Captain Cook and Captain Bligh
Captain Cook and Captain Bligh
Captain Cook and Captain Bligh
They were both superb seamen. Is there anything else I can say, to draw parallels, or to define contrasts? They both served in the Royal Navy. I have referred to them both as captains; but Cook held that rank for less than four years, at the very end of his life; while Bligh, promoted post-captain at the age of 36 (eleven years earlier than Cook), served as a captain for twenty-one years, then became rear-admiral and vice-admiral—was, in fact, an admiral for longer than Cook was a captain, and so far may be said to have taken the lead in eminence. Yet when Cook died, one English traveller in Europe wrote to a friend at home who had sent him the news, 'Poor Cooke is truly a great loss to the Universe';1 and when Admiral Bligh died, nobody, that I am aware, said anything of the sort. They were both able explorers, both excellent hydrographers and marine surveyors. They both sailed the Pacific ocean. They both had hasty tempers, and swore. They were both exceedingly humane men, careful of the lives of those who served under them. They were both brave. Cook had no experience as a commander in battle: Bligh had, and fought his ship by the side of Nelson. When Cook was at Tahiti, some of his men deserted. When Bligh was at Tahiti, some of his men deserted. On one voyage in the Pacific, Bligh lost his ship through mutiny. Cook never lost a ship through mutiny, or in any other way; but it is alleged that at Tahiti a number of his men at least plotted to mutiny. Cook was killed at the island of Hawaii, in a wretched affray provoked mainly by his own bad judgment and misdirected fury. Bligh died in Bond Street, London, up on a page 4 visit from the pleasant country house in Kent where he spent an honourable retirement. So perhaps of the two men we should regard Bligh as the successful one and Cook as the failure. But of course we don't: whether because of a wild romanticism in ourselves—for neither Cook nor Bligh was in the least a romantic figure—or owing to whatever reason, we make quite the reverse judgment. We tend to regard Cook, in fact, as a Great Man; and Bligh, not merely as a man considerably less than great, but as surrounded with an all too considerable degree of notoriety. What success has to do with greatness is of course a different matter, and one I do not mean to pursue. Then what matter do I mean to pursue, where am I leading you? I am leading you, I hope, to the examination of the characteristics of two men both of whom have entered into naval tradition and into what I may call the folklore of the Pacific, in the hope that in the end you will be prepared to come to—some conclusion or other. I do not, that is, intend to be in the least dogmatic.
First let us look separately, though briefly, at the career of each man. Cook was born in 1728, of the humblest possible origins, the son of an agricultural labourer in the out-of-the-way Yorkshire village of Marton. Marton's nearest metropolis was the small coal-shipping and ship-building port of Whitby, where the tidal Esk river met the North Sea; and when he was apprenticed to the sea at the age of 18 it was this that was his home-port, and it was in the coal trade on that treacherous English east coast that he became a sailor. He could have become the captain of a collier by the time the Seven Years' War broke out, and perhaps risen to be a shipowner, but he preferred to volunteer into the navy as an able seaman, to see what that sort of life had to offer. It offered the confinement of an overcrowded gaol, infrequent battle, frequent death from sickness, whether contagious or the worst of nutritional diseases, bloodshed mostly from floggings, the usual dangers of drowning or shipwreck. Cook was vigorous and survived; not merely survived but was rapidly promoted master, at which rank he stuck for almost eleven years. He saw page 5 service in the Channel and across the Atlantic, proved himself very competent in the survey of the St Lawrence river, found he had a taste and a gift for hydrographic work in general, rapidly absorbed all he could pick up on its techniques, and was appointed after the war to chart the difficult coasts of Newfoundland. By 1768 he was well enough known and highly enough thought of in official and scientific circles to be offered the command of a small vessel to carry astronomical observers (of whom he was himself one) to Tahiti, and afterwards to pursue some geographical discovery in the Pacific. For the first time, in his fortieth year, he was given commissioned rank, as a lieutenant, and he trod the deck of the Endeavour. The man, the ship, and the occasion were brought together; and Mr Joseph Banks thrust himself in. When the Endeavour sailed from Plymouth in August 1768 we may say that James Cook's public career had begun. You will know what happened on that famous first voyage. The Transit of Venus was observed at Tahiti. Cook then sailed south in search of a continent, did not find it, turned west and found New Zealand. He circumnavigated New Zealand and charted it. He sailed west again, found the east coast of Australia, charted it, survived the frightful perils of the Great Barrier Reef, rediscovered and passed through Torres Strait to Java, and so home in 1771. He had come into the Pacific round the Horn; he returned round the Cape of Good Hope. The voyage seems to have been known to the public at large as 'Mr Banks's voyage', but the Admiralty knew better, and the following year Cook was off again, on a second voyage much desired by himself, planned by himself, a voyage in reverse of the first, on which he came into the ocean by way of the Cape and went home round the Horn. He wanted to find out primarily, and also finally, whether a great southern continent, Terra australis incognita, fabled for centuries, actually existed or not; and by sailing right round the world, farther south than any man had ever been before, found that out; he also came very nearly within sight of the actual continent of Antarctica, possibly even sighted it. Also, in the months of the southern page 6 winter, he not merely visited New Zealand and Tahiti again more than once, he discovered, rediscovered, ascertained the exact position of, and charted, most of the important islands and island groups in the Pacific south of the equator, though not quite all, from Easter Island westward to the New Hebrides and New Caledonia. He reached home in 1775. This voyage has been called the greatest voyage in the history of the world. I shall not attempt to give marks: it was certainly in the alpha double-plus group. When he reached home he found the Admiralty planning still another voyage, to settle a second centuries-old problem, that of a north-west passage —that is, of a navigable sea -route between the Atlantic and the Pacific through or round the north of the North American continent; and the idea was to attack it from the Pacific end. Cook volunteered to lead the expedition, wrote a book about his second voyage, and was off again a year after his last return. Again he sailed by way of the Cape of Good Hope, but, delayed by baffling winds after he left New Zealand, did not make the North American coast till March 1778. On the way he had discovered the Hawaiian Islands. He followed the American coast north and squeezed through the fog- smitten Aleutians into the Bering Sea, traced most of the American side of this and visited the Asian side, passed Bering Strait and on till he was stopped by the ice. There was no sign of what he was searching for. He decided to return to Hawaii for the northern winter months, to recruit his men; and here, on 14 February 1779, he was struck down in what I have already called a wretched affray. It was also, I suppose, one of the great dramatic scenes of Pacific history—and, I have always felt, an odd, an ironic, end for this most undramatic of men. If you add together all the charts, all the journals, all the drawings and paintings, all the natural history specimens brought back to England by these three expeditions you will find half the world illumined, the systematic foundations laid of Pacific geography and anthropology, on the technical side extraordinary achievements in methods of maritime page 7 exploration, and some of the reasons for one of the great revolutions in European thought.
