The Life of Captain James Cook
XXII — Last Days at Tahiti
Last Days at Tahiti
It was a four weeks' passage from Tonga to Tahiti, at first with north-easterly, later with more favouring winds: a passage broken by only one untoward incident and one new discovery. The untoward incident was a sudden heavy squall in the evening of 29 July, which blew two of Cook's staysails to pieces and did worse to the Discovery, carrying away her maintopmast and causing other damage—fortunately without making for much delay. The discovery, on 9 August, was that of the high island Tubuai, one of the Austral group, in latitude 23°25′ S, a fellow of Rurutu, encountered on the first voyage. The usual canoes approached the ships, without coming alongside. Cook saw no advantage in landing, altered his course to the north, and on the 12th made both the sign-post island Mehetia and Tahiti itself. He was not far from Vaitepiha Bay, but a series of baffling airs and squalls kept him from anchoring there until the next morning. Meanwhile he had his first visitors, learnt that two ships, which must have been Spanish, had called at the island twice since his last departure, and that Spaniards had lived there for almost a year; and had the spectacle before his eyes of Omai, the returning hero. This was much as Cook had foreseen. The hero was ignored until it was found he had red feathers with him. Then he became a dupe. He was not the only one who had red feathers: next morning at daybreak, before the ships had even moved into harbour, they were surrounded by a multitude of canoes and people, and 'not more feathers than might be got from a Tom tit would purchase a hog of 40 or 50 pound weight'.1 Trade throve. At last anchors went down, Omai's sister came on board, and at last he was welcomed for his own sake. Cook at once began to inspect his provisions and set his caulkers to work; and went on shore.
1 Journals III, 187.
1 Journals III, 189.
It rained for two days. The people nevertheless flocked to the place with hogs and fruit in the hope of red feathers, Cook made the acquaintance of the young chief and exchanged names and presents with him; when the weather cleared set off some fireworks for the general delectation; and visited what his officers had taken for a Roman Catholic chapel, and turned out to be the decorated house where the embalmed corpse of the last Vehiatua was laid in state, a fata tupapau, an extremely tapu spot. He met other chiefs, and one or two oddities—a man who was said by Omai to be the god of Borabora, and did bear the god's name, Oro; another man said to be possessed of the spirit of an atua, or god, who squeaked, and was probably mad; but nothing occurred that could detain him long from what he considered to be the real centre of Tahitian life at Matavai Bay, and to that bay he steered on 23 August. He was to remain there till the end of September, and he could not complain of the quality of his refreshment.
1 ibid., 194.
There were other things to do than to bestow gifts, tasks that kept seamen from gazing enraptured at too many 'libidinous' dances. The Discovery's main mast, which had suffered in the squall in mid-ocean, was taken ashore and repaired, as were sails and water-casks; Cook had one of his vegetable gardens made and planted, though doubtful whether it would be looked after. Shaddock trees, however, seedlings from Tonga, were to flourish, as Nelson the gardener, who put them in, was to find when he revisited Tahiti with Bligh eleven years later. There was the usual wooding and watering and work about the ships. There was the first of several reports of Spanish ships at Vaitepiha, and this first one was so persuasive that Cook sent a boat to investigate, and at the same time put his own ships in a state of defence, not knowing whether England and Spain were then at peace or war. As all these fictions came from Taiarapu men, he concluded that they aimed at getting him away from Matavai—in which conclusion he was no doubt quite right; for other parts of the island might well think that Matavai, and Tu, were getting far more attention and profit from the visitors than were their due. Tu was not generally liked.
