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A Book of Discovery by  M. B. Synge


 

 

COOK'S THIRD VOYAGE AND DEATH

[330] ALTHOUGH the importance of his discoveries was not realised at this time, Cook was given command of two new ships, the Resolution  and Adventure, provisioned for a year for "a voyage to remote parts," a few months later. And the old Endeavour  went back to her collier work in the North Sea.

Perhaps a letter written by Cook to a friend at Whitby on his return from the second voyage is sufficient to serve our purpose here; for, though the voyage was important enough, yet little new was discovered. And after spending many months in high latitudes, Cook decided that there was no great southern continent to the south of New Holland and New Zealand.

DEAR SIR—he writes from London in September 1775—"I now sit down to fulfil the promise I made you to give you some account of my last voyage. I left the Cape of Good Hope on 22nd November 1772 and proceeded to the south, till I met with a vast field of ice and much foggy weather and large islets or floating mountains of ice without number. After some trouble and not a little danger, I got to the south of the field of ice; and after beating about for some time for land, in a sea strewed with ice, I crossed the Antarctic circle and the same evening (17th January 1773) found it unsafe, or rather impossible, to stand farther to the south for ice.

[331] "Seeing no signs of meeting with land in these high latitudes, I stood away to the northward, and, without seeing any signs of land, I thought proper to steer for New Zealand, where I anchored in Dusky Bay on 26th March and then sailed for Queen Charlotte's Sound. Again I put to sea and stood to the south, where I met with nothing but ice and excessive cold, bad weather. Here I spent near four months beating about in high latitudes. Once I got as high as seventy-one degrees, and farther it was not possible to go for ice which lay as firm as land. Here we saw ice mountains, whose summits were lost in clouds. I was now fully satisfied that there was no Southern Continent. I nevertheless resolved to spend some time longer in these seas, and with this resolution I stood away to the north."

In this second voyage Cook proved that there was no great land to the south of Terra Australis or South America, except the land of ice lying about the South Pole.

But he did a greater piece of work than this. He fought, and fought successfully, the great curse of scurvy, which had hitherto carried off scores of sailors and prevented ships on voyages of discovery, or indeed ships of war, from staying long on the high seas without constantly landing for supplies of fresh food. It was no uncommon occurrence for a sea captain to return after even a few months' cruise with half his men suffering from scurvy. Captain Palliser on H.M.S. Eagle  in 1756 landed in Plymouth Sound with one hundred and thirty sick men out of four hundred, twenty-two having died in a month. Cook had resolved to fight this dreaded scourge, and we have already seen that during his three years' cruise of the Endeavour  he had only to report five cases of scurvy, so close a watch did he keep on his crews. In his second voyage he was even more particular, with the result that [332] in the course of three years he did not lose a single man from scurvy. He enforced cold bathing, and encouraged it by example. The allowance of salt beef and pork was cut down, and the habit of mixing salt beef fat with the flour was strictly forbidden. Salt butter and cheese were stopped, and raisins were substituted for salt suet; wild celery was collected in Terra del Fuego and breakfast made from this with ground wheat and portable soup. The cleanliness of the men was insisted on. Cook never allowed any one to appear dirty before him. He inspected the men once a week at least, and saw with his own eyes that they changed their clothing; equal care was taken to keep the ship clean and dry between decks, and she was constantly "cured with fires" or "smoked with gun-powder mixed with vinegar."

For a paper on this subject read before the Royal Society in 1776, James Cook was awarded a gold medal (now in the British Museum).

But although the explorer was now forty-eight, he was as eager for active adventure as a youth of twenty. He had settled the question of a southern continent. Now when the question of the North-West Passage came up again, he offered his services to Lord Sandwich, first Lord of the Admiralty, and was at once accepted. It was more than two hundred years since Frobisher had attempted to solve the mystery, which even Cook—the first navigator of his day—with improved ships and better-fed men, did not succeed in solving. He now received his secret instructions, and, choosing the old Resolution  again, he set sail in company with Captain Clerke on board the Discovery  in the year 1776 for that voyage from which there was to be no return. He was to touch at New Albion (discovered by Drake) and explore any rivers or inlets that might lead to Hudson's or Baffin's Bay.

