Story of Captain Cook - John Lang

Cook in the Antarctic Ice—His Discovery of New Caledonia—Massacre of the Adventure's Boat's Crew in New Zealand.

From Tongataboo the Resolution  and Adventure  sailed back to New Zealand. Off Cape Kidnappers canoes came off, and Cook gave the natives potatoes, and seeds of turnips, parsnips, and other vegetables, as well as pigs and fowls. Wherever he went he sowed seeds, and turned loose fowls, pigs, and goats, and sometimes sheep. The sheep died, or were killed, but the wild pigs of New Zealand at this day are the descendants of those turned loose by Cook.

Very stormy weather, with now and again days without a breath of wind, prevented the ships from getting through Cook's Strait to Queen Charlotte Sound. Several times they were blown out to sea, and at last, after having twice parted company with the Resolution, the Adventure  disappeared altogether, and never rejoined her. Captain Furneaux had been told that if the ships should be parted by bad weather, they were each to make for Queen Charlotte Sound. But when the Resolution  anchored there on 3rd November there was no sign of the Adventure. Cook waited till 25th, November. On that day he sailed, having first buried under a tree, on which was carved "Look beneath," a bottle with a message enclosed for Captain Furneaux telling him where to follow the Resolution. Whilst the ship was in Queen Charlotte Sound, Cook and his officers, to their great horror, actually saw the Maoris eat part of a young man whom they had killed.

The Resolution  now once more steered for the Antarctic, and on 12th December, in latitude 62° 10' the first iceberg was seen. From now onwards they were amongst ice and fog and snow, and Christmas Day was spent in bitter weather, nearly a hundred icebergs being round the ship. Still Cook pushed on, looking for that great continent which he now began to think did not exist.

At length, in latitude 71° 10', a higher south latitude than any one before him had ever reached, he came on ice so close packed and dense that it was not possible to sail any farther. As far as the eye could reach on either side as they skirted along the edge, there was nothing to be seen but ice; no open water anywhere, nothing but vast fields and mountains of ice.

Captain Cook


For the time, Cook gave up the attempt to find land in this Antarctic region, and the ship was again headed to the north, where in latitude 38° Cook meant to look for land said to have been found in olden days by Juan Fernandez. But nothing of this land could be seen, and the Resolution  was now headed for Easter Island.

Before reaching this land, Cook, who had been ailing for some time, fell so ill that he could not leave his bed. For more than a week he was in violent pain, and at one time it was thought that he must die.

Sick people, when they begin to get well from a severe illness, sometimes take strange fancies, and the fancy that seized on Captain Cook was a very strange one. There was no fresh meat on board, and though at other times he could eat anything, however rough and tasteless, now he craved for something more inviting than salt junk. There was on the Resolution  a dog belonging to Mr. Forster (one of the naturalists of the expedition), and Cook's fancy was that he could eat a little fresh meat, even a bit of dog. The poor animal was therefore killed and made into broth, which Cook ate and greatly enjoyed. After this he quickly got well. The Chinese eat dogs, and the Maoris did so in Cook's day, but white men have not often killed one for food, except when terribly pressed by hunger, when nothing else could be got.

On 11th March 1774 Easter Island was sighted, and two days later the Resolution  anchored near a smooth, sandy beach. Here the natives were friendly, but, as usual, stole everything they could lay hands on.

On this island were found huge stone figures of men, some of them that had fallen down measuring from 15 to 27 feet, but others that were still standing seemed to be even higher. A few of these statues are now in the British Museum.

There being no wood nor water for the ship on Easter Island, Cook sailed for the Marquesas, where a new island was discovered. Here again it was the old story of thieving by the natives, and one man was shot dead whilst trying to take away in his canoe an iron stanchion belonging to the ship.

After this it was difficult to get any of the natives to trade, but when at last they again began to bring food for sale, the market was spoiled by one of the officers foolishly giving in exchange for a pig a large quantity of bright red feathers which he had got at Tongataboo. The natives were so pleased with the feathers that they would not sell for any thing else, and beads and nails became of no value. As there were no more feathers on board, no more food was to be got.

From the Marquesas the Resolution  headed again for Otaheite, passing on the way many small islands, which made the sailing very dangerous. Many of these islands were so low-lying that if it had not been for the protecting coral reef the big waves must have washed clear over. All were covered with palm trees, and all were very beautiful. A few were round in shape, and in their centre lay a quiet lagoon or lake of water so still and clear that even at great depths the bright-coloured fishes could be seen swimming amongst the coral branches.

