Passage to Tahiti
At home there were arrangements. Cook collected his final pay as master of the Grenville
, and no doubt turned it over to Mrs Cook. Before he left he seems to have sold to Jefferys his rights in his published Newfoundland charts.1
Elizabeth was to have during the years of absence the company of a cousin of her husband's, a Yorkshire girl called Frances Wardale, who was already living with them.2
She probably needed company. She was close to the birth of her fourth child: a young Joseph was baptised on 5 September, and dead within the month. His father by then was well out in the Atlantic. On 30 July, the day the instructions were signed, the Endeavour
had weighed from Gallions Reach for a leisurely passage to Plymouth. Thence on 14 August Cook sent for Banks and Solander, who were still enjoying their London farewells; and there after arriving they had a ten days' wait, while the shipwrights completed their cabins and the wrong winds blew. The ship's company were paid their two months' wages in advance, and warned not to expect any additional pay at the end of the voyage—despite which they were well satisfied, reports Cook, ‘and expresse'd great chearfullness and readyness to prosecute the Voyage.’3
On 25 August in the afternoon he got under sail and put to sea. Mr Banks, also, registered in his journal a proper degree of good temper: ‘all’, he said, were ‘in excellent health and spirits perfectly prepard (in Mind at least) to undergo with Chearfullness any fatigues or dangers that may occur in our intended Voyage’;4
and the very next day, struggling against his sea-sickness, he began to note down his observations in natural history. The wind turned to hard westerly gales at the end of the month—Biscayan weather—which carried overboard a small boat of the boatswain's and—much worse—three or four dozen poultry. In another day or
two the ship was off Cape Finisterre and Cook was entering in his journal his first longitudes of the voyage by lunar observation. One presumes, on no positive evidence, that they were his, but they may have been Green's, or arrived at with the assistance of Green. If we are to take literally what Green wrote to the Royal Society
from Rio de Janeiro, the captain was new to the process: ‘I thought it a little odd when I found that no person in the ship could either make an observation of the Moon or Calculate one when made.’1
He must have familiarised himself with it as rapidly as possible: before reaching Rio he was to record observations, and longitudes reckoned from them, of the moon and the stars Arietis and Aldebaran as well as of the moon and the sun. On 12 September he was at Funchal, where Banks and Solander, guests of the British consul, plunged happily into botanical investigation, and entertainment at a local convent while Cook was busy over maritime matters. Some trifling misunderstanding appears to have occurred here with the authorities, so trifling that Cook does not mention it in his journal; it would not be worth mentioning at all had not a later critic magnified it into a bombardment of the Loo fort by the Endeavour
and an English frigate, and accused the historian of the voyage of deliberate concealment.2
In truth Cook had enough trouble without bombarding the Portuguese. In manœuvring the stream anchor Alexander Weir, a master's mate, carried overboard by the buoy-rope and down to the bottom with the anchor, was drowned; he was replaced by a man impressed from a New York sloop. A seaman and a marine who refused their allowance of fresh beef were deemed guilty of mutiny and given a dozen lashes each. This is interesting, both because it seems to show determination on Cook's part from the very beginning to insist on good health through diet—was anybody flogged on the American station for refusing fresh food?—and because, for the only time, he uses corporal punishment as a persuader. He was to think of better ways of making his point. Next day he issued to the whole ship's company twenty pounds of onions a man—for which he had
later to make special explanation to the Victualling Board. The Board was not in the habit of paying for onions. Wine was a different matter: after all one came to Madeira for wine, and 3032 gallons were not too much. Green vegetables and a live bullock were legitimate. At midnight of 18 September the ship sailed again, and in the morning every man got ten pounds more onions.
The next five or six weeks were pleasant ones, an Atlantic passage in the north-east trade winds, with intervals of sunny calm in which Banks went out in a boat with gun or net, collecting birds and fish and floating shells, exclaiming at the beauty of Portuguese men-of-war, while Solander busily described, and Parkinson equally busily drew. There were glimpses of Tenerife and Boa Vista, in the Cape Verde islands. Cook early put the men to three watches instead of two—a humane idea officially inculcated, not always adopted—which gave them eight hours continuous rest off duty instead of four. Hooks and lines, pipes and tobacco, were distributed. Green worked at the education of his shipmates in scientific navigation: ‘The Obsns
of this Day are pretty good’, he wrote in his journal not long after leaving Madeira, ‘the Air being very Clear, but might have made more, and better, if Proper Assistance
could have been had from the Young Gentlemen on board’;1
but he persevered, and in the end his perseverance, and Cook's, bore fruit. The big fish chased the flying-fish, the flying-fish came on board; sharks were caught. The men were kept busy at shipboard routine. The mates and midshipmen were exercised at small arms, and Green laughed at their gaucherie; when they were told to scrape and clean between decks, Pickersgill refused, and was sent before the mast. The captain was curious about the current, and had a boat out day after day observing it; was assiduous with his lunars; noted down regularly the variation of the compass. On 25 October came the crossing of the line, with due ceremony according to the ‘Ancient Custom of the Sea’. Cook and the gentlemen, who had never passed the Equator, ransomed themselves with rum, as did a number of others more potentially victims (Banks even had to compound for his dogs), while about a score were plunged in the ocean on a sort of chair falling abruptly from the mainyard. The passage of the south-east trades was most agreeable, no untoward incident marred the approach to the coast of Brazil; a Portuguese fishing boat was spoken on 8 November and enough fresh fish bought for the whole ship's company; on 13 November she was in the harbour of Rio de Janeiro. Then came an episode which in the perspective of two hundred
years has certain elements of comedy, but at the time infuriated Cook extremely.
