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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, November 1955

Early Voyages to New Zealand — Episodes Associated with Captain Cook

page Two

Early Voyages to New Zealand
Episodes Associated with Captain Cook

(Read before the Nelson Historical Society on 28th July, 1955.)

Apart from the definite record of Tasman's discovery of New Zealand in 1642 there are indefinite indications of much earlier discovery. For example, Eccles, in Proceedings New Zealand Institute, vol. III, p. 65, discusses the claim that Arabic geographers were acquainted with the existence of New Zealand, and quotes from "The English Mechanic" for December 3, 1869, p. 279, to the effect that various Arabic geographical works of the 13th and 14th centuries (many of which have been translated) describe New Zealand as a large and very mountainous island in the farthest southern ocean, beyond and far south-east of Borneo, and as being uninhabited by man but by gigantic birds (sheemoah).

Whether this has been investigated I don't know; but it is possible that there is some truth in the statement when one remembers the ancient trade in Asia, with trade routes involving Australia. There is also the mystery of the Tamil Bell found in the North Island; and also reports of the Spaniards having visited Port Nicholson prior to Cook's time, I think. Again it is claimed that the Portuguese visited New Zealand in 1550, though there is no known official record of this.

After Cook

There were few voyagers to New Zealand during the first 20 years following Cook's first visit in 1769-70; but, from 1790 onwards an increasing number of ships visited the country and trade opened, particularly with Sydney, in whaling, sealing, flax and spars. Indeed, as early as 1772 kauri spars were secured at the Bay of Islands by the Frenchmen Marion and Crozet (Mascarin); they had come from Mauritius, and, apart from taking possession of the North Island (calling it "France Australe") in the name of the French King (forestalled by Cook, of course), they named the Bay of Islands "Port de la Trachery."

It is also of interest that a cargo of spars was shipped to China even, in 1798. The first whalers were established at Dusky Sound in 1792. The ships were mainly British, French and American, though in 1793 Spanish ships, Descuvierta and Atrevida visited Dusky Sound. From 1800 onwards connection with the outer world became an established fact.

Throughout the 19th century and into the present, many of the voyages were scientific ones. Of such we can mention the Russian expedition under Bellinghausen in 1820; the French voyages of the Coquille, the Astrolabe, and of the Astrolabe and the Zelee— that is voyages of D'Urville during 1822–25, 1826–29, and 1837–40 respectively; Darwin came on the Beagle in 1830; the British voyage of the Erebus and the Terror, 1839–43, the Austrian frigate Novara, 1857–59; the Challenger expedition that visited Wellington in 1874—and reported Wellington be "a poor, dull place"; and the French and German Transit of Venus Expeditions during 1874 and 1875. In passing, it is perhaps worth noting that, because the French and Germans were at one another's throats in Europe at the time, the French went to the Campbell Islands and the Germans to the Auckland Islands where they could be undisturbed by mundane matters and commune with Venus in peace.

In the present century there have been about nine scientific expeditions; one German, one French, one American and the others British; all but one have been Antarctic or Sub-antarctic.

What Cook Brought

It would seem that the first permanent European influences that came to disturb the primeval scene in New Zealand were the result of Cook's first voyage during 1769–70. It was then, when the ships were beached for repairs, that European rats, according to the records, had free access to the page Threeshore; also at that time, the European flea gained a footing. Prior to this, the only fleas known to the Maori were those of the bat and the blue penguin. It is possible, too, that cockroaches, and the farinaceous insects attacking ship's biscuits (which were heavily infested), and also clothes moths, could have become established. In early shipping (even in the late 19th century) rotting potatoes were the means of house flies being transported over the world; but as far as I can find from records in London, no potatoes were carried by Cook on his first voyage, though he did so in his later voyages. By the way, the potato as we call it, or the Irish potato, is no more a potato than a hedgehog is a hog, and it is much less Irish than an Englishman could ever be a Scot. The kumara is the true potato.

As Cook sailed the coast of New Zealand in the Endeavour in 1769, he was quite unaware that a French expedition, under Des Surville, was at anchor for three weeks in Doubtless Bay. Des Surville's was not a scientific voyage but one in search of an El Dorado, a wild-goose chase inspired by reports that New Zealand not only abounded in gold and other riches but also was populated by a curious colony of Jews. Wondering why there should have been so much interest, not so much in gold and other riches as in seeking out another race of Jews to conquer, I looked into the origin of this fantastic vision, and found a very simple explanation of it.

The curtain rose upon a certain John Law (or Lauriston) of Edinburgh, who had migrated to France in 1705 and became Comptroller of Finances to Louis XV. This man Law had a nephew (who had obviously inherited his uncle's flair). He was created Compte de Tancerville and Governor-General of Pondicherry, capital of French possessions in India. Possibly with visions of another Peru, it was the fertile imagination of this nephew that caused the speculative expedition to be entered into under Des Surville. One historical issue of the undertaking, however, lies in the fact that Des Surville named Doubtless Bay "Lauriston Bay," after his patron. The only other features of that expedition worthy of note are that Des Surville shamefully ill-treated the Maoris, that he abducted a Maori youth named Ngaiuni (who died as the ship sailed on to Peru), and that Des Surville himself met his end by drowning while attempting to land at Callao, port of Lima, in Peru.

Banks did not Come

I turn now to Cook's second voyage in the Resolution. There are one or two features not generally known, or at least not made clear. Cook had wished to commission the well-tried Endeavour of his first voyage; but she had been sent on a mission to the Falkland Islands. It is well known that Banks travelled with Cook on his first voyage, and had expended £10,000 from his own resources on it. On being commissioned to join the second voyage, he set about his preparations; but the Naval Board took exception to the superstructures he wished to erect on the ship because it was considered they would make the ship unseaworthy. Banks withdrew from the expedition and went off to the Arctic regions instead—to cool off, perhaps. It is of interest to note that it is said that even without what Banks wanted, the Resolution was overbuilt, and in danger of capsizing as she sailed from Deptford to Sheerness.

In place of Banks as naturalist to the expedition, the position was offered to the Rev. Joseph Priestley, of dissenting and chemistry fame. Concerning this offer Priestley records in his memoirs as follows:

"While I was at Leeds a proposal was made to me to accompany Captain Cook in his second voyage to the South Seas. As the terms were very advantageous I consented to it, and the heads of my congregation had agreed to keep an assistant to supply my place during my absence. But Mr Banks informed me that I was objected to by some clergymen in the Board of Longitude, who had the direction of the business, on account of my religious principles; and presently after I heard that Dr Forster, a person far better qualified for the purpose, had got the appointment. As I had barely acquiesced in the proposal, this was no disappointment to me, and I was much better employed at home, even with respect to my philosophical pursuits. My knowledge of natural history was not suffi-page Fourcient for the undertaking; but at that time I should, by application, have been able to supply the deficiency; though now I am sensible I could not do it."

It would seem that that Board of Longitude could navigate its way through life without latitude.

The Forsters

Dr John Reinhold Forster and his son George, both of whom accompanied Cook in the Resolution, were Germans of high attainments, the son being a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. The father had an evil temper and caused difficulties, all the more aggravated on a small ship. We do not read much about them except that they did excellent work on the voyage, but one is left with the impression that the act of the son in forestalling Cook's publication on the history of the voyage was underhand. Becoming curious about this, I managed to secure some interesting information from a letter written by George Forster setting out the case. This letter was written in 1778, after the voyage, and addressed to the Earl of Sandwich, then Lord Commissioner of the Board of Admiralty. A copy of the letter is in the Hocken Library.

An Earl's Background

The fact of Sandwich having a hand in the affair caused one to suspect that the problem was by no means onesided on the Forsters' part, Sandwich having been notorious as a profligate and a corrupt administrator. He took a leading part in that infamous fraternity known as the Monks of Medmenham. where one of his associates in pleasure was Wilkes, in whose persecution Sandwich had no compunction in taking part later. Sandwich was popularly known as Jemmy Twitcher—from a line in the "Beggars' Opera". Sandwich's reputation was such that he is the hero In a publication entitled "Adventures Intrigues and Amours of Jemmy Twitcher". However, perhaps one should not be too hard on him because he handed on to civilisation the blessing of sandwiches (named after him) which he had invented so that he could take a meal without the trouble of leaving the gaming table. But I purposefully give this sketch of Sandwich as a background to the Forsters' problems.

The Forsters were offered, and accepted, the sum of £4000 from the Admiralty to meet their expenses on the expedition—i.e., equipment, share of living expenses and general personal maintenance, and to pay anyone they might employ. Their statement of expenditure after the voyage showed that 9-10th of the £4000 was absorbed in these charges, leaving a balance of £400 between them. Apart from the £4000, the senior Forster was promised the right of drawing up the history of the expedition, and also the royalties from the sales of the publication in addition to a yearly pension after his return. This was agreed to by the Hon. Daines Barrington, acting on instructions from Sandwich. Forster senior asked that the agreement be ratified by the Admiralty Board, but Barrington replied that that was not necessary as the Lords Commissioner intended to carry out the agreement. On this basis the Forsters set out with Cook, who, by the way, "had pleaded his inability to write" the account of the voyage and "had given up all thoughts of becoming an author."