After once more visiting Tasmania and New Zealand, he [333] made a prolonged stay among the Pacific Islands, turning north in December 1777. Soon after they had crossed the line, and a few days before Christmas, a low island was seen on which Cook at once landed, hoping to get a fresh supply of turtle. In this he was not disappointed. Some three hundred, "all of the green kind and perhaps as good as any in the world," were obtained; the island was named Christmas Island, and the Resolution  and Discovery  sailed upon their way.


[Illustration]

CAPTAIN JAMES COOK.

A few days later they came upon a group of islands hitherto unknown. These they named after the Earl of Sandwich, the group forming the kingdom of Hawaii—the chief island. Natives came off in canoes bringing pigs and potatoes, and ready to exchange fish for nails. Some were tempted on board, "the wildness of their looks expressing their astonishment." Anchorage being found, Cook landed, and as he set foot on shore a large crowd of natives pressed forward and, throwing themselves on their faces, remained thus till Cook signed to them to rise.

With a goodly supply of fresh provisions, Cook sailed away from the Sandwich Islands, and after some five weeks' sail to the north the "longed-for coast of New Albion was seen." The natives of the country were clad in fur, which they offered for sale. They exacted payment for everything, even for the wood and water that the strangers [334] took from their shores. The weather was cold and stormy, and the progress of the little English ships was slow. By 22nd March they had passed Cape Flattery; a week later they named Hope Bay, "in which we hoped to find a good harbour, and the event proved we were not mistaken." All this part of the coast was called by Cook King George's Sound, but the native name of Nootka has since prevailed. We have an amusing account of these natives. At first they were supposed to be dark coloured, "till after much cleaning they were found to have skins like our people in England." Expert thieves they were. No piece of iron was safe from them. "Before we left the place," says Cook, "hardly a bit of brass was left in the ship. Whole suits of clothes were stripped of every button, copper kettles, tin canisters, candlesticks, all went to wreck, so that these people got a greater variety of things from us than any other people we had visited."

It was not till 26th April that Cook at last managed to start forward again, but a two days' hard gale drove him from the coast and onwards to a wide inlet to which he gave the name of Prince William's Sound. Here the natives were just like the Eskimos in Hudson's Bay. The ships now sailed westward, doubling the promontory of Alaska, and on 9th August they reached the westernmost point of North America, which they named Cape Prince of Wales. They were now in the sea discovered by Behring, 1741, to which they gave his name. Hampered by fog and ice, the ships made their way slowly on to a point named Cape North. Cook decided that the eastern point of Asia was but thirteen leagues from the western point of America. They named the Sound on the American side Norton Sound after the Speaker of the House of Commons. Having passed the Arctic Circle and penetrated into the Northern Seas, which were never free from ice, they met Russian traders who professed to have known Behring. [335] Then having discovered four thousand miles of new coast, and refreshed themselves with walrus or sea-horse, the expedition turned joyfully back to the Sandwich Islands.


[Illustration]

CAPTAIN COOK, THE DISCOVERER OF THE SANDWICH ISLANDS, WITH HIS SHIPS IN KEALAKEKUA BAY, HAWAII, WHERE HE WAS MURDERED.

On the last day of November, Cook discovered the island of Owhyhee (Hawaii), which he carefully surveyed, till he came to anchor in Karakakooa Bay.

The tragic death of Captain Cook at the hands of these natives is well known to every child. The reason for his murder is not entirely understood to-day, but the natives, who had hitherto proved friendly, suddenly attacked the English explorer and slew him, and "he fell into the water and spoke no more."

Such was the melancholy end of England's first great navigator—James Cook—the foremost sailor of his time, the man who had circumnavigated New Zealand, who had explored the coast of New South Wales, named various unknown islands in the Pacific Ocean, and discovered the Sandwich Islands. He died on 14th February 1779. It was not till 11th January 1780 that the news of his death reached London, to be recorded in the quaint language of the day by the London Gazette.

