The Life of Captain James Cook
IX — New Zealand
For the first few days it was possible to hold a fairly direct southerly course, while Tupaia expatiated upon islands, and the captain himself and Banks, one imagines, began to compose their immensely valuable descriptions of the life of Tahiti and the neighbouring island group. The weather was agreeable. Four days from Raiatea, in latitude 22°26', an island was sighted to the east, and this one at least was prophesied by Tupaia—‘Ohetiroa’, Hiti-roa or Rurutu—a high island, dark-green with the toa or casuarina on its more level parts close to the shore, without barrier reef but fringed all round with a coral bank. As the ship could not get in close and Cook had no wish to stay he sent off the pinnace with Gore, Banks and Tupaia, to see if they could land and acquire any knowledge from the inhabitants of what lay to the southward. These inhabitants, in their bright red or yellow stained tapa garments, with their lances and spears of toa wood, proved a little belligerent, trying to seize the boat; so that, after the harmless discharge of a musket or two and some inconsiderable trade, Cook, having made the circuit of the island, hoisted her in again and made sail. He ignored Tupaia's pleas to turn west: not in that direction lay his instructions. Within the next week the weather began to deteriorate: as it got colder the island hogs and fowls, taken for a sea stock, unused to any diet but their native vegetables, began to sicken and die; neither did the store of those vegetables, other than yams and plantains, last well. Sea birds were abundant, albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters. The great Pacific swell discouraged any thought of land, though as early as 16 August a line of cloud in the east tempted the ship off her course for part of the morning. August 25 was the anniversary of her departure from England. The gentlemen brought out a piece of Cheshire cheese and tapped a cask of porter, and ‘livd like English men’, said Banks. There had been too much tapping of other casks, he thought, by surreptitious persons without need to celebrate, but at least they had not filled them up again with salt water, as he was told was the habit. Within a few days of this, died unexpectedly the boatswain's mate, page 197 John Reading, who was fond of being drunk—for some unexplained reason carried off by three half-pints of rum, neat, which the boatswain had given him ‘out of mere good nature’.
At the end of the month a comet was seen, a phenomenon observed also at Greenwich and Paris. September came in with squalls and gales and rain, high seas and cold, and more than once Cook brought to. On the first day of the month, in the afternoon, he found he was beyond the parallel to which his orders took him, in latitude 40°22′, and longitude 145°39′ W. He decided, with some regret, that he had come far enough: ‘I did intend to have stood to the Southward if the winds had been moderate so long as they continued westerly notwithstanding we had no prospect of meeting with land, rather then stand back to ye northrd on the same track as we came; but as the weather was so very tempestuous I laid a side this design, thought it more advisable to stand to the Northward into better weather least we should receive such damages in our sails & rigging as might hinder the further prosecutions of the Voyage.’1 So, in rather better weather, on a north-westerly course, he sailed up to latitude 29°, on 19 September—briefly misled one day by a fog-bank which looked like land, and sounding without finding bottom in a paler-coloured sea; then south-west to 38°30′ ten days later. In those days seaweed had begun to float by, and one or two pieces of barnacle-covered wood, and everyone noticed the seal asleep in the water, and reflected that seals do not go far from land. The collectors never finished collecting: October brought one or two calms, in which Banks was off in a boat, shooting birds and netting jelly-fish. Cook altered course, as he made west, to a little north, then a little south. Expectation was rising. There was a gallon of rum promised to the first person who should sight land, despite John Reading's fate, with the further promise that his name should be given to some part of the coast. ‘Now’, wrote Banks for 30 October,
do I wish that our friends in England could by the assistance of some magical spying glass take a peep at our situation: Dr Solander setts at the Cabbin table describing, myself at my Bureau Journalizing, between us hangs a large bunch of sea weed, upon the table lays the wood and barnacles; they would see that notwithstanding our different occupations our lips move very often, and without being conjurors might guess that we were talking about what we should see upon the land which there is now no doubt we shall see very soon.2
If friends of Cook could have invoked this magical glass they might have wondered whether he retained any rights in his own cabin.