On reaching the Cape of Good Hope the Forsters met Andres Sparrman, a Swede and a pupil of Linnaeus, who was studying the botany of South Africa. He was asked to join the expedition, the Forsters to pay him £500; Sparrman accepted and Cook consented. Sparrman's account of the voyage was issued in English first in 1944 and again in 1953. In it he tells us that the Resolution, and her consort, the Endeavour, carried sawn timber from which a vessel of 40 tons could be constructed in case of shipwreck; however, this did not come about—but the nails came in useful for the purchase of provisions from the natives. He also states that the lucrative rank of purser fell to the lot of Captain Cook, who, in Sparrman's words, "could feed his company by means of beads, nails, and old iron, often of little value, instead of having to use the Government salt provisions to which he was entitled." So the purser's perquisites seem to be traditional.

page Five

Cook's Second Thoughts

But we must return to Forster's letter to the Earl of Sandwich. On the return voyage Sparrman had been disembarked at the Cape. At that port a copy of Hawkesworth's published account of Cook's first voyage awaited Cook together with information on the great profits from the sale. It was then that Cook, who had declined to write an account of his first voyage, and of his second, decided to enter the field of authorship—a decision which must have disturbed the Forsters in view of the agreement under which they had sailed.

It seems that complications commenced to set in when, on the return to England, the Earl of Sandwich visited the ship in company with his mistress, a singer named Margaret Ray; from all accounts she had considerable influence over Sandwich—not an uncommon feature of such liaisons. She was certainly very wayward on this occasion because, having taken what Forster refers to as a "violent longing to be the mistress" of some beautiful birds brought home for the King, she left the ship highly dissatisfied when she met with refusal. From that day all went wrong with the Forsters.

The original agreement with the Forsters regarding the publication of the history of the voyage and the royalties therefrom was rescinded, and a suggestion was made that the profits be divided with Cook; but that came to nothing. Then it was arranged that 2-5th went to Forster, and equal amount to Cook, and l-5th to the artist; this was agreed to.

Forster Senior Dismissed

It appears that by now Cook was taking a hand, because he later demanded half the profits, with nothing to be allowed to the artist on the grounds that the latter would be on a pension in any case. By this latest proposal Forster and Cook were to write each his part of the narrative, Forster to be responsible for the collating to make one connected history. This was actually commenced, Forster drawing up specimen sheets which he submitted to Sandwich, who, after perusal, rejected them, giving no reason.

Up to this point there had only been verbal agreements, or rather disagreements. But now an attempt was made to put the matter on a more businesslike footing. A new agreement was drawn up, signed by Sandwich and witnessed; a copy of this is appended to Forster's letter. By it Cook was to write the nautical version, and Forster, senr., the philosophical (by which I assume was meant the natural history, ethnology, etc.), and the profits were to be equally divided between Cook and Forster, while the Admiralty Board would bear the expense of the engraved plates. Later Forster, as editor, handed the manuscript of the combined narrative to Sandwich, who submitted it to Barrington with instructions to correct it. When we remember what an accomplished and fluent writer Forster was we can understand his reaction to Barrington's mutilations, which, if accepted, would, Forster declared, make "the account of the voyage" have "no more connection than a book of aphorisms." Forster refused to submit to this treatment, and Sandwich threatened to deprive him of all emoluments. The impasse never resolving itself, the threat was carried out, Forster being told that his services were dispensed with. As Forster, senr., had relinquished his permanent employment to undertake the voyage with Cook—and there being no such thing as a welfare State—he was left destitute.

Son Cashes in

It was then that George Forster, the son, wrote and published his own account of the voyage, and this appeared some time before that by Cook which, although nominally written by him, was edited by the Rev. Dr Douglas, Bishop of Carlisle and later of Salisbury. When Cook's account appeared it was a much more lavish production than Forster's, and was very well illustrated, having the financial backing of the Admiralty. Not to be outdone by Forster's beating the pistol, Sandwich authorised Cook's account to be sold below cost, at the same price as Forster's; the sales of the latter were understandably undermined, while Cook was compensated by Sandwich for the reduction in price. Altogether some 3000 copies of Cook's publication were sold at the time.