A Life of J. C. Beaglehole: New Zealand Scholar
12 — The Scholar at Work: II — The Journals of the Second and Third Voyages and the Biography of Cook
The Scholar at Work: II
The Journals of the Second and Third Voyages and the Biography of Cook
After Completing the work on Banks in the first months of his leave in London over 1955 and 1956, John turned to working on Cook's second and third voyages, searching out all the manuscript material in Britain and arranging for much of it to be microfilmed to take back to Wellington. He extended his contacts with scientific and museum experts and worked closely with Skelton. He also met David and Alison Quinn, with whom he and Elsie were to form a close friendship. David was professor of history at the university college in Swansea (he would shortly be appointed to the chair in history at Liverpool) and already widely known for his immense knowledge of British expansion and the American colonies in the seventeenth century. He was Irish and Alison was a forthright Scot who shared David's scholarly interests; their three small children, at that time, were Welsh. They were a warm and lively family.
John and Elsie, from the base in Goldhurst Terrace, took up once more their London life of concerts and plays and exhibitions. They saw a good deal of Sam and Liza Williams, of Averil Lysaght, and other friends. With the car they did some touring in England. On a trip to Cornwall John was disappointed to find no traces of any Beagleholes in St Austell; he mistakenly believed that this was where the family originated, and had he found his way to Liskeard he could have met another John Beaglehole, a cousin, descended from William Henry's older brother John. They saw more of John's brother Keith and his family. John represented the University of New Zealand at the ceremonies for installing the Queen Mother as the Chancellor of the University of London. He and Elsie were very taken with the champagne at St James's Palace, and as he walked in procession at the Royal Festival Hall to a fanfare played on silver trumpets by six trumpeters from the Horse Guards, and listened to the University's Public Orator, he wondered what might be done page 385for the graduation ceremonies at home. He interviewed a number of applicants for university positions in New Zealand; he attended the Home Universities Conference of the Association of Universities of the British Commonwealth, and 'was not entirely overwhelmed by the amount of wisdom there current'.1 He also wrote a lecture 'On the Character of Captain James Cook',2 which he delivered at several universities.
The passage home on the Rangitata, leaving on 31 August and sailing via Panama with a brief stop at Curaçao, was uneventful. John shared victory with 'a young & charming female' in the mixed doubles quoit-tennis, and did his duty to the Commonwealth by appearing as quiz-master in a twenty-questions session. 'It is curious what a vast amount of entertainment the British need, whether Uk or Nz citizens'.3 There proved to be absolutely no spot on the ship where he could work on his proofs, so he had 'a mild orgy of miscellaneous reading, the first for years', but found it very demoralising because, having started, he wanted to keep on. He read 'George Moore & Sydney Smith's letters, & Hoskins on the English landscape & Sir W. Ralegh's Poems & a life of Mark Rutherford & a life of Martin Tupper & Geyl on history – it was wonderful'.4 They arrived in Wellington to find Giles 'on the wharf, down from his farm, leaning over a railing as if he were inspecting pigs, & with a grin as wide as the ship, so parental happiness was complete'.5
John had once thought that establishing a text for the journal of the second voyage would be more straightforward than for the first, but soon found that 'the more it is scrutinised the more complicated it becomes'.6 There were several copies of the journal of the first voyage, but they were all essentially copies of the same thing; the many variations in detail could, if significant, be recorded in footnotes. Among the records of the second voyage (to simplify a complicated story of which John gives a fascinating account in his textual introduction to the volume) were two copies in Cook's hand of a journal, both in the British Museum but neither complete, (John refers to them as A and B), a number of holograph fragments in various libraries, and two other copies of the journal, one of which was made by Cook's clerk, William Dawson, during the voyage (referred to by John as G).
[our] stated objective [John wrote] is to print from Cook's manuscript. But there is in fact no complete manuscript that one can print. We are confronted with two: one of these [A] … stops with the final departure page 386from New Zealand; and B … is so chaotic and has lost so many of its pages that we are in no better case here. An easy way out, if we merely wanted a text, would be to print G, a highly legible, quite admirable copy, quite complete, of B before B began to be worked over in England [by Cook preparing it for publication]. But G has the disadvantage that it is in William Dawson's hand, not Cook's; it is indeed too perfect. We miss the process of growth; and to annotate a copy from an original is not a process one cares to contemplate.7
The plan he adopted was to use A as far as it went, and to complete the journal from B, the latter part of which was less broken than the earlier. Where there were significant differences between these two, or with G, John would record them.
It was a painstaking process, but there was a further complication in finalising the text. J.A. Williamson's typescript of the journal had been used by the printer to produce galley proofs. When he got back to Wellington from London, John began work on these proofs and wrote to Skelton with some anguish:
you know the affection & respect I have for that great & delightful man, so I can tell you that I am appalled. He simply couldn't have had the faintest idea of the nature of the beast he was dealing with; & he could never have compared a page of his proofs with the photostats. I've corrected the galleys from the photostats. When I corrected the vol I galleys, you will remember, I went into a cold sweat over some of the things I had done myself, but I was the Pedantry of Exactitude compared to this … Funny thing is, that you told me that Wmson was coming to regard every letter of Cook's as sacred. He can never have read what Cook wrote.8
Skelton found it extraordinary: 'you'd think that a man who managed the Cabot documents so skilfully could cope with Cook'. He continued: 'Nobody but you could have tackled all the problems of Voyage II.'9
Once the text was settled John continued work on the annotation. As with the first voyage, this involved studying carefully all the surviving published and unpublished accounts in addition to those of Cook himself, together with extensive research in libraries and, where necessary, recourse to various experts. Many of them, Skelton especially, had helped with the first volume. In April 1957, John wrote that he should have the back of the annotation broken in another month, 'having had a real hell of a time with Easter Island, text as much as annotation'.10 In the twenty-three pages relating to Easter Island in the published volume,11 there are eighty-nine footnotes. In them John gives significant variations in page 387Cook's accounts and quotes from the journals of Charles Clerke and William Wales, and from George Forster's Observations made during a Voyage Round the World, as well as the published accounts of the island by earlier explorers. He used the work of modern scholars: Alfred Métraux's Ethnology of Easter Island (1940) and Easter Island (1957), Thor Heyerdahl's American Indians in the Pacific (1952) and Aku-aku (1958), Peter Buck's Vikings of the Sunrise (1938). His notes elaborate, identify, comment and explain, adding greatly to the reader's interest and understanding, making the voyage (to repeat John's words quoted in chapter eleven) 'clear & vivid & comprehensible'.
The second voyage was notable for Cook's three great ice-edge cruises, during which he circumnavigated the globe in high latitudes, demolishing any lingering hopes of finding a great southern continent. They were, perhaps, the most remarkable part of what is generally recognised as the greatest of all voyages of maritime discovery, and both Cook's observations and the latitudes he reached raised many questions about the nature and the extent of the Antarctic ice. John sought advice from Dr H.F.P. Herdman, of the British National Institute of Oceanography, who had published work on the Antarctic ice, and Herdman wrote for him a long discussion of the Antarctic portions of the journal, on which John drew for both the introduction and the notes.
At the end of May 1957 he went to Tonga, hoping to visit all the Cook anchorages and the islands where Cook called on his second and third voyages. The New Zealand navy gave him passage on their survey vessel the Lachlan, under Commander F.W. Hunt, and when he arrived at Nuku'alofa he was invited to stay for a few days with the British agent and consul, 'a very nice chap called Reid', and his wife, who gave him kava for morning tea and took him out in their car and the consular launch to show him all he wanted to see of Tongatapu.12 Before he got to Tonga John had suspected that 'everybody goes round in long trousers & Mother Hubbards like a lot of broken-down market gardeners',13 and he had written to Prince Tungi suggesting that he might revive the eighteenth century. But when he got there John discovered that the Mother Hubbard was on the way out. He was left with mixed feelings. Even that garment, he decided, if clean, would have looked better 'than some of the rags they wear, gaping at the seams; they look a bit like the reef when the tide has gone out'.14 The little boys and girls, however, he found charming.
