A Third Voyage
One Way and another, the captain had had his hands full; and it is now necessary to turn from literary composition to the matter in which he felt himself more professionally engaged, we must look at the antecedents of this new voyage which had formed the background to his correspondence with Dr Douglas. We have seen that the Resolution had hardly arrived home before it was announced that she was to go out to the Pacific again, under the command—Solander reported—of Clerke; she had been put into dock to refit for that service; and, the Adventure having already been discarded, Cook was asked for his advice on a new consort. He had been looking about for some time, he had told Douglas on 4 January, and the next day he hit on the brig Diligence, 298 tons, a fourth Whitby built ship, eighteen months old. She was purchased at once; the Navy Board, acquainting the Admiralty with plans and dimensions for necessary alterations and rig, added, 'In all which Captain Cook who attended us thereon has been consulted'.1 This was on 23 January; it was on 25 January that Daines Barrington, in his letter to Sandwich, referred to 'Captain Cook's destination'. When, then, did Cook find that the fine retreat, the ease and retirement of Greenwich Hospital, with its view of the ships in the river, but no ship beneath him, would be intolerable: when, as a man with domestic ties, who had been giving active and exhausting service to 'the publick' ever since he had formed them, did he feel the moment had come to quit shelter and the pretty income he got for doing nothing, and his wife and family, and take advantage of the Admiralty's promise to employ him whenever new service presented itself? It is unlikely that he made a sudden decision; for he was not a man of sudden decisions, though he could respond to emergency quickly enough. It is unlikely that he responded easily to indirect pressure. The pressure to which he did respond is likely to have been that of a whole set of circumstances, which his first biographer dramatised into one famous dinner party.
There seems no reason to doubt that the party took place—though Kippis assigns no date for it—or that it consisted of four men: Sandwich the host, Palliser, Stephens and Cook. Its professed object was to consult with Cook on the command of the voyage in prospect. It was to be a voyage of large scope and possibly immense consequences, beyond comparison more important than merely returning Omai to his island. Indispensably necessary in its commander were great ability, skill and experience. 'That Captain Cook was of all men the best qualified for carrying it into execution,' continues Kippis, with a little heightening of his style, 'was a matter that could not be called in question. But however ardently it might be wished that he would take upon himself the command of the service, no one (not even his friend and patron, Lord Sandwich himself) presumed to solicit him upon the subject. The benefits he had already conferred on science and navigation, and the labours and dangers he had gone through, were so many and great, that it was not deemed reasonable to ask him to engage in fresh perils.' But to consult him constantly about it was natural; 'and his advice was particularly requested with regard to the properest person for conducting the voyage'. The dinner was held; the gentlemen held forth—upon the grandeur and dignity of the design, its consequences to navigation and science, the completion it would give to the whole system of discoveries. The charm worked. 'Captain Cook was so fired with the contemplation and representation of the object, that he started up, and declared that he himself would undertake the direction of the enterprise. It is easy to suppose, with what pleasure the noble lord and the other gentlemen received a proposal which was so agreeable to their secret wishes….'1 Sandwich hastened to the king.
It would be extremely innocent to believe that Cook was merely carried off his feet by a burst of eloquence from Lord Sandwich, Sir Hugh Palliser
, and Mr Stephens. It is not impossible that they brought him to final, spoken, decision. He did not need eloquence. He was in a strong position, and external persuasion could hardly have affected him if he had already been strongly inclined to do what his friends wanted. He had been home five months or more; he had had ample time to hear and discuss what was being said in naval circles and in the Royal Society
about the nature and direction of a new voyage; he could balance very well its interest against that of the sort of voyage he had recommended to young Latouche-Tréville. It may be that he was so free with Latouche because he assumed that his own interest in the South Pacific was finished. At any rate, he
volunteered. There seems to have been an interval before the final steps were taken, at the end of which, on 10 February, at the Admiralty office, Cook wrote out his application for employment, and on the same day received both Stephens' letter in reply and his commission. He wrote to the Secretary:
Having understood that their Lordships have ordered two Ships to be fitted out for the purpose of making further discoveries in the Pacific Ocean; I take the liberty, as their Lordships when they were pleased to appoint me a Captain in Greenwich Hospital were at the same time pleased also to say, it should not be in prejudice to any future offer which I might make of my Service, to submit my self to their directions, if they think fit to appoint me to the Command on the said intended Voyage; relying, if they condesend to except this offer, they will on my return, either restore me to my appointment in the Hospital, or procure for me such other mark of the Royal Favour as their Lordships upon the review of my past Services shall think me deserving of.1
The Secretary's reply left nothing to be desired. Obviously Cook was not unmindful of the future: perhaps Elizabeth Cook had had something to say. Sandwich's conversation with the king had been satisfactory. Matters proceeded briskly. On the date of the forementioned letters the Admiralty despatched five more to the Navy Board and the Ordnance Board on the fitting, stores, armament and manning of the ships. In the following weeks, while Cook wrestled with his book, the correspondence thickened, and Cook himself had a good many demands to make touching stores and provisions. His most significant letter, however, is the one he wrote to John Walker on 14 February.
I should have Answered your last favour sooner, but waited to know whether I should go to Greenwich Hospital, or the South Sea. The latter is now fixed upon; I expect to be ready to sail about the latter end of Ap with my old ship the Resolution and the Discovery, the ship lately purchased of Mr Herbert. I know not what your opinion may be on this step I have taken. It is certain I have quited an easy retirement, for an Active, and perhaps Dangerous Voyage. My present disposition is more favourable to the latter than the former, and I imbark on as fair a prospect as I can wish. If I am fortunate enough to get safe home, theres no doubt but it will be greatly to my advantage.
And there were best wishes to all the family, and the promise of a hearty welcome if any of them came to Mile End.1
What then was this voyage-to-be, this fair prospect, this enterprise of such grandeur and dignity, its design so pregnant of consequence both to human knowledge and tour Cook? After that very agreeable dinner at Sir John Pringle's on 2 April, Boswell registered his sense of the extraordinary nature of things: 'It was curious to see Cook, a grave steady man, and his wife, a decent plump Englishwoman, and think that he was preparing to sail round the world.'2 If, indeed, the voyage were successful it would entail sailing round the world. But sailing round the world, in itself, no longer demanded astonishment, or promised large consequences. This enterprise was the discovery of the North-west Passage, from its Pacific end.
Cook had destroyed one great illusion of the human mind, that of a habitable southern continent. He had destroyed it not so much as a sworn enemy to illusion—though he preferred facts—as a student solving a problem. He came now to a second cardinal problem of eighteenth-century geography, and to an illusion just as sedulously nurtured as that of Terra australis
. The problem was more intractable than the first, because there was in fact a North-west Passage: the illusion did not lie there. It lay in the assumption that a passage had only to be discovered to be navigable; and it was allied with another illusion, the product of much pseudo-scientific thought and argument in the later eighteenth century, that of an ice-free arctic sea. Sea-water, it was argued, does not freeze because it cannot (the argument was carried on without the benefit of Cook's second voyage); ice is a product of fresh water and of the winter season; the ice of arctic rivers, floating at sea, will in the summer disperse, straits like rivers will be freed; a sea-passage from the Atlantic coast of North America to its Pacific coast there must be, for it is inconceivable that continuous land should exist to the Pole and beyond it; that passage must in the right season be navigable, and provide access to the rich trade of Asia incomparably more profitable than the tedious journey round the Cape of Good Hope
. In the sixteenth century the vision was one of trade with the southern continent, the continent of Ortelius and Mercator. Their continent, Dalrymple's continent, had been swept away: no matter, a new route in the north would revolutionise the commerce of the world. There were still men of enormous faith, and men who could be persuaded by a logic founded on unhappy and
misleading premisses. They could not visualise the passage that did exist. It was not so much a passage as an impregnable fortress, defended by an unrelenting enemy. The enemy was ice.
