The Life of Captain James Cook
XXV — Kealakekua Bay
He Stood west, one can hardly do otherwise than think, in the hope of clearing the confusion that lay upon the further islands, whether their existence were affirmed or denied. If he could do that he would put out of the way one more problem that might tempt him from his single purpose when he came north again; and he had his time-plan laid down in the instructions he gave to Clerke—rendezvous at the Sandwich Islands till March, Petropavlovsk till the end of May, then the further search for (it is interesting) 'a Ne or Nw Passage'. But any hope he had of verifying or supplementing Ismailov was blown to pieces by four days of gales all round the compass, hard and vicious, sometimes with rain, hail or snow, sometimes with all three together. In the early morning of the 28th, in a fearful gust of wind, the Discovery's main tack gave way, killed a seaman and badly injured others; there had hardly been four days' worse weather in the voyage than in this little cruise, thought King, and Cook gave it up on the 29th, deciding to reverse his course through the uninviting but known strait eastward of Unalaska. Westward he had certainly picked up some land through the gloom—probably Umnak, but impossible for him to identify. In a continuing north-westerly gale and a snowstorm on the 30th he bore away for the strait, passed safely through and steered south, the weather clearing though the gale still blew. Within three days it veered round to a violent southerly storm, which played havoc with the Discovery's headsails and brought her to a dead stop: both ships had to lie to, parted for the night, and it was fortunate that from this peak of bad weather the storm fell away by morning—the morning of 3 November—and the wind became favourable again. It went almost entirely for a while on the 7th, while a weary lost shag flew heavily round the ships, Clerke visited the Resolution to compare notes, and Cook first learnt of the fatality his consort had suffered so soon after leaving Samgunuda.
By this time they were, reckoning in latitude, half-way to their destination; but it took twice as long to cover the second half of the page 638 distance. There was one more severe northerly gale, tearing the Resolution's main topsail, just repaired, to pieces; on the whole, however, the weather was fair, the temperature—which had begun to rise from the end of October—went up steadily to pass 80°, the men sat on deck sewing old sails, putting old rigging into order, and working up junk; the stores were aired, the carpenters repaired the boats; all no doubt thought of joys to come. After a short diversion easterly, Cook steered steadily south. On the morning of 25 November his latitude, 20°55′, put him a degree south of his reckoning for his Kauai anchorage at Waimea Bay, while his longitude was about four degrees to the east. He therefore, full of expectation, spread the ships and steered west till nightfall, and at midnight brought to. Next morning there lay the land, the island of Maui, with its 'elevated saddle hill'—the extinct 10,000 foot volcano Haleakala—raising its summit above the clouds, and descending gently towards the deep ravines and falling waters of that steep rocky coast, where the trade wind hurled other waters into perpetual surf. The coast he approached ran a little north of west, and he thought best to follow it. Before long people, houses and plantations could be seen; at noon he was only three or four miles from the shore, and the canoes began to come off. The regulations, few and basic, which he published this day to govern the conduct of his men nevertheless prove that he was determined on a strict discipline, both in their own interests and in those of the islanders. A steady supply of provisions being of the highest importance, and the ships' articles of trade now being few (and no wonder) private trade was strictly forbidden. This was an old rule. A new one shows, perhaps, that the captain had been reflecting on his Tongan experience (we can think of the 'Officers and others' implicated):
And whereas it has frequently happened that by Officers and others travelling in the Country with Fire-Arms and other Weapons, in order to obtain which, the Natives have committed thefts and outrages, they otherwise would not have attempted; it is therefore Ordered that no Officer or other person (not sent on duty) shall carry with him out of the Ships, or into the Country, any fire Arms whatever, and great care is to be taken to keep the Natives ignorant of the method of charging such as we may be under a necessity to make use of.1
1 26 November 1778; Journals III, 1534, printed from a copy sent to Clerke, in Dixson Library Mss.
1 ibid., 1534–5.
1 He goes to some pains to elaborate on the imperfections of his method: 'Indeed these observations were made only as an experiment without aiming at much niciety.' This done, they immediately proceeded to observe 'the distance of each limb of the Moon from Pollux and Arietis, the one being to the east and the other to the west. An oppertunity to observe under all these circumstances seldom happens, but when it does it ought not to be omited, as in this case the local errors these observations are liable to, destroy one the other, which in all other cases would require the observations of a whole Moon.'—Journals III, 477. They were settling the longitude, and we have indicated not merely Cook's passion for exactitude but the refinement of technique which he had attained. His results and King's differed by a little over one minute.