1 Journals I, 161.
2 Banks, I, 396.
‘Our old enemy Cape fly away entertaind us for three hours this morn’: it is Banks again, 5 October, about latitude 38°, and some were sure the clouds were land. A paler sea had for some days again caused frequent sounding, without bottom. The 6th came with settled weather and gentle easterly breezes, before which the ship sailed slowly, making once more a little northing. At 2 p.m. a boy at the masthead, Nicholas Young, shouted Land!—and by sunset the line, no bank of cloud or fog, could be seen from the deck. At noon next day it was still about 8 leagues away, high land; below the heights smoke was rising; the weather was still clear; before nightfall a bay was descried, and the inland ranges appeared higher than ever. ‘Much difference of opinion and many conjectures about Islands, rivers, inlets &c. but all hands seem to agree that this is certainly the Continent we are in search of’, are the words Banks commits to his journal that night.1 In the morning Cook stood in for the bay, where canoes, people, and houses could be seen; the sail-makers were busy making covers for the ‘blunderbusses’—presumably the swivel guns—for boat service, so that he was taking no chances with these potentially difficult inhabitants; in the afternoon he anchored on the north-east side of the bay before the entrance of a small river, and immediately went ashore with Banks, Solander, and a party in the yawl and pinnace. They landed on the east side of the river.
1 Banks, I, 399.
2 Journals I, 262, n. 5. His chart of the coast between Poverty Bay and the Court of Aldermen has the note ‘(N.B. This chart was taken before this country was found to be an island).’
A discovery, none the less, immediately concerned with men; for he had landed. The first two days were disastrous, all that Cook deplored and Lord Morton had warned him against, all with the best intentions. These Indians, clearly, did not regard the stranger as someone automatically to be welcomed. Cook, seeing a number of them on the west side of the river, crossed over in the yawl to meet them, leaving the pinnace at the river entrance. When they made off he and his party walked two or three hundred yards to look at some huts; at this four men rushed out from the trees on the eastern side to seize the yawl, which, warned by shouts from the pinnace, dropped downstream closely pursued; the pinnace fired, first over the pursuers' heads, then directly at them, and one fell dead. His three companions stopped, startled by this novelty in killing. Cook went back to the ship. He landed again next morning, this time with the marines, on the river's west bank, to face a body of hostile people on the other side, flourishing their weapons and leaping in a war dance. He managed to bring them to a parley; to his surprise, they understood Tupaia perfectly; twenty or thirty of them swam over to him. In spite of presents given them they remained truculent, snatching at the English weapons, Tupaia was full of warnings; when one of them fled with Green's hanger Cook felt forced to have him page 200 fired at, first with small shot, then with ball; and he fell fatally wounded. The others retreated with his arms and a few wounds from further small shot. Cook, baffled of friendly contact and finding the river salt, decided to row round the bay, both to look for fresh water and if possible to surprise and secure some persons, who might then be convinced that his intentions were friendly. Heavy surf prevented his landing a second time this day, but seeing two canoes coming in from fishing he intercepted one of them. Tupaia's invitations failed to attract its occupants, and a shot fired over their heads, instead of stopping them, caused them to attack the boat with every weapon and missile they had. Cook, on the defensive, ordered his men to fire again: two or three of these uncomprehending savages were killed, and three more, all young, who jumped into the water were taken up. On board the ship these young fellows, who were inured to hazardous chances, turned at once ‘as cheerful and as merry as if they had been with their own friends’; they ‘seem'd much less concerned at what had happen'd then I was myself.’1 Cheerful and merry Cook could not be. He had meant well and his well meaning had broken down. He had to accuse himself in his journal; but could he accuse himself unreservedly?
I can by no means justify my conduct in attacking and killing the people in this boat who had given me no just provocation and was wholy igernorant of my design and had I had the least thought of their making any resistance I would not so much as have looked at them but when we was once a long side of them we must either have stud to be knockd on the head or else retire and let them gone off in triumph and this last they would of Course have attributed to thier own bravery and our timorousness.2
That did not seem quite right and he tried again, beginning, ‘I am aware that most humane men who have not experienced things of this nature will cencure my conduct’, and omitting those last miserable phrases with which, after all, he had tried to buttress self-justification, ‘and let them gone off in triumph …’.3 He did not deny the bravery: his men recorded it with admiration. As for Banks, who had been the first to fire that morning, he had his own sorrow to set down: ‘Thus ended the most disagreable day My life has yet seen, black be the mark for it and heaven send that such may never return to embitter future reflection.’4 The reader may himself care to reflect that this was a rather new note in the literature of discovery.
1 Journals I, ccxi, 171.
2 ibid., ccxi, printed from a fragment in the Mitchell Library.
