The North-west Coast
Thick hazy weather, a tumbling barometer, all the signs were of a storm from the south; but Cook was anxious to get to sea. Scarcely were the ships outside the sound than the storm fell on them with an instant shift of the wind, squalls, rain and a darkness that made it impossible to see the length of either ship; and to avoid a lee shore again they stretched off to the south-west with all the sail they could bear. Next morning they were clear of the coast, and steered northwest, parallel with what Cook judged to be its trend. As the day wore on the storm increased to a hurricane, and there was nothing to do but lie to. It was just at this time, in the early afternoon—so soon after all the work done in harbour—that the Resolution seemed to have sprung a leak, 'which at first alarmed us not a little'; and if Cook was alarmed not a little, what must have been the feelings of others? The fish room, in the after part of the ship, was full of water. There was a leak, but not a serious one; the sound of water rushing in was rather the sound of water washing about, as the coals which lay under the casks of fish kept it from the pumps; bailing and clearing made it possible for one pump to control the danger; apprehension faded. But this unpleasant storm, with some intervals, lasted for most of five days, during which Cook was out of sight of land—out of its sight, that is, for six degrees of latitude; driven right outside—or rather keeping sedulously clear of—the northern part of Vancouver Island, the Queen Charlotte Islands, and Prince of Wales Island. At least he was increasing his latitude, and so far the gale was favourable. In the early morning of 30 April he altered course in order to make the land, 'regreting very much that I could not do it sooner, especially as we were passing the place where Geographers have placed the pretended Strait of Admiral de Fonte.' This fabled admiral's strait, it will be remembered, or river Los Reyes, lay in latitude 53° N. He registered at once his scorn and his reason.
For my own part, I give no credet to such vague and improbable stories, that carry their own confutation along with them nevertheless I was very
desirous of keeping the Coast aboard in order to clear up this point beyond dispute; but it would have been highly imprudent in me to have ingaged with the land in such exceeding tempestious weather, or to have lost the advantage of a fair wind by waiting for better weather.1
When he sighted land again he was in latitude 55° 20′, in the evening of I May: a broken coast it was, but he could not distinguish the islands and islets which formed its bays and harbours. Not Spaniards, but Chirikov and Bering were now the predecessors in his mind; he talked of putting into harbour to repair the leak, and oh! thought King and others, that providence would lead them to rescue the miserable men lost by Chirikov hereabouts, surely, thirty-seven years before. Cook was more of a realist: the leak having become inconsequential he would not sacrifice a favourable wind for so romantically improbable a notion.
Once more in sight of that wild tremendous landscape he was determined to keep it in sight, whatever the wind. He would not only remark a general trend of the coast, but fix upon it such an intent gaze that if he could not chart every inch of it, and every inch of the waters lying behind islands and long projections of land, he could at least make fair inferences, and suggestions which his successors would more often verify than deny. To realise how intently he gazed, one must oneself follow slowly and intently the lines of his journal, with their constant record of positions and bearings, with the chart before one's eyes. No swift reading will do. With Mount Edgecumbe and Cape Edgecumbe, in latitude 57°, he resumes his naming of the geographical features, and it is pleasant to record that before long he has a Cape Fairweather to balance the Foulweather of early March. Rising over it was Mount Fairweather, the highest of a ridge parallel to the shore, covered with snow from top to bottom; and then appeared the 18,000 foot peak of what must be Bering's Mount St Elias. These early days of May were days of light airs and calms: 'We are forwarding our business in tracing the Coast, but our breeze enables us to get on but very leisurely', writes Clerke on the 6th; and on the 7th, 'We continue to have most extraordinary fine Weather, with such gentle Breezes that we just crawl along shore'; and Cook could hoist out a boat for the carpenters to work on the leak. He was most anxious to identify Bering's anchorage, but at his distance off shore—some eight leagues—found this difficult. We must turn from his journal to his log and back again, over a period of five days and longer, to see how his mind wavered, set, and then
went back again;1
and perhaps the very process of crawling, instead of resolving his doubts, helped to extend them. He had little to go on: only Müller's account of Bering's voyage, and Müller's map. The bay he first decided upon, and charted, and called 'Behring's Bay', was not in fact a bay at all, but (as Vancouver later showed) a deception of low land let into mountains, though he thought he could see low land behind it. Thus on May 6. Four days later, by which time he was beginning to doubt his first identification of Mount St Elias, he found another bay, a real one, only about half a degree farther up the coast, behind a point shooting out towards a small high woody island. This bay, he now supposed, must be the anchorage he sought, and there he might anchor himself to stop the leak which had resisted all efforts at sea. There lay Bering's St Elias Island. The trifling difference of latitude between the reality and the 'Russian Map' could be ignored. He was correct. Why then does he say—again in his log—'On re-considering this matter, I find, this cannot be the place where Bering Anchored, but rather I think it to be the place we passed on the 6th'? He does not explain his reconsiderations, as he has failed to explain reconsiderations once or twice before. Nor has he finished reconsidering. A fortnight later, still trying to determine a point in Bering's track, and confessing near defeat, he casts back. Müller's account is too much abridged, his chart too inaccurate. Bering seems 'to have fell in with the Coast near Mount Fair weather, but I am by no means certain that the Bay to which I have given his Name is the place where he anchored, nor do I know that Mount St
Elias is the same as the one to which he gave that name and as to Cape St
Elias I can form no judgement where it lies'.2
The whole process of observation and thought is interesting; it illustrates the attention he paid not only to the coast he could see, but to the only map of that coast he had, and to the history and memory of a man he felt he must respect.
The wind shifting to north on the morning of 11 May, he abandoned the idea of anchoring within the bay and bore up for the west end of the island: later, the wind dropping away, he landed intending to climb its heights and take a view. He found that this also would take too long, and contented himself with leaving a bottle containing the usual inscription and some of the Maundy money presented to him by his friend Dr Kaye.3
He did not forget his promise to Dr
Kaye, whose name he gave to the island, as a mark of 'esteem and regard', which name, like Bering's of St Elias, has disappeared in favour of the more native one of Kayak Island. But the point and the bay, which might, if it had not been for those unlucky reconsiderations, have justly commemorated Bering, remain Cape Suckling, after the relatively unimportant captain, Maurice Suckling, who succeeded Palliser as Comptroller of the Navy; and Controller (for Cook's Comptrollers) Bay.
After getting out to sea a few leagues, Cook continued to make north-west. He was, in modern terms, sailing into the head of the Gulf of Alaska—the north-east corner, as it were, of the Pacific Ocean
; as he went he could see that the coast lay nearly east and west and then trended south-west. At noon on the 12th, when he was in latitude 61°11′, he could see also to the WNW the east point of a large inlet. It was at this point that the coast changed direction, and that he was confronted with a complete and critical conflict in his maps. Müller or Stählin? We know very well that to get by sea from 61° N on the coast of America to 65° N Cook would have to turn inside the corner and follow the Alaskan peninsula and the Aleutian islands south-west as Müller's map indicated, however conjectural the shading of his line. We know very well that Cook was instructed not to lose time in exploring rivers or inlets, as he proceeded northward on the American coast until he arrived at the latitude of 65° N. 'Rivers or inlets' implies a suspected passage through the continent. Why then did Cook, who had lost so much time already, now proceed to lose more in precisely this fashion? Simply because the inlets he explored led northward: they indeed might provide the true direction of the American coast, apart from off-lying islands, and take him most directly to latitude 65°. They had nothing to do, in his mind, with a north-west passage. Put in modern terms again, the question was how he could get most quickly from the point he saw 'WNW 3 leagues distant', modern Cape Hinchinbrook, into the Bering Sea
? He abandoned Müller and took to Stählin. To use his own words, the southward inclination of the coast was 'a direction so contrary to the Modern Charts, founded upon the late Russian discoveries, that we had reason to expect that by the inlet before us we should find a passage to the North, and that the land to the West and Sw
was nothing but a group of islands.'1
We can, if we like, carry this reasoning back to London, before the ships ever left home. Cook has a subsidiary motive. 'Besides the wind was now at Se
and we were threatened with both a fog and a storm and I wanted to get
into some place to stop the leak before we incountered a nother gale.' So he hauled close round the cape and anchored in a little cove just within. He was not the only Resolution
man to feel some heightening of curiosity. King, who identifies Stählin with Maty his translator, looked from the ship even with excitement: 'We have Dr
Matys map of the N0
ern Archipelago constantly in our hands, expecting every opening to the N0
ward will afford us an opportunity to seperate the Continent… We are kept in a constant suspense….'1
And Gore begins a wildly romantic fortnight of his life by conferring on Cook's Cape Hinchingbrook the name Cape Hold with Hope.
When the fog cleared, intermittently, there seemed to be clear sea ahead in one direction at least. Men were set to fish, not very successfully; Gore went over to some small rocky islands to see if he could shoot anything to eat, but he had hardly reached them before two boatloads of Indians appeared and he thought best to return. Indian or Eskimo it is hard to say, because of the mixing of cultures in that place; certainly their canoes, of wooden framework covered with skins, were quite different from those of Nootka Sound, as was the garb they wore, of skins somewhat in the fashion of English waggoners' frocks. They seemed friendly though they would not come close. Next morning, in improving weather, Cook weighed again to look for some place more suitable for repairing the leak than the rather exposed cove he was in, sailing steadily north till late afternoon, when he found a promising harbour on the eastern side of the sound. It was as well; for the weather had gone back, hard squalls with rain turned into violent squalls which nevertheless did not dissipate a thick fog, and by the time darkness had fallen, leading on an 'exceeding stormy' night, he was glad to be anchored securely in that harbour. Bad weather did not deter further Indian visitors in the night, at first three men in kayaks who bore the symbols of friendship, wands with large feathers or birds' wings tied to them, then many more. Some of these ventured on board—once sailors had become hostages by stepping into their boats—and were prepared to trade for a few beads anything they had, even fine seaotter skins. They did not stay long, fortunately, being like other native peoples of a 'thievish' disposition. Indeed, during the course of the following day they attempted, with a sort of naive effrontery, not merely to take one of the Resolution
's boats, but to make general plunder of her consort. A part of them finding the Discovery
's deck empty, except for one or two men, while her company were at dinner,
immediately sent to their fellows at the Resolution
to reinforce them, drew their knives, invaded the vessel and began to sweep it clean. At the alarm the men from below tumbled up with cutlasses, and the Indians tumbled overboard, rather deliberately, empty-handed but in the best of tempers. At this moment they saw the Resolution
's boat out sounding, and all made for her. The officer in charge hastened back to the ship. The boat's crew were hardly on board before the Indians thrust the guard aside, cast her loose and began to tow her away. But the instant they saw a display of arms they desisted, quite unconcerned, and motioned aside the weapons. Cook could hardly feel what he was accustomed to call resentment. Surely these people must be unacquainted with fire-arms: 'for certainly if they had known any thing of their effect they never would have dar'd to take a boat from under a ships guns, in the face of above a hundred men for the most of my people were looking at them at the very time they made the attempt. However after all these tricks, we had the good fortune to leave them as ignorant as we found them, for they neither heard nor saw a musket fired unless at birds.'1
This was on 14 May, and the boat was sounding the head of the bay to see if the ship could be laid ashore to stop the leak. The gale came on as hard as before. How long it would last heaven knew. Cook therefore resolved to keel her where she was, and sent out a kedge anchor to moor her to—in which operation a maladroit seaman, tangled in the buoy rope, was nearly drowned. He survived with a badly broken leg. The day had not been without incident. The next morning the ship was given a good heel to port, the leak being in her starboard buttock,2
and the sheathing ripped off, when the oakum in the seams beneath was found to have so rotted away that two-and-half inch rope had to be stuffed in. It took two days to put the matter right, and while the carpenters were at work all the empty water casks were filled at a stream nearby. The gale had given place to fog and rain. This weather did not keep away the people of the sound, however, who brought their women to inspect the visitors, and this time Cook studied them carefully. Among the books he had on board was the History of Greenland
by the Moravian missionary David Crantz. These people, small in stature, thick set, good-looking (as Cook thought, or—to quote Clerke—'fine jolly full fac'd Fellows') were much like, though not quite like, those described by Crantz. They wore the same sort of clothing. Their fishing and
hunting instruments were exactly the same. Their boats and canoes, though structurally the same, differed in details such as the prow and the stern. They wore the Greenland clothing, with the addition, on some of the men, of a sort of body armour made of vertical slips of wood fastened together with sinews and tied at the back like European stays. The women tattooed their chins and cheeks, apparently to match the male beards, and this also seemed to be a Greenland custom. But unlike the Greenlanders were they in their passion for bone adornments to the face. Both men and women had the underpart of their lower lips bored, or slit horizontally, so that they could pass through the holes a sort of bone stud, singly or several in a row; attached to these and hanging down over the chin would be short strings of beads or bone. Inside the lip they stuck up like a second set of lower teeth. Their noses were bored for longer bones; their ears were bored all round for small ones or for beads; in addition they painted their faces black and red. With all this they managed to appear very cheerful, as Clerke noted; though by what standard Cook managed to find them good-looking it is hard to imagine. Where their affinities really lay he could not tell. Greenlanders? Esquimaux, said to be of the same nation?1
He had never seen one or the other; he must defer judgment.
