From New Zealand to England
The Extraordinary voyage proceeded. Cook had completed his parenthesis, which would have made a brilliant reputation for any other explorer; he could revert to the tracing of his main theme, as he had laid it down in early February, in latitude 64° S, longitude 99° W. Having steered south from Austrialia del Espiritu Santo as far as New Zealand, he must now steer still farther south to a latitude somewhere between 50° and 60°, and then east. He could not be the length of Cape Horn in November, because it was November already, and he could not cross the whole width of the Pacific in three weeks; but except for the most untoward happening he could still be at the Horn in time to explore, that summer, the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean. There was no untoward happening of great importance. Sails split and ropes gave way in gales that were generally favourable, there were few light airs or calms to slow the ship. It seemed to the captain an uninteresting passage; he strained himself, he thought, to record anything beyond the variation of the compass. Perhaps the period was one of those in which he rewrote—as he kept on rewriting and revising—his journal, until his secretary must have sighed at the prospect of yet another version to copy. Wales fixed a device to measure the roll of the ship. The Resolution sailed well: on 27 November Clerke registered the note, 'We've had a fine steady Gale and following Sea these 24 Hours, and run the greatest distance we've ever reach'd in this ship'—the distance being 183 miles. In the first twelve days Cook had steered south-east to latitude 55° 48', where he altered course to the east. On the day of the great run, convinced that he could abandon hope of finding more land in the Pacific Ocean, he resolved to make for the west entrance of the Strait of Magellan. He had no thought of passing through the Strait. He had modified his plan of action once more, quite otherwise, 'with a View of coasting the out, or South side of Terra del Fuego round Cape Horn to Strait La Maire. As the world has but a very imperfect knowlidge of this Coast, I thought the Coasting it would
be of more advantage to both Navigation and Geography than any thing I could expect to find in a higher latitude.'1 There was reason enough why the world's knowledge should be imperfect: it was a coast which, so far from inviting seamen to examine it, inspired in them a sort of horror. Cook, decreasing his latitude, made straight for it, meaning to fall in with Cape Deseado, the north-west extremity of Desolation Island, behind which is the entrance to the strait; and at midnight of 17 December he sighted land not far from the cape. He had made the first run across the South Pacific in a high latitude—unless Furneaux had preceded him, and who knew where Furneaux had gone?—and he was done with that ocean. 'I hope those who honoured me with this employ will not think …'—no, he could allow himself a little self-approval: 'I … flatter my self that no one will think that I have left it unexplor'd', or that more could have been done towards that end in one voyage than in this. Having said which, he did not enlarge on the matter. There was too much to say of the shore he had now to range.
Fortunate with the weather, he kept about two leagues off, concluding that it was by no means so dangerous as it had been pictured. His chart shows a much broken line, for his survey was swift: and indeed the line of coast is a very much broken one, with inlets, islands, islets, and rocks innumerable. Inland rose a mass of steeps and mountains, rocky and barren so far as he could see, except for dark scattered tufts of wood below the snow-patches. It could not be called inviting: Cook called it barren and savage. Known names were few, the result of accident rather than exploration. He began to add to them: Cape Desolation, 'because near it commenced the most desolate and barren Country I ever saw'; Gilbert Island after his master; a little later, on 19 December, the 'Wild rock' he called York Minster because of its two high towers, eight hundred feet almost perpendicular from the sea, the southernmost point of an island.2
Both this day and the next, in a calm, the ship drove out to sea. Cook's mind fell to work: there must be a current, he thought, the melting of the snow must increase the inland waters and cause a stream to run out of the inlets. When an easterly breeze succeeded the calm on the 20th he put into a two-armed opening on the east side of York Minster, to 'take a view of the country' (familiar words) and recruit his wood and water. This course was not without danger—the danger that sprang at him in the most diverse places; for the breeze fell, a great swell rolled in and broke in 'a dreadful Surf' on all the shores about, boats towed in vain, and only a renewed breeze
brought renewed control of the ship. Still standing in, he found after a short search excellent moorings, in a harbour that provided all he had come for, a harbour where he remained a week. To it and its neighbouring waters, explored by Pickersgill, Clerke and himself, he gave the name Christmas Sound; and, however 'awful' the surroundings, gloomy, savage, sterile—the adjectives are forbidding—the festival celebrated here was an agreeable one; for in addition to the excellent wild celery that was found, excellent mussels, a few ducks and shags, there was abundance of geese, and goose pie, roast geese, boiled geese made glad the day; some Madeira wine remained, 'the only Article of our provisions that was mended by keeping … our friends in England did not perhaps, celebrate Christmas more cheerfully than we did'. Thus the third, and last, southern Christmas of the voyage. Signs of native habitation were not distant, and on Christmas Day native inhabitants appeared in their canoes, though they left before the great dinner—which was well, as their stench would have subdued all appetite. Cook thought they were of the same 'nation' as those he had met at the Bay of Good Success in 1769, and may be pardoned for thinking so, judging as he did mainly from the sealskin dress with which they varied their nakedness; but he was wrong. These were Alacaluf, a people distinct in language and their use of canoes from the Aush or Eastern Onas of his earlier acquaintance; they were little and ugly, he thought, though friendly enough, the most wretched of all beings he had encountered; they were pleased with the baize and old canvas he gave them to eke out their exiguous clothing. They were probably no more primitive and wretched than the drunken marine who fell overboard and was drowned the night after the ship got into harbour: William Wedgeborough, who had shot the man on Tana, fallen overboard once before, off Eromanga, had caused trouble enough. Probably his career was as valid a commentary on the English eighteenth century as was Cook's own. His death completed the tale of losses on this voyage.