He could have called at Port Egmont in the Falkland Islands and got water. He wanted more than water, however, he wanted live stock and all the fresh food he could get, he wanted to heel and clean his ship, and Rio de Janeiro had a good reputation with the English; Byron, indeed, had met with a flattering reception there. Were not England and Portugal allies of more than fifty years? Since Byron's visit Bougainville had been treated with incivility, which Cook did not know; if he had known, he would probably have reflected that Bougainville was French. His own expectations were rudely dashed. He sent Lieutenant Hicks to explain his presence to the Viceroy and to ask for a pilot. Hicks was detained until Cook should appear himself, instead of a pilot came a customs officer and a guard boat. When Cook went on shore he was informed that none but himself and his boat's crew would be allowed on shore, and certainly no passengers. When Banks and Solander dressed up in their best to call on the Viceroy they were turned back. When Cook went on shore again a guard was put in his boat and he was accompanied everywhere by an officer. He was to be allowed to buy provisions, but only through an agent appointed for the purpose. Rather than suffer such restrictions he refused to go on shore at all, and proceeded to argue with the Viceroy by way of ‘memorials’, which Don Antonio Rolim de Mourav
, Conde de Azambuja, was not behindhand in replying to. This argument had hardly begun when a boat's crew was flung into gaol for a night and the boat seized, because Hicks refused to have a guard in her. Naturally misunderstandings multiplied. Banks took a hand, both on his own account—he and Solander desperately wanted to get on shore—and in helping Cook with draft protestations. ‘Tantalus coud never have been more tantalised’, wrote Solander to Lord Morton.1
There is a sort of magnificent futility about all this paper, with its exasperated and elaborate politeness, its invocations of his Britannick Majesty, ‘the King my Master’, and his most Faithful Majesty, and Science and Duty and Honour and Candour and Surprise; for its total effect was frustration on Cook's side, stubbornness on the Viceroy's. Not that there was total frustration: there was no want of supplies, which the surgeon was allowed to buy every day in the town; some of the necessary work on the ship could be carried out ashore, though there was great inconvenience in heeling her with most of her company (including
the baffled gentlemen) on board; Solander managed to get ashore in the watering boat, masquerading as surgeon's mate on the errand of buying drugs, and seeing a good deal under the escort of a good-humoured sergeant; Banks, stealing once to land before dawn, was able to spend a whole day there till dark night, busily inspecting the town and collecting plants in the country; his servants were ashore collecting for him more than once. Parkinson got ashore. Some specimens too were picked up in the greenstuff brought out to the ship. But what might have been done!
The fact of the matter was that the Viceroy could not bring himself to believe that the Endeavour
was a ship of the royal navy; certainly no ship ever lóoked less like the royal navy than the Endeavour.