In his first trade with the Hawaii people Cook had acquired a quantity of sugar cane. Always experimental, he found that a 'strong decoction' of this made what he considered 'a very palatable and wholesome beer which was esteemed by every man on board'; and we have King's testimony that both the captain and the officers liked it. Cook therefore ordered more to be brewed, with the same view that he had had at Tahiti, to save his spirits for the future push into the arctic cold. He came close in with the shore again on 6 December, by which time the favourable current had ceased. 'Here', he writes, 'we had some traffick with the Natives, but as it proved but trifling I stood in again the next Morning, when a good many visited us and we lay trading with them till 2 PM then made sail and stood off; having procured Pork, fruit and roots sufficient for four or five days.'1 For a crew excluded from inner councils it was exasperating; and we have further to note that their rations were still on short allowance, well after they might have expected plenty. Cook seems simply to have forgotten. As was not unnatural, exasperation broke out indirectly. The men baulked at the sugar cane beer, alleging that it was injurious to their health: 'my mutinous turbulent crew refused even so much as to taste it and demanded their grog…. I took no step either to oblige, or perswaid them to drink it; for as we had plenty of other vegetable there was no danger of the Scurvey.'2 He had stopped their grog; which might or might not be taken as a measure of persuasion. His account of this incident is inadequate. There was a letter we should much like to inspect—‘a very mutinous letter’, in King's opinion—and we are fortunate to have a longer story from John Watts, midshipman, a young person of intelligence. The people disliking the Decoction, says Watts,
remonstrated with ye Captn by Letter, at same time mentioning the scanty Allowance of Provisions serv'd them, which they thought might be
1 ibid., 478.page 642 increas'd where there was such Plenty & that bought for mere trifles. This Morning therefore ye Captn order'd the Hands aft, & told them, that it was the first time He had heard any thing relative to ye shortness of ye Allowance, that he thought they had had the same Quantity usually serv'd them at the other Islands, that if they had not enough, they should have more & that had He known it sooner, it should have been rectified. He likewise understood He said they would not drink the Decoction of Sugar Cane imagining it prejudicial to their Healths, he told them it was something extraordinary they should suppose the Decoction unwholesome when they could steal ye Sugar Cane & eat it raw without Scruple he continued to tell them that if they did not chuse to drink the Decoction he could not help it, they would be the Sufferers as they should have Grog every other day provided they drank ye Sugar Cane, but if not the Brandy Cask should be struck down into ye Hold & they might content themselves with Water, intimating to them that He did not chuse to keep turning & working among these Isles without having some Profit. He gave them 24 Hours to consider of it.1
2 Cook felt so strongly over this matter that he deleted two or three sentences about it in his journal and substituted for them a whole circumstantial indignant paragraph.— Journals III, 479–80. tt
Twenty-four hours did not alter their resolve, and the brandy cask went down into the hold. The following entry is equally indicative of a captain and crew at loggerheads:
Standing off & on. Punish'd Willm Griffiths, (Cooper) with 12 Lashes for starting ye Cask of Decoction which was sour. At the same time ye Captn address'd ye Ships Company, telling them He look'd upon their Letter as a very mutinous Proceeding & that in future they might not expect the least indulgence from him.'2
When else did Cook write of his crew as mutinous and turbulent over such a matter?—or, in spite of giving himself no trouble to oblige or persuade, address them like an outraged schoolmaster? If there ever was such an incident, we have no record of it. We certainly have records enough of distaste for food or drink; and now for the first time, it appears, the captain heard of the men's abortive decision over spruce beer at Nootka Sound. For the first time, also, he seems to feel it necessary to go on the defensive, as if he had never written the famous paper for the Royal Society. He even harks back to the first voyage. Injurious to their healths!
Every innovation whatever tho ever so much to their advantage is sure to meet with the highest disapprobation from Seamen, Portable Soup and Sour Krout were at first both condemned by them as stuff not fit for human beings to eat. Few men have introduced into their Ship's more novelties in the way of victuals and drink than I have done; indeed few men have had the same oppertunity or been driven to the same necessity.
1 10 December; ibid., 479, n. 4.page 643 It has however in a great measure been owing to such little innovations that I have always kept my people generally speaking free from that dreadful distemper the Scurvy.1
2 12 December; ibid.
The matter blew over. How much sugar cane beer was in the end drunk we do not know. As for indulgence, Cook had already, on his second approach to Hawaii, relaxed his rule on women; for it was too apparent that nothing he could do now would avail to keep the islanders unharmed. True, that was of little use to seamen as long as the ships were so far out of the reach of canoes.
1 ibid., 479–80.
On this occasion I cannot hilp observing, that I have always found that the bolt-ropes to our sails have not been of sufficient strength, or substance to even half wear out the Canvas: this at different times has been the occasion of much expence of canvas and infinate trouble and vexation. Nor are the cordage and canvas or indeed hardly any other stores made use of in the Navy, of equal goodness with those in general used in the Merchant service, of this I had incontestable proof last voyage. When the Resolution was purchased for the King her standing rigging, some runing rigging, blocks and sails were also purchased along with her, and altho the most of these things had been in wear fourteen Months yet they wore longer than any of those of the same kind put on board new out of the Kings stores. The fore rigging are yet over the mast head, the brace blocks and some others in equal use still in their places and as good as ever. And yet on my return home last voyage these very blocks were condemned by the yard officers and thrown amongst other decayed blocks from which they permited my Boatswain to select them when the ship was again fited out. These evils are likely never to be redressed, for besides the difficulty of procuring stores for the Crown of equal goodness with [those] purchased by private people for their own use, it is a general received opinion amongst Naval officers of all ranks that no stores are equal in goodness to those of the Crown and that no ships are found like those of the Navy. In the latter they are right but it is in the quantity and not in the quallity of the stores, this last is seldom tried, for things are generally Condemned or converted to some other use by such time as they are half wore out. It is only on such Voyages as these we have an oppertunity to make the trial where every thing is obliged to be worn to the very utmost.1
1 Journals III, 481–2.
2 Dr Douglas when editing the journal took Palliser into consultation, and Palliser's letter is extant, B.M., Egerton Ms 2180, f. 171. Douglas printed the gist of this as a footnote in Voyage, II, 538. He omitted from Cook's words the passage 'of this I had incontestable proof…. purchased by private people for their own use'.