3 For Cook's final version of his account see Journals I, 171.
4 Banks, I, 403.
The following day some wood was cut and the three youths, full of ship's food and reluctant to leave, were put ashore. Out of some two hundred armed natives who assembled only one man seemed conversable, crossing the river to receive presents; Cook therefore to avoid a further clash, took his men back to the ship. Early next morning, 11 October, he stood out of the bay. What would he call it: Endeavour Bay? He thought so, then changed to Poverty Bay, ‘because it afforded us no one thing we wanted’ except a little wood, in spite of the obvious population and the smokes that spread far up the inland valleys. The name of the boy Nicholas Young was used, true to promise—the south-west point of the bay became Young Nick's Head. Cook turned down the coast intending to go as far as 40° or 41° and then, if the prospect was not encouraging, to sail north again. In this way he employed a week of running survey and sporadic contact with the New Zealanders, often enough hostile, who came off in their canoes to inspect the wonder.
On the first afternoon, in a calm, several canoes came along-side and some men even on board, to trade their paddles for Tahitian cloth. Three stayed overnight, and reassured more cautious visitors in the morning that their hosts did not eat men. The three captured youths, when first put on shore, had seemed afraid of being killed and eaten by their enemies. Were these savages then cannibals? There was then no further evidence, and the men departed. This was off the flat headland Cook called Cape Table, whence the land trended south-south-west on the outside of a peninsula to the Isle of Portland, much like its namesake in the English Channel; and hauling round the south end of this island he found himself in a large bay. It was large enough to contain subsidiary bays; behind its white cliffs, sandy beaches and houses, a well-wooded interior ran back to hills and mountains patched with snow; but as Cook slowly followed its coast, he could find no harbour or watering place, while more than once he had to disperse hostile canoes with shots fired wide from his four-pounders. On the 15th, abreast of a point which was the south-west limit of the bay, there was a more serious incident. Several canoes came out to the ship and sold her some ‘stinking’—that is, smoked or dried—fish; ‘however, it was such as they had, and we were glad to enter into traffick with them upon any terms.’ Then a man cheated the captain of a piece of red cloth, offered in exchange for a dog-skin cloak, and the canoes all put off, only to return with more of the fish. Bargaining went on during which Tupaia's servant-boy, Taiata, was over the side; he was suddenly snatched into a canoe, the canoe fled, the ship opened fire, in the confusion the boy page 202 leapt from the canoe into the water and was rescued, and the natives retreated to the shore with two or three more dead. To the bay Cook gave the name of Sir Edward Hawke, the First Lord; the cape he called Kidnappers. He continued in fine weather slowly down the coast, which did not alter its direction, past houses and canoes by day and fires by night; until on the 17th, having come to his limit, ‘Seeing no likelyhood of meeting with a harbour, and the face of the Country Vissibly altering for the worse’, he ‘thought that the standing farther to the South would not be attended with any Valuable discovery, but would be loosing of time which might be better employ'd and with a greater probabillity of Success in examining the Coast to the Northward'. It was off Cape Turnagain, which he put in latitude 40°34', that he reversed his course; and his instinct was quite sound.
1 Parkinson uses the form Te Karu. ‘Tegadoo’ illustrates the difficulty Cook had sometimes in reducing a native word to English, as well as in determining a place name. It may be derived from Te ngaru, breakers or the heavy surf his informant thought he was referring to. See Journals I, 183, n. 1.
2 Wild celery was a genuine celery, Apium prostratum. The ‘scurvy grass’, Maori nau, botanical Lepidium oleraceum, was once very common on New Zealand coasts, but few living eyes have seen it, except in a herbarium, as it has been eaten out of existence by sheep and cattle.
