The Antarctic Again
No Time was lost in getting to work on the ship, cleaning her inside and out, repairing sails and ironwork, overhauling the spars and rigging, caulking, replenishing wood and water and fishing, examining the bread or ship's biscuit. A vast amount of this commodity, unappetising at the best of times, was rotten and had to be destroyed; another large quantity, not so far gone, was rebaked. Cook put the misfortune down to unseasoned timber in the casks, later to dampness in the hold caused by the storage of ice, followed by the heat of the island latitudes, which seems more likely. All the remaining coals were shifted and new ballast taken on board. The native people supplied plenty of fish, but here their utility ended: they stole anything they could lay hands on, one old chief while he was furiously berating his people for their sins even calmly picking Cook's pocket of his handkerchief, which the captain as calmly reclaimed. Clothes were stolen from the tents, but as Cook got most of these back he was not sorry, thinking his men needed the lesson in taking care of their belongings. There was some coming and going: at one time about a hundred and fifty canoes were about the place, though little trouble was suffered other than that caused by light fingers The great trade, apart from fish, was now in greenstone or pounamu. Cook thought little of it. His men would give almost anything for a piece. We should like to see what they got. From what he could learn about the fate of the animals that had been left behind on the last visit, he was beginning to despair of any good result: goats and fowls had been killed and eaten; one sow was seen, lame, the other and the boar had been separated and taken to different parts of the country; the vegetable gardens, untended, had nevertheless done better. He did not quite give up hope, leaving another boar with three sows, and some cocks and hens, in a secluded part of the sound. If he could not, in the end, be effectively generous, he would show the example at least of justice: when the natives themselves complained about the stolen property and pointed to the man they
held guilty, he got a dozen lashes. In recounting the episode Cook goes on to state explicitly some of his own principles in relation to savage races, which extend a little the thoughts he had had in Tahiti on pushing demands too far.
It has ever been a maxim with me to punish the least crimes any of my people have commited against these uncivilized Nations, their robing us with impunity is by no means a sufficient reason why we should treat them in the same manner, a conduct we see they themselves cannot justify, they found themselves injured and sought for redress in a legal way. The best method in my opinion to preserve a good understanding with such people is first to shew them the use of fire arms and to convince them of the Superiority they give you over them and to be always upon your guard; when once they are sencible of these things, a regard for their own safety will deter them from disturbing you or being unanimous in forming any plan to attack you, and Strict honisty and gentle treatment on your part will make it their intrest not to do it.1
Is this simply repetition of the advice given him by Lord Morton five years before, at the outset of his exploring career? Not quite; for the good Lord Morton's rather abstract statement of benevolence has put on the flesh of experience, and the first two or three lines of Cook's paragraph have something more intensive about them—sealed as they are with action—than the general exhortation ‘to check the petulance of the Sailors’.
These ‘uncivilised Nations’: but what was civilisation? Cook was to be brought up against the question, without entirely solving it, before he left Queen Charlotte Sound. There had been rumours of a war expedition to Admiralty Bay, lately picked human bones had been found, when on 23 November, with Cook anxious to get to sea but prevented by the wind, some of the officers went on shore to amuse themselves and were confronted by the remainders of a cannibal feast. The broken head and the bowels of the victim were lying on the ground, his heart was stuck on a forked stick fixed to the head of a canoe. Pickersgill gave two nails for the head and took it on board, to the interest of a number of New Zealanders on board who had not participated in the banquet. Would one of them like a piece? asked Clerke, ‘to which he very chearfully gave his assent’; Clerke cut a slice and broiled it in the galley, and the man devoured it ravenously. At that moment Cook, who had been absent, came on board with Wales, Forster and the young islander Odiddy, to find the quarter-deck crowded and excitement general. Revolted as he was, the spirit of science triumphed, he must be able to bear
witness from his own eyes to a fact which many people had doubted on the first voyage reports; Clerke broiled another piece, it was similarly consumed before the whole ship's company. Some were sick; Odiddy, first motionless with horror, burst into tears and abused Clerke as well as the New Zealanders, up till then his friends; Wales and Cook thought it over. These people were cannibals because they liked to be cannibals, concluded Wales—from choice, not need: they had other animal food, dogs, birds, fish; were not merely carried away by frenzy, would run all the risks of war to obtain their end, were not particular even whether they ate enemy or friend. Cook went deeper in his attempt to understand; for the first time, in his little disquisitions on the people he met, we have the original, the mature Cook. He is far from the fantasy he had picked up, perhaps from Banks, of the innocent, care-free children of nature, so happy in their ignorance of all sophisticated wants.
…few considers what a savage man is in his original state and even after he is in some degree civilized; the New Zealanders are certainly in a state of civilization, their behavour to us has been Manly and Mild, shewing allways a readiness to oblige us; they have some arts a mong them which they execute with great judgement and unweared patience; they are far less addicted to thieving than the other Islanders and are I believe strictly honist among them-selves. This custom of eating their enimies slain in battle (for I firmly believe they eat the flesh of no others) has undoubtedly been handed down to them from the earliest times and we know that it is not an easy matter to break a nation of its ancient customs let them be ever so inhuman and savage, especially if that nation is void of all religious principles as I believe the new zealanders in general are and like them without any settled form of goverment; as they become more united they will of concequence have fewer Enemies and become more civilized and then and not till then this custom may be forgot, at present they seem to have but little idea of treating other men as they themselves would wish to be treated, but treat them as they think they should be treated under the same circumstances.1
They had argued the point immovably with Tupaia, whom they respected; they merely laughed at the stripling Odiddy. It may be suggested that Cook, like Wales, wrote with inadequate knowledge of those he contemplated; but there is perceptiveness in this, of an unusual kind. Is not the tone, quite clearly, the tone of a new fashion of thought about man?
Meanwhile there was another, quite different, thing to think about—the Adventure.