The voyage which Cook found so fair a prospect would not be, of course, the first attempt to find that passage, even from the Pacific coast of America. It would be the latest in a series of something like fifty; and no part of their story is irrelevant to his story. The early shining names were those of Frobisher, Davis and Baffin, the tragic one that of Hudson, who it was hoped might sail to Cathay over the Pole. It was all discouraging: 'Wherefore I cannot but much admire the worke of the Almightie,' wrote Baffin in 1616, 'when I consider how vaine the best and chiefest hopes of men are in thinges uncertaine; and to speake of no other then of the hopeful passage to the North-West.'1
The Hudson's Bay Company, when it was founded, was considered by some people to be a likely instrument of discovery; the Company, on the other hand, devoted itself to its very profitable fur monopoly, in the pursuit of which it was disturbed first by the French in the Spanish Succession War, then by one of its own governors, James Knight, then more effectively by an Ulster landowner, Arthur Dobbs. Knight planned to sail northwards up the west side of Hudson Bay until he met the high flood tide that he confidently expected would sweep through from the Pacific to that shore: there, where it emerged, would be the passage. He got two ships from the Company in 1719, certainly sailed into the Bay, and was seen no more. Observations of tidal directions in the northern part of the Bay were to become complicated, and arguments about them passionate. They were taken up by Arthur Dobbs, a man of large energies, who had never heard of Knight but was capable of considerable self-deception. Though a landowner, he was interested in trade, and widened his interest from the trade of Ireland to that of Britain and her colonies; this took him, as it took so many other publicists and commercial philosophers in that age, to colonial policy in North America and the thwarting of French ambitions, thence to exploration, and thence to the North-west Passage. He was convinced that it opened off a strait in the north-west corner of Hudson Bay; his elaborate though abstract study of the tides was buttressed by other observations somewhat dubious, as that of a clear sea in the north of the Bay while the south was frozen over, and of whales on the western side which could have come only from the Pacific; he was gullible over the printed word. He went back in his reading to Purchas His Pilgrimes
, the vast seventeenth century appendix
to Hakluyt, from which he took the story of the old Greek pilot Juan de Fuca. According to this story, which transports us to the other side of America, Juan de Fuca was sent by the viceroy of Mexico in search of the Strait of Anian. In 1592, beyond California, between latitudes 47° and 48°, he found a broad inlet, into which he entered, sailing more than twenty days, passing by islands and landing in divers places, seeing people clad in beasts' skins: a fruitful land it was, 'rich of gold, Silver, Pearle, and other things'. In due course he arrived at the Atlantic Ocean, and sailed back through his passage to Acapulco, where he met with neither reward nor gratitude; for the Spaniards 'did understand very well, that the English Nation had now given over all their voyages for discoverie of the North-west passage, therefore they need not feare them any more to come that way into the South Sea, and therefore they needed not his service therein any more.'1
To Dobbs this tale had the ring of truth: he poured it with a large miscellany of data into a memorial he composed in 1731, added a peroration on the short and easy way to China, the advantages to be anticipated in either war or peace, the new markets for manufactures and the employment of the poor, and set off for London to see the Board of Trade, the Admiralty and the Hudson's Bay Company.
He came to dislike the Company extremely. It would do little, and misrepresented what it did do. After much persuasion, however, he roused Admiralty interest: in 1740 (significantly enough, the Anson year) royal consent was given to a naval expedition, and a naval commission in 1741 to Captain Christopher Middleton, its commander, an able person of scientific leanings who had been in the Company's service. Dobbs had a hand in his instructions. Once in the Bay, he would be led to the passage by the famous flood tide; having penetrated it, he was to explore the western American coast, form alliance with the inhabitants, take possession of the country, winter on the coast or on some suitable island or return through the passage, as he thought best, perhaps meet Anson off California—we can see a sort of logical fantasy in it all granting only that the passage was there and that Middleton was Cook. Middleton did what man could do, found the flood tides all from the east and whales unreliable, and returned convinced that Dobbs was wrong. Dobbs threw off Middleton with contumely; was energetic and ingenious enough to organise a petition which brought an act of parliament
in 1745 offering a reward of £20,000 for the discovery of the passage; then, as the Admiralty had declined to try again, made one last effort, to beat down the monopolistic Company by enlisting the merchants of London in a speculative venture on his side. Once again an expedition returned with an icy answer. At least these abortive attempts had added to the knowledge of Hudson Bay, its inlets and rivers. At least a government had shown that it could take part in geographical investigation. But the North-west Passage, the merchants of London concluded, cutting their losses, could go hang. Was the case for the Passage, then, by the middle of the century, lost beyond redemption? It might seem so. If Hudson Bay were considered as the approach, it would have seemed even more so twenty years later, when the Company had begun to take exploration seriously—if the Company could have brought itself to believe that it had a duty to science as well as to itself, and would not lose by making public the results of exploration; for it was in July 1771 that the great journey of Samuel Hearne, one of its servants, northwards from Fort Churchill ended on the shore of the Arctic Ocean, a journey on which he had crossed no large river and no salt water, so that he had 'the pleasure to think' that he had 'put a final end to all disputes concerning a North West Passage through Hudson's Bay'.1
The seventeenth century had abandoned all hope of Baffin Bay. What then was left?
Romantic geography was left; international commercial competition was left; the politics of trade and a not ignoble, a simple curiosity about the world were left. The triumphant end of the Seven Years' War had removed from the British mind the fear that the French, through brilliant exploration of a linked lake and river system, would be first over the North American continent to the Pacific and its trade. Although the continental hypothesis was dealt with effectively first, that priority was partly a personal accident—for no one could have planned the appearance of Cook; and the other hypothesis, of access to the northern Pacific by water through the American continent, was never entirely lost sight of. This was not necessarily the same as the Dobbs-Hudson Bay theory: the Juan de Fuca story, so pleasing to Dobbs, had nothing on its surface to do with Hudson Bay. There was a sort of English ancestry for the plan of discovery of the western entrance of a waterway in the sixteenth century Strait of Anian projects of Sir Humphrey Gilbert
and Sir Richard Grenville
, and in the Californian visit of Drake in 1579. Drake's New Albion, then added to the English crown, was a
dubious gem, though it was to receive mention in exploring instructions in later centuries. There may have been something of de Fuca in the plans for the voyage of Sir John Narborough
, sent into the Pacific by the Admiralty in 1669, with the double object of breaking the Spanish monopoly of trade and surveying the north-west coast of America beyond New Albion. The Hudson's Bay Company charter of 1670, we may remember, looked towards the other end of the passage. Narborough got no farther north than Valdivia, in Chile, whence the Spaniards sent him packing. Dampier the buccaneer carried on the thought. 'In my opinion', he wrote, describing his adventures off the coast of Mexico, 'here might be very advantageous Discoveries made by any that would attempt it: for the Spaniards have more than they can well manage.' The previous plans had been all wrong. 'But if I was to go on this Discovery, I would go first into the South Seas, bend my course from thence along by California, and that way seek a Passage back into the West Seas'1
—or, as we should say, into the Western Atlantic. The Spaniards, added Dampier, were dogs in the manger—they would not look themselves, they objected to anybody else's looking. Yet the Spaniards had tried for the Strait of Anian more than thirty years before Drake, and their persistent and heroic exploration by land might well have left no energies to spare for maritime work. They devoted themselves to their trans-oceanic voyages to the Philippines and back until, no doubt stimulated by English and Dutch enterprises, they tried again in 1602 with Sebastian Vizcaino and his second-in-command, Martin de Aguilar. Vizcaino reached the latitude of 42° or 43° N, found no strait, but returned to Mexico with a theory that Upper and Lower California formed a great island, and that the strait opened up from the gulf inside. Here the matter rested for the Spaniards, until far on into the next century, and Dampier could make his comment.
Curiously enough, perhaps, the next piece of fantasy on the subject, appearing not long after Dampier, purported to be an account of a Spanish voyage. This was a 'Letter from Admiral Bartholomew de Fonte, then Admiral of New Spain and Peru, and now Prince of Chili', printed in 1708 in an English periodical called The Monthly Miscellany or Memoirs for the Curious
. In that year the squib was sufficiently damp, and the periodical was short-lived. The Spanish admiral lived longer, the squib took fire. According to the letter, which did not lack circumstantial detail, in 1639 the Court of Spain, disturbed by advice that Hudson Bay-Strait of
Anian attempts were being undertaken by 'some Industrious Navigators from Boston in New England', commanded de Fonte to search the Pacific coast with four ships. The obedient admiral in 1640 sailed pleasantly from Callao to a river Los Reyes in 53°, inside an archipelago called St Lazarus. There he detached one of his captains, Pedro de Barnarda up another river, leading to a large lake, with its end east-north-east in 77°. De Fonte himself, starting with the Los Reyes, went by rivers and lakes most of the way across the continent, until he met a ship that had come from the opposite direction, from Boston, commanded by a Captain Shapley. Though his orders were to seize any ship 'seeking a North West or West Passage into the South Sea', the generous Spaniard refrained at this time, saying that he 'would look upon them as Merchants trading with the Natives for Bevers, Otters, and other Furs and Skins'; among mutual courtesies, de Fonte gave Shapley a thousand pieces of eight for his fine charts and journals, sailed back down lakes and rivers to the South Sea, and so to Callao; 'having found that there was no Passage into the South Sea by that they call the North West Passage'—the way tried by Barnarda, one of whose seamen had had to go overland to Davis Strait—but, putting himself and Shapley together, nevertheless a clear waterway through the continent. A good deal of inviting circumstantial detail was supplied about fish (‘excellent cod and ling, very large and well fed’), deer, berries, wild fowl, timber and honest Indians.
The thing was disinterred from defunct pages by Dobbs, equally eager as he had been over de Fuca, to have its great success after the publication in 1744 of his Account of the Countries adjoining to Hudson's Bay. Dobbs made no doubt of the genuineness of the story, though insisting on his own passage as well, which ran south of the de Fonte discoveries. The extraordinary part of the affair is the power it exerted over some of the leaders of French scientific geography and cartography—and in cartography the French were then the leaders of Europe—most notably over Joseph Nicholas Delisle and Philippe Buache. Rarely can disbelief have been so willingly suspended. They quarrelled between themselves over de Fonte's latitudes, and some other matters; but both, in their own maps, manage to include everything Both, for example, have an immense expanse of water inland north of California, the 'Mer de L'Ouest', discovered in 1592 by de Fuca (says Delisle), with an opening from the ocean on each side of a large island—the northern one that of de Fuca, the southern that of Martin de Aguilar, Vizcaino's lieutenant. The two rash men were assailed by eminent compatriots, by English, Germans,
and at least one Spaniard, the learned Jesuit historian Burriel—who demonstrated that apart from anything else, Admiral de Fonte had never existed. Unfortunately when in 1759 an English translation of his work appeared, as A Natural and Civil History of California, the destructive pages were omitted; and the editor even argued that it showed the discovery of a passage to be 'a very probable thing'. Unfortunately the other translations made were from this English version, not from the original. It became obvious that the only way to settle the argument was to go and look.
Commodore Byron was the man the Admiralty in England selected to go and look, in 1764, against the contemporary background of commercial rivalry, British arrogance, French suspicion and Spanish nervousness. There were other objects—rather too many—for Byron to pursue, as we have already seen: the Falkland Islands were of more importance than a North-west passage. Nevertheless the planners had studied the current geographical controversies; for the preamble to his instructions referred to the 'mariners of great Experience who have thought it probable that a passage might be found between the latitudes of 38° and 54° from Coast into Hudson's Bay'; and the instructions themselves directed him, after his Atlantic business, to go to Drake's harbour in New Albion, about latitude 38° or 38°30′. From this latitude he was 'to search the said Coast with great care and diligence' as far to the northward as he should find it practicable; 'And in case you shall find any probability of exploring a Passage from the said Coast of New Albion to the Eastern side of North America through Hudson's Bay, you are most diligently to pursue it and return to England that way, touching at such place or places in North America, for the Refreshment of your men, and for supplying the Ship and Frigate with Provisions, Wood and Water, as you shall judge proper.'1 Before even he entered the Pacific, Byron thought his ships too much disabled for this grandeur of programme, 'the California voyage'; the expedition, he wrote to the Admiralty from Port Famine, had already gone through an infinite deal of fatigue and many dangers; and he decided 'to run over for India by a new Track',2 which would lead to the rediscovery of the Solomon Islands. It was not a track absolutely new, the Solomon Islands eluded him. When he arrived home he found the British eye still fixed on the Pacific, but, for sufficient reason, on the south Pacific; and Cook's two voyages there were of a magnitude to dwarf, for the time being, any passage.
For the time being only, and in England: we must remember the very lively European scientific scene, from England itself to St Petersburg. Mathematics and astronomy, chemistry, physics, half a dozen departments of natural history, medicine, all were being investigated with ardour, sometimes with fundamental thought; and of course geography. Even when perceptiveness was lacking—even when a woeful lack of scepticism prevailed—enterprise and ingenuity sometimes had practical effect. There was, among scientific men, a good deal of mutual stimulus in ideas. There was a good deal of scope for the ardent amateur. It was a time, too, when organised academies of science were eager to exert what influence they could over governments. We have seen the Royal Society stimulation of Cook's first voyage: its interest in the astronomical side of his second voyage was hardly less marked. Some of its Council, like Maskelyne, were men of real weight in influential positions. Others, without profundity or technical accomplishment, had wide interests and useful connections, like Daines Barrington, lawyer and antiquary, friend of Gilbert White and Banks and Lord Sandwich, misled and exasperated friend of John Reinhold Forster. Barrington had developed an interest in arctic exploration; he was almost inevitably the sort of man who would make large generalisations on an insufficiency of data, argue theories doomed to demolition by facts; and he became a correspondent of Samuel Engel, a Swiss of Geneva. Engel was one of those convinced that, as sea water did not freeze, the polar sea must be free of ice—or rather, free of ice that was not the product of rivers debouching on its coasts—ice therefore seasonal, avoidable by a ship that sailed at the right time in the right direction. He buttressed his theory, apart from his abstract meteorological and physical arguments, with testimonies, reliable or unreliable, from a variety of seamen and travellers who reported, or were alleged to report, ice-free waters in high latitudes. Barrington was smitten by Engel's enthusiasm and methods; and it was the strenuous advocacy of Barrington, on the Council of the Royal Society, a friend of the First Lord, that led in the summer of 1773 to the despatch into polar seas of the specially strengthened Racehorse and Carcass, under the command of another naval person in the Banks-Sandwich circle, Captain Constantine Phipps. Ice-pilots from the Greenland whaling fleet were taken. The hope was that the ships would work by way of Spitsbergen through an outer ring of ice, and then sail on smoothly to the pole. Phipps did reach a position far up the west coast of Spitsbergen, in latitude 80°C37′ then, unable to move any farther north, extricated himself with difficulty from
the ice-field that had closed round him, to arrive home, in spite of all precautions taken, in a rather battered state. Barrington should have been discouraged. He was not. He shifted his point of attack. He went over, and got the Royal Society to go over, to the North-west Passage.
Interest was not limited, however, to the North-west Passage and the Pole. There was also the North-east Passage to Asia, sought by the English and the Dutch in the sixteenth century, abandoned by them after the discovery of Spitsbergen, Novaya Zemlya and the Kara Sea, and the foundation of a profitable trade with Russia. Since then Russia had been expanding its power to the east, through Siberia; Russian statesmanship and the Imperial Academy of Sciences at St Petersburg began now to assume a large importance for geographers. Business men also in England, some with Russian connections, were not immune to excitement; Engel was not unknown among them and more than one of them gave advice to ministers on a north-east, or a north-west, passage, or a single expedition to search for both. The plan which Barrington matured, however, and put to the Council of the Royal Society in February 1774, was most convincing. This plan, with a consequential letter to the Admiralty, was approved by (among others) Banks
, Henry Cavendish
, and Samuel Wegg, both a member of the Council and deputy-governor of the Hudson's Bay—who at some time had passed on to the Council his information about Hearne's journey. The letter was put solely in terms of science. It had one original point, in its suggestion of a western approach to the problem, rather than a preliminary passage round South America. An expedition fitted out in either Europe or the East Indies might be victualled finally at Canton in China: 'whence the run to the Northern parts of New Albion will not be, probably, longer than from England to Jamaica', and the American coastline could thus be investigated with a minimum of delay. If no passage should be found, then (the Russian advance has plainly become influential) 'the coast of the North Eastern parts of Asia, Kamshatska & Korea may be explored; with regard to which we are so imperfectly informed at present'; and the vessels might afterwards return in proper time to Canton.1
The Admiralty response was the necessary first official one: that as no provision had been made for so expensive an undertaking, their Lordships did not think themselves at liberty to engage in it.2
Real negotiations then started. Sir John Pringle was
to see the Speaker. Sandwich thought this meeting had better be deferred until he himself had talked with Barrington. Sandwich's inclination was clear: there would have to be, however, an additional vote for naval expenses if anything were to be done in 1774, and 'the leading friends of Administration in the House of Commons' would have to be sounded out. The leading friends did not agree: nevertheless there was triumph, and by the end of March Barrington could inform the Council that although 1774 was impossible, the voyage 'will be undertaken after the return of Capt
Cook in 1775; when a similar expedition will be fitted out, which will in general follow the outline proposed by the Council of the Royal Society to the Board of Admiralty'.1
Barrington did not leave the matter there: he could neither organise nor hasten the expedition, but he must have felt he could organise parliament, and certainly he had much to do with the bill introduced in the early part of 1775 to extend the terms of the 1745 act, which offered the great reward. The Royal Society's proposals were all science—‘for the promotion of Science in general, and more particularly that of Geography’; the 1745 act was all trade—‘of great benefit and advantage to the trade of this Kingdom’; it was now, in 1775, possible to bring science before a British parliament, and the bill was aimed at the 'many advantages both to commerce and science' that were promised by the discovery. The projected expedition was a naval one, and the inducement of the reward was no longer confined, as it had been, to private vessels. The 1745 act had specified that the passage should lie between the Pacific and Hudson Bay; in 1775 it must be north of latitude 52°C, and Hudson Bay was unmentioned. Barrington had not forgotten the North Pole: he managed to get into the bill the promise of £5000 to the crew of the first ship to approach within a degree of it, since 'such approaches may greatly tend to the discovery of a communication between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans'. The bill passed finally in December 1775. By that time more practical preparations for the voyage were in train, and Admiralty thoughts were ranging more widely. The Royal Society influence diminishes; or, if that is unjust to the Royal Society
, the persuasiveness of the Canton-based plan diminishes.
It diminished because of a new Russian geographical theory that became public in 1774, just as its force had rested on earlier Russian work. One must turn to Russia in the north Pacific, just because what her explorers did, or the scientific foreigners who manned her
Academy did, was of fundamental importance for what Cook might do when he should find himself in that part of the world. The Strait of Anian is before us again, not as a passage through North America, but as a possible or probable division between North America and Asia; and quite apart from any north-west passage, the nature of the North American coast is before us. One may begin with the eastward Russian advance in the seventeenth century across Siberia. There were forays to its Arctic coast, some coastwise journeys on the ice; some, in favourable months, by sea; certainly no continuous accomplishment of a north-east passage. In 1648 Simeyon Ivanovich Dezhnev rounded the cape called after him, the north-east extreme of Asia, and arrived at the mouth of the Anadyr river, which flows through Kamchatka into the Bering Sea
: passed through Bering Strait, that is, and answered one of the great geographical questions. Asia and America were not joined. But his answer was lost sight of. In 1724 Peter the Great formed a plan to deal with the same question, and in 1728 Vitus Bering
, a Dane in the Russian service, sailed from the Kamchatka river and pushed north on the enquiry. Bering did in fact pass through the strait named after him and reached latitude 67°18′ north, but neither sailing north nor sailing south on his return did he see the fog-lost American shore. He might all the while have been in an enormous bay that swung round far in the north between Asia and America. He was convinced, however, that he had proved their separation. His lieutenant, Alexei Chirikov, did not think he had done so; nor did the Admiralty in St Petersburg.
He survived criticism, and took part in the planning, under the empresses Anne and Elizabeth, of a great campaign of geographic, scientific, and economic exploration of Siberia. The plans, indeed, stretched beyond Siberia, to include the Kurile islands and the northern islands of Japan, and the coast of America. Neither the islands nor the continent could be far from Kamchatka: both might provide profitable trade. Bering and Chirikov were to manage the American voyage. There were extraordinary delays. It was not until June 1741 that Bering, an ageing, badgered, and depressed man, and Chirikov, could sail from Petropavlovsk, with two ships, the St Peter and St Paul, late in the season and short of stores. They parted company after a fortnight, in bad weather, and did not meet again. On 16 July Bering sighted land between 58° and 59° north, a chain of snow-covered mountains, the highest of which he was to call after St Elias. He beat some distance up the coast north-west, anchoring once, but landing nowhere on the mainland, and on 21 July, disturbed over the chances of reaching home safely, left it. Contrary
winds, storms, fogs, scurvy off the Aleutian islands, which he sighted from time to time, made frightful the passage; his ship was wrecked a hundred miles short of Kamchatka on one of the Komandorski islands, where Bering himself died; the survivors wintered there and reached Petropavlovsk the following summer in a small vessel put together from the St Peter's timbers. Chirikov also met misfortune. He sighted America the day before Bering, about three degrees south of Bering's landfall. He anchored in a bay where he lost his boats and their crews in some unaccountable manner; unable to land and in want of water there was nothing he could do but return. He did not have so bad a passage as Bering's, though bad enough, and reached home a month before Bering was wrecked. Thus ended that effort. Curiously enough, nine years earlier, and four years after Bering's northern expedition, another Russian had sighted America, without knowing what he had done. This was the surveyor Gvozdev, who, incited by northern Kamchatkan reports of islands close to Bering Strait, and in particular of one they called 'the large country' (the Russian bolshaya zemlya), set off to investigate. He landed on one of the Diomede islands, in the middle of the strait, and gazing eastwards, quite surely saw bolshaya zemlya. His sailors refused to go further; he also, like Bering and Chirikov, never set foot on the continent.
How did all this story become public, and how does it fit into our principal story? Cook, or anyone else interested, could pick up an account of Bering's first voyage in Campbell's edition of Harris. For his second voyage and what he had to say of the American coast, there was no published journal and no adequate history. The best account was in the third volume of the Russian History of Gerhard Friedrich Muller,
official historiographer of the Empire, a volume which appeared in 1758. Part of it was translated into English under the title of Voyages from Asia to America
and published in 1761.1
It gave to the world what could be said of Bering's first voyage of 1728 of Gvozdev, and of the American voyage of 1741–2. It also provided a map of great importance, which duly appeared in English guise. This map showed a firm coastline of northern Asia, fronting on the 'Icy Sea', from the Gulf of Ob and Novaya Zemlya right round to Kamchatka and the Kuriles, except for a conjectural magnified north-east point. It marked the ancient sea-route along this coast to the Sea of Anadyr, and referred to the Dezhnev voyage of 1648. Gvozdev's discovery was given a hard outline; so were the islands
sighted by Bering, and the bits of Alaskan 'mainland' supposed to be sighted by him, with some of the names he gave, and one or two conferred, perhaps, by Muller. This was done also for the American sightings of Bering and Chirikov. South of Chirikov's discovery the coast was mere dots (including the de Fonte area), until it became a hard line again with the entrance to de Fuca's strait, and so past that of Martin de Aguilar, New Albion, and San Francisco Bay to what was then called California. The map had no truck with north-west passages: the nearest it came to a waterway across North America was a River of the West between Lake Winnipeg and (conjecturally) Martin de Aguilar's opening. This was a French, not the English conception. Courses were marked for Bering and Chirikov. But perhaps the most interesting thing, as we look back on it, was the suggested outline for the American coast opposite Kamchatka and that part of Asia to its north. This took the form of a great blunt-ended peninsula, a continuous projection to the west of North America, its northern side running roughly parallel with the Asian coast, its southern side fringed with Bering's islands. Far to the north, after a large break, was conjectured another piece of coastline roughly parallel with Baffin Bay. If all this was soundly based—and Muller, reasonably hesitant, wrote, 'My work herein has been no more than to connect together, according to probability, by points, the coasts that had been seen in various places'—then it would seem fairly sensible, geographically speaking, to use the port of Canton for the start of a voyage into these northern waters, a voyage through Bering Strait to the sea that Hearne had found: to approach, that is, from the south-west. The map, then, was a by no means rash collation of the known and the unknown, and was for almost twenty years taken as standard, a document on which Barrington quite naturally assumed he could base his proposals.
On this assumption fell very heavily in 1774 a new book—a very small book—and a new map. Bering's men had brought back reports not merely of islands but of sea-otters, seals and foxes. A trading company, organised under imperial patronage, began a murderous onslaught upon the inhabitants of the Aleutian islands, both human and animal, which was to carry the Russians along the whole length of the islands to the Alaskan peninsula and at length to the main American continent, setting up storehouses and armed posts as they went. Traders and hunters were perforce discoverers. It is sometimes difficult, amid a confusion of names, to tell what they discovered, and there were naval officers who were abler explorers. The one of these, perhaps not the most meritorious, who nevertheless got the most
attention, was Lieutenant Sindt. He did in 1767 touch on the continent, somewhere between latitudes 64° and 66°, though he made no survey; and he seems to have visited or seen a number of islands. He was enshrined in An Account of the New Northern Archipelago, Lately Discovered by the Russians in the Seas of Kamtschatka and Anadir, by a rather extravagant author, Jacob von Stählin, who was secretary of the Academy of Sciences. Published in its original German at Stuttgart, in 1774, it was brought before the Royal Society in June by Dr Maty, the secretary, and a translation into English at once put in hand, so that it was out in London before the end of the year. Obviously it caused some excitement among the geographically learned, and obviously it affected the Admiralty. The critical thing was the map, so very different from Müller's: what Stählin called 'the very accurate little Map of the new discovered Northern Archipelago here annexed, which is drawn up from the original accounts'. To name every one of the islands composing this new archipelago, said the author, was needless, as they were set down in the map with their situation and size; though he adds—with a moderate access of caution—'As to the absolute accuracy of the two first articles, namely, the true situation, as to geographical latitude and longitude, and their exact dimensions, I would not be answerable for them, till they can be ascertained by astronomical observations'.1
Stählin's 'very accurate little Map' looks as if some large fist has come down on the fragile surface of Müller's north-west American peninsula, shattered it into displaced fragments and sent some of it into thin air. The largest of the fragments is an island called Alaschka between what we may for convenience call East Cape or Cape Dezhnev and a bulge on the American shore—an island twice as far from America as it is from Asia. The bulge is labelled North America Great Continent, and 'Stachtan Nitada', which last form of words seems to be quite meaningless. Due south of Alaschka are a few small islands and a larger one, of uncompleted outline, called Unalaschka. From there a semi-circular fringe, a good deal of it named Aleutskia Isles, runs round towards Asia, straddling the 60th parallel and screening off the Sea of Anadir from the vast ocean. There is some truth of conception here, no sense of direction: a chain of Aleutskian or Aleutian islands, one of the larger of which is Unalaska, does actually extend from an Alaskan peninsula—though it was wise of Stählin, in this unwise piece of cartography, not to make himself answerable for the 'absolute accuracy' of his rendering. His unjustifiable rashness lay in the large passage he left between his Alaschka
and his North America or 'Stachtan Nitada', because no one had looked there yet, and to argue that because some islands existed everything must be islands was not merely unwisdom but absurdity. Daines Barrington
, sceptical for once, refused to give credit to the map at all; William Coxe, the first English historian of the Russian voyages, was after a critical examination equally condemnatory.1
Coxe's book was not published till 1780, no help to voyagers who sailed in 1776; and there Stählin's Northern Archipelago was, with all the signs of confidence; and who could be blamed for hitting instantaneously on the admirable way, open, spacious and direct, thus presented of following the American coast from New Albion into the sea, not entirely frozen, on the shore of which Samuel Hearne had stood? Certainly that would be preferable to an approach from Canton.
Whatever might be thought of Canton, we can now see emerging the grand strategy of an actual voyage. Hearne, the Barrington-Engel ice theory, the Stählin island theory, are all there. During 1775 we must regard the mixture as settling down in the Admiralty mind: presumably in the Royal Society
mind also. Some time or other Cook was brought into the discussion. To bring Cook in was to listen to Cook's ideas on strategy; and though Cook might know nothing about the Arctic, he knew a good deal about the Pacific, and had his own experience of bases. After his second voyage, he thought he knew the Pacific winds. The most advantageous, and therefore the most natural, way for him to get into the ocean and to the eastern side of it would be not by Magellan's strait or the Horn, like Byron or himself on his first voyage, but by the Cape of Good Hope
. There he knew the possibilities of refreshment and had friends in the business; if nothing went wrong with his timing he would be able to look round a little on his eastward passage, southeast of the Cape, and verify the discoveries the French had made in that part, which the obliging Crozet had told him about in March 1775. Once within the Pacific his base would undoubtedly be the familiar Tahiti—though perhaps the Friendly Islands would be useful also—and Tahiti would not be too far south for recruitment during the arctic winter. This would fit in with the necessity of seeing Omai home. The passage from Tahiti to the north-west American coast could present no difficulty. We can descry at the back of Cook's mind one or two other thoughts: he could, on the long stretch from
the Cape to Tahiti, look at Van Diemen's Land, omitted by him on two previous voyages, and if he called in at Queen Charlotte Sound he could certainly refill his water and collect greens; he might even pick up a more circumstantial knowledge about Furneaux's disaster in 1773.
At some moment, then, probably in the six months between 10 February 1776, when Cook formally volunteered for the service, and 6 July, when his instructions were signed, all these thoughts, from Royal Society to Cook, became co-ordinated, and the plan was given its final shape.1
There would be two ships. Cook should go as directly as possible to the Cape, there to refresh and take in supplies. Leaving at the end of October or beginning of November (which might be deemed early summer) he should go south to latitude 48°, search for the islands of Marion du Fresne and Kerguelen, and if possible find a good harbour there, which 'may hereafter prove very useful, altho it should afford little or nothing more than shelter, wood & water'. Thence he was to proceed to Tahiti or the Society Islands
, calling at New Zealand if he thought fit. Omai was to be landed. The islands should be left at the beginning of February 1777, or sooner if Cook judged it necessary. (Not much time is being left for contrary chances, but Cook must have approved the timing.) Then without delay, or looking deliberately for new lands, to New Albion, reaching its coast at about latitude 45° N: having thus a spring and summer for the real work of the voyage. He should coast northward to 'the Latitude of 65°, or farther, if you are not obstructed by Lands or Ice; taking care not to lose any time in exploring Rivers or Inlets, or upon any other account, until you get into the beforementioned Latitude of 65°, where we could wish you to arrive in the Month of June', of 1777. Why 45°? Why 65°?—we may interpolate. Because, in the first place, the necessity of refreshing again, on the American coast, was foreseen; and secondly—one is justified in thinking—though there was no faith at all in Juan de Fuca in latitude 47°-48°, or de Fonte in latitude 53°, it would be useful to ascertain the lie of the coast north of 45°, and put into it, in proper relation, the discoveries of Bering and Chirikov. It was at about 65° that the Russian Great Continent or Stachtan Nitada bulged west; here it was that Gvozdev and Sindt had landed; it was about here, or farther north, that a passage leading to Hearne's sea must open, if one existed at all. It was here that Cook was 'very carefully to search for, and to explore, such Rivers or Inlets as may appear to be of a considerable extent, and pointing towards Hudsons or Baffins
Bay': even now we cannot quite get rid of Hudson Bay. The injunction seems firm and exclusive enough; however, we have the usual elasticity—'nevertheless if you shall find it more eligible to pursue any other measures, than those above pointed out, in order to make a discovery of the beforementioned Passage (if any such there be) you are at liberty, and we leave it to your discretion, to pursue such measures accordingly.' If the passage should be found, sail through it; if not, winter at Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka, or somewhere better, and try again in the spring of 1778 for either a north-west, or a north-east, passage—because the latter, round Asia, between the Pacific and the North Sea, might after all be the answer. The general tenor of these instructions is, geographically, cautious: it is possible that Daines Barrington
would have given a more confident ring to them; but they did give scope for triumph. If triumph was impossible, then Cook was to return to England by such route as he might think best 'for the improvement of Geography and Navigation'.
We do not know when the Admiralty was visited by a further thought on the improvement of geography and navigation; for its grand strategy was suddenly made even grander by an Atlantic addendum. Why not, some person seems to have asked, look for the passage at both ends?—and in this query Hudson Bay was excluded. Baffin Bay, however, had not been tried since Baffin himself came back defeated in 1616, 'having coasted all, or neere all the circumference thereof', and found it 'to be no other then a great bay'—not been tried, that is, in the sense of closely examined for a passage leading out of it. The whalers who realised the profit that Baffin had foreseen in their trade knew, something about the more southern part. The time seemed ripe for re-examination. This should occupy two seasons. In 1776 a naval vessel would be going out to the Bay for the protection of British whalers against American ships of war: the American revolt had begun in 1775, one must remember, and if Barrington had not made his plea as early as he did, it is at least doubtful whether there would have been a third Cook voyage, or supplementary voyages, at all. When the safety of the whalers had been guaranteed, this vessel should make a preliminary examination of the coasts of the Bay, returning with nautical information, surveys and charts; on the basis of which another voyage should be made in the following year, specifically to explore its western shores. In the summer of 1777 Cook was expected to be at the other end of the passage—assuming there was one. Who could know what would happen after that? The documents expressed no wild hope; but was
it impossible that the two explorers might meet in the middle? Thus, two hundred years after Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Richard Grenville, the plan and its addendum stood complete.
Should one, after this discussion, enquire why Cook volunteered for the voyage? The enquiry may be needless. It may be enough to say that he preferred activity to quiescence, and that the activity of the mind was not enough for him. For a sailor in his forty-seventh year, with his mind at full stretch, the land was too stable. But could his mind be at full stretch, if his ship—and he in it—was not off some questionable coast? For him that was the fair prospect. There is more than one significant remark in the letter he wrote to Walker announcing his decision. There is the remark, 'If I am fortunate enough to get safe home, theres no doubt but it will be greatly to my advantage.' What promise had he? True enough, if he got home with a discovered North-west Passage, the commander's share of £20,000 would be advantageous. But if he merely got home from another difficult and arduous voyage, laden with charts, what then? The fourth captaincy in Greenwich Hospital would be no great reward. Some other 'mark of the Royal Favour'? Flag-rank? But a rear-admiral in Greenwich Hospital would be no more active than a post-captain. A red ribbon and star? We do not know what he thought of such things. Was there a revival, a transference, of his old ambition, to go 'as far as I think it possible for man to go'—a transference from the south to the north? But that might have nothing to do with the North-west Passage, if he found it. Possibly, to an extent unrealised by himself, he had given his heart away to the Pacific; or, if that is too fancifully romantic, possibly he merely saw, in professional terms, a highly complex problem, and could not resist it. In all his eagerness for activity, his lifting of spirit at the fair prospect, he does not appear to have guessed that, possibly, he was a tired man.
He expected to be ready to sail about the latter end of April, he had told Walker. He should have known better, even though men were joining and stores loading in February. There was time for a good many desertions from both ships, and men were still being taken in through June, some even later. Supply was no short process: butter and pickle, inspissated juice of malt, dried yeast, pressed hops, experimentally packed bread and meal, were still being supplied as June wore on, let alone a 'Draughtsman and Landskip Painter'. Cook, as we have seen, was busy over his book, and thrust into the running fight with Forster; at the end of May there was the
business about his portrait. As with the previous voyage, the captain had his way with supply, and was willing to give oddments a trial: there were articles we have not met before, a sort of life-saving device for a man overboard, constructed of a wooden pole with a bell on the end and cork supports. It does not seem to have been highly practical. Each ship was also given 'an Apparatus for recovering Drowned persons', of undefined nature. With all this preparation and its supervision no fault could be found. There was, however, desperate fault in other preparation, and this concerned the Resolution herself.
No vessel, certainly, could have been more perfectly shaped to Cook's purpose than the Resolution on his second voyage. No vessel could have withstood harder usage from the elements for a longer time. Whitby never made a sounder ship, and at the end of that voyage she was still sound. She was of course in need of overhaul and refitting; but if there was to be another exploring voyage it is difficult to think of a sailor who would not automatically have taken her to make it in. The Admiralty had no doubt; Cook had no doubt. She was in the naval yard at Deptford in mid-September 1775; she was ready to receive men, the Navy Board reported, on 4 January 1776; she did not come out of dock till 10 March. In six months she should have been the subject of a thorough and honest job. That she was not is apparent from her history over the next—one does not need to say four years, because those four years would try any ship—few weeks, even, as soon as she put to sea. One may argue that Cook himself was at fault in not keeping a close eye on the work. Ordinarily that would be so. But during the three and a half months of the fundamental work Cook had no connection with the ship at all. Before the second voyage he did, it seems, have his eye on every detail. This time not only did he come late on to the administrative scene, but he still had a great deal to do on matters quite unconnected with getting the expedition away. One need not go into the subject of administrative corruption in the navy yards, or their state in general at the outset of the American war, after twelve years of peace. Palliser, when in due course he came on Cook's opinion of navy cordage, was scandalised at what he regarded as an unjustified attack; but Palliser, head of the Navy Board, which gave orders to Deptford Yard, was, one thinks, fobbing off a responsibility that was ultimately his. He did not need to read far in this journal of Cook's to suspect that the Yard had done a poor job. One may still feel some indignation that a fine ship, faithfully and, in terms of craftsmanship, nobly built in her home yard, strong enough
to resist the battering of so many antarctic seas and sub-tropical storms, should on a new voyage begin to leak like a sieve when she was hardly out of the Channel, simply because her caulking had been scamped. One must not go too far: the Resolution was still good enough, with constant and tedious labour upon her, to see out a voyage of four years, which were to include some extremely arduous months; and as she had had no structural alteration, to outward appearance she was the ship that had sailed from England in 1772.
Her new consort, the Discovery, was the smallest of all Cook's vessels. She was built by the firm of G. and N. Langborn for Mr William Herbert, from whom she was bought: another collier, 'single bottom, full-built, is very roomly, and… appears a fit ship for the service'.1 This was indeed so. She was converted from a brig to a 'ship'—that is, given three masts instead of two, though both she and the Resolution were classed in formal documents as sloops. She was 'sheathed and filled', in the regular manner, for protection against the teredo. Neither ship received extra protection against ice: the Resolution had not had it in the south, and if Barrington and Engel were right, there would be no great danger thence in the north. We have to reconcile this with the preparations for Phipps's voyage in 1773. His Racehorse and Carcass were 'bombs', heavilybuilt ships originally, and they were specially and very considerably strengthened, with double bottoms and reinforced bows. No whaler would have sailed for Baffin Bay in a ship like Cook's. On the other hand, whalers' voyages were then relatively short, and it is difficult to think that the Admiralty really envisaged a long voyage for Phipps. Extra weight would have much slowed down the Resolution and Discovery, not built for speed to begin with, and they had an enormous distance to cover. Their chief defence must be seamanship, as it had been the chief defence in the Antarctic. We know of no discussion on the point: if there was any, that reasoning may have been advanced. There may have been some blind fancy that ice on the western side of North America would be less dangerous than ice on the eastern side. As there was no knowledge, there may have been no thought.
received a proper armament—eight four-pounders, eight swivel guns and eight musquetoons, against the twelve of each carried by the Resolution.
In spite of the fact that on the previous
voyage the two small vessels 'in frame' had never been used, they were again supplied; it was thought that one of them might negotiate the passage, if it were found, and should prove impossible for the Resolution
They might no doubt have been useful in case of wreck, presuming their survival; but for boat work in general the ships were well enough equipped. The Discovery
was perhaps a little over-masted—though that criticism was by no means a general one. In sailing qualities the two ships were pretty well matched. Almost a year later, heading north from the Society Islands
, the Discovery
, for whatever reason, proved faster than the Resolution
; she could also claw off a lee shore better, Cook was to say. We hear no murmurs from either ship over the behaviour of the other. They were, it is plain, excellent company-keepers.
The captain, the plan, the ships—and the men. The Resolution's complement was, as before, 112; the Discovery's 70. The two lieutenants of the last voyage had both been promoted commander. Cooper may have thought he had done his stint at exploration, and disappears from our story, though his fortunes did not suffer. Clerke was not to take Omai home in the Resolution; he was to command the Discovery instead, and it must have given him peculiar pleasure to sail as Cook's second, the one officer who was on all the three voyages. He was still only 33; but his natural high spirits, his capacity for general amusement, his leaning towards the facetious, had undergone some modification. On the first voyage he had improved his technical equipment; on the second shown himself a perceptive observer, with a marked gift for brief description; on the third he is a hard-working and devoted officer, a serious man, whatever the habitual humour of his phrase, with a sense of duty as deep as Cook's own; in administration Cook's disciple; with all Cook's knowledge of the sailor's mind; without any of Cook's ability—and certainly no training—as a surveyor. We have no chart from his hand, no coastal profile; but he was an excellent seaman. 'Social'—to use his own favourite word—convivial and genial he was always; generous but not weak in judgment or in act, the warmth of his feelings is illustrated by his letters to Banks, their depth by the last letter of all. Was he too generous in guaranteeing the debts of his brother Sir John Clerke? He had small resources of his own, and his action brought disaster on him. The affair is obscure in its details: he must have made himself security for these debts some time after his return from the second voyage, and then Sir John, a captain in the royal navy, sailed off to the East Indies. It may have been the
announcement that Charles Clerke was himself to sail off in a different direction that brought the 'Israelites' down on him. Certainly he was committed for debt to the King's Bench prison, and lived for a time, anyhow, within the Rules of the Bench, thus far confined from activity in his profession; and if he could not get release he could not go the voyage. The efforts of his friends, however influential, were of little avail. Somehow he extricated himself, not without a grim gift from that unpleasant region, the seeds of tuberculosis, and not in time to sail with Cook. He was to catch up. Of a totally different order of mind from Cook, it is yet difficult to think of a man who complemented Cook better, or could more fitly stand behind him in command.1
From Clerke we pass to his old shipmate Gore, thrice also a circumnavigator, senior in years (the oldest officer on the voyage, indeed, next to Cook), in earlier time senior in rank, outdistanced in promotion—perhaps because of that absence from service on Banks's venture to Iceland, followed by half-pay—now first lieutenant in the Resolution. One would like to know what else had happened to Gore between voyages. Was it then that he met his 'Favourite Female Acquaintance' called Nancy, whoever she was? The phrase does not argue a wife, to be celebrated by the naming of a geographical feature; and who was the 'Young one' to whom Banks 'was so kind as to promise an attention' in case of Gore's death?2 The different Gores are not easy to reconcile, one finds as one works through the voyage: the rather old-fashioned sound practical sailor, uninterested in technical advance, the rash speculator in imaginary shores and passages, the unromantic awkward journal-keeper who will suddenly for a few days, once only, burst into an almost Elizabethan romance of name-bestowing; the commander, in the end, a little uncertain of himself yet stubborn. One would never expect from him individual brilliance: within his limits, he was probably one of Cook's most useful men.
Certainly a highly useful man, in every other way a contrast, was James King the second lieutenant. Among the seamen, he was the intellectual of the voyage. In 1776 in his mid-twenties, the son of a Lancashire village parson, he had both naval and political connections. He had brothers intimate with the Burkes—Walker King was Edmund Burke's close associate in journalism and later Bishop
of Rochester; he was himself well enough known to Burke to write to him from the Cape on the outward passage.1
This was a circle that few young sailors moved in. Entering the navy in 1762, at the age of 12, and serving on the Newfoundland station under Palliser and in the Mediterranean, he was a lieutenant at 21; and then—an odd thing for a naval lieutenant—in 1774 went to Paris to study science, and from Paris to Oxford for a period with his brother Walker. At Oxford he met Hornsby the astronomer; on Hornsby's recommendation he was selected for the voyage. With enough sea service and his special training he was for Cook's purpose exceptionally well-equipped: he shared in the responsibility for the chronometer, and his presence, in association with Cook, obviated the need for a professional astronomer. In other ways than astronomy he was a helpful man: he had read all the books; he could think for himself; he could carry through a complicated geographical argument. He was a good observer, though when on shore his technical duties kept him from wandering as widely as some of his colleagues. This was made up for not merely by his quickness and literacy in recording what he did see, but also by the sympathetic attractiveness of his character, which more than once made him an invaluable delegate for Cook—so that in Hawaii he was even to be taken for Cook's son. There must have been an almost youthful charm about King, a certain refinement of mind and of body, a humanity, a kindness, a generosity and sensitivity of spirit without touch of the effeminate, unusual among seamen—or amongst men: the combination of qualities that led the ardent young midshipman Trevenen to write of him (we must allow for the idiom of the age), 'In short, as one of the best, he is one of the politest, genteelest, & best-bred men in the world'.2
When John Williamson the third lieutenant came on board, however, there came what we should call a psychological problem. His shipmates had a simpler attitude, and merely disliked or detested him—or perhaps tolerated: we come on no word of love. He seems to have been an Irishman, and presumably he was much of an age with the other lieutenants, but he had none of the warm feelings of youth. He could, it is true, fly into unpleasant rage and violence. A strange mixture of self-righteousness and acerbity, intelligence and intolerance, he was the wrong sort of person to have been appointed to a voyage of discovery; he could not have been a happy man, and
he did not contribute to the happiness of others. Another curious mixture of qualities, to be studied much more closely by historians, was William Bligh
. How this person became master of the Resolution
at the age of 21, after only six years' service, is as much a mystery as how he had acquired his high competence as a surveyor and draughtsman. He will be mentioned a good deal in Cook's journal, never with dispraise; any journal he kept himself has disappeared. He must, one can see from the records, have conducted himself expertly. He was kind to his juniors like Trevenen. One gathers, however, from his later comments on the printed account of the voyage, that there were men to whom he did not wish to be kind, and dogmatic judgments which he felt himself entitled to make; he saw fools about him too easily, and the thin-skinned vanity that was his curse through life was already with him. King, whom he should have taken as his natural ally in his technical business, he regarded as a pretentious poseur. Bligh learnt a good deal from Cook: he never learnt that you do not make friends of men by insulting them. On this voyage his propensities must have been kept in check. There were three master's mates of some experience, all older than Bligh—Henry Roberts
, who had already earned Cook's high opinion in the Resolution
, a man with a charming talent for illustrating a journal with wash-drawings; William Harvey, the midshipman of both the Resolution
and the Endeavour
; and William Lanyon, who had been midshipman and master's mate in the Adventure.
Clerke's first lieutenant was James Burney
. The Burney family was pleased and excited. Dr Burney had spoken to Lord Sandwich; but the young man's experience and merit were both now great, he was no mere favourite. After the Adventure
's return he had gone to the American station in the frigate Cerberus
; and it was while he was there, in April 1775, that Fanny had written in a letter, 'There is much talk of an intended South Sea expedition: now you must [know] that there is nothing that Jem so earnestly desires as to be of the party; and my father has made great interest at the Admiralty to procure him that pleasure; and as it is not to be undertaken till Capt. Cooke's return, it is just possible that Jem may be returned in time from America. This intended expedition is to be the last.
Jem was ordered back in plenty of time, and then the question was, 'How will Jem like Clerke instead of his favourite Capt. Cook?'2
Then, of course, there was the question, unasked by the Burneys, how would clerke like Jem? They were to make a satisfactory partnership, and Burney's perceptive observation was to be useful.
Of the second lieutenant, John Rickman, we know nothing, except that he was to be involved without premeditation in later tragedy, and to publish an anonymous, and poor, account of the voyage. The master, Thomas Edgar
, is a clearer figure, a busy journal-keeper and describer of harbours, careful with his charts; not highly educated though with considerable unbrilliant capacity; a little sentimental; a worthy conscientious hard-working man, one would conclude. Of his two mates, the more distinguished is the American-born Nathaniel Portlock
, both in his capacity to record experience and for his experience a decade later; together with the Discovery
's armourer, George Dixon
, he was to help open up the north-west American fur trade. The other, Alexander Home
, is a good honest average master's mate, with an eye to humour, who will spend forty years of retirement fruitlessly pursuing a claim to a Scottish earldom.
Among the midshipmen, or young gentlemen in training for midshipmen, were three destined to high distinction: James Trevenen
in the Resolution
, Edward Riou
and Vancouver in the Discovery.
All midshipmen worked hard in Cook's ships; all came under his wrath and, no doubt, having leapt at the chance of sailing with him, looked at their calloused hands and with Trevenen called him despot; but it was Trevenen who elevated the captain above even King, in a class of his own, and referred to 'the sublime and soaring genius of a Cook';1
and no doubt some of them at least would have agreed with that. Trevenen, a Cornish youth from the naval Royal Academy at Portsmouth, clever, high-spirited and warm-hearted, ready and vivid with his pen, gives us a number of brief invaluable glimpses of Cook. It was an unhappy fate that convinced him, after the voyage and the American war, that the only alternative to the inactive poverty of a married half-pay lieutenant was service with the Russians, which took him to his death at Viborg. Riou also was to die in battle, one of Nelson's captains at Copenhagen, 'poor dear Riou', with the reputation of the perfect naval officer, whose loss was irreparable. Vancouver, the veteran of the second voyage, was the only one whose work as a marine surveyor was to put him in the neighbourhood of his commander; to read his great book, with its constant recurrence to Cook, with Cook as its standard of value, is to realise alike the importance of a training under Cook and the admiration he evoked. When we pass from these seamen to the only marine officer, Lieutenant Molesworth Phillips
of the Resolution
, we pass to a different order. Just come of age, of an Irish family, he
had tried the navy, but on Banks's advice went over to the marines. Without training himself, he could hardly train others, and the marines on this voyage cut no glorious figure. He had his hour of excitement, his moments of swelling honour; but his great luck was to make a friend of James Burney
, and to be enshrined in a sentence of Charles Lamb's.1
The surgeons and their mates numbered six—an unusual provision. Three of these are of importance in the history for talents outside their medicine. The most important was William Anderson
, the young Scotsman who had been Patten's mate in the Resolution
, now promoted to surgeon in the same ship. He was clearly one of the best minds of all the three voyages—professionally competent, but with an interest in all the departments of natural history as they were known at that time, acute as well as wide-ranging, and with a linguistic talent both eager and careful. He took scientific equipment of his own. A pleasant and generous person, he thought independently and was capable of criticising even a course pursued by Cook; as a day-to-day chronicler he seemed to have an instinct, as he had the range of knowledge, for supplementing Cook; in scientific observation Cook could draw on him unhesitatingly. Everybody thought highly of him; Cook had an affection for him. Like Clerke, he carried within him a fatal germ. By his side, but darting away continually in observations of a very different nature, is his first mate the highly Welsh David Samwell. There is no question of his professional competence or seriousness: on the other hand, where Anderson's non-professional interests are scientific, Samwell's are social and literary, and as with many another parson's son, unholy. He was irreverent. He had a consuming interest in 'the Dear Girls'. He was a bard. He did his best to get Polynesian poetry down on paper. The journal he would write would convey, as did no other word, the more frivolous side of a voyage that had its frivolities as well as its moments of tragedy. Like Trevenen his friend, his admiration for Cook stopped only this side idolatry: Samwell 'gloried in him'.2
The third of these exceptional young men was William Ellis
, surgeon's second mate in the Discovery
, a Cambridge man with a
patron in Banks, an amateur draughtsman whose water colours provide a charming and delicate appendix to the heaped-up record of the professional John Webber
. Youth, good spirits, admiration for their captain, we find in most of these men, 'sea-officers' and others, and general self-approval: five years later Samwell would write of the happiness of their meeting again, 'We are perhaps somewhat partial to one another, for it is an article of Faith with every one of us that there never was such a Collection of fine Lads take us for all in all, got together as there was in the Resolution & Discovery.'1
There were also the supernumeraries: in the Resolution were Omai, lamenting at departure, excited at return, and Webber. Omai had a cargo of his own—port wine and gunpowder, the things he fancied most; some muskets to put the gunpowder in with some bullets, the suit of armour, a hand-organ, some tin soldiers, a globe of the world, crockery and kitchenware and a variety of fancy goods. Cook did not think it advantageous to conjoin Omai and fire-arms, but Cook's view did not prevail. He made his own prophecy that once Omai had thoroughly seen home again, his heart would turn to England. Cook was determined that by then no ships would be there to take him.2 John Webber, aged 24, was the son of a Swiss sculptor settled in England, and had had his art education in Berne and Paris; he showed at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1776 a portrait of his brother, which was noticed by Solander, and this led to the offer of appointment by the Admiralty. Rapid, prolific, stylish, yet capable of a most un-stylish detail in botanical portraiture, he was to make this voyage the most fully illustrated of all. He lacked Hodges's interest in light and technical capacity in oil; but his landscapes show a sense of mass, his figure drawing is much more accomplished. He was a valuable man. In the Discovery was Bayly of the second voyage, again working for the Board of Longitude with a long list of instructions; and there was David' Nelson, with no official appointment, a gardener from Kew sent out as a botanical collector by Banks, the first of a line of collectors despatched to various parts of the world in the service of that enterprising and well-off master. Nelson, Bayly, Anderson and King, and Ellis as a bird-painter, may be regarded as the scientific staff of the expedition.
It brings up an interesting point. What interested the Admiralty was exploration and navigation. It was prepared to give hospitality
on the first voyage to Banks and his party, blessed by the Royal Society
, but the scientific impulse was private. On the second voyage science was impelled partly by the Board of Longitude, which certainly worked in close liaison with the Admiralty, and otherwise privately again, though private pressure brought the provision of the public £4000 for Lind—and then Forster. But this was a parliamentary, not an Admiralty, grant. On the third voyage there might, it seems, have been an official scientist. We do not know all the circumstances; but certainly, Lind being still favourably thought of, Maskelyne scouted him no later than January 1775, telling him in vague terms of the proposed voyage, and that he hoped Banks would be of the party, accompanied by Lind. That gentleman replied that nothing would give him more pleasure, provided that his friend, Mr Banks, went: 'But, I assure you, I shall not go to oblige Government after the ungracious treatment I received from them' over 'the late S. Sea expedition …'1
There may have been some unfruitful enquiry of Banks; and 'Government', whom Lind would not oblige, may mean 'Admiralty'. We come on no more of the subject till we encounter a story told, curiously enough, by J. R. Forster
, in the preface to a German edition, of 1781, of Rickman's dubious book. When King was appointed lieutenant in the Resolution
, relates Forster, he called on Cook to pay his respects, and expressed his regret that no scientific person was going the voyage, as before. He came away rather shocked and had to be comforted next day by Forster, who explained that Cook's character was not so bad as it appeared, but his head had been turned by Lord Sandwich. That was the reason for his remark, 'Verflucht sind alle Gelehrten und alle Gelehrsamkeit oben drein'. This leaves us rather in doubt as to Cook's exact words. 'Curse all the scientists and all science into the bargain!' would be a modern equivalent. 'Scientists' was a noun, however, still uninvented. He may have used the words 'philosophers' and 'philosophy'; for nothing is more likely than that Forster's story is in substance true.2
King was still not quite sophisticated, and he had experienced neither Banks between voyages nor Forster during or after a voyage. Neither had he known, we gather, that his captain could explode.
Finally, after these discernible—though not quite all discernible—
characters, 'the people', sailors and marines, the almost chance assemblage of men who carried out the orders. We cannot call them anonymous because we know their names; but there is little else we know about them. Nor is the assemblage entirely chance, because there are in it men who have sailed with Cook before—who, we must assume, even if we do not know, were willing or eager to sail with him again; though few, perhaps, would have insisted on following him out of a safe retirement, like William Watman
of Greenwich Hospital. A dozen of these veterans were in the Resolution
, half a dozen in the Discovery
; and half a dozen of the total had been on both voyages. We may sympathise with the fifty or sixty deserters, while the ships' companies were building up: men who knew Cook by tavern-talk, and did not fancy long voyages, might well desert at prospect of a three years' sentence. It was one way of assuring a steady crew. Then, having before he sailed a slight overplus, he retained them until the last possible moment, so that he could discharge the least suitable. Those who remained could reflect that, while they would undergo discomfort, as long as they were with Cook their lives would be reasonably safe. They were, the majority of them, English, with a scattering of Irish, Welsh, Scots, American, and even Germans. Like their officers, they were nearly all young. We know something of character in the mass. We can see them ignorant, illiterate, irresponsible, blockishly conservative, prone to complaint when faced by novelty; drunken when opportunity offered, lecherous; capable of tears; capable of cruelty. Occasionally a head rises above the wave of oblivion; someone falls overboard, is rescued, or is not; another is punished for 'insolence and contempt', or drunkenness, or theft, or neglect of duty, or striking a native chief, or—faint hope—attempted desertion; and that unlucky or dishonourable head sinks again. They had the wit, some of them, to study their captain: they would play up to him at some anchorage by bringing a bunch of greens on board, prominently displayed, and one thinks one sees the surreptitious smirk. Some appear in a light more positively creditable, like Benjamin Lyon, the ex-watch-maker; or Heinrich Zimmermann, the jack-of-all-trades from the Palatine who liked to wander and wrote a little book about the voyage and the great captain; and Gibson, the marine who tried to desert at Tahiti on the first voyage but remained with Cook thereafter and became a sergeant, was liked by the Polynesians and (it seems) laid claim to having saved Cook's life; and Cleveley, the carpenter, with something of a talent for drawing. And there was the other wanderer, whose life was to enter into the American legend, Corporal Ledyard,
of Groton, Connecticut, who set out to walk across Siberia and the American continent, and was to die on his way to look for the sources of the Niger; a corporal of 'lofty sentiment' and literary ambitions. They endured much, these men of diverse origins and qualities, stowed so close through four years in those small ships; they did not pursue honour, but the muster-books are a sort of roll of honour; there are not many names we should wish removed from them.
One name we miss, which we should have been glad to find. It is that of Pickersgill, who had been with Cook on both his previous voyages, and before Cook with Wallis: Pickersgill the romantic and a little the sea-lawyer. Fate and the Admiralty were unkind to Pickersgill: they might have made him third lieutenant in the Resolution instead of the deplorable Williamson. He could then have begun another elaborate and ill-fated journal, hearkened once more, as the dusk deepened under benign island trees, to Hymeneal Songs ascending in the mild, the bland and blissful air; he could have been a valuable man. They did make him a lieutenant, and sent him in independent command to Baffin Bay.
There were formal occasions. Some time or other the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Fletcher Norton, entertained Cook and the officers to dinner.1
This was very different from the departure of the Endeavour.
Early in June the ships were ordered round to Plymouth, but there were still delays. It was while the Resolution
was lying at Long Reach, on 8 June, that Sandwich, Palliser and some of their fellows of the Admiralty visited the ship to see that all was well. Cook was nobly hospitable—they and 'several other Noblemen and gentlemen' dining with him on Westmoreland ham and pigeon pie and strawberries;2
and were saluted with 17 guns and three cheers when they came and went. Clerke was in the thick of his battle with the Israelites, and Burney had to take the Discovery
to Plymouth, to the immense pride of the Burney family. The time grew near for
Cook's own farewells to Mile End. The day before the letter which closed his correspondence with Douglas he wrote to his friend Commodore Wilson, at Great Ayton, in terms which reflect both of the great preoccupations of his mind, as well as a smaller matter.
I am at last upon the very point of setting out to join the Resolution at the Nore, and proceed on my voyage, the destination of which you have pretty well conjectured. If I am not so fortunate as to make my passage home by the North Pole, I hope at least to determine, whether it is practicable, or not. From what we yet know, the attempt must be hazardous, and must be made with great caution. I am sorry I cannot furnish you with some New Zealand Flax seed, having not one grain of it left. Indeed, I brought hardly one home with me, but left the most of what I had at the Cape, to try to cultivate it there; for of all that was brought home in my former voyage, I have not heard of a single grain vegetating. It is much to be feared, that this fine plant will never be raised in England.
The Journal of my late Voyage, will be published in the course of next winter, and I am to have the sole advantage of the sale. It will want those flourishes which Dr Hawkesworth gave the other, but it will be illustrated and ornamented with about sixty copper plates, which, I am of opinion, will exceed every thing that has been done in a work of this kind; as they are all of them from Drawings made on the spot, by a very able artist. As to the Journal, it must speak for itself. I can only say, that it is my own narrative, and as it was written during the voyage. If you or any of your friends, should want any, care shall be taken that you have of the first impressions.—Mrs Cook joins her best respects to you, Mrs Wilson and family….1
Early in the morning of 24 June he picked up Omai and left London.