Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The journals of James Cook

James Cook, one of the great heroes of the exploration age, was born 390 years ago today. He captained three famous expeditions to the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia, thus radically changing western perceptions of world geography; but he was killed during the third voyage. His expedition journals were used extensively by himself and others for published accounts of the journeys, however it was not until the 19th century that the journals themselves were given any serious attention, and it was only in the mid-20th century that they were published in full.

Cook was born at Marton, Yorkshire, on 7 November 1728, the son of a labourer and his wife. He grew up on a farm, and was apprenticed to a shopkeeper before moving to Whitby to become apprenticed to a coal shipping company. For several years, he worked on vessels plying the English coast, between the Tyne and London, but in his spare time he studied hard, navigation and other maritime skills. With his apprenticeship completed, Cook served on trading ships in the Baltic Sea, and was promoted to mate. In 1755, he joined the British Navy. His first posting was with HMS Eagle, as able seaman and master’s mate. Two years later, he passed his master’s examinations, and joined the frigate HMS Solebay as master under Captain Robert Craig. In 1762, he married Elizabeth Batts, and they had six children though three died as infants, and the other three died before having children of their own.

During the Seven Years’ War, Cook served in North America as master aboard the fourth-rate Navy vessel HMS Pembroke. There, he gained a reputation for the quality of his surveying, producing the first large-scale maps of the Newfoundland coast. In 1768, Cook was promoted to lieutenant, and given charge of a scientific voyage to the Pacific Ocean to observe the transit of Venus across the sun. His expedition  - on board HMS Endeavour - sailed to Tahiti, to complete the observations, but were not as successful as had been hoped. However, he had also been charged with trying to find a southern continent. After sailing round and mapping New Zealand, he reached the southeastern coast of, what would be called, Australia, on 19 April 1770. Within days he had made the first direct observation of indigenous Australians. Thereafter, the expedition sailed up the east coast, and Cook claimed it all as British territory.

During a second journey, in HMS Resolution (with a companion ship, HMS Adventure), Cook, now with the rank Commander, sailed farther south than any other European, searching for a speculative southern continent. In fact, he circled what would be called Antarctica without sighting it. Before returning to England, he surveyed, mapped, and took possession for Britain of South Georgia, and he discovered and named Clerke Rocks and the South Sandwich Islands. In 1775, he was promoted to captain, and given an honorary retirement. 

The following year, however, Cook departed on a third voyage, again in HMS Resolution (but accompanied by HMS Discovery), aimed at locating a Northwest Passage around the American continent. During this journey, he became the first European to begin formal contact with the Hawaiian Islands, he sailed along the northwest coast of North America, he landed on Vancouver Island, and he sailed through the Bering strait. However, after being blocked by ice, he returned to the Pacific and Hawaii in particular. There, in February 1779, arguments broke out between the crew and the islanders, one of which led to an islander murdering Cook. Further biographical information is readily available online from Wikipedia, Royal Museums Greenwich, the Australian Dictionary of Biography, or the Captain Cook Society.

Soon after the completion of the first expedition, John Hawkesworth brought out A New Voyage Round the World in the Years 1768, 1799, 1770 and 1771 - Performed by Captain James Cook, In the Ship Endeavour - Drawn up from his own journal and from the papers of Joseph Banks. This became the de facto popular account of the famous voyage, though Cook’s own journal and voice was subsumed in Hawkesworth’s narrative - available at Internet Archive

It was not until 1893, that a first version of Cook’s journal was published, as edited by Captain W. J. L. Wharton: Captain Cook’s Journal made in H.M. Bark “Endeavour: 1768-71 - A Literal Transcription of the Original MSS. This can be freely read at Internet ArchiveProject Gutenberg Australia or the University of Adelaide ebooks site. More recently, an online edition of the journal - The Journals of James Cook’s First Pacific Voyage, 1768-1771 - has been made available at South Seas (a website hosted by the National Library of Australia) along with other accounts of the same expedition. A few journal entries can also be found at the Captain Cook Society website.

Cook, in fact, was not happy with the published narrative of his first voyage, and was determined, after his second voyage, to prevent the kind of editorial license that Hawkesworth had enjoyed with the journal of his first expedition. He persuaded the Admiralty (for whom the reports were formally written) to let himself take full editorial control of publishing the expedition account. This led to him publishing, in 1777, of A Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World
 - Performed in His Majesty’s ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the years 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775 (available at Internet Archive: volume 1, volume 2).

However, Cook warned the reader as follows: ‘I shall therefore conclude this introductory discourse with desiring the reader to excuse the inaccuracies of style, which doubtless he will frequently meet with in the following narrative; and that, when such occur, he will recollect that it is the production of a man, who has not had the advantage of much school education, but who has been constantly at sea from his youth; and though, with the assistance of a few good friends, he has passed through all the stations belonging to a seaman, from an apprentice boy in the coal trade, to a post-captain in the royal navy, he has had no opportunity of cultivating letters. After this account of myself, the public must not expect from me the elegance of a fine writer, or the plausibility of a professed book-maker; but will, I hope, consider me as a plain man, zealously exerting himself in the service of his country, and determined to give the best account he is able of his proceedings.’

