New South Wales
Tasman, in November 1642, had picked up the western coast of Tasmania, or Van Diemen's Land, had rounded the island to the south, and left the eastern coast in the latitude of about 41°34' some-where near St Patrick Head, where a wind in his teeth stopped him from following the north-west trend of the shore. Sailing east, he discovered New Zealand. Cook, sailing west from New Zealand, and from Cape Farewell in latitude 40°30', hoped to pick up the coast of Van Diemen's Land where Tasman had left it, and trace the coast of New Holland northwards from that point. What he should expect to find it was impossible to say, whether a continuous coast or a congeries of islands, or a coast broken by a strait leading through to some inlet on the north coast, or whether in due course he would arrive plump on the coast of New Guinea as a part of New Holland, or would be guided into some certainty about the discoveries of Quiros. On board the Endeavour were at least two pieces of evidence which cast some light on the New Guinea question, arguing—or, as Cook might say, ‘conjecturing’—that, there was a clear passage between it and New Holland. One of these was the ‘Chart of the South Pacifick Ocean’, in Dalrymple's pamphlet of 1767, the copy of which he had presented to Banks. It had a number of strongly individual features, the existence of some of which, to a person able to check, would have cast doubt on the credibility of others; but it did show, clearly enough, a strait south of New Guinea, and a track for Torres marked through it. The other piece of evidence was the strait shown in the maps provided by Robert de Vaugondy for the volumes of de Brosses: from these maps Cook deduced ‘that the Spaniards and Dutch’ had ‘at one time or a nother circumnavigated the whole of the island of New Guinea as the most of the names are in these two Languages’; which was all the more curious because ‘I allways understood before I had a sight of these Maps that it was unknown whether or no New-Holland and New-Guinea was not one continued
land and so it is said in the very History of Voyages these Maps are bound up in’.1 So he had at once in his hands conjecture, assertion, and contradiction. All he knew for certain was that New Holland, like New Zealand, must have an east coast, and that if he sailed west far enough he would come to it.
In a day or two the wind turned to southerlies; then in a few days more to a week's gentle breezes from the north that sometimes dropped to light airs or a calm, so that Banks could go out shooting birds in the warm weather, and the crew were on a not unpleasant routine of picking oakum and working up junk, while the carpenters repaired the yawl, and the sailmaker took the spritsail topsail, worn to pieces, and mended the topgallant sails with it2
Then, as the land-haunting sea birds began to appear, after the first fortnight, the Tasman Sea shook itself, as it were, and considered its true character; on 16 April the wind went round to the south and turned to hard gales, squalls and rain with a great sea. This drove the ship farther to the north than Cook had intended, to 38°. All night between the 17th and 18th he was running under his foresail and mizen, sounding every two hours. The birds in the morning seemed certain signs of the nearness of land; indeed by this time, according to his own longitude he was a degree to the westward of the east coast of Van Diemen's Land according to Tasman's longitude—which was about 3° too far east. The wretched weather continued throughout the 18th and the following night, and at 1 a.m. Cook brought to; at 5 he set close-reefed topsails and at 6 Hicks saw the land, extending from northeast to west five or six leagues off. The ship had been heading towards Bass Strait
; she was held on this western course for two hours more, and then Cook bore away for the easternmost land in sight, calling the southernmost point of land he could at that time see Point Hicks. It is now known as Cape Everard, a little west of the south-east extremity of Australia. Further south was nothing, where, ‘due south from us’, ought to have been Van Diemen's Land. It was indeed there, though not due south but west of south, and well below the horizon: ‘from the soon falling of the Sea after the wind abated’ Cook had reason to think it was there, but taking that into account together with the westward trend of the coast he was on, did it not
merely exist but exist independently of New Holland? He had to leave his last query unanswered.
The long procedure of coasting began, in which two thousand miles of shore, brought out of the shades, were placed in a firm line on the chart. If Cook could have prefigured exactly the four months that lay ahead of him, until he should round the northern tip of New Holland, he might have paced his deck uneasily; as it was, the weather cleared, the winds were manageable, he had a good view of the coast as he sailed, sometimes two or three miles off it, sometimes increasing his distance to three or four leagues. As he advanced past promontories and bays the names of admirals and captains and other naval persons advanced with him, interspersed with metaphor and experience and reminiscence, plain characteristics, and—later—his own emotions. There were few resources for nomenclature his chart did not illustrate in the end: even in the first few days he had Ram Head, Cape Howe, Mount Dromedary, Bateman Bay, Point Upright, the Pigeon House, Long Nose, Red Point. He turned the south-east corner of the land at Cape Howe and steered north, bringing to not infrequently at night, sometimes tacking off shore and in again in the morning: for there was a high surf beating on the shore all along. Beyond the surf the appearance of the country, in those first days, was agreeable enough, moderately high with gentle slopes, grass-grown here and there though mainly covered with trees. Banks, in a week, expressed himself differently: “The countrey tho in general well enough clothd appeard in some places bare; it resembled in my imagination the back of a lean Cow, covered in general with long hair, but nevertheless where her scraggy hip bones have stuck out farther than they ought accidental rubbs and knocks have entirely bard them of their share of covering.'1 It was not possible, unfortunately, to investigate every potential harbour. The name Long Nose was given to the north point of a bay, itself unnamed that seemed sheltered from the north-east, Cook had then an unfavourable wind, ‘and the appearance was not favourable enough to induce me to loose time in beating up to it.’ Thus he passed by that fine haven Jervis Bay, when he was thinking the time had come for a landing; but it was not the only fine haven that his fate caused him to pass by. There were a few people seen on the beach, and a fire or two.
On the afternoon of the 27th Cook put off in the yawl with Banks, Solander and Tupaia to see if he could land. The surf made it impossible.2
Next morning at daylight a bay was discovered, well
sheltered to appearance, into which he resolved to take the ship. In the afternoon he did so, anchoring off the south shore under the eyes of a few natives, some painted over with broad white stripes and armed with pikes and shorter weapons of wood. A few others, striking fish from canoes almost in the surf, seemed to take little notice of the passing ship. As the landing party approached the shore the natives there made off, save for two men who remained to repel the invaders. They were darker-skinned than the men of the islands or New Zealand. This time there was no understanding between aborigines and Tupaia, they were not conciliated by nails or beads thrown to them, nor at first deterred by small shot from defending their country. ‘Isaac, you shall land first’, said Cook to his wife's young cousin, and Isaac Smith and Europe leapt ashore. Cook was deterred from following the natives, now in retreat, too fast or too far by Banks's fear that their darts might be poisoned. A few bark huts were found, lying about them a number of these darts, more like fish spears than weapons of war, which were taken; in one of them were four or five small children, hiding behind a shield, with whom were left some strings of beads. Canoes on the beach were made of bark. Fresh water seemed scarce. With this introduction to New Holland Cook returned to the ship for the night.