Cook tried every way of accounting for her
continued absence, without finding a likely one. Halfway through his stay he had fancied she might be still in the Strait, and climbed a hill above East Bay (where in 1770 he raised the cairn, now gone) to look; even then he had despaired of seeing her again. He had no fear for her safety; the best conjecture he could make was that Furneaux, driven to leeward, tired of beating against the north-westerlies, had decided to run for the Cape of Good Hope
. Yet he might still come. Cook (it was now 24 November) therefore put a message in a bottle, buried it at the foot of a large tree at the watering place, and carved on the trunk the words Look Underneath
. It was his intention, said the message, to spend a few days at the entrance of the Strait looking for his consort, after which he would proceed to the south and eastward. ‘As Captain Cook has not the least hopes of meeting with Captain Furneaux he will not take upon him to name any place for a Rendezvous; he however thinks of retiring to Easter Island in Latd
27°6' S Longitude 108°0' West a Greenwich in about the latter end of next march, it is even probable that he may go to Otaheite or one of the society Isles but this will depend so much upon circumstances that nothing with any degree of certainty can be depended upon.'1
Next day the Resolution
, herself and her crew thoroughly fit for sea again, was under sail and outside the Sound.
She hauled over for Cape Terawhiti and ran along the North Island shore from point to point towards Cape Palliser, looking into the bays and firing half-hour guns. She brought to for the night halfway across Palliser Bay; rounded the cape in the morning still firing guns, and a few leagues to the north-east got a breeze from that quarter, which determined Cook to bear away for Cape Campbell, on the other side of the strait; a smoke inland then kept him plying till the end of the day, though it improbably had to do with the Adventure
; and then, all his officers being unanimous that she could neither be stranded on the New Zealand coast nor spending time in a New Zealand port, resolved to make directly southward. Not a man was dejected, thought the captain, at the prospect of exploring that part of the Pacific Ocean
without a consort; as for the captain, it is possible that after his experience of his consort, he preferred to be alone. He took his departure from Cape Palliser on the evening of 26 November, sailing rather to the east of south than directly south. The weather was variable, with a good deal of haze and fog
and rain—the only regular phenomenon, indeed, being the great south-west swell witnessing against a continent in the direction whence it came. The only land that could lie south of New Zealand, concluded Cook, must lie far beyond the latitude of 60°: a valid conclusion, for apart from inconsiderable islands, it lay half a degree south of 70°. There were a few seals, penguins, albatrosses and petrels. On 7 December ‘at half past 8 pm’, the ship was directly opposite to London; toasts were drunk, Wales rejoiced in one piece of certainty: ‘The good People of that City may now
rest perfectly satisfied that they have no Antipodes besides Penguins and Peteralls, unless Seals can be admitted as such; for Fishes are absolutely out of the question.’1
As the latitude increased so did the gales. The early morning of 12 December brought the first iceberg, in latitude 62°10', which was 111/2° farther south than the first ice seen after leaving the Cape of Good Hope
. The longitude was something over 170° W. Cook illustrates the strategy of his seamanship with his journal-entry for 13 December: ‘We stood to the Se
with the Wind at Sw
and as the wind backed to the West we hauled more and more to the South, keeping the wind allways upon the beam till 9 am, when the wind veered to the North and being thick weather we hauled the wind to the Eastward under double reef'd Top-sails and Courses. By sailing with the Wind on the Beam we had it in our power to return back over that space of Sea we had in some measure made our selves acquainted with, in case we had met with any danger.'2
Danger is a relative term. One would think that as the ship pushed steadily south—146 miles on 12 December, then on successive days 92 miles, 136 miles, 116 miles—it could hardly be avoided. On the 15th she was in a large field of loose ice, the summer break-up of the pack, with some leads and clear water beyond; the bergs were enlarging their number, there was a thick fog accompanied by snow and a strong wind. Cook thought it prudent to alter his course more to the east, then to the north-east, when he found himself embayed in the ice; forced back south-west to latitude 66°, he had the wind veer to the west and could stretch northward for a degree or two. Freedom from the loose ice did not mean freedom from the bergs: to turn from one of these was to run towards another, like the fearful mass which the ship barely weathered by her own length; ‘had we not succeeded this circumstance could never have been related’, says Cook with great moderation. The officer of the watch had been imprudent, relates Elliott in more detail, and when at last he called
up all hands from dinner, horror sat on the captain's face no less than on others. Cook ordered the men to get light spars in readiness to fend the ship off—perhaps merely to give them something to do. She went clear with her stern ‘just trailing within the Breakers from the Island’, it was ‘the most Miraculous
escape from being every soul lost, that ever men had’.1
A miss was as good as a mile, reflected Cook calmly, ‘but our situation requires more misses than we can expect.’ Land to the south seemed improbable; if any were found the ice would forbid its exploration. This ‘feild or loose ice’, was quite different from any he had encountered before—‘not such as is usually formed in Bays or Rivers’ (the old theories cling hard), ‘but like such as is broken off from large Islands, round ill-shaped pieces from the size of a small Ship's Hull downwards’; it was often impossible to avoid running against large pieces, and no ship except one properly strengthened could long withstand such shocks. So did he summarise his reasons for hauling to the north. He made over a hundred miles in dark and gloomy weather, the sails and rigging encased in ice, before he brought to and hoisted out boats to take in ice for water; then he turned east and south-east again.