Indeed, it is difficult to find anybody who liked Tu. Cook certainly did not warm to him. Yet his position as an ari'i rahi, or high chief, gave him a leading importance, his participation in certain ceremonies page 553 was essential; and thus Cook was able to take advantage of his own importance as a familiar of the chief and witness one of the great Tahitian ceremonies, that of a human sacrifice. Cook's sight of the great war fleet drawn up in the bay in 1774 will be recollected, and its occasion, the quarrel between Mahine of Eimeo, or Moorea, and certain chiefs of Tahiti—a quarrel in which Tu was rather a laggard. The fleet had had no glorious victory, and now, three years later, the quarrel continued to smoulder, Tu still a laggard, and the chief whom Cook had then thought to be his admiral, Towha or To'ofa, still an impatient and fiery leader. Cook had been anchored but a week at Matavai when news was brought of a fresh flare up when 'Otoos friends' on Moorea 'had been obliged to fly to the Mountains'. He was present at a long debate at Tu's house, when it was decided to despatch a strong avenging force—to which, he managed to make plain in his halting Tahitian, he could contribute no aid. Nor could the later eloquence of Tu's father convert him. To'ofa was absent from the meeting, but acting independently to ensure success, killed a man for sacrifice to Oro, the god of war, and sent to demand Tu's presence at that god's marae at Utuaimahurau on the southern coast of the island. Tu agreed that Cook should accompany him, and they set out immediately in Cook's pinnace with Anderson, Webber and Omai following in a canoe. On the way they called on To'ofa who was to be absent himself, but gave Tu some feathers and 'a lean half-starved dog' for additional sacrifice. When they arrived at the marae, on a small point of land, the seamen were confined to the boat, while Cook, Anderson and Webber had to doff their hats. Before them were many men, some boys, no women; priests, attendants, the great sacrificial drums and those who beat them; the bruised corpse trussed to a pole in a small canoe at the seas edge, some miserable man caught unawares and felled with a stone. The ceremony began at once, a long and complicated affair of prayers and invocations, the production of symbolical articles, the symbolical 'eating' of one of the victim's eyes by Tu, the offering to Oro of red feathers, some of the victim's hairs, the dog's entrails, the sounding of the drums. A kingfisher, the sacred bird, made a noise in the trees: 'It is the atua', the god, Tu told Cook. A hole was dug and the dead man buried in it. A boy called out shrilly to the atua to eat of the sacrificed dog. The day ended. The next morning there were further ceremonies: renewed offerings of red feathers; the sacrifice of a pig; the careful unwrapping of the 'royal' maro of red and yellow feathers fixed to tapa cloth and edged with black; the partial unwrapping of what Cook called the 'ark' of the atua, a page 554 bundle containing something he was not allowed to see, so sacred was it—a simple object of twisted and woven coconut fibre, representing the god—and its re-wrapping with the latest offerings of red feathers added.
To all these proceedings Cook was very attentive. His description of them stands beside that of the inasi as an unpretentious classic of anthropological observation.1 Those sinister sacrificial drums, it might almost be said, throbbed round Europe, which found the paradisal island rather unpleasantly stained with blood. Nor had the eyes or the pencil of Webber been idle: he was to produce a picture that even more, in its way, became a classic, of Pacific illustration. That was for the future, but the first two days of September would remain in their minds. They went back to the ship, with Tu in company. They called again on To‘ofa. He had the morning before tried to enlist Cook as an ally, and been angered by refusal—the refusal of a professed friend to take part in his war! Now he tried again, and was even more angered by the same reply. Well, then: how did Cook like the ceremony he had just seen? Cook, having Omai to help him, did not hesitate to say that he disliked it extremely, and that the atua was much more likely to reward it with defeat than victory. This was not an entirely uncalculated answer; for he had noticed that in relation to these hostilities there were three parties, those in favour, those who strongly supported Mahine, and the third perfectly indifferent; and this being so, there was unlikely to be a satisfactory war effort. When Omai, entering into the spirit of the matter, explained that in England a chief guilty of having a man treated so would be hanged To‘ofa was outraged beyond endurance: ‘Ma ino, ma ino’—‘Vile, vile’! he bawled (we have Cook's authority for the word), and the company broke up. To‘ofa seems to have been frequently an angry man.
1 Journals III, 199–204; and for Anderson's account, 978–84.
1 Journals III, 207.
2 ibid., 209.