Let us now turn our attention to Bligh. He came of a rather higher social class than Cook did, of a Cornish family; his father was in the Customs service in Plymouth. Cook's father, I presume, drove a farm cart; Bligh's kept his carriage, and had influence enough to get his son entered in the navy at the age of seven years and nine months. There is nothing extraordinary about this, the boy did not immediately begin to climb masts and furl sails; it was merely a fictitious and well-known method of serving the requisite number of years before a young man could take his lieutenant's examination, and Cook himself participated in the abuse by entering his own sons on the muster-rolls of his own ships at an early age, and taking them off again before he reached home and the crew were counted. Young William Bligh really did serve on naval vessels from the age of fifteen, and passed his lieutenant's examination at the age of 21, a few weeks after he had been appointed master of the Resolution for Cook's third voyage; but where on earth he got the experience and the training that justified that appointment I do not know. So far as the records show, he had done nothing to distinguish himself; yet, somehow or other, he was well-qualified in marine surveying and highly qualified in the drawing of charts—or he became so in a quite remarkably short time under Cook's eye; and to get the appointment at all he must have been acceptable to Cook. He himself records the extremely high opinion entertained of his merit by the man who succeeded Cook in command, Charles Clerke: before even the ships had left Hawaii, 'C. Clerke being very Ill in a decline he could not attend the Deck, & th[us] he publickly gave me the Power solely of conducting the Ships & moving as I thought proper. His orders were "You are to explore the Isles as much as you can & from thence carry the ships to Kamschatka & thence do your utmost endeavours to discover the NW Passage ..." '2 This record we are really compelled page 8 to regard as a flight of fancy; for not merely did Clerke remain in effective command until a week before his death six months later, but he could hardly pass over the rights of his own second-in-command, Captain Gore. Yet Bligh actually wrote it down. The interesting thing is that we have here a light thrown on his character which we must consider again. It is interesting also that practically alone at the end of the voyage Bligh did not get immediate promotion; he was out of the service for some months, was back in it in 1781, briefly as a master, and then at last in commissioned rank as a lieutenant, until in 1783 the navy was reduced at the end of the War of American Independence. He was luckier than a good many other half-pay officers: he had married a young woman whose uncle was prominent in the West Indian trade, in which he served as a captain for the next four years. Then, in 1787, through the influence of Sir Joseph Banks, an acquaintance of this invaluable uncle, he was given by the Admiralty the command, as lieutenant and purser, of the small armed vessel Bounty, to go to Tahiti to collect breadfruit plants for the West Indies. You will not be unaware that after leaving Tahiti some of the Bounty's crew mutinied and turned Bligh out into the Pacific with eighteen other men in the ship's launch, in which he made his way from Tonga to Timor, some 3,618 miles. 'But what officers you are! you men of Captain Cook; you rise upon us in every trial!' exclaimed the statesman William Windham to Lieutenant Burney, when the news reached England. 'This Captain Bligh,— what feats, what wonders he has performed!'3 Court-martialled for losing his ship, Bligh was acquitted, promoted captain, and successfully completed a second breadfruit voyage. He was on half-pay again for nineteen months, not so highly thought-of a figure after the trial of the Bounty mutineers as he had been before it;4then from 1795 to 1805, with intervals amounting to a page 9 year or two, he was on active or hydrographic service, commanding ships of the line at Camperdown and Copenhagen, and sent for by Nelson after the latter battle, that scene of carnage, to receive the admiral's thanks on his quarter-deck. In 1801 he was elected F.R.S. In 1805 he was court-martialled again, for violent language to one of his lieutenants, and later in 1805 he was appointed governor of New South Wales. He was appointed, Sir Joseph Banks told him, because New South Wales needed a strong disciplinarian. This was true. He landed at Sydney in August 1806. He was deprived of office in January 1808 by a mutiny of that odd military body the New South Wales Corps, in conjunction with a number of disaffected civilians, and after virtually being imprisoned for a year and hanging round Van Diemen's Land fulminating for another nine months, until superseded by Lachlan Macquarie, landed again in England in October 1810. He was to hold no further active command, though he was promoted by seniority rear-admiral in 1811 and vice-admiral in 1814; he was pensioned, gave evidence on the state of New South Wales and advice on one or two naval matters, and died in December 1817.