On 28 December Cook stood out to sea to resume his eastward course. At the end of the day he was within sight of False Cape Horn, which may be regarded as the southern point of Tierra del Fuego, apart from the group of islands of which Cape Horn itself is the southernmost point; he shortened sail for the night, lest he should miss any of the coast, and next morning 'At half past 7 we passed this famous Cape and entered the Southern Atlantick Ocean'.
Widespread haze prevented his verifying the charts that set down the cape as part of a small island, a matter which his imperfect view on
his first voyage had made no clearer, and he could not stay to find out.1
He altered course north-east for the Strait of Le Maire to look if there were trace of the Adventure
in the Bay of Good Success, firing guns and sending Pickersgill ashore, while the ship stood off and on among the whales at play. Pickersgill found nothing; the only human beings he met were some of the native Aush. Cook thereupon determined to take a closer view of the coast of Staten Island. Haze and fog all over the strait urged caution; he hauled off to the north till he could get round a small off-lying island into smooth water. It was Observatory Island; on it could be seen a population of seals and birds—fresh provisions; Cook anchored in a favourable spot, the weather cleared, the campaign was on. The geese of Christmas Sound were nothing to this. Seals, sea lions, penguins, shags—they covered the interior as well as the shore.2
Cook fancied a young shag: he was not so fond of penguin, but he put it well ahead of his salt beef and salt pork. A seal cub was very palatable; the older ones and the sea lions were useful chiefly for their blubber, boiled down for oil. During this renewal of supplies, Gilbert was despatched over to the main island to search for a harbour. He discovered a good one. The day was the first of January 1775; Cook called the place accordingly New Year's Harbour. He weighed on the 3rd and rounded the north-east point of the island, Cape St John, in a current so strong that he could hardly make head against it; then alternate calms and squalls, joined to the current, persuaded him that he had done enough here for the general needs of navigation; so that, leaving the land, he steered south-east. He set out with lucidity his observations on the coast he had ranged in the last fortnight, from Cape Deseado to Cape St John; the world's knowledge would be rather less imperfect. He did not wish to claim too much. Although it is clear that he had observed tides and currents acutely, he believed that 'the less I say on this subject the fewer Misstakes I shall make'. What he did say was cogent. His account of Observatory Island is highly interesting, even if 'very imperfect … written more with a view to assist my own memory than to give information to others; I am neither a
botanist nor a Naturalist and have not words to describe the productions of Nature either in the one Science or the other'.1
This is not quite the man who laughed at Banks for his plant-collecting devotion in Le Maire Strait seven years before.