What was she then? He very much suspected she was a merchantman, and if a merchantman, a smuggler. Naval practice could be imitated, commissions could be forged. British seamen had a leading reputation on the South American coast as smugglers; dishonest papers were a commonplace of their trade. The Viceroy was a soldier, not a sailor; his many years of distinguished frontier service had not brought him well acquainted with science. It was very well for Cook to tell him about the Transit of Venus, but was not that a cock-and-bull story, a patent blind? If it was true that, as Cook reported, ‘he could form no other Idea of that Phenomenon (after I had explained it to him) than the North Star passing thro the South Pole’, that did not brand him as a complete fool, administratively speaking. If the ship were indeed a naval one, and Mr Banks, with his talk about the use of scientific researches to mankind, were indeed a philosopher and not an engineer come to spy on the land, what was a philosopher doing in a naval vessel? Men were slipping ashore, that was certain, whether as smugglers or spies. ‘Those That like it may Take a Trip in disguise’, said Gore.1
It may be that the Viceroy, when he referred to orders from his most Faithful Majesty which Cook could not believe were orders, did have orders that put the amiable Portuguese treatment of Byron out of date. If Cook were really a naval officer, it might be even worse than if he were a smuggler or a forger. The Portuguese were nervous, and their forts, over which Cook was casting a critical eye from the sea, had not been built without a purpose. In the eighteenth century Rio de Janeiro had been twice attacked; it had been sacked in 1711. In Portugal the reforming minister Pombal had become convinced that Portuguese prosperity had been drained away by English tradeprivileges; and he had not received much sympathy from London
when in 1764, fearing a dangerous international crisis, he had called for his ally's aid. Thereupon he turned away from England to France and Spain in the great campaign he was fighting to have the Jesuit order suppressed. He had expelled the Jesuits from Brazil in 1759. Now he persuaded himself of something extremely unlikely—that the Society of Jesus was strongly supported by England. This fantastic obsession drove him in June 1767 to declare in a despatch to the then Viceroy of Brazil that the Jesuits had promised to admit the English into the Portuguese colonies, and that therefore no British ship could desirably appear in Brazilian waters. Five months later the Conde de Azambuja became Viceroy, and he may have read the despatches. It may be significant that a Spanish packet-ship, coming in some time later than Cook, was subject to no restrictions; and that a Lieutenant Thomas Forster
, an Englishman in the Portuguese service who tendered his good offices in the imbroglio, was cast into prison as a reward, though without formal charge. Yet the Viceroy was not entirely unfeeling; when the Endeavour's
longboat was carried away in an unusual storm of wind and rain, he lent help without question to reclaim her; and he must have turned a blind eye on a good deal of surreptitious invasion of the shore. And he patiently answered all Cook's, and Banks's, memorials.
As for Cook, one is glad that the episode lasted no longer. He did not shine in this sort of pointless diplomacy. Never had he written so much, so ineffectually, nor come so close to pomposity. 1
It was not the pomposity, or the near-pomposity, of James Cook
in person; even confined on shipboard, he found enough to think about to exclude the cultivation of his own ego. But reading between the lines, as one must read between his lines so often, one can make a reasonable guess at Lieutenant James Cook
, with his six-months-old commission, feeling his responsibility and his position a little as an officer and a gentleman, even vis-à-vis
the representative of the sovereign of Portugal; feeling it incumbent upon him to state that tame acquiescence in the proceedings of that potentate would render him ‘unworthy of the rank in His Britannick Majesty's Service which I now have the honour to bear’; considering that ‘my Court’, as well as ‘the King my Master’, was a phrase that might have a useful part in his protests. It is a far cry from the log of the Newfoundland surveyor, or even from the daily entries in his Endeavour
journal. He did, in the time at his disposal, compose a truly immense letter to the King his Master, or at least the secretary of the Admiralty, detailing with solemnity the whole history of the encounter,
which he forwarded by the Spanish packet, with copies of all the memorials he had written to the Viceroy, as well as the Viceroy's in reply. He does not seem to have thought it ever worth referring to again, and the Admiralty does not seem to have treated his plaint with great attention. He did also collect a good deal of information about Rio de Janeiro, its resources and fortifications, wrote sailing directions for entering the harbour, and—no doubt as much from force of habit as to outwit ‘Count Rolim’—drew ‘a Plot or Sketch of great part of the bay’. He is duly modest: ‘the strict watch that was kept over us during our whole stay hinderd me from takeing so accurate a Survey as I wished to have done and as all the observations I could make was taken from on board the Ship, the Plan hath no pretentions to accuracy, yet it will give a very good Idea of the place, difering not much from the truth in what is essential’.1
This was something that would have caused the Viceroy unrest if he had been aware of it, and it, much more than the exchanges with the Count, is the essential Cook.
There were some punishments while the ship lay here, which may indicate that dissatisfaction was not confined to the captain and the gentlemen. John Thurman, pressed at Madeira, got a dozen for refusing to assist the sailmaker; so did another seaman, who tried to desert, and a marine who abused the officer of the watch; so did John Reading, the boatswain's mate, for being remiss in carrying out execution on the previous two. A more serious matter was the drowning of a man who had been with Cook ever since the beginning of the Newfoundland survey, Peter Flower, who fell overboard as the ship turned down the bay on sailing and could not be rescued—‘a good hardy seaman & had saild with me above five years’. He was replaced by a Portuguese. In spite of all the difficulties, the three weeks' stay had been well worth while in supplies and work on the ship, cleaning, caulking, rigging, minor repairs. She was ready for her next two thousand miles, to the Strait of Le Maire, a passage that could have its own difficulties of variable winds and squalls and currents. She was a week getting out of the bay and to sea. ‘This Morn thank god we have got all we want from these illiterate impolite gentry’, wrote Banks on 2 December; but they were still to get a surprisingly polite letter from the Viceroy wishing them a good voyage. On 7 December they were free of the pilot and the guard boat and were turned south.