At Otaheite, Huaheine, and Ulietea, islands where most of the crew would willingly have passed the rest of their lives in sleepy idleness, the Resolution  remained in all about six weeks, when she sailed to the west, leaving, Oedidee at the last-named island. Oedidee was in great grief at being, left behind, but Captain Cook did not care to take him farther.

Palmerston Island and Savage Island were now discovered. On landing at Savage Island, Cook and his party were at once attacked by the natives, and Dr. Sparrmann was hit by a stone thrown at him. Muskets were fired, and the natives fled; but it was thought wise for the party to get on board the boats again.

A second landing was made farther along the coast, and here again the natives attacked as viciously as wasps when their nest is touched. One spear that was thrown passed just over Captain Cook's shoulder, whereupon he tried to shoot the man who threw it, but his musket missed fire. After some fighting the natives again fled, but Cook made no other attempts to land on this island.

Many small islands were passed after this, and some of the larger were visited. Then, on 16th July, land discovered by Quiros in 1606 was sighted, and some days later the islands of Ambrym and Mallicollo (part the New Hebrides group) were discovered. In some of these islands the natives to this day are cannibals. It is not more than ten years since the natives of Ambrym took a young Englishman who was trading in the island and shut him up in a kind of cage. There they kept him for some weeks, feeding him on the best of everything and. treating him with the greatest kindness. But kindness was not their motive in so feeding him. Daily they used to inspect him and playfully pinch him, till, judging that he was now fat enough, they killed and ate him.

Amongst these wild people, in spite of the fact that they were armed with bone-pointed arrows, the heads of which were covered with a dark sticky substance which was thought to be poison, Captain Cook went many times alone, and with nothing in his hand but the green branch of a tree. Each time he was well received, and no attack was made on him; but he ran great risk, for the New Hebrideans are very fierce and warlike. These were, however, the only islands visited by the Resolution  where nothing was stolen by the natives.

The people of the New Hebrides are an ugly race, not like those of Tahiti and of other islands in the Pacific. Their skins are not of the beautiful, rich chocolate colour that is found on many South Sea Islands, but are so dark as to be almost black. The men are much shorter than the Tahitians, being seldom more than 5 feet 4 inches in height, and their limbs are poorly developed Their heads are small and not well shaped; the foreheads are low and receding, and the skull in many cases slopes on either side to a ridge, almost like the roof of a house.

At the islands of Erromanga and Tanna, farther to the south-east, the Resolution's'crew had more fighting. At Erromanga four savages were shot, and two of the sailors were wounded with arrows. At Tanna, a volcano, about four miles to the west of the ship's anchorage, gave much trouble: Almost without ceasing it continued to belch out fire and smoke, and the ashes which it threw out covered the ship with, a fine dust which got into everybody's eyes, and made its way into the food and everywhere on board. Often, with terrific roaring, it threw up stones to a tremendous height. When rain fell, the dust from the volcano came down in the shape of mud.

Back from Tanna the ship went to the coasts of Mallicollo and Espiritu Santo, and thence heading to the south-west she discovered, after four days' sail, one of the largest islands in the South Pacific, which Cook named New Caledonia. A beautiful island is this, full of minerals of all kinds, with a fine climate, and in the lower-lying parts capable of growing almost anything. Within the reef which protects it from the giant rollers of the Pacific are fine harbours, such as that of Nouméa, where fleets might lie in safety.

And this magnificent island, 270 miles long, might have been ours! But since 1863 it has belonged to France. Truly it is a land where "only man is vile." The sole use to which the French Government has put it is that of a great convict station, where thousands of men and women, the scum of French prisons, are kept, guarded by thousands of soldier, Little work, has been done in the island, and there are few roads, and no railways: The place is a "dumping" ground for criminals. Indeed, it is very vile, and the vileness, overflowing, sometimes escapes to our own Australian Colonies, there to be a thorn in the flesh of our kith and kin.