We are considering then two very different careers, which intersect in the Pacific on one great voyage, and may be said to intersect later in so far as Bligh added independently to the exploratory work of Cook. We should like to know what each man thought of the other, but we have no direct words of either. Evidently for Bligh, Cook was not quite beyond professional criticism; for of a chart of the Bering Sea in the published account of the third voyage he writes, 'The opposite is from C. Cook's original survey, which agrees nearly with mine except in laying down Anderson's Isld:—here is a gross mistake, for Anderson's 8c the East end of Clerk's Island is one & the same land, and how they have blundered to lay them down as two I cannot conceive.'5 It was a mistake, and it was Cook's, though hardly a gross one, and if you read the jour-page 10nals nals of this voyage attentively you will conceive clearly enough 'how they ... blundered to lay them down as two'; but Bligh was suffering at this time, as he frequently did, from a grievance; and there, in the words he used, is another gleam of light on his character. According to the report of some of the Tahitian people, given to some of the Bounty's men after the mutiny, he had told the Tahitians that he was Cook's son. Bligh himself says that they got this from Nelson, the gardener in charge of the breadfruit, 'and it seemed to please them very much';6 but he does not seem to have contradicted the story, for the name of Cook was a great one in the island, and it paid any later-comer to be connected with him. Certainly there is nothing recorded to show that the son, in the islands, or anywhere else, did not share in the general admiration of the father who had commanded him. Cook himself, in his journals, rarely writes down positive compliments about his subordinates, officers or men, though we can find one or two. He made a good deal of use of his master on that third voyage, sending him out to examine, make soundings, report. That was what a master was for. He never mentions him to complain. Indeed, one of the first geographical names that Cook conferred on the voyage, given to a high rocky round-topped islet off the coast of Kerguelen Land, was 'Bligh's Cap', presumably because Bligh was the first to sight it; and that may be taken as praise. Bligh did some of the best of the charting on the voyage, and he was infuriated by the attribution of his charts to Henry Roberts, master's mate in the Resolution, his junior officer though his senior in years and a veteran of the second voyage—Roberts's work being to make the fair copies for the engraver. This was the grievance to which I have referred; and Bligh was harping on it to his friend Burney as late as 1791.7 I have already suggested that whatever he knew or could do in this line before the vovage, Bligh may have learnt a good deal from Cook: his graphic technique, for example, in which he took some pride, is not page 11 dissimilar. As for his independent work in discovery, it was he who lighted upon Aitutaki in the northern Cooks, in the Bounty; and it was he who, after the mutiny, coming northwest from Tonga, sailed his launch right through the middle of Fiji, between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, and was chased by canoes from the Yasawa group, until he was well into the open sea. He got the salient points down on a chart, and for a time they were known as Bligh's Islands. He marked down, too, the Banks Islands, the northern group of the New Hebrides, and turning towards Australia found both a new entrance through the Great Barrier Reef and a new channel through Torres Strait. 'The chart I have given', he says of the latter, 'is by no means meant to supersede that made by Captain Cook ... Perhaps, by those who shall hereafter navigate these seas, more advantage may be derived from the possession of both our charts, than from either of them singly.'8 This was correct: the modern chart is based upon the work of both, and on that of Flinders. In 1792, on the outward passage of his second breadfruit voyage, he did some interesting Tasmanian charting, though outclassed by d'Entrecasteaux later in the same year, and discovered the atoll Tematangi, in the south-west Tuamotus. After leaving Tahiti he carried on some more exploration in the Fijian group, revisited the Banks Islands and found the Torres group to the west, and then made a most remarkable passage through Torres Strait, well north of Cook's Endeavour Strait and his own previous passage, through the whole bewildering and fantastically dangerous Clarence Archipelago, of which he made a most remarkable chart. We may note that he had working under him some able men, among whom was Nathaniel Portlock, who had also served on Cook's third voyage, and the young Matthew Flinders. We can see a sort of apostolic succession. After that Bligh made no more discoveries— except, one is tempted to say, of his own limitations, and of those he was always incredulous. page 12
Before I say anything of those limitations, or indeed go further in detailed analysis at all, let me summarize to this extent, that both Cook and Bligh were, according to then-opportunities, professionally extremely competent. That is merely to repeat my opening sentence. If you examine Cook's navigation day by day, and are in search of total perfection, you may be disappointed to find a few instances where, on paper, he seems to have been less than wise. It would need a seaman, however, to give a proper judgment. I do not know Bligh's sailing career as well, except when it was part of Cook's, but it is hard to think of any rashness or unwisdom. After all, he did not go by launch to Timor as spontaneous choice. He was furious at the merest implication that in Tonga, on one dark night, the ship was in danger through any fault of his. To quote one of his officers in the Providence on the second breadfruit voyage, no fanatical admirer, Tn her commander I had to encounter the quickest sailor's eye, guided by a thorough knowledge of every branch of the profession needed on such a voyage'.9 We should, therefore, transfer our enquiry to a rather different sphere, and study the relations of our two captains not to the sea but to their fellow beings. This again, as comparison, is bound to be a professional matter. We know they got on agreeably enough with their private friends, though how many private friends they had we don't know. We know that Banks took a proprietary interest in them both, and used all his influence consistently on Bligh's behalf. We could wish that we had from Cook, among documents of enlightenment, something corresponding to the tender letters that Bligh, as husband and father, wrote to his wife; but whereas Elizabeth Bligh preserved some, at any rate, of her husband's letters, Elizabeth Cook destroyed all of hers.