It was five and a half weeks before they were securely in the Strait, weeks of good seamanship for Cook, with some moments of great
technical interest for him and Green, as they compared their lunar observations and calculations of the longitude, and Cook compared with them his own dead reckoning. He was beginning to be pleased with the results, though sometimes a little puzzled by evident errors, suspecting the influence of currents. The editor of the Astronomical Observations
later published could have a different explanation: one error of nearly a degree, of Tierra del Fuego, he found ‘not at all surprising, if we consider, that although the air was extremely clear when these observations were made, yet the sea ran so high that it filled the quarter deck three times while they were observing; and the motion of the ship was so great the Captain Cook did not attempt to observe’.1
A violent pitching bout this was, thought Banks—not the only one who thought so, for they had all sorts of weather, from calms to heavy gales with hail and lightning. Only two days out, in fine weather and gentle breezes, the swell was so great that the fore topgallant mast carried away; there was much reefing of sails; more than once they had to lie to, with cots hitting on the sides and tops of the cabins all night and not a little discomfort. The ship was proving her virtue however: during a gale of early January, writes Banks, she ‘has shewn her excellence in laying too remarkably well, shipping scarce any water tho it blew at times vastly strong; the seamen in general say that they never knew a ship lay too so well as this does, so lively and at the same time so easy’;2
and then they said she went all the better for it, with her joints loosened. Early in the passage Cook put his men to two watches again, a third of them not being adequate for working the ship in these latitudes. Fortunately Christmas Day brought nothing worse than a fresh breeze: ‘the People were none of the Soberest’, remarks the captain; or, to quote Banks, ‘all good Christians that is to say all hands get abominably drunk so that at night there was scarce a sober man in the ship, wind thank god very moderate or the lord knows what would have become of us’.3
It was another ‘Ancient Custom of the Sea’. Cook, though he was a disciplinarian, never bothered to struggle against the inevitable: Banks might have considered it possible that his captain had a close enough eye on the weather. As cold grew, early in the new year, fearnought or ‘Magellan’ jackets and trousers were issued, thick woollen articles excellent in use. Meanwhile the natural historians had their eyes, and hands, full. At first a turtle, then innumerable sea-birds, petrels, the first
albatross, red lobster krill staining the water, penguins and seals raised their excitement. About latitude 42°, thirty leagues off the land, swarms of butterflies, moths and other insects blown out to sea settled on the deck or floated past the ship; four hours on end Banks fished them up in a net and had the sailors gathering them up from the deck, profitable work for these volunteers with a bottle of rum at the end. On 11 January 1769 Tierra del Fuego was sighted, smoke—perhaps the smoke of signals—rising above it; and Banks, who had been disappointed of inspecting the natural history of the Falkland Islands, was rejoiced by Cook's decision to look for a convenient harbour and let him land.
Cook had diffićulty getting into the Strait of Le Maire. The weather was boisterous; he was driven back past Cape St Diego, the western entrance point, three times by the force of the tide-race; at one point indeed the ship was pitching her bowsprit under water. At length the wind and sea moderated. He was able to send Banks and Solander ashore in a little cove outside the strait, Thetis Bay, while the ship plyed off and on: ‘At 9 they return'd on board bringing with them several Plants Flowers &ca most of them unknown in Europe and in that alone consisted their whole Value’1—a judgment that may indicate a little testiness or else a little humour, but certainly no appreciation of botanical science. The scientists were very pleased: besides the plants they recognised they had found about a hundred others, every one new and entirely different from anything either had seen before. Sydney Parkinson was going to have difficulty in keeping up. As soon as they returned Cook entered the strait, anchored for the tide outside another, not very promising, cove, ‘Port Maurice’; then, the afternoon of 15 January, anchored again in the Bay of Good Success. Here he was to stay for five days.
It was a commodious bay, about half-way through the strait on the Tierra del Fuego side, good holding-ground everywhere, with plenty of wood and fresh water, and large quantities of edible greenstuff, a sort of wild celery and one of the varieties of ‘scurvy grass’, berries, few birds, few fish except shellfish, a few seals and sea-lions swimming in the bay, a few primitive people. The last were encountered when Cook and the gentlemen went on shore, while the ship was mooring, to look for a watering place. Cook thought them ‘perhaps as miserable a set of People as are this day upon Earth’. The men were naked, the women wore a small apron of animal skin, unless for warmth they flung the skin of a guanaco or a seal over their shoulders; their dark copper colour was varied with streaks of
red and black paint, their long black hair unadorned, their necks hung with strings of small shells or bones; they seemed to live chiefly on shellfish, though they had bows and arrows, and their only shelter was rough open beehive huts; they had no boats. They had had earlier European contacts, because some of their arrows were pointed with bits of glass and they knew the use of fire-arms; they showed no particular shyness, accepted the gift of beads eagerly, while three quite willingly came on board the ship. Thus the Endeavour's
first introduction to primitive man: this the natural history that Banks studied on his first afternoon. Next morning early, the seamen being busy wooding and watering, and Cook beginning to survey the bay, he started out on a larger expedition. The morning was one for high spirits, the sun shining as on a fine day of May at home: Banks, Solander, Buchan, the four servants were accompanied by Monkhouse the surgeon, Green the astronomer, and two sailors to help carry the baggage. Their intention was to get as far as possible into the country behind the harbour, ascending a ridge of hills where spots showed clear of trees.
