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Historical Records of New Zealand

Captain Cook’s Secret Instructions.*

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Captain Cook’s Secret Instructions.*

Whereas the Earl of Sandwich has signified to us his Majesty’s pleasure that an attempt should be made to find out a northern passage by sea from the Pacific to the Altantic Oceans, and whereas we have in pursuance thereof caused his Majesty’s sloops Resolution and Discovery to be fitted in all respects proper to proceed upon a voyage for the purpose above mentioned, and, from the experience we have had of your abilities and good conduct in your late voyages, have thought fit to entrust you with the conduct of the present intended voyage, and with that view appointed you to command the first-mentioned sloop, and directed Captain Clerke, who commands the other, to follow your orders for his further proceedings: You are hereby required and directed to proceed with the said two sloops directly to the Cape of Good Hope, unless you shall judge it necessary to stop at Madeira, the Cape de Verd, or Canary Islands, to take in wine for the use of their companies; in which case you are at liberty to do so, taking care to remain there no longer than may be necessary for that purpose.

On your arrival at the Cape of Good Hope you are to refresh the ships’ companies, and to cause the sloops to be supplied with as much provisions and water as they can conveniently stow.

You are, if possible, to leave the Cape of Good Hope by the end of October or the beginning of November next, and proceed to the southward in search of some island said to have been lately seen by the French in the latitude of 48° 00′ south, and about the meridian of Mauritius. In case you find those islands, you are to examine them thoroughly for a good harbour, and upon discovering one make the necessary observations to facilitate the finding it again, as a good port in that situation may here-after prove very useful, altho’ it should afford little or nothing more than shelter, wood, and water. You are not, however, to spend too much time in looking out for those islands, or in the examination of them if found, but proceed to Otaheite or the Society Isles (touching at New Zealand in your way thither if you should judge it necessary and convenient), and taking care to arrive there time enough to admit of your giving the sloops’ companies the refreshment they may stand in need of before you prosecute the farther object of these instructions.

* These instructions, although published in the Introduction to Cook’s Voyage to the Pacific Ocean in 1776–80, are reprinted here.

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Upon your arrival at Otaheite, or the Society Isles, you are to land Omiah* at such of them as he may chuse, and to leave him there.

You are to distribute among the chiefs of those islands such part of the presents with which you have been supplied as you shall judge proper, reserving the remainder to distribute among the natives of the countries you may discover in the Northern Hemisphere; and having refreshed the people belonging to the sloops under your command, and taken on board such wood and water as they may respectively stand in need of, you are to leave those islands in the beginning of February, or sooner if you should judge it necessary, and then proceed in as direct a course as you can to the coast of New Albion, endeavouring to fall in with it in the latitude of 45°00′ north, and taking care in your way thither not to lose any time in search of new lands, or stop at any you may fall in with, unless you find it necessary to recruit your wood and water.

* Omiah, or Omai, as Captain Cook spelt the name, was a native of the island which Cook called Ulietea, but which is now known as Raiatea. It is one of the Society Group, and lies in latitude 16° 50′S., and longitude 151°24′ W. When Cook visited these islands in September, 1773, Captain Furneaux—who was in charge of the Adventure—allowed Omai, then a young man who had been despoiled of his property by neighbouring islanders, to remain on board his vessel. He was taken to England; and there, it is reported (Cook’s Voyage towards the South Pole, vol i, p. 170), he “was caressed by many of the principal nobility,“ but “did nothing to forfeit the esteem of any one of them.“

In the Memoirs of the Colman Family, vol. i, p. 358, et seq., will be found a lively account from the pen of George Colman, the younger, of an expedition into the northern parts of England, with a party which included Sir Joseph Banks and Omai. The latter is described as being “dressed, while in England, in a reddish-brown coat and breeches, with a white waistcoat made in English manner, and in which he appeared perfectly easy.“

In October, 1777—i.e., after four years’ absence—Omai was landed at the island of Huaheine by Captain Cook, and an agreement made with the principal men of the island for a grant of land for his use.—(Cook’s Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, vol. ii, p. 91, et seq.) The transport Lady Penrhyn touched at the island in 1788. Omai was then dead; and Captain Cook’s fears, that the islanders would dispute his possession of the novelties he brought from England, proved to be too well-founded.

New Albion (now California). Sir Francis Drake landed on this part of the western coast of North America in June, 1579, to refit, and took possession of it in the name of his Royal Mistress, Queen Elizabeth of England, “not without ardent wishes that this acquisition might be of use to his native country.“ The territory appears to have been first visited by Cortez, in 1537.

The name New Albion was discarded by the Franciscan Friars, who settled there in 1767, in favour of California, compounded from the Spanish words Caliente farnella [“hot furnace“]—a name suggested by the climate.

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You are also, in your way thither, strictly enjoined not to touch upon any part of the Spanish dominions on the western continent of America, unless driven thither by some unavoidable accident, in which case you are to stay no longer there than shall be absolutely necessary, and to be very careful not to give any umbrage or offence to any of the inhabitants or subjects of his Catholic Majesty. And if, in your farther progress to the northward, as hereafter directed, you find any subjects of any European prince or State upon any part of the coast you may think proper to visit, you are not to disturb them or give them any just cause of offence, but, on the contrary, to treat them with civility and friendship.