In the morning enough water was found for the ship's needs in a small stream and in holes dug in the sand. There was plenty of wood, there was plenty of fish. Having come into a harbour, Cook surveyed it thoroughly and explored the country round about it as far as he could in the week he stayed there—and the wind kept him longer than he had intended. He wrote a favourable account of it, perhaps too favourable; for though it was ‘capacious safe and commodious’, a good deal of it was also shallow. Green made the latitude 34°. The land was low and level, its soil in general poor sandy stuff, though some of it was rich, some mere swamp; shrubs; palm trees, mangroves grew, with greater trees, heavy and hard—probably black-beans and casuarinas. The sand and mud flats fostered pelicans and other waterfowl, the oysters, mussels, and cockles which formed a large part of the native provision; parrots and cockatoos were beautiful. Banks describes animals that may have been bandicoots, dingos, native cats, and the dung of something—could it have been a stag? he wondered—that must have been a kangaroo. Gore the sportsman went out over the shallows at high water and struck a number of huge
stingrays. Banks and Solander collected so many new plants that their preservation became a large problem, and the drying paper had to be carried on shore into the sun to hasten the process. The ‘Indians’, in no great number around the bay, were shy, dark-skinned, as Cook had already noticed, lean and active, quite naked, with black lank hair, some with bushy beards, certainly not negroes; they threw a dart or two but generally behaved on the principle of live and let live. Small parties of them visited the watering place, unattracted by presents, ‘all they seem'd to want was for us to be gone'. To learn anything of their customs, beyond their use of bark and shellfish, their lack of acquaintance with clothing and their painting of themselves, was impossible. Cook's own men remained healthy, except for one young seaman from the Orkneys called Forby Sutherland, who here died of tuberculosis seemingly acquired at the Strait of Le Maire. Cook named the inner south point of the bay after him. What name, however, would he give to the harbour itself, where he had displayed the English colours ashore every day, and cut upon a tree near the watering place, as at Mercury Bay, the ship's name and the date? He made no patriotic choice. He wrote in his log, after the last catch of stingrays, ‘The great quantity of these sort of fish found in this place occasioned my giving it the name of Sting ray's harbour.’ On this he had second, third and fourth thoughts, as he considered in his journal another kingdom of nature and its princes: ‘The great quantity of New Plants &ca Mr Banks and Dr Solander collected in this place occasioned my giving it the name of’—Botanist Harbour? Botanist Bay? The famous name at last was written—‘Botany Bay’;1 the heads at its entrance Points Solander and Cape Banks. When the name emerged he had long left the place. He sailed out with his rejoicing natural historians, who had spent the whole of their last day collecting specimens, on the morning of 6 May, in a light north-west breeze that immediately went round to the south, as if a benediction were being laid upon him.
The wind was all important. The southerly continued for two and a half pleasant days, then began to hesitate; on 8 May it turned for a day or so to northerlies and briefly to the west, so that at night Cook stood off, except when it was north-west or west, when with a light moon he made the best of his way along shore to the northward. It went again to the north on the 13th for a day, and thereafter to the south; until, on the 21st, when in about latitude 24° the coast changed direction to north-west, the south-easterlies began, gentle breezes with ‘clear weather’ or ‘serene weather’ or ‘fair weather’. Now he
seems to have run at full sail during the day, taking in his studding sails and perhaps others during the night. Few indeed were the unpleasant intervals; never had the trade wind been more equable. Dangers and awkward moments there were; it was no period of gentle wafting up an unbrokenly benevolent coast; but at least that summer gave its best. The fatality that pursued the captain, however, where harbours were concerned, was with him still. Botany Bay, though it provided satisfactory anchorage for a small vessel, could not truthfully be called a good harbour; but at noon on the day he left it he was two or three miles off the entrance of a ‘Bay or Harbour’—could, in fact, see right up it—where appeared to be safe anchorage. He called it Port Jackson: it was to be one of the most distinguished harbours in the southern hemisphere. Four days later he passed unsuspectingly by another entrance—the opening of Newcastle harbour, a fine port with a fine river and a fertile valley within it; only to note and name, a few hours later, being much closer to the land, the much inferior Port Stephens. Smoke was seen inland from time to time, which argued habitation: a good quantity of it on one point brought the name Smoky Cape. This was in latitude 30°51', a week after Botany Bay
was left. People were seen occasionally too; they, so far as the sight of them through the glasses could indicate, showed no sign of interestin the ship. The land was becoming higher, still ‘diversified with an agreeable variety of hils ridges Valleys and large planes all cloathed with wood’, rising from a low and sandy shore with rocky points.1
Every day had its observations and its inches added to the chart. The sailors were not the only ones with a routine. Sydney Parkinson was catching up with his work: ‘This evening’, wrote Banks for 12 May, ‘we finished Drawing the plants got in the last harbour, which had been kept fresh till this time by means of tin chests and wet cloths. In 14 days just, one draughtsman has made 94 sketch drawings, so quick a hand has he acquird by use.’2
With Smoky Bay behind, there was a day of thunder, squalls and rain—even hail, as the wind changed finally to settle in the south; and then came the first tricky piece of navigation. A pattern was beginning to be imposed. At sunset on the 15th breakers were seen ahead, on the larboard bow, though the ship was five miles from land and in twenty fathoms. Cook hauled off to the east and brought to. A strong southerly blew all night: nevertheless in the morning he
found that he had drifted to the south. He passed a league outside the breakers, which stretched two leagues east over a shoal running out from the point he called Point Danger; a high peak a few miles inland, south-west, he called Mount Warning. He stood past Point Lookout (look out, he advised the future, for more breakers) and the wide, not deep indentation he called Morton Bay—a name transferred, mis-spelt, to the vast opening on the inside of the islands that formed the outline of his bay.1
The land, now becoming lower, even when it was of a moderate height presented a barren sandy aspect; and the distance Cook was from it, whether a few miles or a few leagues, made difficult for him the separation of islands from the mainland. So he did not perceive that Sandy Cape, itself high enough to be visible for thirty or forty miles, was the northern end of a long island. It had a thirty mile shoal extension, Break Sea Spit, over the tail of which he crossed with a boat ahead sounding, the sea ‘so clear that we could distinctly see the bottom’,2
into the smooth sheltered water outside Hervey Bay, steering west till he picked up the land again and found it had changed its direction to west-north-west. It now once more seemed well-wooded and fertile. After spending a night at anchor because of shoal water he sailed on for a day; and then—the evening of 22 May—hauled in for an inviting bay where he intended both to anchor and to land. It is at this moment in his journal that he bursts into a passage of indignation that in its first uninhibited utterance by word of mouth may well have made the whole ship tremble.
There had been on the previous night, while the ship lay at anchor, a grave breach of discipline, ‘a very extraordinary affair’ which came upon Richard Orton the captain's clerk. He had gone to bed drunk—and again we are left amazed that these men could so often find the wherewithal for the purpose: was it by careful saving, or by robbing the ship's stores, or private casks?
Some Malicious person or persons in the Ship took the advantage of his being drunk and cut off all the cloaths from off his back, not being satisfied with this they some time after went into his Cabbin and cut off part of both his Ears as he lay asleep in his bed.
The furious captain went into the matter.
The person whome he suspected to have done this was Mr Magra one of the Midshipmen, but this did not appear to me upon inquirey. However as I Know'd Magra had once or twice before this in their drunken frolicks cut of his Cloaths and had been heard to say (as I was told) that if it was
not for the Law he would Murder him, these things consider'd induce'd me to think that Magra was not altogether innocent. I therefore, for the present dismiss'd him the quarter deck and susspended him from doing any duty in the Ship, he being one of those gentlemen, frequently found on board Kings Ships, that can very well be spared, or to speake more planer good for nothing. Besides it was necessary in me to show my immediate resentment against the person on whome the suspicion fell least they should not have stoped here.
Yet it was puzzling. Orton was a man not without faults, but he had not designedly injured any man in the ship.
Some reasons might, however be given why this misfortune came upon him in which he himself was in some measure to blame, but as this is only conjector and would tend to fix it upon some people in the Ship whome I would fain believe would hardly be guilty of such an action, I shall say nothing about it unless I shall hereafter discover the Offenders which I shall take every method in my power to do, for I look upon such proceedings as highly dangerous in such Voyages as this and the greatest insult that could be offer'd to my authority in this Ship, as I have always been ready to hear and redress every complaint that have been made against any Person in the Ship.1
The thing is more than a storm in a teacup, and one would like to have Cook's earlier drafts of these passages, as well as the modifications we do have; for it casts some light, of which we have too little, an odd and dubious light, on the human nature and strains of the voyage. In what ways was Mr Orton to blame? Who were the persons Cook would fain believe innocent? The allusions make for curiosity. And do we not begin to see, not merely the indiscipline of the age, not merely ‘resentment’, but a little of the interior of the captain's mind—his sense of justice, here defeated; his regard for evidence, in other matters than marine surveying; his picture of himself as a commander?