Next day he rounded East Cape, which he had ‘great reason to think … the Eastermost land on this whole Coast’, passed Hicks Bay (Lieutenant Hicks being the first to sight it), and Cape Runaway, off which a number of suspiciously heavily armed canoes were sent hurrying off to shore by a round shot fired over their heads; and was in the large opening in the coast he was to call the Bay of Plenty. He called it so not from any improvement in his own fortunes, but from the fertile, cultivated and well-populated appearance of the land. Off one island he saw a large double canoe full of people, one of the few of these canoes seen since Tasman. Visiting canoes tended to disregard European ethics of trade, paddling off without return for what they were given: it did not strike Cook—how could it?—that here might be current different rules of exchange, and that if he waited he might get a handsome equivalent later on as a present; indeed, if it had struck him, he could not afford to wait. Nor could he afford the linen, towing over the side to wash, which was carried off without ceremony, nor did volleys of stones seem the mark of a generous spirit; so that his own friendly efforts were varied with an occasional musket shot or four-pounder. There were a number of islands in the bay, rocks, some shoal water, all to go down on the chart. Further west the country changed its appearance: ‘Continent appeard this morn barren and rocky’, noted Banks on 3 November, noting also the cluster of rocks and islets that was called the Court of Aldermen from their resemblance, ‘thick and squat or lank and tall, to some one or other of those respectable citizens’ of London. In the afternoon three canoes came alongside, unornamented, simply hollowed out of large trees, with naked paddlers, ‘yet these few despicable gentry sang their song of defiance and promisd us as heartily as the most respectable of their countrey men that they page 205 would kill us all’.1 When Cook turned into an inlet that appeared an hour later the ship was accompanied by a small truculent fleet, which went away with the further promise to attack her on the morrow—a promise which led to nothing beyond a visit by night, some ‘parading about’, trade and ‘trickery’ in the morning, and the discharge of a few firearms; after which the people became extremely friendly. Cook found a good anchorage a mile inside the south entrance point of the inlet, off a smooth sandy half-moon beach and a river into which the boats could go at low water. Here was the harbour he had wanted; here also a convenient place for observing the transit of Mercury, due on 9 November, which if well done would give him an accurate longitude. Here, in Mercury Bay,2 he was to remain for eleven days, observing, wooding and watering, recruiting his men, cleaning the ship, surveying (one of his own most elaborate coastal profiles takes in the whole circuit of the bay), and giving much study to the life of the people of the district.
1 Banks, I, 425.
2 On the name see Journal, I, 202, n. 3. It was a second choice; he at first intended to use a native name, probably ‘Opoorage’, from Purangi, the name of the stream he called ‘Oyster River’.
3 Journals I, 196.
4 And probably to assert land-claims, which was a matter Cook could not guess at. To quote later Maori reminiscence: ‘Our tribe was living there at that time. We did not live there as our permanent home, but were there according to our custom of living for some time on each of our blocks of land, to keep our claim to each, and that our fire might be kept alight on each block, so that it might not be taken from us by some other tribe.’—Beaglehole, The Discovery of New Zealand, 89.
He and Banks were not the only curious observers. The people were tenacious of memory; more than eighty years later, when Cook's countrymen had come to New Zealand as settlers, an ancient chief, Te Horeta, a man of blood in many wars, told them of the great happening of his childhood. The ship had come, it seemed a supernatural thing, and its men supernatural beings, for they pulled their boats with their backs to the shore where they were to land—had they eyes at the backs of their heads? They pointed a stick at a shag, there was thunder and lightning and the shag fell dead; the children were terrified and ran with the women into the trees. But these tupua, goblins or demons, were kind, and gave food: something hard like pumice-stone but sweet, something else that was fat, perhaps whale-blubber or flesh of man, though it was salt and nipped the throat—ships bread, or biscuit, salt beef or pork. There was one who collected shells, flowers, tree-blossoms and stones. They invited the boys to go on board the ship with the warriors, and little Te Horeta went, and saw the warriors exchange their cloaks for other goods, and saw the one who was clearly the lord, the leader of the tupua. He spoke seldom, but felt the cloaks and handled the weapons, and patted the children's cheeks and gently touched their heads. The boys did not walk about, they were afraid lest they should be bewitched, they sat still and looked; and the great lord gave Te Horeta a nail, and Te Horeta said Ka pai, which is ‘very good’, and people laughed. Te Horeta used this nail on his spear, and to make holes in the side boards of canoes; he had it for a god but one day his canoe capsized and he lost it, and though he dived for it he could not find it. And this lord, the leader, gave Te Horeta's people two hand-fuls of potatoes, which they planted and tended; they were the first people to have potatoes in this country. There are other traditions, brief lights: none as circumstantial as this.1
1 Te Horeta Taniwha told his story to numerous people. It is now most easily to be consulted in Beaglehole, Discovery of New Zealand, 88 ff., reprinted from John White, Ancient History of the Moori, V (Wellington, 1889), 121–8.
1 It is to be noted that Cook did not here, or anywhere else in New Zealand, take possession of the whole country, as many New Zealanders fancy he did. On the ‘consent of the Natives’, see his instructions, Journals I, cclxxiii.