At the end of the second day the weather cleared, and for the first time Cook could examine his surroundings. He called the place of his anchorage Snug Corner Bay, 'and a very snug place it is'. From the purely nautical angle he was probably right, but no one confronted with the crags and icy mountains, snows and few trees and cold sky that Webber and Ellis portray would find it other than forbidding. Certainly their waters are calm. Early next morning Cook made sail to the north-west, thinking that would be the most likely direction for any passage north; by the beginning of the afternoon he was forced to anchor again, having covered only a few leagues and escaped with difficulty the dangers of sunken rocks and a failing wind. He took thought. In the north the land seemed to close. The flood tide came from the south: 'altho this did not make wholy against a passage, it was however nothing in its favour.' He sent
Gore and Roberts to examine an arm of sea to the north, and Bligh one to the east. Roberts and Bligh came back without hope; Gore differed strongly from Roberts and apparently hoped that he had found the entrance of an actual north-west passage. Cook considered sending him out again. But in the morning—the 17th now—'as the wind… came favourable for geting out to sea I resolved to spend no more time in searching for a passage in a place that promised so little success. I, besides, considered, that if the land on the west should prove to be islands agreable to the late Russian descoveries, we could not fail of geting far enough to the north and that in good time, provided it was not spent in searching places where a passage was not only doubtful but improbable.'1
There were other arms of this sound on its western side, as well as plenty of islands, which he might possibly have searched; but his instinct was as rationally based as Gore's fancy was absurd. He turned back, learning from the native people as he did so that there was a channel to the open sea other than the one he had come in by, to the west of a large and long island lying in the entrance of the sound. Through this channel he made a slow passage, because of the rocks and small islands that studded it, light airs and a period of dead calm. It had become almost tautology to mention whale and seals, declared Clerke, and the innumerable sea fowl that so confoundedly kept their distance. In the evening of 20 May the ships were at sea again. Eight days gone by: and what was there to show for them but a stopped leak and a rough chart? The names on the chart argue a disposition in Cook to celebrate the First Lord in all parts of the globe. The whole sound is Sandwich Sound;2
the large island in the entrance bears the patronymic Montagu; we have already had the family seat in Cape Hinching-brook. Gore, for the moment a mournful romantic, confers upon the south-west point of the island a name of his own, Cape Lost Hope.
Cook steered south-west. He was off the south-eastern coast of the Kenai peninsula, turning inside the corner of the Gulf of Alaska, and now, if the land had been continuous, would have sailed down the southern coast of the Alaskan peninsula, projecting like a long finger from the main coast of the continent. But was the land continuous? On the 21st he sighted a high promontory, in latitude 59°10′—Cape Elizabeth, after the princess whose birthday that day was. No land was seen beyond it: perhaps it was the western extremity of the
coast? No, there was more land bearing WSW. He was driven off by a heavy north-west gale, came back towards Cape Elizabeth, and on the 23rd saw still more land that seemed to connect the cape with the land farther to the west. Next day he had a closer view of another cape, the north-eastern extremity of an island,1
beyond which lay the snow-covered mountains of the larger mass. Now there seemed to be not land, but a gap of open water, fifty or sixty miles of it, between the two capes. From the position of the second one, latitude 58° 15′, and Müller's account of Bering's voyage, this must be what appeared on Müller's chart as Cape St Hermogenes. Inaccurate as the chart might be, it did leave a space only doubtfully occupied by land north-east of Cape St Hermogenes, where Bering was supposed to have seen none; and here at least there was a tendency towards agreement with Stühlin's more sweeping assertion. Stühlin made the cape a treeless island, as it looked to be: 'so that every thing inspired us with hopes of finding here a passage Northward without being obliged to proceed any fa[r]ther to the South.'2
True, they were hopes only, not overstrong. King's study of the books and their maps rather depressed him; nevertheless, 'we do not like to give up all hopes of breaking thro this (as we hope) imaginary continent, although the high Snowy land to the S0
ward damps ones expectations….'3
Clerke enters his journal for 24 May:
We are still in the same predicament as yesterday in respect to our Western Gale. Here's a fine spacious opening, which this wind will not enable us to examine: as the Season now advances so fast, shou'd we leave a passage to the N'ward behind us, it wou'd be a most unfortunate incident; or on the other hand shou'd we get engaged in an extensive Sound, and after searching its various crooks & corners, find ourselves under the necessity of returning, from whence we came, it might have a most unhappy effect upon this Seasons operations.4
The heart of one man, however, rose within him. The island of the cape Gore named 'Hopes Return'. He did not make charts, but on the very useful chart that Roberts made of the inlet they were about to enter he had a coruscation of his own names, somewhat different from Cook's, inscribed— 'Cape Hope', 'Mount Welcome', 'The Gulf of Good Hope', 'The Land of Good Prospect'. Alas!
The contrary wind sank, a north-east breeze sprang up; in the morning of 25 May Cook steered into the empty space with 'Hopes Return' close aboard. He would not emerge till 6 June, with hopes blasted. He sailed immediately towards what on the 23rd he had
thought to be intermediary coast between Cape Elizabeth and that to the west: it turned out to be a group of high rocky islands, round which he manoeuvred to the west past a large promontory on his larboard hand, friendship being commemorated again in the name he gave it, Cape Douglas. At daybreak on the 26th, St Augustine's day, while in the north-east the horizon was unbroken, in the north-west there seemed to be a chain of islands: the nearest of these, a cone of vast height, he called Mount St Augustine. Between it and Cape Douglas there seemed to be a passage to the north-west. The haze cleared: Mount St Augustine certainly was an island; its fellows were the summits of a range of mountains, rising from low land everywhere visible. Cook, taking in this sight, at once came to a conclusion on which he might very well have acted and saved ten days' time. He restrained himself. 'This land was every where covered with Snow from the summits of the hills down to the very sea beach, and had every other appearence of being part of a great Continent, so that I was fully persuaided that we should find no passage by this inlet and my persevering in it was more to satisfy other people than to confirm my own opinion.'1
One suspects some argument from Gore. To depart, after only this short experiment!—and one feels that the captain, though no doubt the midshipman's despot, was not the entire dictator. He stood over to Cape Elizabeth, to examine the shore thereabouts, then west again, in a strong northerly gale, rain and thick weather. Next day, conditions having much improved, he was sailing north, past a deep bay to starboard, and anchored for the night opposite the rounded southern end, Anchor Point, of a tract of low land extending to the Nne
—'in the Middle of the inlet… but as this was supposed to be an island it did not discourage us.' An island on the evidence of the deep bay of which it formed the northern shore, perhaps; but it proved in fact to be the eastern side of almost the whole inlet, backed by a range of high mountains.
In the next few days there was slow advance only, partly because of contrary gales and squalls, occasional mist and drizzle, partly because of dangerous shoal patches—more because of the strength of the tide, which rose and fell twenty feet and in places ran like a race; the farther up the inlet the ships pushed the stronger it was, and in the end the boats could make no headway against it at all. Cook was reduced to sailing with the flood and anchoring with the ebb. He first remarked this difficulty off Anchor Point, after his stationary night there, when the Resolution
began to drive. He dropped a kedge anchor to stop her, the hawser parted, and he lost hawser and
anchor; no effort of a day's 'creeping and sweaping' by Bligh could recover them. His log betrays a touch of irritation; for 'they hooked the Hawser the first trial, but lost or spit it before it was got up to the boat and no one in the boats thought of letting go a grapling to mark the place, so that it never could be hooked again.'1
This day too he first noticed the driftwood coming down with the ebb, while the water changed colour, becoming 'thick like that in Rivers', though still as salt as the ocean. The following day, a fairly clear one, there was still no land to be seen north-north-east; the continuous ridges of cloud-covered mountains on either side showed no sign of closing in on each other. On the 30th, the ships being anchored under a bluff point on the eastern shore, facing another opposite, they had their first visit from the people of this inlet, two men in kayaks, who obviously wanted someone to land. Instead of this Cook stood with the flood over to the other side, past the opposite point, and followed that shore as it turned to the east. Between the two headlands, which here narrowed the channel, ran a 'prodigious' tide. Whether the agitation of the water was due to the strength of the stream or to rocks or shoals above them was hard to say, but Cook decided on the former. It was these two points, virtually attracted as it were, that stimulated Gore's last romantic outburst: that on the eastern shore became 'Nancy's Foreland', after his 'Favourite Female Acquaintance'; the other 'Gore's Head'. A later, less tender, cartography affirmed them to be simply East Foreland and West Foreland. Cook, also, was less tenderly employed; he was weighing the water. At low water it was perfectly fresh to the taste, and its light weight seemed conclusive, 'in so much that I was convinced that we were in a large River and Not a Strait that would communicate with the Northern Seas. But as we had proceeded so far I was desireous of having stronger proofs and therefore weighed with the next flood and plyed higher up or rather drove up with the tide for we had but little wind.'2
The last day of May and the first day of June determined the matter for Cook. Most of his men were of the same opinion as he was, but Gore still stood out. The inlet had definitely turned east. At clear intervals in misty drizzling weather there were indications that beyond an area of shoals it divided into two arms, one running directly east, the other north-east. Bligh was sent to examine the north-east arm, and returned to report a deep and navigable river for the ten or twelve miles he had been up it, between continued ridges of mountains. Cook tried to get the ships into the eastern arm, but was stopped by a breeze directly against him and by the ebb
tide; King with two boats also could make no headway against the tide. All that was found out was that the fancied large island on the eastern side of the inlet must be part of the main. The arm was called the Turnagain river. As for the inlet itself, what was its real nature? The fresh water on its surface persuaded Cook it must be a river. 'Besides this we had many other & but too evident proofs of being in a great River; such as low shores, very thick and Muddy water, large trees and all manner of dirt and rubbish floating up and down with the tide.'1
River it was not, we know, though there were plenty of rivers to carry this sort of rubbish into it; it was 'thick' and discoloured because of the glacial silt it carried, and glacial silt was a concept unknown to Cook; some of the rubbish was probably also glacial. They had traced it, ice-free, seventy leagues or more from its entrance, to latitude 61°30′, without seeing the least appearance of its source. He went on to something more general.
