New Zealand to Tonga
Cook was to lose his passage. We can see now, our knowledge of the Pacific winds being greater than his, that this was inevitable. The bitter fact had nothing to do with time spent at the Cape or Kerguelen Island or Van Diemen's Land; indeed, he could have spent enough time at the last place to sail all round it, and thus dispose of Furneaux's too hasty verdict, without affecting the large outlines of his voyage. He had lost his passage already when he left England in July 1776. The time-table of his instructions was in fact totally unreal. If he could have sailed (Clerke with him) when he told Walker he expected to be ready to sail, 'about the latter end of April', then we can perhaps—with a flight into the hypothetical—see him leaving the Cape early in September, and Queen Charlotte Sound early in December, and arriving in Tahiti, with some luck—the winds being what they are—in mid-February. He would already be behind his illusory schedule. According to that schedule, he was to be in latitude 65° north on the American coast in the following June. If we now looked ahead on the actual voyage, we shall find him leaving the Society Islands not at the beginning of February, but two months earlier, at the beginning of December; and then he will not reach latitude 65° till early August. Such was the nature of exploration; such were the chances of—we must constantly remind ourselves—the age of sail; such was the fate of plans composed in London. The wisest of all Cook's instructions was that which confided the voyage to his own discretion.
His shortest passage from New Zealand to Tahiti, if it had been possible, would have been one directly north-east. On his previous experience of the winds in the ocean east of New Zealand, in June and July 1773, he had been able to make fifty degrees of easting before he turned north, in latitude 40°, to reach latitude 20°, and then turn west in August over eighteen degrees of longitude to Tahiti, all in ten weeks, though the passage had been tedious and the
trade-wind slow in arriving; and sailing on this sort of immense irregular bow, he had had westerlies when he needed them. For seven months of the year, in that part of the Pacific, from the south to latitude 30°S, the westerlies are regular; from 30° to 20°S is a belt of variable winds; at 20° the south-east trade sets in. But from November to March the variables move as far south as New Zealand; they are broken by calms, and at the other extreme now and again by cyclones and hurricanes. These last, at any rate, Cook was to escape. He even had some favourable winds in the first few days: then March became a frustrating month to him, and in 1777 these frustrating conditions, calms, light breezes, faint breezes, from the east, north-east, south-east, extended themselves into April. His journal covers March in a page or two of generalised comment. He was trying to stand to the north-east, he writes for one of the days to which he gives specific mention, the 17th, 'but as the Wind often veered to E and ENE we frequently made no better than a North Course and some times to the Westward of North. But the hopes of the Wind coming more Southerly or meeting with it from the Westward a little without the Tropic, as I had formerly done, incouraged me to Continue this course. Indeed it was necessary I should run all risks as my proceeding to the North this year depended intirely on my making a quick passage to Otaheite or the Society islands.'1
There was nothing to see except now and again a tropic bird and once a barnacled log. We read of little diversion. On board the Resolution
the two young New Zealanders for some days gave way to grief and seasickness, which even a red cloak ordered for each by Cook—a princely gift on land—could not assuage, and they sang dolefully and continually a dirge or chant preserved for us by Samwell; after a week or so they recovered and became well-liked, particularly the younger boy, a droll jackanapes. It may have been boredom that led to a small outbreak of theft from certain men of victuals, of which King gives the story: as the crew would not discover the thieves Cook cut the meat allowance of all for a day to two-thirds, which all refused, on the plea that honest men should not be penalised; on which Cook denounced them for 'a very mutinous proceeding' and promised to continue the cut; an episode which we may regard as entirely trivial, but still indicative that Cook himself was not unaffected by the strain on his hopes. He may have felt some additional irritation when he reflected that only a week before, to avoid too great a demand on food for the stock, he had had his own sheep killed, and those belonging to 'the gun-room
gentlemen', and served to the ship's company. These were matters he did not commit to his journal.1
He was, however, making some progress north, and towards the end of March coming up with a group of islands hitherto undiscovered, the group now called after him, the Lower Cooks. The southernmost, Mangaia, was sighted on 29 March, when he was still some five degrees short of the latitude of Tahiti, and ten degrees short in longitude. From the sea it looked well-wooded and attractive, though defended by a formidable reef and a furious surf; and the following day, when the ships bore up for the lee side, it became clear that a large number of inhabitants, much like New Zealanders in appearance, were anxious to defend it too. The Mangaians did not favour visitors. The boats sent to reconnoitre found no place to land; reef, surf, depth of water and sharp coral bottom made it dangerous to anchor. The people, though inhospitable, had enough curiosity to swim off to the boats and prove embarrassing visitors themselves, snatching everything they could lay hands on; but only one had the courage to come on board the ship. Webber drew his portrait, with a knife that was given him stuck through a hole in his ear; other presents, as we know from later enquiries, were long retained by their owners as articles of remarkable value, and Cook was remembered in the island tradition. It was an unprofitable island to him, and he now needed food for his cattle. On the 31st, a little more northerly, another island was sighted, 'Wautieu' or Atiu, where contact with the islanders was on a larger scale. The wind was so slight that the ships could not work up to it till 2 April. Gore was sent off with armed boats to look for anchorage and a landing place; while they were away several canoes came out with small presents for the chiefs, Cook and Clerke—plantains, a pig each, and some coconuts, in return for which they were most anxious for a dog. One of them, who bedded down for the night in Clerke's cabin, proved that he was willing to take anything else—'a most incorrigible, damn'd rogue indeed', summed up the outraged Clerke. Gore returned without success, but with the suggestion that as the natives seemed very friendly they might through Omai be persuaded to bring off to the boats, lying outside the surf, the supplies most wanted. 'Having little or no Wind', thought Cook, 'the delay of a day or two was of no moment', and he determined to try the experiment next morning. It did not reward him much, even after the bestowal of a dog. Gore, Omai, Anderson and Burney all went on the mission, and were landed from canoes on the reef, whence they could walk
ashore; but instead of obtaining what they wanted became themselves both guests and prisoners for the day, almost stifled in an excited and curious crowd who purloined everything loose they had, entertained them with dancing and a mock fight, provided them with no food till towards evening, when they were too exhausted to eat, cross-questioned Omai exhaustively, and got some romance in return. Both men and women were handsome, very like the Tahitians, much-tattooed, proud of a divine origin, yet greatly impressed by the explosion of some loose powder, to illustrate Omai's stories of the might of the ships. Omai himself, as the uncomfortable day advanced, had been nervous over the preparation of an oven, until persuaded that it was to cook a pig and not him. At length the party was returned to the boats, with a few coconuts and plantains, and to a captain whose mind was a good deal eased by their reappearance. One story they brought interested him much: this was of four Tahitians on the island, survivors of a painful drift-voyage from their home, after being driven off course by a strong wind. For years he had asked himself the question, how had the scattered islands of this immense ocean come to be peopled by members so obviously of the same race?—and now it seemed he had the answer, or at least an answer for many of them.
Atiu being unprofitable, the following morning Cook steered for an islet ten miles to the north-west, 'Wennuaete'—Whenua iti or Takutea. It was uninhabited. Despite the great surf even on the lee side he managed to get a quantity of scurvy grass, coconuts, and pandanus branches, soft spongy juicy stuff: 'the Cattle eat it very will when cut up in small pieces, so that it might be said without any impropriety that we fed our Cattle on Billit-wood'.1
A hatchet and a few nails were left in an empty hut as payment. This was on 4 April. Cook knew that if he kept on the same course he would find within forty or fifty miles his Hervey island, the atoll of his previous voyage, Manuae as we call it, which he thought uninhabited. Although it was so close, he did not reach it till the 6th, when he was surprised to see a number of canoes coming off to the ships. Their occupants would not venture on board, but grasped boldly at everything within reach, even the oars in the Discovery's
cutter lying alongside—'great Thieves and horrid Cheats', reports a midshipman; they wore little and were not tattooed, and said they had seen two great ships before, so that the Resolution
had not passed by unnoticed in 1773. There was no anchorage. King, who went to look for it, saw signs of hostility among the people. Cook wanted water, as well as
grass for his stock. If there was water here, and it could be got at, there would still be the business of transporting it across the reef. There were light airs from the eastward and an easterly swell. The ships' position was now two degrees south and ten degrees west of Tahiti; to reach it had taken Cook six weeks. He made up his mind. The decision he reached must have been forcing itself on him for some time.
Being thus disapointed at all these islands, and the summer in the northern Hemisphere already too far advanced for me to think of doing any thing there this year, It was therefore absolutely necessary to persue such methods as was most likely to preser[v]e the Cattle we had on board in the first place, and save the Ships stores and Provisions in the second the better to enable us to procecute the Discovery's in the high northern latitudes the ensuing summer. I intended to have stood back to the south till I had met with a westerly wind, provided I had got a supply of water and grass at any of these islands; but the consequence of doing this without, would have been the loss of all the Cattle without gaining any one advantage. I therefore determined to bear away for the Friendly IsldB where I was sure of being supplied with every thing I wanted; and as it was necessary to run in the night as well as in the day, I ordered Capt. Clerke to keep about a league ahead of the Resolution, as his Ship could better claw of a lee shore than mine.1
To help with water he kept his still at work for ten hours a day: it provided a moderate quantity of fresh water at a considerable cost of fuel. Two days later he issued careful, though not harsh, orders for the economical use of the water he had. If he had only known! Within this group he passed by, out of sight, its two largest islands rich and fertile, Rarotonga and Aitutaki, either of which could have given him all the supplies he could possibly need.
When he bore away he had a fine easterly breeze. It fell, and he altered course for Palmerston and Niue, as a sort of insurance, though he must have considered the latter, 'Savage Island', purely a last resort. Where now was the easterly trade wind? On the 10th came thunder squalls from the south, which at least brought heavy rain, channelled into the empty puncheons. And then, as if heaven were simply seeing how malign it could be,
At length about Noon the next day it fixed at Nw & WNW and blew a fresh breeze with fair weather, thus we were persecuted with a Wind in our teeth which ever way we directed our course, and the farther Mortification to find here those very winds we had reason to expect 8° or 10°
farther South. They came now too late for I durst not trust to their continuance and the event proved that I judged right.1
Indeed they turned variable again, but help was at hand. Daybreak on 13 April showed Palmerston. It was more than twenty-four hours before the ships could creep up with it.
Palmerston was a virgin atoll if ever there were such: six sandy islets and a few low cays strung on the reef round its lagoon, with no sign of human touch save a few bits of wreckage driven over the reef on to a beach. The boats were immediately out to look for a landing place, and by early afternoon the starving stock were eating their way through scurvy grass and the green of coconut trees. For the rest of that day and the following three days the foraging parties were hard at work, gathering young coconut trees and an infinity of the nuts, pandanus, 'palm cabbage'; fish was abundant in the lagoon, and Omai excelled himself as a cook; the sea birds stimulated general wonderment. They stood to be stroked and picked off the trees. 'The immense Quantities of these Fowls', writes Clerke, 'which consisted chiefly of Men of War and Tropic Birds, Boobies, Noddies and Egg Birds, are astonishing, the Trees and Bows in many places seem'd absolutely loaded with them; but we were a most unhappy Interruption to their wonted Security, for unfortunately for them we found them very palatable and well-flavour'd.'2 Anderson was enchanted by the lagoon, its colours, its corals, its fishes 'playing their gambols'; why should Nature conceal a work so elegant so far from the praises of mankind? The only drawback was the half-mile of reef across which the toiling men had to walk, waist-high in water, to get their burdens to the boats. This reef and lagoon, the chained islets and banks of sand, the vegetation, made a strong impression on Cook and his naturalist-surgeon; they both speculated on the formation of coral islands, sensibly enough, within the limits of their observation.
At sunset on the 27th course was set for Nomuka, where Cook proposed first to call. Wind and weather were still quite uncertain, with frequent squalls, thunder, lightning and rain, some high seas and disagreeable heat. While it was impossible to keep the ships dry the rain, on the other hand, provided the ample fresh water of which there was none at Palmerston and which would be only of poor quality in Tonga. Cook laid his still aside. In spite of all the salt food since leaving the Cape there were no sick. After a week of this uncomfortable sailing Savage Island was sighted and passed by, then the sea moderated and fell smooth, tropic birds were again in the sky and
dolphins glowed in the water after dark. On 28 April, in the morning the eastern islets of the great net were visible, Nomuka inside them; Cook was coming into the group a little south of his track of June 1774. He anchored for the night. The old exchanges immediately began, pigs, breadfruit, yams for hatchets and nails.