They pushed up through thick woods till mid-afternoon, when they arrived at a clear spot—what they had taken for turf, which now turned out to be a sort of waist-high bed of birch, growing in ankle-deep bog, about a mile across. They kept on across two-thirds of this, when Buchan was seized by a fit. With some difficulty lighting a fire, where the servants and sailors stayed with him, Banks, Solander, Monkhouse and Green pressed on to the top and the alpine plants they sought. The temperature went down, the antarctic wind brought blasts of snow; the idea of returning to the ship that night was abandoned, in favour of finding a sheltered spot where another fire and a ‘wigwam’ could be built. The cold seemed infinitely worse, and Solander insisted, to Banks's horror, on lying down to rest in the snow for a quarter of an hour; Richmond, one of the black servants, was almost in the same state. Somehow they got Solander to the fire. Richmond would not move, so his fellow-black, Dorlton, and a sailor, the least affected by cold, were left to guard him under the promise of early relief. The relief was sent, but the three could not be found: they had discovered a bottle of rum and drunk themselves stupid. The sailor turned up about midnight. Banks and four men went out again and found where he had left the negroes, but not even the whole party could get them to the fire through the darkness and the snow and the birch, nor was it possible to light another fire on the spot: they were therefore left covered with branches, and the others set themselves to outlast the snow. In the morning the two
unfortunates were found dead, though Banks's greyhound, who had stayed with them all night, had come to no harm; the snow stopped, the sun came out; a vulture which had been shot the previous day was divided up and roasted for breakfast. A march of three hours brought the party to the ship, to which they were much nearer than they thought; for instead of making directly into the country, they had gone round the hills in a half-circle. Their exhaustion was no doubt due, not to starvation nor even the cold, but to the large and incautious amount of exercise they embarked on after so many shipboard weeks. Banks himself remained lively: he immediately got a boat and went out for the afternoon to haul the seine—unsuccessfully.
Meanwhile Cook had finished surveying the bay before the weather again deteriorated, when strong southerly winds, with snow, hail and rain brought in such a swell and surf on the shore that no boat could land. In this gale he lost a kedge anchor, which was used to aid the longboat in watering. The ship proved her quality by ‘riding very easey’ broad side to the swell. ‘I never knew the Ship to roll more at sea’, said Molyneux the master,1 who had the awkward task of striking six guns down into the hold for the Horn passage. Wooding and watering completed on the 20th, the boats were hoisted in; early next morning they put to sea.
Cook had now to pass the Horn—or rather, as a Horn passage involved much more than merely sailing from one side of a particular point of land to the other, he may be said to have come to a critical period in his passage from off the east coast of South America, in a latitude of about 50° S (he reckoned it himself from his first sighting of Tierra del Fuego on 11 January, for which date his latitude was 54°20′), to a corresponding position off the west coast. This was a passage of something like 1500 miles. He passed Cape Horn only twice in his life, making westward on the present voyage, eastward as he drew towards the end of his second one. The westward passage was in general more difficult technically than the reverse, because it meant sailing into the teeth of the prevailing winds, and when Cook came to plan a second voyage, he planned on the basis of sailing with the westerlies. The traditional entrance into the Pacific, however, was from its south-east corner, whether through the Strait of Magellan or round the cape. Late January could be regarded as the height of summer. Summer off the Horn did not guarantee an easy time for the sailor: although Cook did not expect
the sort of fearful autumnal tempest that Anson had had before him and Bligh was to have after him, although his seamanship from day to day was admirable, he undoubtedly had good luck. The coast, once the Strait of Le Maire had been left behind, was not a coast the seaman stood close in to by preference; but Cook wanted to have a good look at it, and certainly he wanted to fix the position of the cape as accurately as possible. Was he bound to Tahiti to observe the Transit of Venus? He also felt himself bound, in a different sense, as no sailor had felt himself bound before, to these works of supererogation.