In such weather and conditions, sometimes worse, with rare clear intervals, he made his southing and slipped by the icebergs once more. On 20 December in the evening he crossed the Antarctic Circle for the second time—longitude about 148° W—and on the 22nd was in latitude 67°27'. He was now in a region of northerly winds, well south of the region where the westerlies prevailed, but made good easting for those days. On 23 December, his position being about latitude 67°19', longitude 138°15' W, he was again on the edge of the pack, a large field of thick close floes stretching from south to east over the whole sea; seizing the chance to take up some large pieces for water, he tried a westerly course a short while. At the same time he was taking careful note of new petrels seen about the ice. The conditions were as bad as they could be: ropes like wires, sails like boards or metal plates, sheaves frozen fast in the blocks ‘so that it required our utmost effort to get a Top-sail down and up; the cold so intense as hardly to be endured, the whole Sea in a manner covered with ice, a hard gale and a thick fog …’. He must make north—well north, not merely because of the unwisdom of pushing farther east, but because of the unexplored space of twenty four degrees of latitude between his present position and his course eastwards from Cook Strait
in the winter of 1773. He turned north-east therefore, on 24 December, and when just past the Antarctic
Circle, between longitudes 135° and 134° W, more directly north. It was Christmas Day: fortunately, as in the preceding year, one of gentle wind turning to calm, clear all through the long daylight, as the ship drifted in the midst of a hundred icebergs like ‘the wrecks of a shattered world’—to use George Forster
's vivid words—and British drunkenness and British ribaldry made the cold scene as Christianlike as possible. There was none the less vigilance. Invitations had gone out to dinner for officers and petty officers; seamen and marines vowed that they would die happy on any ice island then attendant, as long as some rescued keg of brandy was in their arms. The next day upwards of two hundred and fifty of ‘these divilish Ice Isles’—the phrase is now Clerke's—were counted, many of them standing more than two hundred feet out of the water.
The last day of the year provided some clear pleasant weather in which Cook aired his spare sails and ‘cleaned and smoked’ between decks. Then once more the snow and piercing cold: the northerlies had ceased to blow except very briefly. There could be no land in the north-west, Cook gave his opinion, 2 January 1774, because a swell still came from that quarter, even in the absence of a corresponding wind. He was then in latitude 57°58', some 560 miles north of his position on 24 December, his farthest point south and about two degrees of longitude farther east. It was on 2 January that Cook at last lost patience in a matter of discipline and—a most unusual step—flogged a midshipman. This was one of the wild set, the unstable exasperating Loggie, who had already been sent before the mast and now, apparently in a drunken riot, had drawn his knife and cut two of the other young gentlemen. Cook excluded the story from his journal, as he excluded from that public document most other matters of a disciplinary sort. He does not exhibit the fury he had felt, once, over Mr Orton's ears; but we can go behind Cook.1
It was anyhow a secondary matter, it was not geography or navigation. The wind went round to the west for two weeks successively. Cook, who had been trying to make some westing on his northern course, gave up and steered north-east. From day to day, studying the sea birds, he considered the chances of land. Albatrosses and most petrels were no indication, but the small diving petrels were supposed to be pointers—he saw a few, but not enough to be persuasive. The swell was more persuasive in the contrary sense. He would have to leave unexplored a space of sea 40° of longitude wide, 20° or 21° north to south: ‘had the wind been favourable I intended
to have run 15° or 20° of longitude to the west in the Latitude we are now in’—54'55'—‘and back again to the East in the Latitude of 50° or near it, this rout would have so intersected the space above mentioned as to have hardly left room for the bare supposission of any large land lying there’.1
He kept on his north-east course, logging good distances daily—161 miles for 9 January; noting the clear days, when by observation of the sun and moon the longitude could be determined ‘beyond a doubt’. On this subject an interesting note is struck. ‘Indeed our error can never be great so long as we have so good a guide as Mr
On 11 January he was in west longitude 122°12′ by ‘reckoning’, 122°17′30″ by the watch—that is, over two-thirds of the distance from New Zealand to South America—latitude 47°51′. He changed course again. ‘At Noon being little more than two hundred Leagues from my track to Otaheite in 1769 in which space it was not probable any thing was to be found, we therefore hauled up Se
with a fresh gale at Swbw
There was, we learn from Elliott, for a moment a ‘buz’ in the ship, and ‘a very severe mortification’; for the simple sailors had taken it into their heads that they were sailing east for Cape Horn on their way home, and all their hopes were blasted in a minute. They should by that time have known their captain better. They thought he was a close and secret man, but they should not have thought the secret was so easily expounded. Nor had they the faintest idea what the message was for Furneaux in the bottle. Mr Forster, who was rather astonished that the captain had not consulted him more, was now dejected—and even more so when in a few days strong gales became ‘excessive hard gales’ (even Cook said that), the north-west sea ran ‘prodigeous high’, and he in his cabin was deluged with water. In addition, diet was no longer fresh. The men were back on salt beef and the decaying biscuit re-baked at Ship Cove, and only on a two-thirds allowance of that, so anxious was Cook to conserve. On the pleading of their spokesman, the master's mate, he at least restored the whole ration. He continued to plunge south, except for a few days of easting in southerly winds, with some dark weather, snow and sleet, though as the month advanced into its last week the weather was unusually mild, and there was a remarkable paucity of ice. There were few birds, a few whales. On 26 January he crossed the Antarctic Circle for the third time, in longitude 109°31′ W, soon after which land appeared and transformed itself, as usual, into clouds or a fog-bank. Fog came down thicker. On the 28th loose ice was encountered, and some was taken up for water; the fog turned
so thick that Cook made sail for a time to the north-west, not daring to stand south when he could not see the extent of the ice about him. Next morning the sky and the sea were clear again, except for some large bergs; to general surprise the weather could be called pleasant, and for a day it was not cold. In latitude 70°00' the ship was still making south. A berg not less than three miles in circuit, with others visible ahead till thick fog hid them, made it advisable to tack to the north for the hour and a half the fog lasted, after which the Sse
course was resumed. Then, on 30 January, the sea closed. Cook himself must here speak.