If the discovery of this River should prove of use, either to the present or future ages, the time spent in exploring it ought to be the less regreted, but to us who had a much greater object in View it was an essential loss; the season was advancing apace, we knew not how far we might have to proceed to the South and we were now convinced that the Continent extended farther to the west than from the Modern Charts we had reason to expect and made a passage into Baffin or Hudson bays far less probable, or at least made it of greater extent. But if I had not examined this place it would have been concluded, nay asserted that it communicated with the Sea to the North, or with one of these bays to the east.2
Even this moderate man, clearly, was not exempt from the vanity of human thought. Neither he nor King had seen with eyes, had laid down on paper the end of that eastern arm he had called the 'river' Turnagain. Sixteen years later his midshipman Vancouver came again and did both. Had the 'great and first discoverer of it', wrote Vancouver, 'dedicated one day more to its further examination, he would have spared the theoretical navigators, who have followed him in their closets, the task of ingeniously ascribing to this arm of the ocean a channel, through which a north-west passage existing according to their doctrines, might ultimately be discovered.'3
He sent King away again to land and take possession of the country and the 'river'. King's party was met by a friendly band of natives, who were happy to observe a turf turned and the flag flown, share the bottled porter in which King George's health was drunk, and accept the empty bottles. The other bottle, containing the relevant
paper and further Maundy money, the zealous officer buried under some rocks by the side of a stunted tree, 'where if it escapes the Indians, in many ages hence it may Puzle Antiquarians'.1
Anderson might therefore have moralised a little more on the pointless nature of acts of possession, but poor Anderson, two days after this first afternoon of June, was forced to stop his writing. The 'Indians' had been equally friendly whenever they had come to the ships, which was almost every day since their first appearance, flying one of their leather frocks on a pole as a sign of peace, or standing with arms spread wide. They continued to come as the ships slowly returned down the inlet. They seemed in every way like the people of Sandwich Sound, except that they had more iron, in the form of spears and long knives, and made no attempt to depart with anything that they had not acquired by honest trade. This iron must have come from people directly in touch with Russian traders, thought Cook, which these people could not be; for if Russians had been here, sea otter skins could not have been a common article of clothing. He was right. He was right, too, in thinking that though there were prospects of a very profitable fur trade on this coast, it was not one in which the British could play a great part, 'unless a northern passage is found'. Meanwhile the speculators among his men got what they could in exchange for old clothes and beads. Cook was possibly more interested in the 'large quantity of very fine Salmon', and a supply of cranberries. The country itself, what was seen of it, provided no great promise: a few trees, spruce, birch, willow, grew in a poor light soil, a few shrubs and currant bushes, a few berries, a little grass.
Cook turned his back; and as he did so the wind, which had been in his teeth for the last nine days, went round to the south. Fortunately it blew no gales, and now anchoring with the flood and tiding with the ebb, he plyed his way back. He had one lucky escape from disaster. His judgment over the agitated water between the two headlands, that it was due simply to the strength of the stream, will be remembered. He was wrong. It was on the first day of this return passage, as he sailed down the middle of the inlet, that, 'by the inattention and neglect of the Man at the lead', the Resolution
struck the eastern side of a great bank or ridge of hard sand and rock above the headlands and stuck fast.2
She at once signalled the
to anchor, which prevented her narrowly from running on the other side. No damage was done, the ship floated off with the flood, and Cook worked round the northern end of the bank into deep water and anchored. If he had had time to investigate, he might have been glad that his luck had kept him away from the bank's southern end, a cruel jungle of perpendicular rocks rising from quite deep water. Perhaps the leadsman was not highly to blame. Next day, the 3rd, while they were anchored two miles below the western headland, the mountains cleared for the first time since they came into the inlet, among them a volcano 'emitting a white smoke but no fire'.1
Cook did not know it, but he was on the edge of a restless part of the earth's surface. With the wind still southerly as he crossed over to the eastern side of the inlet and anchored, weighed, and anchored again, on the 5th he found himself at the spot where he had lost his kedge anchor. He made a last vain effort to reclaim it; weighed with the ebb; anchored for the last time inside the inlet, a little north of Cape Hinchinbrook; and in the earliest morning of 6 June, a fresh breeze springing up from the west, got under sail, passed outside the rocky islands, and stretched away for Cape St Hermogenes. That episode was over.
Cook found no name for this gash in the land. King referred to it merely as the Great River. Bayly, sharing the no doubt general feeling that they had been 'had', hit on 'Seduction River'. Gore fell silent. Later on, in London, Lord Sandwich ordered that it should be called Cook's River. Vancouver, who in the end knew more than them all, in 1792 altered the word River to Inlet. Cook summed up his feelings in his log for 6 June, in a passage that refers to both the inlets he had just explored. It is an interesting passage for more than one reason. It registers the state of his own mind—a sort of disgust at being swindled and at being a party to the process himself—while at the same time he had to admit that he had learnt something. It illustrates the fashion in which he composed his journal; for some of these phrases form the substance, expanded, distributed, of passages in the journal which hinge on different and earlier dates. Certainly in the journal he took some care to speak with less acerbity of his officers.
It is now sixteen days since we came in sight of the land before us, which time has been spent to very little purpose, and is the more to be regretted as the wind has been favourable the most of the time for ranging the Coast to the South or sw and would probably have carried us to its extremity in
that direction. I was induced, very much against my own opinion and judgment, to pursue the Course I did, as it was the opinion of some of the Officers that we should certainly find a passage to the North, and the late pretended Discoveries of the Russians tended to confirm it. Had we succeeded, a good deal of time would certainly have been saved but as we did not, nothing but a triffling point in Geography has been determined, and a River discovered that probably opens a very extensive communication with the Inland parts, and the climate seemed to be as favorable for a settlement as any part of the world under the same degree of latitude.1
'Late pretended Discoveries': the Russians are now classed with de Fonte and de Fuca. And it is unusual to find Cook referring to any point in geography as trifling. We have Clerke giving his own succinct summary: 'a fine spacious river … but a cursed unfortunate one to us'.
A cursed unfortunate one. Latitude 65° N in June? On the first day of June they were in latitude 61°30′, and turning from Stählin's map to Müller's, were confronted by the prospect of sailing WSW down a conjecturally hatched in, but none the less continental coast, to latitude 53° before they could turn north again. True, Müller showed a number of islands, but they were nothing like Stählin's; and Cook, in his three weeks of coasting, was to find a quite large number of islands—some which were without doubt islands, some which were perhaps rather a highly indented mainland coast, perhaps only islands which (to use his own phrase) locked in one behind another. In any case, in all those three weeks he saw no way through. He found a way through, finally, at a point that in no way resembled anything on Müller's map, except vaguely in latitude; and on the last day of June, as he lay in harbour on the northern side of the great projection, he was in latitude 53°55′. On the map, towards the western end of the projection, was indicated a Mt St Johns, overlooking a cluster of offshore islands, which proved of no use at all as a point of reference; the only other names to which he could refer, apart from Cape St Hermogenes (and he was not sure that he had correctly identified that) were Bering's two, Tumannoi or Foggy Island and Schumagin Island. Foggy Island, where there were so many foggy islands, nagged at him day after day, and he never did see it. Schumagin, or Shumagin, or the group of which it was one, called after a sailor whom Bering buried there, gave him surprisingly little trouble. He conferred comparatively few names of his own, and of those fewer still have survived. Overhead flew
seabirds of all kinds, sometimes in large flocks; sometimes ducks and geese and swans; seals and whales were constant companions in those waters.
Cook, with only one gale, had much better fortune with the weather than Bering had had; but it was a tedious and sometimes anxious navigation, off shores barren and rugged, brown with the dead herbage of the previous summer, fringed with steep cliffs and formidable rocks. Inland were snowy mountains; in places snow covered the lower hills and deep valleys, and came down beaches almost to the edge of the sea. Land could not always be seen; nor did the two ships always pick up the same points of land. There was only one gale: the difficulties came rather from frequent contrary, though not strong, winds, and a combination of misty, drizzling and rainy weather that gave way to fog, and fog that turned to rain and drizzle again. The first three days were clear enough, then came three on which there was hardly a sight of the coast, and when it was seen it could be all too close. The absence of a sight of the sun was embarrassing to accurate navigation and Cook is more sparing with daily positions than usual; but he never lost a chance of a sight, and when he fixes a position for some natural feature, a cape or an island, he is rarely more than a minute or two out. His journal preserves the level unimpassioned tone of a man whose only interest is observation. Not quite so Clerke: 'the confounded fog…. A thick fog and a foul Wind are rather disagreeable intruders, to people engaged in surveying and tracing a Coast'; or again, 'These have been 24 Hours more of wretched Weather for our Work, however we are getting forward as fast as we can, and hope & trust that soon, our darkness will be enlighten'd.'1 Not for almost a week more would the physical darkness be much lightened, and on one matter enlightenment never came; they were at this time not coasting the mainland at all, but a complex of islands the largest of which is Kodiak—which, though it certainly in its bulk had the look of mainland, was cut off from it by the considerable Shelikof Strait; and the existence of this was something Cook had suspected as he sailed into the 'Great River'.
On 14 June, close in with the land, he saw and named Trinity Island, a sort of small appendix to the massive Kodiak and its neighbours. From this point onwards, if the weather had been clear, he would have had most of the Alaskan peninsula in sight, behind its fringe of islands and islets. Could Trinity Island be Bering's Foggy Island? No, because Bering's island was supposed to be thirty leagues from the coast. On this day he saw his first Eskimos, two men
paddling a kayak, but they would not come near the ships. Then the wind went to the south, and he stretched out to sea for safety. He saw another island, quite clearly, and so did the Discovery
's people. Foggy Island?—he thought not. Vancouver saw it again, in the same position, in 1794; and now it has vanished. The gale came, and the journal, still in its level tone, illustrates the anxieties of that navigation. It was the 15th.