The immediate object was to get south-west. The first day or so brought rain and squalls, then there were a few hours of calm and clear weather in which the ship drove fast to the north-east in a current, so that when a light northerly breeze sprang up, Cook loosed all his reefs and set his studding-sails to make up the lost ground. Not often did a captain carry full sail in those parts, and most of the weather Cook had for five weeks was far from encouraging it. ‘Fore part fresh gales and squally with hail and rain remainder moderate and clowdy’, Cook would give a fairly regular report in his journal; or ‘Former part fresh gales, latter light airs and clowdy’; or ‘Fore and middle parts little wind and dark clowdy weather …. hazey rainy cold weather…. Clowdy and sometimes drizling rain…. Fresh gales with heavy squalls…. in the night hard squalls with rain and afterwards hazey rainy weather.’ It was under these conditions that he at first worked his way along the coast, within islands (charting a new one), until he could be certain of Cape Horn; having satisfied himself, the comments he sets down in his journal are very characteristic.
It appeared not unlike an Island with a very high round hummock upon it: this I believe to be Cape Horn for after we had stood to the Southward about 3 Leagues the weather clear'd up for about a 1/4 of an hour, which gave us a sight of this land bearing then WSW but we could see no land either to the Southward or westward of it, and therefore conclude that it must be the Cape, but whether it be an Island of it self, a part of the Southermost of Hermites Islands or a part of Terra del Fuego I am not able to determine. However this is of very little concequence to Navigation, I only wished to have been certain whether or no it was the Southermost land on or near to Terra del Fuego, but the thick Foggy weather, and the westerly winds which carried us from the land prevented me from satisfying My curiosity in this point; but from its Latitude and the reasons before given I think it must, and if so it must be Cape Horn and lies in the Latitude of 55°59′ South and Longitude 68°13′ West from the Meridian of Greenwich, beeing the mean result of Several Observns of the Sun and
Moon made the day after we left the land and which agree'd with those made at Straits Le Maire, allowing for the distance between one place and the other, which I found means very accuratly to determine.1
This position, considering the conditions under which Cook and Green made their observations—the weather, the heaving platform on which they stood—is remarkable. Cape Horn is indeed the extremity of an island. The latitude given is, according to the most modern computation, exactly correct; the longitude a little less than a degree too far west—in that latitude less than forty miles. Cook, being now about to take his departure from the land, goes on in his journal to an excellent succinct description of the coast he has seen, from the northern entrance of Le Maire Strait, and refers to his chart. The appearance of Cape Horn and Hermites Islands, he says,
is represented in the last View in the Chart which I have drawn of this coast from our first making land unto Cape Horn in which is included Strait Le Maire and part of Staten land. In this Chart I have laid down no land nor figure'd out any shore but what I saw my self, and thus far the Chart may be depented upon, the Bay[s] and inlets are left void the openings of which we only see from the Ship … . [because of short and imperfect accounts] it is no wonder that the Charts hitherto published should be found incorrect, not only in laying down the land but in the Latitude and Longitude of the places they contain; but I can now venter to assert that the Longitude of few places in the World are better assertain'd than that of Strait Le Maire and Cape Horn being determined by several observations of the Sun and Moon, made both by my self and Mr Green the Astronomer.2
There was no trivial boasting about this. It was a careful statement of fact.
Cook, always attentive to his instructions, stood well to the southward, ‘in order to make a good Westing’, though not as far as Anson had recommended, to 61° or 62° ‘before any endeavour is made to get to the westward’—and he had reflections on this. So far as possible, he stood south-west, until the evening of 30 January, when he found himself in latitude 60°10′ and longitude 74°30′; a calm followed, then the wind backed. ‘At 3 am wind at ESE a Moderate breeze, set the Studding sails, and soon after 2 birds like Penguins were seen by the mate of the watch.’ Studding-sails again, to astonish later Cape Horn seamen: and it was not till the afternoon of the following day that he took them in and took a reef in his topsails.
There were calm periods in the next few days, in which Banks could get out in a small boat under the gloomy sky and shoot sea-birds for his collection, albatrosses and petrels and whale-birds, without ill effect and without remorse; indeed albatross carefully cooked and served up with savoury sauce made a highly commendable dish. There were a great many about the ship. On 13 February Cook and Green observed carefully the sun and moon. The ship was in longitude 90°13′ W, latitude at the time about 49°S, and Cook again thought it worth while to write down some of the thoughts he had.