2 Journals I, 212.
The familiar pattern of native behaviour was repeated, this time with more danger. A crowd assembled in their canoes, from which a few persons were allowed on board and given presents; then others tried to carry off the buoy of the anchor, the muskets and a gun were fired, the people fled, it took Tupaia's good offices to bring them back. Cook moved the ship farther out, and, with Banks and Solander landed on the island. Almost at once they were surrounded by two or three hundred armed and jostling men, some of whom broke into a war dance while others tried unsuccessfully to seize the boats; pushed back by small shot beyond a line drawn on the sand they rallied more than once, until the attentive Hicks, swinging the ship round, fired her guns over their heads. This dispersed the mob, and they became ‘meek as lambs’. Cook could peaceably load the boats with celery, intending to sail next morning. But next morning the wind fell calm, thereafter turning to the north. He flogged three sailors for robbing sweet potato plantations during the night, and settled down to some days of trafficking, mainly for fish, filling his casks, gathering greens, sounding the harbour, and visiting as much of the country as possible. It was more thickly populated than those parts further south, the people more elaborately tattoed, some of their canoes more elaborately carved; the bay itself beautiful, with many good anchorages, the hills and valleys round it, forests and cultivations, beautiful also. Cook called it the Bay of Islands. Early on 5 December he weighed anchor with a favourable wind, which changed in the afternoon and then faded away altogether, so that shortly before midnight the ship was almost carried on shore by a current; escaping that the ship struck a sunken rock, from which she fortunately went clear without damage. In the morning she was once more safely at sea.
1 Cook's position for the North Cape was 34°22' S, 186°55'W, or 173°5' E. The position as now accepted is 34°26'S, 173°4' E. The most northerly point of the country is in fact Kerr Point (a slight bulge rather than a point) just west of North Cape, a little less than 34°25' S in latitude.
2 Cook's reckoning was 34°30' S, 187°25' W (172°42' E); the modern position is 34°28' S, 172°38' E. His North Cape is just as accurate—even more so, with an error of only one minute in longitude.
1 Journals I, 228.
2 ibid., 230. Admiral Wharton, in a footnote to his edition of Cook's first journal, p. 178, remarks, ‘The mingled audacity and caution of Cook's navigation off this coast must awake the admiration of every seaman.’
At that moment he would have been surprised to learn something else he did not know. He was not the only European sailor to have been on the northern shores he had lately left. Jean François Marie de Surville, one of a French syndicate who had come by garbled reports of an immensely rich Pacific island seven hundred leagues west of Peru—there were elements of Tahiti in this—had sailed from Pondicherry in June 1769 to beat the English to it, just as Cook was taking a last precautionary look at his telescopes in preparation for the Transit. Surville had determined to sail through the Eastern Archipelago; after unwittingly encountering the Solomon Islands he found his men so sick that he determined to strike south and try to pick up Tasman's Staten Land for refreshment; he went to 35° and then changed his course to the east, so that he sighted the New Zealand coast on 12 December, in latitude 35°37', just south of the bar harbour Hokianga. On that day Cook was nearly opposite him, on the other side of the island, half a league from shore. Surville, no more than Cook later, was tempted to make a landing here, and resolved to double Cape Maria van Diemen. This he did, not without some danger as he made his way north. The westerly gale that blew Cook out of sight of land, and out of possible sight of the French vessel, was kinder to Surville; on 16 December he rounded North Cape, with Cook fifty miles to the north, next day anchoring his Saint Jean Baptiste within an opening somewhat to the south which Cook had called, without entering, Doubtless Bay. Unlike Cook, he had a ship's company in dreadful state—sixty men dead, and the rest so enfeebled by scurvy that they could hardly handle the boats. The land, fresh food and water rapidly improved the state of these; but the easterly storm which fell on Cook at sea on the 27th imperilled Surville frighteningly in harbour and he lost anchors, cables and a dinghy. He suspected the local people of stealing his dinghy, alienated them by using force, though unsuccessfully, to recover it, and was compelled to sail away to further disaster, off the coast of page 212 Peru, where he was drowned in attempting to land. A good seaman, he was an adventurer rather than an explorer. One has difficulty in picturing the scene had he and Cook met.
