March 26, 2019

Around the World with Captain James Cook

Lonely Planet: Curiosities and Splendour
The latest travel literature anthology from Lonely Planet,
Curiosities and Splendour is a collection of classic writing from
29 great authors and adventurers from the past
 – including Captain James Cook.
The Three Voyages of Captain James Cook around the World

By James Cook

From Chapter IV

The next morning, at low water, I went and sounded and buoyed the bar, the ship being now ready for sea. We saw no Indians this day, but all the hills round us for many miles were on fire, which at night made a most striking and beautiful appearance.

The 21st [June 1770] passed without our getting sight of any of the inhabitants, and indeed without a single incident worth notice. On the 22d we killed a turtle for the day’s provision, upon opening which we found a wooden harpoon or turtle-peg about as thick as a man’s finger, near fifteen inches long, and bearded at the end, such as we had seen among the natives, sticking through both shoulders: it appeared to have been struck a considerable time, for the wound had perfectly healed up over the weapon.

Early in the morning of the 23d I sent some people into the country to gather a supply of the greens which have been before mentioned by the name of Indian kale; one of them having straggled from the rest suddenly fell in with four Indians, three men and a boy, whom he did not see till, by turning short in the wood, he found himself among them. They had kindled a fire, and were broiling a bird of some kind, and part of a kangaroo, the remainder of which, and a cockatoo, hung at a little distance upon a tree. The man, being unarmed, was at first greatly terrified; but he had the presence of mind not to run away, judging, very rightly, that he was most likely to incur danger by appearing to apprehend it; on the contrary, he went and sat down by them, and, with an air of cheerfulness and good humour, offered them his knife, the only thing he had about him which he thought would be acceptable to them; they received it, and having handed it from one to the other, they gave it him again: he then made an offer to leave them, but this they seemed not disposed to permit; still, however, he dissembled his fears, and sat down again; they considered him with great attention and curiosity, particularly his clothes, and then felt his hands and face, and satisfied themselves that his body was of the same texture with their own. They treated him with the greatest civility, and having kept him about half an hour, they made signs that he might depart: he did not wait for a second dismission, but when he left them, not taking the direct way to the ship, they came from their fire and directed him, so that they well knew whence he came.

Capt. James Cook RN
In the meantime, Mr Banks, having made an excursion on the other side of the river to gather plants, found the greatest part of the cloth that had been given to the Indians lying in a heap together, probably as useless lumber, not worth carrying away; and perhaps, if he had sought further, he might have found the other trinkets; for they seemed to set very little value upon any thing we had, except our turtle, which was a commodity that we were least able to spare.

The blowing weather, which prevented our attempt to get out to sea, still continuing, Mr Banks and Dr Solander went out again on the 24th to see whether any new plant could be picked up: they traversed the woods all day without success; but as they were returning through a deep valley the sides of which, though almost as perpendicular as a wall, were covered with trees and bushes, they found lying upon the ground several marking nuts, the anacardium orientale; these put them upon a new scent, and they made a most diligent search after the tree that bore them, which perhaps no European botanist ever saw; but to their great mortification they could not find it: so that, after spending much time, and cutting down four or five trees, they returned quite exhausted with fatigue to the ship.

On the 25th, having made an excursion up the river, I found a canoe belonging to our friends the Indians, whom we had not seen since the affair of the turtle; they had left it tied to some mangroves about a mile distant from the ship, and I could see by their fires that they were retired at least six miles directly inland.

As Mr Banks was again gleaning the country for his Natural History, on the 26th he had the good fortune to take an animal of the opossum tribe: it was a female, and with it he took two young ones: it was found much to resemble the remarkable animal of the kind, which Mons. de Buffon has described in his Natural History by the name of Phalanger, but it was not the same. Mons. de Buffon supposes this tribe to be peculiar to America, but in this he is certainly mistaken; and, probably, as Pallas has observed in his Zoology, the Phalanger itself is a native of the East Indies, as the animal which was caught by Mr Banks resembled it in the extraordinary conformation of the feet, in which it differs from animals of every other tribe.

On the 27th Mr Gore shot a kangaroo, which, with the skin, entrails and head, weighed eighty-four pounds. Upon examination, however, we found that this animal was not at its full growth, the innermost grinders not being yet formed. We dressed it for dinner the next day, but to our great disappointment, we found it had a much worse flavour than that we had eaten before.