Friendship was evident in another direction. A message came for Tu to be present yet again, next day, at Utuaimahurau, this time for a peace-making ceremony, and Cook was invited. He could not go, he was 'much out of order', but would send King and Omai instead. With him on his return to the ship went Tu's mother and three sisters, and eight other women, who announced their intention of staying all night and curing his disorder, some sort of severe rheumatism on one side. They fell on him simultaneously, as many as could get at him, with the massage called rumi, squeezing him 'with both hands from head to foot, but more especially the parts where the pain was, till they made my bones crack and a perfect Mummy of my flesh—in short after being under their hands about a quarter of an hour I was glad to get away from them.'1 But it gave him relief, and after three more of these assaults he was cured. A day later the party returned from the peace negotiations, or celebrations, the account of which given by King proved that he was an observer not unworthy of Cook.
1 Journals III, 214.
Light westerly breezes and calms detained the ships in the bay a few days longer. At length in the afternoon of 29 September an easterly sprang up, Matavai Bay was saluted with seven guns, Cook obliged Tu with a short run out to sea, and then bore away for Moorea.
One may find it rather odd, as Cook did himself, that he had not before visited this high island, so close to Tahiti and from it visually so striking. He had been told that there were no harbours, which could have been easily enough verified: in fact there were on the north side two excellent harbours, easily accessible through the reef, and others on the eastern coast. One wishes, now that he did pay his visit, that the episode had not happened; for it left him with regrets. It leaves the reader of his journal both regretful and baffled, as at some odd unintelligible phenomenon.
1 Bligh saw it in 1788. 'Captn. Cooks Picture which was left by him in 1777 and drawn by Mr Webber was brought to me, With a request to repair it. They said it came from Otoo, that it was Toote Errie no Otaheite. They said Toote told Otoo when he gave it him, that when his son came out he must show it him, and they would always be good Friends, Excepting a little of the background [of] the Picture being eat off, it was not at all defaced. The frame wanted a little repair and as all came within my abilities I assured them it should be done and they left it.'—Log of the Bounty, I, 372–3. Cook's midshipman John Watts, when lieutenant in the Lady Penrhyn, homeward bound from Botany Bay, also revisited Tahiti in 1788, before Bligh, and had seen the picture.—Phillip, Voyage to Botany Bay (1789), 233–4.
1 The neighbouring bay Paopao has no right to the name Cook's Bay which has been given to it.
2 Journals III, 232.
'This bloody advice', says Cook, 'I could not follow', but he behaved as if a cold rage had taken possession of him. On Thursday the 9th he marched a strong party right over the island, a hot and wearing journey, burning houses and war-canoes, and being met on the other side by Williamson with three armed boats; on Friday the 10th he warned Mahine by messenger that if the goat were not delivered up he would not leave a canoe on the island, and broke up three or four on the beach at once, taking the timber to build a house for Omai. Then he went to the neighbouring harbour of Paopao and burnt on broke up twice as many, as well as houses. Omai and the sailors took an enthusiastic part in the destruction, and plundered with joy. When he got back to Opunohu in the evening the goat was there. 'Thus the troublesome, and rather unfortunate affair ended, which could not be more regreted on the part of the Natives than it was on mine.'3 No doubt this was his conclusion; but some of his men, as at Tonga, were troubled. Why had he not taken a chief as a hostage? Why should this people, having suffered from To'ofa, suffer also from them? Canoes were laboriously built. Clerke summed up the case for destruction: 'every social attention … the Devil put it in their Heads, to fall in Love with the Goats … strange perverseness … foolish and unaccountable.'4 The sorrowful King was candid on the other side.
1 ibid., 229.
3 ibid., 231–2.