From the foregoing observations it will appear that we are now advanced about 12° to the westward of the Strait of Magellan and 3 1/2° to the northward of it, having been 33 days in doubbling Cape Horn or the land of Terra del Fuego, and arriving into the degree of Latitude and Longitude we are now in without ever being brought once under our close reefe'd Topsails since we left strait la Maire, a circumstance that perhaps never happen'd before to any Ship in those seas so much dreaded for hard gales of wind, insomuch that the doubling of Cape Horn is thought by some to be a mighty thing and others to this Day prefer the Straits of Magellan.1
Reasoning from the ships' journals he had read, particularly those of the Dolphin, Cook found himself ‘no advocate’ for the Strait passage; he found himself differing also from the advice of Anson to avoid the Strait of Le Maire and run down to latitude 61° or 62°. That, he said, is what I think no man will ever do that can avoide it, for it cannot be suppose'd that any one will Stear South mearly to get into a high Latitude when at that time he can steer West, for it is not Southing but Westing thats wanting, but this way you cannot steer because the winds blow almost constantly from that quarter, so that you have no other choise but to stand to the Southward close upon a wind, and by keeping upon that Tack you not only make southing but westing also and sometimes not a little when the wind Varies to the northward of west, and the farther you advance to the Southrd the better chance you have of having the winds from that quarter or easterly and likewise of meeting with finer weather, both of which we ourselves experience'd. Prudence will direct every man when in these high Latitudes to make sure of Sufficient westing to double all the lands before he thinks of Standing to the Northward.2
It may be argued that Cook has come to a conclusion not very different from Anson's; but there is a difference, he has thought the matter out for himself on the basis of his own experience as well as his scrutiny of the experience of others, and he has expounded it with lucidity.
For the next few weeks the winds had a good deal of south in them as well as west, and Cook was able to make a fairly consistent northwest course, except once or twice when north-westerlies set him south by west. He was still to have some strong gales or squalls, gloom and rain: on 16 February he shipped a sea which carried away his driver boom, and next day the main topsail split; observations on the 23rd were impeded by the rolling of the ship as seas broke over the quarterdeck; but next day, wrote Banks, the wind had ‘settled at Ne; this morn found studding Sails set and the ship going at the rate of 7 knotts, no very usual thing with Mrs Endeavour.’1 Those easterlies did not last more than a day or two. On the 23rd the distance sailed was only 13 miles; a fortnight before, in a southerly, Mrs Endeavour had logged 130 miles; on 17 and 18 February, in south-westerlies, 132 and 140 miles. There were also calms, when the slaughter of sea-birds continued. As March came on the temperature rose—‘pleasantly warm’, noted Banks at first, ‘and the Barnacles upon the ships bottom seemd to be regenerate’.2 Cook, a good deal farther west in the ocean in his longitude than anybody had been before, began to consider the continent. A large south-west swell at the end of February, that kept up thirty hours after a gale, proved to him that there was no land in that quarter. Then the agreement of dead reckoning and observation in fixing the longitude, 100°33' W, 560 leagues west of the coast of Chile, argued the absence of currents, to be expected near a continent, and therefore the absence of a continent where it was supposed to be. And day after day the great Pacific swell continued.
Ten days into March the winds turned easterly. It was fine pleasant weather, and Cook returned his men to three watches. The guns that had been struck down to the hold for the Horn passage were mounted again. Tropic birds began to appear. After a week came westerlies for a while, which pushed the course to the north, taking the ship a little more quickly across the Tropic of Capricorn. Men-of-war birds and ‘egg birds’ or terns joined the tropic life in the sky, both thought not to fly far from land, but there was no land.
It was Banks's turn to discuss the question. The nearest land they knew of just then was Pitcairn Island; a little to the north and to the west. ‘I cannot help wondering that we have not yet seen land. It is however some pleasure to be able to disprove that which does not exist but in the opinions of Theoretical writers… .’1
Dalrymple had laid down reported land many degrees to the eastward of the Endeavour's
track. As for the theorists of balance, ‘The number of square degrees of their land which we have already chang'd into water sufficiently disproves this, and teaches me at least that till we know how this globe is fixd in that place which has been since its creation assignd to it in the general system, we need not be anxious to give reasons how any one part of it counterbalances the rest’ 2
—a passage that persuades one that Banks knew less of Newton than he should have done. The month advanced and very early on the 24th a log of wood passed by the ship—a sign of land? At daylight there was no appearance of any, ‘I did not think myself at liberty to spend time in searching for what I was not sure to find’,3
says Cook, although he thought he could not be far from the islands discovered by Quiros in 1606. He was right on both counts: a few days more would bring him up with the Tuamotu archipelago, simply by pursuing the course he was on already, and he could have wasted a great deal of time by allowing himself to be put off his prime object. Meanwhile the boats could be repaired and painted, the cables strengthened.
As the ship sailed into warmer waters there happened a poignant and needless episode that reminds us how desolation can oppress the human heart even in a crowded company. A quiet young marine, William Greenslade, asked on sentry duty by a companion to look after a piece of sealskin, had taken a piece of it to make a tobacco pouch; being immediately found out he was so persecuted by his fellow marines as betraying the honour of their corps that when in the evening the sergeant was about to take him to the captain to complain, overcome by the blackness of despair he slipped overboard. Poor William Greenslade may have been forgotten in a few days by these over-righteous men, because excitement was at hand. In the first days of April, latitude about 19°S, a succession of easterly winds drove the ship ahead rapidly; and on the 4th in the morning land was sighted to the southward, ‘by Peter Briscoe
servent to Mr
Banks (to ye
Honour of ye
watch which was then upon deck)’, we are told by Pickersgill, also probably a member of the second
This first island of all the Pacific islands discovered by Cook was an atoll—‘an Island of about 2 Leagues in circuit and of an Oval form with a Lagoon in the Middle for which I named it Lagoon Island.
