Book of Discovery - M. B. Synge
But while the names of Torres, Carpenter, Tasman, and Dampier are still to be found on our modern maps of Australia, it is the name of Captain Cook that we must always connect most closely with the discovery of the great island continent—the Great South Land which only became known to Europe one hundred and fifty years ago.
Dampier had returned to England in 1701 from his voyage to New Holland, but nearly seventy years passed before the English were prepared to send another expedition to investigate further the mysterious land in the south.
James Cook had shown himself worthy of the great command that was given to him in 1768, although exploration was not the main object of the expedition. Spending his boyhood in the neighbourhood of Whitby, he was familiar with the North Sea fishermen, with the colliers, even with the smugglers that frequented this eastern coast. In 1755 he entered the Royal Navy, volunteering for service and entering H.M.S. Eagle as master's mate. Four years later we find him taking his share on board H.M.S. Pembroke in the attack on Quebec by Wolfe, and later transferred to H.M.S. Northumberland, selected to survey the river and Gulf of St. Lawrence. So satisfactory was his work that a few years later he was instructed to survey and chart the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. While engaged on this work, he observed an eclipse of the sun, which led to the appointment that necessitated a voyage to the Pacific Ocean. It had been calculated that a Transit of Venus would occur in June 1769. A petition to the King set forth: "That, the British nation being justly celebrated in the learned world for their knowledge of astronomy, in which they are inferior to no nation upon earth, ancient or modern, it would cast dishonour upon them should they neglect to have correct observations made of this important phenomenon." The King agreed, and the Royal Society selected James Cook as a fit man for the appointment. A stout, strongly built collier of three hundred and seventy tons was chosen at Whitby, manned with seventy men, and victualled for twelve months. With instructions to observe the Transit of Venus at the island of Georgeland (Otaheite), to make further discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean and to explore New Zealand if possible, Cook hoisted his flag on H.M.S. Endeavour and started in May 1768.
It was an interesting party on board, joined at the last moment by Mr. Joseph Banks, a very rich member of the Royal Society and a student of Natural History. He had requested leave to sail in "the ship that carries the English astronomers to the new-discovered country in the South Sea." "No people ever went to sea better fitted out for the purpose of Natural History, nor more elegantly," says a contemporary writer. "They have a fine library, they have all sorts of machines for catching and preserving insects, they have two painters and draughtsmen—in short, this expedition will cost Mr. Banks £10,000." Their astronomical instruments were of the best, including a portable observatory constructed for sixteen guineas. But most important of all was the careful assortment of provisions, to allay, if possible, that scourge of all navigators, the scurvy. A quantity of malt was shipped to be made into wort, mustard, vinegar, wheat, orange and lemon juice and portable soup was put on board, and Cook received special orders to keep his men with plenty of fresh food whenever this was possible. He carried out these orders strenuously, and at Madeira we find him punishing one of his own seamen with twelve lashes for refusing to eat fresh beef. Hence they left Rio de Janeiro "in as good a condition for prosecuting the voyage as on the day they left England."
THE ISLAND OF OTAHEITE, OR ST. GEORGE (MODERN DAY TAHITI.)
Christmas Day was passed near the mouth of the river Plate, and, early in the New Year of 1769, the Endeavour sailed through the Strait of Le Maire. The wealthy Mr. Banks landed on Staaten Island and hastily added a hundred new plants to his collection. Then they sailed on to St. George's Island. It had been visited by Captain Wallis in the Dolphin the previous year; indeed, some of Cook's sailors had served on board the Dolphin and knew the native chiefs of the island. All was friendly, tents were soon pitched, a fort built with mounted guns at either side, the precious instruments landed, and on 3rd June, with a cloudless sky and in intolerable heat, they observed the whole passage of the planet Venus over the sun's disk.
After a stay of three months they left the island, taking Tupia, a native, with them. Among other accomplishments this Tupia roasted dogs to perfection, and Cook declares that dogs' flesh is "next only to English lamb."
They visited other islands in the group—now known as the Society Islands and belonging to France—and took possession of all in the name of His Britannic Majesty, George III.
All through the month of September they sailed south, till on 7th October land was sighted. It proved to be the North Island of New Zealand, never before approached by Europeans from the east. It was one hundred and twenty-seven years since Tasman had discovered the west coast and called it Staaten Land, but no European had ever set foot on its soil. Indeed, it was still held to be part of the Terra Australis Incognita.