A little after 4 Am we precieved the Clowds to the South near the horizon to be of an unusual Snow white brightness which denounced our approach to field ice, soon after it was seen from the Mast-head and at 8 o'Clock we were close to the edge of it which extended East and West in a straight line far beyond our sight; as appear'd by the brightness of the horizon; in the Situation we were now in just the Southern half of the horizon was enlightned by the Reflected rays of the Ice to a considerable height. The Clowds near the horizon were of a perfect Snow whiteness and were difficult to be distinguished from the Ice hills whose lofty summits reached the Clowds. The outer or Northern edge of this immence Ice field was composed of loose or broken ice so close packed together that nothing could enter it; about a Mile in began the firm ice, in one compact solid boddy and seemed to increase in height as you traced it to the South; In this field we counted Ninety Seven Ice Hills or Mountains, many of them vastly large… . I will not say it was impossible anywhere 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 farther 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, as it in some measure relieved us from the dangers and hardships, inseparable with the Navigation of the Southern Polar regions. Sence therefore we could not proceed one Inch farther South, no other reason need be assigned for our Tacking and stretching back to the North, being at that time in the Latitude of 71°10' South, Longitude 106°54' W.1
Soon after he had tacked, standing north by east, a heavy fog descended, snow fell, the air was piercing cold; before long the rigging was coated with ice almost an inch thick.
When Cook revised his journal he added a little to the passage he had thus written. It was his opinion, it was the general opinion, ‘that this Ice extended quite to the Pole or perhaps joins to some land, to which it had been fixed from the creation;’ and that it was in this enormous southern area that all the ice ‘scatered up and down to the North’ was formed, to be broken off and floated on the northbound currents; if land was near, penguins, whose sad croaking Cook heard where none was seen, could have no better retreat there than they had on the ice—indeed, land must be covered with ice. In all this was a great deal of sense: he was at the margin of a permanent ice-belt. He had still something to learn about the origin of sea ice and of ‘ice islands’, and we might now prefer to talk in terms of vague millions of years rather than of the creation. If the ice did indeed join to some land, it was impossible to say, or even to guess, where the join took place. He had sailed much farther south than was needed to discover the Antarctic continent, if only he had been forty or fifty degrees of longitude farther east: when Edward Brans-field and William Smith first set eyes on the northern extremity of the Graham Land peninsula in 1819, it was in latitude 64° and longitude 60° W. As for ambition—‘farther than any other man has been before me … as far as I think it possible for man to go’—he had realised it: no ship in or near that longitude would ever sail so far south again. Almost fifty years later James Weddell was to sail farther south, to 75°, in the sea named after him, a sea where the ice edge strangely retreated or advanced; almost twenty years after that James Clark Ross's enormously strong Erebus and Terror were to force their way through the pack to 78°9′30″, in the sea called after Ross; but the one was far to the east, the other far to the west of Cook's position. That position was off the Walgreen Coast of the Amundsen Sea; the nearest land behind the ice was Cape Flying Fish of the Thurston Peninsula, perhaps 140 or 150 miles distant.1 Over the greater part of this Pacific sector of the Southern Ocean no person has yet penetrated to the continent by sea.
One is of course struck by Cook's words about his ambition,
so different from the modest understatement habitually practised by him. They are significant as well as proud words, they stand as self-revelation with the weary passage he wrote after his second escape from the Great Barrier Reef
, on the anguish and pleasures of discovery, and the attitude of ‘the world’. This time he has forgotten the world, and it is not a theme that interests him again. But there are other significant words, and the fact that he uses them shows his indifference to the opinion of the world: he ‘was not sorry at meeting this interruption’ of the pack ice, ‘as it in some measure relieved us from the dangers and hardships, inseparable with the Navigation of the Southern Polar Regions’. He almost says he was glad to have an excuse to stop exploring. He could not have correctly argued that on 30 January the summer was over. He could not get further south, true: nevertheless for a week after he turned back he had easterly winds, and with them, conceivably, without turning back he could have pushed westwards, in the direction of the Ross Sea—though it is morally certain he would have found nothing but the pack. A rash man might have done so. Cook, as we have seen, was not a timid man, but he was not rash. He now had enough accumulated experience to found a wise judgment on, whether he could trace every step in judgment with scientific exactitude or not. Faced with the decision which confronts every explorer, when to retreat, he did not hesitate to reckon candidly enough the risks of going on. The planned examination of the Southern Ocean was not over: there was still the western part of its Atlantic sector to investigate. He knew well enough the strains on his crew and his ship. When he says he ‘was not sorry’ at being interrupted in his course, we may once again give him literal belief. It is possible that he was beginning to realise the strains on himself.
For three weeks the ship made a course north by east, with only a few modifications. Except for a small number of bergs, and floating pieces of ice enough to replenish her water, the sea was clear. The fog vanished, though there was snow and sleet for some days. She crossed the Antarctic Circle again on 3 February, and on the 6th Cook did not think it too soon to formulate a plan of operations for the remainder of the year. In the note he had put into the bottle at Ship Cove he had said he might go to Easter Island, even to Tahiti or the Society Islands; and in his journal, as he wrote of his leaving the New Zealand coast in November, he had remarked that ‘if I do not find a Continent or isle between this and Cape Horn in which we can Winter perhaps I may spend the Winter within the Tropicks
or else proceed round Cape Horn to Faulkland Islands, such were my thoughts at this time… .’1 He allowed for unforeseeable circumstances. The Falklands would give him a springboard for a South Atlantic cruise, but he does not seem ever to have considered them very seriously. Now he reconsiders the whole prospect. There is no continent to be found to the west of Cape Horn. He thinks it just as improbable that there is one on the other side, in spite of Dalrymple and Bouvet. Nevertheless he must look for it. If he is wrong, before he could reach either Dalrymple's or Bouvet's continent, the exploring season would be over, he would have to winter there, or else retire to the Falklands or the Cape of Good Hope; in either case, six or seven months would be wasted. If he is right, and there is no continent, then he would be at the Cape by April, and the expedition, regarded as a continent-discovering expedition, would be over. But there is still a great deal to do in the Pacific: there is room for very large islands, and many of the islands already discovered are imperfectly explored, their situations imperfectly known. Cook has a good ship ‘expressly sent out on discoveries’, a healthy crew, no want of stores and provisions; to ignore these facts would betray want of judgment as well as of perseverance. Discoveries might not be ‘valuable’, none the less they would result in improvement to the sciences, especially Navigation and Geography.