4 More at length—' … these good people, whose ridiculous conduct in stealing those Goats, and most absurd obstinacy in keeping them, has brought upon them such damages, inflicted as retaliation and punishment, as they will not recover from these many months to come; but it was wholly their own seeking; we sollicited their friendship at our arrival by every social attention, and were upon the best of Terms, till the Devil put it in their Heads, to fall in Love with the Goats: when they had taken these, every gentle method was tryed to recover them, and the consequences of their obstinacy, very clearly and repeatedly explained to them, before any destructive Step was taken; but their strange perverscness in this Business, is I think equally foolish and unaccountable.'—Journals III, 232, n. 1.
Not being able to account for Capn Cooks precipitate proceeding in this business, I cannot think it justifiable; less destructive measures might have been adopted & the end gain'd, whether it was simply to get what was of little value or Consequence back again or in future to deter them from thefts; I doubt whether our Ideas of propriety in punishing so many innocent people for the crimes of a few, will be ever reconcileable to any principle one can form of justice.1
Next morning friendship seemed to be restored, to judge from the amount of fruit brought early to barter. We may doubt its reality: 'in future they may fear, but never love us', King had added. But there was not time for proof. Cook had been delayed three days beyond his intention. That same morning he put out for Huahine.
1 Journals III, 1383.
2 ibid. Bayly noted (13 October) Cook 'a little indisposed at present'. ibid., 233, n. 4.
29. Stählin's map of Russian discoveries, 1774 In An Account of the New Northern Archipelago (London, 1774), by Jacob von Stählin
30a. Captain James King, after Samuel Shelley Medallion engraving by L. Hogg
31. Christmas Harbour, Kerguelen's Land Water-colour drawing by William Ellis
32. 'Cook's interview with Natives in Adventure Bay, Van Diemen's Land, 29 January 1777' Unsigned drawing
Although Ori the old chief had been deprived of power and was now at Raiatea the arrival of the ships had brought all the principal people together, and they were more important for Cook's purpose than the new titular ari'i rahi of the island, a boy eight or ten years old. After the ceremonies, usual at Huahine, of presentations to the gods as well as the chief, made as impressive by Omai as possible, Cook came at once to the point. He wanted properly conducted relations, he wanted them to make over a piece of land for Omai's settlement, failing which Cook would carry him on to Raiatea, but he would neither aid nor permit any action against the Borabora people. A spokesman rose up and announced with magnificent hyperbole that the whole island and everything in it was Cook's: let him give Omai what he liked. Omai was delighted. Cook preferred something less expansive, and finally a piece of land on the shore of the harbour, something over two hundred yards square, was settled on, at the exchange rate of fifteen axes, with beads and other trifles. In the next few days the ships' carpenters were set to putting up a house, while other hands planted shaddocks, the rescued vines from Tahiti, pine-apples, melons and other desirable vegetables, and nearby Cook established his observatories and trading post. The house was built with as few nails as possible, as a precaution against its being pulled down for their sake; and Cook, thinking of the belongings he had preserved for Omai, and the envy they would bring him, advised him to cultivate some of the most important chiefs by sharing a part of them out as an insurance premium; adding a statement for general consumption that when in due course he came back there would certainly be weighty resentment shown if Omai were worse off. Omai was sensible enough to take his advice; sensible enough also to trade back to the ships a number of the articles for which neither he nor the otherwise rapturously gazing multitude had a use. He kept the barrel organ and the compass and the toys, but as for the wares of British domesticity—he 'now found that a baked hog eat better than a boiled one, that a plantain leafe page 562 made as good a dish or plate as pewter and that a Cocoanut shell was as good to drink out of as a black-jack'; and he went for hatchets.
Omai was concerned in another matter, which proved troublesome. More than a week went by before anything appreciable was stolen—a week in which, apart from building and planting, the only notable event was a tremendous but unavailing onslaught on the Resolution's cockroaches—and then on the evening of the 22nd a sextant was taken from Bayly's observatory. A dramatic performance was in progress: Cook put a stop to it and again threatened punishment worse than that at Moorea if both sextant and thief were not delivered up. The criminal, pointed out sitting calmly in the audience denied the crime; Omai flourished a sword and said he would run him through; the chiefs all fled; Cook, a little in doubt, sent the man on board the ship and put him in irons. Omai, by threats and promises wormed a confession out of him, and in the morning the sextant was found unharmed where he had hidden it. He appeared to be 'a hardened Scounderal', says Cook; 'I punished him with greater severity than I had ever done any one before and then dismiss'd him.'1 That is, this time the man was both shaved and lost his ears. He was not deterred from thoughts of revenge; next night he fell on Omai's garden and destroyed vines and cabbages, following this up with a public promise to kill the owner and burn his house as soon as the ships were gone. Omai may well have been perturbed; for the man was from Borabora and had followers. Cook seized him and put him in irons again, with a view to deporting him from the island, at which the Huahine people were not displeased. Others expected to see him shot. In the early morning of the 30th the sentry standing over him, and the whole watch on the quarterdeck, went to sleep, and he escaped clean away. Cook concluded that he had been able to reach the binnacle drawer, where the key of the irons was kept, and release himself; and Cook was undoubtedly in a fury. Harvey, the mate of the watch, veteran of both the previous voyages, was disrated to midshipman and sent on board the Discovery out of his sight; Mackay the midshipman turned before the mast; Morris the marine, the sentry, given a dozen strokes of the lash on three successive days.
1 Journals III, 236.
1 ibid., 240–1.
Fine girls on board were not, it seems, enough. Another sentry got into trouble. Just before midnight between the 12th and 13th, the time of his relief, John Harrison, marine, of the Resolution, vanished from his post at the observatories and took his arms with him. When morning came Cook got news which way he had gone and sent a party after him, unsuccessfully. The following morning Orio was asked, and promised, to apprehend him; but did not. That day some thefts were committed, and most of the people, including Orio, fled in fear of reprisals. This was the time, thought Cook, to insist on the delivery of the deserter and the following morning himself set off with two armed boats and a native guide for the other side of the island, where he heard that Harrison had taken refuge. He picked up Orio on the way, and leaving the boats, 'marched briskly' up to surprise the stronghold. Needless: the only person surprised was poor Harrison, at his ease in a native house in native dress between two women. It is possible that Cook did not find this little excursion unpleasant; for he uses calm language. The two women page 565 rose up to plead for their friend; 'but as it was necessary to descourage such proceedings, I frown'd upon them and bid them begone, at which they burst into tears and walked off.'1 The peace offering of the local chief was equally abruptly rejected, the captain immediately returned with his prisoner, and 'harmony was again restored.' Harrison, a simple person, explained himself to Cook, and at greater length to others. His particular trouble was, put briefly, 'the engaging females'.2 It will be recollected that Cook, though he would not tolerate desertion, was not altogether unsympathetic to deserters; and this time, considering that the man had stayed at his post almost until relieved, he inflicted only a moderate punishment.
Not every sailor was moved purely by female blandishments. The idyllic life had other aspects, and there were many invitations quite pressing. There must, after so many weeks in the islands, have been a great deal of talk—of what Alexander Home called 'the spirit of Desertion'. Cook felt it necessary to harangue his crew again. We have more than one witness to this occasion: perhaps the best is the admiring, slightly incoherent Home.
Upon the discovery of this spirit of desertion Captain Cook Turned his men up and Made a Long speech on that head. He Made use both of Entreateys and Threats and with a Deal of Art and Eloquence, for he could speak much to the purpose but this was but one of the Smallest Ackomplishments of that Excellent man. Amoungst Other things he told them they Might run off if they pleased. But they might Depend upon it he would Recover them again: that in Such a Case he had Nothing to do but to seize their Chiefs and although they Might like them very well to stay Amoungst them yet he knew for certain that they liked their Cheifs far better and Indeed with such a degree of partiality that they would Not give A Cheif for A Hundred of us, and they all Must know that his Authority over these Isles was so great that Never Man had a people More under his Command or At his Devotion. They Might fly if they pleased to Omiah King Ottou or to the Most distant Country known to these people. His authority would bring them back and Dead or Alive he'd have them.3
1 Journals III, 244.
2 The phrase is that of William Griffin, the Resolution's cooper.—ibid., 247, n. 1, in which note are quoted other tributes.