We are at the beginning of another parenthesis in Cook's exploration. We might almost say that his mature style as an explorer is parenthetical: that is, within the wide discretion conferred upon him by his instructions he finds it possible to investigate, and make a number of statements on, the nature of the world, in a manner subordinate to his main investigation, his main statement; and that without interfering with the general movement of his mind. To the great query of his second voyage he gave the definite answer, There is no southern continent; to the great query of his last voyage he was to give an answer almost as definite, There is no north-west passage; but included in the negatives, what wealth of subordinate clauses tending towards 'the improvement of Geography and Navigation'! True, there is a difference between the two voyages: the masterly parenthesis of the second voyage, that took in the Marquesas, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, was deliberate, a calculated extension of the voyage in line with its original plan; this one was forced on Cook. As it was forced, he cannot display the same sureness of touch. We have again a difficulty over timing. On his two previous visits to Tonga, in 1773 at 'Eua and Tongatapu, in 1774 at Nomuka, he had spent altogether eleven days—enough to convince him that those islands could provide him with all the refreshment he needed. When he made his decision to turn to Tonga he gave Clerke a series of rendezvous, the first at 'Rotterdam' or Nomuka; if there was no meeting within fourteen days then at the other two islands, fourteen days more; failing that at Tahiti and a wait of a month, then to Raiatea until the end of October—when, if Cook had still not appeared, he was to pursue the Admiralty's instructions, 'which you are now at liberty to open'.1
They would not have told him much that he did not know already. What he would have done with about three months at Raiatea it is difficult to imagine; and sailing thence at the end of October he would presumably gain the American coast in the middle of winter. The questions we ask ourselves are unnecessary except as they illustrate the difficulty Cook was in, at sea in the beginning of April with the wretched winds always contrary. We may note that after a passage of nine weeks and three days from Queen
Charlotte Sound to Nomuka he was to spend not eleven days in the group, nor the month he had allowed to Clerke, but eleven weeks. Of this period the lesser part, so far as we can see, was devoted to Geography and Navigation; though Bligh did some excellent charting, and his own observations were as precise as was customary with him. The journals for the reader whose interests are not geographical or navigational in the narrowest sense, have a remarkable importance as accounts of a Polynesian society at a highly mature point, before inner strains and the influence of a foreign world combined to break it in pieces. They also, one or two directly, Cook's own mainly by implication, cast some light on the mind of the captain himself.
Cook provided immediately for trade, with his usual regulations to prevent confusion and quarrelling, and to stop men from acquiring 'curiosities' until the ships were supplied with food, so that in three days he could end all sea diet except grog, and put everybody on fresh pork, fruit and roots. Meanwhile the ships, impeded though they were by canoes, were worked round the shoals and islets to the old anchorage on the northern side of Nomuka. This was 1 May, and here they remained a fortnight, with the people of the island swarming aboard and in general good relations prevailing. The only really untoward incidents, apart from the constant thefts, were the parting of the Discovery's cables on the sharp rocks of the anchorage, which meant some difficult days spent in recovering the anchors. The chiefs, the eiki, were well-inclined and helpful, though not disinclined to profit from the thieving which so constantly went on—even, for a start, to take part in it themselves. Cook was determined to put it down. It must have seemed purposeless, apart from a sense of triumph—why, for example, carry off the bolt from the spunyarn winch?—and could be very inconvenient. A minor chief was caught in that particular act, was flogged, carried on shore to the trading place his hands tied firmly behind his back, and released only after some hours when a large hog was brought as ransom. Such punishment was to Anderson extreme: 'after this we were not troubled with thieves of rank', commented Cook, but on their servants or slaves 'a floging made no more impression than it would have done upon the Main-mast'. The chiefs advised him to kill them. He could not quite do that, but we can see a sort of desperation coming upon him. Clerke, in like situation, was rescued by his waggishness. He had the offenders half-shaved, head, face, and beard, before throwing them overboard to become objects of derision; and that was fairly effective.
One of the chiefs who came to visit, from Tongatapu not Nomuka,
was obviously a man of great importance, youngish, tall and of a handsomely wild appearance, introduced as 'Feenough', king of all the Friendly Islands. He did not deny the dignity—when he arrived at Nomuka all the natives present bowed their heads to his feet; when he came to dinner with Cook only one other chief was esteemed to be of high enough rank to be present also; he was certainly influential enough to reclaim stolen goods. Cook rather suspected the claim to kingship, but made no doubt of the unusual importance; for Finau Ulukalala Feletoa was indeed a grandee, an arrogant, able and ambitious one, among those isles. It was at his suggestion that Cook, finding at the end of ten days that he had got from Nomuka all that he could get, resolved, instead of going directly to Tongatapu, to visit first an island to the north-east called 'Happi'. It was not a single island, as Cook was to find, but a group, the five largest members of which lie on the water in a twisted green flat line north to south; the central part of the group bordered on the westward or leeward side with innumerable reefs and shoals and islets, on the whole of the windward side, where he did not go, with a barrier reef and the parallel white line of the exploding Pacific. Why Finau should have wished Cook to visit this group, rather than his own island of Vava'u, still farther to the north, is a little hard to understand: perhaps he noticed on Nomuka how far inroads on provisions could go. The ships accordingly weighed anchor and steered a careful way north and north-east, rock-studded reefs on the starboard hand, to the north-west and then west the flat top of volcanic Tofua and the beautiful cone of Kao; then within low islands, skirting further rocks; a night, a second night under sail, 'for although we had land in every direction the sea was unfathomable'; a sudden patch of six fathoms depth then no ground with the lead down eighty fathoms; a third night under sails with land and breakers in every direction, comforted only by a fire lit on shore as a mark by Finau, a partial passenger. At daylight on the 17th anchorage was at last found before what Cook called a creek in the reef—that is, the narrow division between Foa, the second island from the north, and Lifuka, the third and principal island of the five. It was a safe enough anchorage in the trade-wind; in a westerly it would not have been safe. There were sheltering ledges of rock without; down the west coast of Lifuka the maze of underwater reefs. Cook was here for nine days.
Again the ships were immediately surrounded by multitudinous canoes and thronged with the islanders. Finau, closely and constantly attended by Omai, made himself a sort of master of ceremonies. The
people were ordered ashore. He took Cook ashore at the northern point of Lifuka, seated him in a house close by the beach, placed himself and other chiefs there with 'the multitude' seated outside in a circle, introduced Cook and proceeded to dictate through a subordinate a harangue on the duties of the populace: Cook was a friend who would remain a few days, they were not to molest or steal from him in any way, they were to bring hogs and fowls and fruit to the ships and would receive defined things in exchange. Cook made presents, there was a second harangue (Omai was the interpreter); Cook was conducted to some tolerably fresh water, presented with a baked hog and yams for dinner, and after dinner with a fine large turtle and more yams. There were plenty of hogs changing hands, with fruit and roots, alongside the ships. This was very satisfactory; but next day there were to be greater ceremonies. Cook was conducted ashore, as before, by Finau. He found a large crowd already assembled. Before long a band of nearly a hundred people came on to the ground from his left bearing various fruits and sugar cane which were piled up in two great heaps; they were followed from his right by another band bringing similar offerings, two smaller heaps; six pigs and two turtles were added on the left, two pigs and six fowls on the right. In front of them, on the left, sat the chief of the island, on the right a lesser chief. The bearers joined the great circle of the crowd, and in came club fighters to exhibit their prowess, their contests broken by wrestling and boxing matches, including some female boxing which distressed the more gallant of the visitors. These diversions came to an end with the morning. The larger quantity of provisions was presented to Cook; it 'far exceeded any present I had ever before received from an Indian Prince'; the smaller, formally, to Omai—who possibly, in his attachment to Finau, had not failed to enlarge on his own importance. The Indian Prince received a very satisfactory return.
Cook's journal has no entry for the following day, 19 May. Anderson's records a pleasant walk all over the island, which is not much over four miles long, and nowhere wider than a mile and a half. He was much impressed by its large plantations, neat fences and spacious roads, though there were few people to see, the populace all thronging about the ships. The party had a guide and protector generously provided by Finau. How Finau spent the day we may perhaps gather from the story told by William Mariner, the very intelligent young man who thirty years later was the prisoner, friend, and close observer of the Tongans, a story which—Mariner's informants being who they were, chiefs who had been concerned, and
Finau's own son—we have no reason to doubt.1 The chiefs of the island were no doubt carried away by the prospects of the booty and the realisation of the numerical inferiority of their visitors. They conspired together. Finau, the most influential, did not originate the conspiracy, but gave counsel and advice. There should be a great entertainment of night dancing, lit by torches; Cook, his officers, and the marines should be invited, and at a given signal massacred. The ships were then to be taken by assault. Finau objected that taking the ships at night would be difficult, and proposed instead a daylight operation. Entertainment by day was already in train. When Cook and the others present were out of the way, 'the men, who would naturally come in search of him, were to be conducted to the further part of the island under pretence that he was there, and they were then to be destroyed in like manner. Thus the two ships, their crews being so weakened, might be taken (as they supposed) with ease.' We can fancy possible defects in this plan, but it was the one adopted; and we may fancy a connection between it and the first sentence of Cook's journal entry for Tuesday, 20 May: 'Fenough having expressed a desire to see the Marines go through their exercize and being willing to gratify him, I ordered them all ashore from both ships in the Morning of the 20th.' They duly, in an undisciplined way, performed their exercise and fired several volleys. The time came for the Tongan entertainment. The victims were in order. Cook's fate hung by a thread.
It was a sight entirely new, he says—an exciting and most complicated paddle dance, performed most perfectly by a hundred and five men, to the sound of two hollow log drums and a song in which everyone joined, ending with a 'harlequin dance' in front of Cook himself: it 'so far exceeded any thing we had done to amuse them that they seemed to pique themselves in the superiority they had over us.'2
We can tell from Cook's close account how his attention was rivetted. Could anything be better designed as an aid to dramatic murder? Yet the signal was not given. Finau's vanity and pique had countermanded his treachery. Argument had arisen again: 'a little before the appointed time', (Mariner's tale continues) 'most of the chiefs still expressed their opinion that the night-time would have been better than the day, and Finow, finding that the majority were of this opinion, was much vexed, and immediately forbade it to be done at
Cook went on board to dinner. At night the ground lost by the marines was regained by fireworks, particularly rockets; but then a series of dances by torch-light, both by men and by women, carried away the guests, and also some of their hosts, with admiration: flower-garlanded heads, soft-voiced song, the regular clapping of hands and thud of bamboos on the ground, oiled and scented bodies, naked from the waist up in the Tongan fashion, limbs moving with the most dexterous unison in the shine of the flaring torches against the dark trees; some female 'indecency'; admiration even from the rather prudish Mr Williamson at 'the most beautiful forms that imagination can conceive in the younger part of the Sex'.2
Webber's pencil was furiously busy. Lines and circles changed position, fingers fluttered; song was varied by savage shouts; at the end of each dance the pace quickened; the po me'e
, the night of dancing, was over. Cook had never before seen such an exhibition; he was never to see another quite as exhilarating.
Trade was falling off as supplies dwindled. Only girls remained in endless plenty, generally at an axe or a shirt the night, payable to the man who brought the young lady aboard, though the price was known to go higher. Cook in his turn walked on the island, observed and admired; had vegetable seeds planted, Indian corn, melons, pumpkins, to add to its resources; continued the struggle against pilfering. Careless sentries and sailors were punished as well as the thieves. Had the commanders been of less humanity than Cook and Clerke, thought a junior officer, many of these people must have lost their lives. Chiefs in their canoes came and went. A persuasive liar came with a story of another ship at anchor in the road at Nomuka, and Cook's belief was dissipated only by a newly arrived chief, whom he knew, from that island. To what end such a story?—to get him back to Nomuka? He had already decided to leave, and was indeed on the point of unmooring, when Finau announced that he himself was departing for 'Vaugh Waugh' to get red-feathered caps for the ships' trade at Tahiti. Two days' sail to the north: Cook proposed to add to his knowledge by taking the ships there. Finau was discouraging, with a large lie of his own (perhaps he wished to conserve the resources of Vava'u). There was neither harbour nor anchorage there, he said. Cook acquiesced but would stay where he was little longer. He made his way down the coast to a bay between Lifuka and its next southern neighbour Uoleva; here he anchored till next day, thinking to attempt the passage to Nomuka amongst the islands. Thence he would pass to Tongatapu. The next day brought an unsettled wind and rainy
squalls, the Discovery
had already touched on a shoal, and the masters returned from investigating ahead with a too unfavourable report of islets, shoals and breakers. It was clear he would have to reverse his northward course outside the islands.
During this day still another chief arrived, in a large sailing canoe, and was brought on board: the king, the Tu'i Tonga, said the lesser ones, the supreme person in all those isles. It was Cook's policy to pay his court to all these great men, without enquiring too closely into the legality of their titles; but this time it really did appear, from the authority exerted and the reverence paid, that the claim was justified. Finau was abandoned by all who had exalted him before, except Omai: Omai had a vested interest he could not abandon, his identification with Finau had gone to the exchange of names, contradiction was bitter. If Cook had known, Finau was far too slim to be a king; but this person, sedate, sensible, enquiring, was 'the most corperate plump fellow we had met with', outrivalling the fat hogs he had brought with him. Fatafehi Paulaho had all the marks of majesty; after dining with Cook he was carried ashore in a sort of hand-barrow: flies were fanned away from him; he would keep no present but a glass bowl; people came on purpose to bow their heads to the sole of his foot; nowhere had the captain seen the like decorum. He presented Cook, before the ship sailed next daybreak, 29 May, with one of the beautiful red feather caps or bonnets, which were never brought in trade; and his reprimand to people who had stayed on board all night without his permission brought tears to their eyes.
This passage to Nomuka turned out to be a difficult and dangerous one of a week. The winds became scant or contrary, or blew fresh and in rain squalls at the worst possible time by night. By the 31st Cook had worked round the more northern islets, tacking at night, then stood for a passage between the islet of Kotu and a reef to the westward, could not make it, was forced to stretch south-west until he feared he would lose the islands, with a cabinfull of islanders on board, tacked back towards the other islet of Fotuhaa, and spent a night between it and Kotu tacking in the squalls under reefed topsails and foresail. There was real danger, and the Resolution fired her guns to warn the Discovery astern. Cook provides us with another passage that may be taken as illustrative of his philosophy of exploration, a sigh rather than a groan.
I kept the deck till 12 oclock when I left it to the Master, with such direction as I thought would keep the Ships clear of the dangers that lay round us; but after making a trip to the north and standing back again to the south the Ship, by a small shift of the wind fetched farther to windward
than was expected; by this means she was very near runing plump upon a low Sandy isle surrounded by breakers. It happened very fortunately that the people had just been turned up to put the Ship about and the most of them at their stations, so that the necessary movements were not only executed with judgement but with alertness and this alone saved the Ship…. Such resks as thise are the unavoidable Companions of the Man who goes on Discoveries.1
As his frightened passengers were anxious to get ashore, with the first light he landed them on Kotu, and found anchorage himself about two miles off; 'for I was as tired with beating about amongst the islands and shoals as they were and determined to get to an anchor some where or another if possible.' He remained at anchor for three days of strong wind, while Bligh sounded between the islands, Paulaho came off to visit, and he himself walked on Kotu to examine it and the shoals and reefs about it. On 5 June he was again at Nomuka, where the people were digging yams for him; and here arrived Finau from Vava'u, with a tale of canoes lost with the supplies they were bringing, and all their crews perished, during the recent weather—a tale which Cook was disinclined to believe, in view of general native equanimity. Here also Paulaho caught him up, and Finau's inferiority became clear; he made his obeisance, he could not sit at table with the greater one.
This was but a way-station. In four days more the ships were steering for Tongatapu, rapidly outdistanced by a fleet of sailing canoes which set out with them. Finau left pilots in the Resolution
, knowledgeable men, who followed the course of the canoes; but even then, as on the second day they approached the middle of the island, through what is now called the Lahi passage, with boats sounding ahead, they were 'insensibly' drawn upon a large coral shoal—'a most confounded navigation', to quote Clerke, over 'a continued bed of Coral Rock, very uneven, with here and there a mischievous rascal towering his head above the rest, almost to the water's Edge'.2
By good luck the water was smooth and clear, the breeze gentle, though both ships touched they both came over without damage, anchored safely for the night, and next afternoon, 10 June, were anchored again, very snugly, in the spot designed for them by their pilots, not far from the shore, sheltered by a congeries of islets—the eastern
reach of Nuku 'alofa harbour. Cook landed. On the beach was the king waiting for him. He was to stay for a month.
This seat of royal kings, Tu'i Tonga, lords of Heaven and Earth, was the largest and richest of all the Tongan islands, and Paulaho the king was a truly friendly man. The island is generally speaking a plain on a base of coral, rising to somewhat more than two hundred feet at its south-western quarter, and with a large area occupied by a sort of three-fingered lagoon opening from the sea a little east of Cook's anchorage: a very different spot from Van Diemen's Road outside the narrow western peninsula where he had lain in 1773. Here was a wider prospect—no 'variety of hills and valleys, lawns, rivulets and cascades' for the romantic English soul, no 'grand Landscapes' but the most exuberant fertility, as it was felt by Anderson, great 'Cocoa palms' towering above all. Cook, less expansive on such matters, agreed. Cultivated land or uncultivated showed the same fertility; plantations were large, flowering shrubs were grown about houses for their beauty, fences were neat, roads and lanes well-made. The Tongans, wherever they dwelt, clearly knew well how to tend the land. The larger works of their hands too were impressive: artificial mounds raised as pigeon-snaring areas; esi
or 'rest-mounds', where men might simply catch the breeze or enjoy a view; the langi
, royal tombs of stepped masonry the technical expertness or which was so difficult to comprehend. There was little information that could be acquired visually that Cook and Anderson, King and Clerke did not pick up between them. Social relations were a rather different matter. The absolute power of chiefs over commonalty was plain enough; it was plain that there was a hierarchy of chiefs; a king had been found, but what was the standing of a king, sacred, certainly lord of Heaven and Earth, who had sometimes almost surreptitiously to protect himself from the obeisances of his subjects, and yet himself do obeisance to a woman—who, apart from accepting that tribute, seemed to have no political or social or religious function whatever? Not without long study would it be possible to disentangle the family relationships of royalty or near-royalty, to be clear about the functions of sacred king and executive king and the one who came between, or the paternal standing of fathers and uncles and elders, the place of first wives and other wives, the particular position of women in conferring distinction of descent.1
Cook, who had been so signally misled on his earlier voyage, now had one point of certainty in Paulaho; but with so many other chiefs sharing names and obviously occupying high positions he must have felt not seldom that he wandered in a mist.
Paulaho, somewhat more than the 'indolent, fat, greasy rogue' that Clerke thought him (for Clerke was much taken with that 'active, stirring fellow' Finau) extended his welcome and beneficence. Cook landed close to the point called Holeva, his 'Observatory Point', not far from the northern entrance to the lagoon, was given a small house and had an area virtually made over to him for his convenience; almost immediately was held the first of many kava ceremonies—though Cook, this time put off by the preliminary chewing of the root, passed his cup to Omai. He nevertheless observed the ritual with care. Next morning he got all the cattle ashore under a guard of marines, set up his tents and astronomical instruments, spread out the sails for repair and had a party cutting plank and firewood; the two gunners managed trade; King became resident superintendent; 'our little post was like afair and the Ships so thronged that we had hardly room to stir on the decks.'1
Finau was in attendance, and the days settled down. Almost every day brought some present from Paulaho; almost every day brought Paulaho as a guest to dinner, rapidly tolerant of English cooking and very cheerful over his bottle; and this pleased Cook, because it kept the cabin clear of a crowd. There was, however, another great person to meet, the venerable 'Marriwaggy' or Maealiuaki, understood, wrongly, to be Paulaho's father and 'the first man on the island'. If a man had precedence of the king, there lay further confusion; but it was true,
because the old man was the Tu'i Kanokupolu, the effective secular ruler of all the islands. When Cook was first taken to see him, up the lagoon at the delightful village of Mu'a, where all the principal men had their houses, he was not there, and Cook suspected Omai of bringing wrong intelligence. The following day, however, very satisfactory visits were exchanged. Maealiuaki was a kindly man and a man of sense: when he came again he gave his chief attention to the cattle and the cross-cut saw.
Two days and evenings were devoted to great entertainments of dancing and presentation of food. The first was Maealiuaki's, when Finau, dressed in English cloth, took a leading part, and the old chief himself did not disdain to beat a drum; the second was Paulaho's, when the yams were piled thirty feet high, crowned with hogs, inside a rectangular framework of posts, and at night the unwieldy king threw himself into the dance. The dances were much the same as those seen at Lifuka, for men, for women, for both sexes, paddle dance, club dances, dances preluded or accompanied by song; and with the dark, pandanus torches flared. The whole population seemed to be making holiday, though it was hard to estimate the size of the crowds who came to watch both dancing and visitors and lay down to sleep on the spot; eight or ten or twelve thousand were various estimates. But such crowds were not a good index to the population of any particular island, thought Cook, because curiosity brought people from afar. If otherwise unoccupied, they entertained themselves with boxing and wrestling, women sometimes as well as men, and boys and girls; and sailors who contemned the Tongan style in these arts of battle as an ignoble variation on British technique were almost invariably worsted—when they won it was by courtesy of their opponents. Cook thought it wise to protect prestige by prohibiting further contests. In return for the dancing the marines were again put through their rather inadequate exercise; and fireworks excited general astonishment and admiration. There was the daily diversion of watching King or Bayly examine the sky. So jealously, so tenderly were the chronometers guarded that it was thought they must be gods.
The presence of such crowds accentuated the old evil of thieving. It was not always trivial. One of the Discovery's anchors was saved only because it got hooked in a chain-plate and could not be disengaged by hand. Trivial thefts—a pewter basin, a sentry's ramrod—were none the less irritating. Anything left lying loose about the ships or a working party was purloined. Cook's effort to protect prestige came too late. Clerke mourned over stolen cats, his rats rioted
unmolested. As awe disappeared, workmen and sentries became objects of derision. Cook deprived the men of weapons, lest they should proceed to extremes; the sentries were ordered to fire only with small shot. When the tormentors were driven away by threats, they climbed trees and threw stones and coconuts from the safety of the branches. Paulaho promised protection to any sportsmen or strollers in the country who let him know what they intended; foolish officers ignored this and lost their muskets; Cook, who was rigorous over government property, would take no step to aid the fools, already warned, and was highly displeased when they got Omai to complain to the king. Samwell on an amatory adventure, too lavish in his display of beads, was assaulted, and escaped only by a murderous assault of his own. After the first week, lest the stock should go, Cook thought it best to present to the chiefs the animals he destined for the island—a bull and a cow to Paulaho, a ram and ewes to Maealiuaki, a horse and a mare to Finau. It was done with formality and what explanation of husbandry could be dispensed through Omai. Maealiuaki was not interested; in the end it was Paulaho who was the principal beneficiary, for he got some goats as well. In spite of this, by the next morning two turkey cocks and a kid were gone. Cook determined on strong measures. He seized the canoes lying alongside the ships; he seized the chiefs (though amiably, and drank their kava), and announced that neither canoe nor man would be released until all the stolen property was returned. Fortunately enough was returned to enable him to relent. Yet the thieving went on, and as it did so his exasperation increased. Lashes descended in their dozens; some stone-throwers whom he regarded as hardened offenders were seized; they were not only heavily flogged, but had crosses slashed with a knife on their arms. Cook does not give us these details; the officers who do were shocked. We are troubled to see an unfamiliar Cook rising up, by the side of the scrupulously humane Cook we have known. He was still unwilling to risk a fatal encounter. He remarked, after a sentry had wounded a man with ball, that 'after this they behaved with a little more circumspection and gave us much less trouble… the repeated insolence of the Natives had induced me to load the Sentries Muskets with small shot and authorised them to fire on particular occasions…. I could never find out how this Musket came to be charged with ball, there were enough ready to swear that it was only charged with small shot.'1
At the end of a fortnight the sails had been repaired, and wooding
and watering completed. Little more could be expected from the inhabitants, who, their curiosity sated, were drifting away. The masters returned from an investigation seaward, much against the dangerous channel by which the ships had come in, but pleased with one to the east through the reefs and islets, provided a westerly wind blew. Cook could go. He preferred to wait ten days more, to observe the eclipse of the sun that was due on 5 July. With leisure at his disposal, he walked out over the land and along the lagoon, calling at the king's capital and spending a night with him, strolling with him, inspecting a fishery, houses, plantations, fa'itoka
or burial mounds, receiving presents, drinking endless kava, participating in a mourning ceremony (the main part of which seemed to be the emptying of a kava bowl holding four or five gallons). He entered up his journal at length; the pages are enchanting for the anthropologist. As the new month began, he got his stock on board, and moved the ship out to a position where he could take early advantage of a wind favourable for departure. The observation of the eclipse was imperfect, spoiled by cloudy weather; no matter, thought Cook—having waited so long for it—the longitude was accurately enough determined by lunar observations. He took aboard everything that remained on shore, including the sheep given to the neglectful Maealiuaki, and was ready to sail. On the morrow neither wind nor tide served. He would have to wait two or three days more. He decided to accept the invitation of Paulaho to a great ceremony that was to take place on the eighth day of the month.
It was held at Mu'a. It was a ceremony called 'inatchee' or inasi
, and went on to a second day, and Cook's long and close description is quite the best we have. It was complex: what its precise significance was, as a whole or in its separate parts, we do not know. Cook could not find out; his constant enquiries through Omai were met by the answer tapu
, and Omai had no gift of enquiry himself. It seemed to be both political and religious; there was certainly no doubt—this much information Paulaho was himself free with—that the central figure was the king's son 'the young Prince' with whom Cook was already acquainted; there were elements in it of a celebration of this youth's maturity, of a solemn oath of allegiance taken to him, of his elevation to an equality with his father—marked by their highly symbolical eating of yam together;1
it was public, in the sense that a large
number of the people were present, and as members of the public Paulaho had no doubt invited the presence of Cook and his officers; it was private, in so far as the commonalty was fenced off from sight of the inner area where the more tapu
proceedings took place. To be present at all the visitors had to go bare-headed and let their hair fall free, and Cook himself was carefully watched lest he should wander too intimately; but he was able to remedy the fence by making a hole in it. His boat's crew were not allowed to stir from their boat. There were processions larger and smaller, of men and women, chanted sentences and responses, 'Oraisions'—speeches or set prayers?—the presentation of yams real or 'emblematical', the emblems being small sticks of wood tied to poles; the investing of the Prince with cloth. Cook stayed at Mu'a for the night; the king came to supper with him 'and drank pretty freely of Brandy and Water so that he went to bed grogish'; and then slept in the house apportioned to Cook's party. Next morning, after paying a round of visits to the chiefs, Cook made his own present of English cloth and beads to the gratified Prince. The ceremony in the afternoon was even more baffling than that of the previous day. Cook was determined to mark every detail, and boldly walked on to the forbidden ground. There was some demur, but finally he was allowed to stay on condition of stripping to the waist as well as letting his hair flow, and thus he joined in such of the activity as fell to his group. Did his mind go back to that other anthropological student, Banks in Tahiti on the first voyage, stripping and blacking himself to act as a 'chief mourner's' assistant? His officers, outside the fence and peeping through, were surprised to see their captain thus in a procession of the chiefs. 'I do not pretend to dispute the propriety of Captn
Cook's conduct, but I cannot help thinking he rather let himself down', noted the insufferable Williamson.1
As for the captain in this ignoble state, 'I was now partly under the management of a man who seemed very assiduous to serve me and placed me in such a situation, that if I had been allowed to make use of my eyes, I might very well have seen every thing that passed, but it was necessary to sit with down cast eyes and as demure as Maids.'2
He made very good use of his eyes, however; the later student, looking through them, is much in his debt.
Paulaho pardoned his lack of discipline, and more: he pressed him to stay still longer, and witness another ceremony, the funeral of Maealiuaki's wife. Cook was tempted, but the tide was now favourable for taking his ships through the narrows of the Piha passage, the
wind was moderate and settled, and he dared not trust his fortune too long. He had had his gifts of stock brought to Mu'a, and there added an English boar and sow to improve the island breed; Finau had already extracted a pair of rabbits from him. He wanted to call at 'Eua for water, and he was persuaded that he should go. The passage was neither safe nor easy, and it was the morning of the 12th before he was at his anchorage in English Road. He was welcomed by the chief he had met in 1773. The only good water was at a distance from the anchorage; he therefore contented himself with what he had, arranged a trade for yams and the few hogs that were obtainable, and presented to the chief the sheep that had been so unsuccessful at Tongatapu. On his previous brief visit he had seen little of the island, though admiring what he saw; now, on his second afternoon, he made the journey to its topmost point for a general view. Cook had no natural gift for rhapsody, and it is among his officers that we find references to romantick valleys, enchanting walks, and a little Paradise. Nevertheless his mind could not fail to be stirred as he gazed out over the high cliffs to the eastward limitless ocean, then to the green and fertile slopes, and he had his own emotion: 'the Se
side from which the hills are not far distant, rises with very great inequalities directly from the Sea, so that the plains and Medows, of which here are some of great extent, lay all on the Nw
side; and as they are adorned with tufts of trees and here and there plantations, make a very beautiful Landskip from whatever point they are viewed. Whilest I was viewing these delightfull spots, I could not help flatering my self with the idea that some future Navigator may from the very same station behould these Medows stocked with Cattle, the English have planted at these islands.'1
And, perhaps in the same vein of provident romance, 'The next morning I planted a pine apple and sowed the seeds of Millons &ca
in the Cheifs Plantation, and had a dish of Turnips to dinner, being the produce of the seeds I left last Voyage.'2
He consented to stay a day or two more to receive the gift of yams and fruit the chief was assembling, and also in the hope that his friends from Tongatapu, who had promised to catch him up, might arrive. There was further entertainment of cudgelling, boxing and wrestling; there was to be night dancing, but Cook would have none of it. His servant William Collett, out on a walk, had been assailed by a mob, his clothes torn from his back, and arrived at the landing place naked except for his shoes. Cook immediately seized two canoes and a hog, demanded instant restitution and the delivery of the
offenders; the people scattered; the chief, much concerned, managed to produce a shirt, a pair of trousers and one young lad, and next morning the rest of the clothes in shreds. What could be done? Cook had already released the canoes. How could he flog one boy? He made the chief a present, paid for the hog, weighed anchor and stood out to sea. A canoe pursued him, with a message just come from the king: Paulaho had ordered him a number of hogs and in two days would be at 'Eua himself. The ships were well supplied; Cook did not feel inclined to return; his course was set for Tahiti.
'Thus'—on 17 July—'we took leave of the Friendly Islands
and their Inhabitants after a stay of between two and three Months, during which time we lived together in the most cordial friendship, some accidental differences its true now and then happened owing to their great propensity to thieving, but too often incouraged by the negligence of our own people. But these differences were never attended with any fatal consequences, to prevent which all my measures were directed.' In the next three weeks he sat down to make his careful general report, premising the difficulty of being accurate about things that did not come directly under his eyes, or non-material matters, like religion or relationships. Even with translation at hand, informants and Omai alike were casual, the ships put the people on holiday, they had no wish to be examined at length. He had felt the difficulty before. No one was likely to tell him of the plot at Lifuka; it was not till he was at Tongatapu that he realised that Finau was a liar, and that Vava'u had an excellent harbour and everything else he was in need of. Undoubtedly he liked the people, in spite of their great propensity, so constant a trial to him, in spite of their leaning to sheer devilment; one judges that the chiefs, through whom he preferred to deal, with whom the Polynesian custom of exchange of presents was carried on, liked him. Samwell—not a Polynesian chief, it is true—stresses his impartial justice, which 'rendered him highly respected and esteemed by all the Indians.'1
When D'Entrecasteaux came to Tonga sixteen years later, and the chief Kepa, with whom Cook had had much to do at Nomuka, learnt of his death, he burst into tears, and would have cut himself in the Tongan fashion with a sharks' tooth; but there were others whose memory was a disagreeable one. He may have offended more men
than he knew. Cook could reflect as he flogged, if he so wished, that Tongans were cruel to themselves, as the cheek-scars of mourning showed, or the propitiatory mutilation of fingers; that chiefs could bevilely brutal to commoners; that human sacrifice was not unknown to them—indeed an inasi
a few months later would include the killing of ten men. Yet he would not himself have thought the reflection a proper one. We may wish that in his struggle he had shown some of the waggish imagination of Clerke. But Cook was not Clerke; nor had Clerke had to bear the strain of the preceding years. Describing this people, their persons, their customs and government, their houses and cookery, their trade, manufactures, their diseases, he forgets his rage. He thinks, as others do, of the wretched, the seemingly inevitable gift he has left behind him, to be an eternal curse, with his cattle, goats, and rabbits—'the Venereal'. Not for the first or the last time has he been deceived by the endemic island yaws.
One matter remains on which we may speculate, in the sphere of Geography and Navigation. The Friendly Islands, he thought, must be a larger group than was comprised by the islands he had himself visited or seen. It must include 'all those that have been discovered nearly under the same Meridian to the north, as well as some others which have never been seen by any European but are under the Dominion of Tongatabu
, which is the Capital (tho not the largest) and seat of Government.'1
To the north, 'nearly under the same Meridian', lay the Keppel and Boscawen islands of Wallis (discovered still earlier by Le Maire and Schouten)—Niuatoputapu and Tafahi: he had already, in 1774, concluded that they were part of the group, and his conclusion was reinforced when he was told by Paulaho that a nail he had then seen at Tongatapu came from Niuatoputapu. These two islands are in fact rather too far away to be reckoned as geographically part of Tonga, but there had always been a historical connection, and Paulaho (he said) had been at them himself. They made but two of an archipelago of, in all, one hundred and fifty-three islands, 'if we credet the Inhabitants', who counted them out with bits of leaves and small stones; some no doubt were 'mere spots'—indeed he had seen plenty of those and almost run on to one of them—but there were to the north-west Tasman's Prince Williams islands, which seemed to be identical with a group the Tongans claimed, and put three or four days' sail away (the north-eastern islands of the Fijian group, though Cook's identification was not quite right); there was 'Vaughwaugh'; there was 'Hammoah
' or Samoa, 'also under the dominion of Tongatabu … the largest of all
the islands'. Well known also was 'Fidgee … a high but very fruitfull island', with a cannibal people; but they were not subject to Tonga. Nor, in spite of the Tongan claim, were the Samoans.
Why did Cook make no attempt to visit any of these islands? Can anyone doubt that on his second voyage, if he had heard of the existence of large islands so close to any of his anchorages, he would have been after them, fastened them down securely on his general chart, even at the cost of minor disorganisation of his time-plan? True, for a man whose next objective was Tahiti, they were in the wrong direction; yet he now was not afflicted by a sense of urgency, and the surprise we may feel springs from the absence of mention in his journal of even the rejected possibility of reconnaissance—except for Vava'u. Paulaho, enlightening him about Vava'u, offered to go there with him. He met Fijians on Tongatapu: their home certainly could not be far away, and the store of red feathers he acquired at Tongatapu came from Fiji. Is it then misguided to speculate on his absence of interest in active exploration? We are anticipated by one of his own men, the young George Gilbert, who also has mentioned Fiji: '… it is somewhat surprizing that Capt Cook did not go in search of it accoarding to His usual practice. His reasons for not doing it I can't account for; as we certainly had time while we were lying at Tongataboo.'1 From other men one would anticipate nothing. Has one simply come to anticipate from Cook the superhuman? Is it possible to think that just as a long but unsuspected strain on his mind was beginning to affect his attitude to the human situation, to make him the victim of his own exasperation in dealing with Tongan light-fingeredness, so, in relation to unexpected geographical possibilities, he was beginning to experience a certain inner tiredness?