The Polynesians called it Vahitahi. The thread of land round this lagoon was low and narrow, but it supported people, who marched along the shore abreast of the ship; above them the great fronds of coconut trees streamed out in the trade wind like flags. In the afternoon, a few miles to the west, appeared another island, small, round and shaggy with wood and bushes, whence Cook's name for it, Thrum Cap;3
it was Aki Aki. Next afternoon came Bow Island, so called from its shape, or Hao, first discovered (as Cook deduced) by Quiros in 1606 and by him called San Pablo; the next afternoon again, 65 miles to the westward, the Two Groups, islets strung together by the same reefs, the one group Marokau, the other Ravahere; then the uninhabited small Bird Island, or Reitoru; then—after a day without islands—Chain Island or Anaa, a set of islets again strung together by reefs round a lagoon. On 10 April was sighted in the north-west the high round island called Osnaburg by Wallis, who first discovered it—Mehetia; and at six o'clock next morning, full ahead, the high peaks of King George's Island. The winds were variable and light, the weather sultry; the ship sailed only eighteen miles in twenty-four hours. A few people came out in canoes with coconuts and the green boughs of friendship, and were given some beads: Taio, taio
! they called—Friend, friend!—but would not come on board. The wind settled in the east; clouds, squalls and rain were followed by gentle breezes and a clear sky; the Endeavour
ran under an easy sail all that last night, in the morning the pinnace was hoisted out to lie over a reef which the Dolphin
had hit at the entrance to Royal Bay, and at 7 a.m. the anchor went down in 13 fathom. It was Thursday, 13 April. There lay the beach, the river, the valley, the green romantic heights. It was Matavai Bay, it was Tahiti.
This passage from Plymouth to Tahiti must be reckoned a remarkable piece of seamanship, and one is to remember that it was Cook's first long ocean passage. However one may estimate the element of luck, it is clear already that he could wring every advantage out of luck. Without looking for a continent, he had already, by working his way farther west in the higher latitudes of the Pacific than anyone
had gone before,1
pushed back its possible eastern limits. He had, while his mind had played freely over some of the problems of navigation and geography, shown that it was possible to comply literally with instructions. He had been advised to come into the parallel of King George's Island at least 120 leagues to the eastward of it, and entering the Tuamotu archipelago from the south-east at exactly the right time, that was what he had done: allowing a few miles either side, he had been running down the latitude for almost a week. He was to use his best endeavours to arrive at Tahiti a month or six weeks before the date of the Transit. He had done better. He had seven weeks and one day ahead of him before the designated moment. His men and his passengers were in good health.
They were in good health, almost eight months after they had left England. Four men had died through accident, one by suicide; none from sickness. This would have seemed to the generality of captains and ships' surgeons a remarkable fact. True, there were a few men—very few—upon the sick list with slight complaints. Banks, at the end of March, had suspected himself of scurvy, and dosed himself successfully with lemon juice. Cook, his pen at the page in his journal devoted to ‘remarkable occurrences’, paused to meditate, not on winds and currents, or longitude, or the variation of the compass, but on this matter of good health. He put it down to the regular serving of sauerkraut and portable soup to all ‘the people’, and of wort—the decoction of malt—to every man who showed the least symptom of scurvy; ‘by this Means and the care and Vigilance of Mr
Munkhous the Surgeon this disease was prevented from geting a footing in the Ship.’ He did not think earnestly of the onions of Madeira, the wild celery and scurvy grass and fresh water of Tierra del Fuego. He did write words which show that he had got beyond flogging as an inducement to dietary change, and could consider the sailor's mind rather than his back as the effective area of persuasion. The Sour Krout the Men at first would not eate untill I put in practice a Method I never once knew to fail with seamen, and this was to have some of it dress'd every Day for the Cabbin Table, and permitted all the Officers without exception to make use of it and left it to the option of the Men
either to take as much as they pleased or none atall; but this practice was not continued above a week before I found it necessary to put every one on board to an Allowance, for such are the Tempers and disposissions of Seamen in general that whatever you give them out of the Common way, altho it be ever so much for their good yet it will not go down with them and you will hear nothing but murmurings gainest the man that first invented it; but the Moment they see their Superiors set a Value upon it, it becomes the finest stuff in the World and the inventer a damn'd honest fellow.1
Cook was not the first to put his finger on this characteristic conservatism. The significant thing is that he began to find means of counteracting it.