Cook’s third and ill-fated expedition resulted in publication of A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (in four volumes), authored by James Cook (who before his death had spent much time onboard preparing an account of the expedition for publication) and James King (who took over command of the last expedition after Cook’s successor Charles Clerke also died). Soon after, Lieutenant John Rickman edited Cook’s own journal for publication as Journal of Captain Cook’s last voyage to the Pacific Ocean - see Internet Archive.

It was not until the middle of the 20th century, though, that the full extent of Cook’s expedition diaries were published. The project was undertaken by John Caste Beaglehole for the Hakluyt Society. The journal of the first expedition was published in 1955, the second in 1961 and the third in 1967, running to four large volumes totalling over 3,000 pages - now in print again thanks to Routledge (Boydell and Brewer). In 1999, Philip Edwards selected and edited Beaglehole’s editions for a one volume compendium published by Penguin. This can be previewed at Googlebooks.

Edwards calls the Beaglehole editions ‘one of the finest achievements of twentieth-century scholarship’. And here is more from his introduction.

‘What Beaglehole was able to present over the years of his labours, and what this abridged version preserves, is a majestic story of epic proportions of three expeditions to the Pacific Ocean in converted Whitby colliers, ranging from the Antarctic Circle to the Arctic Sea, which negotiated and charted for the first time ever the entire coast of New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia brought into view innumerable islands not previously known in the west, and provided far and away the fullest and most intimate account of the life of the inhabitants of Tahiti, the Tonga islands, New Zealand and elsewhere, besides bringing back to Europe an unrivalled access of knowledge in natural history - a sphere in which Cook saw himself as no expert.

The story in these pages is Cook’s story, written in his own hand, stamped with the clumsiness of the ‘plain man’ he called himself, but radiating in every line the ambition, determination, control, courage, seamanship, knowledge and skill which enabled him to carry through an unrivalled series of explorations in dangerous waters. It is Cook’s story, the story of these voyages as he wanted them to be known. He recorded what he chose to record, and he recorded it as he saw it. There are very many examples of Cook’s careful revision of his accounts of awkward moments - the best-known being his reworking of the account of the fatal shooting of ‘two or three’ Maoris in Poverty Bay at the time of first contact (9 October 1769). It is important to emphasize this seemingly obvious point in an edition which does not have the space to fill in gaps and provide contrasting viewpoints from other observers. Beaglehole’s full edition provides this corrective view to some extent, though it has to be said that Beaglehole’s loyalty to his hero was so intense that he hardly ever saw Cook as biased or unfair or just wrong. Later generations are less reverential, and it does no harm to Cook’s great qualities and achievements to recognize that he was human enough to be concerned with his image. If he ever doubted the wisdom of his judgements and decisions it does not appear from his journals.’

Finally, here are several extracts from Wharton’s edition of Cook’s journal of the first expedition.

9 November 1769
‘Variable light breezes and Clear weather. As soon as it was daylight the Natives began to bring off Mackrell, and more than we well know what to do with; notwithstanding I order’d all they brought to be purchased in order to encourage them in this kind of Traffick. At 8, Mr. Green and I went on shore with our Instruments to observe the Transit of Mercury, which came on at 7 hours 20 minutes 58 seconds Apparent time, and was observed by Mr. Green only. [Mr. Green satirically remarks in his Log, “Unfortunately for the seamen, their look-out was on the wrong side of the sun.” This probably refers to Mr. Hicks, who was also observing. It rather seems, however, as if Cook, on this occasion, was caught napping by an earlier appearance of the planet than was expected.] I, at this time, was taking the Sun’s Altitude in order to Ascertain the time. The Egress was observed as follows:-
By Mr. Green: Internal Contact at 12 hours 8 minutes 58 seconds Afternoon. External Contact at 12 hours 9 minutes 55 seconds Afternoon.
By myself: Internal Contact at 12 hours 8 minutes 45 seconds Afternoon. External Contact at 12 hours 9 minutes 43 seconds Afternoon.
Latitude observed at noon 36 degrees 48 minutes 28 seconds, the mean of this and Yesterday’s observation gives 36 degrees 48 minutes 5 1/2 seconds South; the Latitude of the Place of Observation, and the Variation of the Compass was at this time found to be 11 degrees 9 minutes East.

