Georgian Celebrity: Captain James Cook, Part 2: Cook’s Voyages

This post continues the one from yesterday, which introduced Captain James Cook.

Nathaniel Dance-Holland - from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom License details Public domain because of age

Nathaniel Dance-Holland – from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom
License details
Public domain because of age

Voyages of Exploration
First Voyage (1768–71)

Endeavour replica in Cooktown, Queensland harbour — anchored where the original Endeavour was beached for seven weeks in 1770. (Uploaded by John Hill. In public domain.)

Endeavour replica in Cooktown, Queensland harbour — anchored where the original Endeavour was beached for seven weeks in 1770. (Uploaded by John Hill. In public domain.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1766 the Royal Society engaged Cook to travel to the Pacific Ocean to observe and record the transit of Venus across the Sun. Cook, at the age of 39, was promoted to lieutenant and named as commander of the expedition. The expedition sailed from England on 26 August 1768, rounded Cape Horn and continued westward across the Pacific to arrive at Tahiti on 13 April 1769, where the observations of the Venus Transit were made. However, the result of the observations was not as conclusive or accurate as had been hoped. Once the observations were completed, Cook opened the sealed orders which were additional instructions from the Admiralty for the second part of his voyage: to search the south Pacific for signs of the postulated rich southern continent of Terra Australis. Cook then sailed to New Zealand and mapped the complete coastline, making only some minor errors. He then voyaged west, reaching the south-eastern coast of Australia on 19 April 1770, and in doing so his expedition became the first recorded Europeans to have encountered its eastern coastline.

On 23 April he made his first recorded direct observation of indigenous Australians at Brush Island near Bawley Point, noting in his journal: “…and were so near the Shore as to distinguish several people upon the Sea beach they appear’d to be of a very dark or black Colour but whether this was the real colour of their skins or the Clothes they might have on I know not.[“Cook’s Journal: Daily Entries, 22 April 1770″.] On 29 April Cook and crew made their first landfall on the mainland of the continent at a place now known as the Kurnell Peninsula. Cook originally christened the area as “Stingray Bay,” but he later crossed it out and named it Botany Bay after the unique specimens retrieved by the botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. It is here that James Cook made first contact with an aboriginal tribe known as the Gweagal.

After his departure from Botany Bay he continued northwards. On 11 June a mishap occurred when the Endeavour ran aground on a shoal of the Great Barrier Reef, and then “nursed into a river mouth on 18 June 1770”. The ship was badly damaged and his voyage was delayed almost seven weeks while repairs were carried out on the beach (near the docks of modern Cooktown, Queensland, at the mouth of the Endeavour River). The voyage then continued, sailing through Torres Strait and on 22 August Cook landed on Possession Island, where he claimed the entire coastline that he had just explored as British territory. He returned to England via Batavia (modern Jakarta, Indonesia where many in his crew succumbed to malaria), the Cape of Good Hope, and arriving on the island of Saint Helena on 12 July 1771.

Interlude
Cook’s journals were published upon his return, and he became something of a hero among the scientific community. Among the general public, however, the aristocratic botanist Joseph Banks was a greater hero. Banks even attempted to take command of Cook’s second voyage, but removed himself from the voyage before it began, and Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg Forster were taken on as scientists for the voyage. Cook’s son George was born five days before he left for his second voyage.

Shortly after his return from the first voyage, Cook was promoted in August 1771, to the rank of commander. In 1772 the Royal Society commissioned him to search for the hypothetical Terra Australis. On his first voyage, Cook had demonstrated by circumnavigating New Zealand that it was not attached to a larger landmass to the south. Although he charted almost the entire eastern coastline of Australia, showing it to be continental in size, the Terra Australis was believed to lie further south. Despite this evidence to the contrary, Alexander Dalrymple and others of the Royal Society still believed that a massive southern continent should exist.

Cook commanded HMS Resolution on this voyage, while Tobias Furneaux commanded its companion ship, HMS Adventure. Cook’s expedition circumnavigated the globe at an extreme southern latitude, becoming one of the first to cross the Antarctic Circle (17 January 1773). In the Antarctic fog, Resolution and Adventure became separated. Furneaux made his way to New Zealand, where he lost some of his men during an encounter with Māori, and eventually sailed back to Britain, while Cook continued to explore the Antarctic, reaching 71°10’S on 31 January 1774.

Cook almost encountered the mainland of Antarctica, but turned towards Tahiti to resupply his ship. He then resumed his southward course in a second fruitless attempt to find the supposed continent. On this leg of the voyage he brought a young Tahitian named Omai, who proved to be somewhat less knowledgeable about the Pacific than Tupaia had been on the first voyage. On his return voyage to New Zealand in 1774, Cook landed at the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu.

Before returning to England, Cook made a final sweep across the South Atlantic from Cape Horn and surveyed, mapped and took possession for Britain of South Georgia, which had been explored by Anthony de la Roché in 1675. Cook also discovered and named Clerke Rocks and the South Sandwich Islands (“Sandwich Land”). He then turned north to South Africa, and from there continued back to England. His reports upon his return home put to rest the popular myth of Terra Australis.

Cook’s second voyage marked a successful employment of Larcum Kendall’s K1 copy of John Harrison’s H4 marine chronometer, which enabled Cook to calculate his longitudinal position with much greater accuracy. Cook’s log was full of praise for this time-piece which he used to make charts of the southern Pacific Ocean that were so remarkably accurate that copies of them were still in use in the mid-20th century.

Upon his return, Cook was promoted to the rank of post-captain and given an honorary retirement from the Royal Navy, with a posting as an officer of the Greenwich Hospital. He reluctantly accepted, insisting that he be allowed to quit the post if an opportunity for active duty should arise. His fame now extended beyond the Admiralty; he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and awarded the Copley Gold Medal for completing his second voyage without losing a man to scurvy. Nathaniel Dance-Holland painted his portrait; he dined with James Boswell; he was described in the House of Lords as “the first navigator in Europe.” But he could not be kept away from the sea. A third voyage was planned and Cook volunteered to find the Northwest Passage. He travelled to the Pacific and hoped to travel east to the Atlantic, while a simultaneous voyage travelled the opposite route.

Third Voyage (1776–79)
On his last voyage, Cook again commanded HMS Resolution, while Captain Charles Clerke commanded HMS Discovery. The voyage was ostensibly planned to return the Pacific Islander, Omai to Tahiti, or so the public were led to believe. The trip’s principal goal was to locate a Northwest Passage around the American continent. After dropping Omai at Tahiti, Cook travelled north and in 1778 became the first European to begin formal contact with the Hawaiian Islands. After his initial landfall in January 1778 at Waimea harbour, Kauai, Cook named the archipelago the “Sandwich Islands” after the fourth Earl of Sandwich—the acting First Lord of the Admiralty.

From the Sandwich Islands Cook sailed north and then north-east to explore the west coast of North America north of the Spanish settlements in Alta California. He made landfall on the Oregon coast at approximately 44°30′ north latitude, naming his landing point Cape Foulweather. Bad weather forced his ships south to about 43° north before they could begin their exploration of the coast northward. He unknowingly sailed past the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and soon after entered Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. He anchored near the First Nations village of Yuquot. Cook’s two ships remained in Nootka Sound from 29 March to 26 April 1778, in what Cook called Ship Cove, now Resolution Cove, at the south end of Bligh Island, about 5 miles (8 km) east across Nootka Sound from Yuquot, lay a Nuu-chah-nulth village (whose chief Cook did not identify but may have been Maquinna). Relations between Cook’s crew and the people of Yuquot were cordial if sometimes strained. In trading, the people of Yuquot demanded much more valuable items than the usual trinkets that had worked in Hawaii. Metal objects were much desired, but the lead, pewter, and tin traded at first soon fell into disrepute. The most valuable items which the British received in trade were sea otter pelts. During the stay, the Yuquot “hosts” essentially controlled the trade with the British vessels; the natives usually visited the British vessels at Resolution Cove instead of the British visiting the village of Yuquot at Friendly Cove.

After leaving Nootka Sound, Cook explored and mapped the coast all the way to the Bering Strait, on the way identifying what came to be known as Cook Inlet in Alaska. In a single visit, Cook charted the majority of the North American north-west coastline on world maps for the first time, determined the extent of Alaska, and closed the gaps in Russian (from the West) and Spanish (from the South) exploratory probes of the Northern limits of the Pacific.

The Bering Strait proved to be impassable, although he made several attempts to sail through it. He became increasingly frustrated on this voyage, and perhaps began to suffer from a stomach ailment; it has been speculated that this led to irrational behaviour towards his crew, such as forcing them to eat walrus meat, which they had pronounced inedible.

Return to Hawaii
Cook returned to Hawaii in 1779. After sailing around the archipelago for some eight weeks, he made landfall at Kealakekua Bay, on ‘Hawaii Island,’ largest island in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Cook’s arrival coincided with the Makahiki, a Hawaiian harvest festival of worship for the Polynesian god Lono. Coincidentally the form of Cook’s ship, HMS Resolution, or more particularly the mast formation, sails and rigging, resembled certain significant artefacts that formed part of the season of worship. Similarly, Cook’s clockwise route around the island of Hawaii before making landfall resembled the processions that took place in a clockwise direction around the island during the Lono festivals. It has been argued (most extensively by Marshall Sahlins) that such coincidences were the reasons for Cook’s (and to a limited extent, his crew’s) initial deification by some Hawaiians who treated Cook as an incarnation of Lono. Though this view was first suggested by members of Cook’s expedition, the idea that any Hawaiians understood Cook to be Lono, and the evidence presented in support of it, were challenged in 1992.[Obeyesekere, Gananath (1997). The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-05752-1. With new preface and afterword replying to criticism from Sahlins].

Death
After a month’s stay, Cook attempted to resume his exploration of the Northern Pacific. Shortly after leaving Hawaii Island, however, the Resolution‘s foremast broke, so the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs.

Tensions rose, and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay. An unknown group of Hawaiians took one of Cook’s small boats. The evening when the cutter was taken, the people had become “insolent” even with threats to fire upon them. Cook was forced into a wild goose chase that ended with his return to the ship frustrated. He attempted to take as hostage the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu.

That following day, 14 February 1779, Cook marched through the village to retrieve the King. Cook took the aliʻi nui by his own hand and led him willingly away. One of Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s favorite wives, Kanekapolei and two chiefs approached the group as they were heading to boats. They pleaded with the king not to go until he stopped and sat where he stood. An old Kahuna (priest), chanting rapidly while holding out a coconut, attempted to distract Cook and his men as a large crowd began to form at the shore. The king began to understand that Cook was his enemy. As Cook turned his back to help launch the boats, he was struck on the head by the villagers and then stabbed to death as he fell on his face in the surf. He was first struck on the head with a club by a chief named Kalaimanokahoʻowaha or Kanaʻina (namesake of Charles Kana’ina) and then stabbed by one of the king’s attendants, Nuaa. The Hawaiians carried his body away towards the back of the town, still visible to the ship through their spyglass. Four marines, Corporal James Thomas, Private Theophilus Hinks, Private Thomas Fatchett and Private John Allen, were also killed and two others were wounded in the confrontation.

Aftermath
The esteem which the islanders nevertheless held for Cook caused them to retain his body. Following their practice of the time, they prepared his body with funerary rituals usually reserved for the chiefs and highest elders of the society. The body was disembowelled, baked to facilitate removal of the flesh, and the bones were carefully cleaned for preservation as religious icons in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of the treatment of European saints in the Middle Ages. Some of Cook’s remains, thus preserved, were eventually returned to his crew for a formal burial at sea.[Collingridge, Vanessa (February 2003). Captain Cook: The Life, Death and Legacy of History’s Greatest Explorer. Ebury Press. ISBN 0-09-188898-0.]

Clerke assumed leadership of the expedition, and made a final attempt to pass through the Bering Strait. Following the death of Clerke, Resolution and Discovery returned home in October 1780 commanded by John Gore, a veteran of Cook’s first voyage, and Captain James King. After their arrival in England, King completed Cook’s account of the voyage.

David Samwell, who sailed with Cook on the Resolution, wrote of him: “He was a modest man, and rather bashful; of an agreeable lively conversation, sensible and intelligent. In temper he was somewhat hasty, but of a disposition the most friendly, benevolent and humane. His person was above six feet high: and, though a good looking man, he was plain both in dress and appearance. His face was full of expression: his nose extremely well shaped: his eyes which were small and of a brown cast, were quick and piercing; his eyebrows prominent, which gave his countenance altogether an air of austerity.” [Samwell, David (1791). The Death of Captain James Cook – Google Books. p. 20.]

In addition to the citations within the post,  information came from BBC History and Wikipedia.

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in British history, British Navy, exploration, Great Britain, real life tales, Seven Years War and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Georgian Celebrity: Captain James Cook, Part 2: Cook’s Voyages

  1. Did you get to see those posts I did regarding the 3 Americans who were aboard the Endeavour with Cook Regina? Lt John Gore was from New York and was 3rd in command of the Endeavour, he rose to the rank of Captain and as you point out he took command and brought the news of Cooks death back to England.

    Bye the bye Cook married a Miss Elizabeth Betts in our parish church in Barking Essex as it then was, it’s now part of London, my brother was christained there I mised out I was done in Poplar, I was born there unexpectedly and they didn’t think I was going to survive so they got the local vicar to do me quickly. I have some pictures of the church somewhere, it dates back to the 12th century I seem to recall, Henry VIII had great joy in sacking and looting the place..

    Looks like I had the last laugh, no member of my family reached my 80 years, they all turned their toes up long before 😀

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