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Pacific Explorers Library

Captain Cook - The 2nd Voyage (by Michael Dickinson)

Extracts from the Journals of
Captain James Cook, John Elliot,
Richard Pickersgill & Captain Furneaux

A Voyage towards the South Pole

CJC: Whether the unexplored part of the Southern Hemisphere be only an immense mass of water, or contain another continent, as speculative geography seemed to suggest, was a question which had long engaged the attention, not only of learned men, but most of the maritime powers of Europe. To put an end to all diversity of opinion about a matter so curious and important, was his Majesty's principal motive in directing this voyage to be undertaken, the history of which is now submitted to the public...

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I sailed from Deptford, April 9th, 1772, but got no farther than Woolwich; where I was detained by easterly winds till the 22nd, when the ship fell down to Long Reach, and the next day was joined by the Adventure. Here both ships received on board their powder, guns, gunner's stores, and marines.

On the 10th of May, we left Long Reach with orders to touch at Plymouth; but in plying down the river, the Resolution was found to be very crank, which made it necessary to put into Sheerness, in order to remove this evil ¹, by making some alterations in her upper works. These the officers of the yard were ordered to take in hand immediately; and Lord Sandwich and Sir Hugh Palliser came down to see them executed in such a manner as might effectually answer the purpose intended.

On the 22nd of June the ship was again completed for sea, when I sailed from Sheerness; and on the 3rd of July, joined the Adventure in Plymouth Sound. The evening before we met off the Sound, Lord Sandwich, in the Augusta yacht (who was on his return from visiting the several dockyards), with the Glory frigate and Hazard sloop. We saluted his lordship with seventeen guns; and soon after he and Sir Hugh Palliser gave us the last mark of the very great attention they had paid to this equipment, by coming on board, to satisfy themselves that everything was done to my wish, and that the ship was found to answer to my satisfaction.

¹ The addition of an extra deck and roundhouse at the request of Joseph Banks, had made the Resolution so top-heavy that she was in constant danger of capsizing. In deference to the wishes of his friend and against his better judgement, Cook had allowed the modifications to take place, but the safety of his crew outweighed all other considerations and the changes had to be undone.

Midshipman John Elliot recalls what happened to the ship: Capt. Cook, the Pilot, Master and first Lieutenant, did not think her safe, to go such a Voyage as we were about to undertake. They therefore jointly wrote to the Admiralty to that effect, and we were ordered into Sheerness, and the next morning at daylight, I believe two Hundred shipwrights were cutting and tearing the Ship to pieces, in all parts of her, in so much that it was dangerous to stir about. In a few days they took away the Round House, and made other alterations so as to render her lighter upwards and enable her to carry her sails properly, let the Winds and Weather be what it would, at the same time making every possible conveniency, in her altered state, for the Gentlemen going out in her.

When this was done, Mr Banks was requested to go to Sheerness and take a view of the accommodations as they now stood, and try if he could go out in her, for in no other state could she go to sea, and go she must. Mr Banks came to Sheerness and when he saw the Ship, and the alterations that were made, He swore and stamped upon the Warfe, like a Mad Man, and instantly ordered his Servants and all his things out of the Ship.

To find himself under the necessity of taking such a step must no doubt have been a very great mortification to Banks, who had been looking forward to joining the latest expedition. "O how Glorious would it be to set my heel upon the Pole and turn myself around 360 degrees in a second", he had written a friend. Fame had made 29-year-old naturalist more extravagant than ever and it was his intention to bring an entourage of at least 16 people, including artists, secretaries, servants and - to help while away the hours - two musicians rigged out in scarlet-and-silver uniforms. All up, he had invested a considerable amount in all kinds of curious things, for use, amusement, and pleasure, as had Dr Solander and Mr Zoffany, both of whom were attached to Mr Banks, and went with him.