'Be that as it may'—he has long given up this once favourite phrase—he continued to ply, convinced that the least shift of wind in his favour must carry him round the point; trading when he was close enough to the land, with varying luck, and full of admiration for the straightforwardness of the native people in their exchanges. Sometimes he had small boats out himself as intermediaries, but that did not stop eager ones, men and women, from swimming to the ships with their breadfruit or plantains or personal charms and piling up noise and confusion. In the early morning of the 23rd, between two of these commercial occasions, he was on a south-east tack, when again the wind died away and left him at the mercy of the landward-moving swell. It was not so hair-raising an experience as that a few days earlier; for he was six or seven miles from the shore and the wind returned in puffs enough to make the ship manæuvrable. He wanted no further lesson on this unreliable wind, the sight of furiously breaking surf was no pretty one, he would keep well away from it; and the spirits of his men continued to sink. Nevertheless, it seems to have become a point of honour to double the cape. In the middle of the night between the 23rd and 24th, while the ships were stretching to the north, Cook decided to tack to the south-east once more, and thinking the Discovery could see him, omitted the usual signal. She could not, and in the morning they were apart. This day Cook succeeded in getting to windward of Kumukahi, where he cruised, well off the land, in the expectation that Clerke would join him, trading when he could, until the first day of the new year. Through that period wind and weather were unsettled, and there was the discomfort of a great deal of rain, but by the time he page 646 came to his next resolve the wind had gone to the south. He had concluded that Clerke must have abandoned Kumakahi, and gone to leeward to round the island in the other direction; and so he himself would round the southern point and meet him as he sailed down the opposing coast. It was not till the morning of 5 January that the Resolution doubled the point, Ka Lae, short as the distance was; for the nights were spent tacking and part of each day lying to and trading, up to twenty miles out at sea; nor, indeed, was it an inviting shore that she passed by, with the bare slopes of its lava flows, its masses of volcanic rock, and a whole desert at the foot of the great mountains. Ka Lae itself was flat and grassy, with a considerable village standing on it, whence men and women thronged to the ship. Cook was fairly well provisioned, but he needed water; and now, sheltered at last by the land from the almost remorseless easterly wind and the vast swell, thinking at last of anchorage, he found none. Bligh sounded in vain a quarter of a mile from the shore with a line of 160 fathoms; where he landed he found only rain water, brackish with spray, lying in holes in the rocks. At that moment the Discovery appeared, after a separation of thirteen days. This at least was satisfactory. Cook's guess had been wrong. She had not gone to leeward. Clerke, with as much persistence as his own, had cruised five days about their place of separation, then had got far to the eastward before coming in with the land again south of Kumukahi, and in two days more had caught up.
1 Burney, Journals III, 490, n. 5; and Edgar, 489, n. 2.
Excitement on the Hawaiian side was balanced by relief on the seamen's: 'we were jaded & very heartily tir'd', wrote King, 'with Cruising off these Islands for near two months…. The Disappointment in not trying for a place of Anchorage had a bad effect on the Spirits of our Ships Company'—and he harks back to the rather absurd but so indicative sugar cane beer quarrel and the short rations. He tries to account for his captain's course of action, and it is hard to believe that Cook, though he did not explain himself at length, had not dropped some hints.
Captain Cook has observ'd that in a harbour, from the impossibility of bringing the Natives to a proper understanding of the advantage of a regular supply, it was always either a glut or a Scarcity, particularly in respect to Vegetables, more would be brought to the Ship in one day than would serve a Month; if it was purchas'd the greatest part would spoil, & if the people were sent away, they would not return again, both parties were therefore injured; by cruising off he had it in his power to proportion the quantity, & keeping up the Value of his Iron, which began to be a scarce article, & of course getting a more plentiful supply for the length of time we might stay, & of hogs for Salting; as by this means every part of the Island had opportunities to dispose of its produce. Besides these reasons, there was another, founded on the Safety of the Ships; for from what we had observ'd of the Islands to leeward last year, & of Mowee & Owhyhe now, there appeard little chance of finding any harbour, & nothing better than an open bay like that at Atoui, which would be very insecure: Cruising about was therefore the safest way. These were I presume the motives that made us keep the Sea to the great mortification of almost all in both Ships.1
1 Journals III, 503–4.
From what we know of Cook, we may guess at other motives. The longer the policy of trading at sea continued, the fewer the opportunities of theft presented to the islanders, and the fewer the difficulties arising thereby. The more passing the contacts of his men with the people, the fewer the quarrels, the fewer the opportunities for irresponsible officers wandering with fire-arms to get into trouble. The longer from the land—he may have thought at first—and the longer the separation of his men from the island women, the greater the chance of controlling the 'foul disease'. We may possibly add, once he had decided on a plan, his own obstinacy in continuing it. The faithful, jaded, and knowledge-hungry King could think of an objection that his captain may have thought of also, but was prepared to ignore.
If it be an object, & if there be one amongst us, whose abilities & leisure would have enabled him to have made enquiries into the Customs of the Natives, & of the produce of the Islands, it certainly by this mode of proceeding was greatly frustrated, our connextions were with the lowest & most ignorant of the people, who were too much occupyed in selling their goods & getting on shore again, to attend to ones enquiries: & of the land we could speak but very superficially.
Nevertheless he was to learn a good deal.1
1 Journals III, 504,
1 ibid., 490–1. There is here a little difference in observation from King, who says, 'There were not many regarding us from the Shore'—although he estimates the number of canoes at not less than 1500, and thinks 'we should not exagerate, in saying we saw at this time 10000 of the Inhabitants.'—ibid., 503.
2 ibid., 491.
1 Journals III, 505–6.
This was not the end of the ceremony, however. When the party walked by the houses along the shore to the south they were preceded by wand-bearers repeating the magic word Erono, at which all the people fell on their faces. It seemed too abject; it probably signified co-operation and assistance; but how much preferable, just then, seemed the cheerful shouts, the enthusiastic hindrances, of the Friendly Islanders! There was something in the air far beyond the relatively simple veneration of Kauai in the preceding January.
1 ibid., 506.
1 Journals III, 491, n. 1.
1 ibid., 596—'by application to the Arees I got this troublesome ceremony taken off.' Again, 597: 'At my first landing they got me to their Morai and with a vast deal of ceremony, singing and fuss, sacrificed a small Pig to me with as much respect as though I had been a being of a superior Nature; this they very frequently did to Captain Cook and afterwards would often have done to me but I always avoided it as a very disagreeable kind of amusement….'
2 In the present pages this chief's—or 'king's'—name is given as Kalei'opu'u, a shortened and correctly alternative rendering of Kalani'opu'u, simply as the accepted modern version. The pronunciation was certainly heard by Cook and others as Terreeoboo, though not by all others; for Samwell's version is Kariopoo, and some write Kerrioboo. The difficulty is that the Hawaiian language as spoken was at that time undergoing a consonantal change, working up from south-east to north-west, but still rather dubious when the early nineteenth-century missionaries reduced it to written form. The Polynesian t and k, l and r, v and w, b and p were all affected, and spellings in the journals vary accordingly, according to the progress of change as well as to the acuteness of the listening ear. King notes a geographical difference. Samwell registers one change, but not others (still delayed) in the name of the village 'Kavaroa'—i.e. modern Kaawaloa—in the island of Hawaii; but to the north-west he has, like everybody else, a t, not a k—Atowai, not Kauai—and writes, no doubt with accuracy, 'Bootaberry' for the place name Pu'ukapeli. The matter of glottal stops and the rendering of vowels are also interesting, though they need not be touched on here. We may say compendiously that the versions of Polynesian names we get in Cook and his officers are not the work of ignorant and careless seamen, but an invaluable index to linguistic change in the Pacific. Cook himself seems to have had a good ear.
Next day there was a water-procession from Kaawaloa that captured all eyes. Though only three canoes took part, they were large double ones. In the first stood Kalei'opu'u and a crowd of his chiefly retainers, glorious in feather cloaks and helmets of yellow and red, the royal and sacred colours, most brilliant raiment of the whole ocean; in the second were chanting priests, led by the old Kao, who had returned with the king, escorting four images of gods, feather-covered basket work with distorted furious features, dog's teeth, eyes of pearl-oyster shell; in the third was a vast load of hogs, coconuts and vegetables. They passed by but did not stop at the ships, making for the tents, where King turned out the guard, and Cook followed them. On their meeting Kalei'opu'u threw round Cook's shoulders his own cloak, placed on his head a helmet and in his hand a feathered kahili or fly-flap, part of the royal insignia; and at his feet laid half a dozen more cloaks—a truly regal gift. Then came venerable Kao at the head of the priests; he wrapped round Cook the ritual cloth and made oblation of the ritual pig, while Keli'ikea and his fellows recited the customary chants. Once again, while all this went on, visible commoners were prostrate, and not a canoe stirred on the waters of the bay. The king went back to the ship with Cook for dinner, and himself received presents valuable in his eyes, iron hatchets and such things. Presents came constantly from the chiefs to Cook and Clerke in the remaining days; somehow the captains summoned up enough to give in return, with the armourer hard at work at old iron at his forge. Cook managed a tool-chest complete for Kalei'opu'u. Kao, familiarly known at the ships as 'the bishop', retired to the settlement of priests, whence he exercised his benevolence; Keli'ikea—'the curate'—was frequently his agent.
An unarmed party that attempted to climb the 'snowy mountain', Mauna Loa, and was away for five days in the forest without succeeding, was guided and watched over by men whom Kao sent with them; the carpenters on their timber-cutting expedition were similarly aided by natives who bore their heavy loads; gentlemen on their rambles were fed and entertained, welcome to inspect anything from surf-riding or mourning over the dead to a game of draughts; page 655 all apprehension was banished. There were exhibitions of boxing and wrestling, in which the visitors, no doubt with memories of Tongan experience, declined to participate though invited; Cook replied with his few remaining fireworks. The 'enquiries into the Customs of the Natives, & of the produce of the Islands', earlier desiderated by King, were given full scope. We are told a great deal about this island. Nor was benevolence confined to priests or chiefs, or even to one race, in spite of the brutality which common sailors tended to show to those they considered their inferiors. 'A constant exchange of good offices, & mutual little acts of friendship obtained among us', wrote Trevenen, thinking of an occasion when he and fellow-midshipmen were swamped off their beach in a canoe, and children took part in their rescue. Only one Hawaiian seems to have suffered flogging for theft, in the Discovery; sailors suffered more for their usual mindless offences. In the last few days, as it was evident the ships would not go short of provisions, Cook threw trade open to everyone.
January passed, and February began with two incidents which are not only part of the voyage, but cast some light on Hawaiian religion. The first concerns one of Cook's necessities, firewood. Why he did not follow his usual practice, and seek permission to fell trees near by, we do not know: there may have been none suitable near by, or his men may have been otherwise too busily employed. He could anyhow see, surrounding the space of the heiau, a fence which, though stout enough, looked as if it were being let go to decay; from which, indeed, from time to time people appropriated palings to use for purposes of their own. There could hardly be any impropriety or impiety in offering to buy the whole thing for the needed firewood, and King was sent to treat with Kao. The old man was most accommodating, and did not trouble to put a price on it at all, though a handsome price was paid; and on the morning of 1 February the ships'launches took it off. The men were also taking, they said at native bidding and with native help, the carved images, and had actually got the whole principal semicircle out of the ground and down to the boats before the alarmed King could take notice and run to Kao. He was still unruffled, asking only that the small central clothed image should be returned, and the two others by the sunken square left standing. Hence the first burning, at European hands, of Hawaiian 'gods'; but it is clear that those were mistaken who later declared Cook guilty of some vast blasphemy in Hawaiian eyes. Neither the enclosing fence nor this particular class of images (however much Cook or King would have respected them) had any page 656 sanctity; a Hawaiian in need would have burnt them without incurring the awful penalties implicit in tapu.
The second incident was the death on this day of William Watman, the old seaman who had followed Cook from Greenwich Hospital. He had been ailing for some time but was convalescent when he fell paralysed under a stroke. The chiefs, acquainted with his death, asked that he should be buried on shore, and he accordingly was, in the heiau, at the foot of one of the images that had been left, to which a board was affixed with wooden pegs (to circumvent nail-stealers)—'HIC JACET GULIELMUS WATMAN'.1 When Cook had read the service, and the grave was being filled, Kao and his brethren, silent spectators in their turn of an alien ceremony, threw in a dead pig, coconuts and plantains, their sacrifice to mortality and sorrow, and embarked on ceremonies and invocations of their own. For three nights, says King, 'and in one it lasted the best part of it', they 'surrounded the grave, killd hogs, sung a great deal, in which Acts of Piety & good will they were left undisturb'd'; and one trusts that William Watman, old and beloved of his shipmates, was left undisturbed too, under the paving of Hikiau. Certainly the episode exhibits good will.
1 This at least is Samwell's version. King says 'at the head of the grave a post was Erect'd & a Square piece of board naild on it, with the name of the desceased, his age, & the date, this they promised shou'd always remain, & we have no doubt but it will as long as the post lasts & be a monument of our being the first Discoverers of this Group of Islands.'—Journals III, 517. This was optimistic.
We may not unnaturally ask, as they steer north, why Cook should have received such extraordinary notice at this particular island. He had been presented with pigs before, and with large quantities of produce, but he knew that this was part of the Polynesian life-pattern, it was a gift-pattern that was also a trade-pattern. It was far transcended by what was now happening at Kealakekua Bay. He had seen moe, the abasement with which commoners approached the feet of Paulaho, the royal person of Tonga, and Paulaho approached the feet of one other person, a woman. He had experienced the kapu, or tapu, moe, at Kauai, and he saw it again at the feet of Kalei'opu'u as that chief went on his way, as well as at his own; and Clerke, who was also a great chief, had had expressly to forbid it. It made chief-ship a rather absurdly and inconveniently puffed up thing, he could see, it conferred a measure of sanctity; but even this was nothing compared to the ceremony, the ritual, the chanting, the anointing, the exalting in a savage (or if the word is too unjust, an 'Indian') place of worship that had here befallen him. It was as if he had been given divine honours. Those were precisely the honours, one is driven to conclude (though there has been argument about it) that page 658 were given him. The kapu moe, the sacred obeisance, was itself a semi-divine thing; for the highest chiefs of Hawaii, to whom it was accorded, the ali'i kapu, had a tinge of the god in their blood, as much as the Tu'i Tonga—a virtue beyond that of ordinary men or ordinary chiefs. To such a virtue, to such beings, veneration, obviously, was due. How large is the step from veneration to adoration?
Gods could appear on earth, if they were the right sort of gods. Such an event might be unlikely, but it could not be ruled out. Again, as when Cook was in the New Hebrides, we must not forget the thinness of the line between the seen and the unseen, the ease with which, for these islanders, the trembling veil could be split. The ghosts, the enemies, the ancestor-spirits, the white-faced ones, at Eromanga, were all around, in the forest, on an off-shore islet, they came in from the sea. We must consider, too, the nature of the gods. They also, in a more or less remote degree, were ancestral. The primal god begat other gods, and they still others, and they in turn begat human beings. In a more literal sense than that of Christian thought, the Polynesians were all children of God—or at least of a god: not immediately, perhaps, of a primal god, but of some divine ancestor-spirit. But the ancestor-spirit might reflect the nature of the primal god: so was it on the island of Hawaii. There the greatest of gods was Ku, in whose honour would be built the luakini, the royal heiau. No one, however, could have a warm feeling for Ku, creative as he was; for he was also terrible, the god of war and of human sacrifice. Of a different nature was Lono or Rono, also great, known elsewhere in Polynesia as Rongo, Ro'o, 'Ono: the god of light and peace, of the tilling of the earth, of abundance and the games of peace. There were very many lesser gods—lesser in status but none the less atua or akua. Thus Lono was also, in the legends of Hawaiian antiquity, a divine chief who participated in the name as well as the benevolence of the primal god, an ancestor who had worked good for his people, of whom it had been prophesied—as of other gods—that he would come again, bearing gifts. Now with the Hawaiian there was a season called makahiki, four months beginning in October or November, when warfare was forbidden and hard work was in abeyance, a season of games and sports beyond the ordinary, a season of abundance which was also that of the gathering of taxes. The god of this season was Lono, Lono makua, 'Father Lono'; and the gathering of taxes, the produce of the earth, was done on a slow clockwise progress round the island, the presence of the god being symbolised by a long staff bearing a banner of tapa, attached to a cross-piece somewhat like the yard of a ship's mast, and in form much like a page 659 ship's square sail. And now, proceeding slowly round the island in the festival direction, bearing the banners of Lono, bearing articles which were as good as gifts, though dispensed in trade, came vessels from afar captained by a chief of goodwill. Possibly the white cloth flying on the shore and on the canoes were emblems of Lono, and Cook's ensign seemed a divine acknowledgement of them. We seem to be right in saying, without too much discrimination between aspects of the divine, that Lono had returned incarnate in Cook. The constant repetition of the name among the humble people, as he was led through them by the wand-bearing priest, indicates it. The long ceremony on the heiau with which his visit was inaugurated went in its totality far beyond the greeting of the greatest chief, though what exactly was contained in all the formulae and incantations used we cannot know. The apparently despiteful words used by Koa to the images of inferior divinities, those who merely waited on, as it were, the central figure; the central, though smaller, figure of Ku, sacredly wrapped, Ku-nui-akea, 'Great Widespread Ku', the lord of the heiau and of all, which Koa, having prostrated himself, kissed, and caused Cook to kiss—all this was bringing together of god and god. The ceremonies continued day after day, the red cloth, the prayers that accompanied the proffered pigs, the nervousness of inferior chiefs making their oblations, the mediation of Keli'ikea and his train of priests—all this was appropriate to a god, not to a sea-captain. In Clerke's plain words, in a report that eschewed all mention of Lono, the respect the islanders upon all occasions paid Cook more resembled that due to a Deity than a human being.1 The continual good offices of old Kao, who may be called the high priest, need hardly be treated as an argument, because they could simply have been the kindness of his own heart; and simple good nature may—though this seems less likely—have been the explanation for the daily supply by the priests of all the wants of King's party. It does not appear that the common people of the ships were regarded as being in any way heavenly beings. A god could have earthly retainers. Yet King—who was, it is true, in a favoured position—could write, 'As they certainly regarded us as a Superior race of people to themselves, they would often say, that the great Eatooa liv'd with us.'2 Now the Eatooa was the atua or akua, the god. There could be only one person to whom this could refer.
1 In his report to the Admiralty from Petropavlovsk, 8 June 1779, Adm 1/1612: printed in Journals III, 1535 ff.
2 ibid., 621. The tradition that Cook was taken for a god, here supported, has not met with universal acceptance. The opposing case was put by Sir Peter Buck, 'Cook's Discovery of the Hawaiian Islands', in his Report of the Director for 1944, B. P. Bishop
We have in King's pages another passage on this theme, which does not, however, bear on the god; which meditates earlier on Hawaiian well-doing, and the subjection of the people to their chiefs. 'What praise soever we may bestow on our Otaheite friends & still more on those at the friendly Islands, we must nevertheless own, that we durst never trust them with such entire confidence as we have done these people…. It is very clear … that they regard us as a Set of beings infinitely their superiors; should this respect wear away from familiarity, or by length of intercourse, their behaviour may change ….'1 But this was written as he put the bay behind him, with its priests, its people and their chiefs. There was no more to do here, for god or for men.
1 Journals III., 524–5.
There were continued gales and squalls, one of which carried the Resolution too close to the breakers; without further misadventure, however, by the morning of the 11th both ships were anchored within the north point of the bay, and the necessary labour started immediately. The preceding afternoon Koa had turned up again, with his customary pigs and coconuts for the captains; and another visitor to the Discovery had been an unprepossessing but highly important chief, already familiar, called Kamehameha. He was related to Kalei'opu'u; he was to be the first ruler of a consolidated Hawaiian kingdom. There was no glimpse of the future as Clerke bargained with him for his elegant feather cloak; but there was perhaps something a little symbolic in the price that had to be paid—not adzes, but nine long iron daggers; which product of the armourer the people had latterly preferred, and certainly preferred to their own wooden ones. That afternoon of 10 February Samwell had cast his memory back from priests and chiefs and savage sweethearts: 'It is three Years to day since the two Ships were put in Commission.' Three years, and the voyage might be about half over; but losses had been few, health and spirits were good, and into his mind, that welcomed so much miscellaneous poetry, came almost inevitably a Virgilian tag: 'tho' we have still a long prospect before us and an arduous Undertaking in hand yet when we consider the Man who is to lead us through it we all agree that
Teucro Duce et Auspice Teucro”.'2
1 ibid., 527.
2 ibid., 1191.
Indeed it would have been hard for anyone to imagine worse storms, narrower escapes, more forbidding cold and darkness than they had already triumphantly encountered, behind that indestructible leader.
1 Kerrioboo 'appeared much dissatisfied at it', indeed; these are the words in the Mitchell Library Ms of Burney's journal: ibid., 528, n. 3.
Not for alarm; for the irritation had been undergone often enough before, and surmounted. Yet why should the wretched propensity be stronger now, and why should it be exercised so much more effectively on the Discovery than on her consort? Did some aura of the god lie upon the Resolution, even in her maimed state, a sort of discouragement to itching fingers, or was it that the Discovery lay nearer the beach, or was it pure chance? Did the reappearance of the ships, with that obvious damage to one of them, lower the esteem in which they had been held? Should the ship of a god have suffered damage at all? Had the prestige of Lono been damaged too? Had the people never really believed in Cook—Lono—or, after initial belief, had a week's reflection convinced them or influential chiefs to the contrary? We may remember King's words on the superiority the Hawaiians attributed to their visitor—'a Set of beings infinitely their superiors'—and the possibility of their respectful behaviour changing with greater familiarity. He had added a further reflection: 'the common people which are generally the most troublesome, are I am afraid here kept in so slavish a subordination to their Chiefs, that I doubt whether they would venture to give us offence without great encouragement in so doing from their Masters, whose passions & desires are as great as any of their brethren to posses such Novelties as we have.'1 Had the time of familiarity, or fancied familiarity, now come, had the chiefs loosened their hold? The questions are really impossible to answer; but we seem to be confronted by a sudden shift in Hawaiian feeling. The propensity to theft was matched by a propensity to mischief, as if the return had released some instinct in the people that had hitherto been pent up, something like the devilry that had made the Tongans, after a while, their awe departed, throw stones at working-parties and laugh among the bushes. Then Cook had insisted on the letter of his orders: sentries must not fire with ball.
1 Journals III, 525.
1 Journals III, 529.
Reaching the tents he heard another tale of woe from his coxswain, which must have been very like that recorded by Edgar. When Edgar was joined by the pinnace he assumed that she was armed—which she was not—and in addition seeing Cook and King running along the shore he assumed that he now had the advantage, and by seizing the thief's canoe could impose some punishment on evil-doing. The canoe, however, was Palea's, and he quite naturally objected. When Edgar persisted Palea took hold of him, on which one of the pinnace's men struck Palea on the head with an oar; and this provoked a shower of stones from part of the crowd on shore and a rush on the pinnace. She was aground; her crew leapt out and swam to some rocks not far off, where the cutter took them in. Edgar's story becomes a little confused, but it is clear that he and Vancouver were being stoned and beaten, while the pinnace was being gutted of her oars and moveables, and that Palea was their saviour; the chief stopped the mob, returned the pinnace with a whole oar and a broken one, and sent them off. They were joined by the cutter, which, wisely though ingloriously, had been lying out of stone's throw, and set off to report to Cook. As they went they were pursued by Palea in a canoe, bringing Vancouver's cap, snatched from him when he was knocked down in a separate mêlée; and with the question whether it would be safe for him to come on board next morning. He seems to have been an admirable man. He went on to Kaawaloa, where no doubt he gave his own version of the story, in which the emphasis would have been rather different from that of page 666 Edgar's. Cook was furious with his coxswain, both for acting without orders, and for his folly in acting as he did, unarmed. But Cook, we reflect, had been armed only with the musket of one marine, and had had no sense of folly. We can see that familiarity had its dangers for both sides. King transmits another remark that has the significance of heightened tension: 'In going on board, the Captn expressd his sorrow, that the behaviour of the Indians would at last oblige him to use force; for that they must not he said imagine they have gaind an advantage over us.'1 He relieved his mind immediately by turning all the visiting women and others out of the ship.
Before King returned on shore he enquired for orders. Cook told him to call at the Discovery and hear all Edgar's details, and report on them in the morning when he came to take the chronometer on shore. King, with his mind a little perturbed, thought it wise to give the sentry particular instructions: if potential marauders were descried lurking at any distance, he was to be called; if any came so close that their intentions must undoubtedly be bad, the sentry was to fire at once. Half a dozen did come creeping warily at the bottom of the heiau during the night; shoot if one came on top, said King; and about midnight one appeared close to the observatory. We must suppose a nervous sentry; he seems to have dropped his piece, and when he at last let fly the intruder was gone. The rest of the night was peaceful; but in the dark hours something else happened. The Discovery's larger cutter was taken away. She was lying moored to one of the anchor buoys, sunk to the level of the water to prevent her plank from splitting in the hot sun, and she had gone without a sound, her moorings plainly cut through. This was a most serious loss, if it should prove a loss; for, though the Hawaiians might enjoy pulling a boat to pieces for the sake of the ironwork in her, she was the only large boat the ship had, and she could not cheerfully be let go. The people of the bay later put the blame on Palea. After the attempted impounding of his canoe and the blow on the head the evening before, he might quite well have wanted to solace some sense of injury, and presumably iron was as valuable to him as it was to his fellows. But he was anxious over his standing with Cook, and this would have been no way to improve it; in the light of his behaviour before and later such a plot seems unlikely; while it is not impossible that the Hawaiians, for reasons of their own, should have named him as someone known to the ships—or even named him at random.
1 Journals III, 530.
1 ibid., 549.
2 Burney, Mitchell Ms, Safe 1/79; ibid., 529, n. 1. Burney can hardly have heard the words himself, unless he were just then accidentally on board the Resolution, and he was certainly not at the scene of action, but he seems to have collected his information carefully. He adds to the words quoted, 'indeed, so many instances have occurred which have all helped to confirm this Opinion, that it is not to be wondered at, if every body thought the same.' Of course, the instances did not need to be Hawaiian ones.
Looking back on this wearing, this worrying voyage we have remarked times of irritation, points at which the cautious, deliberate man was less than cautious and deliberate, and we have seen reasons for this. We have seen the problem of theft on all the voyages, so much a problem because to the islanders it carried no taint of crime—what should they know of crime?—but was, apart from being the means of acquiring articles useful or useless, both an amusement and a battle of wits. Multifarious as were the things that had been taken or attempted, a boat had never been stolen before—and one of the ships' best and most useful boats. It was too much. When King came on board the Resolution, then, this morning, after Clerke had left her with a clear understanding of what was to be done, he found a Cook—we must conclude—whose patience had been tried beyond its limit; who felt in some rather obscure way that the time had come when, once and for all, he would put an end to the burden these Polynesians—not Hawaiians only—put upon him. His hasty preparations themselves cast a light on the exasperation of his mind. We may, of course, throw away all this hypothesis and think only of calm action in a calm atmosphere. But then the action becomes almost casual: it is hard to see the connection with events. The hypothesis does not presuppose that Cook should not maintain the appearance, and a considerable measure, of calm.