"It is with the utmost concern," runs the announcement, "that we inform the Public, that the celebrated Circumnavigator, Captain Cook, was killed by the inhabitants of a new-discover'd island in the South Seas. The Captain and crew were first treated as deities, but, upon their revisiting that Island, hostilities ensued and the above melancholy scene was the Consequence. This account is come from Kamtchatka by Letters from Captain Clerke and others. But the crews of the Ships were in a very good state of health, and all in the most desirable condition. His successful attempts to preserve the Healths of his Crews are well known, and his Discoveries will be an everlasting Honour to his Country."

[336] Cook's First Voyages  were published in 1773, and were widely read, but his account of the new country did not at once attract Europeans to its shores. We hear of "barren sandy shores and wild rocky coast inhabited by naked black people, malicious and cruel," on the one hand, "and low shores all white with sand fringed with foaming surf," with hostile natives on the other.

It was not till eighteen years after Cook's death that Banks—his old friend—appealed to the British Government of the day to make some use of these discoveries. At last the loss of the American colonies in 1776 induced men to turn their eyes toward the new land in the South Pacific. Banks remembered well his visit to Botany Bay with Captain Cook in 1770, and he now urged the dispatch of convicts, hitherto transported to America, to this newly found bay in New South Wales.


[Illustration]

"THE UNROLLING OF THE CLOUDS"—VI.
THE WORLD AS KNOWN AFTER THE VOYAGES OF CAPTAIN COOK (1768-1799).

So in 1787 a fleet of eleven ships with one thousand people on board left the shores of England under the command of Captain Phillip. After a tedious voyage of thirty-six weeks, they reached Botany Bay in January 1788.

Captain Phillip had been appointed Governor of all New South Wales, that is from Cape York to Van Diemen's Land, still supposed to be part of the mainland. But Phillip at once recognised that Botany Bay was not a suitable place for a settlement. No white man had described these shores since the days of Captain Cook. The green meadows of which Banks spoke were barren swamps and bleak sands, while the bay itself was exposed to the full sweep of violent winds, with a heavy sea breaking with tremendous surf against the shore.

"Warra, warra!" (begone, begone), shouted the natives, brandishing spears at the water's edge as they had done eighteen years before. In an open boat—for it was midsummer in these parts—Phillip surveyed the coast; an [337] opening marked Port Jackson on Cook's chart attracted his notice and, sailing between two rocky headlands, the explorer found himself crossing smooth, clear water with a beautiful harbour in front and soft green foliage reaching down to the water's edge. Struck with the loveliness of the scene, and finding both wood and water here, he chose the spot for his new colony, giving it the name of Sydney, after Lord Sydney, who as Home Secretary had appointed him to his command.


[Illustration]

PORT JACKSON AND SYDNEY COVE A FEW YEARS AFTER COOK AND PHILIP.

"We got into Port Jackson," he wrote to Lord Sydney, "early in the afternoon, and had the satisfaction of finding the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in perfect security."

"To us," wrote one of his captains, "it was a great and important day, and I hope will mark the foundation of an empire."

But, interesting as it is, we cannot follow the fortunes of this first little English colony in the South Pacific Ocean.

The English had not arrived a day too soon. A few [338] days later the French explorer, La Perouse, guided hither by Cook's chart, suddenly made his appearance on the shores of Botany Bay. The arrival of two French men-of-war caused the greatest excitement among the white strangers and the black natives.

La Perouse had left France in 1785 in command of two ships with orders to search for the North-West Passage from the Pacific side—a feat attempted by Captain Cook only nine years before—to explore the China seas, the Solomon Islands, and the Terra Australis. He had reached the coast of Alaska in June 1786, but after six weeks of bad weather he had crossed to Asia in the early part of the following year.

Thence he had made his way by the Philippine Islands to the coasts of Japan, Korea, and "Chinese Tartary." Touching at Quelpart, he reached a bay near our modern Vladivostock, and on 2nd August 1787 he discovered the strait that bears his name to-day, between Saghalien and the North Island of Japan. Fortunately, from Kamtchatka, where he had landed, he had sent home his journals, notes, plans, and maps by Lesseps—uncle of the famous Ferdinand de Lesseps of Suez Canal fame.

On 26th January 1788 he landed at Botany Bay. From here he wrote his last letter to the French Government. After leaving this port he was never seen again. Many years later, in 1826, the wreck of his two ships was found on the reefs of an island near the New Hebrides.


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