In consequence of those Gentlemen leaving, it was necessary to get others in their departments. Therefore, another naturalist, Prussian-born John Reinhold Forster (accompanied by his son, George) was appointed to catalogue the flora and fauna found along the way. William Hodges, a talented landscape painter, was signed on as the expedition's official artist. Hodges himself gained little from this opportunity; despite initial accolades after his return with Cook, he couldn't survive in the cutthroat world of London Art and died penniless - most likely a suicide - in 1797.

At Cook's request, two men who had served on whalers off the coast of Greenland, were added to the ships company. Their combined experience in navigating amongst ice floes would be useful in the storm-lashed and fog-shrouded waters of the Great Southern Ocean. In addition, the Resolution's crew included 16 veterans of the 1st Voyage - All of whom had volunteered to sail with Cook a 2nd time.

Cook's previous ship, the Endeavour, was no longer fit for exploring; but her design had been so successful that two similar craft were purchased, also colliers: the 462-ton Resolution and the 340-ton Adventure. Cook was in command of the larger Resolution, while Tobias Furneaux (a seasoned Naval Officer, who had accompanied Wallis in 1766) was captain of the other ship.

CJC: On the 13th, at six o'clock in the morning, I sailed from Plymouth Sound, with the Adventure in company; and on the evening of the 29th, anchored in Funchal Road, in the island of Madeira.

The trip there had not been without incident, as John Elliot relates: In sailing past Cape Finistere we were Chased by two Spanish Men of War. The nearest, a Sixty four, fired several shot at the Adventure, to bring her to, and Capt. Foneraux did bring to, which displeased Capt. Cook, as he considered it an Insult to the British Flag. The Spaniard asked what ship that was ahead, and it being told it was the Resolution, Capt. Cook, he said: "Oh, Cook, is it?" and wished us all a good Voyage.

CJC: The next morning I saluted the garrison with eleven guns; which compliment was immediately returned.

JE: After taking in Wine, a few Bullocks, Water, and fruit, we sailed again. In my haste to leave Madeira, I forgot to relate a very curious anecdote respecting Mr Banks. When Capt. Cook waited upon the British Consul, he took the two Forsters, Myself, and another young officer to breakfast with him, who, during our Visit, told us that he had been greatly surprized and amused a little time back in consequence of a Gentleman arriving in an American Ship, recommended to him by a letter from Mr Banks, until the Resolution should arrive. That some time after his arrival, the Maid servant by some accident discovered that the said Gentleman was a Lady. The Maid was greatly astonished, and informed her Master, who, equally surprized as herself, charged her to keep the matter secret, not intending himself to take the least notice of the circumstance to the Lady, until Mr Banks' arrival. But as soon as ever Mr Banks found himself under necessity of giving up his plan of going out in the Resolution, he wrote to the Lady to quit Madeira immediately, and she had been gone only a week when we arrived. ²

This account both surprized and amused Capt. Cook very much, and in some measure convinced every person in the Ship that it was a very fortunate thing that Mr Banks did not go as was intended, for unless this Lady had been very prudent indeed she might have been the cause of much mischief. And what with his number of fine Servants and his fine Lady (for he would have dressed her out like a Queen to the Natives of the South Seas) we should have had a King and Queen of Otaheite of our own.

² The person who was awaiting Banks is mentioned in one of Cooks' letters as being a Mrs Burnett. It would not have been the 1st time a scientist made a discreet arrangement for female company on a long Pacific voyage: Philibert de Commerson, Bougainville's botanist, had a young lady named Jeanne Baré as his 'valet'.