From Nuku'alofa he went by launch to the island of Eua where page 388Cook had made his first landfall. It was only about ten miles but he got 'half-drowned' on the way. There was some mistake or muddle about the launch and
instead of staying the night as I had been told it was to come straight back with 20 passengers & a load of cargo. I didn't go crook but said I was a bit disappointed. While I was eating a banana preparatory to looking at the landing place the launch-owner came over & said 'Look, it's a pity if you can't see this place, not enough people come here, it's very much neglected; I've spoken to all the people & they'll all go away & come back tomorrow morning, so we'll start at seven.' 'Crumbs,' I said, 'You can't do that sort of thing with a crowd like that.' 'Oh,' he answered, 'they're all perfectly happy; I said you were an important man from New Zealand come to look at their island, they've all got friends here they can stay with, you can make them a speech in the morning.'15
He made the speech and was presented with a piece of tapa cloth. He concluded that Cook was not far wrong in calling the group the Friendly Islands, 'even if they did hatch a plot later on for doing him in & getting down on the ship'.
He travelled north to Lifuka in the Ha'apai group, where Cook spent time during his third voyage, and hoped to visit Nomuka on the way. He did not get ashore there – it was the one island he wanted to see that he failed to get to, and he had to content himself with views of the coastline and with cross-examining the public works foreman at Lifuka, who claimed to know the island well. From Pangai, the capital village of Lifuka, 'with a jetty & a Burns Philp warehouse & the residence of the governor of Ha'apai', he visited a number of other islands. On Foa, the next island to Lifuka, he admired the women's weaving and 'was entertained to what was alleged to be very strong homebrew – one of the few English words the maker of it knew', as well as being prevailed on to ride one of the local horses, behind its owner, to see the island. Never a horseman, he decided that this was the only instance in which the Tongans carried their friendliness too far. The public works man took him to Moungaone, a little island ten miles west of Lifuka, to take a new tank to the schoolhouse. They went in a cutter and drifted rather than sailed across, but had an exciting hour on the way back at night with a good breeze, tearing along in a flurry of phosphorescence before being struck by a rain squall, and then having the wind drop right away and being left drifting for several hours. From Lifuka he went to Vava'u to join the little interisland steamer, the Tofua, to go on to Niue and Samoa. Elsie was already in Western Samoa, with Tom and Sylvia Smith.page 389When John arrived they had ten days with Dick and Eileen Powles* at Vailima. 'Such luxury & comfort I've never known', Elsie wrote to Janet, '& the whole place just so beautiful'.16
At the end of 1957 John got the text and annotations of the second voyage away by air at 'vast expense', and wrote to me in Cambridge that I might get the volume 'next Christmas, or maybe not'.17 Skelton judged the notes, which he 'read carefully', to be 'a real triumph – both as a remarkable feat of textual collation, & as a brilliantly illuminating commentary on the events, the Journal, & Cook himself … I feel sorry', he continued, 'for those reviewers who used up all their superlatives on your first volume'.18 The following April John sent off the calendar of documents, the last appendix to the volume (the introduction still remained to be written). He was not too happy about the calendar as it seemed 'devilish long', and he could see no chance of the volume being less than about a thousand pages:
I have boiled down where I could: perhaps I should have boiled down more. If I could put the thing away for three months & have another go I should feel more certain about this; but as you know my experience of calendars is limited. The Clerke letters to Banks I think are worth giving in full. But I have also given in full, or near full, some from Solander. They seem to me to be very good, & ought to be printed somewhere; I am a bit uncertain about the long one about Omai, but Omai, or the talk about Omai, has to be documented somehow. I have not listed other letters of Solander that exist. Once one steps outside the purely official, & the voyage itself, there seems no end to it all for this voyage – & so much good stuff. I have deliberately excluded everything bearing on the publication of the voyage & the Forster row – it would take a calendar in itself … anyhow I am quite prepared for all sorts of strictures on the thing as presented, so don't hesitate to loosen the full tempest of your criticism.19
* Powles had been New Zealand High Commissioner in Western Samoa since 1949, charged with guiding the country from international trusteeship to self-government.
By Christmas 1958 John had got all his Cook proofs corrected and ready to send back, except for some cross references that could not be filled in until he had the proofs of the introductions. In sending Skelton his 'best possible' Christmas wishes, he thanked him 'from the bottom of my soul' for all he had done for him, was doing and 'will no doubt do in the future':
I should be nowhere without you. Or to be more accurate, I should be where I am now, in Wellington, gnashing my teeth. You should have heard my eloquent plea yesterday, in my character of member of the Univ. Research Grants Committee, to the … Committee, on the necessity of a quadrupled grant for research, so that researchers could rush over to London (or elsewhere) whenever they reached a crisis. I almost had them in tears. I suppose they recovered afterwards.24
At the same time the Banks proofs had just begun to arrive. By the following April he had completed the last of the Cook 'revises', in which he found an awful lot of printer's mistakes; more Banks proofs had arrived. In June he wrote to me that he had not heard from Skelton for about six months. 'Poor devil, he is overwhelmed with work'.25
It was not the first time that Skelton's extraordinary workload had taken its toll. Early in 1954, while working on the first voyage, he had apologised for his long silences during the previous year – there had been 'just a wall getting higher & higher', but he had got over it by the time of writing.26 At the end of 1956, three months after John's page 391departure from London, he wrote: 'My deplorable silence since your repatriation doesn't mean that there has been nothing to tell you. It's not news but time to write about it, that is in short supply'.27 Twelve months later he wrote: 'You are at least a dozen letters (good letters too) up on me, I'm afraid. I've had a tough time this autumn, & Cook's not had his fair share'.28 He had had the answers to most of John's footnote problems on his desk for weeks, but had not been able to write a letter to go with them. This time the situation never really recovered. There were four letters between November 1957 and the beginning of February 1958, when he reported that the illustrations were 'all buttoned up',29 one at the end of April (John welcomed the 'rich bunch of enclosures'30), one in June and then nothing until October, when, in the letter in which he praised John's introduction, Skelton apologised for his silence. He had had three Hakluyt Society volumes at once to prepare for printing, 'several others on the boil', and lots of British Museum administration (outside the Map Room) arising from the illness or absence at conferences of other members of the staff.31 Five further letters survive from the period between October and the following February (1959), then there was nothing until November 1960, when he wrote: 'I am deeply ashamed of my long silence which has no excuse at all & no other explanation than a rather severe personal crisis last year (not easy to write about); while this year has been a very difficult & troublesome one. I can assure you that you won't have to complain again about one-way traffic in our correspondence.'32 John was to see Skelton when he was in London in 1962, 1966 and 1969, but there seem to have been no more letters from him save for one in 1967 and a final one in 1969.
* What John was not aware of was the additional pressure on Skelton from 1958 arising from his involvement in the preparation of the volume on the Vinland Map for publication by the Yale University Press. Everyone connected with the project had been sworn to secrecy – an unusual step for a reputable university press to take, and in this case thoroughly unfortunate, as it kept the three authors from sufficient consultation with specialists in other fields which could have raised the doubts about its authenticity that were to prevail in the years after publication. Skelton himself appears to have come to regret the unscholarly restrictions imposed during the preparation of the book. Kirsten A. Seaver gives an engrossing scholarly account of the whole story in her Maps, Myths, and Men: The Story of the Vinland Map (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004); on Skelton, see especially pp.208–10. In addition to everything else, Skelton continued to publish a stream of scholarly articles and reviews: see the bibliography of his published work included in his Maps: A Historical Survey of Their Study and Collecting, published by the University of Chicago Press in 1972, after his death.
In July 1959 John visited New Caledonia and the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). He and Elsie flew to Nouméa, where they stayed with Tom Smith (now Secretary-General of the South Pacific Commission) and Sylvia. John flew on to Vila, where once again he was frustrated by the local transport and concluded that he had been a fool to allow himself only three weeks away from his desk. Even before he left home he had decided that, of the various places in the New Hebrides he would like to see, there would be time only for Tanna, the southernmost of the bigger islands in the group, and its Port Resolution, where Cook had stayed longest. Getting there was a challenge. Shipping in the New Hebrides was thoroughly disorganised – 'One Condominium vessel laid up for repairs, the other wouldn't work; no British govt vessel, French vessel chartered elsewhere'33 – and he had to make the passage to Tanna in the Burns and Philp ketch, Moala, a 'great ugly lump of timber', which was going to load copra. They ran into a strong head wind, rising to gale force, and head seas, and instead of the normal time of nineteen hours the trip took forty-six hours.