3 ibid., cxiii, from the Ms in the National Library of Australia, Canberra.
Mouat was the son of Captain Mouat of the navy, who had commanded one of Byron's ships, and to Cook's determination to recover a deserter were added both a wish to stop a young man, however foolish, from blasting his life and a sense of duty to a brother officer. Clerke, although ill, first went fruitlessly with two armed boats and a party of marines to the northern part of the island. Cook then took on the chase, having been told the two had moved to Tahaa, the island a mile or two north of Raiatea, and within the same reef. His expedition also was fruitless; they had fled to Borabora. It was now the 25th. Next morning Orio, his son, daughter and son-in-law came on board the Resolution. Cook passed word to Clerke, who was also there, to invite the young people on board his ship and make them hostages, and Orio was invited to secure their release by reclaiming the deserters. He was not, thought Cook, who suspected him of general enticement, being unduly put upon in thus being made responsible; and he did immediately despatch a canoe to Puni, the great chief of Borabora, with the request to seize the men, wherever they were, and send them back. To keep track of everybody else, the ships' companies were mustered morning and evening. Meanwhile a different drama had begun to centre on the Discovery. Poetua of the conquering charms, her husband and her brother were all three particular friends of Clerke, and in no fear for their safety settled down comfortably in the great cabin with a sentry at the door; but outside the forces of formal distress were released. It is imperative to use the words of Clerke.
The News of their Confinement of course was blaz'd instantaneously throughout the Isle; old Oreo was half mad, and within an hour afterwards we had a most numerous Congregation of Women under the Stern, cutting their Heads with Sharks Teeth and lamenting the Fate of the Prisoners, in so melancholy a howl, as render'd the Ship whilst it lasted, which was 2 or 3 Hours, a most wretched Habitation; nobody cou'd help in some measure being affected by it; it destroyed the spirits of the Prisoners altogether, who lost all their Chearfullness and joined in this cursed dismal Howl, I made use of every method I cou'd suggest to get them away, but all to no purpose, there they wou'd stand and bleed and cry, till their Strength was exhausted, and they cou'd act the farce no longer. When we got rid of these Tragedians, I soon recover'd my Friends and we set down to Dinner together very chearfully.1
1 Journals III, 1318.
Thereafter half a dozen old women came daily with 'a little serenade', but the main action was on shore, and principally on this first day.
1 We hear of another prospective desertion from Samwell.—‘It is something remarkable that at this time another of the Discovery's People was on the point of deserting and had just embarked in a Canoe for that purpose, when hearing our Boats firing after the Canoes which were paddling out of the Bay & seeing them pull after them immediately concluded they were in pursuit of him, & therefore paddled ashore as fast as he could where joining those people who were going to Captn Clerke's Assistance, he went on board the Ship again witht being in the least suspected of the Design he had just been attempting to put in Execution, & it was not till some time after that he informed his Shipmates of it.' A few days later Samwell himself and a friend, bathing alongside their vessel, took it into their heads to swim ashore, where they informed the people they had deserted, but received scant sympathy and were told to go back again.—ibid., 1077, 1078.