CJC: On the 4th we passed Palma, one of the Canary Isles... The next day we saw the isle of Ferro and passed it at the distance of fourteen leagues. On finding that our stock of water would not last us to the Cape of Good Hope, without putting the people to a scanty allowance, I resolved to stop at St. Jago for a supply. On the 9th, at nine o'clock in the morning, we made the island of Bonavista, bearing S.W. The next day we passed the island of Mayo on our right; and the same evening anchored in Port Praya, in the island of St. Jago, in eighteen fathom water... I immediately despatched an officer to ask leave to water, and purchase refreshments; which was granted. On the return of the officer I saluted the fort with eleven guns, on a promise of its being returned with an equal number. But by a mistake, as they pretended, the salute was returned with only nine; for which the governor made an excuse the next day. The 14th, in the evening, having completed our water, and got on board a supply of refreshments; such as hogs, goats, fowls, and fruit; we put to sea, and proceeded on our voyage...

We had no sooner got clear of Port Praya, than we got a fresh gale at N.N.E. which blew in squalls, attended with showers of rain. But the next day the wind and showers abated, and veered to the south. It was, however, variable and unsettled for several days, accompanied with dark, gloomy weather, and showers of rain. On the 19th, in the afternoon, one of the carpenter's mates fell overboard, and was drowned. He was over the side, fitting in one of the scuttles, from whence, it was supposed, he had fallen: for he was not seen till the very instant he sunk under the ship's stern, when our endeavours to save him were too late. About noon the next day the rain poured down upon us not in drops, but in streams. The wind, at the same time, was variable, and squally, which obliged the people to attend the decks, so that few in the ships escaped a good soaking. We, however, benefited by it, as it gave us an opportunity of filling all our empty water-casks. This heavy rain at last brought on a dead calm, which continued twenty-four hours, when it was succeeded by a breeze from S.W. Betwixt this point and south it continued for several days, and blew, at times, in squalls, attended with rain and hot sultry weather. The mercury in the thermometers, at noon, kept generally from 79 to 82.

On the 27th, spake with Captain Furneaux, who informed us that one of his petty officers was dead. At this time we had not one sick on board; although we had everything of this kind to fear from the rain we had had, which is a great promoter of sickness in hot climates. To prevent this, and agreeable to some hints I had from Sir Hugh Palliser, and from Captain Campbell, I took every necessary precaution, by airing and drying the ship with fires made betwixt decks, smoking, &c., and by obliging the people to air their bedding, wash and dry their clothes, whenever there was an opportunity. A neglect of these things causeth a disagreeable smell below, affects the air, and seldom fails to bring on sickness; but more especially in hot and wet weather.

At St Jago, along with the provisions, the crew had brought aboard an "abundance" of little grey "Monkies" for pets.

JE: The latter animals soon became so troublesome and mischevious, that Capt. Cook ordered them all to be destroyed, but I contrived to secret mine until we came to the Cape of Good Hope, where, having thrown the Ink upon a Letter that Mr Whitehouse was writing home, he in a rage blew him out of the window with his pistol, to my great vexation and grievance, as he was a favorite.

On coming to the Line (or Equator) the usual ceremony upon all persons never having crossed it took place, and is as follows: The Men dress up a grotesque figure and call him Old Neptune, and march about the Ship, saying that he demands to know all the persons who have not crossed the Line before. They then have their choice, either to pay a fine, of a Gallon of Rum and a pound of Sugar, or money to that amount; to be ducked; or shaved. The ducking is by having a rope from the main Yard Arm, on which are fastened two broomshafts. The [man] is seated and tyed fast to one shaft, the other shaft coming across his breast and tyed fast. He is then swung out of the Ship and let fall into the Sea, then drawn up and let fall three times.

The shaving is by blindfolding the person, then seating him on a board, over a large Tub of Water, rubing his Chin and Cheeks over, with a mixture of everything that is nasty, which is scraped off again with rusty Iron Hoops, by a man on each side. When this is done, the board is pulled from under the Man, and he falls into the water, where he is held, while others keep throwing buckets of water over him in every direction (until he makes his escape) to the great amusement of the laughing spectators.