The trip led him to some wry reflections on the annotations he had done for the New Caledonia/New Hebrides portion of Cook's journal.
I drove a cart & horse through a few solemn statements. Not my fault, I must confess, but that of the Standard Authorities I had used. Perhaps my fault for not going to the N.H. or N.C. before. But can one go everywhere before? One or two things even made me laugh bitterly. I have a fn somewhere roughly to this effect, 'Probably some sort of eucalyptus'. I'll say it is a sort of eucalyptus – & the commonest tree in New Caledonia, it grows in its millions. Niaouli. Then copying some solemn ass who can never have seen one in his life, I referred to its thick cork-like bark. Anything more uncorklike you never saw in your life … Why did I copy that man? I think it may have been some fool in one of page 394the Admiralty Handbooks. And where did he get it from? Laugh bitterly or squirm bitterly – it just goes to show (1) Cook has never been edited before (2) No one should edit a Pacific voyage who hasn't been all over the Pacific & become omniscient.35
At home after the break, there was still no news of the second volume of Cook. Aurousseau, who was working on the index, had been very unwell. The only alternative to a delay until he recovered would be to have someone else start over again, but that might well take even longer.36 In December John reported to Skelton that it had been a hell of a year: 'Never so many meetings, never so many problems … never so many irritations & silly things to do'.37 The Oxford University Press had asked in 1957 if they could publish a second edition of The Discovery of New Zealand; he had agreed but kept putting it off, not altogether to the pleasure of the press. When he got around to looking at the volume, he was horrified and had to 'give it a thorough revision, not to say re-writing, twice over – with the thought that if ever anybody thought I could write for sour apples, he merely displayed his own abysmal lack of taste'.38 For Banks, a constant worry and drainer of time, he still had only corrected galley proofs to show. The third volume of Cook had not got ahead at all. However, he reassured Skelton,
Lest you think I am in a highly nervous state, or in danger of going round the bend, I assure you I am not; just exasperated with the multitudinousness & fatuity of things that keep me from getting on with my work. I have been calming myself down lately by reading Cowper's letters in the last half-hour before I go to bed. This is a very placid sort of amusement for the most part, except when he gets on to the subject of his own despair. Why he should be regarded as the best letter-writer in the language I don't quite know; but he is a nice flat domesticated English landscape, charming, comfortable, nothing like Tanna. Queer thing, religious mania. I wish there were a corresponding number of volumes of letters of Cook, & Clerke, & Anderson, & Pickersgill … no more of J.R. Forster, thankyou.39
In his letter of 2 November 1960, in which he told John of his 'severe personal crisis', Skelton also reported that the final printing of volume two had just started. John was 'quite knocked over'; he had been under the firm impression that it had been printed early in 1959, and had told Aurousseau that it was too late to make the corrections he had suggested.
Also I mourned bitterly that I couldn't make corrections that I had found necessary myself, as a result of going to N Caledonia & New Hebrides,page 395& reading later work. It was agony to know I was wrong, & not be able to do anything about it … In the despairing hope of still being in time to save some bloomers I send the enclosed 3 pp., assembled hastily but I hope accurately.40
A week after this letter John wrote a further note to Skelton, full of sympathy: 'I am accustomed to think I have too many jobs to do … but my burden seems to fade into insignificance by the side of yours. Do for God's sake look after yourself …' And he asked whether the corrections he had sent did 'any good to anybody'.41 It appears that Skelton was able to incorporate them, and that Aurousseau had sent him copies of his letters to John and that he had made the necessary corrections there too, but in neither case did he let John know.
The volume was published on 29 September 1961. Almost the first news of it that John had seems to have been a letter from Williamson in August to say that he had his copy and had read the introduction.
I need hardly say [Williamson wrote] … that it is masterly, with a cool unexaggerated balance of things that have to be said, Banks, Forster etc, and a wonderful background of geographic knowledge of the Southern Ocean. Further north, your islands are real ones, even to those of us who have never seen them, instead of names on the map … Cook of course is the middle of all, and you are steadily building him up.42
In 1956, not long after the first volume of Cook appeared, Skelton had written to John Easton at MacLehose's with a staggeringly unrealistic prediction, telling him that the copy for volume three was expected to be ready for printing by June 1958, and that the volume would be somewhere 'between 500 and 600 pages (certainly not in excess of 600)'.43 It was to be more than three years after that date before even volume two finally appeared: volume three eventually came out (in two parts) in 1967, and amounted to 1800 pages.
Establishing a text of Cook's journal for the third voyage did not present the same problems as those arising from the second voyage. Only one copy of a journal in Cook's hand survives and the form in which it is cast suggests that Cook, learning from the experience of the first two voyages, set out deliberately to write a book which would need a minimum of editing or rewriting before being published.44 Cook's last entry, however, was for Sunday, 17 January 1779, almost a month before his death. For that critical month, as well as the remainder of the voyage that followed, John had to decide what page 396should complete the documentation. The 'journal' that he decided on was a composite one, containing, for what seemed sufficient reasons, some repetition. Cook was succeeded by Clerke, who could write, but who was dying from tuberculosis. Clerke was succeeded by Gore, who could not write. To complete the official account, the Admiralty had turned to Lieutenant King, who succeeded Gore as commander of the Discovery, the expedition's second ship. King was a careful observer and a conscientious recorder. John drew on his journal as well as Clerke's, but in the period after Clerke's death King's manuscript journal broke down and John turned to the journals of others to complete the account of the voyage. The voyage was also notable for the quality and interest of a number of other surviving journals. Two of these, John decided, should be printed in full: those of William Anderson, surgeon on the Resolution, a man of considerable talent and wide-ranging interests (and another victim of tuberculosis), and David Samwell, surgeon's mate on the Resolution (later surgeon on the Discovery), and a man of literary and social interests rather than scientific. His journal, John wrote, conveyed, 'as did no other word, the more frivolous side of a voyage that had its frivolities as well as its moments of tragedy'.45 There were also extracts from the journals of five other officers. It was the inclusion of this material that accounted for the greatly increased size of the volume, and its publication was made possible only by the New Zealand government's granting the society a further £2000 for this purpose.
If establishing the text for the journal was relatively straight-forward compared with the first two voyages, there were parts where the job of annotation was formidable. No earlier scholar had carefully plotted Cook's extraordinarily complex route throughout his exploration of the North-west American coast and north through the Bering Sea into the Arctic Ocean. As John was to write in the preface to the volume:
If one adopts again the primary object of deciding precisely where Cook went, where he was at any given moment, why he said what he did by way of description and explanation, then one has a wearing task indeed; but it must be undertaken. I have had to undertake it, except in one particular spot, with the help only of charts and the printed word against which to check the charts and the written words produced on the voyage; and no one knows better than I how many conjectures I have had to make, and how fruitful – how destructive, sometimes, to laborious reconstruction – might be a detailed examination from the sea of that long coast, with the modern chart and modern instruments of navigation page 397at one's hand as well as Cook's journal under one's eye … For cold fact one can lean on the South-East Alaska Pilot, the Bering Sea and Strait Pilot; but they do not explain the accidents of weather, on some particular day in 1778, which made Cook write as he did.46
Nor, in a like way, had anyone followed Cook carefully around the Hawai'ian islands, or grappled with the intricate structure of Hawai'ian society at that time, and the complexities of the contact between explorer and the indigenous people. These provided the background and contributed to the drama of Cook's death, an event that John was to seek to reconstruct (first in editing the journal, again in writing the biography), through exhaustively analysing all the surviving documents, and which, inescapably for editor and biographer, cast its shadow on what had gone before in his analysis of Cook's character and behaviour in the preceding months of the voyage.
The seemingly endless worry over the production of the second volume of Cook and of the Banks Journal made progress on volume three very slow. Early in 1960 John told Don Marshall that he was endeavouring to be philosophical but that more than once the delays had made him 'feel like jumping off the wharf'. However, he was trying to 'bury [himself] in vol III & forget other things'.47 A year later he reported that he was still months behind in the work. He had hoped to get to England that year – and to see Hawai'i on the way – so as to finish work on the volume and see it through the press as a 1961–62 job, but he could not see how that was possible. 'Meanwhile', he wrote, 'I seem to have had hundreds of committees, & dozens of books & papers & chapters by other people to edit or revise. For the rest of this year I refuse point-blank, or I shall be round the bend, & I must remain sane, at least until I finish Cook.'48 To Janet he reported that 'I keep on narrowly clawing off the coasts of utter distraction', but it was not all the fault of others. When he wrote that letter he was immersed in John Wesley's Journal and 'absolutely fascinated, by the preaching & conversions & all the rest of it. What a man! … What a century.'49 Slowly, however, he was able to move ahead. 'The others have all gone to the pictures', he wrote one evening some months later,
& I have stayed home to disentangle some awful island in the Bering Sea that Cook thought was three islands … The interesting thing is, really, why didn't he clean the wretched business up by sailing round it, as he would have done on his 1st or 2nd voyage? Fact of the matter is … that he was losing his grip a bit, & this is what nobody has ever seen about Cook before.50page 398
He was corresponding with Margaret Titcomb, the librarian at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu, who steered his questions to the appropriate experts, and in October 1961 he sought her advice on visiting Hawai'i. 'Would March be a good time?' He was now 'well on' with work on the third voyage, 'though a good deal behind my original schedule', and was planning the trip to London to 'clean it all up'. He wanted to have a good look at the museum for anything in his line, to visit all the Cook sites and 'see as much as possible of what Cook saw – anyhow in the way of landscape', to sit at the feet of anybody who could tell him anything, and to have his annotation of the Hawai'ian part of the journals vetted.51
He and Elsie left for England on 1 April 1962, flying via Hawai'i and mainland America. John had been given a visitor's grant by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. His links with them went back twenty-five years, to his early work for the Council for Educational Research and then his work on historical publications for Internal Affairs. The corporation's offer of a grant for him to visit the United States was long-standing. He spent the first three weeks in Hawai'i, partly working at the Bishop Museum and 'exploiting everybody who could be exploited'52 for the work on Cook, and partly visiting the islands of Hawai'i and Kauai. At Kealakekua Bay, where Cook died, he was taken in hand by Amy Greenwell, a long-time resident in the district with a home on the lee slope of Manua Loa, who was a great source of local information, past and present, as well as lavish hospitality. He drew on her knowledge for a memorable, brooding paragraph for his Introduction to volume three:
No place in the eighteenth century Pacific has been more fully described for us than this bay, the northern half of which stands for so much in the history of exploration … The line of the bay is still as it was, though the land is covered with a thorny growth of kiawe or American acacia and other shrubs, standing here and there on the very lava lip that edges the water round to the high steep cliff of the Pali, impassable where it meets the sea, cutting off Kaawaloa from the short beach running on towards Hikiau. A track zigzagged over it, and still does over parts; but imported forage grasses have supplanted the pili that grew upon it of old. Earthquakes have sheared off the face of the Pali that Cook saw and narrowed the beach, seismic waves and the surf of hurricanes have beaten up the cliff and spread the beach with stones and boulders; the spring where the ships watered is found with difficulty among the rubbish of fallen branches on the hillside just above; the pond on the flat ground not far away is silted up with the washings of a cloudburst; the heiau with pavement restored is clean and empty of emotion, and about it are the galvanised iron booths, green-painted and neat enough, where page 399shell necklaces are sold. There are a few fishermen. The population is gone; the brilliant feather cloaks, the proud helmets, are no more, the canoes that covered the water, the huts and villages of pili grass are gone, and the carved figures of the gods. The imagination, with an effort, can bring it all back, or some of it, for a fraction of a second; blotting out the thorn-trees, perhaps, behind the lava lip; can see two ships in the bay, and the innumerable brown figures of women and of men, hear uncomprehending invocations or the echo of shouting. The place, for all the accidents of time, is there, and above it the great mountain, Mauna Loa; the imagination, after all, is not unaided.53
From Hawai'i John and Elsie continued to Vancouver where the Macmillan, Bloedel and Powell River Company flew John to Nootka Sound,* on the western side of Vancouver Island, to study on the ground Cook's harbour there – this was that 'one spot' on the north-west coast of America that John referred to in his preface where he was not entirely dependent on charts and printed accounts for his knowledge of the land. A windy, rainy, near-desolate place, smothered with trees which often seemed to spring from solid rock, it introduced John, as it had Cook, to a continental coast 'very different from that of Cook's other continent, Australia', and to 'a harbour so very different from the warm Polynesian bays'.54 In Vancouver, too, they met the New Zealand anthropologist, Professor Harry Hawthorn, who, with his colleagues at the University of British Columbia, proved an invaluable source of information on the anthropology and birds and fishes of the north-west coast.
* The flight came about through the good offices of Geoffrey C. Andrew of the Canadian Universities Bureau, earlier at the University of British Columbia, who had been in New Zealand in 1959 as a member of the three man 'Hughes Parry' committee investigating the state of the universities. John had got to know him then, and Andrew put the idea of the flight to the chairman of the company.
… 18–19 May. Charleston, North Carolina. I was here on a sort of pilgrimage to the historic capital of Southern civilization; and walking assiduously about it, found it still one of the loveliest and most touching of cities …
24 May. Charlottesville, Monticello* and the University of Virginia. I am by nature a Jefferson man.
* 'Having seen Monticello,' he wrote to Janet, 'I have realized one of the ambitions of my life.' (Jcb to Jep, 24 May 1962.)
‡ Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis edited the Yale edition of Walpole's correspondence and himself possessed much the largest collection of Walpoliana in existence.
§ In addition to Lewis, these included Frederick A. Pottle, editor (either singly or in collaboration) of many of the volumes in the Yale edition of the private papers of James Boswell, and biographer of Boswell; and Leonard W. Labaree, the Yale historian and founding editor of the Yale edition of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. When John met him, this great project was in its early stages. Labaree edited the first fourteen volumes; volume 37 appeared in 2003.
to drop all my usual pursuits in favour of renewed study of American history and writing. I find myself, at the moment, deep in Thoreau; and planning, not with great hope, how to find time to re-read Mathiesson's American Renaissance. I turn to the books already on my shelves as well as to those newly set up. I find that I have added to the number of my admirations, but not of my dislikes or distrusts … I have had, I find, an emotional as well as intellectual experience of considerable dimensions.
* One of those 'shades' in Boston did not arise from his historical reading. 'I started off here,' he wrote to Janet from Boston, 'with a severe and depressing blow.' He had hoped to look up Helen Allen, with whom he had had little or no communication since 1929. He rang the house, got her husband, and discovered she had died two years before 'of a quite ghastly sort of cancer. After 33 years,' he wrote, 'I was still very sick at heart. Oddly enough I had never thought of the possibility of her dying; & as I try to remember her face, that sort of cancer, or cancer at all, seems outrageous. "It was unfair", as her poor husband said over the phone. And how many people have said that? I suppose she'd be in her early 50s … I went & looked at the outside of her house, in Chestnut Street, one of the best Boston streets – charming … Oh dear, I had better stop this sort of reminiscence.' (Jcb to Jep, 25 June 1962.) Other than his letter when he heard of his mother's death, this is possibly the saddest among all those that have survived.
† '… the usual maddening waste of time all through this conference.' (Jcb to Thb, 3 December 1962.)
Soon after arriving in Wellington, he told Bernard Smith that he 'was well on with the 3rd volume' and hoped to get through his work on it by the end of the year, 'bar final proofs'.56 He was still having trouble with Hawai'ian genealogies: 'What right did the 18th century Hawai'ians have to have so many chiefs with so many names?' he wrote to Margaret Titcomb. 'What is really needed is a wall chart about 40ft square covered with one immense genealogy with photographs attached.'57 By this time he was working on the annotations to Samwell's journal (Samwell was an unwearying collector of chiefs' names), was surrounded with proofs, and still had the appendix of documents and the introductions to do.
Almost inevitably, he discovered that he had not quite covered everything while he was in London. Helen Wallis, who was later to give him invaluable assistance when he was preparing the new, greatly revised, edition of The Exploration of the Pacific, was also able to provide the sort of help that Skelton had been so good at with the first two volumes of Cook. 'Dear Delinquent', John wrote to her in October 1963:
S.O.S. The battered old ship is damn near sinking. Stove in the bows … Waves lapping the gunwales. Time keeper rusted up, compass out of action, hope of reaching port very faint.
Look, dearie, here is a little job I meant to do when I was in London, & it vanished from my mind so completely that when I came back on the relevant blank in my proofs I wondered what on earth I was driving at, & it came back very slowly indeed. Psychiatric treatment indicated. Cook Portfolio of Charts & Views, Chart Li, P.R.O Adm 55/120, removed & in Pro Map Room M.P.I, 82: this here chart has at the top the name of an island which has partly disappeared (name, not island). What is left seems to be ' nton Island'. Now is something gone on the block, or is it gone on the original? Can careful scrutiny of the original discover the missing letters? I should like to get them if possible, because the names on this chart are quite fascinating – they represent Gore, of all people, bursting into an Elizabethan extravagance of mind. You wait till you see my footnotes, I enclose a little tracing to show more precisely what I am driving at.
I am labouring on final work on the galleys of these notes. However hard I try to send the printer a settled & final text, & my God I do,page 403dozens of new things always turn up, blatant inconsistencies reveal themselves, one feels an utter fool.58
In early November he was 'about 12 words & 3 letters' from being able to send off the corrected galleys;59 they were looking as if 'they'd been reconstructed after shell-fire', and he did not know how he was going to apologise to the printers – perhaps he would not this time, 'After all, they've hurt my feelings enough.'60 'How I am dying to get this stuff away',61 he wrote a little later; it was finally posted at the end of November.
* 'The Death of Captain Cook', Australian Journal of Science, vol.26, no.10 (April 1964), pp.297–304; 'The Death of Captain Cook', Historical Studies, vol.11, no.43 (October 1964), pp.289–305 (a revised version of the address); 'The Case of the Needless Death: Reconstructing the Scene – "The Death of Captain Cook"', in The Historian as Detective: Essays on Evidence, edited by Robin W. Winks (New York: Harper, 1969), pp.279–302. The paper was printed again in 1979 in two editions designed by Alan Loney. The first edition, limited to fifty copies, was printed on damped handmade paper by Alan Loney at Hawk Press, Eastbourne, New Zealand. The second edition of 1000 copies was printed offset and bound by Whitcoulls Ltd, Christchurch, and published by the Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust.
At the heart of his discussion of these circumstances is a preoccupation with Cook himself, a conviction that one must understand the man to understand why he died as he did. The death of a hero has fascinated men from antiquity until our own day, and from the moment the news of Cook's death reached London his fate too became part of that enduring tradition. But John's preoccupation with Cook was something quite different, not the uncritical portrayal of the hero but the elusive endeavour to understand the man. Only that, he had come to believe, would answer the question as to why the passage of events at Kealakekua Bay on that February morning was to have its fateful climax. He was led, inexorably, to consider Cook's character, his state of mind, his health, the effects of those seven stressful years of resolute exploration. In his address he suggested that it was these elements that accounted for the misjudgements, the almost inexplicable outbursts on the third voyage, the final fatal loss of temper that precipitated the killing. Studying Cook on the third voyage had led John to conclude that he was a tired man. 'His apprehensions as a discoverer were not so constantly fine as they had been; and he lost his temper more easily and more frequently.' Cook, John believed, should have been forbidden to go on the third voyage, or else the voyage should have been postponed. As it was, in his memorable phrase, 'the hands that signed his commission signed his death-warrant'.
* When he wrote the Life, John went further in one respect when he suggested, in considering Cook's behaviour, that 'a hypothesis of some physical cause is hard to resist'. Later medical research has suggested that there could indeed have been such a cause, that Cook's intestinal problems on the second voyage could have subsequently interfered with his absorption of the B complex of vitamins. The recorded changes in his state of mind and behaviour on the third voyage are all consistent with the symptoms one would expect from such a vitamin deficiency. This can never be more than a hypothesis, though it does accord with all the evidence. See the discussion by Sir James Watt, 'Medical Aspects and Consequences of Cook's Voyages', in Captain James Cook and His Times, edited by Robin Fisher and Hugh Johnson (Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1979).
'The Death of Captain Cook' was one of a number of papers on Cook that John completed while he was working on the Journals. Some, like this one, represent a first engagement with a subject or problem – reminiscent of Cook sending a small boat ahead of the ship to explore a passage or anchorage, looking for snags or hidden dangers, before the Endeavour or Resolution followed. His earlier paper 'On the Character of Captain James Cook'* had something of this quality too. Written in 1955, it was both a progress report and a first study for a portrait to come. Others, particularly later on at the time of the Cook bicentennial celebrations, were, rather, reflections on what he had learned, sometimes pulling material together to illuminate a particular topic. The first of these was his paper on 'Some Problems of Editing Cook's Journals',† also prepared for an Anzaas meeting, delivered in Dunedin in January 1957. The October 1965 opening, at the Dominion Museum in Wellington, of an exhibition sent from the Alströmer Collection of the Ethnological Museum of Sweden (which included material collected on Cook's voyages) was the occasion of John's address on 'The Wandering Scholars', an account of Linnaeus and his followers, and especially of those Swedes who sailed with Cook into the Pacific: Solander and Spöring on the first voyage, Sparrman on the second. This lecture was subsequently published in both Sweden and New Zealand.‡ Two years later, at Victoria University, he lectured on 'Captain Cook and Captain Bligh'.§
Although, in a sense, these papers were by-products of the work on the Journals, they drew on the full range of John's erudition and scholarship, and also showed his growing mastery of the formal lecture. I remember vividly the occasion of the Cook and Bligh lecture, with the lecture hall full, and a quite extraordinary sense of the audience totally engaged by the speaker. His opening was direct:
They were both superb seamen. Is there anything else I can say, to draw parallels, or to define contrasts? … 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 …
And he went on to sketch the two naval careers, then to a brief discussion of the question of flogging in 'a flogging century' – to conclude that Bligh's reputation as a flogging captain was quite unjust. Strip away the historical myths, John argued, and the two captains had much in common. But there were significant differences: 'the leading characteristic of Bligh was not tyranny but vanity. The contrast here with Cook is complete.' The last pages of the lecture develop that devastating insight, and John sums up in his final paragraph.
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?
After returning from the Anzaas Congress in Canberra in January 1964 John started on the introduction to volume three. By the end of June, he told Janet, he had got Cook to Kealakekua Bay, 'but there are so many things to do before I kill him that I am for the moment quite baffled, & found that last night I was writing a patch not purple but semi-purple, about the bay, & now I don't know how to finish it off, & if I can't finish it off I can't get ahead any way. Nuisance.'62 A month later it was finished and he had given it to Ilse Jacoby to be typed. In August he was revising the typescript; it had 'turned out the size of a book' (when printed it came to 140 pages) and had exhausted him, but when he saw it in proof he was fairly page 407pleased – 'quite closely reasoned … on the whole not badly written. At least I think so.'63 He still had to do the textual introduction and the calendar of documents. There had been an interminable delay over getting some material for the calendar that a researcher had found in the Public Record Office and the National Maritime Museum. Skelton assured Eila Campbell that he had sent it, but he had not. Eventually, after months had passed, John got in touch with the researcher himself, who sent further copies directly to him. 'Heaven knows when the thing will appear', he wrote in August 1964; he was getting 'furiously impatient' at the printer's slowness in making up pages from what had already been set in galleys.64 As the page proofs arrived there was further checking – and one disappointment. John had always hoped that there might be one page with one line of text and the rest footnote, but the best he got was seven lines of text and the footnote spilling to the next page: 'A life's ambition denied.'65 When the Tongan section of the proofs arrived he gave them to a new colleague in the Victoria history department, Dorothy Crozier,66 to look at. Crozier had worked in Tonga and 'had long genealogical conversations with Queen Salote'. 'Oh dear', John wrote to Janet. 'More counting of spaces. And I say to myself, these bloody Tongans. And none of those bloody reviewers will ever realise how incredibly learned this Tongan annotation is, how truly royal.'67
Eila Campbell had begun by being puzzled at the situation with Skelton; she felt that there must have been a dreadful misunderstanding somewhere. She wrote to John that Skelton was as interested in Cook as ever and spoke highly of the work John was doing,68 but as 1964 passed she became increasingly baffled. 'Quite honestly', she wrote in August, 'I do not understand Peter Skelton',69 and continued that at every Hakluyt Society council meeting she had declared that it was 'unlikely that Cook III will be published during 1965 or 1966 but Peter has assured the President that he has everything in hand!' Some months later she wrote: 'I just don't understand why he doesn't write to you and I have come to believe that he must dream that he has and so doesn't!!70 By the beginning of 1965 she was clearly handling John's queries and looking up things that needed checking. He was also corresponding directly with John Easton, the printer, and on Eila Campbell's suggestion he had sent copies of his introductory material directly to Easton as well as to Skelton.
At the beginning of February Skelton was involved in a car accident when driving from his home to the railway station. He was page 408badly injured, with broken ribs puncturing his lungs, but he made a quick recovery. The enforced absence from the British Museum during this time gave him the opportunity to start work on the illustrations for Cook, but it was not carried through. John Easton, who was a member of the Hakluyt Society council as well as head of MacLehose's, and was increasingly working with Eila Campbell to try to push things along, wrote to John early in 1966 that Skelton's psychological problem had worsened since his accident: 'except that he is too tired to carry on, there is no change in his disposition towards any of us, and especially you. For some reason he has just funked this job, and why I cannot understand!'71 A separate problem arose over the index. Marcel Aurousseau had planned to do it, but at the last moment was advised by his doctor not to go ahead. Fortunately, Alison Quinn agreed to take on what would be a formidable task.
The delays with Cook had given John a chance to revise The Exploration of the Pacific for the third edition. A. & C. Black, the publisher, had proposed a photo-lithographic reprint with minor corrections, but once John started he found he was revising and making corrections on almost every page. There was no choice but to reset the book completely, and Blacks were encouraged by reaching an agreement with the Stanford University Press to bring out an American edition. As always, John was his own hardest critic. As he was reading through the typescript of the revised work he lamented to Janet:
I thought I had revised the writing thoroughly, but keep on coming on bad bits, & have to scrawl in pencil all over it. Every now & again I think Well, this isn't a bad book after all; & then I come on something perfectly dreadful. Why oh why can't one just write down everything perfectly the first time, or if one can't do that why does one want to write at all? … Why can't one just be a brilliant young Nz writer, & write stories about drink & lust & Maoris in Landfall, & be a credit to one's country? Instead of all this idiotic agonising. And now I'll never be young & brilliant.72
'The fact of the matter is', he added a month later, 'it is a young man's book, written when I didn't know anything about the subject, & kidded myself I could write'.73 He finished the revising just before Christmas 1965 – 'the page proofs look a shambles'74 – and the book appeared the following year.
There was light relief from the worries over Cook when John was approached by MGM, who were planning a film on the great explorer. He wrote to Helen Wallis:page 409
I've put you down in the Capt Cook movie as the girl in Tahiti that Joe Banks fell for – 'my flame'. I have now had a firm offer from the Mgm tycoon. Really they are absurd people. They talk about research. I am inclined to say, Look brother, read the Journals of C.C. & you can have that advice free. They talk about my paying a visit to Los Angeles (=Hollywood, I suppose) later in the year: what for God only knows. But hold yourself ready to leave for Tahiti at any moment clad in a grass skirt & a bottle of sun-tan lotion.75
Family plans were made for spending the large fee that we were all sure he would be paid, but nothing came of the project.
At the beginning of 1966, with the printer still waiting on the promised illustrations, Eila Campbell had come to the view that the Hakluyt Society should fly John to London to sort out the remaining problems. 'They owe it to you and to the N.Z. Government.'76 John was already planning a trip, however. He had heard in November that Oxford wished to award him an honorary doctorate, which could be conferred on 4 June. Victoria University agreed to give him three months' leave, and the British Council gave him a grant of £200 towards his return airfare. He welcomed the chance not only to push things along a with volume three, but also 'to scratch round the PRO for traces of Cook before he took on the Pacific Ocean'77 as a step towards the biography. The period in London was to prove invaluable. 'I seem to have broken the log jam or bottleneck or whatever it was over Cook', he wrote after a month there, '& things are moving a bit, though it means a bit of work for me: still things are moving, & Easton … almost weeps with gratitude.'78 He, Easton and Campbell were in close touch. He and Campbell somehow extracted the note on the graphic records from Skelton ('the light begins to dawn', John wrote), and on hearing the news Easton wrote that 'you are to be congratulated heartily'.79 They finalised the choice of illustrations. John was immersed in final proofs. He and Elsie bought a Lucie Rie bowl and saw a very good exhibition by Barbara Hepworth before flying home in August, stopping off briefly in New York (where they stayed with the Corners), Chicago and Honolulu: 'swished round in an air-conditioned car in N.Y., retired punch-drunk from the Impressionists in the Art Institute of Chicago, lolled in the water at Honolulu & flew over to Kealakekua Bay again'.80 It had been hoped that the volumes might appear before the end of 1966, but it was not until the following April that John heard that they were bound and the complimentary copies were about to go out. The volume was officially published on 9 June 1967.
At the end of April, having done so much to see the work page 410completed, John Easton died. His involvement had been critical in bringing the whole project to a successful conclusion in very difficult circumstances. John recognised the debt he owed him. There was an even greater debt to J.A. Williamson, who had died just over two years earlier, on 31 December 1964. That debt went back to John's student years in London, to the time when Williamson had stood in for A.P. Newton in taking the colonial history seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, and had asked John to write the Pioneer Histories volume on Pacific exploration. Later, he had played a critical role in ensuring John became part of the Hakluyt Society's plans for Cook and finally, he insisted that John take over the editing of volume two and the responsibility for the work on all three voyages.
The publication of the journals of the third voyage marked the completion of a remarkable scholarly undertaking. Williamson had been right when he wrote to John urging 'those three volumes all with your name on the spine – Beaglehole's Cook' and predicted that 'If you never did anything else it would make you memorable'.81 From the time of their publication, these volumes have been recognised as one of the finest achievements of twentieth-century scholarship, setting a new standard for work of this kind, and providing the foundation for all subsequent work on Cook and his voyages.
Part of the Hakluyt Society's plans for publishing Cook's journals had been a fourth volume, a collection of essays on aspects of his life and achievements. J.W. Davidson, John's former student (and for a brief period, before he went to Cambridge, colleague in the Centennial Branch), had accepted an invitation to edit the volume. When the edition was first planned Davidson had just been appointed lecturer in colonial studies at Cambridge, but in the same year Peter Fraser asked him to advise the New Zealand government on the political situation in Western Samoa. This proved to be the beginning of his long involvement with that island state's approach to self-government and then transition to independence, between 1946 and 1962. In 1949 he was appointed professor of Pacific history at the Australian National University. For Davidson, the Cook volume (among other projected publications) proved to be something of a mirage. It was talked about, some plans were made, a number of scholars were asked to contribute, but little actually happened.
As early as 1952 John wrote to Skelton saying that he was very worried about having Davidson as editor of volume four, and was page 411coming to the point where he was most unwilling to see Davidson's name down as one of the three editors of the edition as a whole.82 Skelton was more hopeful, and John did not press the point. During 1956 Davidson spent some time in London and 'not only produced a plan & timetable for Vol. IV but also got most of the contributors moving'.83 He told Skelton that he proposed to have all his copy complete by December 1957, to spend six months editing and revising, and to send it to the printer in June 1958 (the original target date for volume three). Nothing happened. Whenever Davidson visited Wellington to see his mother he always called on John, and their friendship remained warm, but intellectually and emotionally he was involved with Western Samoa, not with Cook. Yet for years he continued to pretend that the work was going ahead. It was only at the beginning of 1964, when John was in Canberra for the Anzaas conference, that Davidson told him that he wanted to get out of Cook. 'I don't suppose he will write to you himself', John – acting as intermediary – wrote to Skelton, 'however he abandons Vol. IV'.84,* Eila Campbell had already told John that he should take over the volume,85 and after discussions with the Hakluyt Society council, when he was in London in 1966, he 'rather unwisely' let himself be pushed into doing the job.86
* Davidson did write to Eila Campbell a year later, saying that he was withdrawing from volume 4 and that he had discussed it with John, who had agreed to take it over once he had finished volume 3. (12 March 1965, copy in J.C. Beaglehole Papers. 73-004-09/22. Atl.)
† Williams was a young historian who had completed a London PhD on the search for the North-west Passage. This became his first book, The British Search for the Northwest Passage in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, 1962). John had found the thesis very useful when he was working on the introduction to the third voyage. Williams went on to become professor of history at Queen Mary College, to a distinguished career as an historian of exploration, and to a continuing close association with the Hakluyt Society.
In his Lecture 'some Problems of Cook's Biographer',* John dwelt briefly on his predecessors. Of the first, Andrew Kippis, whose work was published in 1788, within ten years of Cook's death, he wrote: 'It must be a comfort to any serious biographer to feel that he can't do any worse than the Rev. Andrew Kippis, on whom was conferred "the pious office of erecting an honourable monument"88 to Cook's memory, and thus wrote the first and what was for one hundred and nineteen years the standard life'. What John lamented as much as the inaccuracies of Kippis's work were the opportunities he had spurned. He seemed to have had 'no particular interest in Cook' and, although he wrote at a time when there would have been plenty of people alive who had known Cook as a child and a youth, and his married sister and his widow were both alive, Kippis did little or nothing to seek first-hand information. 'When one thinks of his chances as a contemporary, and what he did with them; when one considers how full of positive error is the little that he did gather, one almost weeps as one throws him away.' The Rev. George Young, whose life was published in 1836, 'had some real feeling for the hero, for family history, for the illuminating anecdote', but the years had passed and he discovered very little new information.
… the first task of any serious writer on Cook is to supersede Kitson. This means that all the pedestrian virtues are necessary, and also some virtues that I don't know how you get hold of. How do you convey the sense of greatness and of intimacy, of humdrum efficiency and constant battle against the trivial, of practical ability and the growth of a mind; how do you render the trivial as the significant and keep the significant from being too significant, how do you estimate the influence on character of the old immensities of sea and wind and the long swell sweeping perpetually into destruction on the reef?
It was not enough to say that Cook was a man of action, and that the biography of a man of action is an account of what he did, for, John asked, 'is not what he thought and felt as well as what he did important to us?' Indeed, could one explain why he did what he did without some understanding of what he thought and felt?
John started writing the biography on 11 July 1967.89 His heart was already giving him trouble* and he wrote with a keen but stoical awareness of time drawing in. Again he faced what he called 'the awfulness of putting words together to make sense' and, in spite of the years he had been working on Cook, he described how he kept 'falling over all the little bits one knows nothing about, & never thought of before':
What did Elizabeth Batt's father do? What sort of lodgings did Cook get in Shadwell at the end of 1762? Shadwell seems to have been a pretty rough & stinking riverside place. If Miss Batts lived at Barking, how did Cook meet her? When did he buy the house at Mile End, & what was Mile End like in those days? – I couldn't find anything even in London that told me that. The difficulties of being a biographer.90
* This is discussed further in chapter 14.
After a year he had completed chapter eleven (out of a total of twenty-seven), which saw the Endeavour reach England at the end of the first voyage.* Just six months later (the date noted, '1 Feb '69 4.30') he had completed chapter seventeen and with it his account of the second voyage. There was then a considerable break while he and Elsie were in England for five months from late April until early October 1969, primarily to take part in events marking the bicentennial of the Endeavour voyage. Before he left he sent what he had written to Janet for her 'straight out opinions', commenting that the work 'must have a lot of detail, but the detail must be carried along & not be boring. There must be a lot of quotations from C, but not too much, & only when it illuminates.'91 Odd comments in letters suggest that he was thinking consciously about biography. Robert Gittings's life of Keats he thought very good, and added, 'curiously enough, the book convinces me that I am tackling the Cook life in the right way'.92 Later, he found Harold Nicolson's life of George V an 'interesting bit of work as biographical technique'.93
* 'I got Cook back to England last night at 11.30, 114,000 words,' he wrote to Janet on 3 July 1968, '& I have started to read the Golden Bough. And if anybody else rings me up or writes to me about Cook in the next couple of days I shall probably go off my rocker.'
‡ 'Cook the Navigator', Royal Society of London Proceedings, A314 (1969), pp.27–38. The two lectures were later reprinted in Employ'd as a Discoverer, edited by J.V.S. Megaw (Sydney: Reed, 1971), pp.23-41, 117-34.
I have finished looking up all the bits & pieces [he wrote to Norman Richmond], until the next crop arises. I thought I had finished in 1962, & again in 1966.I am beginning to feel that I may need a special grant of time from the Lord if ever I am to get this life of Cook finished. Or if the Lord would simply remove all the people who want me to give lectures that would be helpful.96
When he got back to Wellington in October, he started on chapter eighteen, 'England 1775–1776' (between the second and third voyages), but progress was slow. 'I got to the end of the second voyage a year ago', he told Eric McCormick in February 1970, '& haven't written a word since, owing to all these damned lectures; though I admit that writing the lectures made me think & summarize a bit. I must get it done by the end of this year', he added. 'And then it will be too long.'97 He was worrying about working so slowly: 'I think perhaps my mind is grinding to a stop'.98 In March he wrote: 'I have begun the next chapter of My Book. I have written 1 page & 1½ lines. The problem is now how to go on, & tomorrow we have to go to a confounded wedding.'99 There was a further delay while he went to Australia from 11 April to 7 May to give more lectures. When he returned he started on chapter twenty, the beginning of the third voyage. Three months later he reported to Helen Wallis that he had got to the end of chapter twenty-one: 'Hero has just left Tonga'. He 'wanted to get to the end of xxii by end of August, but shan't: have to go to Auckland for a Historic Places Trust conference. DV shall finish my draft by Xmas, but maybe D won't V.'100 He wrote again to Wallis in December. He was beginning to 'be a bit hopeful' that he would finish the 'Life of the Capt':
I have written 697 pp., & he is about at the moment to leave Unalaska on the passage to Hawai'i.† The planning difficulty at the moment is whether to take two chapters or one to kill him; I think I'll try and do it in one, it may be longish but it can't be as long as the 56pp. of the last
* Skelton died just over a year later, on 7 December 1970, following another car accident. John wrote to Helen Wallis (who succeeded Skelton as superintendent of the Map Room) that he was 'a bit distressed', and would like to sit down with her and 'talk him all over again'. He added that he now 'more than ever' regretted 'whatever it was that put us out of touch … I didn't cease to admire him, even though my affection waned a bit, alas.' (Jcb to Helen Wallis, 27 December 1970.)page 416one.* Then one for finishing the voyage, & a last for general reflections. We ought to get done in another hundred pages. But God knows how long rewriting will take.101
† In the Life as printed he had reached p.636.
On 20 January 1971 he completed the chapter on 'Kealakekua Bay': 'I've … killed him, for the last time I hope', he wrote to Janet. There were just two more chapters to go: 'It will be incredible to have finished it, even in draft'. He added, 'I do want this book to be a good book … of course I shouldn't be thinking about that at all, only about writing a book'.102 He wrote the final, memorable and moving sentence on 26 March 1971,† and then started on the revision of the typescript.
Completing the draft of the biography had taken nearly four years, but the work on it had really begun when John embarked on editing the Journals over twenty years earlier. If the biography rests firmly on the foundation of the Journals (and there is a good deal of near repetition from the introductions to those volumes), can it be separated from them? How far does it stand as a coherent work in its own right?103 For the earlier part of Cook's life the biography gives a much fuller account: the three or four pages in the Endeavour volume dealing with his career before 1768 are expanded into four chapters totalling ninety-eight pages, nearly forty of which are devoted to a detailed account of the Newfoundland surveys. Yet the magisterial survey of the intellectual background to the voyages and the pre-Cook history of Pacific exploration, also ninety-eight pages, given in the general introduction in volume one, is reduced in the Life to thirty pages. Again, the brief character sketch of the Forsters in the Life corresponds to seven pages in the Journals, and nearly all the actual phrasing of the shorter version comes from the longer. John's achievement was to write a work which was firmly grounded in that immense scholarly undertaking, but was shaped by the biographer's eye and not by his sources, and stands very successfully on its own.
† In his last paragraph John wrote of memorials to Cook. He begins, 'There are statues and inscriptions; but Geography and Navigation are his memorials …' The paragraph ends: 'Such things; Geography and Navigation; if we wish for more, an ocean is enough, where the waves fall on innumerable reefs, and a great wind blows from the south-east with the revolving world.'
Wedding group. Back row: Charlie Holmes, Ern Beaglehole, Elsie, Robert Holmes, Mary Holmes, Peter Holmes, Edith Holmes, Peter's wife Norah, John. Front row: Keith Beaglehole, Marjorie Wiren, Charlie's wife Norah.
Norman Richmond, 1930s.
Janet Wilkinson, 1944.
John Pascoe collection, F-1273-1/4, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ.
Joseph Heenan, about 1950.
John Pascoe collection, F-20963-1/4, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ.
J.A. Williamson sailing his sloop Rose on the Solent, 1957.
Alexa Barrow collection.
Elsie in New York, 1962.
Photograph by Lyn Corner.
John boiling the billy with his grandson John, Abel Tasman National Park, January 1970.
Victoria University of Wellington.
The spur to the historical imagination that John gained through visiting many of Cook's anchorages, which led to some of the most memorable passages in the introductions to the Journals, can again be seen at work in the biography. He had finally achieved his dream of visiting Dusky Sound – again thanks partly to the New Zealand navy and its survey vessel* – and his description captures that 'remote and wildly magnificent', and virtually unchanged, spot:
The great sheet of water, screened within its entrance from the ocean by an irregular line of islands, and extending into a number of long arms and a vast number of smaller indentations, lies over a bottom ancientlypage 418gouged in the land by stupendous glaciers, so that its shores tend to stand up immediately from the sea. The water is almost uniformly deep; only at the head of subordinate stretches have shoals been built up by the quick detritus-laden streams. There is little flat land; the eye is ever carried to immense heights, whether close around or in far misty recession. Except where a prodigious cliff-face falls vertically to the depths, the steep slopes are covered from high water mark up to the limits of growth by forest dense, unbroken, sombre. The scale is so deceptive, as well as so vast, that a full-grown tree, taken as a measure of some less regarded height, becomes insignificant and lost; a tremendous white cataract seems to descend only a few yards, not hundreds of feet, before it plunges hidden under the dark green covering and changes its direction. Low islets are tree-clothed; a rock perhaps will jut out quite bare of earth. Rain falls heavily for days, thick cloud makes invisible the whole landscape; then the sun of an occasional clear day will render the scene sharp as well as heroic. Into this large frame entered the Resolution, no larger than she would have seemed amid the waste of the southern ocean.107
* This visit was in March 1968. The National Film Unit invited John to accompany them (at his own expense) when they were filming in Dusky Sound. They were all accommodated on the Lachlan. John's excitement is clear from his description of a visit to Pickersgill Harbour when it poured with rain: 'I was wet to the skin from the toes up, & in the end cold too; but there they were … the stumps of the trees that Cook had cut down, & the cascade that Hodges painted, & all the islands, & the rocky ledge where he first saw the Maoris.' Virtually the whole sound was still in virgin bush. (Jcb to Jep, 13 March 1968.)
With all this, one must still ask: how far does John show us the man behind the historical figure? Do we really understand what (to use Cook's own words) brought 'a prentice boy in the Coal Trade to a Commander in the Navy'?108 John had been unable to add a great deal to the available information about Cook's early life, which remains sketchy; and of his private life, as husband, father, householder, there are the briefest glimpses. Cook's personal correspondence, what there is of it, is unrevealing. His journals tell more about him than his letters; the man was inseparable from the seaman. John's triumph was to read those journals (and the surviving journals of those who sailed with Cook) in a way which drew from them a greater insight into the inner man than anyone had had before. Consider his account of the bloodshed in the immediate aftermath of Cook's first landing in New Zealand: 'The first two days were disastrous, all that Cook deplored and Lord Morton* had warned him against, all with the best intentions …'109 We are immediately engaged in Cook's struggle, as he drafted his journal entry, to explain what had gone wrong. Or in that moment on the second voyage when, having crossed the Antarctic circle for the third time, the Resolution faced ice stretching as far as one could see, and Cook wrote:
* The Earl of Morton, president of the Royal Society from 1764 until his death a few weeks after the Endeavour sailed, in his Hints to Cook and the gentlemen with him, had urged them 'To exercise the utmost patience and forbearance with respect to the Natives of the several Lands where the Ship may touch'.
I will not say it was impossible any where to get in among this Ice, but I will assert that the bare attempting of it would be a very dangerous enterprise and what I believe no man in my situation would have thought of. I whose ambition leads me not only further than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go, was not sorry at meeting with this interruption …110
It is a measure of John's art as a writer, and his way of humanising the hero, that at such moments he lets Cook, the man of simple direct words, speak for himself.
He shows us the human Cook, as well, in the words of one of the midshipmen on the third voyage. James Trevenen described 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', handing over to the hungry young men the ducks that were shot, and Trevenen breaks into somewhat regrettable verse:
Oh Day of hard labour! oh Day of good living!
When Toote [Cook] was seized with the humour of giving!
When he clothed in good nature his looks of authority,
And shook from his eyebrows their stern superiority.111
* When John died on 10 October 1971, he had revised the typescript of his draft up to the middle of chapter 19, that is, about two-thirds of the way through the book. In completing the revision and seeing the book through the press, I was helped by a number of his friends who had been involved in his earlier work on the Journals. Remarkably little revision was needed: a little tightening of the prose (replacing 'and' with a semi-colon) which he had started doing, and a careful checking of Cook's course through the Aleutian Islands, which he had signalled he intended to do. Had he lived he might well have picked up those very few errors of fact pointed out by readers and reviewers. The bibliography for the book was prepared by Phyllis Mander Jones, the index by Alison Quinn. J.D. Newth, of A. & C. Black, whose friendship with John went back to the publication of The Exploration of the Pacific, gave the book meticulous attention in seeing it through the press.
† The reviews at the time were almost all full of praise, almost adulatory, the notable exception being that by J.H. Plumb in the New York Review of Books. This was, however, in Glyndwr Williams's words, 'an object-lesson in ignorance.'
With such a reception, it is fair to ask how far John's achievement has stood the test of time. The years since he died have seen a great deal of scholarly work related to Cook – much of it drawing on the Journals as its starting point – as well as further short biographies of little or no scholarly value. The death of Cook was the subject of a remarkable academic dispute between Marshall Sahlins115 and Gananath Obeyesekere116 which, if nothing else, was a reminder of how much there was to learn about the 'discovered' as opposed to the 'discoverers'. Their work has been continued (with less argument) by scholars such as Anne Salmond117 and Nicholas Thomas118 who, drawing on a mass of recent research, have greatly increased our knowledge and understanding of Pacific societies at the time of Cook's voyages. Whether this work has given us a Cook significantly different from John's is doubtful. No scholar has attempted a further full biography.
Other researchers, often working on contemporaries of Cook such as Alexander Dalrymple or J.R. Forster, have suggested that John, possibly carried away with the virtues of Cook, could be less than fair to others. John did not care for Forster, the German naturalist who sailed on the Resolution on the second voyage: 'there is nothing', he wrote in the Life, 'that can make him other than one of the Admiralty's vast mistakes. One does not wish to draw a caricature; but how is one to deny that he was dogmatic, humourless,page 421suspicious, censorious, pretentious, contentious, demanding?'119 To Rolf du Rietz, the Swedish bibliographical scholar and writer on Bligh and the mutiny on the Bounty, John wrote in 1970: 'You said once you hoped I'd modify my view of Forster. The trouble is that the more I find out about him the more it confirms my view. I don't doubt that he was a learned man, & a man of perception in various ways; but he had no perception at all in human relationships. At one time he was arrogant, at another he was crawling. It is his moral – in a general sense – character that worries me, not his brains.'120 After making a long voyage on the replica of the Endeavour and seeing the way in which individual character could resonate through that confined community, I am surprised, even remembering that the Resolution was a larger ship, that Forster was not lost overboard one stormy night. But, however convincing John's portrait of Forster might be – and it was one to which he gave great thought – there is the comment he made in a letter to Janet: 'Odd how I have become involved with all these people. I take sides most furiously. Don't tell anybody that, because it might ruin my reputation as a good historian.'121 He wrote partly in jest (and some years before he started on the biography), but there is a kernel of truth. John believed that in taking sides he was working on the evidence. It is, perhaps, a sign of humanity in a biographer that so often the understanding they reach of their subject leads to admiration. In this question of John's impartiality I, the biographer, defer to the historian.