His general purpose, as he now put to sea, was plain enough. We know it. Within it, however, there were two or three matters of particular interest, joined, inevitably, to the leaping imagination of Alexander Dalrymple
. There was the Gulf of St Sebastian on Dalrymple's Atlantic chart of 1769, for which the supporting evidence were two perfectly genuine though accidental discoveries eastward of the Horn. The first of these was by Antoine de la Roche, a London merchant, in 1675, the second by a Spanish merchant ship, the Léon
, in 1756; the first was perhaps one of the Falklands, the second certainly a sighting of South Georgia.2
They were persuasive enough for Dalrymple, whose enthusiasm Forster thought laudable, Cook's view was more tempered; indeed, setting a course which would take him to the western point of the Gulf, he confesses he had 'some doubts of its existence'—doubts that he had already noted on the map he had drawn for Lord Sandwich. Westerly gales carried him in three days to the position of the non-existent; he was unwilling to keep too far south lest he should lose the land reported (for he took both reports to refer to the same land) by la Roche and the Léon
, and as he continued east he lessened his latitude a degree or two. By the 12th, having sailed over the northern end of Dalrymple's land, he had no doubt at all that it was another fiction. The air turned colder, penguins appeared and petrels, then an island of ice which in a few hours transformed itself into an island of land; then, through an atmosphere of snow and sleet, stood up more land, mountainous, rocky, almost wholly covered in snow, a land broken by bays and inlets, with great masses of snow or ice inside them. The first sighting was on the 14th, the latitude about 54°. Cook worked his way cautiously round to the north and began to range the coast. On the 17th he investigated one of the bays on this northern coast: it had some sandy beaches, but at its head, and in other places, he could see vast perpendicular cliffs of ice, exactly like the face of an ice island, from which pieces were continually falling off. One great mass came away with the noise of a cannon. He was looking at glaciers, for which he had no word, and the birth of an iceberg. As for what he could see otherwise, 'The inner parts of the Country was not less savage and horrible: the Wild rocks raised their lofty
summits till they were lost in the Clouds and the Vallies laid buried in everlasting Snow. Not a tree or shrub was to be seen, no not even big enough to make a tooth-pick.'1
He had landed and scrutinised; he even took possession of the unpromising country for his royal master. Forster certainly found some tussock grass and one or two low creeping plants; the inhabitants otherwise were seals, penguins, other sea-birds, a duck, a pipit. Cook left Possession Bay with a load of the seals and penguins, 'an exceptable present for the Crew'—though, he hastens to write, the ship being in no want of provisions, for the last few days he had been able to add boiled wheat to the breakfast. He continued to range the coast, its glacier faces still in view, small islands and rocks in relief against it as he advanced.
At the eastern end of the land, he turned south-west. Beyond a projection he called Cape Disappointment he could see it stretching north-west, indubitably to join the main coast where he had first sighted it six days before. Disappointment: a coast line no more than seventy leagues in circuit, 'proved to a demonstration', says Cook; and Clerke, 'I did flatter myself … we had got hold of the Southern Continent, but alas these pleasing dreams are reduc'd to a small Isle…'. Well, his commander went on to reflect, if the continent were anything like this it would not be worth discovering. Frigid and gloomy as he found the place, he did not hesitate to confer royal and naval names—or, for the off-lying islets and rocks, those of his officers; and, upon the island in the mass, that of Georgia. It might not give lustre to George, considered the elder Forster (who made the suggestion) but George would give lustre to it. Cook put it behind him, and steered to the south-east. As he quitted it, his mind was both puzzled and enlightened. Puzzled: because how to explain, in a latitude no higher than 54° (the northern latitude of York) an island covered in the very height of summer with snow and ice? Enlightened: because if snow-covered land could exist thus in 54° in this longitude, then it could exist in the same latitude fifty degrees of longitude further east; so Cape Circumcision was not, as he had concluded, a vanished ice island but veritable land, and—Cook himself for once parts company with reality—he 'did not doubt but that I should find more land than I should have time to explore'.2
He could not explain the—as it were—misplaced snow and ice because he had no knowledge of the course of the cold antarctic current, swinging northward to flow round both South Georgia and Circumcision Island, giving them their visages of despair, but he was
right in inferring one from the other. He was wrong in inferring that Bouvet's continent, as well as Bouvet's cape, must exist.
The two weeks that followed his departure, on 20 January, were weeks of prevailing fog or haze or thick mist, with some variety of drizzle or sleet, but also, fortunately, enough clear weather to make the period tolerable, and to reveal most of what there was to see. Cook began with circumnavigating, at some distance and owing to the conditions, over some days, a group of rocks, Clerke's Rocks, a short distance south and east of Georgia, to make sure that they were rocks only; after which he struck south to 60°, expecting to meet ice at any moment. Further south he would not go, unless he had quite certain signs of land. Cape Circumcision seemed now as likely as anything that might lie in that direction. The Gulf of St Sebastian had gone; he doubted whether la Roche or the Léon had ever seen the Isle of Georgia, but if they had, the charts placed it badly out of position; nevertheless, they had helped him to his own discovery, because except for these charts he would probably have sailed south of it. He would stand to the east. He cannot help making a significant admission: 'besides I was now tired of these high Southern Latitudes where nothing was to be found but ice and thick fogs'.1 There were also penguins, snow petrels and whales.