We have adequate material, however. I have said that both Cook and Bligh were humane men. The nature of their humanity needs examination. Here let me consider at once the question of flogging, because Bligh has somehow acquired page 13 in popular history, most unjustly, the reputation of a flogging captain. It was a flogging century. His Britannic Majesty's navy was a flogging navy, flogging was prescribed by the Articles of War; there were indeed captains who were, in a special sense, flogging captains. They were not much admired by their fellows. Cook and Bligh must have seen a gpod deal of flogging in their times, before they came to independent command, Cook more than Bligh—enough to be inured to a fair amount of it. I will not harrow you by statistics of lashes inflicted in the fleet on the American station, in winter quarters, when Cook was master in the flagship; I will merely say that last year, reading in my sedate place in the Public Record Office the logs and journals of that time, I felt something turn over inside me. The lashes which Cook and Bligh inflicted were not numbered in the hundreds. They were normally, with Cook, half-a-dozen or a dozen, and might rise in serious offences to two dozen; with Bligh, a dozen, two dozen; but I should say, without going into careful figures, that Bligh gave fewer individual floggings than Cook did. It is not too difficult to compare, even when the length of voyages differed so much. We can say that the Bounty saw relatively few punishments, according to the standards of the time, and those that were given were on the whole deserved. In the Providence and the Assistant, the two ships of the second breadfruit voyage, there were very few floggings. For the Resolution, from 1776 to 1779, I have noted down about sixty, in a complement of 112, probably not quite a complete list,10 for a variety of offences: for what was vaguely called, over and over again, 'neglect of duty', six or twelve lashes; 'for Striking an Indian Cheif' at Tonga, twelve; for 'refusing to stand Gentry when order'd', twelve; for 'Neglect of Duty & breeding Disturbances with the Natives' at Tahiti, twelve; for theft, twelve; for sleeping on his post as a sentry, twelve; for insolence and contempt, page 14 twelve; for drunkenness and insolence, twelve; for absenting himself from the boat when on shore at Hawaii 'and having connextions with women knowing himself to have the Venereal Disorder on him', in flagrant disobedience to the most stringent orders, two dozen. Desertions were a very great nuisance: they upset the ship's routine badly and could upset equally badly relations with the islanders, they set a bad example and wasted much valuable time. Cook gave two dozen on his first voyage, a dozen on the second (not a very serious attempt), and two dozen on the third. Clerke in the Discovery on the third voyage (and no one could call Clerke a cruel or vicious man) gave two dozen, laid on very heavy'. There was some class-distinction here—a midshipman, equally guilty, was merely sent before the mast. But towards the end of the second voyage Cook was driven to flog a midshipman who had made a violent and unmitigated nuisance of himself, and there was a great sensation. Turn to the Bounty again. Almost three months after leaving England Bligh writes in his log, 'Untill this Afternon I had hopes I could have performed the Voyage without punishment to any One, but I found it necessary to punish Mathew Quintal with two dozen lashes for Insolence and Contempt'.11 The next punishment was in Tahiti, eight months later, a dozen for carelessness in boat-keeping. Two months after that there were three desertions, and the men were away for seventeen days; one got a dozen and the others two dozen immediately, they were kept in irons for three weeks, and then those floggings were repeated. A manwas ordered two dozen for 'striking an Indian', but let off with nineteen at Tahitian intercession; and another, at sea between Tahiti and Tonga, got twelve for neglect of duty. That is seven seamen flogged in sixteen months, in a complement of 43. It may be significant that all these men were among the mutineers. On the other hand, there were eleven mutineers who had not been flogged. I may now, perhaps, for the time being leave that division of my subject, with the additional remark that page 15 Cook could not train all his young officers to be moderate. For savagery you can go to Captain George Vancouver. Also, there are more aspects to humanity, or to discipline, than a commander's feeling about flogging.