Meanwhile he landed to inspect the country, finding a channel strewn with shoals, leading to a lagoon skirted with mangroves and pandanus, sparse woods growing in a dry and sandy soil, eucalypts and grey birch; no people, but clear signs of them in smoke and fires that they had just left, and small bark shelters against the wind. Banks remarked the ants' nests, the green hairy stinging caterpillars drawn up in rows, a ‘wrathful militia’, on the mangroves, and the great variety of plants—some of them known from the islands and the East Indies, not all new as at Botany Bay
. The Botany Bay birds were there, and ducks, and shy pelicans; a large bustard was shot
(subsequently eaten with great pleasure), whence the name given to the place, Bustard Bay. They sailed again in early morning, brought to for the following night, passed Cape Capricorn, anchored in a calm on the 25th, ‘having the Main Land and Islands in a manner all round us’—small high barren islands, the main land hilly, its shore rocky, the prospect generally indifferent. Next afternoon, when the Endeavour
was between Great Keppel island and the main, the shoals became embarrassing: Cook was forced to anchor in sixteen feet of water, a bare two feet more than the ship's draught, while the master, sounding ahead, found only 2 1/2 fathoms. Luckily the wind veered for a short time to a north-easterly, so that he could stretch back a few miles and anchor in 6 fathoms for the night; in the morning the boats found a passage out through the islands. He not unnaturally thought it wise to shorten sail and bring to the following night. Next day, as he came round Cape Townshend into Shoalwater Bay, there seemed to be islands everywhere before him, islands out at sea. He had to tack suddenly to avoid shoal water, then sent a boat ahead. The difficulties are reflected clearly enough in the journal, without excitement.
A little before noon the boat made the Signal for meeting with Shoal water, upon this we hauld close upon a wind to the Eastward but suddenly fell into 3 1/4 fathom water, upon which we immidiatly let go an Anchor and brought the Ship up with all sails standing and had then 4 fathom course sandy bottom; we found here a Strong tide seting to the Nwbw1/2W at the rate of between 2 and 3 Miles an hour which was what carried us so quick Jai Jai Jaily upon the Shoal… . Having sounded about the Ship and found that there was sufficient water for her over the Shoal we at 3 oClock weigh'd and came to sail and stood to the westward as the land lay having first sent a boat ahéad to sound. At 6 o'Clock we Anchord in 10 fathom water a sandy bottom about 2 Miles from the Main land… .1
Opposite the anchored ship appeared the mouth of an inlet. Cook, as if drawing breath, decided to put in here for a few days, to wait until the moon increased while he examined the country; and judging the inlet, when he got inside, to be a tidal river with a considerable ebb and flow, he thought he might lay his ship ashore to clean her bottom. There were spots suitable, he and Molyneux found; but the whole neighbourhood had one decisive defect—not a single drop of fresh water could be found. He therefore stayed only two days at this place that he called Thirsty Sound. It was not a river, it was a long channel separating islands from the main. Cook took bearings from a hill at the entrance, and went in a boat through
to the great spread of water at the other end, Broad Sound. The country seemed infertile: the red clay uplands grew eucalypts but no underwood, the swampy salt low land grew mangroves; where it was rather higher it was gashed by the torrents of the rainy season. For the naturalists there were a few new plants, as well as the sharp-speared sand burrs which joined with innumerable mosquitoes to torture their skins, and with mud and mangroves to make walking almost intolerable; there were ants and billowing clouds of butterflies, beautiful loriquets, shells, and one ‘very singular Phenomenon’, the little fish we call the mud-skipper, seemingly as much at home on the land as in the water, leaping from stone to stone as nimbly as a frog; mankind signified his presence by smoke and burnt-out fires. The weather turned dirty for a day, then fortunately cleared, because there were enough discomfomorts for a sailor without rain and haze. Cook left this unrewarding spot on the last morning of May.
A boat was ahead sounding. Just after noon there was a repetition of the episode of a few days before: the boat signalled shoal water, ‘we hauld our wind to the Ne
having at that time 7 fathom, the next cast 5 and than 3 upon which we let go an Anchor and brought the Ship up.’1
Round about the shoal there was deep water. Cook got under sail and anchored for the night in the lee of a nearby island. How much more of this was there to be? he must have asked himself; and now, if ever, he must have blessed the nature of his cat, her broad bottom and stout timbers, the comparative lightness of her spars that made for quick Jai Jai manoeuvring. Now was he remarking with care the rise and fall and set of tides. Islands of various sizes lay parallel with the coast all the way along it, a fair distance in the offing, other smaller ones were close to the land. Islands can be avoided, can even be a convenience; but only the most consummate seamanship, with a little good luck added to it, can explain how Cook kept his ship off the ground in the next few days. His chart is no less good than it was; it, and his journal pages, are soon thick with the names he gave to every notable feature; his descriptions are no less lucid. One long fair afternoon, that of 3 June, was spent steering through Whitsunday Passage, between the Cumberland Islands and the main, in deep water, with pleasant bays and coves on either side, hills and valleys, woods and green levels. On a beach were seen two men with an out-rigger canoe, very different from the crude bark contrivances further south. So, past Cape Gloucester and Edgcumbe Bay, Cape Upstart springing from its level base, ‘Magnetical head
as it had much the appearance of an Island’—
which it is—‘and the Compass would not travis well when near it’; a mainland rugged, rocky and barren, but still with the smoke of habitation; Halifax Bay, Rockingham Bay; continuing the course at night in the bright moonlight under reduced sail. On an islet out of Halifax Bay what were thought to be coconut trees were seen, and Hicks with Banks and Solander was sent for a supply of the nuts, only to find cabbage palms. Even on this Palm Island were found new plants, as a few more still were found two days later on Cape Grafton, in latitude 16°55', within which Cook anchored briefly in the hope of convenient fresh water. Fresh water there was, but not convenient. Why therefore stay? Cook ‘thought it would be only spending time and looseing so much of a light moon to little purpose, and therefore at 12 oClock at night we weigh'd and stood away to the NW, having at this time but little wind attended with showers of rain.'1
This was the midnight that began Trinity Sunday, 10 June. Just off Cape Grafton lay a low islet that Cook called Green Island. Banks describes it rather more at length, ‘a small sandy Island laying upon a large Coral shoal, much resembling the low Islands to the eastward of us but the first of the kind we had met with in this part of the South Sea.’2
Looking to the shore as he ran northwards from Cape Grafton that morning, Cook named a flattish trend of the coast, which included one or two minor indentations, Trimity Bay; its northern point, looking at it on the chart later, he called Cape Tribulation, ‘because here begun all our troubles.’
There was something the captain was unaware of. It was the Great Barrier Reef
. It is a reef that lies not parallel but at an angle with the Australian coast, and it is not a single line. It is farthest from the coast at its southernmost point, rather beyond latitude 22°, and when Cook turned Cape Townshend, which he put in 22°13', and brought up standing in Shoalwater Bay over a sandy bottom, he had come within its influence though not yet where the shoals had a bottom of coral. To run aground on coarse sand would have been highly inconvenient, not fatal. But as the latitude becomes lower and the reef approaches closer to the shore, the area between becomes at once smaller and more dangerous; the insects have built in outcrops which run in all directions, the shoals have risen in every direction in the sheltered water; until, within a few degrees of the northern tip of the country, it is almost a confusion of coast and reef and shoal. Cook's position, on that Sunday of June, was not as bad as this; but the sides of the great funnel into which, all unaware,
he had been sailing were drawing together, and Banks's small sandy island on a large coral shoal looks, to hindsight, like a dark and fearful scrawl of intimation. The ship throughout the day was steering along shore three or four leagues off, in 10, 12, or 14 fathom water; the wind was east-south-east. At 6 o'clock, about which time the tropic dusk would fall, the northernmost part of the mainland bore Nbw1/2w
, and two low woody islands, which could be taken for mere rocks above the water, N1/2W. ‘At this time’, says Cook, ‘we shortend sail and hauld off shore Ene
close upon a wind.’ There were those who, after his story appeared, accused him of rashness and argued that he should have anchored. He could have answered that he was not on the edge of a shoal, or in a bay preparing to land. His intention was not to risk danger but ‘to stretch off all night as well to avoid the dangers we saw ahead’—the dubious island-rocks, and according to Banks, shoals—‘as to see if any Islands lay in the offing, especialy as we now begin to draw near the Latitude of those discover'd by Quiros which some Geographers, for what reason I know not have thought proper to tack to this land, having the advantage of a fine breeze of wind and a clear moonlight night.' That is, he had the ideal conditions for night sailing that he had exploited before. He had a man heaving the lead continuously, and the ship being under way was in the best state for manoeuvring. ‘In standing off from 6 untill near 9 oClock we deepen'd our water from 14 to 21 fathom when all at once we fell into 12, 10 and 8 fathom. At this time I had every body at their stations to put about and come too an anchor but in this I was not so fortunate for meeting again with deep water I thought there could be no danger in standg
on.' The gentlemen were at supper: they must, they concluded in Banks's words, have passed over ‘the tail of the Sholes we had seen at sunset and therefore went to bed in perfect security’;1
the sea was calm, the moon continued her radiance, in it the Endeavour
stole along under double-reefed topsails. ‘Before 10 o'Clock' (we return to Cook) ‘we had 20 and 21 fathom and continued in that depth untill a few Minutes before a 11 when we had 17 and before the Man at the lead could heave another cast the Ship Struck and stuck fast.’2
They were on a coral reef, at high tide.
Within an instant Cook was on deck; sails were taken in, boats sounding round the ship, yards and topmasts struck, anchors carried out for heaving her off. In some places about here were three or four fathoms, in others ‘not quite as many feet’ of water, a ship's length from the starboard side as much as twelve fathoms, even more astern. She would not budge under any strain, but was making little or no water, while the horrible sound was heard of her bottom scraping on the coral underneath. Everything heavy that could be thought of was thrown overboard—the six guns and their carriages, half a ton each, iron and stone ballast, casks, decayed stores, a general miscellany of fifty tons and more. She had struck at high water at night; at high water twelve hours later, with all this lightening, she still would not move. Fortunately there was a flat calm, the grating of her bottom ceased; but as the tide went down again she heeled to starboard and began to make water. Everybody, including the gentlemen, took to the pumps in quarter-hour reliefs; there were four pumps, but one of them had rotted and would not work. Banks admired the coolness of the officers; he was surprised at the unusual absence of oaths among the men; he had understood that under such circumstances sailors generally ran riot and plundered the ship. Some hope was now born from the old belief that night tides rose higher than day tides, and while the pumps worked Cook got all ready for another attempt at heaving off. The leak was gaining: if the ship did come off into deep water she might go straight down. This risk had to be taken: what alternative was there? The tide rose high and higher, she floated; she was hauled off, after twenty-three hours. While the leak still gained a mistake happened ‘which for the first time caused fear to operate upon every man in the Ship.’ A new man measuring the depth of water in the ship took it from a different level and reported a terrifying increase. Realisation of the mistake caused an equal reaction; vigorous pumping gained upon the leak. The anchors were brought in, except the small bower, which had to be cut away with the cable; the stream anchor cable also was lost. The foretopmast was sent up, the ship was got under sail, and she edged in for the land, six or seven leagues distant. If she could not make it there were the two low woody islands seen at dusk two days before, still visible—Hope Islands—surely they could be reached? While she sailed she was fothered—that is, a sail sewn with tufts of wool and oakum and spread with sheep's dung was dragged over the place of the leak, which was thus partially plugged by the force of the water itself. Jonathan Monkhouse, who had had some experience of this, was in charge of the operation, and ‘exicuted
it very much to my satisfaction’, says Cook; high praise indeed for the midshipman from that measured pen. The leak could now be kept down with one pump. As for the ship's company all through the crisis—the captain gives judgment again—no men ever behaved better. At night between the 12th and 13th she was anchored; next day she was again edged in with boats ahead sounding and looking for a harbour. The first that was examined—Weary Bay, as Cook significantly called it—had not enough water, and another night was spent at anchor, among shoals, two miles off shore. The pinnace then reported a good one, the ship ran down to it, by which time it had begun to blow, she would not work and missed stays twice; still entangled among shoals Cook again anchored, and went and buoyed the narrow channel into the harbour himself. It was in the midst of these anxieties that the captain found time for an act of justice: ‘This day I restore’d Mr Magra to his Duty as I did not find him guilty of the crimes laid to his Charge.'1 The weather turned to gales and rain. He could not move. He got in spars to lighten the ship forward; and at last, after two more days, he ran in, grounding first on the bar, then inside. It was 16 June: he was not free of that harbour until 4 August.
He was in a river-mouth, the banks well suited to laying a vessel ashore. Cook lost no time in emptying the hold and adjusting the ship's trim so that the carpenter could get at her forepart. The few sick were installed in a tent: of these only Tupaia and Green were at all serious cases, the first undoubtedly with bad symptoms of scurvy, the second with some illness unspecified. Tupaia went fishing and rapidly cured himself, Green recovered a little more slowly. Banks and Solander were out plant-hunting. The armourers were busy making nails and bolts. Cook climbed the highest accessible hill to look at the country, ‘a very indifferent prospect’, mangroves on the low lands, higher land barren and stony. By the 22nd the bow of the ship was ashore. At low tide, the damage could be inspected. The coral rock had gone right through her bottom on the starboard side in a clean cut, but by a most extraordinary piece of good fortune a lump of the rock had come away and stuck in the hole: this, with the fother and other bits of rubbish, had stopped a fatal inrush of water. The close and heavy build of the floor timbers had prevented more widespread damage of the severer kind; nevertheless, part of the sheathing under the larboard bow was gone, with part of the false keel, ‘and the remainder in such a shatter'd condition that we should be much better of, was it gone also;' the fore foot and
part of the main keel were also damaged, not materially it was thought. The loss of the sheathing might be serious, because it would open the way to ‘the worm’. To repair the main damage did not take many days, but in spite of all the ingenuity employed it was impossible to come at the part further aft, because there was no way of heaving the ship down. Cook, however, respected the opinion of his carpenter: Mr Satterley thought she would do, and he resolved to worry no more. It was now 6 July.
Parties sent into the country to forage brought back a few pigeons, palm cabbages, wild plantains and taro. All these ate pretty well, as long as the taro experiments were confined to the leaves; ‘the roots were so Acrid that few besides my self could eat them’, says Cook. What was there that he could not eat? Fishing with the seine, which began badly, improved so as to provide fresh food for the whole ship's company. There seemed to be no game animal on land, unless the animal of which fleeting glances were several times caught (once by Cook himself)—about the size of a greyhound, slender, mouse-coloured, swift, with a long tail, jumping like a hare—was a game animal. Banks began to refer to it as ‘the’ animal. Then there were one or two ‘wolves’, probably dingos or native dogs; and the thing so oddly described by a seaman, ‘about as large and much like a one gallon cagg as black as the Devil and had 2 horns on its head, it went but slowly but I dard not touch it’1
—which may have been a flying-fox. Banks and Gore, the naturalist and the hunter, were determined to secure specimens of ‘the’ animal; they went up the river until they had to drag their boat, saw some which easily outdistanced Banks's greyhound by bounding over the long grass, and returned with only a few ducks and the additional sight of an alligator. Gore was a determined man; a week later he shot a small one, a fortnight after that a second, much larger. They were kangaroos, grateful both to the curiosity and to the stomachs of those who dined on them, and a capital contribution to knowledge of the world's fauna. Purslane and wild beans were added to the diet. The master came back from examining the shoals with quantities of large clams; then, to general jubilation, with hundredweights of turtle. Cook's policy was settled: ‘Whatever refreshment we got that would bear a division I caused to be equally divided amongest the whole compney generally by weight, the meanest person in the Ship had an equal share with my self or any one on board, and this method every commander of a Ship on such a Voyage as this ought ever to observe.’2
Turtle led to what might have been a highly embarrassing episode. Traces had been seen of the native people by the hunters and naturalists. It was not till after three weeks had gone by that a few of them, shy and suspicious like those of Botany Bay, naked, nimble, painted in the same way, but of smaller size, began to approach the ship—even then leaving their women at a distance, for glasses to scrutinise. They did not seem interested in gifts. They let their weapons be examined; Banks was allowed by one of them to experiment with a wet finger and get below the layers of smoke and dirt to the brown chocolate skin underneath. They chattered somehow to Tupaia, and a few of their words were picked up. When they saw turtles lying on the deck of the ship they showed real animation and prepared to go off with two of them, as their own property; resentful at being stopped, no sooner were they on shore than one seized a handful of dry grass, lighted it at a fire that was burning and in an instant had the whole place in flames; immediately after which they set fire to the grass surrounding some fishing nets and linen laid out to dry. Luckily the ship's powder had been returned on board, and only that morning her tents; there was nothing lost but a piglet, and nobody hurt but an aboriginal grazed by small shot. Reconciliation was soon effected. They fired the woods on the hills round about, however, perhaps as a warning—the first bush fire seen by Europeans in that inflammable country.
Before the end of June Cook had his young gentlemen surveying the harbour. At 3 o'clock on the morning of the 29th he himself and Green observed an emersion of Jupiter's first satellite, which gave them a remarkably accurate longitude for the place;1
then, as Satterley was getting on so well with his work, he turned his attention to leaving it. On the last day of the month, at morning low water, he climbed the 500 foot hill above its south point. From what he saw he derived ‘no small uneasiness’. Sandbanks or shoals lay all along the coast, the innermost three or four miles from the shore, the outermost as far off to sea as his glass would reach, some just appearing above water. Only to the north could he hope to get clear of them: to return south would be difficult if not impracticable because of the constant south-east wind. He sent Molyneux to sound and search. Molyneux came back reporting a passage out to sea between coral reefs; at five leagues distance he was outside all the dangers. This Cook did not believe. After a week he sent the master
out again. Molyneux came back this time to say he had been seven leagues off the coast, there were still shoals beyond, and there was no getting to sea that way. At least he brought the turtle. On the 17th he was sent to the north. He was away for two and a half days. Cook and Banks also went to the northwards, walking six or eight miles and climbing another high hill, ‘whence we had an extensive view of the Sea Coast to leward; which afforded us a Meloncholy prospect of the difficultys we are to incounter, for in what ever direction we turn'd our eys Shoals innumerable were to be seen'; and ‘no such thing’, adds Banks, ‘as any passage to sea but through the winding channels between them, dangerous to the last degree.’1
Molyneux's report from sea-level was equally gloomy.
In any case, would the ship ever get out of that narrow-mouthed harbour? The wind, the wind! Day after day it blew from the southeast, in gentle breezes, fresh breezes, strong breezes, very fresh gales. Was the blessing become a curse? There had been a few hours of a land breeze once only, very early, while repairs were still in progress, and much as an enforced stay might profit natural history, how long could this harbour-bound existence go on withoutimperilling the voyage itself? If, in the end, the ship survived the reefs and shoals, would she be pinned down by the monsoonal change? Reefs and shoals would have to be risked. By 19 July everything was on board, there was nothing to do but work on the boats and the decayed pumps, or try to strike turtle or gather greens or hunt the animal, or fish. At last, on the 29th, there was a calm, followed by a light breeze from the land. Cook hove up the anchor and sent a boat to the bar. The tide was on the ebb, there was already six inches less water than the ship drew. The wind went back to south-east, gales and squalls with rain. Cook determined to warp out. At first it blew too fresh. August came. On the 3rd he tried. The ship tailed up on the sand on the north side of the river, and he had to moor her just inside the bar. He laid his coasting anchor and cable outside, to be ready for the flood. Early next morning it fell calm again, and in two hours he was off the harbour's mouth and under sail, farewell bade to the Endeavour River
, the pinnace ahead of him. He anchored a mile from Molyneux's turtle reef, until he could view the shoals at low water from the mast head, and determine whether to beat back to the southward, or try for a passage to the east or the north, ‘all of which appear'd to be equally difficult and dangerous.'
While the boats fished he decided to try the north-east, where it seemed fairly clear, made sail next afternoon, and by the end of it was forced to anchor again. He was in twenty fathoms; a mile farther on the pinnace was in four or five feet over a reef. Morning showed him breakers all the way from the south round by the east to the north-west. The journal becomes a detailed description of shoals and reefs, their direction and their nature. The weather turned to strong gales with cloudy weather. Molyneux was all for turning back. Cook recorded his desperate quandary: ‘I was quite at a loss which way to steer when the weather would permit us to get under sail; for to beat back to the Se
the way we came as the Master would have had me done would be an endless peice of work, as the winds blow now constantly strong from that quarter without hardly any intermission—on the other hand if we do not find a passage to the northd
we shall have to come back at last.’1
The ship began to drive towards a reef astern; he gave her more cable and another anchor, struck topgallant masts and topmasts and yards, and at last she rode fast. She stayed thus for three days, the last of which was spent wrestling to get up the anchors again.
He would try sailing northward closer to the land. It was now 10 August. He crept back past shoals and reefs and islets till he was between a headland on the main and three high islands lying outside it. There now seemed a clear open sea ahead, all danger past. Illusion: the headland became Cape Flattery. To the north, from the mast head appeared more land, more breakers, a great reef. Cook hauled in for the land and anchored under another headland, his Point Lookout, which he climbed for the view—to the west a flat sandy plain running in ten or twelve miles to the higher country, with its smokes and fires; to the north broad sand and mud flats running out from the mangrove belt to sea, a group of small low islands, shoals smaller and larger, and the three high islands; to the east the dangers he had come in from. He determined to visit one of the high islands and scrutinise the scene from there, sending Molyneux to the north again in the yawl. Next day he went with Banks in the pinnace to the northernmost and largest island—Lizard Island, so called from the only animal inhabitants—and looked out from the bare 1100 foot top. Two or three leagues distant was the reef, stretching north-west to south-east till it was lost in the haze. Mortification, however, was mixed with hope: on this reef the sea from the east broke high, as if on outermost defences; through it were ‘breaks or Partitions’; between it and the islands was deep
water. After staying all night on the island and sending the pinnace to verify the depth of water Cook returned to the ship, sounding on the way. There was a clear passage. Molyneux had also found a passage, between the main and the low islands,1
but narrow and he thought dangerous. Cook agreed about the danger, and the risk of being at last ‘locke'd in' by the main reef and having to seek a way back: ‘an accident of this kind or any other that might happen to the Ship would infallibly loose our passage to the East Indias this season and might prove the ruin of the Voyage,’ for little more than three months provisions were left. He put it to his officers, they agreed. ‘I therefore resolved to weigh in the morning and endeavour to quet the coast altogether untill we could approach it with less danger.’ Accordingly at daylight on 13 August he got under sail, had a clear course to Lizard Island and out to the reef, sent the pinnace ahead through one of the channels he had seen from the island,2
and followed in the ship. She was free.
A ‘well growen Sea’ was rolling in from the south-east and breaking on the reef, with 150 fathoms under the ship without bottom. In that sea she leaked more, but not more than one pump could deal with, and the danger seemed trifling. Cook brought a greatly relieved mind to consider his position. Obviously there was nothing to fear from the direction of the sea, and he was outside the ‘Shoals &ca
—after having been intangled among them more or less ever sence the 26th
of May, in which time we have saild 360 Leagues without ever having a Man out of the cheans heaving the Lead when the Ship was under way, a circumstance that I dare say never happen'd to any ship before and yet here it was absolutely necessary. It was with great regret I was obliged to quit this coast unexplored to its Northern extremity which I think we were not far off, for I firmly believe that it doth not join to New Guinea
, however this I hope yet to clear up being resolved to get in with the land again as soon as I can do it with safety and the reasons I have before assigned will I presume be thought sufficient for my haveing left it at this time.'3
—Sufficient reasons indeed! As if the man had to stamp down, at the bottom of his mind, a little suspicion that after all he had been guilty of some derogation of duty. He does not here explain the firm belief he had that New Holland did not join New Guinea—whether it was from the trend of the coast combined with his speculative maps, or from other hydrographic compulsions that bore on his mind.—He stood off and on all night, and next day, the 14th,
steered a north-westerly course. At noon there was no land in sight. He brought to for the following night. At morning of the 15th he steered west in order to make the land, ‘being fearfull of over shooting the Passage supposing there to be one between this land and New Guinea.’ Shortly after noon the land appeared, and shortly after that breakers between it and the ship, from one end of the horizon to the other.
The wind was at ESE and then changed to EBN, which was right upon the reef where the sea was breaking, ‘and of course made our clearing of it doubtful’. Cook stood north with all the sail he could set for the rest of the day and till midnight, then tacked and stood to the Sse. He had run two miles when the wind fell quite calm, and he was left to the mercy of the waves. To anchor in that vast deep was impossible. Before dawn the roaring of the surf could be heard; when the day came it could be seen, only too clearly, not a mile away; and towards it the ship was being resistlessly impelled. Her men by now knew the nature of the reef, a perpendicular wall standing up from unfathomable depths, at which the whole ocean hurled itself, flooding over the top in a chaos of smashed water and foam, or withdrawing, infinite force all reversed, for another ruinous blow. In that tremendous surge the heavy-timbered Endeavour might have been a cork: except that the cork would have gone over with the foam, or back with the retreat, while the Endeavour would smash and sink in a moment. Yet men will struggle: if there was no wind to fill the sails the boats must tow; the pinnace was under repair but the yawl and the longboat were hoisted out, and with the help of sweeps from the aft ports got the ship's head round to the northward; the carpenter got another strake on the pinnace and she was sent down too. At this time the ship was perhaps eighty yards from the breakers; one sea washed her and then fell into the trough before its final rise and descent; a seaman was heaving the lead; and on the deck Green, helped by Clerke and Forwood the gunner, with what was either the last refinement of professional coolness or stark insensibility, was taking a lunar. Suddenly a little breath of air moved, blew for a few minutes, faded, the merest cat's-paw; the ship moved with it about two hundred yards; it blew again as briefly and again she moved outwards. About a quarter of a mile distant a narrow opening appeared in the reef; the boats and the sweeps together got her abreast of this, when the force of the ebb tide, gushing out, carried her a quarter of a mile off. By the end of the morning the boats had made the gap something between a mile and a half and two miles. Then the struggle became one with the
flood. There was still no wind, and how long could the human arm endure? Another narrow opening was seen in the reef, the ship's head was pulled round again, a light breeze at last sprang up, at ENE, with which the boats and the tide now combined in her favour, the tide hurried her through this ‘Providential Channell’; and Cook anchored in smooth water.
It has been ‘the narrowest Escape we ever had and had it not been for the immeadate help of Providence we must Inavatably have Perishd’, said Pickersgill; and he was not the only one to heave a sigh. Cook's own words at last show signs of strain, as of a man dropped suddenly from extremest peril, the climax of unremitted effort, into exhausted reaction. His mind, so self-contained, suddenly opens. It would be wrong not to quote him again at length.
It is but a few days ago that I rejoiced at having got without the Reef, but that joy was nothing when Compared to what I now felt at being safe at an Anchor within it, such is the Visissitudes attending this kind of Service & must always attend an unknown Navigation where one steers wholy in the dark without any manner of Guide whatever. Was it not for the Pleasure which Naturly results to a man from his being the first discoverer even was it nothing more than Sand or Shoals this kind of Service would be insupportable especially in far distant parts like this, Short of Provisions & almost every other necessary. People will hardly admit of an excuse for a man leaving a Coast unexplored he has once discover'd, if dangers are his excuse he is then charged with Timerousness & want of Perseverance, & at once pronounced the most unfit man in the world to be employ'd as a discoverer, if on the other hand he boldly encounters all the dangers & Obstacles he meets with & is unfortunate enough not to succeed he is then Charged with Temerity & perhaps want of Conduct, the former of these Aspersions I am confident can never be laid to my Charge, & if I am fortunate to Surmount all the Dangers we meet with the latter will never be brot in Question, altho' I must own that I have engaged more among the Islands & Shoals upon this Coast than Perhaps in prudence I ought to have done with a single Ship, & every other thing considered, but if I had not I should not have been able to give any better account of the one half of it, than if I had never seen it, at best I should not have been able to say wether it was Main land or Islands & as to its produce, that we should have been totally ignorant of as being inseparable with the other & in this case it would have been far more satisfaction to me never to have discover'd it, but it is time I should have done with this Subject Wch at best is but disagreeable & which I was lead into on reflecting on our late Danger.1
This, we may guess, is hardly Cook composing a public statement—hardly even, with its reminiscences of his instructions, a commander justifying himself to the Lords of the Admiralty; it is a man, not unduly nervous but emerging from one of the dark places of the soul, communing with himself, passing judgment on himself.
For a short time he considered returning outside the reef through Providential Channel. That, however, would have meant waiting indefinitely for the right wind; and once outside, the reefs might force him so far from the land that he could not answer the question that now filled his mind. What the alternative to a strait beyond New Holland might mean for him in practical terms—what long cast round. New Guinea—he does not, curiously enough, ever discuss; as if the question, anxiously as he felt it, could really meet with only one answer. He therefore settled to keep close to the main, then eight or nine leagues within, whatever risks that might entail, first staying a day at anchor while the pinnace was properly repaired. The other boats were sent to the reef, then dry, to see what provision they could find, and regained the ship loaded down with the meat of the great cockle or Tridacna
. In the morning—18 August—he stood north-west towards the land, two boats ahead, sounding constantly over a most irregular bottom. The only way to follow with accuracy the next three days' sailing is to follow it on a chart tracing with attentive patience the course described line by line in the journal. Cook anchored from sunset to daylight. When daylight came he resumed his struggle through a sort of insane labyrinth1
of islands and islets, shoals and reefs and keys, with those violently fluctuating depths below him. It was the ‘threading the needle’ navigation of which an admiring successor spoke; let no man not of strong nerves, said Flinders, embark upon it. At noon on the 19th Cook summed up his position: latitude 12°, just short of the latitude of Cape Grenville, having passed round the outside of an island seven or eight miles from the main coast; to the north-west of this island ‘are several small low Islands and Keys which lay not far from the Main, and to the northward and Eastward lay several other Islands and shoals so that we were now incompass'd on every
side by one or the other, but so much does great danger Swallow up lesser ones that those once so dreaded Shoals were now looked at with less concearn';1
in the previous twenty-four hours course and distance made good, N29°W 32 miles. Some of the islands were inhabited. His latitude next noon was 11°23'; course and distance sailed N22°W 40 miles. The main land was low, flat and sandy. He had had a good channel that day, soundings 14 to 23 fathoms, 'but these are best seen upon the Chart as Likewise the Islands shoals &ca
which are too numerous to be mentioned singly'.2
Journal or chart, or journal and chart together: to study them, and then let the mind go back to the masterly advantage taken of every minutest favouring incident in the struggle for the ship a few days before—go farther back, to the previous December and the clinging through the long gale to the North Cape, or still farther to the passage of the Horn—to do this is to begin to comprehend how great could be seamanship.
At daylight on 21 August, after another night at anchor, seeing for once no danger ahead, Cook made all the sail he could towards the northernmost land in sight. In two hours the shoals appeared again, but the northernmost land revealed itself as islands, separated from the main by a passage sown with shoals, through which, however, with boats ahead on each bow and a man at the masthead, he made his way on a strong flood tide. At noon he was through. The nearest part of the main, ‘and which we soon after found to be the Northermost’, bore west a little south. It was the end of the land, ‘the Northern Promontary of this country’, and Cook named it York Cape.3 He had come through what we know as the Adolphus Channel, and at once stood along shore to the west, boats still ahead. There seemed here too an open channel. At four in the afternoon he anchored off a small island, ‘in great hopes that we had at last found a Passage into the Indian Seas’; landed, Banks and Solander in company, to the fright of a few people who were seen, and climbed the highest hill. It was no great height; ‘but I could see from it no land between Sw and WSW so that I did not doubt but what there was a passage.’ To the north-west, as far as sight could carry, was nothing but islands. Just before sunset on that day Cook carried out his final act of annexation. His words have become classic.
Having satisfied my self of the great Probability of a Passage, thro' which I intend going with the Ship, and therefore may land no more upon this Eastern coast of New Holland, and on the Western side I can make no new discovery the honour of which belongs to the Dutch Navigators; but the Eastern Coast from the Latitude of 38° South down to this place I am confident was never seen or viseted by any European before us, and Notwithstand[ing] I had in the Name of His Majesty taken posession of several places upon this coast, I now once more hoisted English Coulers and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took posession of the whole Eastern Coast from the above Latitude down to this place by the name of New South Wales, together with all the Bays, Harbours Rivers and Islands situate upon the said coast, after which we fired three Volleys of small Arms which were Answerd by the like number from the Ship.1
Classic words: but what did they mean, or what did Cook intend them to mean? In the first place, we may note that, however the present page of his journal runs, in taking possession of this eastern coast (without the agreement of the aboriginal inhabitants) Cook did not give it the name of New South Wales, or any name at all, though when he found a name he may have called it New Wales by analogy with Dampier's New Britain, earlier detached from New Guinea. New South Wales was a name that emerged later, certainly not before he despatched a copy of the journal to the Admiralty. In the second place, we are unaware what proportion of the country Cook thought he was annexing under the head of ‘coast’: how far into the interior did the ‘coast’ run? Did the ‘Rivers … situate upon the said coast’ include river systems back to their sources? We may conclude that the resounding statement meant no more than a vague assertion of authority over a quite vague area, a gesture which the discoverer thought he was bound to make. The island on which he made the gesture was called Possession Island.
Time spent sailing next day was rather short, as Cook advanced into his passage, his Endeavours Straight.
From 10 a.m. to noon he stood south-west, past the islands in the north; from noon for three or four hours north-westerly, till at the signal for shoal water from the boats he anchored, over a bank where the depths fell next morning, 23 August, on the same course, from eight to three fathoms.2
This course took him by noon to a small bare island where, the wind falling, he and Banks briefly landed. There was now no part of the New Holland coast in sight. They shot a few of the seabirds
called boobies; Banks found a few plants; Cook called the place Booby Island
. They returned to the ship. That brief landing was like the point that a writer puts down at the end of some long and difficult chapter. Booby Island, for the sailor, still signifies the end of Endeavour Strait, or its western approach, the end of danger or its announcement. One must again quote Cook. While he was on the island the wind had gone to the south-west, ‘and altho it blowed but very faint yet it was accompaned with a swell from the same quarter; this together with other concuring circumstances left me no room to doubt but we were got to the Westward of Carpentaria
or the Northern extremety of New-Holland
and had now an open Sea to the westward, which gave me no small satisfaction not only because the dangers and fatigues of the Voyage was drawing near to an end, but by being able to prove that New-Holland and New-Guinea are two Seperate Lands or Islands, which untill this day hath been a doubtfull point with Geographers.’1
He describes the strait: probably, he thinks, there are as good ones, or better, among the congeries of islands to the north, if safer access from the east could be found: ‘the Northern extent or the Main or outer Reef which limets or bounds the Shoals to the Eastward seems to be the only thing wanting to clear up this point, and this was a thing I had neither time nor inclination to go about, having been already sufficiently harrass'd with dangers without going to look for more.'2
Those shoals! He cannot but recur to them. He had done his best with his chart; but as a conscientious hydrographer he must say to seamen who might come after him that he did not believe he had one half of them laid down; and how could he lay down every island, ‘especially between the Latitude of 20° and 22°, where we saw Islands out at Sea as far as we could distinguish any thing’? He could not deny that his work had some value, that it was solidly founded.
However take the Chart in general and I beleive it will be found to contain as few errors as most Sea Charts which have not under gone a thorough correction, the Latitude and Longitude of all or most of the principal head lands, Bays &ca may be relied on, for we seldom faild of geting an Observation every day to correct our Latitude by, and the observation for Settleing the Longitude were no less numberous and made as often as the Sun and Moon came in play, so that it was impossible for any material error to creep into our reckoning in the intermidiatc times. Injustice to Mr Green
I must say that he was Indefatigable in making and calculating these observations which otherwise must have taken up a great deal of my time, which I could not at all times very well spare. Not only this, but by his Instructions several of the Petty officers can make and Calculate these observations almost as well as himself….1
He is carried away by his fervour to recommend the lunar method to all sea officers; to assert his hope for the extended publication of the Ephemeris.
Before the journal proceeds with the voyage it devotes some pages, as was proper, to the description of this eastern side of New Holland. They do not convey the idea that the captain admired the country greatly, apart from its bays and harbours. In the south low and level, more to the north of no great height, indifferently well watered, indifferently fertile, with no great variety of trees and most of the large ones too hard and ponderous to apply to many uses, the land by nature produces hardly anything fit for man to eat, though a great variety of plants hitherto unknown. Land animals are scarce; kangaroos are good eating. Some of the birds are beautiful. The sea is indifferently well stocked with fish, though the various sorts are excellent in their kind; on the reefs are cockles and clams of a prodigious size, and in the waters nearby great numbers of the finest green turtle in the world. Botanical things, says Cook, are wholly out of his way to describe, ‘nor will this be of any loss sence not only Plants but everything that can be of use to the Learn'd World will be very accuratly described by Mr
Banks and Dr
Solander.' At the end of his description he remembers that his New Holland is not as barren and miserable as Dampier and the Dutch found the western coast; it is in the pure state of Nature; grains, fruits and roots would flourish here, there is provender for more cattle than ever could be brought into the country. He finds the naked people not unattractive, straight-bodied, slender-limbed, with features far from disagreeable, voices soft and tunable; ornamented simply, some of the men with a bone three or four inches long run through the bridge of the nose—what the seamen called a spritsail yard—some on Possession Island with breastplates of pearl shell (though these were a different people); with few weapons, but adept in the use of dart and throwing stick; with shelters of sticks and bark, canoes of bark or dugout logs; a primitive race indeed. Yet Cook bursts into a panegyric that almost persuades one that he had spent the voyage reading Rousseau: ‘From what I have said of the Natives of New-Holland they may appear to some to be the most wretched people
upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans; being wholy unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them. They live in a Tranquillity which is not disturb'd by the Inequality of Condition:'—and so on.1
There are simplicities still in this sailor, one perceives. Has he been listening to some oration of Banks, while the ship lay at anchor in the night; or read through some piece of paper adorned with the Banks version of the fashionable intellectual indiscretions? We return to the clear head, the hydrographer, with ‘a few observations on the Currents and Tides upon the Coast’—five hundred words of reality and close argument, which tell us again that it is James Cook
we are dealing with.
The dangers and fatigues of the voyage were not quite over. Cook wanted to touch on the coast of New Guinea and accordingly stood away north-west. From Booby Island he had a short afternoon's sailing before the wind fell calm and he anchored for the night. While the anchor was being weighed the following morning the cable parted and the ship drove. A day of frustrating work did not recover the anchor; it was not till the morning of the 25th that he had it and could resume his course. In the afternoon the water began to shoal rapidly again, and again the ship was brought up with sails standing, in six fathoms, with hardly two fathoms over a rocky bottom all round her except the way she had come—and it was almost high water, with ‘a short cockling sea’. A fortunate escape, thought Cook, from the most dangerous sort of shoal, which did not show till you were almost on it—and then the water looked merely as if shadowed by a dark cloud.2
He was still in the western approaches to Torres Strait
. By nightfall he was out of danger, to the south and west. His persistency did not fail, however: after finding deeper water he turned once more north-west, then north, and made the land on the 28th. He was in a bight not far from the southwest point of the island, a low shore fringed for miles out to sea with a mud-bank shoal. Stretching off again to haul round this point, he found himself continuously rebuffed; not until 3 September had he rounded the further Frederik Hendrik Island, and, a short distance north of it, got close enough in to land; even then, in three
fathoms, he was three or four miles from shore over the same bank of mud. He landed, wading from a boat to the beach, with Banks and Solander, just for the sake of landing, determined then to quit altogether a part of the earth where he was merely wasting time. There were traces of men and their voices, but the bush was so thick that he was deterred from doing more than take a walk along the beach. Three or four natives, looking much like New Hollanders, rushed out hurling their darts, retreating at the fire of the muskets; while Cook, to avoid gratuitous trouble, retreated to the boat himself, as a larger number came towards him. He was puzzled by a sort of noiseless fire-arm these people had—strips of hollow cane in which they carried only burning tinder. It was an encounter therefore without harm on either side; and he refused the advice of some of his officers, to send a party on shore to cut down coconut trees for the nuts—no way to get refreshments, but a certain way to court disaster. Instead he made sail to the westward. There was general satisfaction. The greatest part of the ship's company, says Banks, were now much afflicted with that longing for home ‘which the Physicians have gone so far as to esteem a disease under the name of Nostalgia; indeed I can find hardly any body in the ship clear of its effects but the Captn
Solander and myself, indeed we three have pretty constant employment for our minds which I beleive to be the best if not the only remedy for it.’1
Home was still half the world away. Cook was bound first for Batavia, which he wanted to reach as soon and as safely as he could. He knew it was a port well equipped for the repair of ships, and his leaky Endeavour
might well need heaving down; so he would sail to the south of Java and through the Strait of Sunda. It would have been agreeable to settle the question whether, as New Holland and New Guinea were different countries, their inhabitants were different peoples, still the point was of very little if any consequence (he is almost apologetic over mentioning it), and there was no other discovery to be made in these seas; to Batavia therefore. A rather tedious passage it was to be, of just over five weeks, with one break only. The water soon deepened, and though Cook sounded constantly to begin with he felt himself released from the necessity of anchoring at night. He steered west of south-west and south-west, sometimes a little puzzled by the charts he had, irritated by faulty compilers and dishonest publishers, but unable to delay himself for the sake of correcting them, and unwilling to jeopardise his ship in more shoal water, over more foul ground. He sighted the most
southerly of the Aroe islands, then Timorlaut or the Tanimbar group (where he would have landed had he identified it soon enough), and on 11 September was off Timor, which interested him for Dampier's sake. Westerly winds now imposed delay, he crept along the coast for four days till they went back to the north-east and blew him through the strait between the southern end of Timor and the island of Rotte. Some of his officers, again anxious to advise, ‘strongly importune'd' him to go to Concordia (the modern Kupang), the Dutch settlement and fort at this end of Timor. He would not, ‘knowing that the Dutch look upon all Europeans with a jealous eye that come a mong these Islands, and our necessities were not so great to oblige me to put into a place where I might expect to be but indifferently treated.’1
There was depression. Steering west from the strait, clear of the islands as he thought, he was surprised a day later, 17 September, by one in the south-west, certainly not laid down in its proper place on any chart. On its north side were houses, coconut trees, herds of grazing cattle, the green not of savage nature but of human cultivation. Considering the feeling in the ship since his refusal to touch at Timor, and tempted himself, Cook decided to try for refreshment here. Gore was sent ashore. It was the island of Savu; and here he learnt that the Dutch did indeed look with a jealous eye.
Gore returning with a hopeful report, was sent back with money and goods, only to return again with news of a bay to leeward where both anchorage and provisions could be obtained. While the ship was being moved there Dutch colours were hoisted on shore, as they were next morning on the beach at the anchorage. Gore, despatched still again, was taken to the ‘king’ of the island, the local rajah, who explained somehow that he could supply nothing without the permission of the Dutch governor or factor. Early in the afternoon this person and the king came on board, were entertained to dinner, liberally liquored, given presents, and in return promised as liberally to provide all the supplies Cook wanted. Both Solander and Spöring had enough Dutch to make the factor, one Lange, a German, know what they were. But when Cook himself landed next morning with Banks and a party to return the rajah's visit, he found the promises so far hollow: there were on the beach none of the buffaloes that he wanted to buy, or sign whatever of preparations for trade; instead Lange talked of a letter he had just had from Concordia (from which the ship had been seen) on the subject of trade and presents to the natives; and though there was dinner with the rajah, little could be
obtained except palm wine and more promises. On the morrow it became fairly plain that Lange was interfering with trade through his influence over the rajah, though the people were anxious for it and he himself was not immune to bribery, which pushed up extravagantly the price of the first buffaloes bought. Matters were made no better when Sydney Parkinson innocently enquired of the natives whether they had spices on the island, an enquiry immediately reported to Lange, who as immediately suspected some inroad on that sacred Dutch monopoly—a circumstance unknown to Cook, who, trade having at last begun, certainly wished to stay no longer than the one day he was now allowed. He got his buffaloes, disappointing beasts, a few sheep and hogs, a large quantity of poultry, and enough ‘syrop’—boiled down palm wine—said Banks, ‘for futurity’. In the three days' visit Banks accumulated a vast amount of information about the island's social and political arrangements, something about the Dutch commercial régime; for the much abused Mr Lange was quite talkative.
It was 21 September when Cook sailed. It was 1 October when he came in sight of Java Head, the south-west extremity of the island of which Batavia, that great centre of Dutch commercial activity, was the capital and the port. He had had good weather most of the time, on this due west then more northerly course, but either no time to make observations—he may have been busy writing up his journal—or Green had ceased to work on them; for his longitudes were strangely erroneous during almost the whole period—almost four degrees too far west by 30 September, almost three on 1 October. A strong westerly current ran, as he realised, and he allowed 20' a day for it: ‘this allowance I find Answers’, but it did not answer at all, and there was some worry lest he had overshot the entrance to the Strait of Sunda. We have an excellent illustration of the fallibility of dead reckoning, even with the best of navigators. The weather turned squally on the last day and the main topsail was badly split. After two years the voyage was having its effect: ‘many of our sails are now so bad that they will hardly stand the least puff of wind.’1
One of the passengers too was sick—Tupaia, and Cook sent on shore to get some fruit for him as well as grass for the remaining cattle, not with much success. Next day in the strait a Dutch ship was encountered. Hicks went on board her for news. Some of it was agreeable: Carteret's Swallow
, last seen by Wallis in the Strait of Magellan in April 1767, had called at Batavia ‘about two years ago’, and so she had survived the Pacific; some was what might be
called the normal news of civilisation, as that the English were rioting, the Americans refusing to pay their taxes, the Russians besieging Constantinople. It was all very different from the news that Cook brought with him. His, however, was not for general distribution. He had already, on the last day of September, collected the log books and journals of his officers and men, according to his instructions, and enjoined them not to divulge where they had been—which may be taken as a counsel of perfection; now, when Dutch officers boarded him with official enquiries, he would tell them no more than that his ship was English, her name Endeavour
, and that he was bound for England; Hicks, a little more communicative, went so far as to say she came from Europe.
This was off Bantam Point, the north-eastern extreme of the strait; thence four days of slow and painful sailing, labouring against strong currents, past almost as many islands, reefs and shoals as were met within the Great Barrier, anchoring and weighing with light winds from the land, brought her into Batavia road. There, on the afternoon of 10 October, by Cook's time, he found an English East Indiaman, and learnt that it was 11 October. Another boat came on board him, to enquire who he was. Both its officer and his people, notes Banks, ‘were almost as Spectres, no good omen of the healthy-ness of the countrey we were arrivd at; our people however who truly might be called rosy and plump, for we had not a sick man among us, jeerd and flouted much at their brother sea mens white faces.’1 Cook sent Hicks ashore to announce his arrival to the governor, and to apologise for not saluting, as he had not enough guns to do it properly.
7a. ‘A View of part of the West Side of Georges Island’ (Tahiti) Drawing by Cook
7b. ‘The West-Elevation of the Fort’ (at Point Venus, Matavai Bay) Drawing by Cook
8a. ‘A Plan of Royal or Matavie Bay in Georges Island’ (Tahiti) Drawing by Cook
8b. Peaks of Matavai Bay Pen and wash drawing by Parkinson
9. Fortified pa on arched rock, Mercury Bay Drawing by Cook, after a drawing by Parkinson
10. The watering-place in Tolaga Bay Drawing by Cook, after a drawing by Parkinson
11a. The Endeavour at sea Drawing by Parkinson
11b. The hull of the Endeavour Drawing by Parkinson
12. ‘New Zealand War Canoe. The crew bidding defiance to the Ships Company’ Drawing by Spöring
13. ‘A Chart of New Zealand or the Islands of Aeheinomouwe and Tovypoenammu lying in the South Sea’ By Cook
14. Entry in Cook's Journal, 16 August 1770 From the original in the National Library of Australia, Canberra
15a. The reef where the Endeavour struck, 11 June 1770 Detail from ‘Chart of Part of the Sea Coast of New South Wales’. By Cook
16. The Endeavour being careened Engraving by W. Byrne after Parkinson
17. ‘A Map of the Southern Hemisphere’ By Cook; showing his proposed route by a strong continuous line (yellow in the original)