The deep inlet to which Cook had come is a precipitous place, and only at its southern end, so far down that Cook never had time to explore it, does any real expanse of flat country begin; but the steep high hills were clothed in dark green, the land was ‘one intire forest’. Into the cove ran an abundant stream of sweet fresh water; the waters of the sound rendered up god's plenty of fish, its shores illimitable quantities of the wild celery and scurvy grass that were the delight of Cook's heart. He had come in the season of fair weather; for though the winds can tear down in fury from the heights and rain fall heavily, for the first fortnight of his three weeks' stay there was little to record but gentle breezes and a clear sky. There was much work to do: ‘rest’, for Cook's men, tended to be the refreshment they got from change of labours and change of diet, but refreshment they certainly got, and they had their hours of wandering. Few of them were immune to the sound of bird song across the water, so charmingly recorded by Banks two days after the ship anchored. ‘This morn’, he wrote, ‘I was awakd by the singing of the birds ashore from whence we are distant not a quarter of a mile, the numbers of them were certainly very great who seemd to strain their throats with emulation perhaps; their voices were certainly the most melodious wild musick I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells but with the most tuneable silver sound imaginable to which maybe the distance was no small addition. On enquiring of our people I was told that they had observd them ever since we have been here, and that they begin to sing at about 1 or 2 in the morn and continue till sunrise, after which they are silent all day like our nightingales.’1 So does the bell-bird, the Maori korimako, enter the literature of New Zealand, though doubtless his notes were accompanied by those of other victims of the collectors' gun; for Banks and Solander had arrived in another natural historian's paradise. It was plants rather than birds, however, that filled their bags; it was mankind, also the study of the natural historian, that for a moment appalled their minds. For a moment, because in spite of the horror that cannibalism inspires, one must admit that in its discussion there is a certain element of the agreeable.
1 Banks, I, 455–6.
1 Journals I, 236–7.
1 Journals I, 240.
1 The name Cook got may have been He hi no Mani, ‘a thing fished up by Maui’. See Journals I, 243, n. 3; and also Edward Shortland, The Southern Districts of New Zealand (London, 1851), 155–6, and Johannes C. Andersen, Maori Place-Names (Wellington, 1942), 89–91.
1 Journals I, 243, n. 2. Pickersgill's report, quoted in that note, is more easily understood, than Cook's—‘3 lands’, one to the north (three months to circumnavigate); a second, ‘which we was upon’ (the island Arapawa, on the eastern side of Queen Charlotte Sound—four days to circumnavigate); and the third ‘Towie poe namou’ (Very Imperfect knolledge').
1 ‘Mr Gore notwithstanding Yesterdays run was of opinion that what he saw yesterday morning might be land, so he declard on the Quarter deck: on which the Capin who resolved that nobody should say he had left land behind unsought for orderd the ship to be steerd Se.’—Banks, I, 468.
1 The Banks quotations are from I, 470, 471, 472.
2 For discussion of this point see Journals I, 263, n. 2. If Cook had been deceived by his eyes, looking from the western end of the strait, it would have seemed natural—any-how under certain conditions of cloud and atmosphere.
1 Banks, I, 473, and n. 3 on that page; Journals I, 266, n. 1.
2 Journals I, 265–6.
Cook described in his journal, with brevity but feeling, the western coast he had sailed up. There must, he thought, be a continuous chain of mountains from one end of the country to the other. As he was not read in polite literature he did not use the word romantic, but spoke of prodigious heights, barren rocks, snow that perhaps had lain since the creation; no country upon earth could appear with a more rugged and barren aspect; or it is mountains standing back behind wooded hills and valleys; always hills rising from the sea, and forest. Such broad statements come easily enough from the pen. One would like a closer impression than we have of the process by which Cook produced his whole chart of the country's coastline—2400 miles in less than three months. No drafts or trial scraps of paper have been preserved, no pages of calculation, no reference anywhere to work spread out in the great cabin—and one must assume that sometimes the captain had the use of his own quarters. It was almost entirely a running survey from the sea, with a constant eye on compass bearings and sextant angles, though when in harbour for as long page 221 as he was in Queen Charlotte Sound he could use triangulation.1 Whenever he could he climbed hills and took bearings—on his last afternoon we have him on an ‘eminency’ upon the west side of Admiralty Bay; but he could not climb hills at sea. He was scrupulous in fixing the positions of his leading points of reference—‘points of reference’ a phrase that little enough conveys the settled determination of his seamanship off the North Cape. He gives us his own summary of the work that had been done, his own critical estimate of his chart's value. Of the work: ‘This country, which before now was thought to be a part of the imaginary southern continent’— significant words, for one who would know Cook's mind—‘consists of Two large Islands… . Situated between the Latitudes of 34° and 48° S and between the Longitude of 181° and 194° West from the Meridion of Greenwh. The situation of few parts of the world are better determined than these Islands are being settled by some hundred of Observations of the Sun and Moon and one of the transit of Mercury made by Mr Green who was sent out by the Roy Society to observe the Transit of Venus.’2 That told the truth; and it gave Green his due.