OCTOBER 1772: Proceeding very pleasantly on our Voyage, we arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on the 29th of October, 1772, all in uncommon good health and spirits. The Town [Capetown] looks very pretty from the Ships on rising ground, sloping to the Sea, and mostly White, some of the houses in imitation of Marble. It has Canals in the streets, as in Holland, and one of the finest climates in the World, and no better place can be for Ships to stop at, after a long Voyage. Here are abundance of the finest Vegetables from the Dutch Company's gardens, which are very large, laid out with gravel Walks, some of them thirty feet wide, with trees and Myrtle Hedges on each side, clipped. Excellent Water, plenty of fruit, Peaches and Almonds growing in hedgerows in the country. Plenty of good Mutton, some of the Sheep having tails that weigh from Twenty to Twenty-five pounds. The Beef in general is not good. Here are likewise all kind of Naval stores for the use of Ships...

Here we took in a Mr Sparman, as a Botanical assistant to Mr Forster, which made our number on the Quarter deck Thirty two.

In coming into Table Bay at the close of Evening, we observed the Sea to have a very uncommon and rather an alarming appearance, seeming at times all on fire, which is supposed to proceed from some Luminous particles in the Sea, which by its agitation in the Night, has a very curious and beautiful effect.

From Capetown, the ships proceeded due south and circled an immense floating body of ice, three hundred miles square, from which they changed course, bearing South-East until reaching 67° Latitude (or within the Antarctic Circle). The Sea was covered at times with Islands of Ice of all sizes and heights, from half a mile, to three miles long. As they picked their way carefully between these frozen monoliths, they passed great cliffs of ice, some two or three times as high as the Ships Mastheads. Here, the frost and cold was so intense that it covered the rigging with ice, "like compleat christal ropes", and even stiffened the outer coats on the crew's backs. Eventually, further progress in this direction was blocked by a wall of Field Ice, and they were forced to turn North to look for land, but without success. In order to increase their chances, Cook signaled the Adventure to keep at a distance of 4 miles off his starboard beam, but as a result they lost sight of one another.

CJC (February 8th): Our latitude now was 49° 53' south, and longitude 63° 39' east. This was at eight o'clock. By this time the wind had veered round by the N.E. to E., blew a brisk gale, and was attended with hazy weather, which soon after turned to a thick fog; and at the same time, the wind shifted to N.E.

I continued to keep the wind on the larboard tack, and to fire a gun every hour till noon; when I made the signal to tack, and tacked accordingly. But as neither this signal, nor any of the former, was answered by the Adventure, we had but too much reason to think that a separation had taken place; though we were at a loss to tell how it had been effected. I had directed Captain Furneaux, in case he was separated from me, to cruise three days in the place where he last saw me. I therefore continued making short boards, and firing half-hour guns, til the 9th in the afternoon, when the weather having cleared up, we could see several leagues round us, and found that the Adventure was not within the limits of our horizon.

Unable to locate their missing ship, Cook gave up looking for her and turned in the general direction of New Zealand, where the two Captains had arranged to rendevous if they became separated.

CJC (16th February): In the night we had fair weather, and a clear serene sky; and between midnight and three o'clock in the morning, lights were seen in the heavens, similar to those in the northern hemisphere, known by the name of Aurora Borealis, or northern lights; but I had never heard of the Aurora Australis being seen before. The officer of the watch observed, that it sometimes broke out in spiral rays, and in a circular form; then its light was very strong, and its appearance beautiful. He could not perceive it had any particular direction; for it appeared, at various times, in different parts of the heavens, and diffused its light throughout the whole atmosphere...

The 21st, in the morning, having little wind and a smooth sea, two favourable circumstances for taking up ice, I steered for the largest ice island before us, which we reached by noon. At this time, we were in the latitude of 59° south, longitude 92° 30' east; having about two hours before, seen three or four penguins. Finding here a good quantity of loose ice, I ordered two boats out, and sent them to take some on board. While this was doing, the island, which was not less than half a mile in circuit, and three or four hundred feet high above the surface of the sea, turned nearly bottom up. Its height, by this circumstance, was neither increased nor diminished, apparently. As soon as we had got on board as much ice as we could dispose of, we hoisted in the boats, and made sail to the S.E., with a gentle breeze at N. by E., attended with showers of snow, and dark gloomy weather. At this time, we had but few ice islands in sight; but the next day, seldom less than twenty or thirty were seen at once.