On 27 January he met his first ice island of the season; next day the sea was thick with flat-topped bergs and loose ice—loose ice improbably fallen from these bergs, as Cook surmised it had done, more probably the edge of the pack, moving north-eastwards with the bergs from the Weddell Sea. For a short time he had to stand back to the west; on the 30th he was in the same longitude he had been in two days before, about 29°24′ W, now thirty miles further north. He made north-east through an ice-strewn sea and foggy air. The fog cleared enough next morning to show ahead three islets, the highest of which, a towering shaft of rock, went up 900 feet—Freezland Peak, so called after the man who first sighted it. Behind it appeared an elevated coast, marked by a point Cook named Cape Bristol; to the south another high coast, the most southern discovered, the limit, Southern Thule; between them, it seemed likely, the deep opening of Forster's Bay. He could not weather Thule; he stood to the north, when once again the wind dropped and left him to the mercy of the swell, falling as he thought 'upon the most horrible Coast in the World'; but the weather cleared, Cape Bristol was an island and he was beyond it, it belonged to no greater coast on which he could be driven. For three days more he was sporadically in sight
of land, as he made north with straining eyes, and the fog lifted, fell, lifted a brief moment, fell impenetrably. He could not tell exactly how far the land was connected, how much of it was islands: he was pretty sure of Saunders Island, quite sure of the Candlemas Isles, the last little group that he saw; for the rest, he was confused by fog, bergs and loose ice. There was, in fact, no coast between Bristol Island and Southern Thule, only the thirty miles of sea now known as Forster's Passage. Summits spired into the clouds, clouds exerted their usual deceptions. 'I was sorry', writes Cook about the nature of the land, or his view of it, at one point, 'I could not determine this with greater certainty, but prudence would not permit me to venture near a Coast, subject to thick fogs, on which there was no anchorage', where ice and snow blocked off, obliterated, the lines of the whole country. 'The clifts alone was all which was to be seen like land.'1
He wanted to return to the south to re-examine the coast he had left behind. By the time he was far enough south he was too far to the east, and Cape Circumcision called him. His new coast might be a group of islands; it might be a point of the Continent. He would name it Sandwich Land, and go on.
'A point of the Continent,' says Cook, 'for I firmly beleive that there is a tract of land near the Pole, which is the Source of most of the ice which is spread over this vast Southern Ocean:' and he goes on to the first of a series of extended considerations on this continent and on ice. In this first one he is more concerned with his own position as an explorer. There is an echo.
It is however true that the greatest part of this Southern Continent (supposeing there is one) must lay within the Polar Circile where the Sea is so pestered with ice, that the land is thereby inacessible. The risk one runs in exploreing a coast in these unknown and Icy Seas, is so very great, that I can be bold to say, that no man will ever venture farther than I have done and that the lands which may lie to the South will never be explored. Thick fogs, Snow storms, Intense Cold and every other thing that can render Navigation dangerous one has to encounter and these difficulties are greatly heightned by the enexpressable horrid aspect of the Country, a Country doomed by Nature never once to feel the warmth of the Suns rays, but to lie for ever buried under everlasting snow and ice. The Ports which may be on the Coast are in a manner wholy filled up with frozen Snow of a vast thickness, but if any should so far be open as to admit a ship in, it is even dangerous to go in, for she runs a risk of being fixed there for ever, or coming out in an ice island. The islands and floats of ice on the Coast, the great falls from the ice clifts in the Port, or a heavy snow storm attended with a sharp frost, would prove equally fatal. After
such an explanation as this the reader must not expect to find me much farther to the South. It is however not for want of inclination but other reasons. It would have been rashness in me to have risked all which had been done in the Voyage, in finding out and exploaring a Coast which when done would have answerd no end whatever, or been of the least use either to Navigation or Geography or indeed any other Science; Bouvets Discovery was yet before us, the existence of which was to be cleared up and lastly we were now not in a condition to undertake great things, nor indeed was there time had we been ever so well provided.1
So he would resume his course to the east, in a northerly gale and a heavy fall of snow, so heavy that he was obliged every now and then to throw the ship up into the wind to shake it out of the sails, and rid both them and her of an insupportable weight. His latitude this day, 6 February, was 58°15′ S, his longitude 21°34′ W.