Of the chart—and the passage should be quoted in full, because these words too are part of the portrait of Cook, with his anxious regard for the fact, his awareness of some merit, his denial of a claim too great:
The Chart which I have drawn will best point out the figure and extent of these Islands, the situation of the Bays and harbours they contain and the lesser Islands lay[ing] aboutthem. And now I have mentioned the Chart I shall point out such places as are drawn with sufficient accuracy to be depended upon and such as are not, beginning at Cape Pallisser and proceed round Aehei no mouwe by the East Cape &ca. The Coast between
1 Wales, working later over the records of the voyage, and puzzled by the lack of evidence, concluded that Cook ‘determined the ship's place from time to time by means of a series of triangles, which he carried on all round the island, and which formed a continued connection of the situations of the ship with remarkable objects inland, and the principal points of the coast; and he made no farther use of the log than to connect those points of the track which the ship was in when he took his angles and bearings.’ — Wales, Astronomical Observations … (1788), 108.page 222 these two Capes I believe to be laid down pretty accurate both in its figure and the Course and distance from point to point. The oppertunities I had and the methods I made use on to obtain these requesites were such as could hardly admit of an error; from the East Cape to Cape Maria Vandiemen altho it cannot be perfectly true yet it is without any very material error, some few places however must be excepted and these are very doubtfull and are not only here but in every other part of the chart pointed out by a prick'd or broken line. From Cape Maria Vandiemen up as high as the Latitude of 36° 15′ we seldom were nearer the Shore than from 5 to 8 Leagues and therefore the line of the Sea Coast may in some places be erroneous; from the above latitude to nearly the length of Entry Island we run along and near the shore all the way and no circumstance occur'd that made me liable to commit any material error. Excepting Cape Teerawhitte we never came near the shore between Entry Island and Cape Pallisser and therefore this part of the Coast may be found to differ something from the truth. In short I believe that this Island will never be found to differ materialy from the figure I have given it and that the coast affords few or no harbours but what are either taken notice of in this Journal or in some measure point[ed] out in the Chart; but I cannot say so much for Tovy-poenammu, the Season of the year and circumstance of the Voyage would not permit me to spend so much time about this Island as I had done at the other and the blowing weather we frequently met with made it both dangerous and difficult to keep upon the Coast. However I shall point out the places that may be erroneous in this as I have done in the other. From Queen Charlottes Sound to Cape Campbel and as far to the Sw as the Latitude 43° will be found to be pretty accurate, between this Latitude and the Latitude 44°20′ the coast is very doubtfully discribed, a part of which we hardly if att all saw. From this last mentioned Latitude to Cape Sounders we were generally at too great a distance to be particular and the weather at the same time was unfavourable. The Coast as it is laid down from Cape Saunders to Cape South and even to Cape West is no doubt in many places very erroneous as we hardly ever were able to keep near the shore and were some times blowen off altogether. From the West Cape down to Cape Fare-well and even to Queen Charlottes Sound will in most places be found to differ not much from the truth.1
2 Journals I, 274. We may compare with Cook's own words those of Lieutenant Julien Crozet, second in command of Marion du Fresne's Mascarin, which was on the northern New Zealand coast in 1772: ‘As soon as I obtained information of the voyage of the Englishman, I carefully compared the chart I had prepared of that part of the coast of New Zealand along which we had coasted with that prepared by Captain Cook and his officers. I found it of an exactitude and of a thoroughness of detail which astonished me beyond all powers of expression, and I doubt much whether the charts of our own French coasts are laid down with greater precision. I think therefore that I cannot do better than to lay down our track off New Zealand on the chart prepared by this celebrated navigator.’—H. Ling Roth, Crozet's Voyage to Tasmania … (London, 1891), 22.
1 Journals I, 275–6.
1 Journals II, 173–4, 579–80.
1 Journals I, 272–3.
1 Journals II, 112, n. 2, from P.R.O., Adm 55/108.