Upon your arrival on the coast of New Albion you are to put into the first convenient port to recruit your wood and water and procure refreshments, and then to proceed northward along the coast as far as the latitude of 65°, or further if you are not obstructed by lands or ice, taking care not to lose any time in exploring rivers or inlets, or upon any other account, until you get into the before-mentioned latitude of 65°, where we could wish you to arrive in the month of June next. When you get that length you are very carefully to search, for and to explore such rivers or inlets as may appear to be of a considerable extent and pointing towards Hudson’s or Baffin’s Bay; and if from your own observations, or from any information you may receive from the natives (who there is reason to believe are the same race of people and speak the same language, of which you are furnished with a vocabulary, as the Esquimaux), there shall appear to be a certainty, or even a probability, of a water passage into the afore-mentioned bays, or either of them, you are in such case to use your utmost endeavours to pass through one or both of the sloops, unless you shall be of opinion that the passage may be effected with more certainty or with greater probability by smaller vessels, in which case you are to set up the frames of one or both the small vessels with which you are provided; and when they are put together, and are properly fitted, stored, and victualled, you are to dispatch one or both of them under the care of proper officers, with a sufficient number of petty officers, men, and boats, in order to attempt the said passage, with such instructions for their rejoining you if they should fail, or for their farther proceedings if they should succeed in the attempt, as you shall judge most proper. But, nevertheless, should you find it more eligible to pursue other measures than those above pointed out in order to make a discovery of the before-mentioned passage (if any such there be), you are at liberty, and we leave it to your own discretion, to pursue such measures accordingly.

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In case you shall be satisfied that there is no passage through to the above-mentioned bays sufficient for the purposes of navigation, you are at the proper season of the year to repair to the port of St. Peter and St. Paul,* in Kamtschatka, or where-ever else you shall judge more proper, in further search of a northeast or north-west passage from the Pacific Ocean into the Atlantic Ocean or the North Sea; and if, from your own observation or any information which you may receive, there shall appear to be a probability of such a passage, you are to proceed as above directed; and having discovered such passage, or failed in the attempt, make the best of your way back to England by such routes as you may think best for the improvement of geography and navigation, repairing to Spithead with both sloops, where they are to remain till further order.

At whatever places you may touch in the course of your voyage, where accurate observations of the nature hereafter mentioned have not already been made, you are, as far as your time will allow, very carefully to observe the true situation of such places, both in latitude and longitude; the variation of the needle; bearing of headlands; height, direction, and course of the tydes and currents; depths and soundings of the sea; shoals, rocks, &c.; and also to survey, make charts, and take views of such bays, harbours, and different parts of the coast, and to make such notations thereon as may be useful either to navigation or commerce. You are also carefully to observe the nature of the soil and the produce thereof; the animals and fowls that inhabit or frequent it; the fishes that are to be found in the rivers or upon the coast, and in what plenty; and in case there are any peculiar to such places to describe them as minutely and to make as accurate drawings of them as you can; and if you find any metals, minerals, or valuable stones, or any extraneous fossils, you are to bring home specimens of each; and also of the seeds of such trees, shrubs, plants, fruits, and grains peculiar to those places as you may be able to collect, and to transmit them to our Secretary, that proper examination and experiments may be made of them. You are likewise to observe the genius, temper, disposition, and number of the natives and inhabitants where you find any—making them presents of such trinkets as you may have on board and they may like best—inviting them to traffick, and showing them every kind of civility and regard, but taking care, nevertheless, not to suffer yourself to be surprized by them, but to be always on your guard against any accidents.

* Petropaulovski.

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You are also, with the consent of the natives, to take possession in the name of the King of Great Britain, of convenient situations in such countries as you may discover, that have not already been discovered or visited by any other European Power, and to distribute among the inhabitants such things as will remain as traces and testimonies of your having been there; but if you find the countries so discovered are uninhabited, you are to take possession of them for his Majesty by setting up proper marks and inscriptions as first discoverers and possessors.

But for as much as in undertakings of this nature several emergencies may arise not to be foreseen, and, herefore, not particularly to be provided for by instructions beforehand, you are in all such cases to proceed as you shall judge most advantageous to the service on which you are employed.

You are by all opportunities to send to our Secretary, for our information, accounts of your proceedings, and copies of the surveys and drawings you shall have made; and upon your arrival in England you are immediately to repair to this office in order to lay before us a full account of your proceedings in the whole course of your voyage, taking care before you leave the sloops to demand from the officers and petty officers the logbooks and journals they may have kept, and to send them up for our inspection, and enjoining them and the whole crew not to devulge where they have been until they shall have permission so to do. And you are to direct Capt’n Clerke to do the same with respect to the officers and petty officers and crew of the Discovery.

If any accident should happen to the Resolution in the course of the voyage so as to disable her from proceeding any further, you are, in such case, to remove yourself and her crew into the Discovery, and to prosecute your voyage in her, her commander being hereby strictly required to receive you on board, and to obey your orders the same in every respect as when you were actually on board the Resolution; and in case of your inability by sickness or otherwise to carry these instructions into execution, you are to be careful to leave them with the next officer in command, who is hereby required to execute them in the best manner he can.

Given under our hands, the 6th day of July, 1776.


By command of their Lordships,


H. Palliser.