The wind gradually veered to the east, and, at last, fixing at E. by S. blew a fresh gale. With this, we stood to the south, till eight o'clock in the evening of the 23rd; at which time, we were in the latitude of 61° 52' south, longitude 95° 2' east. We now tacked, and spent the night, which was exceedingly stormy, thick, and hazy, with sleet and snow, in making short boards. Surrounded on every side with danger, it was natural for us to wish for daylight; this, when it came, served only to increase our apprehensions, by exhibiting to our view those huge moutains of ice which, in the night, we had passed without seeing.

These unfavourable circumstances, together with dark nights, at this advanced season of the year, quite discouraged me from putting into execution a resolution I had taken of crossing the Antarctic circle once more. Accordingly, at four o'clock in the morning, we stood to the north, with a very hard gale at E.S.E., accompanied with snow and sleet, and a very high sea, from the same point, which made great destruction among the ice islands. This circumstance, far from being of any advantage to us, greatly increased the number of pieces we had to avoid. The large pieces which break from the ice islands are much more dangerous than the islands themselves; the latter are so high out of water, that we can generally see them, unless the weather be very thick and dark, before we are very near them; whereas the others cannot be seen in the night, till they are under the ship's bows. These dangers were, however, now become so familiar to us, that the apprehensions they caused were never of long duration, and were, in some measure, compensated, both by the seasonable supplies of fresh water these ice islands afforded us, (without which we must have been greatly distressed,) and also by their very romantic appearance, greatly heightened by the foaming and dashing of the waves into the curious holes and caverns which are formed in many of them; the whole exhibiting a view which at once filled the mind with admiration and horror, and can only be described by the hand of an able painter...

Back in November 1772; Richard Pickersgill wrote: "We sail'd from the Cape and began our first years misery, but as my favourite author very justly observed that the Heart of Man is naturally inclined to attempt things the advantages of which appear to increase in proportion to the difficulties which attend them; it spares no Pains, it fears no danger, in attaining them; and instead of its being diverted from its purpose is animated by fresh Vigour from opposition".

"The Glory inseparable from arduous enterprises is a powerful incentive which raises the mind above itself; the hope of advantages determines the will, diminishes dangers, alleviates hardships and levels obstacles which otherwise would appear unsurmountable".

CJC (continued): Between eight in the morning of the 26th and noon next day, we fell in among several islands of ice; from whence such vast quantities had broken, as to cover the sea all round us, and render sailing rather dangerous. However, by noon, we were clear of it all. In the evening the wind abated, and veered to S.W.; but the weather did not clear up till the next morning; when we were able to carry all our sails, and met with but very few islands of ice to impede us. Probably the late gale had destroyed a great number of them. Such a very large hollow sea had continued to accompany the wind, as it veered from E. to S.W., that I was certain no land of considerable extent could lie within 100 or 150 leagues of our situation between these two points.

The mean height of the thermometer at noon, for some days past, was about 35; which is something higher than it usually was, in the same latitude, about a month or five weeks before, consequently the air was something warmer. While the weather was really warm, the gales were not only stronger, but more frequent; with almost continual misty, dirty, wet weather. The very animals we had on board felt its effects. A sow having in the morning farrowed nine pigs, every one of them was killed by the cold, before four o'clock in the afternoon, notwithstanding all the care we could take of them. From the same cause, myself, as well as several of my people, had fingers and toes chilblained. Such is the summer weather we enjoyed.

