To New Albion
The Sense of relief: perhaps it was also with a sense of release that Cook made north, the islands behind him. He had desperately wanted to reach them, but they had ceased to be an objective; had become, in fact, a sort of entanglement; and now, seventeen months out of Plymouth, with the run to New Albion ahead of him, and nothing as far as he knew in the way, he may at last have felt that the prospect was fair, that he was about to grapple with the real purpose of the voyage. He had enquired of his late hosts if they knew of any islands to the north or north-west: they did not. Nor had the Spanish galleons, passing and repassing the ocean between Acapulco and Manila for two hundred years, ever reported land in the middle of it. A vacant and wintry ocean, then, Cook expected, as he advanced into the northern hemisphere, a passage 'of considerable length both in distance and time', a part of which 'must be performed in the very depth of Winter when gales of Wind and bad Weather must be expected and may possibly occasion a Seperation'; so he wrote in giving Clerke his rendezvous. His own instructions were to be on the American coast, at latitude 65°, a degree and a half short of the Arctic Circle, in June. He had thus six months to get there, from 17° South to 65° North, with the complication that from 45° North, where he was to make his American landfall, the voyage must be a coastwise one; and, in spite of the maps, who knew what the coast would be like?
It would have been useless to try to sail a direct course to that American coast, against the prevailing easterly and north-easterly winds, and Cook's plan is clear enough, to steer north until he should strike the westerlies that drove the galleons home. Even as it was, he was pushed a few degrees to the west. For the first two weeks he did find an empty passage ahead, as he sailed not very far westward of the most southerly of the scattered small Line Islands, with Tongareva, the largest of the Northern Cook group, some 350 miles farther west still, though sea-birds indicated the presence of land;
and he must have been almost within sight of flat sandy Starbuck as he passed it on the east. Clerke describes the plan adopted for getting ahead as quickly as possible, while still exercising a proper caution: 'By Capt Cook's desire, as the Discovery is the fastest Sailing Vessell, I make all sail every morning at daybreak and run as far as I can ahead till Sunset, when I shorten to an easy Sail for the Resolution to come up; by this means we see a good part of the Sea's we cross during the Night.'1 They crossed the equator in longitude 156°45′ West on the night of 22–23 December; and on the 24th, just after daybreak, were in sight of land to the north-east. It was the barren atoll that Cook called Christmas Island, the largest of all atolls in the area of land it provides.2 There was anchorage on the lee side. All along the shore, so far as could be seen, broke a tremendous surf, though there was good fishing outside it, and it was not until next day that Bligh returned from a boat expedition with news of an opening through the reef—or rather a double opening, divided by a little islet—into the shallow lagoon. Cook therefore decided to land, and changed his anchorage; for he had a mind both to turtling and to observing an eclipse of the sun which was due on the 30th of the month. Christmas was duly celebrated.
The turtling and fishing parties were highly successful, and some of them had good sport, which they remembered long afterwards. The men who had to carry a heavy turtle two or three miles, however, across the sandy land and through coral-bottomed shallows to the boats, might not have thought of sport, and two of them from the Discovery
had a most unpleasant adventure. They got lost. How they managed to get lost on that flat and almost treeless island, from a good part of which the ships' masts were visible, Cook could not well make out; but lost they were, one for twenty-four hours, the other for two days, blundering about beneath a blistering sun or struck with cold by night, with nothing to drink but turtle's blood, which one of them could not stomach; finally picked up on the beach in the last extremity of distress and fright. For all that terrestrial direction meant to them, they might just as well have dropped from the clouds. Cook meditates again on the nature of his kind: 'Considering what a strange set of beings, the generality of seamen are when on shore, instead of being surprised at these men
lossing themselves we ought rather to have been surprised there were no more of them; indeed one of my people lost himself in the same place, but happening to have sagasity enough to know that the ships were to leeward, he got on board almost as soon as it was known he was missing.'1
While the wanderers were still unreclaimed the eclipse was observed from the small island near the entrance to the lagoon, which King accordingly called Eclipse Island—it is now known as Cook islet. Cook, Bayly and King observed, Clerke being too ill to do so. There was too much cloud for the beginning of the eclipse to be seen, and Cook himself was forced to discontinue observing for a time, under the strain of the awkward angle of his telescope, combined with the fierce heat of the sun reflected by the sand. He is a little apologetic for an added reason: as Bayly and he had the same sort of telescopes his timing for the end of the eclipse should not have differed from Bayly's as much as it did—24″ 'perhaps it was in part, if not wholy owing to a protuberance in the Moon which escaped my notice but was seen by both the other gentlemen'.2
Apart from turtles and fish and sea-birds, there was nothing on or about the atoll to support life unless one points to crabs, small lizards, and rats. A few poor coconuts, a few other scrubby trees, one or two shrubs and a like number of creeping plants and grasses, made up its botanical resources. There was no fresh water, though this would not have mattered to islanders. If Cook had made a full exploration of the place he would, none the less, have found signs of earlier habitation, platforms and enclosures of coral stone, memorials of some forgotten Polynesian past. What hurricane or starvation time depopulated it we shall not know. He gave it what he could. Having some coconuts and sprouting yams, he planted them on the observation islet, and sowed melon seeds elsewhere. Also on the islet he left another of those seamen's bottles enclosing its inscription to the honour of Georgius tertius Rex.
He took from it three hundred excellent green turtle; a spot where they were particularly plentiful was, Samwell tells us, given the name of Alderman's Point. He departed from it at daybreak on 2 January 1778. The same sort of agreeable sea weather continued; in spite of which he had the carpenters caulking the main deck, and on the 6th served out fearnought jackets and trousers, so it is possible he thought that weather must soon come to an end. At the same time Clerke was putting his men on an allowance of water. It seems that neither commander anticipated another tropical or sub-tropical island. The ships made
northing, the wind dropped, then went round more to the north and freshened. The amenities were observed: a week after leaving Christmas Island, the day being calm, Clerke dined with Cook. This time it was Anderson who was very ill. There were turtle seen now and again in the ocean; there were birds in the oceanic air; these were signs of land. The gentlemen may have consulted together over their dinner, whatever their anticipations. At daybreak on the 18th high land was seen bearing Nebe
, and soon after more in the north, quite distinct from the first.
The wind was light, and the ships came up with the land slowly. The following day a fresh breeze blew, right off the first heights seen, and Cook stood for those in the north; a short time later he saw a third piece of land in the north-east, again distinct; certainly here was a set of high islands. He was advancing towards one of his important discoveries, the Hawaiian group, that stretched in a line from north-west to south-east, and these were the three northern islands—the first Oahu, then Kauai, then Niihau. He was off the eastern end of the roughly circular Kauai on the afternoon of the 19th, wondering if this, like the so different Christmas Island, were uninhabited; but before long canoes put off from the shore and were about the ships; to general astonishment the people in them were talking a language clearly close to Tahitian, and intelligible. These too were at branch of that remarkable oceanic race! How, then, was it that at Raiatea there was no knowledge of further islands to the north? Cook did not ask himself that question; but evidently in the centuries there must have been a break of tradition. He had come to the apex of the 'Polynesian triangle'; and here the question he asked himself yet again was, 'How shall we account for this Nation spreading itself so far over this Vast ocean'—from New Zealand to these latest islands, from Easter Island to 'the Hebrides'? He does not recur to the castaways of Atiu, who had seemed to make clear a great deal; and indeed, they had little to contribute to the part of the problem now before him. He did not formulate the problem immediately; his eyes were on the land, as he coasted the south-east shore, with its gradual rise to the great hills and ridges, and on the people who ran from their villages to view the ship, while the canoes alongside traded freely their pigs and potatoes for nails. Another land of plenty this, just as the diet of turtle was coming to an end; the sad gentlemen of the departure from Raiatea did not foresee the day on which they would eat both turtle and fresh pork for their dinner. And within a day or two more their grog would be restored.
People ventured on board, rather nervously, but their surprise at
what they saw did not deter them from attempting to take away anything portable. Cook made his usual orders on approaching unsophisticated islanders a little more stringent:1 no women were to be allowed into the ships, there was to be no connection with them at all, no man with the 'foul disease' was to go out of the ships. Men would not be left on shore at night. He hoped for good effect, though like regulations had broken down at Tonga on his first visit; he knew how reckless were his men; his experience was now enough to make him rather melancholy. He had had conscientious surgeons, but 'It is also a doubt with me, that the most skilfull of the Faculty can tell whether every man who has had the veneral is so far cured as not to communicate it further, I think I could mention some instances to the contrary.' With such thoughts in his mind, but yet with no knowledge of how indignant Hawaiian women might be over a rebuff, he sent off Williamson in command of three armed boats, to look for a landing place, water and anchorage, while the ships stood off and on. It was 20 January. Williamson found what was needed; in doing so, at one spot where the excited people rushed into the sea to grasp at the boats and the oars, he lost his head and shot a man dead. In spite of his self-righteousness he did not tell Cook; and Cook, finding out later, after conducting himself as if nothing untoward had happened, was not pleased. The ships anchored off the village called Waimea, in the bay of that name. Cook immediately went ashore, where several hundred people were assembled on the beach; he was astonished again, the moment he landed, to see them all fall flat on their faces. He could not know that he was being received with the respect and submission paid to very few of the sons of men, to the half-divine Hawaiian 'kings' or ali'i'ai moku. When he got them to rise they brought the ceremonial plantain fronds and pigs and he gave them what he had in return, all was peace, the water proved excellent.
On the morrow, while a brisk trade went forward, and the people helped roll the water-casks, Cook, Anderson (recovered for the time) and Webber took a walk up the river valley, through the taro plantations, to what Cook called a 'Morai'—the more elaborate Hawaiian equivalent of the Tahitian marae
, that is, called heiau.
A guide and herald went before them, a train of followers behind; every person they met fell flat as on the day before. The walled enclosure of the heiau
, with its oracle tower, carved images, sacred
buildings, drum house, and chiefly graves, Cook describes with care; Webber made a drawing, and another of the village. At the end of a day of profitable investigation and barter everybody returned to the ships. The people were very honest dealers, 'never once attempting to cheat us'—but why should they, when they wanted nails and makeshift chisels so much?—'Some indeed at first betrayed a thievish disposition', but this did not last. They seemed to have no chiefs (chiefs they had but at that moment these were almost all absent on the other side of the island). Amiability, honesty, plenty provided every inducement to stay; and then the weather went to the bad, with rain, south-east winds which put the ships on a lee shore, breakers astern and a high surf on the beach. After a day and a night of this, with little interval, the wind went round to the north-east, and Cook decided to move the Resolution
a little further out. The moment his last anchor was up the wind veered to the east, he had some trouble in clearing the shore, was driven to leeward, had a strong current against him as well as the wind when he tried to regain the road, hoped uselessly he might find a better harbour at the west end of the island; and on the morning of the 24th found that in spite of light airs and calms all night the current had carried him right to the west of Kauai, with the other island of Niihau to his own south-west. The morning before, when he found he could not regain the anchorage, he had sent boats ashore for more water and refreshments, and they had come back safely, in spite of the surf. He had also sent a message to Clerke to follow him to sea if it was plain he could not return; for Clerke, anchored outside the Resolution
, had felt safe enough without moving. Now a northerly breeze sprang up: this, thought Cook, would bring the Discovery
to sea, and he steered towards Niihau to pick her up, and possibly find a safe anchorage there. She was not in sight, so he determined, rather than risk a separation, to make his way back to Waimea Bay and complete his water there. Next morning, when the bay lay north, he was joined by his consort; and then neither could regain the anchorage. After struggling for four days they found that the currents had again been at work, and they were within three leagues of the south-east point of Niihau. The open bight of Waimea Bay, however attractive to the newcomer, charmed deceptively.
This tedious struggle kept one or two things out of Cook's journal that he would normally have noticed. While the ship tacked off Kauai his quartermaster, Thomas Roberts, died of the dropsy that had plagued him from the first day of the voyage; and Sergeant Gibson of the marines, his captain's great admirer, laying himself
down to sleep upon the gangway, 'a little in liquor' (reports King), fell overboard, and was rescued by means of the 'machine' that had been designed for just such a purpose—the ship having not much way on, fortunately for Sergeant Gibson. On the 29th Cook, with his mind on fresh water, resolved to try the west side of Niihau for a landing place. One was found, and the ships anchored on a convenient bank; but Gore, who landed, could find no supply. Nor could he do so next day, though he did get a load of yams and salt—most of which was lost in the surf. The surf was all too high, and increased: Cook was himself following Gore, but, fearful of not getting back again, returned to the ship. Gore had to be left on shore with twenty men for two nights and the day in between, a period of storm and heavy rain: there was no fear for their safety, but what about the safety of the islanders from disease? It was an appalling mischance. Thus, wrote Cook, 'the very thing happened that I had above all others wished to prevent.'1
Sheltered water was found inside the south-east point of the island, and a man swam through the surf with a message to Gore to go there. Cook himself went to pick the party up. We have come to the first day of February. He took goats, pigs and seeds that he had intended for Kauai, and bestowed them on a person who seemed to have authority and received him with some ceremony. As he walked inland people ran from all directions, and these too prostrated themselves as he passed. The soil seemed poor, but nurtured the most sweet-smelling plants; the rain had filled a small stream where a few casks were replenished; he returned on board with the intention of landing again next day. Again misfortune descended: soon after sunset, in a heavy swell, his anchor started and the Resolution drove from the bank; it took a long time to get in a whole cable, secure the anchor, hoist up the launch alongside and make sail; so that at daybreak next morning the ship was three leagues to leeward of this last anchorage. Cook was not inclined to spend more time in regaining it. He signalled the Discovery to join him, and though the surf had gone down and everything was fair for a pleasant trade, there was nothing for Clerke to do but comply. They again stood away northward.
Thus, on 2 February, Cook left the group he called the Sandwich Islands
, after a visit that he can hardly have regarded as satisfactory. Out of a fortnight, he had set foot on shore on only three days. He numbered the islands as five—Atoui or Kauai; Enecheeou or Niihau; Orrehoua and Otaoora, or Lehua and Kaula, mere rocky
islets, one close off the northern point of Niihau, the second farther off the southern point; and Wouahoo or Oahu, the first seen to the east.1
To the south-west, not far away, was said to lie another island, small, low and uninhabited, called 'Tammata pappa';2
but what it was, and precisely where it was, remains quite baffling. At least, when he did set foot on shore, he had found the people friendly, in spite of the murder that had introduced his own men to them; and although he had not been able to complete his water, friendly trade had given him a three weeks' supply of fresh provisions, and Clerke 'roots'—sweet potatoes and yams—enough for two months. He had done his best to reciprocate friendship with his seeds and goats and pigs 'of the English breed'. The observations he and his officers were able to make, in the short time they had, were quite remarkable. The resemblance of the people to the Tahitians was at once obvious: darker in hue they were certainly, from greater exposure to the sun consequent on their very small amount of clothing—the men's maro or loin-cloth, the women's short skirt—but in physique, language and customs the alliance was close. Within the relationship there were differences such as one would expect. These people practised tattooing, but scantly and with poor design compared with the magnificence or the complexity of New Zealand, Tonga, Tahiti, the Marquesas. Their outrigger canoes were highly skilled productions; their double canoes were not the great structures of the Society Islands
, there was none of the masterly carving with which the New Zealanders decorated their vessels; but these were speedy and well-handled. The people, too, were gifted swimmers. Their houses, low-walled, high-roofed, large or small, were like so many oblong corn-stacks, wooden framework covered thickly with grass or sedge; they spread finely woven sleeping-mats on the clay floor; they had few domestic utensils beyond gourds and wooden bowls. Weapons also were few: wooden spears and daggers were all that Cook saw. Their working tools were much like those at the other islands. For music they had instruments of percussion, though Cook himself did not see these, and a simple gourd rattle; he did see the stone discs with which they played various games of bowls.
Some of their possessions called forth a good deal of admiration, like the 'neat Tippets made of red and yellow feathers'—no doubt the lei
worn by distinguished ladies round the head or neck; the brilliant short cloaks, of similar feathers, attached to a finely woven network of vegetable thread—Cook on this visit saw none of the full-length
The North Pacific
garments, which rendered glorious the progress of the greatest chiefs; the ingenious feather-covered 'Caps', as he rather inadequately called them, 'made so as to fit very close to the head with a semicircular protuberance on the crown exactly like the helmets of old. These and also the cloaks they set so high a Value upon that I could not procure one, some were however got.'1
He does not say how got, in the absence of chiefs. One young Kauai chief, it is true, of the very highest rank, fenced in with divinity and retainers, called on Clerke at the gangway of the Discovery
; the social Clerke clapped him on the back to make him feel at home—'upon which they gently took away my hand, and beg'd I wou'd not touch him.'2
The present this personage brought was not a cloak or a helmet, but a fine kava bowl. Less splendid than feather garments, but elegant and pleasing beyond compare, was the bark cloth—not the fabric itself, which could not rival that produced by the women of other islands, but its decorative designs and dyes, the lightness and freedom, variety and colour of which strained the descriptive powers of more men than Cook: 'one might suppose oneself transportd in a Linen drapers shop', declares the susceptible King.
Admiration and ordinary interest were not all to be recorded: there was also matter for a little wonder and conjecture. Not merely were these people anxious to acquire nails, and generous in payment, but they had one or two bits of iron already, used for cutting tools. It followed that eighteenth-century Englishmen were not the first to visit the islands, thought some; were not these helmets a memory of sixteenth-century Spaniards?3 Others since have been as much convinced, and have adduced a little speculative evidence. It is easily demolished. The pattern of helmets might equally have been derived from Periclean Greeks; Cook was no doubt correct in attributing the iron to its presence in drift-wood. He could not believe that ships had been there before: 'the very great surprise' the people showed at the sight of his, 'and their total ignorance of fire arms seemed to prove the contrary'. Spain, on the other hand, now that the discovery was made, might probably reap some benefit from it, as a way-station for her Pacific galleons. We can agree with Cook that his discovery was the first one. His prophecy was ill-founded. The Spanish showed no interest in Waimea Bay. The era of the galleons was drawing to an end.
Of the passage to the coast of North America, almost five weeks of
an empty ocean, with scarcely a sea-bird seen, and no other sign of life, Cook's journal has little to say. It was a not unpleasant passage. A few sentences mention latitude and longitude and prevailing winds—south-easterlies, north-easterlies, south-easterlies again, a calm on the first day of March, when he was as far north as latitude 44°49′ and in longitude 141° West, practically in American waters, when there was a change round to the north. A week earlier than that the weed or kelp that the Spaniards called porras
, and regarded as a sign that their eastward crossing of the ocean was almost over, was encountered. Other records than the journal supply us with a few details of activity:1
the carpenters are employed on the Resolution
's boats, stove in at Niihau, the sailmakers on the sails; the rats eat a hole in the Discovery
's quarter-deck to get at Clerke's yams, and his carpenters are employed on that—'Oh! my poor Cats at Anamooka', he cries; Bayly sees the Aurora borealis
; in the calm Cook sends his boat to beg a few yams for Sunday dinner for himself and his officers. Quite early, after little more than a week, we get a note from Clerke that reminds us that hedonism is at an end: 'We have been so long Inhabitants of the torrid Zone, that we are all shaking with Cold here with the Thermometer at 60. I depend upon the assistance of a few good N:Westers to give us a hearty rattling and bring us to our natural feelings a little, or the Lord knows how we shall make ourselves acquainted with the frozen secrets of the Artic.' The thermometer continued to go down steadily —in March it was in the forties. With the north wind that succeeded the day's calm Cook turned his course east for the land. He was not far short of the designated 45° latitude. On 6 March life appeared in the sea at last, seals and whales; next morning at daybreak, ten or twelve leagues distant, stretched the land from north-east to south-east, the 'long looked for' coast of New Albion.
The irony that broods over so much of this voyage again appears in the skies. Having lost his passage in the previous year, at least— Cook could have argued—he had made up the loss by being at 45° early in the season this year; and surely, unless luck were badly against him, he could cover twenty degrees of coast line and be in 65° in three months. Luck was badly against him. By a double irony, even if he had been able to move swiftly up that north-west coast, he could not have profited; even if he had been able to reach 65° by the very end of June, which was about the earliest that ice would have allowed him, he could not have pushed much farther till much later. Not having foreknowledge, he could not but be put
out by the three weeks of hard westerly gales, with their rain, hail, sleet and haze, and few fair intervals, which turned the whole American continent, as it were, into a lee shore. On some days, as he tacked off and on, he managed to get a glimpse or two of the land, moderately high, and named some of the capes—including that which formed the northern extreme of the land when he first saw it: 'which I called Cape Foul Weather
from the very bad weather we soon after met with'.1
He settled the position of this cape very accurately. Early next morning the weather deteriorated. The worst of it he summarises in his words for the storm which began at midnight of the 11th with a sudden shift of the wind from south-west to west-north-west, soon increasing 'to a very hard gale, with heavy squals attended with Sleet or snow. There was no choice but to stretch to the Southward to get clear of the coast, this was done under courses and two close reefed top sails being rather more sail than the ships could bear but it was necessary to carry it to clear the land.'2
By the morning of the 13th, when this gale abated, he had been forced back to latitude 42°45′. Clerke records the very heavy westerly swell. 'It is really rather a lamentable business that these NWters & this very unsettled Wear shou'd so far intrude upon us, that we can neither forward our Matters by tracing the Coast, nor have the Satisfaction of getting into a Harbour to take a look at the Country…. we can't look at the shore, but continue to dance about in the Offing here & make the best Weather of it we can.'3
Then on the 21st there was some fairer weather and the land was seen; then in two days more the gale again; under courses and close-reefed topsails they fought to keep an offing. But they were, slowly, increasing their latitude. The westerlies were not quite continuous. They were varied by storms from the southward, attended by rain and sleet—'it was by the means of these Southerly blasts, that we got [to] the Nw
writes Cook. It is clear that this unpleasant weather does not put his predecessors out of his mind: he adverts to Martin de Aguilar and, on 22 March, when he wrongly thought he was in latitude 48°, to Juan de Fuca: 'It is in the very latitude we were now in where geographers have placed the pretended Strait of Juan de Fuca
, but we saw nothing like it, nor is there the least probability that iver any such thing exhisted.' Night swallowed up a large strait before he could see it, providing a sort of subsidiary ironic comment on his own scepticism; for, wherever the real Juan de Fuca went and whatever he saw, here opens the passage that
now bears his name, not bisecting a continent, certainly, but at least cutting off from that continent a large island which at the end of a week more was to provide Cook with the shelter he so badly needed.
On the morning of the 29th, standing north-east after being well out to sea, he came in with the land again. It was now a land of high snow-crowned forest-covered mountains. On a stretch of the coast that he called Hope Bay—a reflection of his feelings rather than of its real trend—he saw two indentations out of several, and into the more southern of these he determined to go for water. There were inhabitants, whose canoes soon surrounded the ships; their faces were thickly painted, and they were clad in skins; they were eager to trade, and seemed a mild inoffensive people. The inlet, or sound, promised well. Cook decided quickly that it would do for more than merely watering the ships: what appeared to be a snug cove was found for a longer anchorage, and even before they were moored he ordered the sails to be unbent and the Resolution's foremast to be unrigged for repair. On the last day of the month they were moored securely head and stern to the shore, for a stay, as it proved, of four weeks. This anchorage, named then Ship Cove, and since then Resolution Cove, not good, but satisfactory enough for the time, is to be found at the seaward end of an island named (also since then) after Bligh, inside Nootka Sound, on the western side of Vancouver Island. It is not good because, though sheltered from the sea, it is directly exposed to violent south-easterly gales; this was discovered soon enough from the fallen and mutilated trees, as well as from the first gale that blew. There was an infinitely better harbour just inside the south-west point of the sound; but Cook, contemplating a brief stay only, was unwilling to spend more time than he had to in securing the ships. At least there would be no difficulty in wooding and watering.
Vancouver Island is built on vast proportions: no one approaching it from the sea, or even flying down its coast, would take it for an island—the scale of the hills behind hills is too great, the snowy mountains inland recede too far, the line of breakers is too long; the very clouds are almost too immense. The spruce and hemlock and cedar of the forest cover it, to within a few feet of the sea; the flat points reaching a short way into the ocean are covered; the islets off-shore are crowned with trees, like grave barbaric princesses pacing up the coast to some remote festival; trees spring, it seems, from each individual solid rock. The sides of the sound and of the minor inlets that run off it, north, east and south, fall precipitous to the water, with only here and there a naked narrow strip of land
marching with it, or a larger ledge. Ship Cove is surprisingly small, its rocky beach perhaps fifty yards long, running back a few yards to where the moss and trees begin—trees of a second growth now, for Cook was not the last to set his axe to the forest, and drifted barkless trunks rub everywhere along the shores of the inlets. But there is the anchorage; there is the rock where the astronomers set up their instruments; there are the steeps that echoed the noise of axe and forge, and the wild cries of Indian companies as they paddled away in the gloom of evening. In this tempestuous and rainy place the explorer's mind might have gone back to the Dusky Sound of the second voyage, far in the south-west corner of the ocean, not altogether unlike though so different in its garment of trees; no doubt in this harbour there were sailors who thought with regret of the warm Polynesian bays, the yellow hibiscus on their sands, their benign and flower-decked girls. Yet the climate here was 'infanately milder' than it was in the same latitude on the east coast of America, in spite of the snow on the heights. Cook found all hands work to do.
Some of the timbers supporting the fore topmast were decayed or sprung. This was remedied within a week, and Cook saw the ships putting to sea again, when it was found that the foremast head itself was damaged, the result of inadequate work in England, and that the mast would have to be taken out and repaired on shore. Meanwhile some of the lower standing rigging being decayed, and there now being time to put it in order, he ordered a new set of main rigging to be fitted and the best of the old to be converted to fore rigging. So far the weather had been fine, but on 8 April a tremendous storm blew across from the opposite side of the sound. In this storm the mizen mast, the only one with its topmast still aloft, gave way at the head; obviously it would have to be taken out too, and as soon as the main rigging was fixed this was done. It was so rotten that the head dropped off in the slings. This meant a whole new mast. A tree was cut and dragged to the shore, and as soon as the carpenters had finished the foremast they set to work on the mizen; they were well advanced when they found that their stick had been sprung in the felling, 'so that their labour was lost and we had a nother tree to get out of the wood which employed all hands half a day.' The new mast was finished and rigged by the 21st, when these hard-labouring men had to produce a new fore topmast.
While all this was going on, with supplementary activity such as caulking, the cutting of firewood and the brewing of spruce beer—which the crew resolved, without effect, not to drink1
of the sound or the nearby coast were in constant attendance. Cook and Anderson observed them closely, as a quite new people, the wildest and most uncouth of all the Indian tribes of North America; indeed all the journal-keepers poured description and anecdotes into their pages. 'Mild and inoffensive' might be Cook's first impression; before this month was over he had much to add to that. They were a short-statured people, dirty beyond measure from head to foot, smelling strongly of fish, oil and smoke, their broad faces painted thickly with ochre, red, white or black; their legs bowed with long sitting in their canoes. The men dressed generally in nothing more than knee-length cloaks made of the skins of moose or some fur animal; the women rather more completely in a rough fabric woven of bark fibres or goat's hair; copper ornaments hung from their ears or were pinched on to the nose. They had hats of strongly woven straw like inverted flower pots. These women, at any rate, had no attraction for the British seaman, except for some of the more experimentally-minded young gentlemen, who went to work to see what they could do with a tub of warm water and soap, and scrubbed down the startled ladies to a very satisfactory result.1
The men were constant traders, bringing a variety of furs, weapons and all kinds of other artifacts large or small, bladders of very good oil, even at first human skulls and hands (and did that argue cannibalism?), to exchange for any sort of metal—knives (better than their own, for they had iron knives already), chisels, nails, buttons, unregarded bits of iron or tin, or brass, pewter plates; the ships had hardly a bit of brass left in them by the time they sailed says Cook, 'except what was in the necessary instruments. Whole Suits of cloaths were striped of every button, Bureaus &ca
of their furniture and Copper kettles, Tin canesters, Candle sticks, &ca
all went to wreck; so that these people got a greater middly and variety of things from us than any other people we had visited.'2
The great attraction for the sailors was the furs, particularly the beautiful pelt of the sea otter. With a very high regard to property on the Indian side—when Cook wanted some common grass for his few remaining stock, he found that every, blade was claimed by some separate owner—went a very great disregard for other people's goods, particularly if they were of metal; it was hard to keep the ships and the boats properly guarded, and the captain's own gold watch was abstracted from his cabin, under the noses of the men put there for protection. It was however recovered. This was hardly inoffensive, though one is struck by the fact that Cook had utterly abandoned his
attempts to deter offenders by punishment. Only once, towards the end, did he in a fit of exasperation fire a load of small shot at a man who refused to give up a misappropriated small piece of iron.1
Did the memory of Moorea, one wonders, ride hard on his mind, or did he simply feel a futility in counter-measures?
Nor were the Indians mild among themselves, but conducted their many quarrels with a rage of passion that seemed subject only to an odd form of ritual, unless it went on to physical violence; and their sense of property was certainly extended to the two ships, as was evident in the first week in their attitude of defiant hostility towards newcomers whose canoes were brought into the sound by the news of profitable trade. For a time it was Cook and his men who thought they were menaced. Trade with outsiders had to be carried on through those who were there first. But such behaviour did not preclude from all parties a great deal of oratorical display for the benefit of the visitors, in a language that seemed designed to rupture the vocal chords; or a great deal of ceremonial dancing in fantastic costumes surmounted by the animal masks which were here the chief productions of art; or the songs which struck more than one hearer as deeply and excellently harmonious. Nothing could be more different from the sounds of Polynesia; nothing could be more different from the aspect of Polynesian life than the long communal log-framed, heavy-boarded houses in which these people lived on their ledges of land, or their square-sterned, shovel-nosed canoes hollowed out of great cedar trunks, needing no outrigger for stability; or their smoking of fish, or their cooking of food in water heated by stones from the fire; or, among implements, the harpoons with which they pursued the whales off their shore. They always had a supply of fish for the ships, though the seamen could catch none by line, could find no beach from which to cast a net, and were reduced to collecting mussels, which were excellent and in plenty; finding that Cook approved much of a wild garlic, which they did not eat themselves, they kept him supplied also with that. Edible vegetables there were in that place but few: the Indians, like the New Zealanders, ate the rhizomes of bracken fern and, among plants, 'some others unknown
to me which I saw them pull up and eat without so much as shaking of the dirt.' Savage and nasty, then, in some respects their life; but they made the best of their environment. Where they had got their iron Cook could not find out, but attributed it to trade—and indeed it could easily have come northwards up the coast from the Spanish settlements; the copper he rightly understood came from the 'in Country'. What puzzled him was two small silver tablespoons acquired by Gore from a man who had them hung round his neck as an ornament; it seems that they had been stolen from a Spanish vessel on the coast four years earlier. Of the government and religion of these people, says Cook, persevering with the queries he was directed to satisfy, 'it cannot be supposed that we could learn much'; but he did include in his journal a considerable vocabulary, which we should probably attribute to the laborious Anderson. 'Was I to name them as a Nation', he remarks, 'I would call them Wak'ashians
, from the word Wak'ash
which they frequently made use of, but rather more with the Women than the men; it seemed to express applause, approbation and friendship; for when they were satisfied or well pleased with any thing they would with one voice call out Wak'ash wak'ash.'1
There are better accounts of the botany of the place than Cook's, it must be confessed; more vivid impressions of birds—the spiring eagles, the beautiful humming birds and their fellows—from King and Clerke and Anderson; but it is Cook who asks the question, why should albatrosses cross the line into the northern hemisphere in the Pacific ocean and not in the Atlantic? Animals, apart from two or three small ones, racoons, squirrels and 'polecats' or ermines, were seen by nobody except in the forms of skins, and from their variety it was apparent that the people were good hunters. Cook's first duty, of course, he esteemed to be geographical, however much else he observed; although not until three weeks had gone by, 'having now got the most of our heavy work out of hand', could he start off early in the morning and have himself rowed all round the sound by his midshipmen. He found better harbours than the one he was in, inlets, islands, huge trees; and the young gentlemen, though tired after thirty miles, did not regret the expedition. A midshipman under Cook must have expected to be hard-worked, as well as taught a great deal, and at times roundly cursed for incompetence. We
have sometimes a conflict of evidence. When Cook went a second time to choose a tree for a new mizen mast, he says all hands were employed; Samwell on the other hand tells us that 'we soon found another Tree which was cut & hauled to the Beach by the young Gentlemen of the Resolution' under Cook's direction. The young gentlemen very likely cut the tree down; if they exclusively hauled it they must indeed have been exhausted, and perhaps resentful. They do not seem to have been resentful. Trevenen appears to have felt no resentment when he was denounced by the captain for bringing back from a particular rock a set of compass directions that Cook deemed obviously absurd; particularly when it was found on a second trial that for some reason—possibly metal in the rock—the compass and not Trevenen had behaved absurdly, and the captain, the 'despot', had put himself in the wrong. It is Trevenen who gives us some impression of the voyage, and of personality, that we should otherwise lack. He tugged his oar, and bears his witness.
We were fond of such excursions, altho' the labour of them was very great, as, not only this kind of duty, was more agreeable than the humdrum routine on board the ships, but as it gave us an opportunity of viewing the different people & countries, and as another very principal consideration we were sure of having plenty to eat & drink, which was not always the case on board the Ship on our usual allowance. Capt. Cooke also on these occasions, would sometimes relax from his almost constant severity of disposition, & condescend now and then, to converse familiarly with us. But it was only for the time, as soon as we entered the ships, he became again the despot.1
The midshipman does not stop at this bald statement: a higher strain, as not infrequently with him, was called for. He treads close behind Thomas Perry, that bard of the second voyage.
Oh Genius superior, in forming whom Nature
Had an eye to the moulding of a great navigator;
And tho' towards thy Mids thou wert not very nice,
Declaring thoudst have no more cats than catch mice—
'Not here do you come to see fashions or folly, but
To hold on the nippers and row in the jolly-boat'.
And tho' still thou wouldst send me, when by the wind steering,
To haul out the weather mizen topsail reef earing,
Yet not now I'll remember thy wholesome severity,
Or remember 'twas meant but to give me dexterity:
No! rather I'll think on that happier season,
When turned into thy Boat's crew without rhyme or reason,
But proud of that office we went a marooning,
And pulling against tide, or before the wind spooning;
Sometimes a shooting, and sometimes surveying,
With pleasure, still watching, with pleasure obeying
Through gulf, creek and inlet our jolly boat forcing,
As if the old D— himself had been coursing;
Till pleased with our efforts thy features relax
And thou givst us thy game to take home on our backs.
Sometimes more substantial tokens of favour
Than mere empty praises reward our endeavour,
And hunger excites us to use every effort,
While good beef and pudding more solidly pay for't.
Oh Nootka, thy shores can our labour attest
(For 30 long miles in a day are no jest)
When with Sol's earliest beams we launchd forth in thy sound,
Nor till he was setting had we compass'd it round.
Oh Day of hard labour! Oh Day of good living!
When Toote was seized with the humour of giving!
When he cloathd in good nature his looks of authority,
And shook from his eye brows their stern superiority.1
'And sure Nootka Sound I shall never forget', affirms the hungry poet. It is hard to think that any of those ships' companies ever would.
The day after this expedition the sails were bent, and the observatory tents and instruments got on board. The position of Ship Cove had been settled with the utmost care, the longitude being the mean of ninety sets of lunars taken at the observatory, twenty before arrival and twenty-four after departure, these being reduced by the chronometer, 134 sets in all; corresponding care, though the process was not so continuous, was taken with the variation of the compass and dip of the needle. The tides were closely observed. In two days more the ships were ready for sea, and at noon on 26 April the moorings were cast off. As the anchors were weighed, all the nearby canoes assembled and their occupants sang a parting song, flourishing the more valuable goods they had acquired, while one man, mounted on a platform, danced to the singing in a succession of masks. The boats towed the ships out of the cove. There was a final exchange of presents with a friendly chief, whom a new broad sword with a brass hilt made 'as happy as a prince. He as also many
others importuned us much to return to them again', promising a good supply of skins. A northerly breeze sprang up and Cook put to sea.
What name should he confer upon this useful inlet? With no great originality, he hit on King George's Sound. The native Indians, he gathered, called it 'Nookka' or 'Nootka'—which argues some misunderstanding, because that was no Indian word at all. Although he had a leaning for indigenous names, when they could be found out, he neglected this one. Nootka Sound was a decision of the gentlemen in England.