Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Historical Records of New Zealand

Captain Cook to Secretary Stephens

Captain Cook to Secretary Stephens.

20 October, 1778.


Having accidentally met with some Russians, who have promised to put this in a way of being sent to Petersburgh, and as I neither have nor intend to visit Kamtschatka as yet, I

According to Cook’s published account, “Mr. Ismyloff,“ a Russian, described as the principal person amongst his countrymen in Oonalashka and the neighbouring islands, agreed to take charge of this letter, together with certain charts, and to send them to Kamtschatka or to Okotsk the ensuing spring, stating at the same time that he would be at St. Petersburg in the following winter.—(A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, vol. ii, p. 506.) He is apparently identical with the Captain Ishmyloff appointed to succeed Major Behm.

page 30 take this opportunity to give their Lordships a short account of my proceedings from leaving the Cape of Good Hope to this time.

After leaving the Cape, I, pursuant to their Lordships’ instructions, visited the island lately seen by the French,* situated between the latitude of 48° 40′ and 50° south, and in the longitude of 69 1/2° E’t. These islands abounds with good harbours and fresh water, but produceth neither tree nor shrub, and but very little of any other kind of vegetation. After spending five days on the coast thereof, I quitted it on the 30th of December; just touched at Van Diemen’s Land; arrived at. Queen Charlotte’s Sound, in New Zealand, the 13th February, 1777; left it again oh the 25th, and pushed for Otaheite. I found that the Spaniards from Callao had been twice at this island from the time of my leaving it in 1774. The first time they came they left behind them, designedly, four Spaniards, who remained upon the island about ten months; but were all gone some time before my arrival. They had also brought to and left on the island, goats, hogs, and dogs, one bull and a ram, but never a female of either of these species, so that those I carried and put on shore there were highly acceptable. These consisted of a bull and three cows, a ram and five ewes, besides poultry of four sorts, and a horse and mare, with Omai. At the Friendly Isles I left a bull and cow, a horse and mare, and some sheep, in which I flatter myself that the laudable intentions of the King and their Lordships have been fully answered.

I left Omai at Huaheine; quitted the Society Isles the 9th of December; proceeded to the north, and in the latitude of 22° No., longitude 200° east, fell in with a group of islands, inhabited by the same nation as Otaheite, and abounding with hogs and roots. After a short stay at these islands, continued our rout for the coast of America, which we made on the 7th of last March, and on the 29th, after enduring several storms, got into a port in the latitude of 49 1/2° north.§ At this place, besides taking in

* Kerguelen Island.

The Sandwich Islands, so named by Cook in honour of the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty. They were discovered at daybreak on the morning of the 18th January, 1778. It is an open question whether these islands had not been visited by Europeans at a very early period; but there can be no doubt but that, even if such was the case, all knowledge of their existence, certainly of their locality, had been long since lost; consequently, whichever view is taken of the matter, the credit accruing to Cook remains the same. The whole question is discussed at length in Jarves’s History of the Hawaiian Islands.

The coast of America was made in latitude 44° 33′ N.

§ This port Cook called King George’s Sound. He, however, mentions that the native name was Nootka, by which it has since been generally known. It is situated on the western coast of Vancouver Island.

page 31 wood and water, the Resolution was supplied with a new mizenmast, fore-topmast, and her foremast got out and repaired.

I put to sea again the 26th of April, and was no sooner out of port than we were attacked by a violent storm, which was the occasion of so much of the coast being passed unseen. In this gale the Resolution sprung a leak, which obliged me to put into a port in the latitude of 61°, longitude 213° east. In a few days I was again at sea, and soon found we were on a coast where every step was to be considered, where no information could be had from maps, either modern or ancient; confiding too much in the former, we were frequently misled, to our no small hinderence.

On an extensive coast altogether unknown, it may be thought needless to say that we met with many obstacles before we got through the narrow strait that divides Asia from America, where the coast of the latter takes a N.E. direction. I followed it, flattered with the hopes of having at last overcome all difficulties, when, on the 17th of August, in the latitude 70° 45′, longitude 198° east, we were stopped by an impenertrable body of ice, and had so far advanced between it and the land before we discovered it that little was wanting to force us on shore.

Finding I could no longer proceed along the coast, I tryed what could be done farther out, but the same obstacle everywhere presented itself quite over to the coast of Asia, which we made on the 29th of the same month, in the latitude of 68° 55′, longitude 180 1/2° east. As frost and snow, the forerunners of winter, began to set in, it was thought too late in the season to make a farther attempt for a passage this year in any direction; I therefore steered to the S.E., along the coast of Asia, passed the strait above mentioned, and then stood over for the America coast, to clear some doubts, and to search, but in vain, for a harbour to compleat our wood and water. Wood is a very scarce article in all these northern parts, except in one place there is none upon the sea-coast but what is thrown ashore by the sea, some of which we got on board, and then proceeded to this place, where we had been before to take in water. From hence I intend to proceed to Sandwich Islands,* that is those discovered in 22° north latitude; after refreshing there, returned to the north by the way of Kamtschatka, and the ensuing summer make another and final attempt to find a northern 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 coasts of the two continents is flat for some distance off, and even in the middle between the two the depth of water is inconsider-

* Cook proceeded to the Sandwich Islands, and it was while there that he was massacred.

page 32 able
; 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.

There is another discouraging circumstance attending the navigating these northern parts, and that is the want of harbours where a ship can occasionally retire to secure herself from the ice, or repair any damage she may have sustained. For a more particular description of the America coast I beg leave to refer to the enclosed chart, which is hastily copied from an original of the same scale.

The reason of my not going to the harbour of St. Peter and St. Paul, in Kamtschatka, to spend the winter, is the great dislike I have to lay inactive for six or eight months, while so large a part of the Northern Pacific Ocean remains unexplored, and the state and condition of the ships will allow me to be moving. Sickness has been little felt in the ships, and scurvy not at all. I have, however, had the misfortune to lose Mr. Anderson, my surgeon, who died of a lingering consumption two months ago, and one man some time before of the dropsey, and Captain Clerke had one drowned by accident, which are all we have lost since we left the Cape of Good Hope.

Stores and provisions we have enough for twelve months, and longer without a supply of both 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 by

Your, &c.,

Jam’s Cook.