MARCH 16th: I continued to steer to the east, inclining to the south, with a fresh gale at S.W. till five o'clock the next morning, when being in the latitude of 59° 7' S., longitude 146° 53' E., I bore away N.E. and at noon north, having come to a resolution to quit the high southern latitudes, and to proceed to New Zealand, to look for the Adventure, and to refresh my people. I had also some thoughts, and even a desire, to visit the east coast of Van Diemen's Land, in order to satisfy myself if it joined the coast of New South Wales. In the night of the 17th, the wind shifted to N.W. and blew in squalls, attended with thick hazy weather and rain. This continued all the 18th, in the evening of which day, being in the latitude of 56° 15' S., longitude 150°, the sky cleared up, and we found the variation by several azimuths to be 13° 30' E. Soon after we hauled up with the log a piece of rock-weed, which was in a state of decay, and covered with barnacles. In the night the southern lights were very bright.

The next morning we saw a seal, and towards noon some penguins, and more rock-weed, being at this time in the latitude of 55° 1', longitude 152° 1' E. In the latitude of 54° 4', we also saw a Port-Egmont hen, and some weed. Navigators have generally looked upon all these to be certain signs of the vicinity of land; I cannot, however, support this opinion. At this time we knew of no land, nor is it even probable that there is any, nearer than New Holland, or Van Diemen's Land, from which we were distant 260 leagues. We had, at the same time, several porpoises playing about us; into one of which Mr. Cooper struck a harpoon; but, as the ship was running seven knots, it broke its hold, after towing it some minutes, and before we could deaden the ship's way.

As the wind, which continued between the north and the west, would not permit me to touch at Van Diemen's Land, I shaped my course to New Zealand; and being under no apprehensions of meeting with any danger, I was not backward in carrying sail, as well by night as day, having the advantage of a very strong gale, which was attended with hazy rainy weather, and a very large swell from the W. and W.S.W. We continued to meet with, now and then, a seal, Port-Egmont hens, and sea-weed. On the morning of the 22nd, the wind shifted to south, and brought with it fair weather. At noon, we found ourselves in the latitude of 49° 55', longitude 159° 28', having a very large swell out of the S.W. For the three days past the mercury in the thermometer had risen to 46, and the weather was quite mild. Seven or eight degrees of latitude had made a surprising difference in the temperature of the air, which we felt with an agreeable satisfaction.

We continued to advance to the N.E. at a good rate, having a brisk gale between the south and east... At ten o'clock in the morning of the 25th, the land of New Zealand was seen from the mast-head; and, at noon, from the deck; extending from N.E. by E. to east, distant ten leagues. As I intended to put into Dusky Bay, or any other port I could find, on the southern part of TAVAI POENAMMOO, we steered in for the land, under all the sail we could carry, having the advantage of a fresh gale at west, and tolerably clear weather. This last was not of long duration; for, at half an hour after 4 o'clock, the land, which was not above four miles distant, was in a manner wholly obscured in a thick haze. At this time, we were before the entrance of a bay, which I had mistaken for Dusky Bay, being deceived by some islands that lay in the mouth of it... This part of the coast I did not see but at a great distance, in my former voyage; and we now saw it under so many disadvantageous circumstances, that the less I say about it, the fewer mistakes I shall make...

After running about two leagues up the bay, and passing several of the isles which lay in it, I brought to, and hoisted out two boats; one of which I sent away with an officer round a point on the larboard hand, to look for anchorage. This he found, and signified the same by signal. We then followed with the ship, and anchored in 50 fathoms water, so near the shore as to reach it with a hawser. This was on Friday the 26th of March, at three in the afternoon, after having been 117 days at sea; in which time we had sailed 3660 leagues, without having once sight of land.

My first care, after the ship was moored, was to send a boat and people a-fishing; in the mean time, some of the gentlemen killed a seal (out of the many that were upon a rock), which made us a fresh meal.

For more information on Captain Cook's Voyages, go to:

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