At 8, being flatered with the hopes of the weather clearing up, ster'd WNW and at 10 NW. But at Noon seeing no land and the gale increasing with a thick fog and rain, I steer'd WNW under such sail as we could haul the wind with; for I was very well apprised of the danger runing before a strong gale in a thick fog, exposed us to. It was however necessary to run some risk when the wind favoured us, for clear weather was generally accompaned with a Westerly wind. Between two and three PM land was seen through the fog bearing Nw not more than 3 or 4 Miles distant, upon which we immidiately hauled up South close to the Wind. Soon after the two Courses we had bent were split so that we had others to bring to the yards, and several others of our sails recieved considerable damage. At 9 the gale abated the weather cleared up and we got sight of the coast extending from WBS to Nnw about 4 or 5 leagues distant.1
'This was no agreeable discovery', says the log; the fog soon returned, there was little wind all night, and 'a prodigious swell' rolled them by morning half the distance towards the land. The north-eastern point of 'the Main' that could be seen Cook called Foggy Cape, in latitude 56°31′ (its modern determination is latitude 56°32′, and it is the eastern extremity of an island, Sutwik, which here masks a bay in the mainland). Lying off it eight or nine leagues (in reality about twenty miles) was an indubitable island—surely, at last, 'Foggy Island, a name given it by Behring'. He was wrong: this was one of the group called the Semidi islands; it was precisely the fog that concealed from him Bering's island, a little farther east. But the name, placed on the chart, remained; and when Vancouver in 1794 made the correct identification he called it, with a due sense of history, Chirikov island. Let Clerke be again our summary: 'I hope and trust Providence will favour us with a little clear Weather: never had a set of fellows more need of it, here's such a Labyrinth of rocks and Isles, that without a tolerable distinct vision, they will puzzle our accounts, confoundedly.'2
Providence was indeed for a few days kind, though accompanying its gift with a first day's calm. Cook lost no time in making observations for longitude and variation. Then, with a fair wind, he steered
his way into a channel between groups of islands lying parallel off the land, fearing that if he kept the main coast aboard he might mistake some point for an island, become embayed, and lose his fair wind. The group to which belonged the island of Schumagin's burial was unmistakable; from there the eye was filled with islands, 'most of them of a good height', (it seemed as the ships ran past them) 'very barren and rugged, ending in pointed rocks steep clifts and other romantic appearences'; well-watered but quite without trees or bushes and some still laden with snow, like those parts of the continent that could be seen—and this day was 19 June, mid-summer. It was on the same day that alarm was caused by guns from the Discovery
, two miles astern. But she had no sudden accident to report, merely a visit from pursuing kayaks, which had delivered, to Clerke a sort of small box containing a message written in Russian, 'as was supposed'; and it was at first supposed to come from shipwrecked sailors in distress. Cook would have none of this idea: much more likely it was some note connected with Russian trade, and in spite of an upset crew he refused to delay. He was to prove right. Russian influence was confirmed two days later. While the crew were fishing, very profitably, for halibut during a calm, three or four miles from the shore, a single man came off in his canoe, took off his cap and bowed very politely, as the Discovery
's visitors had done; he wore breeches and jacket of cloth instead of fur beneath his waterproof frock of whale-gut, and had little to barter. His physical likeness to the Sandwich Sound people was marked, but his face was unpainted and he wore no ornament in the perforation of his lip. The wind failed more than once during this period. Fortunately it did not fail so soon as to let the ships drift in the early morning of the 20th, and the weather was then clear; for of the two fearful dangers they survived on the Alaskan-Aleutian coast this provided the first. They were running westward with a gentle north-east breeze: at 2 a.m.
some breakers were seen within us at 2 Miles distance; two hours after others were seen ahead and on our larboard bow and between us and the land they were innumerable, and we did but just clear them with a south course. These breakers were occasioned by rocks some of which are above and others under water; they extend 7 leagues from the land and are very dangerous especially in thick weather, which this coast seems subject to.1
Cook never made an understatement more laconic. His seamanship must have been as masterly as it ever was, because what he had 'just cleared'—indeed he must have been within them—was the Sandman
reefs, a region still, two hundred years later, inadequately surveyed, which vessels are forthrightly warned not to enter.
As the men fished in the calm the ships lay off the Sanak islands. Over them could be seen high mainland covered with snow, some summits in particular towering above the clouds 'to a most stupendious height', the most south-westerly a pure cone, a volcano from whose top rose a column of smoke vast enough to stain the sky. But Cook was not now looking at the mainland; the great peninsula had come to an end; the volcano was Shishaldin, the highest summit, over 9000 feet, of the island of Unimak, separated from the continent by the narrowest of straits. He had arrived at the north-eastern end of the thousand mile-long thread of the Aleutian islands. Müller's hatched coast was still continuous; but the wearied student of Müller, if he cared to sail all down it, would find ample opportunities of sailing through it into an open sea. Curiously enough, Cook, who had desired and sought that open sea so long and so pertinaciously, missed his first chance to do so; and looking back, without a considerable effort to understand his mind, one may find his alternation of caution and boldness curious too. For three days the weather was dark and gloomy, with few gleams of sunshine, even when the fog did not settle down. He kept off the land, making very slowly west. On the 24th he saw land to the north-west—still, he was convinced, a continuation of the continent, though it was in fact Unimak; and to the south-west more land, obviously islands. Next day there was the unusual combination of an easterly breeze and clear weather, and the whole coast was plain. He thought he could see the mainland terminate at a point to his north-west (the end of Unimak), and a large opening between this and the neighbouring islands, and he steered for it. Then he raised land beyond the opening, which might not be part of the continent—but on the other hand might. He had second thoughts about the land to the south-west, and a recurrence of his reluctance to run any risk of embaying: if all were continent, 'the opening would be a deep bay or inlet into which, if we entered with an Easterly wind we could not so easily get out'. He turned about; and thus he turned his back on the Unimak pass, ten miles wide at its narrowest part, and quite the best passage through the Fox group of the Aleutian islands.
After getting away from the land he steered west. They were islands after all south-west of the opening he had abandoned. He passed three of them and had more to the west, but the most south-westerly part of them bore WNW. The weather in the afternoon took on its normal composition, gloom and mist turning steadily thicker,
with a fresh easterly breeze. He hauled to the south again for the night, out of danger, and at daybreak of the 26th resumed his westerly course. This time there was no visible sign of peril; indeed beyond the ship there was nothing visible at all. To quote the journal, 'Day light availed us little as the Weather was so thick that we could not see a hundred yards before us, but as the wind was now very moderate I ventured to run. At half past 4 we were alarmed at hearing the Sound of breakers on our larboard bow; on heaving the lead found 28 fathom water and the next cast 25; I immideately brought the ship to with her head to the Northward and anchored in this last depth over a bottom of Coarse Sand, and called to the Discovery who was close by us to anchor also. A few hours after, the fog cleared away a little, and it was perceived we had scaped very emminant danger …'.1 The sound of breakers had been the sound of salvation; the ships had been running straight for the shore, which was only three quarters of a mile off, the head of a bay guarded at each side by a high rock, with lesser ones attendant—so that it was disputed whether they had passed between, or somehow outside them. Cook was clear: 'Providence had conducted us through between these rocks where I should not have ventured in a clear day and to such an anchoring place that I could not have chosen a better.'2 There were other journal-keepers more inclined to indulge in sentiments of horror, terror and astonishment, but Clerke's ironical note may suffice: 'very nice pilotage, considering our perfect Ignorance of our situation'.3 Cook improved the situation by sending a boat on shore to see what it produced, and was highly pleased by the salad that was brought back.
He stayed where he was for twenty-four hours, at the end of which the fog had dispersed enough for him to weigh again, and work through one channel between islands to another leading north. But for a further day he was uncertain about the prospect. It was possible that the land might trend away to the northward; on the other hand, he might find a passage to the west or the south-west. Surely he could not be merely in another inlet! Anchor in a failing wind; weigh with a light north-east breeze and the flood tide; anchor with the ebb for the night—a trifling tide here, but half a mile north-east 'a race that looked frightfull.' Weigh at daybreak next morning, the 28th, with a light southerly, then variable light airs from every direction. The Resolution
nevertheless got through the channel with the last of the flood tide from the south; the Discovery
astern got caught in the ebb, was twirled round and round with the sea breaking
on the decks, 'confoundedly tumbled about for an hour or two', until she drove clear of the race, and then she too was through. On one side the coast trended, as before, west and south-west; on the other, north. Nine weeks from Nootka Sound, and the continent had at last taken a favourable turn. There was not wind enough to govern the ships, and they were in danger of being carried back through the channel; Cook was forced to anchor again until low water, when they were towed by their boats into a bay not far distant that promised good shelter. We can identify the places of these hazards. The spot where they were nearly ashore is a small bight just south of the north-east extremity of an island called Sedanka or Biorka, which itself lies off the north-eastern coast of the large island of Unalaska. Cook did not perceive their separation, and until he learnt the indigenous name proposed to give Unalaska the grateful one of Providence Island. He worked his way into the Unalga pass, between Unalaska and the small Unalga island to the north-east, where the tide can run at the rate of eight or nine knots; and the secure harbour into which the ships were towed, 'Samgoonoodha' or Samgunuda, is now known as English Bay.
Cook's purpose in putting in here was to get water. He had all he wanted by the evening of the following day, 29 June, but the thickest of fogs and a northerly wind kept him in harbour until 2 July. The second day of July, and latitude 53°55′; how long to 65°? Fog was not continuously so thick that men could not walk on shore, and a surprising amount of information, for three days, was collected about the place and the people that were encountered—Eskimos of the Aleut branch, obviously affected by their Russian contacts. Cook received from them another note like the one that had caused so great a sensation ten days before; he returned it with one of his own, in English and Latin, giving the names of the ships and their commanders. King, ascending the highest hill nearby in spite of snow and ice, as if he were Cook himself, to take a view, lost the view in the fog, and fell down a crevasse. He was lucky enough to be able to walk out of it. A large amount of wild pease, angelica, celery and sorrel was gathered. The air was clear enough at one moment, while the watering was going on, to make observations that settled the position of the place very accurately.1
The fog thinned, the wind went round to the south; they put to
sea and steered north, where now it seemed all open. Cook had, however, to trace the coast, and the coast turned north-east: that is, he had to run up the northern side of the Alaskan peninsula as a preliminary to anything else, and it was slow work. After a first short gale there were weeks of light and often contrary winds that died away into calms; and after the first week, as the peninsula began to change direction and merged into the continent, notice was given, in a lessening of the depth of the sea, that one of the perils of that coast was its shoals. It was not a notice, however general, that could then be understood. There were some early fine days, more fog, much 'cloudy gloomy weather', rain, mist. At least the calms off the peninsula provided such fishing weather, and the ships were stationary over such teeming cod banks that the men grew bored with hauling in. Cook cut the allowance of salt meat. The land levelled out in front of the great mountain spine of the peninsula, and on 10 July, at the head of a bay at its northern angle, surrounded by a large plain, he was in some danger from the sand bottom the rivers had built up. Anchoring during the unfavourable flood tide, plying to windward on the ebb, he managed to get out of this danger to the south-west, and then make a little distance to the north-west; it was light airs, calms, and cod-fishing, with unavailing attempts to harpoon the walrus that now began to appear, sometimes in fog so thick that again one end of the ship could not be seen from the other. Thus the days went by till the 16th, when the weather cleared. The ships were off a barren promontory in latitude 58°42′, where the coast changed direction north. Williamson, sent to examine it and take the requisite view from it, was allowed the privilege of naming it, and called it Cape Newenham, after an Irish friend. He also took possession of the country, for what that was worth. The cape seemed to Cook to be the northern limit of a great bay or gulf which extended south-west to Unimak island, and this he himself called Bristol Bay, his old friend Augustus Hervey
having succeeded to that earldom. The name has become much more confined.
He got easily enough round Cape Newenham before the wind failed again, and then he found himself over the fearful shoals of Kuskokwim Bay, parallel hard banks of sand and stones and mud flats, some of which dry at low water, stretching far out of sight of land. He was well within sight of land, and anchored. At the first attempt the Resolution's cable parted from her anchor. While the masters were away sounding for a channel he managed to recover it. He was determined about this, because he had lost one anchor already; he had a 'very excellent swimmer' on board, who was sent
down when something was caught in the sweep and reported a rock, although it turned out to be the anchor; and a little sign of irritation shows in the log entry, that there was reason to think the man perhaps, instead of being mistaken, 'had wilfully deceived us'. A possible channel to the north was narrow, intricate, too risky; to the south-west was no channel at all. It remained to go back the way they had come. Clerke had taken his own look around: a country appearing just as destitute as a country could be, the surrounding seas scarcely navigable for their numberless shoals—'a damn'd unhappy part of the World'.1 They turned back with three boats ahead to direct them, and before long had to anchor again to avoid a shoal with only five feet of water on it. When they could clear it they edged in for the land, where the water was deepest, and by the evening of the 22nd were safe. Five days had gone on that episode.2 While the ships had been at anchor a fleet of kayaks had paddled out to see them, appearing to express peaceable intentions, each man in his own canoe—like the Unalaska people, but far less sophisticated, dirtier, less well clothed. Pieces of iron they had somehow got hold of, however, and had made into primitive knives. They were anxious for more and were willing to give in exchange anything they had about them—skin dresses, bows and arrows, darts. They were Eskimos, of different stock from the Aleuts, and Cook judged that they had had no Russian contact, nor seen European ships before his.
Instead of following the coast north, he was now forced into a sort of large semi-circular cast out into the Bering Sea
. To be sure of clearing the shoals he steered south and south-west, the Discovery
, drawing less water, in the lead; then west, then west-north-west in a northerly wind, anchoring for the worst of the fog, then for a few hours one day even north till the wind went round again. The 28th gave a space of clear sunshine: lunars were taken, the position worked out—latitude 59°55′, longitude 190°06′ East. They were gradually working north—were, approximately, in the middle of the Bering Sea
, and according to Müller's map, were in the middle of the land; according to Stählin's, in the middle of an ungainly mass of islands. Next day an island was indeed seen through the mist, with an 'incredable' number of the picturesque birds called Tufted Puffins about it, whence the name (not given by Cook) Bird Island; it was in fact St Matthew Island, earlier discovered by Sindt. One of Stählin's many islands, supposed Cook; 'we expected every moment
to meet with more of them.' Then the fog came down again, and the ships were in a noise of guns, drums and bells in their efforts to keep together. They stood alternately north-west and north-east. Saturday, 1 August, came: latitude 60°58′, longitude 191° East, the wind north-east, cloudy gloomy weather. The next day brought variable light winds with showers of rain, and a 'nasty jumbling' disconcerting sea, which made the Discovery
unmanageable. Monday the 3rd, two degrees further north, a degree and a half further east, a south-east breeze and a course to the northward: but this day brought an expected grief. Anderson died. Cook, no great hand at obituary phrases, does his awkward best; we feel that there was an unspoken affection within him.
He was a Sensible Young Man, an agreeable companion, well skilld in his profession, and had acquired much knowlidge in other Sciences, that had it pleased God to have spar'd his life might have been usefull in the Course of the Voyage. Soon after land was Seen to the Westward, 12 leagues distant, it was supposed to be an Island and to perpetuate the Memory of the deceased for whom I had a very great regard, I named [it] Andersons Island.1
He would—a further touch of sentiment—have preferred to bury his friend ashore; but when the time came, next morning, there was no land to be seen. Not many deaths at sea can have been more felt than that of this attractive modest man.2 Seniority brought Law to the Resolution to take his place; his friend Samwell, to whom he had left his books, went as surgeon to the Discovery.
Anderson's Island was not quite a new discovery: it was St Lawrence Island, sighted and named by Bering almost exactly fifty years before. Cook maintained his northward course, with a favouring wind though in thick weather. On the afternoon of the 4th he saw land again, extending north-east to north-west, low next the sea, swelling inland to high hills; bare, so far as he could see, of either wood or snow. He judged it was the American continent again, though he had not laid eyes on that since he put the shoals of Kuskokwim Bay behind him. There was a small high island close by. He anchored seven or eight miles off the main and next morning ran down between it and the island and anchored again. He was anxious,
as ever, to climb a hill. To the west the fog was so thick that he might as well have stayed in the ship as set foot on the island, but to the north, after a westerly swing, high land could be seen a great way off. There was more to be seen on the island—some grass, wild vegetables, a fox, a few birds, decayed human habitations, a beaten path, and an extremely well-made sledge, about ten feet long but narrow, such as Cook had seen described as Kamchatkan. He was enough struck to call the small spot of land Sledge Island, and he noted its latitude, 64°30′. The next morning he began to follow the main north-west, slowly and cautiously, because the winds were light, the air thick and drizzling; anchoring when the wind fell to a calm or near-calm and the current carried him towards the shoal-bordered shore. He hoped for a few hours that a short cut to the north-east might serve him; it did not exist, nor, he found immediately after, was it needed. When morning came upon him at anchor on 9 August the air had cleared and he could see about him. To the west lay a high steep rock he had perceived through the mist the evening before, and an island north of it; to the east the main rising to a peaked hill over a flat point. Beyond this point the coast turned north-east, and a strong current set in the same direction. He had no doubt of where he was in one particular at least; 'This Point of land which I named Cape Prince of Wales
, is the more remarkable by being the Western extremity of all America hitherto known'; and when the pale sun shone for a few minutes at noon he was able to settle its position fairly well—latitude 65°46′ North, longitude 191° plus an indeterminate distance East, the observations being 'liable to some small error on account of the haziness of the weather.'1
So: now, if he adhered to his instructions, would begin the detailed exploration of the American coast.
One can say more circumstantially where he was. He was anchored in Bering Strait, about three miles off Cape Prince of Wales; his high steep rock was Fairway Rock, his island was Little Diomede, with its larger companion rising close behind it, in the middle of the strait. The strait is fifty-five miles across at its narrowest, and he could not see the other side. It is hard not to assume that he knew that if he sailed across he would arrive at Asia, like a sixteenth-century cartographer skirting the Strait of Anian; and indeed Müller's map told him he would. But Stählin's map told him he would arrive, anyhow as an intermediate stage, at a large island called Alaschka; and though neither map, in certain respects, was
in touch with reality, at least both showed an American continent sloping away north-east from its western cape, and so far could claim to be authentic. Cook was at once plunged into investigation of the matter. He did not intend to be, because when he weighed anchor with the first faint northerly breeze on this morning of 9 August it was the coast of America he wanted to follow, and he plied to windward. The faint breeze immediately turned to a hard gale, with the usual thick rainy weather, and a sea so high, from the conflicting directions of wind and current, that it kept on breaking into the ships. Early in the afternoon he bore up westward for the island he had seen, thinking he would anchor under it; there were two islands, neither large enough to provide shelter from the violent wind that howled over and between them, and he continued to stretch to the west. The weather clearing somewhat, in the evening he saw land twenty or thirty miles off, and after tacking to the east for the night, next morning came in again and anchored on the north side of a bay he called after St Lawrence, whose day it was: for once a 'fine cheerly day'—to revert to Clerke—which 'gives even this wretched, barren Country a most pleasing appearance; we all feel this morning as though we were risen in a new World.'1
A new world virtually it was; and inhabited. As the ships were standing in Cook saw a village, from which people were departing hurriedly inland with burdens on their backs; and when he went with the boats to land near the place he found a band of forty or fifty men drawn up to receive him, all armed with spears and bows and arrows. They had sent their women and children away. He did not know what we know, that these people, Chukchi, a Mongoloid group tenacious of their freedom, took the ships for Russian, and they had no love for the Russians. They could see very well that the boats were armed. Cook's behaviour illustrates clearly his attitude and policy on first meeting a strange and potentially hostile people; and the man who had made such contacts at Dusky Sound and on the beaches of the New Hebrides would perhaps have admitted that the behaviour of the people themselves was also a model. The account he gives us is equally illuminating as an unconscious portrait of himself.
As we drew near three of them came down towards the shore and were so polite as to take of their Caps and make us a low bow: we returned the Compliment but this did not inspire them with sufficient confidence to
wait our landing, for the Moment we put the boats a shore they retired. I followed them alone without any thing in my hand, and by signs and actions got them to stop and receive some trifles I presented them with and in return they gave me two fox skins and a couple of Sea horse teeth. I cannot say whether they or I made the first present, for these things they brought down with them for this very purpose and would have given me them without my making any return. They seemed very fearfull and causious, making signs for no more of our people to come up, and on my laying my hand on one mans Shoulder he started back several paces. In proportion as I advanced they retreated backwards always in the attitude of being ready to make use of their Spears, while those on the hill behind them stood ready to support them with thier arrows. Insensibly my self and two or three more got in amongst them, a few beads distributed to those about us brought on a kind of confidence so that two or three more of our people joining us did not Alarm them, and by degrees a sort of traffick between us commenced.1
Their weapons, however, they would not part with: even when they danced they kept them within reach. But cautious as they were, they let Cook examine everything he wished—their persons, their extremely well made clothing of skins or leather, their winter houses partly sunk in the ground, their tent-like summer huts, the high stages built of bones on which they dried their skins and fish. They were a taller, longer-faced people than the northern Americans, they did not wear the Eskimo frock, though certainly their boats and canoes were of the same pattern and, like them, they depended on the sea for their living. Cook's observations, for the two or three hours that he stayed, were remarkably wide. Soon after he returned to the ship the wind veered to the south, and he at once stood out of the bay and steered north-east between the coast he was on and the two islands, through the strait.
He was uncertain where he had been. In his log he refers tentatively to the Island of Alaschka 'or the Westland'; in his journal he more directly registers his doubt.
This land we supposed to be a part of the island of Alaschka laid down in Mr Staehlins Map before q[u]oted though from the figure of the Coast, the situation of the opposite coast of America, and the longitude it appeared rather more probable to be the Country of the Tchuktschians explored by Behring in 1728. But to have admitted this at first sight I must have concluded Mr Staehlins Map and account to be either exceeding erronious even in latitude or else a mere fiction, a Sentance I had no right to pass upon it without farther proof.2
Nor was this immediately important. The important thing was the passage north, and all eyes were on the lie of the land. As they left the two capes, east and west, of the strait behind them, Alaschka or Asia did not seem to matter. How close the captain came to the feelings of King we do not know, but that lieutenant looked cheerfully at the prospect. 'Which conjecture is right we cannot determine, but we are in high spirits in seeing the land to the N0ward of these Extremitys trend away so far to the Ne, and the other NW, which bespeaks an open sea to the N0ward free of land, and we hope of Ice, as we have hitherto seen no signs of any.'1 The northern ice-free sea! That was after two days, and though shoal water and gales followed hard, and thick weather and rain swallowed up the eastern shore, which here changed direction north-west for a short distance to the north of Kotzebue Sound, in three days more the sun shone out—latitude 68°18′—'All our Sanguine hopes begin to revive, & we already begin to compute the distance of our Situation from known parts of Baffins bay.'2 The air was sharp. Next day, 17 August, both sun and moon were seen, and some 'flying observations' gave the position as latitude 70°33′, longitude 197°41′ E. As the morning advanced towards noon there was a brightness in the northern sky, of a sort that Cook had known in high southern latitudes. It was iceblink. He had not expected to meet with ice quite so soon; but after all, he was four degrees beyond the arctic circle, and in the afternoon was forced to tack off an immense field of it, quite impenetrable, that filled the whole northern view. He was in latitude 70°41′. There were, however, living things—sea horses or walruses in the water, more with their great carcasses flopped upon the ice. He considered killing some for meat, until the freshening wind persuaded him to ply to the westward—or rather to try to do so, because next day he was about twenty miles farther east and three farther north. This point was his, and the expedition's, northern extreme. He was still close to the edge of the ice, which rose like a solid wall ten or twelve feet above the water, and seemed to rise much higher in the distance; and for the next eleven days his concern was with the ice-field, a moving mass, whether with an abrupt and definite edge as here, or breaking away into a fringe of dangerously rotting pieces, cakes and lumps, iron-hard reefs drifting underwater. One danger he was spared: this sea had no fringing glaciers, and no vast bergs continually thrust into its currents. But the drift of the ice was dangerous enough, as he found.