These were not altogether new thoughts with Cook, as we have seen; he had more than once, he tells us, communicated them to Furneaux—perhaps at Queen Charlotte Sound, perhaps at Tahiti—and Furneaux had not been very receptive; whatever the state of the ships or men, he wanted to get to the Cape and, obviously, go home as soon as possible, though ‘afterwards he seem'd to come into my opinion'. Cook could not have been highly confident that his second-in-command would remain so placed; now he could be ignored, except for the faint possibility of finding him at Tahiti. The Resolution
could now embark on this vast parenthesis in the voyage as it was originally planned, without further need of argument or persuasion; it is even possible that Cook, the ‘Main Object’ of the voyage attained, as he concluded, and Dalrymple's Historical Collection
open before him, had in his mind an unspoken reason, in addition to those he articulated, for wasting no time dangerously about the ice-edge. So he would now make north in search of the land said to have been discovered by Juan Fernandez
in latitude 38° S; if that search was of no avail, he would look for Easter Island ‘or Davis's land’, which Carteret and Bougainville had failed to find;
then, reaching the tropics, proceed west, touching at and settling the positions of any island he might meet with as far as Tahiti, which he must visit to look for the Adventure
; then, perhaps, if there was time, keep west farther still, to Quiros's Austrialia del Espiritu Santo, which Bougainville had called the Great Cyclades and been very vague about; and then get to the south and steer east to the Horn between the latitudes of 50° and 60°, arriving there in November, so that the best part of the summer could be spent in exploring the South Atlantic Ocean. ‘This I must own is a great undertaking; says the planner, ‘and perhaps more than I shall be able to perform as various impediments may …’—he breaks off writing, we do not know for what nautical emergency (the weather was deteriorating), and when he resumes it is to redraft. ‘Great as this design appeared to be, I however thought it was possible to be done and when I came to communicate it to the officers (who till now thought we were bound directly to the Cape of Good Hope
) I had the satisfaction to find that they all heartily concur'd in it.' As for the seamen, ‘they were so far from wishing the Voyage at an end that they rejoiced at the Prospect of its being prolonged a nother year and soon enjoying the benefits of a milder Climate.’1
No one, officer, seaman, or civilian, contradicts this.
The weather over the greater part of those first three weeks of February was not pleasant, but at least when latitude 55° was left behind snow and sleet were exchanged for mist and rain. Generally there was the old south-west swell. One near-calm day allowed some of the officers to take a boat and attack the albatrosses and shearwaters, which provided a little feast after the awful monotony of salt beef and pork. From the 19th the days became fair, while the thermometer, 32 1/2° at the ice-edge, continued to rise steadily. On that day the ship was in latitude 42°5′, longitude 95°20′ W, nearly on the track of the Dolphin
under Wallis; two days earlier Cook had crossed his own outward track in the Endeavour
in 1769. A succession of westerlies had driven him farther to the east than he had wished to go; but on 22 February, latitude 36°10′, longitude 94°56′ W, a convenient change of wind allowed him to alter course to west-south-west for three days, to investigate the large land attributed to Juan Fernandez
. When he compared the positions given this by Dalrymple and the French scientist Pingré with the courses steered by Wallis and his successors—let alone by the Spanish ships trading
between North and South America—and with the great swell, he was clear that it could be at best only a small island, perhaps as probably ‘a fiction’. On the 25th he gave it up, to stretch away north-west for the next search on his list. The name of Juan Fernandez
must be left to the island already familiar. He would try Easter Island. It was at this moment, or two or three days before, that Cook was taken dangerously ill.
Alarm and grief were general. Cook, who passes over the matter in a short paragraph, defines his ailment as ‘the Billious colick and so Violent as to confine me to my bed’. It is not very likely that he had reckoned a failure in his health as a possible impediment to the carrying out of his great design, but it seems certain that a little more violence would have provided a very effective impediment indeed. Strong as the captain was, he had not been in unbroken good health throughout the voyage, though we must go elsewhere than his own journal to find this out: and careful as he was of his men's physical welfare, he does not seem to have given equal care to his own. George Forster
, who remarks on the captain's indisposition at Dusky Sound
in the previous May, indicates that this was not a normal rheumatism: ‘The Captain was taken ill of a fever and violent pain in the groin, which terminated in a rheumatic swelling of the right foot’; and as the ship was standing north, in late December, her fresh food long exhausted, he remarks that Cook ‘was pale and lean, entirely lost his appetite, and laboured under a perpetual costiveness’. Unlike the elder Forster, however, who plunged at once into the Antarctic and the most intolerable rheumatism, in January he ‘seemed to recover again as we advanced to the southward’;1
now, in gentle gales and fair weather, while others began to feel the sun in joints again loosened, he collapsed. If George's account is correct, Cook's recipe for his own treatment was to slight the trouble, conceal it from his fellows, and almost to stop eating. When Patten the surgeon was at last allowed to take him in hand the purges and emetics, opiates and glysters, did no good; for almost twenty-four hours he was racked by a most dreadful hiccough. Finally, after some days of tension, Patten's hot baths and stomach plasters ‘relaxed his body and intestines’, and he began to recover. To speak in modern diagnostic terms, it is likely that Cook was suffering from some acute ulceration or infection of the gall-bladder, complemented by a paralysis of the bowel—which would be quite adequate foundation for his unnatural look. Whatever the original strength of his constitution, whatever his force of mind, the student of his career may be
grateful that James Patten was (to use his patient's words) both a skilful physician and a tender nurse. When he could again take nourishment, an island dog of Forster's provided it,1
as broth or as more solid food. The crisis had lasted upwards of a week.
There was no island dog for anyone else. At the end of another week the light contrary winds went round to the east, remaining light; the ship ran north-west in pleasant weather. The thermometer was now in the mid-seventies, and well-dieted explorers would have been happy. Signs of scurvy, however, were manifest, against which sauerkraut was the only real specific; some men even grew weak from unwillingness to eat the ship's food. The breeze was sometimes too light. Wales heaved a sigh. ‘Omnium rerum Vicissitudo, say my brother Star-gazers; and though they have worn the expression thread-bare, I am fully convinced by experience it is not a jot the less true, for it's scarcely 3 weeks ago we were miserable on acc° of ye
cold: we are now wretched with ye
heat: the latter is I think less supportable of ye
two, as being attended with a sickly Appetite, but Salt Beef & pork, without vegetables for 14 weeks running, would probably cure a Glutton, even in England.’2
Four albacores were caught one day, ‘very acceptable’, and there were plenty more for the catching, if a fisherman skilful enough had been on board, but there was not. Clerke scrutinised the birds for harbingers of land, sometimes with a little hope, sometimes with exasperation. ‘For my own part, I do not believe there is one in the whole tribe that one can rely on…’. At last they became plentiful, tropic birds, man-of-war birds, noddies, terns and petrels: it was in the latitude of ‘Davis's land or Easter Island’: Cook turned almost due west, and on 11 March sighted the land. He was certain it was Easter Island. But was it also Davis's land? He had no doubt at first, then doubts arose: even after leaving it, he could never quite make up his mind. For it was in about the right position, as the position of Davis's land had been printed by Lionel Wafer, surgeon of the buccaneer Captain Edward Davis, who had sighted it in 1687, and
by Dampier. None of the geographers seemed to hesitate—certainly not Dalrymple, who reprinted Wafer in his Collection.
Yet Davis's (David's, as the French and Spanish insisted on calling it) land was at least two islands, a small, low, sandy island, backed in the west by a range of high land; and though Roggeveen's Easter Island was certainly not large—thirteen miles in a straight line at its longest—it was equally certainly not low or sandy, it was high and rocky, and it was single. Carteret and Bougainville had both, independenty, made what was probably the true identification;1
if they were right, then Wafer's printed position was wrong. If they were wrong, then Cook would have to find a low sandy island. Meanwhile, at least, he could agree with Dalrymple over the accounts of Roggeveen's visit, the only ones discoverable, and most unsatisfactory; there was no account at all of the Spanish visit of 1770, traces of which survived in odd articles of clothing displayed by the islanders.
The ship was not in with the land, at its eastern end, until late on 12 March, when telescopes picked out both people ‘and those Moniments or Idols mentioned by the Authors of Roggeweins Voyage which left us no room to doubt but it was Easter Island.’2
Next day she ran along the south and west sides of the island in vain search for a harbour, then plyed back to an anchorage off the small sandy beach of Hanga-roa bay, about three miles north of the southern point. Two men came off to the ship in a canoe with a bunch of ripe plantains, happy with a medal each in return; a third, who swam out, insisted on staying. In the morning of the 14th Cook landed among a crowd of amiable natives, distributed medals, traded nails for sweet potatoes, plantains and sugar-cane, and found a small well of brackish water. He took a few casks of this water on board before deciding it was quite too bad to be of use, and was soon convinced by the small quantity of provisions brought to the beach that there would be little point in prolonging his visit. Nor was he happy about his anchorage. Nevertheless the island must be inspected. He was certainly not well enough to walk over it himself, so he sent a party
out under the command of Pickersgill and Edgcumbe, accompanied by Wales, Forster, and others of the gentlemen. They trudged over to the south-east shore, along it a good distance, up a height whence they could see the northern coast, back over the stony hills—a good twenty miles of hot and thirsty going. The only relief was one spring of what would have been good sweet water if the natives had not combined drinking with bathing; some relief it was, however. Many of these people marched with the party, one going ahead with a sort of white flag, a mark of honour; friendly, they displayed few weapons, though some inclination to appropriate their visitors' belongings. Their island was certainly a treeless and infertile one; there seemed to be a fair number of sweet potato gardens and ‘plantain walks’, some sugar-cane; taro and yams were seen, a few gourds, but not a coconut, a few bushes four or five feet high, not a hog, not a dog, a few small specimens of domestic poultry, few other birds. The wonder, of course, was the monumental statues, the great ancestral torso figures brooding over the land with their melancholy gaze, their backs to the sea, grouped on the careful stone platforms or ahu
, but many already toppled, prone and disregarded; some rising straight out of a grassy hillside slope. Wales measured one fallen giant, 27 feet long, eight across the shoulders; in the early afternoon shade of another stood the whole party of visitors, thirty strong. If anything was more astonishing than the carved figures themselves, it was the large red cylinders of a different stone which crowned their heads. Many of them had names, which were collected; but how to answer the other questions that arose? What did they signify? Were they solid stone or made of some ingenious composition? Who set them up and how? Cook could but register the astonishment and the interrogatory.
His account of Easter Island, considering the brevity of his stay, is remarkably full. He used his own eyes to good purpose about the beach, he had good eyes to rely on in the exploring party. Once again we find him working systematically through the demands his instructions imposed, as he commented on the nature of the people, their natural resources, their manufactures, their language, their polity and religion—even when he has to note sheer ignorance. As to the people, they were certainly of the same race as the New Zealanders and the other islanders, ‘the affinity of the Language, Colour and some of thier customs all tend to prove it’; of moderate stature, slender, nimble, active, pleasant-featured, hospitable, thievish. Their number he could only estimate, and considerably underestimated, as perhaps six or seven hundred. Few women appeared,
and those for a purpose deeply disapproved of by Forster; the others, Cook rightly guessed, had been stowed out of harm's way. The men were much tattooed. Their ears were their peculiar feature. They had enormous holes in them, distended very often by sugar-cane leaf rolled up like a spring, or bunches of feathers, so that the ear would hang down half-way to the shoulder. What clothing they wore was of the usual island bark cloth, but their cloth-trees were stunted plants. Their weapons were like some of the New Zealand ones. Their houses were ‘low miserable huts’, a frame-work of sticks thatched over with cane leaves; their utensils so few that they fell with joy on coconut shells in trade. Their canoes were few, small, mean, not very seaworthy, though skilfully patched together out of driftwood, or perhaps wood left behind by the Spaniard. Their stone, bone or shell tools were poor, but they carved ingeniously. Of government or religion Cook could not speak. There were certainly ‘arreeke’, or chiefs, and one who was said to be chief of the whole island. ‘The Stupendous stone statues errected in different places along the Coast are certainly no representation of any Deity or places of worship; but most probable Burial Places for certain Tribes or Families.’ Cook himself had seen a human skeleton lying in the platform of one, laid over with stones.1 There seemed to be no general native name for the island. As Cook revised his journal-entry he came back to one of his chief problems: ‘it is extraordinary that the same Nation should have spread themselves over all the isles in this Vast Ocean from New Zealand to this Island which is almost a fourth part of the circumference of the Globe, many of them at this time have no other knowledge of each other than what is recorded in antiquated tradition and have by length of time become as it were different Nations each having adopted some peculiar custom or habit &ca never the less a carefull observer will soon see the Affinity each has to the other.’2
On 16 March, a light breeze springing up, he got under sail and plyed to and fro while the boats made last visits to the shore to pick up what provisions they could; in the evening he made sail to the north-west. If he had found fresh water he would have spent some time seeking the low sandy isle: as he had not, was in want of refreshments—though the small quantity he had got at the island made an amazing difference to his men's health—and delay might have bad consequences, he left that problem unresolved. No nation would ever contend for the honour of discovering Easter Island, he reflected, so little would it profit shipping; and settled down for a long run in
the trade wind to see what he could make of the Marquesas islands, last visited by Mendaña almost two hundred years before. If report were true, he would get there all he needed, to raise appetites jaded, spirits dulled, by so many months of salt junk. The ship made good distances daily, but the weather was sultry, and ‘bilious’ complaints began to recur, including almost at once Cook's own—because, it was thought, of his too great activity as a convalescent at Easter Island. He had to take to his bed again for a time. Patten himself fell sick. After that there was little to record during three weeks beyond agreeable weather, the daily position, the variation of the compass, birds seen; one or two punishments for dirtiness and insolence; caulking of the decks; the setting of the armourer's forge to repair ironwork and to make hatchets for trade at the expected islands. By the end of March the ship was in their reported latitude, 9°30′ S, and like any old-fashioned navigator Cook altered course and began to run down his longitude to the west. The first island—or rather the large rock, Fatu Huku—was sighted on 6 April by the sixteen year-old midshipman Alexander Hood, and called Hood's Island by the captain; then another, as the weather turned squally for the first time on the run. Next morning there were a third and a fourth, and Cook knew he had found what he was in search of.
They are among the most wildly romantic of islands, with high, jagged tops; black cliffs fall abruptly to the sea, precipitous ridges lead to deep valleys, valleys to new steeps and ridges. They are well-watered and fertile, lush even, where the windward heights and hollows take the rain; on the leeward side comparatively barren, as Cook thought Mendaña's Santa Christina was. They have no surrounding reefs, and the swell breaks formidably on the cliffs and beaches. They were not islands that a passing sailor could explore—though, had it not been for untoward circumstances, Cook might have stayed among them a little longer, and obtained there more refreshment, than he did. They are islands where the sailor needs to know his business; for, in the trade-wind season, down from the ridges tear violent squalls of wind which may put a ship in sudden desperate peril. Cook had early experience of this. The chart he carried showed Mendaña's four islands of San Pedro, La Dominica, Santa Christina, and, to the south-east, La Magdalena—as we should say, Motane, Hiva Oa, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva. It was the port that Mendaña had called Madre de Dios that he wanted, the bay of Vaitahu on the western side of Tahuata; and passing through the channel between Hiva Oa and Tahuata he ran along the shore of the latter south-westward. Canoes with lateen sails came out
from several coves, where tolerable anchorage was offset by a great surf on the shore, until Mendaña's port or bay unmistakably appeared. As Cook was turning into it one of those violent squalls fell on the ship, so that she was within a few yards of going on the rocks to leeward. He stood out again, then prudently anchored in the entrance. Some rather hesitant canoes were alongside at sunset to trade, many more in the morning. Their occupants preferred to make no return for the nails they were given, until Cook fired a musket ball close: on this ‘they observed a little more honisty’, and some—indeed too many—came on board. The captain, preparing to warp the ship further into the bay, was going off in a boat to choose a mooring place; he had hardly told his officers to take care that nothing was stolen when the cry was raised that an iron stanchion was gone from the opposite gangway. Fire over the canoe! shouted Cook, and hurried round to intercept it; alas, they fired at those in it, and killed a man. There was another in the canoe, baling out blood and water ‘in a kind of Hysteric Laugh’, and a boy looking very dejected, apparently the dead man's son. The canoes all fled; Cook had much ado to get one to come back and take a present of nails. Nevertheless, a kedge anchor being carried out and buoyed to warp in by, they attempted to drag ashore either it or its buoy, on which shots had to be fired again, with no intent to kill. So much delay was caused by this that when squalls once more began to come down the bay Cook decided to remain where he was. Fear of muskets did not keep the people from stealing what they could, but Cook, thinking after looking at the place that it was not likely he would stay long, determined to put up with the trouble.
Canoes ventured cautiously off to the ship again, presents were given them, trade re-established. Cook went ashore, in spite of the surf, and got a load of water. On the appearance of a watering party with a guard in the afternoon, however, the people once more retreated in dread; next morning he himself went, but those that crowded round him were with difficulty kept from running from the guard. At last a chief arrived from the hills with many more people, presents this time were mutual, and trade for fruit and the very small pigs here found seemed to be stably set on foot. Cook was able to visit a different part of the bay where he was anxious to do some kindness to the son of the man who had been killed, to make plain that this had not been done ‘from any bad design we had against the Nation’. Unfortunately, when he arrived the boy had fled. Next day, 10 April, trade still went on briskly. The following morning it stopped dead. The ‘young gentlemen’ had been foolish. They had
broken the rules, handing over various novel articles which pleased the people more than nails or iron tools, ‘but what ruined our Market the most was one of them giving for a Pig a very large quantity of Red feathers he had got at Amsterdam, which these people much value and which the other did not know, nor did I know at this time that Red feathers was what they wanted, and if I had I could not have supported this trade in the manner it was begun one day. Thus, was the fine prospect we had of geting a plentifull supply of refreshments of these people frustrated, and which will ever be the case so long as every one is allowed to make exchanges for what he pleaseth and in what manner he please's.’1 Nothing could be more exasperating to a man who laid down rules, and was trying to re-provision a whole ship's company; his reproof, no doubt, was appropriate. And now there was nothing to do but leave, telling oneself truly enough that anyhow the place was not very convenient for bringing off wood and water or for carrying out repairs. Cook, the Forsters, and Sparrman embarked in the long boat, the sea got up, and only the most prodigious energies and skill on the part of the men at the oars saved her, like the ship a few days before, from being dashed on fatal rocks.
Before turning finally from these islands, Cook stood over to ‘St
Dominica’ or Hiva Oa to look at its western coast, after which, on the morning of 12 April, he steered away southwards. He had in fact done what he principally came to do: he had verified Mendaña's discovery, though he saw Mendaña's fourth island, La Magdalena—Fatu Hiva—only from a distance as he sailed away; he had added a fifth, had corrected Mendaña's position, and fixed longitudes which were very accurate. He was not to know that there were further islands in the group out of sight to the northwest. Mendaña's port he named anew, Resolution Bay. As for supplies, in spite of the untoward he had not done badly. True, pigs were small and coconuts scarce; on the other hand he carried away a vast quantity of fine large breadfruit and plantains; the water was excellent. But what impressed him most, perhaps, and those others who kept journals, was the beauty of the islanders, not merely the most beautiful people in the South Seas, but the finest race ever beheld, all tall and well-proportioned, with good features, none with the extremes of fat or meagreness to be seen in Tahiti: Cook and Wales, Clerke and the Forsters, are united in admiration. It was an admiration, on the whole, of male beauty; for few women were seen. The men were tattooed in bold designs from
head to foot, and wore no more than a breech-clout—indeed, ten degrees south of the equator, needed no more. The women, like those of Tahiti, were clothed in tapa
skirts and cloaks. There was also ornamental wear, such as the plaited fillets round many heads, fronted with shell, stuck with the long feathers of cocks and tropic birds, or a sort of wooden ruff decorated with red seeds. The favourite weapons appeared to be slings and clubs. The people who cooked and ate within the captain's observation were dirty in both employments: ‘I know not if all are so, the actions of a few individuals are not sufficient to fix a Custom to a whole Nation.’1
He saw nothing of their other conditions of life, except houses and strongholds high up on the ridges, and people passing the steep tracks, through his telescope. He had too much to do below, perhaps was not yet sufficiently restored to vigour, to go exploring on those paths. Wales did, and Clerke, and George Forster
, and other gentlemen, and had no unpleasant experience; indeed Wales met no person, house or plantation, not even a single fruit tree. He would have had to toil a good deal farther for richness of cultivation. Cook would not let anyone go to the highest summits, for fear of attack. Clerke, who found it hard not to like people, thought they had passed the days ‘very agreeably among these good Folks’, and that want had been abundantly relieved. There was the usual ‘affinity’ noticed; Odiddy's conversation was understood and returned. Hodges had done his drawing. The captain directed his course for Tahiti, ‘likewise with a view of falling in with Some of those isles discovered by former Navigators whose Situations are not well determined.’2
It was a course which would take him through the more northerly Tuamotus, where some of the isles touched on by Schouten and Le Maire, Roggeveen, Byron undoubtedly lay. For four days of fine weather he sailed, shortening sail at night, and on the fifth sighted the first atoll, another soon after. It rose from unfathomable depths, like most of the other low isles in this sea (to use Cook's words), a narrow string of islets lying in an oval connected together by a coral reef, the whole enclosing a lagoon or lake of salt water of eight or ten leagues round. Cook sent Gilbert the master to examine a small opening in the reef, followed, as the natives seemed not unfriendly, by two boats to make a landing and give Forster a chance to collect some plants. Neither he nor Cook had, it is to be remembered, looked at an atoll closely before. The islet beach was their limit: the people were not, after all, very friendly, though they exchanged a few dogs and coconuts for value received. Two or three
guns were fired overhead from the ship, to indicate that the visitors had not been driven off by superior strength; next morning, after viewing briefly the neighbour atoll, Cook continued on his course. He had, as he made no doubt, just renewed a discovery previously made by Byron, in 1765, and by Roggeveen in 1722, which Byron had called King George's Island; the first island was Takaroa, the second Takapoto. At the first Byron had found the people hostile, and in a skirmish several of them were killed, so it is hardly surprising that their attitude towards these new visitors was not quite one of welcome. Cook was pleased, however, to have excellent lunar observations for the longitude, which, checked against ‘the watch’ at Tahiti, would enable him to correct all Byron's positions. Smooth water persuaded him that he was not free yet of what he called ‘drowned isles’, and with a healthy respect for coral reefs he spent two successive nights plying under his topsails. In between them—it was 19 April—he discovered four more atolls, the group he called ‘Palliser's Isles
in honour of my worthy friend’;1
and then, finding a great swell rolling in from the south, he felt he was past his dangers. On 21 April he saw the high land of Tahiti, the following morning he was anchored in Matavai Bay.