The most beautiful part of New Caledonia, the Isle of Pines, is now used solely as a prison for men under "life" sentences. When the Resolution  sighted this island the land was seen to be covered with what seemed to be long straight columns, which at first were thought to be basaltic, like the Giant's Causeway in Ireland. On reaching the shore, however, it was found that these were pine trees. Hence the island was called the Isle of Pines. The pine of New Caledonia grows to a great height, but has very short, straight branches. From a distance the trees look most strange, and like nothing so much as gigantic hairy asparagus.

The navigation near the south end of New Caledonia is very dangerous, owing to the many rocks and shoals, and the Resolution  more than once ran great risk of going ashore. Getting out of this dangerous spot, the ship was headed again for Queen Charlotte Sound, which she reached on 18th October, after having discovered on the voyage Norfolk Island. This lovely island was then quite uninhabited. It was afterwards used by us for a time as a place to which convicts were sent from Botany Bay, and thus, what was once a peaceful Paradise, became a spot more full of misery and horror than words can tell.

The Resolution  remained about a month in New Zealand, laying in stores of salted fish and other things for use in their next attempt to find the Great Unknown Land, which Cook this time meant to look for to the south of Cape Horn.

Whilst she lay in Queen Charlotte Sound; it could plainly be seen that the natives had something on their minds, but what this was could not be found out. Some of them talked of having killed white men, but others denied that anything of the kind had taken place. It was not till long afterwards that Cook got a full account of the terrible thing that had happened.

The Adventure, he learned, had come into Queen Charlotte Sound a few days after he had buried his message for Captain Furneaux. She had there remained some time, and a day before sailing had sent a boat's crew under two midshipmen, Mr. Rowe and Mr. Woodhouse, to gather wild celery. The boat was ordered to return to the ship the same evening, but she never came back.

Another boat, under Lieutenant Burney, was sent next morning to look for the missing men. After a long search, Burney came on six large canoes, and near them saw great numbers of Maoris. Farther along the shore were more natives, but from none of them could he get any word of the missing boat. At last, some shoes were found, one of which was known to have belonged to Mr. Woodhouse. Then a white man's hand, tattooed "T.H." in the same way that the hand of Thomas Hill, one of the missing men, had been tattooed. Then a broken oar, sticking upright in the sand. Lastly, an awful sight, that made men sick with horror!

The heads and hearts and lungs of the boat's crew lay around, and dogs gnawed parts of the bodies that had not already been eaten by the Maoris. Nothing was seen of any of the men alive.

Some of their clothes and a few shoes were got, and the hand of Thomas Hill, a hand known to be Mr. Rowe's, and the head of Captain Furneaux's black servant, were taken aboard the Adventure, and afterwards buried. The natives all disappeared, and the ship had therefore no chance of punishing them. The Adventure  then sailed towards Cape Horn, and on the way she passed the spot where Bouvet had said that land existed, but without seeing any signs of a coast-line. From this she headed for the Cape of Good Hope, and thence to England, which she reached nearly a year before Cook's return.

The Resolution  left New Zealand on 10th November, and made a good passage the west side of the Strait of Magellan. Thence Captain Cook set out to explore the stormy ocean to the south of Cape Horn.

In many charts of that day land was laid down in this part of the Southern Ocean, and it was believed to exist. In no case, however, did Cook find those charts to be correct, and the Resolution  sailed over the spots where in the charts land was marked. But on 14th January 1775 a large island was seen, which Cook named South Georgia. On this desolate spot he landed. Mountains and valleys alike were covered with deep snow, though this was the height of the summer season, and all, along the coast were great cliffs of ice. No trees or plants were seen, nor anything growing but grass in tufts, and, where the snow was swept from the ground by the wind, moss. Except seals and sea-birds, no living thing was to be seen.

Through storm and fog the Resolution  pushed on south, till, in latitude 60°, mid iceberg and much floating ice, land was again seen. This Cook named Sandwich Land. Still farther to the south were more islands, but as he now thought that his discoveries had clearly shown that no Great Unknown Land existed in the far south, and as the rigging and sails of his ship were in bad order, and his provisions nearly finished, he judged it best to give up further exploration.

Steering to the south-east, in bitter cold and stormy weather, he, too, sailed over the spot where Bouvet had marked land in his chart. Then heading for the Cape of Good Hope, he there repaired and provisioned his ship, and left once more for England, which he reached on 30th July 1775. The voyage had lasted more than three years, but during all that time he lost but four men, not one of them from scurvy, the dreaded disease which on all other ships had never failed to carry off so many victims.