In that highest latitude of 70°44′ Cook was out of sight of land,
more through haze than distance. He stood south for six leagues, when through a clearing haze he could see the shore three or four miles distant, its most prominent point, 'much incumbered with ice', being given the name of Icy Cape. The wind was from the west. The water shoaled. They were on a lee shore, the Discovery
a mile astern, with the main body of ice driving down on them, and it would certainly drive them right on shore unless it took the ground before they did—or unless they could get away to the south-west, where was the only opening. 'Our situation was now more and more critical': both ships tacked together; 'the Wind proved rather favourable', the water deepened; for a third time in a few weeks disaster was skimmed by.1
This might have seemed not merely baffling but decisive, to a man who wished to follow a coast that ran north-east, and it must have been shattering to King's computation of the distance to Baffin Bay. Cook, on the other hand, clearly did not intend to abandon the ice yet, and even (it also seems fairly clear) for a short time considered the chances of forcing his way into it and so working north. By the time the wind went round to the west again, next morning, he was well away from the land, and tacked to the north through drift ice to the edge of the main field again. It was not quite continuous; there were in it a number of clear places like pools (thus his log), 'so that had there been a necessity the ships might probably have been forced into it, had they been strengthened and armed against Ice like Greenland ships; but even if they had, it would not have been prudent to have done it at this advanced season of the year.'2
In the mean time there was something else that could be done. On the ice lay a 'prodigious' number of walruses, that potential fresh food; boats were sent from both ships, and between them slew a dozen of the animals. They were huge; they provided a great deal of meat; Cook was delighted and stopped all normal rations except bread; Clerke found it good eating; the men, at first rapaciously hungry for something other than the contents of the harness cask, in general agreed till the novelty wore off; some swore it was not intended to be eaten by Christians, and there were some whose stomachs positively rejected it. Very well, said Cook: it might be coarse, black, and strong in taste, the fat might melt down into train-oil, but it was wholesome, and the alternative to wholesome food would be ship's bread alone. With the utmost difficulty was he persuaded to restore salt meat to those who would other wise have
He found the habits of the animal interesting, and gives an interesting description; he went to pains to have the dimensions of one, 'none of the largest', measured in most possible ways. And then the oil was excellent for lamps, the thick hides very useful about the rigging. These, though the largest living things to be seen—for whales had disappeared—were not the only ones. Day after day flights of ducks and other birds went by, on their way to the south: did not this argue land, a home of migratory species in the north?
The larder was replenished, but when it was done, on this 19 August, the drifting ice was all around them, and it was necessary to beat a retreat to the south. Cook would not yet abandon the ice in this part of the sea, and for three days he tacked back and forth about latitude 69°30′, while the light breezes went round from north to east to west to south, in gloom and fog. The sun might not go beneath the horizon, but did little to illuminate the waste, and the direction of the main ice edge, as it slowly moved southward, was announced by the roaring of walruses or the noise of the sea surging upon it. On the 21st the fog cleared, and to the south the American shore appeared again, a low-lying coast marked only at its furthest limit by the bare precipitous hill of Cape Lisburne—a name not conferred by Cook himself, who was this month not fertile with names, nor had much use for them. He went in to the land to get a nearer view 'and to look for a harbour'—but what would he have done with a harbour just then? He would surely not have immobilised himself before the advancing mass? There was none. He returned to the north till he heard the midnight surge and grinding of the ice. A calm was succeeded by a north-east wind, the fog cleared for a while, and he came to a decision: 'finding I could not get to the North near the Coast for the ice, I resolved to try what could be done at a distance from it', and he steered west. The northerly brought a raw, sharp, cold air, and the weather now was varied by showers of snow or sleet. By the 26th he was once more close to the ice, about ten degrees of longitude west of where he had
left it, and in much the same latitude. That is, he had sailed three-quarters of the distance across this southern part of the arctic ocean, to meet exactly the same phenomenon—a solid compact main icefield, with a fringe, at first scattered and then jostling, in strange broken shapes, large and small, of what Cook called heavy loose ice. For a while he was embayed until he could escape to the east, where only there was a clear sea. Obviously there was no better prospect of getting to the north here than there was close to the American shore.
But the ice-edge seems to have had a fascination for him. Next day he tacked back again, and the wind falling, went in the boats to examine it at close quarters. The separate broken pieces were so tight-packed that it was difficult to get a boat between them, and it would have been quite impossible for the ships. He observed the surface. He sounded the underwater ledges. He killed a few out of the almost incredible number of walruses that drifted upon it; and then, a blinding fog coming down, had to return to the ships rather prematurely—so he thought—finding them not without difficulty, and with only one walrus for each. The fog lifting a little the following morning, he sent the boats out again for this 'marine beef'; for he was persuaded, against some at least of the evidence, that by this time his men began to relish it. His latitude was still above 69°, but the ice had advanced twenty miles in the previous forty-eight hours, a wind from the south made it a lee shore again, and not until midnight, with a shift of the wind to north-west, could he feel agreeably situated. He stretched to the south-west close-hauled. The morning of 29 August came. In the north the main ice-field was still visible. In the south-west and west was land. As he approached it the water shoaled rapidly, repeating the pattern of the American shore; and the coast was very like that of America, low next the sea, except for a cape or two, rising steadily inland, without wood or snow, brown with dried herbage. One point stood out steep and rocky. King called it Cape North; it was the present Cape Mys Shmidta. Beyond it the coast trended west. There Cook must go. But he could not weather the cape, the wind freshened, the air once more turned to thick fog, with snow added, 'and being fearfull of the ice coming down upon us, I gave up the design I had formed of plying to the Westward and stood off shore again after standing into 10 fathoms water.' The decision had to be taken.
The season was now so very far advanced and the time when the frost is expected to set in so near at hand, that I did not think it consistant with prudence to make any farther attempts to find a passage this year in any direction so little was the prospect of succeeding. My attention was now
directed towards finding out some place where we could Wood and Water, and in the considering how I should spend the Winter, so as to make some improvement to Geography and Navigation and at the same time be in a condition to return to the North in further search of a Passage the ensuing summer.1
The ice had beaten him. He meditated on the nature of the enemy, though not at such length as he had done in the southern hemisphere, where also he had been defeated. There were some certainties. Quite certainly the great mass stretched from shore to shore, east to west, was as impenetrable as the shore, was a 'moveable Mass', advanced and retreated with the seasons. Quite certainly it was not river ice; for how could so vast an extent, of such height and depth, float from rivers 'in which there is hardly water for a boat'? He must have been generalising, in this estimate of arctic streams, from Samuel Hearne's account of the Coppermine river as it debouched through shallows into a shallow sea. Nor did this ice carry with it anything that originated in the land. It must have been all formed at sea. There may be a tribute to the force of European dogma in that even now, with all his experience, he would not assert, or guess, that the sea froze. 'It appeared to be intirely composed of frozen Snow.' It could not be produced by one winter only, one summer could not destroy a tenth part of it. None the less it waned as well as waxed—then how? He thought the sun, whose rays he had so infrequently seen, must be an ineffectual agent; and where he saw from the masthead a rugged surface and pools of water could hardly assume that this was the typical appearance of old ice where summer melting had taken place. It was the surge of the sea that undermined, that broke, that ground the great pieces together, that washed away, that left for a while submerged platforms over which a ship might sail, on which upper lumps and fragments stood like rocks on a reef. 'Thus it may happen that more ice is distroyed in one Stormy Season, than is formed in several Winter[s] and an endless accumulation prevented, but that there is always a remaining store, none who had been upon the spot will deny and none but Closet studdying Philosiphers will dispute.'2 Poor Barrington; poor Samuel Engel!
Beaten: he might himself have preferred to say baffled, and baffled to fight better; for he would try again in the ensuing summer and then undoubtedly he would be earlier on the scene of struggle. Nothing need stop him from being at latitude 65° in June. He simply
did not know enough—how could he, or anyone, know enough?—about the arctic and sub-arctic ice in this part of the hemisphere. Hudson, in 1607, west of Spitsbergen, had reached a latitude of 80°23′ N. Phipps, on the Spitsbergen coast in 1773, had not been stopped till 80°37′ many Greenland whalers had been up to 80°. Cook might therefore well be surprised at meeting impenetrable ice in latitude 70°41′. It was in mid-August as against Phipps's mid-July, but should a month, even at the end of summer, make all that difference? There was a good deal of enquiry necessary about the distribution of ice. One may believe that Cook, quite unwittingly, was on the whole fortunate to arrive in the north when he did, and have the season he had, whatever the fog and the winds. In June he would have found ice in Bering Strait, and most probably in the Bering Sea
; if he had not reached the strait till the very end of June, he would have found the sea beyond it, probably, just beginning to clear. The latitude of 70°41′ was about the average latitude for the summer retreat of the pack. In a bad year he might have met it further south, in an exceptionally good year much further north; and if 1778 had been such a good year he might have been lured round the American coast, past Point Barrow into the Beaufort Sea, towards where Samuel Hearne had stood and looked on the grey and narrow margin of water, in the direction of the veritable Passage, and have been lost for ever. Or in an August even a little better than this one of 1778 he might have been tempted up a lane of clear sea next the coast beyond Icy Cape while the easterly wind blew back the ice, and with a change of wind it would have closed on him over the shoals with irretrievable disaster, as he had felt it might only the day after he first sighted that compact moving wall. That was a lesson he may have learned at once. There was little enough time for study before the book was closed.
With useful experience in his mind, nevertheless, he bore away eastward and later south-eastward to trace this new coast, through four days of heavy snow with but few intervals, and a freezing air. This did not impede the general cheerfulness that the ice had been left behind, or the prospect of warm joys to come. At times the lead was the only guide. Fortunately the clear intervals, though not many gave a far enough view for Cook to see that the coast, now barren white instead of brown, was continuous, and to settle its main features. By the first day of September he was 'well assured' that this was 'the coast of Tchuktschi, or the Ne coast of Asia'—in modern terms, the Chukotskiy peninsula, truly the north-eastern extremity of Siberia—and that he could connect it with the sightings of Bering's
first voyage in 1728. On the 2nd the snow at last ceased, the sun broke out to provide a precise latitude, 66° 37′30° N, and the view of a few people and their hillock-like habitations on shore, even there; and in the evening he passed once more the 'Eastern Cape'. He both described it and fixed its position with great accuracy.1 Next forenoon, in pleasant weather, he was looking into St Lawrence Bay, somewhat surprised that none of the people whom he could see would come off to the ship; even some out to sea towing a dead whale seemed to hide themselves behind it. He wanted to find a harbour which he could use in the spring; but he wanted one with a supply of wood and he had seen none here. Further to the south the bays he passed were guarded by shoal water; then the coast changed direction west towards the Gulf of Anadyr, into which he did not want to go. He did want to get a sight of the St Lawrence island of Bering, so he continued his southerly course till he picked up its western end in the distance—the evening of 4 September—and then steered over for the American shore. He had made a careful check of Bering on this side of the northern sea—that is, of the accounts of Bering's first voyage, so much clearer than anything that could he learnt of the second—and concluded that his predecessor had done well.2
Why, then, having merely ascertained the existence of an island in the reported position of St Lawrence island did Cook without further investigation steer for the American shore? True, his store of firewood was diminishing. But also the purely geographical problem of Stählin's Alaschka continued to gnaw at him. If he had just left the Asian coast now, at the beginning of September, it was crystal clear that he had been on the coast of Asia, and not of an island, at the beginning of August. What then had happened to Alaschka? The comparative width of the large strait between America and Alaschka and the narrow strait between Alaschka and Asia, on Stählin's map, could be ignored: the map contained other things just as extraordinary as that. Although in escaping from the shoals north of Cape Newenham he had had to sacrifice his view of the land, he had concluded that the land formed one continuous coast from Cape Newenham north to Cape Prince of Wales. Was that conclusion wrong? Was part of that coast insular, and had he
somehow missed in the distance or the fog a strait that could be equated, by whatever violence, with Stählin's? Had he, that is, sailed in his ignorance past the west coast, and not the east coast, of Alaschka? Some of his men thought he probably had. We may note that King writes in his journal, of the view of the main from Sledge Island, 'The Map of Dr
Matty's places the large Island of Alashka in this latitude & therefore many suppose this to be it.' Well: what then? If the Stählin strait indeed existed, where might it lead?—to an ice-free sea?—to a passage into Baffin Bay? To resolve the dubiety was important; not to waste time the following summer in fruitless quests was important. 'It was with me a matter of some Consequence to clear up this point this Season, that I might have but one object in View the next….'
spruce, birch and willows, and an ample supply of berries of various sorts. A change of wind sent him over to anchor for the succeeding night in the shelter of what he had taken for an island, which proved next day to be the peninsula he called Cape Denbigh—how the land joined up!—with a quite large bay beyond, a sort of flattened semicircle lined with shoals; everywhere shoals, and a bottom of mud. It was difficult to load the boats with wood from the peninsula, because they grounded so far from the shore. He stood over to the other shore again, inside Cape Darby. Here it was easy to get drift wood from the beach, more difficult to load with water.