He kept much in that latitude for another eight days, of very variable weather and great cold. Icebergs were many but caused no danger. He crossed the meridian of Greenwich on the 14th, and next day turned north-east to get into the latitude of Cape Circumcision. On the 17th, in latitude 54°23′, longitude 6°33′ E, he steered east again. If he had only, against all logic, steered west! There was a 'prodigious high sea' from the south, so there could be no land near in that direction. The Cape—the evasive Cape!—could be only an island, of that he was certain in another twenty-four hours, but in that latitude he must see it if he only kept on sailing, and brought to at night. The only thing he saw like land was a fog bank. By the 21st he was in longitude 16°13′, which was five degrees to the east of the position he had been given. He tried another day: longitude 19°18′. He could not know that when he altered course for his final eastern run on the 17th, almost in the precise latitude of Bouvet Island, he was already three degrees eastward of it, and now for five days had been sailing away from it. He gave up hope. The rights and wrongs of geography! The Isle of Georgia, land that looked like ice, after all his scepticism, had convinced him that Bouvet was right. Now he was equally convinced that Bouvet, faced by an isle of ice that looked like land, was wrong. He was, however, now close to the position he had himself been in, in mid-December 1772, when for some hours there was a general persuasion of the presence of land: he ran over that position, the sky cleared, there was nothing, not an inch of ice, not a penguin. The sky thickened; storm, snow and sleet fell upon him. He turned north. It crossed his mind that he might look for that other French discovery of which he had heard at the Cape,
19b. Reinhold and George Forster at Tahiti, after J. F. Rigaud Engraving by D. Beyel
21. The ships watering by taking in ice, in 61° S Water-colour drawing by Hodges
22. 'Dusky Bay in New Zeland, 1773' Unsigned plan, probably by Cook
23. 'Family in Dusky Bay, New Zeland' Engraving by Lerperniere after Hodges
24. 'The Fleet of Otaheite assembled at Oparee' Engraving by W. Woollett after Hodges
25a. Omai, after William Hodges Engraving by J. Caldwall
25b. O-Hedidee (Odiddy), after William Hodges Engraving by J. Caldwall
26. The Resolution off the South Sandwich Islands Pen and wash drawing by Joseph Gilbert
on his outward passage—Kerguelen's; but why? If it was real it also must be only an island, not a fertile one; its rediscovery would mean two months longer at sea, which neither his ship nor his men could now support. He had to admire the patience and endurance of his men. He thought they were still healthy. On the other hand, his remaining provisions just kept life and soul together; sauerkraut was all gone, dried fruit was almost all gone; what if they were succeeded by scurvy? He could not continue fatigue and hardship gratuitously; he could not expose them to that enemy. To the Cape of Good Hope then: on the way he might at least pick up the two small islands of Denia and Marseveen, reported by the Dutch, laid down in Halley's chart, doubted even by Dalrymple.
On this passage to the Cape Cook had leisure to formulate some of the general conclusions to which he had been led—which he had begun to put into words, indeed, as he left the problematic coast of Sandwich Land. At first he seems to be commenting on the memorandum and the chart with which he had explained his purpose to the First Lord three years—or an age?—before, and on the various restatements and modifications of that plan he had made in the intervening time. There is accomplishment to record.
I had now made the circuit of the Southern Ocean in a high Latitude and traversed it in such a manner as to leave not the least room for the Possibility of there being a continent, unless near the Pole and out of the reach of Navigation; by twice visiting the Pacific Tropical Sea, I had not only settled the situation of some old discoveries but made there many new ones and left, I conceive, very little more to be done even in that part. Thus I flater my self that the intention of the Voyage has in every respect been fully Answered, the Southern Hemisphere sufficiently explored and a final end put to the searching after a Southern Continent, which has at times ingrossed the attention of some of the Maritime Powers for near two Centuries past and the Geographers of all ages.1
This is the voice of authority and maturity; the change of tone from the letters with which he introduced his first journal to the notice of the Admiralty is marked and remarkable. Yet, beyond that initial statement, he must still deal in the probable and not the certain. His mind went again to Sandwich Land.
That there may be a Continent or large tract of land near the Pole, I will not deny, on the contrary I am of opinion there is, and it is probable that we have seen a part of it. The excessive cold, the many islands and vast floats of ice all tend to prove that there must be land to the South… .2
It must, he argued, be irregular land, extending farthest to the north from opposite the southern Atlantic and Indian oceans—which is perfectly true: for in those parts he had encountered a greater quantity of ice farther north than elsewhere, and greater cold, and the greater part of those immense quantities of ice must originate with land. If there was no great extent of land, if ice did not need land for its formation, then there should be a belt of ice, and a belt of cold, right round the earth, at a more or less uniform distance from the Pole, say at the parallel of 60° or 70°. This was not so, and his conclusion followed. His argument was not unreasonable within the context of his own observation. But he knew too little of the oceanography of those regions; the movement of the great cold-water current, its effect on the movement of the ice, were notions as sealed from him as was the Pole. He was not, of course, dead to the drift of currents, and he had measured them.
There was more to say about ice, whether 'islands' or 'vast floats of low ice'—as we should say, bergs or the pack. The traditional theory, that as sea water did not freeze, all this ice must come from frozen rivers, would not do. Cook had never seen any earth or the products of earth, detritus, incorporated in it; he doubted the existence of rivers in a land too cold for water. No water ran on the coast of Georgia, no stream from any ice island. Vast ice cliffs he had seen at the edge of the sea (and he thought they might project a good way into the sea), valleys deep in snow; in Possession Bay he had seen the masses of ice breaking away. He arrived at his own theory, which, apart from the movement of glaciers, clearly accounted for the tabular, or flat-topped, bergs, with their sheer sides.
'It is here'—at the ice-cliffs—'where the Ice islands are formed, not from streames of Water, but from consolidated snow which is allmost continually falling or drifting down from the Mountains, especially in Winter when the frost must be intence. During that Season, these ice clifts must so accumulate as to fill up all the Bays be they ever so large, this is a fact which cannot be doubted as we have seen it so in summer; also during that season the Snow may fix and consolidate to ice to most of the other coasts and there also form Ice clifts. These clifts accumulate by continual falls of snow and what drifts from the Mountains till they are no longer able to support their own weight and then large pieces break off which we call Ice islands.'1
He was not so happy in accounting for the inequalities and extraordinary appearance of many of his ice islands. Although he knew well enough that bergs decay and disintegrate, he was not fully
acquainted with the facts of weathering, submarine erosion and capsize; and he had never seen the seracs of a glacier. Islands with 'a spired unequal surface', he thought,
must be formed on or under the side of a Coast, composed of spired Rocks and precepices, or some such uneven surface, for we cannot suppose that snow alone, as it falls, can form on a plain surface, such as the Sea, such a variety of high spired peaks and hills as we have seen on many of the Ice isles. It is certainly more reasonable to suppose that they are formed on a Coast whose surface is something similar to theirs.1
He appears to think of them, that is, as breaking away directly from the land, moulded to the land, carrying the land's impression with them. Yet they all, if of any extent, had a perpendicular side or sides of clear ice. 'This to me was a convincing proof that these, as well as the flat isles, must have broke off from a substance like themselves, that is from some large tract of ice'; so that subdivision went on all the while.
As for the pack or field ice, Cook has also his theory, built on his own observation. He has still to struggle with the dogma that sea water does not freeze, and fortunately he was never in water shallow enough to be able to watch it freezing around him. His observations are correct, though his initial doubt 'if ever the Wind is violent in the very high Latitudes', so violent, that is, as to keep the water in motion sufficient to stop freezing, is itself violently wrong-headed. He proceeds,
that the Sea will freeze over, or the snow which falls upon it, which amounts to the same thing, we have instances in the Northern Hemisphere; the Baltick sea, the Gulf of St Laurence, the Straits of Bell-isle and many other equally large Seas are frequently frozen over in Winter; nor is this attall extraordinary, for we have found the degree of cold at the surface of the sea, even in summer, to be two degrees below the freezing point, consequently nothing kept it from freezing but the Salts it contained and the agitation of its surface; when ever this last ceaseth in Winter, when the frost is set in and there comes a fall of Snow, it will freeze on the Surface as it falls and in a few days or perhaps in one night form such a sheet of ice as will not be easy broke up; thus a foundation will be laid for it to accumulate to any thickness by falls of snow, without it being attall necessary for the Sea Water to freeze. It may be by this means that these vast floats of low ice we find in the Spring of the Year are formed and after they break up are carried by the Currents to the North; for from all the observations I have been able to make, the Currents every where in the high Latitudes set to the North or to the Ne or Nw but we have very seldom found them considerable.2
This is, as he says, an imperfect account. The winter winds in the high latitudes are, in fact, violent; in the very low air temperatures of autumn the sea does itself freeze. But there are quiet periods; and, beginning with the freezing of the sea, the build-up of the winter pack-ice of Antarctica does proceed much as Cook here defines it. Once this build-up is well under way the blizzards of winter can do little to stop it, since the weight of frozen snow on the water inhibits the formation of waves. We may say, as we have said, that Cook knew too little of the oceanography of these regions. He was founding it.
He has a final word for the inexpressible, the 'horribleness' of the lands he had discovered, where these floating islands of ice were formed. What could be expected more to the south ?—'for we may reasonably suppose that we have seen the best as lying most to the North, whoever has resolution and perseverance to clear up this point by proceding farther than I have done, I shall not envy him the honour of the discovery but I will be bold to say that the world will not be benefited by it'.1 He had, he thought, gone as far as man could go. He now, by implication, withdraws this certainty. His prophecy was wrong. It would in his day have required too much imagination to be right.
Storms did not cease as the ship stood north, and contrary winds; sails and rigging continued to give way; but as February passed and March drew on the temperature rose, and sea-birds gave a little variety to the stale and tedious diet. Cook thought hard about winds and currents. Possibly it was at this time that the Muse overcame the otherwise able-bodied seaman, Thomas Perry, with the ballad beginning
It is now my brave boys we are clear of the Ice
And keep a good heart if you'll take my advice
We are out of the cold my brave Boys do not fear.
For the Cape of good Hope with good hearts we do steer—
a conspectus of the voyage on which the captain was said to set a high value.2
On 12 March in about latitude 40°, Cook was in the neighbourhood of the supposititious Denia and Marseveen. After
another day he decided he could not afford the time to prove or disprove their existence. Everyone was impatient to get into port—possibly he himself shared in the 'general wish' to which he says he yielded. Those islands, at least, however they had impressed the Dutchmen, had unlike Bouvet's cape melted away into the ocean.1
A gentle favouring breeze turned to a heavy north-westerly gale; it abated, and at daylight on 16 March two sail were seen in the northwest, one of them with Dutch colours. Cook collected the log-books and journals. In the evening he saw the land. Slow sailing it had become for all ships. On the 18th he sent a boat on board the Dutch vessel for news. Some of the news he got was startling. The Adventure
had arrived at the Cape twelve months earlier. Furneaux had lost a boat's crew, killed and eaten by the New Zealanders. So the confused story gathered on that last visit to Queen Charlotte Sound, on which the people of the place had fallen so obstinately silent, was in substance true. It is obvious that Cook was shocked. He admired the New Zealanders. He stumbled for a comment. 'I shall make no reflections on this Melancholy affair untill I hear more about it. I shall only observe, in favour of these people, that I have found them no wickeder than other Men.'2
While his boat was away three more sail came in sight. One of these spoke to him next morning. She was the True Briton
, homeward bound from China without touching at the Cape. Her captain confirmed the story of the Adventure
, sent fresh provisions and old newspapers, and took a note for the Admiralty. The Resolution
, Cook briefly informed the secretary, was within two days' sail of the Cape, had met with no accident, her crew, 'thus far' had enjoyed a good state of health. Thomas Perry continued with his commentary,
We were all hearty seamen no cold did we fear
And we have from all sickness entirely kept clear
Thanks be to the Captain he has proved so good
Amongst all the Islands to give us fresh food
And when to old England my Brave Boys we arrive
We will tip off a Bottle to make us alive….
came through a final hard gale, and on 22 March anchored in Table Bay. But it was not Wednesday the 22nd, it was
Tuesday, the 21st; Cook's eastward circumnavigation, like his previous westward one, had thrown his dates awry.
Here he remained five weeks. The Dutch were welcoming, Cook reaffirmed his friendship with the merchant Christoffel Brand. There was much to do to the ship: her masts, spars and standing rigging had come through their trials extremely well, but running rigging and sails were in a desperate state, caulking was long overdue, the rudder had to be unshipped for repair. There was ample leave, ample refreshment for all officers and men, it is plain that the Brave Boys saw no reason to wait till old England to tip off a Bottle. Cook discharged from his company, 'by request', James and Nathaniel Cook; Forster parted with Mr Sparrman, who resumed his researches at the Cape. Wales took his instruments on shore. Some ten days after their arrival, another Indiaman, the Ceres, was leaving for England. Cook sent by her to the Admiralty copies of his journal and charts, a sheaf of Hodges's drawings, and a long letter summarising the voyage since he had parted with Furneaux. He praised his men. 'Mr Kendals Watch has exceeded the expectations of its most Zealous advocate.' How far his mission had been successful he submitted to their Lordships' better judgment.1 He followed these up in April with two of the officers' journals. There was a letter waiting for himself to read, from Furneaux. It was true that that officer had reached Queen Charlotte Sound and lost ten of his best men there, together with a boat. He had not followed Cook to the Antarctic or the islands because of this, and because his bread was damaged. Between New Zealand and the Horn he had gone south beyond the latitude of 60°; on his passage to the Cape he had sailed over the place where Cape Circumcision was said to lie. (His track indicates that he narrowly missed sighting South Georgia, and passed just north of Bouvet Island.) Cook, revising his journal, perhaps at the Cape, perhaps later, found a few words more to say on the fatal event. He knew well the capacity of his own men for getting into trouble; he hesitated to accept it as simple murder. The New Zealanders, he reflected, with a certain idealisation, he had always found 'of a brave, Noble, Open and benevolent disposition, but they are a people that will never put up with an insult if they have an oppertunity to resent it'.2 He had more to learn, on both sides.
Besides a letter to read, he found people to meet. One of these was to him of the very highest interest. He was Julien Marie Crozet, a
man of his own age, the captain of a French Indiaman in the Bay, who had been second in command to Marion du Fresne on the expedition Cook had heard of as leaving the Cape in March 1772. Crozet told him of that voyage, the discovery of islands south-east of the Cape, the visit to the Bay of Islands and the slaying of Marion with a number of his men—New Zealanders slayers again!—Crozet's route northwards to the Philippines and his return to Mauritius. The new islands were marked on a French chart that Crozet showed Cook: so was Kerguelen's discovery; so was the route of 'one Captain Surville', from the East Indies by way of the Philippines and New Britain, past land he had found in latitude 10° S,1
south a few degrees to the west of Cook's own New Caledonia, and then to the northern part of New Zealand at the very time Cook was there; whence he had gone to Callao and been drowned. Cook's imagination of shoals between New Caledonia and New South Wales was therefore ill-founded; Surville had sailed over open sea. The Spaniards too had been in the Pacific: it was a vessel from New Spain, or Peru, not a French one, that had been at Tahiti, and she had charted new isles. Interesting indeed!—though Crozet was a little doubtful of the Spaniards. Cook was fired to a new ambition. 'Probably more authentick accounts may be got here after, but it will hardly be necessary to resume the Subject unless all the discoveries, both Ancient and Modern, are laid down in a Chart and then an explanatory Memoir will be necessary and such a Chart I intend to construct when I have time and the necessary materials.'2
He would become a historian. The two captains were delighted with each other; they parted on terms of mutual admiration.
Something else Cook met with at the Cape. This was a copy of Hawkesworth's Voyages
—the volumes in which Dr John Hawkesworth
, according to arrangement, had adapted the journals of Byron, Wallis, Carteret and Cook, and, telling his tale always in the first person as the discoverer, had given them to the world. Cook read them, and was surprised beyond measure; worse, he was 'mortified'. He was mortified because he did not recognise himself—and could hardly do so when so much of Banks appeared as Cook, with original nautical blunders by Hawkesworth himself; he was surprised to learn from the introduction that the manuscript had been read to him at the Admiralty for his approval, after which it had been given to him to peruse, and such emendations as he had suggested had been made.
Hawkesworth, no liar, seems to have been the victim of a vast misconception, but that did not make matters better for Cook. It made them no better for him, certainly, when he arrived at St Helena. He sailed from the Cape on 27 April, to the tune of a Danish band that played in his honour and the gunfire of salutes, in company with the Indiaman Dutton.
'Depending on the goodness of Mr
Kendals Watch', he resolved to fetch St Helena, if he could, by a direct course. The watch did not deceive him, and he was there on 15 May—not without nervousness on the part of the Dutton
, the day before, that they might miss it altogether. Cook had recovered his humour and, Elliott tells us, 'laugh'd at them, and told them that he would run their jibboom on the Island if they choose';1
which was a pleasantry John Harrison
would have heard with equal pleasure. John Skottowe, the governor of St Helena, was the son of Thomas Skottowe of Great Ayton, who had sent Cook to school; Mrs Skottowe, a woman of spirit, and her friends were acquainted with Hawkesworth's observations on their island. Cruelty to their slaves? No wheeled vehicles? Cook came in for a good deal of rallying, and at first was baffled by the sight of wheel-barrows and carts drawn up outside the house in which he was lodged. Mr Banks had been less than scientific in his enquiries. But hospitality was lavish and elegant, the matter was explained, and Cook committed sufficient admiration to his present journal—though the cultivation of vegetables as well as of livestock would, he thought, be of advantage to shipping.
Both ships put to sea on the evening of the 21st, keeping company till the 24th, when the Dutton
, under orders to avoid the island of Ascension and its smuggling trade with the Americans, parted. Cook sent another letter by her, and more journals and charts, 'very accurate… executed by a Young man who has been bred to the Sea under my care and who has been a very great assistant to me in this way, both in this and my former Voyage.'2
He was looking after Isaac Smith. At St Helena he had got from Captain Rice of the Dutton
a specimen of Foxon's new hydrometer or patent log, with which he experimented: it did not behave well, and we have him reporting adversely on at least one contemporary appliance which might make life easier for seamen.3
He steered for Ascension to take
in turtle, spent four days there, and gives a careful description of the not very attractive spot. He and Wales were still scrupulously settling the position of every place the ship touched at: leaving Ascension on the last day of the month he was anxious to do this for an island o[unclear: f]
St Matthew believed to lie two degrees south of the equator. As the island did not exist we may be the less concerned that the wind was against him. He turned his attention, after considering what might best be done, to fixing the longitude of Fernando de Noronha, off the coast of Brazil. His thoughts, at this moment, are extremely characteristic, and his words are words he has used before, as he balances his duties. 'The truth is I was unwilling to prolong the passage in searching for what I was not sure to find, nor was I willing to give up every object which might tend to the improvement of Navigation and Geography for the sake of geting home a Week or a fortnight sooner. It is but seldom that oppertunities of this kind offer and when they do they are but too often neglected.'1
After this cogitation, and a pleasant run, on 9 June he and Wales settled the position of Fernando de Noronha without landing, by observation and watch, within a mile or two; he then struck north to Fayal, in the Azores, reaching it on 14 July. He set up again the apparatus he had been given for distilling fresh water—useful if one had the fuel but inadequate, last tried on his outward passage to the Cape: the fact that he was doing this only a second time as the voyage drew towards its end indicates, if nothing else did, that for him the aid was superfluous. Fayal's position was fixed, fresh beef given to the crew, water taken on board. Cook collected information about the little Portuguese place as if it had been a South Sea island. He stood away from the Azores on 19 July. On the 29th he made the land near Plymouth. Next morning he anchored at Spithead, 'Having been absent from England Three Years and Eighteen Days, in which time I lost but four men and one only of them by sickness.'