The first to sight land was a boy named Nicholas Young, hence the point was called "Young Nick's Head," which may be seen on our maps to-day, covering Poverty Bay. The natives here were unfriendly, and Cook was obliged to use firearms to prevent an attack. The Maoris had never seen a great ship before, and at first thought it was a very large bird, being struck by the size and beauty of its wings (sails). When a small boat was let down from the ship's side they thought it must be a young unfledged bird, but when the white men in their bright-coloured clothes rowed off in the boat they concluded these were gods.
Cook found the low sandy coast backed by well-wooded hills rising to mountains on which patches of snow were visible, while smoke could be seen through the trees, speaking of native dwellings. The natives were too treacherous to make it safe landing for the white men, so they sailed out of Poverty Bay and proceeded south. Angry Maoris shook their spears at the Englishmen as they coasted south along the east coast of the North Island. But the face of the country was unpromising, and Cook altered his course for the north at a point he named Cape Turnagain. Unfortunately he missed the only safe port on the east coast between Auckland and Wellington, but he found good anchorage in what is now known as Cook's Bay. Here they got plenty of good fish, wild fowl, and oysters, "as good as ever came out of Colchester." Taking possession of the land they passed in the name of King George, Cook continued his northerly course, passing many a river which seemed to resemble the Thames at home. A heavy December gale blew them off the northernmost point of land, which they named North Cape, and Christmas was celebrated off Tasman's islands, with goose-pie.
The New Year of 1770 found Cook off Cape Maria van Diemen, sailing south along the western coast of the North Island, till the Endeavour was anchored in Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte's Sound, only about seventy miles from the spot where Tasman first sighted land.
AN IPAH, OR MAORI FORT, ON THE COAST BETWEEN POVERTY BAY AND CAPE TURNAGAIN.
Here the English explorer landed. The country was thickly wooded, but he climbed a hill, and away to the eastward he saw that the seas washing both east and west coasts of the northern island were united. He had solved one problem. Tasman's Staaten Land was not part of a great southern continent. He now resolved to push through his newly discovered straits between the two islands, and, having done this, he sailed north till he reached Cape Turnagain. And so he proved beyond a doubt that this was an island. The men thought they had done enough. But Cook, with the true instinct of an explorer, turned a deaf ear to the murmurings of his crew for roast beef and Old England, and directed his course again south. From the natives he had learned of the existence of two islands, and he must needs sail round the southern as he had sailed round the northern isle. Storms and gales harassed the navigators through the month of February as they made their way slowly southwards. Indeed, they had a very narrow escape from death towards the end of the month, when in a two days' gale, with heavy squalls of rain, their foresail was split to pieces and they lost sight of land for seven days, nearly running on to submerged rocks which Cook named The Traps.
It was nearly dark on 14th March when they entered a bay which they suitably christened Dusky Bay, from which they sailed to Cascade Point, named from the four streams that fell over its face.
"No country upon earth," remarks Cook, "can appear with a more rugged and barren aspect than this does from the sea, for, as far inland as the eye can reach, nothing is to be seen but the summit of these rocky mountains." At last on 24th March they rounded the north point of the South Island. Before them lay the familiar waters of Massacre Bay, Tasman Bay, and Queen Charlotte Sound.
"As we have now circumnavigated the whole of this country, it is time for me to think of quitting it," Cook remarks simply enough.
Running into Admiralty Bay, the Endeavour was repaired for her coming voyage home. Her sails, "ill-provided from the first," says Banks, "were now worn and damaged by the rough work they had gone through, particularly on the coast of New Zealand, and they gave no little trouble to get into order again."
While Banks searched for insects and plants, Cook sat writing up his Journal of the circumnavigation. He loyally gives Tasman the honour of the first discovery, but clearly shows his error in supposing it to be part of the great southern land.
The natives he describes as "a strong, raw-boned, well-made, active people rather above the common size, of a dark brown colour, with black hair, thin black beards, and white teeth. Both men and women paint their faces and bodies with red ochre mixed with fish oil. They wear ornaments of stone, bone, and shells at their ears and about their necks, and the men generally wear long white feathers stuck upright in their hair. They came off in canoes which will carry a hundred people; when within a stone's throw of the ship, the chief of the party would brandish a battleaxe, calling out: 'Come ashore with us and we will kill you.' They would certainly have eaten them too, for they were cannibals."