There is a curious air, not exactly of leisure, but of relief from pressure, about the days spent in this not very ingratiating gap in the land—Norton Sound, as Cook called it in honour of the Speaker who had provided that valedictory dinner. The weather was throughout fine and favourable. Certainly every time he weighed anchor and moved to a fresh position his sailors had to bow their backs; and when he sent King away with the cutters to complete the exploration of the inlet from which the ships had been rebuffed, so emulous of good was that young officer that he made his crew row till they collapsed asleep at the oars. He had been given a week's provisions and a rendezvous at 'Samganoodha', in case he should find a channel or the ships should have to leave before his return; he was back in two days with a report of nothing but sandbanks and mud and marsh, a small river, hills and distant mountains; and when he arrived on board at Cape Denbigh (where Cook had moved the ships again, and climbed another hill) he found the captain already 'pretty certain of the Event'. The men had been given leisure to wander on shore and pick berries; shooting parties of officers had tried their luck, with no brilliant success, among the geese and bustards, snipe and grouse; spruce had been cut for beer; there had been many friendly encounters with the people of the place, a people very like all other Americans encountered north of Nootka Sound, and as generous—much more generous indeed trading their skins and fish than the sailor whom Clerke overheard 'damning his Eyes very heartily because they gave him only 2 Salmon for a small yellow Bead.'1 Perhaps the astronomers worked as hard as anybody, with their seventy-seven sets of lunar observations to determine the longitude, 197°13′ East. The latitude was still as far north as 64°31′.
Meanwhile, Cook had been giving some thought to his next movements, and the paragraph in which he summarises his cogitations
is so characteristic as to be not merely a statement of intention but again a comment on himself.
Haveing now fully satisfied myself that Mr Stachlin's Map must be erroneous and not mine it was high time to think of leaving these Northern parts, and to retire to some place to spend the Winter where I could procure refreshments for the people and a small supply of provisions. Petropaulowska in Kamtschatka, did not appear to me a place where I could procure either the one or the other for so large a number of men, and besides I had other reasons for not going there at this time, the first and on which all the others depended was the great dislike I had to lay inactive for Six or Seven Months, which must have been the case had I wintered in any of these Northern parts. No place was so conveniently within our reach where we could expect to meet with these necessary articles, as Sandwich Islands, to these islands, therefore, I intended to proceed, but before this could be carried into execution it was necessary to have a supply of Water. With this View I resolved to search the America coast for a harbour, by proceeding along it to the Southward and endeavour to connect the Survey of this coast with that to the North of Cape Newenham. If I failed of finding a harb. then to proceed to Samgoonoodha which was fixed upon for a Rendezvouse in case of Separ[a]tion.1
He weighed anchor again on 17 September and slowly, with a light wind and the boats ahead, skirted the shore of the sound outside its islands. Anchoring for the night, he was not outside until the end of the following day, when he steered for the southernmost point of the continent he could see. In vain: he ran into shoals again; forty or fifty miles, as he judged, off the coast he had only four fathoms beneath him, and had to steer directly away from it. That southernmost point he called Point Shallow Water, and suspected the disemboguing of a considerable river. He was right, except that his 'point' was rather a bulge, the northern part of the delta of the river Yukon, and of land so flat, only a foot or two high, and so with an invisible shore, that he largely overestimated his distance from it. When he steered west he was retreating from the Yukon flats. Cape Newenham he would not see again; the coast for three degrees of latitude, 63° to 60°, from Point Shallow Water to the equally dangerous shore of Kuskokwim Bay, must remain 'intirely unexploared'. That being so, there was no harbour and for water he must go to Samgunuda.
So at least he had determined; but other possibilities began to come forward. After getting away from the shoals he set a more southerly course, for the land he had sighted on the 5th, a fortnight before, 'Andersons island or some other land near it.' He came up
with it on the 20th, and presents us with a pretty problem. The problem is not the identity of this piece of land, but why Cook failed to identify it. It was an odd lapse of perception. He now says, 'As I found this land laid two [sic
] far to the West to be Andersons island I named it'—and he leaves a blank, filled in by a later hand as Clerke's Island. But he had given no position for the Anderson's Island of 3 August, his first sighting, only a bearing, 'to the Westward, 12 leagues distant'. He had sighted the island of St Lawrence on 4 September, and on the following day 'Andersons island or some other land near it'—and if other, why not St Lawrence? Why should Cook assume that his position for 'Clerke's Island' was correct, when he got sight of it in a fresh northerly gale with showers of hail and snow and a high sea? Was he misled by Stählin's shamble of islands to think that four separate sightings must be sightings of four or, at the least, three separate islands? They were, we know, all sightings of St Lawrence, which is the largest island in the Bering Sea
. We can hardly upbraid Cook for not knowing that. But he could see a reason in his own experience why Russians should multiply islands, and was plain enough about it in his log, precisely on the subject of Clerke's Island.
From what we have seen of this Island it cannot be less than 35 or 40 leagues in circuit, and is composed of Mountains and plains, so that [at] a distance it looks like several islands, each hill or mountain appearing as one, and this may be the reason why we find a group of Islands, nearly in this situation, in the map of the New Northern Archipelago discovered by the Russians; for unless these Navigators have taken every hill for an Island, many of their Islands must either have no existence, or a very different situation to that which they have in the above mentioned Map.1
Then why did he suspect no flaw in his own conception? Assuredly the Cook of the second voyage would have disentangled the truth.
He hung about the northern side of this island, fruitlessly looking for a harbour, until noon the following day, when he stood south-west
for a further island he regarded as discovered by himself, on 29 July, the one King called Bird island—the StMatthew of Sindt. He was up with it, and its attendant islets, on 23 September: still another of those islands that looked from a distance like a group, among which he had hopes of finding shelter. There were now few birds, and shelter there was none about what Clerke called 'this rascally Place'; Samgunuda after all must be the aim, and for Samgunuda the ships steered with a pleasant breeze behind them, the captain 'being resolved to spend no more time in searching for a harbour amongst islands which I now began to susspect had no existance, at least not in the latitude and longitude the Modern Mapmakers have placed them.'1
He was unaware of the little irony this remark cast on his own division of St Lawrence Island into three. The passage was not to be all pleasant: in a day or two the wind went round to the south and blew an increasing and violent gale. A clear sea and a good depth of water counterbalanced that discomfort, even though the Resolution
sprung a starboard leak which gave trouble as long as she was heeled over on a western tack. Cook was fearful of heading eastward prematurely lest he should fall on the Kuskokwim shoals, but that danger and the gale came to an end together. The wind remained contrary; it was not until 2 October that he raised the coast of Unalaska, and the day after that, having tried one unsatisfactory anchorage, he was returned to his previous harbour, and the spendthrift sailors were handing over their precious tobacco for dried fish.
Cook had come to a pause. He remained in this harbour for three weeks. There was much work to do on his ship and the Discovery's
carpenters were put to it as well as his own. The leak was in the starboard buttock again, fortunately above the water-line, but under the sheathing many of the seams were found quite open. To get the water freely to the pumps, in case of further leaks, he re-stowed his spirit room—which had filled during the last leak—fish room and after hold; and in addition cleared his fore hold right out and took in new ballast. There was no lack of fresh water, and both ships completed their supply. Fish was equally abundant: every morning a boat went out and returned with enough halibut and salmon to feed all hands. If fishing might be regarded as part of the ships' labours, there was compensation in leave to wander ashore berrying, and in the softer side of Unalaskan custom; and whatever penalties might be consequent on the latter, half a dozen different sorts of berry in
unlimited quantities, together with the spruce beer that supplanted grog every other day, effectually banished any possible taint of scurvy. This the captain observed with pleasure.
There was ample to observe in the place besides its dietary advantages. The Aleut people were of a sort Cook had not encountered before. The 'Indians' of his previous Pacific experience whom he had been able to study at leisure—Tongans, Tahitians, New Zealanders—had been in their original state, their societies unaffected, even in Tahiti, by the touch of an outside influence, except in so far as he brought it himself. At Samgunuda there was a difference. It was not simply that these were 'the most peaceable inoffensive people I ever met with'—though they had not ever, it seems, been a markedly warlike people. They were under a Russian yoke: from Cook's paragraphs, added to by his officers, we get an account of a primitive society under the first impact of commercial exploitation that is rare in the records of exploration. It was a society which had ceased to be quite savage without becoming civilised; it had, for instance, been deprived of its weapons without being given new and deadlier ones. The Russians, after losing a few of their own men to the defenders of freedom, were nothing if not precautionary. So Cook was received with politeness by Aleuts and with geniality by Russians, and had no difficulty in examining what he wanted to, whether public matters or private—if private matters could be said to exist in that very open society. They were an Eskimo people, short of stature, round-faced and 'plump', wearing the frock and trousers standard on that northern part of the coast, the women's of seal skin, the men's of tough bird skins, all made by the women, who were skilful sempstresses with their bone needles; all of both sexes had their underlips pierced for ornaments, but the men wore none. The article of clothing that most interested Cook was the 'snouted' painted wooden cap or eye-shade, stuck over with bristles of seal or walrus, worn by all the men: but why, if an eye-shade, he wondered, in that sunless clime? Interesting were the capacious communal houses, dug into the ground, but high enough above it, with their frames of driftwood and covering of grass and earth, to look like so many small hillocks; fish-houses and tanneries as well as living quarters and the centres of a surprisingly amoral (at least in the European sense) hospitality. Domestic furnishings and implements were few. It was an economy based on the sea, in a treeless country, where few plants grew besides grass and berry-bushes, and birds and land animals were not many. But the sea still offered abundance, fishing and hunting gear was well made, and though large boats
there were none, except in Russian possession, the small canoes or kayaks and their double-bladed paddles were perfect of their kind, waterproof and swift. Such things Cook described with a workmanlike and admirable brevity, yet with a gift for being inclusive, that make his remarks models for the student of material culture. Other men—Clerke, King, Edgar, Samwell—may give us more, and invaluable, material on certain topics or events. The captain, considering birds or stones or 'a kind of Scurvy grass', or words or dialects, may have sighed for Anderson. Yet, when one has read the others, one realises again how much lies compacted in his pages, and how safely: even Bligh, in whom the spirit of contradiction ran so perversely, found nothing to contradict here.