The ships had already been moved from their moorings, and there was nothing but the wind to keep them longer in harbour. Hulls, masts, yards, rigging, sails had all been overhauled. The lamenting women—‘our Otaheite sweethearts’1—were all sent away, loaded with their lovers' gifts. The last presents had been given—the goats saved from Moorea, an English boar and sow to improve the native breed (before long the native breed all through the islands was improved out of existence). Never had a crew been better fed for weeks on end: until the last day the hogs and plantains came tumbling in—indeed so many hogs were here obtained that quantities had to be salted down. The ships' bread had already been picked over and the rotten part destroyed at Tahiti and Huahine. What could be done to drive away the vermin had been done. No complaints are extant on the deprivation of grog. Both ships' companies were not only well-fed but healthy, except for the wretched gonorrhea they had given and acquired from Tahiti, and a little 'yellow jaundice' which is hard to account for.2 There were two other exceptions to the clean bill of health, and in neither did the sensual island joys play a part: they were the doomed men Anderson and Clerke. Clerke's uncertainty of health was obvious; Anderson could tell very well what was wrong with him, and Anderson had no illusion about himself. We have a story, which there is no reason to disbelieve, from Burney, who had it from Anderson. At Tahiti, records Burney,
Anderson represented to Captain Clerke their inability to encounter the severities of a frozen climate, and they mutually agreed to ask leave of Captain Cook to resign their situations, that they might remain where they were, and trust themselves to the care of the natives, as the only hope left them of being restored to health. When the time approached for the ships to sail, Captain Clerke's papers and accounts were not in order; and as we were next bound to Huaheine, one of the Society Islands, it might answer their purpose as well to quit the ship there as at Otaheite. At Huaheine, the same thing happened, and the execution of their plan was deferred to our going to Ulietea, the next island. At Ulietea, the ships remained above a month; but that time did not suffice Captain Clerke for the settlement of his accounts. As Captain Cook proposed to stop at Bolabola, the last of
1 The phrase is Samwell's.—ibid., 1078.page 569 the Society Islands, Mr. Anderson consented to the postponement of their intention to our arrival at that place; and there I believe Captain Clerke, if the opportunity had not failed, would have really landed and settled.1
2 Nor, probably, did it last long. The information comes from Bayly, 13 October, just after they had arrived at Huahine: 'Omi is very ill at present & Capt Cook is a little indisposed at present… We have 1/2 of our people ill with the fowl disease & 4 or 5 has had the Yallow jaundice.'—ibid., 233, n. 4. Nobody else mentions Omai's illness, and the nature of Cook's indisposition is undefined.
This is not a story of mutiny. Anderson, not yet thirty, able and clearsighted, might well have thought the chance of life and scientific work in the islands worth taking; Clerke might well have been moved by the arguments of so rational a man. Then why, in all those weeks, could Clerke not get his papers and accounts into order? The task could not have been so formidable; Gore, who would have succeeded him, would have had no difficulty in understanding them, and would have made an adequate commander of the Discovery. It is improbable, one feels, that Clerke was really willing to leave his ship: probable from what we know of him, that what he failed to master was not his accounts but his sense of duty and his loyalty to his own commander.
It is true that Cook intended to stay a day or two at Borabora, previously unvisited by him. He had heard that the chief Puni had one of the anchors lost by Bougainville at Hitiaa in Tahiti in 1768. This he hoped to acquire, not for use as an anchor, but as old iron which could be converted by the armourer into hatchets and other articles of trade. When, therefore, after a week of waiting, on 7 December a light north-easterly breeze at last sprang up, he set all the boats to towing and, once outside the harbour, steered for Borabora, high-peaked, steep and craggy.
1 Burney, Chronological History of North-Eastern Voyages of Discovery (London, 1819), 233–4.
It may be that Cook was struck with a sudden impatience. He had lost a season, but he was early with the new season, and he would waste none of it. His men were refreshed. There was a great amount of ocean still to be crossed, and beyond it waited the coast of America. It may even be that as he gave the order to steer north, he had the sense of relief. That was not the sense that attended the generality of the ships' companies, if George Gilbert spoke truly for them: 'We left these Islands with the greatest regret, immaginable; as supposing all the pleasures of the voyage to be now at an end: Having nothing to expect in future but excess of cold, Hunger, and every kind of hardship, and distress … the Idea of which render'd us quite dejected.'1 There were pleasures yet stored up; but it was true, there were also miseries.
1 Journals III, 256, n. 1.