindsight. Cook's capacities as a marine surveyor were known, but no one was persuaded that he was one of the principal geniuses of the age. No one could put a finger on him, and say, Here is a great sailor, here is the greatest of discoverers by sea. We do not even know that at the moment when he was appointed, the Admiralty had decided to add discovery to the more limited scientific purpose of the voyage—though with a ship in the Pacific, a further attempt at discovery would seem logical enough. Wallis had not yet returned. Had he had any success? And as this ship was to be sent into the Pacific, a considerable voyage, was it not a little strange to select for her command a mere master, whose most important previous command had been a sixty-ton schooner, or brig, with a crew of twenty? Of his predecessors, Byron was a commodore, the second son of a nobleman, had commanded line-of-battle ships; Wallis was a post-captain of eight years seniority. There were plenty of meritorious and experienced half-pay officers who would have been glad of employment: it could not be said that Mr Cook was the only man in the market. Scientific leanings, however advantageous, were not strictly
necessary. It is possible, indeed, that to begin with the voyage did not rate very highly with the Lords of the Admiralty, as long as a naval officer of some sort was in charge of a naval vessel. It is possible that there were many commanders eligible. Philip Stephens, the secretary, solved the problem. A large part of his business was to know men. Certainly by now he knew Cook, and his knowledge was not confined to a paper acquaintance. He made the suggestion to the Lords; he referred them to Palliser for a supporting opinion. Palliser was prepared to lose his surveyor, glad to enlarge on his merits.1 Mr Cook was appointed. It was a remarkable event indeed.
We may look once more at its context, not merely naval. A voyage to the Pacific was a voyage to an ocean that had been criss-crossed repeatedly for two centuries—in certain directions only, and within certain limits. For certain persons it had always been the abode of an illimitable hope. As the eighteenth century moved on the hope was not less; the age of enlightenment had its own romance. But tike light that was growing was a clear one, dry, wide. It would dissipate the ancient hope. It would not destroy romance for the romantic. To say that in this decade of the 1760s science had taken control of geography and navigation would be absurd. None the less, we are at the beginning of an era in which a man gifted enough in practical ways could add the clarity of science to his own clarity of mind. For geography and navigation that meant a change of method and a change of hope.