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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Cook's Third Voyage

Cook's Third Voyage

1776 to 1780

For his work on his second voyage, Cook was promoted to the rank of Post Captain in the Royal Navy and given an appointment at Greenwich Hospital. His geographical work and his contribution to science in the prevention of scurvy were recognized in his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society and the award of the Copley Medal. However, when a third expedition to the south seas was planned, Cook, too active to remain in a shore position, volunteered and was accepted as commander of the expedition, the object of which was to return Omai to Tahiti and to seek a northern passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

The Resolution was refitted and John Gore, who had sailed with Wallis in the Dolphin and with Cook in the Endeavour, was appointed First Lieutenant. James King was Second Lieutenant, and William Bligh, later of Bounty notoriety, was appointed Master. The second ship was the Discovery under the command of Captain Clerke, who had served on the Endeavour. His First Lieutenant was James Burney, who had served with Captain Furneaux in the Adventure on Cook's second voyage. Burney afterwards wrote the "Chronological history of discoveries and voyages in the South Seas." George Vancouver, who was to command his own expedition in 1790 to 1795, shipped on the Discovery as a midshipman. John Webber was appointed artist to the expedition.

The Resolution sailed from Plymouth on July 12, 1776, but the Discovery was delayed until August 1. The two ships joined at Table Bay and sailed south to check on Kerguelens Land. They called at Van Diemens Land, and proceeded to Queen Charlotte Sound in New Zealand which they reached on February 12, 1777. After a brief stay, they set a course northeast which led to new discoveries. The first island was sighted on March 29 and proved to be Mangaia, which Cook spelled Mangya or Mangeea. No landing was made, but some useful information was recorded concerning the inhabitants. On March 31 Cook sighted another island, the written name of which, Wateeoo, gets very close phonetically to the correct name of Atiu. A landing was made and the people proved friendly and cheerful, according to Mr. Anderson, the surgeon on the Resolution, who contributed useful ethnological notes to Cook's Journal. Mangaia and Atiu are two of the high islands in the Cook group. A small island off Atiu was visited to obtain green fodder for the cattle on page 31board, and the name of the island was phonetically recorded as Wenooa-ette (Enua-iti) or Otakootaia (Otakutea).

From Atiu, Cook sailed west to the Tongan islands. On the way, he passed close enough to Herveys Island (Manuae) for canoes to come out to the ships. The ships remained in the Haapai and Tongatabu islands until the middle of July, and considerable intercourse with the people took place. On July 17 Cook sailed from Eooa (Eua) and stood south and later east-southeast. On August 8, 1777, a high island was sighted. On the next day, two canoes came out but the people would not come on board. However, they were close enough to give the name of the island as Toobouai (Tubuai), and excellent notes were taken as to their canoes, clothing, and other details, though no landing was made. Tubuai was the second island in the Australs to be discovered by Cook, Rurutu having been discovered on his first voyage.

The ships sailed for Tahiti, and Maitea (Meetia) was sighted on August 12, Tahiti soon after. A great trade was established in Tahiti, with red feathers obtained in Tonga as a medium. Cook visited Taiarapu and saw the wooden house left by the Spaniards, whose visits were still fresh in the memory of the people, and the cross marking Boenechea's grave. Visits were made to Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, and Borabora. Omai having been restored to his people, Cook turned his attention to the second objective of his expedition, the search for a northern passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Cook sailed north from Borabora on December 7, 1777. On December 24, he sighted an uninhabited atoll, where he obtained a supply of turtles and remained to observe an eclipse of the sun on December 30. As Christmas Day was spent there, he named the island Christmas Island. He continued his northern course on January 2, 1778, and sighted an island on January 18. As he drew near, he saw another island to the north. (His latitude at the time was 21° 12′ N.) The next day, the first island seen bore east and, as it was directly to windward, he stood for the other. As he approached, he saw a third island to the west-northwest. Canoes came out and traded with the ships as they moved along, and Cook was surprised to find that the language of the people was similar to that of the Tahitians. The ships finally anchored off the second island near the village of Wymea (Waimea), and the name of the island was found to be Atooi (Tauai, later Kauai).3 Cook went ashore and visited a "morai," or religious assembly place, and Webber made a fine drawing of it.

When on January 23 after leaving Kauai, a breeze sprang up, Cook weighed anchor. As the wind and current prevented a return to Kauai, he made for the third island, Oneeheow (Niihau), off which he anchored. Two page 32 An Offering Before Captain Cook in the Sandwich Islands, Drawn by John Webber Artist With Cook On His Third Voyage. page 33 small islands near Niihau were named Oreehoua (Rehua, or Lehua) and Tahoora (Taura, or Kaula), and the next island seen was Wahoo (Oahu).

Having taken sufficient food supplies and water on board, the ships left the islands on February 2 for the California coast. During Cook's stay, a wealth of information concerning the native inhabitants and their culture had been obtained and recorded. The five islands discovered on this visit were Oahu, Kauai, Niihau, and the islets of Lehua and Kaula. This group Cook named the Sandwich Islands in honor of the Earl of Sandwich. Cook fully recognized the value of his discovery as a port of call for refreshment and water. That they were not so used by the Spaniards on their annual voyages across the north Pacific from Acapulco to Manila, emphasizes the fact that they did not know of their existence.

On March 7 Cook's ships sighted the coast of North America in latitude 44° 33′ in the part which Drake had named New Albion, north of the present city of San Francisco. Cook worked along the coast, surveying and mapping various inlets and islands. He passed through Bering Strait and reached latitude 70° 44′ N., but the edge of the ice made him turn back and defer further investigation. He next surveyed part of the Asiatic coast and met Russian traders on the island of Oonalashka (Unalaska) in the Aleutian Islands, then sailed south until he was in latitude 20° 55′ N. on November 25, 1778, when he steered west. On the next day, November 26, land was sighted. Realizing that the islands he had previously seen lay to the leeward of his present position, Cook was satisfied that the Sandwich islands had been only partially discovered.

The land sighted turned out to be the island of Mowee (Maui), and trade was conducted with the canoes which came out. On November 30 the island of Owhyhee (Hawaii) was sighted. The ships worked around the coast against winds and currents and at last found anchor in Karakakooa (Kealakekua) Bay on January 17, 1779. Cook states that there must have been 1,000 canoes around the ships and that the sea was full of people swimming like shoals of fish. Trade was established on friendly terms, and contact was made with King Terreeoboo (Te-arii-o-puu, or Kalaniopuu). The ships weighed anchor to visit the other islands on February 4, but contrary winds forced them to return to Kealakekua Bay on February 11. They were received coldly, in marked contrast to their previous reception, and their position became further strained through various conflicts, including the theft of a boat.

Cook went ashore on February 14 to interview the king and persuaded him to come out to the ship. However, on the way to the boat, the huge crowd which had gathered suddenly attacked and Cook and four marines were killed. The marines on the boat opened fire, and the boat returned to the ship. The people as a whole remained hostile after this disaster, but some of the chiefs, principally "Eappo," acted as mediators to prevent a massed attack. Cook's page 34body, which was evidently dissected according to the Hawaiian custom of separating the bones from the flesh, could not be procured. However, after much delay, parts of the body were restored and committed to the deep with military honors on February 21.

Captain Clerke took command of the expedition, transferring to the Resolution, and Lieutenant Gore was made Captain of the Discovery. The repair and watering of the ships being completed, they weighed anchor and stood to the northward on February 22. On February 24 the small island of Tahoorowa (Kahoolawe) was picked up, and later the other new islands, Ranai (Lanai) and Morotoi (Molokai). The island of Oahu, seen previously, was approached, but as watering at the Waimea River on that island proved too difficult, the ships sailed for Kauai. They dropped anchor on March 1 at their previous anchorage off Waimea, where watering was completed on March 8. The ships then sailed for Niihau, where they remained for six days. Information having been obtained that there was an island named "Modoopapapa," or "Tammatapappa," west-southwest of Kaula, the ships proceeded in that direction on March 15. It was not found, and the course was set for the north.

After preliminary investigations, the expedition again sailed through Bering Strait. They reached ice, which confirmed the opinion previously formed that there was no possible northeast or northwest passage, and the ships turned south to Kamchatka. Captain Clerke, who was consumptive, died on August 22 and was buried on shore at the port of St. Peter and St. Paul in Awatska (Awatscha) Bay. Captain Gore became leader of the expedition, and Lieutenant King was promoted to Captain of the Discovery.

The ships were repaired, and the Russians gave every assistance in provisioning them. They sailed from the port on October 9, reached Macao on December 2, and Table Bay on April 13, 1780. They anchored at The Nore on October 4, 1780, after a voyage of four years, two months, and twenty-two days. The Resolution had lost five men through sickness, three of whom were in bad health on leaving England. The Discovery had not lost a man, a singular success attributable to the health regulations established by Captain Cook.

The official account of the voyage was compiled from Cook's journal up to shortly before his death, the remainder from the journal of Captain King. The expedition resulted in the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, which Cook had regarded as the most important island discovery he made in the Pacific. It also dispelled the theory of a northern passage into the Atlantic.