Cook went away from the ship with three boats, himself in the pinnace, accompanied by the small cutter and the launch. The cutter, under Lanyon, the master's mate, was sent to lie off the north-west point of the bay to prevent canoes from leaving, according to the arrangement with Clerke. Cook, Molesworth Phillips, and the nine marines landed in a little cove of the rocks close to the village; the launch under Williamson and the pinnace under Roberts withdrew separately a few yards to keep off the bottom, hereabouts almost a labyrinth of lava. Of what was to happen from this moment we have a number of accounts, and a great deal of circumstantial evidence, all interesting, and mostly unreliable. Only Phillips was with Cook. He does not seem to have been an imaginative man, and is probably to be relied on. He reported to Clerke, who probed him before writing his own journal, and was careful in statement. What was seen from the pinnace, fairly close to the shore, is obviously important, though it is equally obvious that this was one of those affairs, the dramatic, emotional, swift-moving moments in history, of which every witness gives a different story, and every story is page 670 confused by subsequent hearsay. Hawaiian evidence of any value is exiguous, but one or two scraps, almost accidentally transmitted, may be believed.1
1 In analysing what actually happened, once Cook was on shore, I have leant heavily on Phillips. There is a large amount of contributory evidence, apart from the accounts given by Clérke and King, Journals III, 533 ff. Not much of it is really revealing, and little of it comes from people who knew anything directly. I have collected most of it in the long footnote on pp. 536–8, and in other smaller pieces of annotation, pp. cxlix-clvii. Samwell obviously made a considerable effort to sift out a clear, circumstantial and honest account, ibid., 1194–1202, and did not feel that King as printed had the whole truth; but he himself did not wholly satisfy Trevenen. Trevenen, says Penrose (Memoirs, Turnbull Ms, 14) 'was highly pleased with the general spirit with which his friend Samwell's account of that transaction was written; yet he expressed himself not so thoroughly satisfied as he expected to have been from the very high opinion he entertained of that gentleman's abilities.' He thought Samwell's pamphlet (Narrative of the Death of Captain James Cook, London, 1786) was highly useful; yet 'it is not what I expected from him—some things are represented different from my conception, and in situations which should seem to render minute detail impossible.' This is a criticism which could be made of most of the accounts. Trevenen himself was in the small cutter with Lanyon and three other midshipmen.
Two things now happened difficult to put in order, nor is their precise order particularly important. One, in relation to Cook, was a mere chance. At the other end of the bay, to keep a canoe from escaping, muskets had been fired—by Rickman among others—and a man killed. The man was Kalimu, a chief of high rank. Another chief hastening to the ships in indignation to pour out the story to Cook was disregarded, and forthwith made for the beach. It was Cook he wanted, not the crowd. It was the crowd that got the news, spreading like wildfire, not Cook; and the news was enough, with the other thing, to carry them over the borderline of excitement into attack. The other thing was Cook's own act. As he made his way to the boat he was threatened by one of the mob with a dagger and a stone—seriously or in mere bravado we cannot tell. Cook fired one barrel of his musket, loaded with small shot, at this person, and at that moment, when, we must think, the strained cord of his temper snapped, he lost the initiative. The man being protected by his heavy war mat, the shot did no damage—except that it further enraged the Hawaiians. Kalei'opu'u's young son in the pinnace was frightened and was put ashore; but even then the men in the boats saw no particular reason for alarm. In the next second the wave broke. A chief attempted to stab Phillips, stones were hurled, a marine was knocked down, Cook fired his other barrel, loaded with ball, and killed a man; Phillips fired, there was a general attack, Cook ordered the marines to fire, and the boats joined in unordered. Phillips had time to reload his musket. The overwhelmed marines did not. Cook shouted 'Take to the boats!', an order hardly necessary, as the unfortunate and ill-trained men were already scrambling into the water and towards the pinnace, 'totally vanquish'd', as Phillips said. Phillips himself was knocked down by a stone and stabbed in the shoulder, shot his assailant dead and managed to get to the pinnace; and then out of it again to save the life of a drowning man. In all this tumult he lost sight of Cook. The men in the pinnace saw Cook's last page 672 moments. He was close to the lava edge waving to the boats to come in1 when he was hit from behind with a club; while he staggered he was stabbed in the neck, or the shoulder, with one of the iron daggers—a blow which, not in itself fatal, was enough to fell him, strong as he was, face down in the water. There was a great shout, and a rush to hold him under and finish him off with daggers and clubs. The pinnace had gone in as close to the shore as possible to rescue the floundering marines; the launch had not—Williamson, that strange man incomprehensibly mistaking the meaning of Cook's wave, had even moved further out. The overloaded pinnace pulled off, the cutter came round and fired till she was recalled: the Resolution, hearing the uproar and the firing, and seeing, whatever might be the meaning of it all, that there was trouble on shore, fired those of her own four-pounders that could be brought to bear. It seems that the crowd had retired somewhat, and there was a space of time enough to reclaim bodies. The men in the boats may have been shocked out of all awareness of this. Leaving the dead, Cook and four marines, where they lay, the boats rowed back in silence to the ships; and the ships fell silent.
1 There is no justification for the statement commonly made that he was waving to the boats to stop firing.
36. Poetua, by John Webber
38. 'Chart of part of the Nw Coast of America. Explored by Capt. J. Cook in 1778' By Cook. Showing the track and discoveries of the Resolution and Discovery, 7 March-3 October 1778
41. 'An Offering before Capt. Cook in the Sandwich Islands' Engraving by S. Middiman and J. Hall after Webber