While we were making these observations 5 Canoes came alongside the Ship, 2 Large and 3 Small ones, in one were 47 People, but in the other not so many. They were wholy strangers to us, and to all appearance they came with a Hostile intention, being compleatly Arm’d with Pikes, Darts, Stones, etc.; however, they made no attempt, and this was very probable owing to their being inform’d by some other Canoes (who at this time were alongside selling fish) what sort of people they had to Deal with. When they first came alongside they begun to sell our people some of their Arms, and one Man offer’d to Sale a Haahow, that is a Square Piece of Cloth such as they wear. Lieutenant Gore, who at this time was Commanding Officer, sent into the Canoe a piece of Cloth which the Man had agreed to Take in Exchange for his, but as soon as he had got Mr. Gore’s Cloth in his Possession he would not part with his own, but put off the Canoe from alongside, and then shook their Paddles at the People in the Ship. Upon this, Mr. Gore fir’d a Musquet at them, and, from what I can learn, kill’d the Man who took the Cloth; after this they soon went away. I have here inserted the account of this Affair just as I had it from Mr. Gore, but I must own it did not meet with my approbation, because I thought the Punishment a little too severe for the Crime, and we had now been long Enough acquainted with these People to know how to Chastise Trifling faults like this without taking away their Lives.’

13 January 1770
‘Winds Variable. P.M., Cloudy weather. At 7 o’Clock sounded and had 42 fathoms water, being distant from the Shore between 2 and 3 Leagues and the Peaked Mountain as near as I could judge bore East. After it was Dark saw a fire upon the Shore, a sure sign that the Country is inhabited. In the night had some Thunder, Lightning, and Rain; at 5 a.m. saw for a few Minutes the Top of the Peaked Mountain above the Clouds bearing North-East. It is of a prodidgious height and its Top is cover’d with Everlasting Snow; it lies in the Latitude of 39 degrees 16 minutes South, and in the Longitude of 185 degrees 15 minutes West. I have named it Mount Egmont in honour of the Earl of Egmont. [The Earl of Egmont was First Lord of the Admiralty from 1763 to 1766. Mount Egmont is a magnificent conical mountain, surrounded on three sides by the sea, from which it rises to a height of 8300 feet.] This mountain seems to have a pretty large base and to rise with a Gradual Ascent to the Peak, and what makes it more Conspicuous is its being situated near the Sea and in the Midst of a flat Country which afforded a very good Aspect, being Cloathed with Woods and Verdure. The shore under the foot of this Mountain forms a large Cape which I have named Cape Egmont; it lies South-South-West 1/2 West, 27 Leagues from Albetross Point. On the North-East side of the Cape lay 2 Small Islands near to a very remarkable Point of the Main that riseth to a good height in the very form of a Sugar Loaf. To the Southward of the Cape the Land tends away South-East by East and East-South-East, and seems to be every where a bold shore. At Noon had variable light Airs and Clear weather. Latitude observ’d 39 degrees 32 minutes South. Cape Egmont bore about North-East, and we were about 4 Leagues from the Shore in that direction; in this situation had 40 fathoms Water.’

1 June 1770
‘At 1/2 an hour After Noon, upon the Boat we had ahead sounding making the Signal for Shoal Water, we hauld our wind to the North-East, having at that time 7 fathoms; the Next cast 5, and then 3, upon which we let go an Anchor, and brought the Ship up. The North-West point of Thirsty Sound, or Pier Head, bore South-East, distance 6 Leagues, being Midway between the Islands which lies off the East point of the Western inlet and 3 Small Islands directly without them, [the shoal is now known as Lake Shoal - the three Islands are the Bedwell Islands] it being now the first of the flood which we found to set North-West by West 1/2 West. After having sounded about the Shoal, on which we found not quite 3 fathoms, but without it deep water, we got under Sail, and hauld round the 3 Islands just mentioned, and came to an Anchor under the Lee of them in 15 fathoms, having at this time dark, hazey, rainy weather, which continued until 7 o’Clock a.m., at which time we got again under sail, and stood to the North-West with a fresh breeze at South-South-East and fair weather, having the Main land in Sight and a Number of Islands all round us, some of which lay out at Sea as far as we could See. The Western Inlet before mentioned, known in the Chart by the Name of Broad Sound, we had now all open. It is at least 9 or 10 Leagues wide at the Entrance, with several Islands laying in and before, and I believe Shoals also, for we had very irregular Soundings, from 10 to 5 and 4 fathoms. At Noon we were by Observation in the Latitude of 21 degrees 29 minutes South, and Longitude made from Cape Townshend 59 degrees West. A point of Land, which forms the North-West Entrance into Broad Sound, bore from us at this Time West, distance 3 Leagues; this Cape I have named Cape Palmerston [Henry Viscount Palmerston was a Lord of the Admiralty, 1766 to 1778] (Latitude 21 degrees 27 minutes South, Longitude 210 degrees 57 minutes West). Between this Cape and Cape Townshend lies the Bay of Inlets, so named from the Number of Inlets, Creeks, etc., in it. [The name Bay of Inlets has disappeared from the charts. Cook applied it to the whole mass of bays in this locality, covering over 60 miles. A look at a modern chart causes amazement that Cook managed to keep his ship off the ground, as the whole sea in his track is strewed with dangers.]’

The Diary Junction

No comments: