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Historical Records of New Zealand

Lieutenant Cook to Secretary Stephens

page 1

Lieutenant Cook to Secretary Stephens

Endeavour, bark, at Onrust, near Batavia,

23 October, 1770.


Please to acquaint my Lords Commiss’rs of the Admiralty that I left Rio de Janeiro the 8th of December, 1768, and on the 16th of Jan’y following arrived in Success Bay, in Straits La Maire,* where we recruited our wood and water. On the 21st of the same month we quitted Straits La Maire, and arrived at George’s Island on the 13th of April. In our passage to this island I made a far more westerly track than any ship has ever done before, yet it was attended with no discovery until we arrived within the tropick, where we discover’d several islands. We met with as friendly a reception by the natives of George’s

* These straits separate Staten Island from the mainland of Tierra del Fuego.

This island, now known as Tahiti, was discovered by Captain Wallis, in June, 1767, and by him named King George the Third’s Island. De Bougainville landed there in April, 1768, without any knowledge of Wallis’s discovery. He adopted the native name, and called itTaiti. Cook, landing in April, 1769, retained the native name, but added the vowel prefix, used by the Islanders in conversation, and for many years it was known as Otaheite. Dalrymple surmised that Otaheite was identical with the island Quiros named La Sagittaria. He accounts for Quiros finding neither a harbour nor refreshments at the island, by the fact that he attempted to land on the isthmus, i.e., the south-east part, whereas Wallis, Bougainville, and Cook landed at Matavai Bay, on the northern part. There can now be little doubt but that Dalrymple was right; and that the islands Quiros named La Encarnacion, St. Juan Baptista, St. Elmo, Los Coronades, and La Conversion de St. Pablo, belonged to the large group now known as the Paumotu or Low Archipelago; the island he called La Dezena being identical with that called by Cook (and still known as) Maitea; and which Wallis called Osnaburg, and Bougainville, Le Boudoir.

page 2 Island as I could wish, and I took care to secure ourselves in such a manner as to put it out of the power of the whole island to drive us off.*

Some days preceding the 3rd of June I sent Lieutenant Hicks to the eastern part of this island, and Lieut. Gore to York Island, with others of the officers (Mr. Green having furnished them with instruments), to observe the transit of Venus, that we may have the better chance of succeeding should the day prove unfavourable. But in this we were so fortunate that the observations were everywhere attended with every favourable circumstance.

It was the 13th of July before I was ready to quitt this island, after which I spent near a month in exploring some other islands which. lay to the westward,§ before we steer’d to the southward. On the 14th of August we discover’d a small island lying in the lat’de of 22° 27′ So., long’de 150° 47′ W’t. After quitting this island, I steer’d to the So., inclining a little to the east until we arrived in the lat’de 40° 12′ So. without seeing the least signs of land. After this I steer’d to the westward, between the lat’de of 30° and 40°, until the 6th of October, on which day we discover’d the east coast of New Zealand, which I found to consist of two large islands, extending from 34° to 48° of south lat’de, both of which I circumnavigated.

On the first of April, 1770, I quitted New Zealand, and steer’d to the westward, until I fell in with the coast of New Holland, in the latitude of 30° So. I coasted the shore of this country to the No., putting in at such places as I saw convenient, until we arrived in the latitude of 15° 45′ So., where, on the night of the 10th of June, we struck upon a reef of rocks, where we lay 23 hours, and received some very considerable damage. This proved a fatal Stroke to the remainder of the voyage, as we were obliged to take shelter in the first port we met with, were we were detain’d

* Hawkesworth, vol. ii, p. 107.

John Gore, third lieutenant. He accompanied Wallis, in the Dolphin, during the voyage round the world, 1776–80, “as one of the mates.“— (Hawkesworth, vol. i, p. 470.) He also sailed with Cook as first lieutanant of the Resolution during the voyage in search of a north-west passage in 1776–80. On the death of Captain Cook he succeeded Captain Clerke as captain of the Discovery; and when the latter died, Gore, being next in command, took his place as captain of the Resolution and commander of the expedition.

Hawkesworth, vol. ii, p. 140.

§ These islands (six in number) Cook called the Society Islands.