The ship was now ready and, naming the last point of land Cape Farewell, they sailed away to the west, "till we fall in with the east coast of New Holland." They had spent six and a half months sailing about in New Zealand waters, and had coasted some two thousand four hundred miles.
Nineteen days' sail brought them to the eagerly sought coast, and on 28th April, Cook anchored for the first time in the bay known afterwards to history as Botany Bay, so named from the quantity of plants found in the neighbourhood by Mr. Banks. Cutting an inscription on one of the trees, with the date and name of the ship, Cook sailed north early in May, surveying the coast as he passed and giving names to the various bays and capes. Thus Port Jackson, at the entrance of Sydney harbour, undiscovered by Cook, was so named after one of the Secretaries of the Admiralty—Smoky Cape from smoke arising from native dwellings—Point Danger by reason of a narrow escape on some shoals—while Moreton Bay, on which Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, now stands, was named after the President of the Royal Society. As they advanced, the coast became steep, rocky, and unpromising.
"Hitherto," reports Cook, "we had safely navigated this dangerous coast, where the sea in all parts conceals shores that project suddenly from the shore and rocks that rise abruptly like a pyramid from the bottom more than one thousand three hundred miles. But here we became acquainted with misfortune, and we therefore called the point which we had just seen farthest to the northward, Cape Tribulation."
It was the 10th of May. The gentlemen had left the deck "in great tranquillity" and gone to bed, when suddenly the ship struck and remained immovable except for the heaving of the surge that beat her against the crags of the rock upon which she lay. Every one rushed to the deck "with countenances which sufficiently expressed the horrors of our situation." Immediately they took in all sails, lowered the boats, and found they were on a reef of coral rocks. Two days of sickening anxiety followed, the ship sprang a leak, and they were threatened with total destruction. To their intense relief, however, the ship floated off into deep water with a high tide. Repairs were now more than ever necessary, and the poor battered collier was taken into the "Endeavour" river. Tupia and others were also showing signs of scurvy; so a hospital tent was erected on shore, and with a supply of fresh fish, pigeons, wild plantains, and turtles they began to improve. Here stands to-day the seaport of Cooktown, where a monument of Captain Cook looks out over the waters that he discovered.
CAPTAIN COOK'S VESSEL BEACHED AT THE ENTRANCE OF ENDEAVOUR RIVER, WHERE THE SEAPORT OF COOKTOWN NOW STANDS.
The prospect of further exploration was not encouraging. "In whatever direction we looked, the sea was covered with shoals as far as the eye could see." As they sailed out of their little river, they could see the surf breaking on the "Great Barrier Reef." Navigation now became very difficult, and, more than once, even Cook himself almost gave up hope. Great, then, was their joy when they found themselves at the northern promontory of the land which "I have named York Cape in honour of His late Royal Highness the Duke of York. We were in great hopes that we had at last found out a passage into the Indian Seas." And he adds an important paragraph: "As I was now about to quit the eastern coast of New Holland, which I am confident no European had ever seen before, I once more hoisted the English colours, and I now took possession of the whole eastern coast in right of His Majesty King George III., by the name of New South Wales, with all the bays, harbours, rivers, and islands situated upon it."
This part of the new land was called by the name of New South Wales.
So the Endeavour sailed through the straits that Torres had accidentally passed one hundred and sixty-four years before, and, just sighting New Guinea, Cook made his way to Java, for his crew were sickly and "pretty far gone with longing for home." The ship, too, was in bad condition; she had to be pumped night and day to keep her free from water, and her sails would hardly stand the least puff of wind. They reached Batavia in safety and were kindly received by the Dutch there.
Since leaving Plymouth two years before, Cook had only lost seven men altogether—three by drowning, two frozen, one from consumption, one from poisoning—none from scurvy—a record without equal in the history of Navigation. But the climate of Batavia now wrought havoc among the men. One after another died, Tupia among others, and so many were weakened with fever that only twenty officers and men were left on duty at one time.
Glad, indeed, they were to leave at Christmas time, and gladder still to anchor in the Downs and to reach London after their three years' absence. The news of his arrival and great discoveries seems to have been taken very quietly by those at home. "Lieutenant Cook of the Navy," says the Annual Register for 1771, "who sailed round the globe, was introduced to His Majesty at St. James's, and presented to His Majesty his Journal of his voyage, with some curious maps and charts of different places that he had drawn during the voyage; he was presented with a captain's commission."