Cook's most publicised claim to distinction, of course, apart from actual discovery, was his care of his crews, and in particular his defeat of that curse of seamen, scurvy. A sailor was certainly safer with him than he was in the stews of London. It must not be thought that Cook was a complete revolutionary in this. He was indeed, I think I may say, not revolutionary enough. He never realized the sovereign value of lemon or lime juice as a preventive of scurvy, although Dr James Lind had recommended this as early as 1754. But he did of course realize the value of fresh food in general, fresh vegetables and fruits of all sorts, of an ever-renewed supply of fresh water. At Madeira on an outward passage he would take on board not merely wine, as directed by his instructions, but also a load of onions not provided for by Admiralty regulations, and trust that he would be able to get past the accountants on his return. It was at Madeira, too, on his first voyage, that he gave two men a dozen each for refusing their allowance of fresh beef—a procedure that he did not again adopt as an inducement to health; he found that such conservative persons could be more easily converted, if not by hunger, then by the force of example— particularly if they were left alone to observe, and to envy, others who seemed to be enjoying themselves. Hunger, of course, on a long voyage, with resources carefully husbanded though always fairly divided, was a great persuader—as witnessed the number of penguins consumed on the second voyage, of walruses on the third. Cook himself could eat anything. I cannot forbear quoting Alexander Home, the master's mate of the Discovery, on this matter—in a precious fragment now in the National Library of Australia. 'It was his practise to Cause great Quantitys of Green Stuff to be Boiled Amoungst the pease Soup and wheat and Care'd Not Much wether they were Bitter or Sweet so as he was but Certain they had no Pernicious Quality and Frequently to page 16 one who Considered only the Pleasing of their Taste without having Respect to health the Messess were somewhat spoiled But as there was Nothing Else to be got they were Obledged to Eat them and it was No Uncommon thing when Swallowing Over these Mess[es] to Curse him heartyly and wish for gods Sake that he Might be Obledged to Eat such Damned Stuff Mixed with his Broth as Long as he Lived. Yet for all that there were None so Ignorant as Not to know how Right a thing it was.'12 The search for the edible—the so-called 'scurvy grass' was only one variety—was automatic with Cook wherever he landed. His men, in the end, adopted the same habit. 'He would Frequently Order them on shore in partys to walk about the Country and smell the Fresh Earth and Herbage,' says Home, and they would keep their eyes open; and he adds, 'perhaps in Many it Might be with a Veiw of making their Court to him, for they knew it was A great Recommendation to be seen Coming on board from A pleasure Jaunt with A Handkerchif full of greens.'13—We are almost present at the scene. 'What have you there, Whelan?, 'Greens, Sir', says the tough Whelan, with a dreadful leer. 'Good man'; and Whelan thinks, this will help next time bloody Bligh has me up for insolence and contempt.—You will have noted that walking about the country; and Cook set store on this sort of exercise and holiday. For good health did not depend on food alone; it depended also on a cheerful mind, as it depended on proper clothing and cleanliness of ship and person. The humane man was also the disciplinarian. In this context I need not speak at length about Bligh. I shall simply say that he was a disciple of Cook. Some people thought he was niggardly in rationing: it is a little difficult to judge, but anyhow he was fair. He professed to rejoice in a happy crew, and I see no reason to disbelieve him. He exercised his crew in the Bounty on the outward passage by compulsory dancing for two hours in the evening, to the tune of the fiddle, and he stopped the grog of the recalcitrant. He spared them needless fatigue. He never, page 17 like Cook, had to face the united opposition of his crew to drinking beer brewed from sugar-cane, which Cook thought was a very healthy and palatable beverage, and the crew thought injurious to the health of seamen. This may have been because he was not as ingenious as Cook; or because, after sailing with Cook, he concluded you could push sailors too far; or, no doubt, there are any number of other reasons.
Let us take another aspect of the humane, the treatment of what it is convenient to call native peoples. Let us note that herein the eighteenth century saw a good measure of improvement on the attitude of many earlier explorers towards the folk they encountered. Cook indeed was enjoined in his instructions both from the Admiralty and the Royal Society to exercise humanity and restraint in all his dealings with them. He accumulated a very wide experience of uncivilized races all over the Pacific, from the Yahgans of Tierra del Fuego—if I may give Tierra del Fuego to the Pacific—to the Tschutski of North-eastern Siberia, from the aborigines of Tasmania to the Eskimos of Alaska, and a very numerous variety of Polynesians and Melanesians in between. Bligh's independent experience was of course by comparison extremely small. Nevertheless I think we can say that, in so far as he had a model, he modelled himself on Cook, in the same sort of situation. He is not the interesting study that Cook is, simply because the situations are so comparatively few, and because the only thing to do with native peoples, on the great boat voyage, was to run away from them. We have from him no agony of the spirit such as afflicted Cook at Poverty Bay after the killing of some Maori fishermen: 'I am aware that most humane men who have not experienced things of this nature will cencure my conduct in fireing upon the people in this boat nor do I my self think that the reason I had for seizing upon her will attall justify me'—and so on.14 We have none of Cook's meditations on the nature of savage life: 'few page 18 considers what a savage man is in his original state and even after he is in some degree civilized; the New Zealanders are certainly in a state of civilization', 15 he says, as he ponders the roots of cannibalism. Or in the New Hebrides he himself considers native opposition to the incursions of strangers—'a conduct one cannot blame them for when one considers the light in which they must look upon us in, its impossible for them to know our real design, we enter their Ports without their daring to make opposition, we attempt to land in a peaceable manner, if this succeeds its well, if not we land nevertheless and mentain the footing we thus got by the Superiority of our fire arms, in what other light can they then at first look upon us but as invaders of their Country; time and some acquaintance with us can only convince them of their mistake.'16
Although Bligh does not write such passages, I see no reason why he should not have agreed with them. He would certainly have agreed with another one: 'It has ever been a maxim with me to punish the least crimes any of my people have commited against these uncivilized Nations, their robing us with impunity is by no means a sufficient reason why we should treat them in the same manner';17 nor, to leave Cook's own words, is there any reason to tolerate gratuitous violence towards them. Hence the punishment visited by both Cook and Bligh on any piece of brutality committed upon an islander by a seaman, not only that of 'striking an Indian chief—punishment sometimes deplored by the victims. But 'a strict regard to justice' made the islanders themselves subject to some control, or attempted control, and the lash was used on them too. We must not, in our own humanitarianism, underestimate the problem, and flogging was better than shooting. Chiefs sometimes urged on the process; but chiefs could be cruel to their subjects in a fashion that shocked the British—for instance, in Tonga. Nevertheless it was Cook who, driven beyond endurance by the problem of theft, Ton-page 19gan or Tahitian indifference to his own principle of 'strict honisty', on his third voyage, began to impose floggings and ear-cropping and arm-slashing and destruction of canoes that seriously disquieted some of his officers. If Bligh had been the responsible commander, this would have come down in tradition as brutality. It seemed out of character. On one occasion, we know, it disquieted himself; for with him the other side of 'strict honisty' was 'gentle treatment'. Again I think we can see Bligh learning from Cook, and alas! improving on him; and it is perhaps significant that the Cook he observed was the Cook of the third voyage. Bligh was not going to have his men assaulting the islanders, he believed in the principles of strict honesty and gentle treatment, he was diplomatic and agreeable in his own conduct—until he thought it was time to make an example. But the example—theft again was the reason—of 'one hundred lashes, severely given, and from thence into Irons', 18 seems a little excessive, even though a chief had urged Bligh to kill the man. On the whole, I think, Cook and Bligh would each assert that he had tried to maintain an even-handed justice. Bligh might possibly have been a little more convinced that he had succeeded.
I have already spoken of desertions, or rather of attempted desertions, and the nuisance they caused. Is it of any significance that men tried to desert from the Bounty, does that indicate particularly intolerable shipboard conditions or personal relations? No, because men tried to desert from Cook and Clerke, who were admired. The attempts were all unsuccessful, and though the Polynesians were quite prepared to co-operate in them, in the end they co-operated also, sometimes under duress, in bringing the truants back. Men did not desert because they hated their commanders, or salt pork, or weevily biscuits; they deserted for love. Kamchatka was a very different place from Tahiti, and the drummer of the Discovery's marines tried to desert there, for love. Love was not a thing that naval captains could stop, but they were determined to stop permanent pursuit of the beloved. We have page 20 Cook's sentiments on the subject, again through our excellent Alexander Home. Cook could speak much to the purpose, Home reports: having assembled his men he told them, among other things, 'they Might run off if they pleased. But they might Depend upon it he would Recover them again: that in Such a Case he had Nothing to do but to seize their Chiefs and although they Might Like them very well to stay Amoungst them yet he knew for certain that they liked their Cheifs far better and Indeed with such a degree of partiality that they would Not give a Cheif for A Hundred of us, and they all Must know that his Authority over these Isles was so great that Never Man had a people More under his Command or At his Devotion. They Might fly if they pleased to Omiah King Ottou or to the Most distant Country known to these people. His authority would bring them back and Dead or Alive he'd have them.'19 Would you say that was Cook? Would you not rather say it was the legendary Bligh? It is a speech, I think, heightened for effect, if Home reports truly: but it is a speech that indicates character. Let us therefore go on to consider speech and character together in both our captains; for here at last, after so much that savours of likeness, we may find some aid to clear discrimination.
There is no doubt—everybody is agreed—that Cook had a quick temper. There seems to be no doubt too that, though he might be affable enough with his officers, he was also stern enough with his men. I use the word 'enough' advisedly. He was a good disciplinarian, he could unbend; he was a despot, like every naval captain, but he was not a tyrant. We have excellent authority for all this in one of his midshipmen, the devoted James Trevenen, who describes how at Nootka Sound the captain would go out surveying with a boat's crew of midshipmen and make them row thirty miles, and how they enjoyed the expedition, when Cook would 'relax from his almost constant severity of disposition, & condescend ... to converse familiarly with us',20 handing over to these hungry page 21 young men the ducks that were shot. And he breaks into somewhat regrettable verse:
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 eyebrows their stern superiority.21
It is Trevenen too who tells us about the supposedly erroneous compass bearings he took at Nootka Sound: 'Of course I had a heiva of the old boy/ The 'old boy' is Cook. He explains: 'Heiva the name of the dances of the Southern Islanders, which bore so great a resemblance to the violent motions and stampings on the Deck of Capt Cooke in the paroxysms of passion, into which he often threw himself upon the slightest occasion that they were universally known by the same name, & it was a common saying amongst both officers & people, "The old boy has been tipping a heiva to such or such a one".'22 It is the Swedish naturalist Sparrman, however, who pictures the scene on board the Resolution (it is the second voyage) when she was grounding on the Tahitian reef, saying that he would have preferred 'to hear fewer "Goddamns" from the officers and particularly the Captain, who, while the danger lasted, stamped about the deck and grew hoarse with shouting', and was revived only by 'an old Swedish remedy' suggested by Sparrman, namely a good dose of brandy.23 It would be easy enough to adduce further witnesses, or to give further examples. It is probably needless. But it is needful, 1 think, to make the point that nobody seemed to mind. I do not assert that it was a positive virtue to stamp up and down the deck and swear, or that we should praise Cook for his lack of inhibition. The quick rage was quick to subside. There was no personal or permanent enmity about it, nothing ignoble, no self-importance or vanity. It may, on the third voyage anyhow, have had some partly physical origin: the suggestion has page 22 been made that the strain of the preceding years had bred an ulcer, which would naturally enough account for the exasperated behaviour to which Trevenen testifies. You can't prove that sort of thing.24 We can consider one undoubted physical fact: Cook was a tall and well-built man, over six feet, with a 'presence', and you can, I fancy, put up with a great deal of selfless swearing from such a man, when a different sort of person might irritate you extremely.
Bligh was a different sort of person. He was short, though probably not in his thirties corpulent, as he was later on—the sort of person who would have to build up a presence, a dignity; and whatever he wanted to do, he was always throwing away any dignity he had. Whereas sailors might be affectionately amused, or perhaps a little puzzled, by Cook's heivass, such outbursts were as nothing against his prestige, his experience, what seemed his immense mastery of circumstance. When Bligh lost his temper, he merely seemed a little man in a rage; and the rages became tedious and exacerbating. I want to be just. I call attention therefore once again to Bligh's fundamental humanity. I call once again as a witness on young Mr Trevenen, who had his ups and downs of mood, and at one stage felt very glum indeed. He writes to his brother, 'Thus was my life annihilating, when two friendly hands were reached out, & saved me from the gulph into which I was plunging; & if ever I get any promotion in the service, which Ambition bids me hope, I shall always gratefully acknowledge that it is totally owing to Capt: King & Mr Bligh our master; they took notice of me, & offered me the use of their cabins & advice.'25 Curiously enough, King, another little man, thus his colleague in benevolence, was an officer for whom Bligh had the utmost contempt, though page 23 others as well as Trevenen sang his praises. And in thit contempt there is some odd psychological twist, which may have had something to do with the rages—with something worse than rages, with rancour. We have this extraordinary mixture of arrogance and humanity, tenderness and rancour. Why was Bligh so rancorous? I confess I do not know. I pause again. In the Bounty there was mutiny. In the Providence, at the end of the second breadfruit voyage, Bligh assembled his people and publicly thanked them, and when he left the ship they cheered him. Was this a case of a tyrant becoming un-tyrannous? But he was accused of tyranny often enough afterwards, and there were some in the Providence who were far from happy. I seem to be going round in a circle.
I break out of it by the simple assertion that the leading characteristic of Bligh was not tyranny but vanity. The contrast here with Cook is complete. I cannot think of anyone who accused Cook of vanity except J. R. Forster, whose thumbnail sketch of Cook's defects is a very complete rendering of his own; and I cannot think of any indication of vanity in Cook's journals, beyond an innocent boast of his contributions to naval diet when discoursing on his 'mutinous crew' in the sugar-cane episode. It is highly likely that he would have deleted or rewritten that whole passage if he had lived, because he was generally scrupulous not to send dispraise of his men to the Admiralty. Cook did not build up himself by denigrating his officers. He might 'tip a heiva' on occasion, but in the written word he is cool, patient and temperate. He might go out of his way to satisfy or gratify a man, on some geographical point, over his own better judgment, but his sarcasms, if he thought fit to indulge them, are gentle. It is sometimes as well, indeed, for our understanding that we can go behind his journal to the more immediate impressions of his log. There we may find, once or twice, irritation; we do not find the faults of others set against the wisdom that he dispenses. Turn to Bligh. By vanity, with him, I do not mean the harmless vanities to which the majority of men and women are subject, as that they are good lecturers, or have page 24 a good leg, or wear their clothes with an air. It was a perpetually self-righteous, a consuming thing. It included I think what one of his officers called Violent Tornadoss of the temper', or more mildly, 'the unbridled licence of his power of speech26—with the wild gesticulation for which he was noted. This was a power in which he must have taken some pride; he never, so far as we know, attempted to bridle it. In it, indeed, and in his manner of utterance, he showed a sort of perverse genius. Bligh's language to his officers and men, when he lost his temper, was not merely bad language of the ordinary sort, foul language, swearing. It was insult and humiliation; and he did not hesitate to insult and humiliate his officers constantly and publicly, reducing them to smouldering and impotent fury. Some biographers have written as if this were a legitimate, or at worst, a slightly illegitimate, extension of the language then current in the navy; as if, when his court-martial in 1805 reprimanded him and admonished him 'to be in future more correct in his language'27 the captains laughed genially up their gold-embroidered sleeves. I cannot altogether share this view: there is a sadism of the word as well as of the lash. It may be conscious, born of a deliberate desire to wound, to twist the knife; it may be more probably almost unconscious, born of a constitutional rage—or of what Bligh preferred to call in himself 'ebullition of the mind'.28 If unconscious it happens in a man quite unconcerned with the feelings of other men, quite devoted to his own feelings. It may, I imagine, be not uncommon to find a sensitive person who is thus insensitive to the effect of the strictures he passes; Bligh was simply an unusually perfect example of this. His insensitivity was total. The impression one takes from studying him is of a very self-conscious as well as very self-righteous man, a man always in the forefront of his own thought, always convinced of the unassailable correctitude of his own conduct, personal or professional. 'As an officer and a navigator I have page 25 ever looked with horror on neglect and indolence', he wrote to Banks on his return from the Bounty voyage29—a very just sentiment, which he could have repeated at any time in his life, and did, not infrequently. But that hardly justifies some of his procedure in making his sentiment known, or his identification of anything he did not like with neglect or indolence. Bligh habitually talked to his officers, and wrote about them afterwards, as if it had been the special purpose of Divine Power, for some unrevealed reason, to inflict on him, for every voyage, a unique collection of fools and knaves as his subordinates. It is unlikely that this was really the case. And it really is irrelevant, in any judgment of his attitude, that immediately after humiliating his officer he should ask the man to dinner. We can hardly wonder that something broke in Fletcher Christian, another young man to whom Bligh had been kind, when for the fortnight preceding the famous mutiny he had been 'in hell'. Ah! but, you may say, there must have been something unbalanced about Fletcher Christian,30 else he would never have leapt into a mutiny so inherently hopeless in its consequences—and did not Cook's men talk mutiny? Well, Christian did not begin the voyage unbalanced; and if you want to see a man in a like position, who did not, however, break, consider the words of Francis Godolphin Bond, Bligh's first lieutenant in the Providence, and his own nephew. Bond is writing to his brother, towards the end of the voyage, about his commander: 'The very high opinion he has of himself makes him hold every one of our profession with contempt, perhaps envy: nay the Navy is but [a] sphere for fops and lubbers to swarm in, without one gem to vie in brilliancy with himself. I don't mean to depredate his extensive knowledge as a seaman and nautical astronomer, but condemn that want of modesty, in self-estimation. . . . Soon after leaving England I wished to receive instruction from this imperious master, until I found he publickly exposed page 26 any deficiency on my part in the Nautical Art &c .... Among many circumstances of envy and jealousy, he used to deride my keeping a private journal and would often ironically sayhe supposed I meant to publish . . . . the word's, King's request,Good of the Country; Orders of the Admiralty, &c, &c, are frequently in his mouth—but unparelled pride is the principal ingredients of his composition.'31 That is quite mild compared to the whole effect of Bond's words. It may be compared to the words with which Trevenen describes the rages of Cook. Nobody refers to Bligh as 'the old boy'. And can anybody imagine Cook deriding a subordinate officer? Bligh seemed jealous, adds Bond, of any man with a gift for writing, or sketching, or observing; he did not like his subordinates to gain credit; and Flinders, after his Providence experience, remained much alive to this occupational risk.32 If you will hark back to what Bligh said about Clerke's choice of him to manage the third voyage, after Cook's death, you may think that he was not very anxious that his superiors should gain credit either. What he did not learn from Cook was to be disinterested.—As for the plotting of an Endeavour mutiny, I confess I cannot take it very seriously. Nothing is moreprobable than that there was such talk—idle talk of idle men on a comfortable beach, in the moonlight: I rather wish it had come to more, just to see how Cook would have dealt with it. One of Banks's correspondents, a shipmate, remembered it twenty years afterwards, commenting on the Bounty affair.
The Bounty affair: I have tried to avoid saying too much about it, yet the memory of Bligh will never get away from it. I have said nothing about him in New South Wales, where he haa his other mutiny, nor quoted from remarks on his character made by perceptive men there. These would seem, some of them, a natural enough development of the remarks I have already quoted. They would not be wholly condemnatory. I have not aimed, however, at comparing governors and sea-page 27captains, but two captains. Shall I conclude by saying that there is a sort of plain magnanimity of mind in Cook that has no parallel in Bligh; that Cook's character was fundamentally consistent and direct, Bligh's was cursed by paradox; or simply that Cook was a quick-tempered but good-tempered man, and Bligh was a quick- and bad-tempered man? That is a little abrupt. I shall end instead by confessing that when I came to compose this lecture I had thought of a title, and nothing whatever to fill in underneath it. By the time I had felt and fought my way through to this point I found I had—what? Could it be called a study in command?
1 George Herbert to the Rev. W. Coxe, from Turin, 16 February 1780.— Lord Herbert (ed.), Henry, Elizabeth & George (London, 1939), p. 413. 'I am Sure you will be much concerned at the loss of so good and able a man', Coxe had written, on 16 January.—ibid., p. 393.
3 Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay, ed. Austin Dobson, IV (London, 1905), p. 378.
4 There is a neat contrast to Windham in Captain Thomas Pasley, R.N. —to Flinders, 7 August 1793: 'Your Capt. will meet a very hard reception —he has Dam'd himself.'—James D. Mack, Matthew Flinders(London, 1966), p.11, n.
5 Journals, III, p. 444, n.2; and the portfolio of Charts and Views of this edition, Chart LIII.
6 Log of the Bounty(London, 1937), I, p. 371; 26 October 1788.
7 Journals, III, p. 1565.
9 Lieutenant George Tobin, quoted by Mackaness, p. 239.
10 Cook does not generally mention such things in his journal, and we have no master's or ship's log for this voyage. I have simply noted down the entries in the 'journal' of William Charlton, a midshipman, P.R.O. Adm 51/4557, which looks very like a copy of the 'remarks' in the ship's log.
11 Log of the Bounty, I, p. 110; 10 March 1788. In his published account he adds, 'to the Master'.
12 Journals, III (Cambridge, 1967), p. 1456.
14 Journals, I (Cambridge, 1955), p. 171.and see, for the development of this text, as evidence of Cook's affliction, pp. ccx-ccxii.
15 Journals, II (Cambridge, 1961), p. 294.
16 ibid., p. 493.
18 Log of the Bounty, II, p. 48; 2 March 1789.
19 Journals, III, p.cxiii.
20 ibid., p.303, n.2.
21 ibid., p. cxxiii.
22 ibid., p. cliii.
24 There is good evidence, on the other hand, for severe physical discomfort, in the form of headaches, at least at one period, on Bligh's part. He writes in his Providencelog, 'I am never thoroughly clear of the Head Acli, but when diese dreadfull fitts lay hold of me I am almost distracted/—Madge Darby, 'The causes of the Bounty mutiny', Studia Bountyana, 2 (Uppsala, 1966), p.9. I know of no evidence that these fits were lifelong, which Bligh's temper was.
25 Journals, III, p. lxxviii, n.2.
26 Tobin, quoted by Rolf Du Rietz, in Studia Bountyana, I (Uppsala, 1965, pp. 27, 50.
27 Mackaness, p. 349.
28 Mackaness, p. 348.
29 Mackaness, p. 186.
30 Cf. Madge Darby, Who caused the mutiny on the Bounty? (Sydney, 1965), and the subsequent argument between Rolf Du Rietz and her in Studia Bountyana, 1 and 2.
31 Rolf Du Rietz quotes at length in hisStudia Bountyana, 1, pp. 28-9.