Ohetiroa Island, one of the group now known as the Austral Islands. The island itself is now called Rurutua.

page 3 repairing the damage we had sustain’d until the 4th of August, and after all, put to sea with a leaky ship, and afterwards coasted the shore to the northward thro’ the [most] dangerous navigation that, perhaps, ever ship was in, until the 22nd of same month, when, being in the latitude of 10° 30′ So., we found a passage into the Indian Sea, between the northern extremity of New Holland and New Guinea. After getting through this passage I stood over for the coast of New Guinea, which we made in the 29th; but as we found it absolutely necessary to heave the ship down to stop her leaks before we proceeded home, I made no stay here, but quitted this coast on the 3rd of Sept’r, and made the best of my way to Batavia, where we arrived on the 10th instant, and soon after obtained leave of the Governor and Council to be hove down at Onrust, where we have but just got alongside of the wharf, in order to take out our stores, &c.
I send herewith a copy of my journal,* containing the proceedings of the whole voyage, together with such charts as I have had time to copy, which I judge will be sufficient for the present to illustrate said journal. In this journal I have, with undisguised truth and without loss, inserted the whole transactions of the voyage, and made such remarks and given such discriptions of things as I thought was necessary, in the best manner I was capable off. Altho’ the discoverys made in this voyage are not great, yet I flatter myself they are such as may merit the attention of their Lordships, and altho’ I have failed in discover’g the so much talked of sothern continent (which perhaps do not exist, and which I myself had much at heart), yet I am confident no part of the failure of such discovery can be laid to my charge. Had we been so fortunate not to have run ashore, much more would have been done in the latter part of the

* It is, unfortunately, impossible to say what has become of this copy. It would probably be in the handwriting of Cook’s clerk, by whom this letter was written.

This is the first mention the Records contain of the “so much talked of southern continent.“ Singularly enough, no allusion is made thereto in the correspondence which passed between the Admiralty and Navy Boards in the spring of 1768, when the expedition was first projected. The Endeavour, so far as the official letters indicate, was merely intended to convey,“ to the southward such persons as shall be thought proper for making observations on the passage of the planet Venus over the sun’s disk.“ The letter from the Admiralty to Cook informing him of his appointment contains no allusion to the objects of the voyage; nor does Cook himself mention the matter in any of his earlier letters. Care must be taken not to confound the land known to geographers of Cook’s time as the Terra Australis incognita, or the “Great Southern Continent,“ with New Holland. They were not in any way identical. New Holland was not a terra incognita. Its western, northern, and part of its southern shores had been known to geographers for very many years. But it was thought that, in addition, a large continent stretched across the South Pacific from Tierra del Fuego to New Zealand. This was the Terra Australis incognita of the early voyagers. In Cook’s time, the eminent hydrographer Alexander Dalrymple was the most prominent champion of this theory. Even after Cook’s return, Dalrymple still believed in the existence of a great southern continent. He proclaimed it to be the “greatest passion of his life“ to discover it. He estimated its extent as “equal to all the civilised parts of Asia from Turkey to China inclusive,“ and located it as reaching from the South Pole to 30° S. latitude.—(Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries, pp. xxiii, xxiv, and xxv.) From a comparison of the proportion of land to water in the northern hemisphere, it was held that a continent was wanting in the southern hemisphere “to counterpoize the land in the north, and to maintain the equilibrium necessary for the earth’s motion.“ The second voyage of Cook, i.e., the one of 1772–5, effectually disposed of this visionary continent. In the Introduction to his Voyage towards the South Pole, Cook alludes to Quiros as being the first who had any idea of the existence of a southern continent. It is evident that he intended to dismiss as pure fiction the reports of the discovery of a southern continent by Juan Fernandez, nearly half a century before Quiros.

page 4 voyage than what was, but as it is I presume this voyage will be found as compleat as any before made to the So. seas on the same acc’t.

The plans I have drawn of the places I have been at were made with all the care and accuracy that time and circumstances would admit of. Thus far I am certain that the latitude and longitude of few parts of the word are better settled than these. In this I was very much assisted by Mr. Green, who let slip no one opportunity for making of observations for settling the long’de during the whole course of the voyage, and the many valuable discoveries made by Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander in natural history and other things useful to the learned world, cannot fail of contributing very much to the success of the voyage. In justice to the officers and the whole of crew, I must say they have gone through the fatigues and dangers of the whole voyage with that cheerfulness and alertness that will always do honor to British seamen, and I have the satisfaction to say that I have not lost one man by sickness during the whole voyage.*

I hope the repairs wanting to the ship will not be so great as to detain us any length of time. You may be assured that I shall make no unnecessary delay, either here or at any other place, but shall make the best of my way home.

I have, &c.,

James Cook.

* This is not quite correct; a Seaman named Sutherland died of consumption at Botany Bay. But, doubtless, Cook, by “sickness,“ meant the terrible scourge of scurvy, which wrought such havoc with the crews of previous circumnavigators. His next letter told a very different tale.