The Russians, it was clear from all accounts, when they first came here for furs on Bering's report, did not have it all their own way; but now, in the islands that they knew, they did, and were gradually pushing up towards the peninsula. They were the masters, adopted a lofty tone, they took the sea otter skins, they bestowed payment of chewing tobacco and snuff; and chewing tobacco had become a necessity of life for their subjects, an indispensable currency for Cook's sailors. But where were the Russians? Only on the fifth day was contact made, when an Aleut brought Cook and Clerke each a present of a sort of pie or loaf of rye flour with a salmon baked inside it, and an incomprehensible note. Cook reciprocated with a few bottles of rum, wine and porter, and sent with them as ambassador Corporal Ledyard of the marines, nothing loth to make a name for himself, and perfectly willing to travel stowed away inside a kayak. He was taken to the bay where Cook had failed to find good anchorage on his arrival, and a settlement called 'Egoochshac'—apparently the modern Unalaska or Iliukliuk harbour, where a small band of Russians, with their Kamchatkan followers and Unalaskan servants, maintained storehouses and a joint dwelling, and the rum, wine and porter was drunk out with an intense Russian devotion. There was no tendency to deny that the newcomers were English, Friends, and Allies; and not, as a cautious peep over the hill had led on the suspicion, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish or French; and if French, enemies. Ledyard returned with three Russian seamen or furriers, intelligent persons, and Cook's geographical enquiries immediately began. Language was the difficulty, interpreter there was none, yet somehow through the production of maps, and signs and nods, information filtered through. One of these men, Cook understood, claimed to have been with Bering, but Cook's chart of the American coast meant nothing to him. Nor, to any of them, did Stählin's map;
indeed, till Cook told them, they had no idea of what part of the world it referred to; and then it appeared that another of the three had sailed over Stählin's islands. They promised to bring a chart of the islands between Unalaska and Kamchatka. Although they failed to do so, that disappointment was swallowed up in the discussions with still another Russian, the chief man on the island, the factor Gerassim Gregoriev Ismailov.
This man, who appeared first on the 14th, adopted some state, though susceptible to the power of Cook's liquor; he was clever and shrewd, and knew a good deal, though not as much as he pretended to—or he may have had reasons of his own for denying certain things that Cook knew to be so; he had travelled to Canton and France, though he spoke no language but his own; he had been with Sindt; he was well acquainted, naturally enough, with the extent of the fur trade and of Russian discoveries; and during mutual hospitalities Cook both picked up a good deal and reciprocated, in spite of the gap of tongues. 'I felt no small Mortification in not being able to converse with him any other way then by signs assisted by figures and other Characters which however was a very great help.'1
Ismailov, through his own experience, had made some adjustments to the chart of the Kamchatkan coast, and could assure Cook that it afforded only two harbours; but that chart, which included also the Sea of Okhotsk and its Asian coast and the Kurile islands, was of less interest to Cook than his other manuscript. This 'comprehended all the discoveries made by the Russians to the Eastward of Kamtschatka towards America, which if we exclude the Voyage of Bering
, will amount to little or nothing.'2
But latitudes and longitudes differed much from Müller's. As for Müller's islands between Kamchatka and America—what we should call the Aleutian islands—Ismailov was full of scorn. He struck out a third of them as non-existent, and altered the situation of others. To some of this condemnation Cook was quite prepared to accede. Yet, he thought, Müller must have had some authority for some of his islands—and the authority indeed was that of Bering, and good. Provisionally, if not finally, Ismailov's word could be taken, and islands sorted out by the names and situations he gave, but Cook, in doing so, would by no means guarantee his own chart, so built up, until he came to the Unalaska group, where the position of Samgunuda was fixed by himself, by the usual multiplicity of observations. Indeed Ismailov, who so uncompromisingly destroyed islands, had not been everywhere as overseer of the fur trade; he was not at
all good at putting them in. It can be allowed that fur traders were not scientific navigators; and Cook, who pointed out that because of their different reckonings they might easily think they had made a new discovery when they had not, had done the same thing more than once, as we have seen, and for the same reason. Müller, at any rate, who had remained tentative, however unhappy some of his conjectures, did not incur a hanging condemnation. But what was to be said of Stählin and his accurate new map? No one had seen the continent to the north; no one had ever heard of Stachtan Nitada; Alaska, far from being an island, was the continent, and the name was the proper Indian name for it, 'and probably means no more than that part adjoining to Ooneemak
, however the Indians as well as the Russians call the whole by that name and know very well that it is a great land.'1
Cook's indignant judgment of Stählin, which in spite of all temptation and all provocation, he had been heretofore so scrupulous to withhold, at last boils over. And Stählin had been so foolish in self-satisfaction as to refer to 'the illiterate accounts of our sea-faring men'.
If Mr Stahlin was not greatly imposed upon what could induce him to publish so erroneous a Map? in which many of these islands are jumbled in in regular confusion, without the least regard to truth and yet he is pleased to call it a very accurate little Map? A Map that the most illiterate of his illiterate Sea-faring men would have been ashamed to put his name to.2
Cook, quite clearly, felt that he had been imposed upon. He had paid attention to a worthless document, and had spent weeks of time in trying to verify it. Yet he had been imposed upon to the world's advantage; for his incidental discoveries had not been unimportant. Nor—as we can see though Cook could not—did the maps available to him have any relevance to his arctic adventure; if Stählin had in fact been extremely accurate, it would not have advanced one inch the discovery of the North-west Passage. He was just as much imposed upon by Daines Barrington
's theory of the formation of arctic ice. His real enemy, whose victory was foreordained, was ice; gales, shoals, fog, blind alleys, were but supplementary forces or obstacles, which patience, seamanship, luck could triumph over; but the ice outlasted patience, out-manoeuvred
seamanship, was insusceptible to luck. All these hypotheses of closet-studying philosophers, months of preparation, grapplings with adverse circumstance, to end with three weeks beyond latitude 65°, eight days glimpsing the American shore! So it is useful at this point in time, when Cook had been scrutinising the maps of the northern archipelago, to scrutinise his own northern map and, leaving his observations of mankind on one side, measure his positive geographical achievement. It is interesting to note, first of all, what stood out to the eye of an observer close to him, who made a lengthy and closely reasoned analysis of the whole result. This is the admiring but not fulsome King.
Amongst the many grand discoveries of C. Cook, this event of ascertaining the true distance between the Continent of Asia & America will surely not be deemd the least splendid. Philosophers will no longer find any difficulty in accounting for the Population of America. The Grand bounds of the four Quarters of the Globe are known, & one part of Geography is Perfect, at least as far as it can be of use.1
One may summarise a little more soberly, in modern terms, from the first sighting of the American coast. Its general line was settled from Cape Blanco north to Nootka Sound, and from a few degrees beyond Nootka to the 'Great River' or Cook Inlet. Storm had driven the ships away from island groups, and fog had made it impossible to separate islands from mainland. Nevertheless the general line of the Alaskan peninsula, south and north, was firmly placed, and the true nature and direction of the Aleutian chain realised. The American side of the Bering Sea
from Bristol Bay to about latitude 60°, and from about 63° (where we may say Norton Sound begins to open) to Cape Prince of Wales, was clear; and the arctic coast up to about the entrance of Kotzebue Sound. From there to a little beyond Icy Cape the line is partly firm, partly conjectural: its direction may be called correct. On the Asian side we have a remarkable degree of correctness from Mys Shmidta through Bering Strait down to about the north-east limit of the Gulf of Anadyr. With all this, it was not merely a general trend that was indicated; it was a line firmly based on coordinates of latitude and longitude, ascertained, in spite of all difficulties, with quite remarkable scientific exactitude. It was the product, still, of a running survey, not of what Cook called a survey 'in its literal sence';2
and that, instead of being matter of apology, makes it all the more remarkable. The one piece of confusion is that
over St Lawrence island; which, because of its confusion, may seem remarkable also.
Not the coast of America only, but the whole voyage, was in Cook's mind as he composed a letter to the Admiralty, the first such communication since he had left the Cape almost two years before. Ismailov would send it to Petropavlovsk in the spring, it would reach St Petersburg the following winter, and London perhaps, if there were no delay, at the end of 1779. It was dated very precisely, 'Resolution at the Island of Unalaschka on the Coast of America, in the Latitude of 53°55′ North—Longitude 192 30 East from Greenwich the 20th of October 1778.' It sketched his proceedings and his intentions. He would go to the Sandwich Islands and after refreshing return to the north by way of Kamchatka; from there he would use the summer to make another and final attempt to find the Passage.
But I must confess I have little hopes of succeeding; Ice though an obstacle not easily surmounted, is perhaps not the only one in the way. The Coast of the two Continents is flat for some distance off; and even in the middle between the two the depth of water is inconsiderable: this, and some other circumstances, all tending to prove that there is more land in the frozen sea than as yet we know of, where the ice has its source, and that the Polar part is far from being an open Sea.1
Here was new reasoning. What were the 'other circumstances', apart from the flight of birds? And why, having already disposed of the theory of land-formed ice, should he now recur to it? Did he want to let the philosophers down lightly, or would he not permit himself to believe he had disproved that particular hypothesis unless he had scoured the whole arctic extent? He may, possibly, merely have been going through a phase of worried thought, as he considered the chart he had just had 'hastily copied' for his masters, running off into polar ignorance; for he disliked extremely leaving an unsolved problem behind him. But an end to effort must come, even if apologetically.
Stores and Provisions we have sufficient for twelve Months, and longer without a supply of both it will hardly be possible for us to remain in these seas, but whatever time we do remain, shall be spent in the improvement of Geography and Navigation….2
We may, as we gaze also over the shoulder of King, filling his journal pages with experience reflected upon, catch again his pride in being the lieutenant of such a commander, and see that he had long since
ceased to calculate the distance to Baffin Bay: 'It would greatly add to a self complacency one cannot help indulging, in being an humble assistant in these events, could one look forward to any prospect of success in our grand object the next Season: but I hardly know in what light to consider matters, to give Rational ground of hopes.'1
The day after the letter was written, Ismailov departed with it and a Hadley's octant Cook gave him; for the man seemed able and educated enough to use such an instrument with profit. He in his turn gave Cook letters to the governor of Kamchatka and the commandant at Petropavlovsk. The brief international interval had pleased everybody. Though rough, the fur traders—people who were not Indians—appeared in that savage ambience like an unexpected group of old friends and neighbours. Officers went over to Egoochshac, and were received with merriment and hard drinking. Still another Russian came to visit, a man so European as to have been born in Moscow, and the total reverse of his fellows in his modesty and soberness. He was Jacob Ivanovich, the master of the sloop who was to have charge of Cook's letter, and as he was anxious to take some token to the governor, who would forward the letter, Cook sent a small spy-glass. Ivanovich, arriving late, met Cook only because a first attempt to get to sea had miscarried; for while the Resolution, having unmoored on the 22nd, was warping to windward in a south-east breeze, to get under sail, the wind suddenly fell, and some puffs blowing into the harbour with the ebbing tide set her stern fast aground. It was a minor misadventure, although it meant a few days' delay: on the morning of 26 October the ships put to sea, once more with a southerly wind, and Cook stood west.