The wind continued in the same quarter, and with the same violence, till five o’clock in the morning of the 29th, when it fell calm; soon after a light breeze sprung up from the land, and it being about two hours’ ebb, I sent a boat to see what water was upon the bar; in the meantime we got the anchor up, and made all ready to put to sea. But when the boat came back, the officer reported that there was only thirteen feet water upon the bar, which was six inches less than the ship drew. We were therefore obliged to come to, and the sea breeze setting in again about eight o’clock, we gave up all hope of sailing that day.

We had fresh gales at S. E., with hazy weather and rain, till two in the morning of the 31st, when the weather being something more moderate, I had thoughts of trying to warp the ship out of the harbour; but upon going out myself first in the boat, I found it still blow too fresh for the attempt. During all this time the pinnace and yawl continued to ply the net and hook with tolerable success; sometimes taking a turtle, and frequently bringing in from two to three hundred weight of fish.

On the 1st of August the carpenter examined the pumps, and, to our great mortification, found them all in a state of decay, owing, as he said, to the sap having been left in the wood; one of them was so rotten as, when hoisted up, to drop to pieces, and the rest were little better; so that our chief trust was now in the soundness of our vessel, which happily did not admit more than one inch of water in an hour.

At six o’clock in the morning of Friday, the 3d, we made another unsuccessful attempt to warp the ship out of the harbour; but at five o’clock in the morning of the 4th, our efforts had a better effect, and about seven we got once more under sail, with a light air from the land, which soon died away, and was followed by the sea breezes from S. E. by S., with which we stood off to sea E. by N., having the pinnace ahead, which was ordered to keep sounding continually. The yawl had been sent to the turtle bank to take up the net which had been left there; but as the wind freshened, we got out before her. A little before noon we anchored in fifteen fathom water, with a sandy bottom; for I did not think it safe to run in among the shoals till I had well viewed them at low water from the masthead, which might determine me which way to steer; for, as yet, I was in doubt whether I should beat back to the southward, round all the shoals, or seek a passage to the eastward or the northward, all which at present appeared to be equally difficult and dangerous. When we were at anchor, the harbour from which we sailed bore S. 70 W., distant about five leagues; the northernmost point of the main in sight, which I named CAPE BEDFORD, and which lies in latitude 15° 16' S., longitude 214° 45' W., bore N. 20 W., distant three leagues and a half; but to the N. E. of this cape we could see land which had the appearance of two high islands: the turtle banks bore east, distant one mile: our latitude, by observation, was 15° 32' S., and our depth of water in standing off from the land was from three and a half to fifteen fathom.

From Chapter V

Repairing of Capt Cook's Ship in Endeavour River (NMMCollections)

To the harbour which we had now left, I gave the name of Endeavour River. It is only a small bar harbour, or creek, which runs in a winding channel three or four leagues inland, and at the head of which there is a small brook of fresh water. There is not depth of water for shipping above a mile within the bar, and at this distance only on the north side, where the bank is so steep for near a quarter of a mile that a ship may lie afloat at low water, so near the shore as to reach it with a stage, and the situation is extremely convenient for heaving down; but at low water, the depth upon the bar is not more than nine or ten feet, nor more than seventeen or eighteen at the height of the tide; the difference between high and low water, at spring tides, being about nine feet. At the new and full of the moon it is high water between nine and ten o’clock. It must also be remembered that this part of the coast is so barricaded with shoals, as to make the harbour still more difficult of access; the safest approach is from the southward, keeping the main land close upon the board all the way. Its situation may always be found by the latitude, which has been very accurately laid down. Over the south point is some high land, but the north point is formed by a low sandy beach, which extends about three miles to the northward, where the land begins again to be high.

The chief refreshment that we procured here was turtle, but as they were not to be had without going five leagues out to sea, and the weather was frequently tempestuous, we did not abound with this dainty: what we caught, as well as the fish, was always equally divided among us all by weight, the meanest person on board having the same share as myself; and I think every commander, in such a voyage as this, will find it his interest to follow the same rule. In several parts of the sandy beaches and sand hills near the sea, we found purslane, and a kind of bean that grows upon a stalk, which creeps along the ground: the purslane we found very good when it was boiled, and the beans are not to be despised, for we found them of great service to our sick: the best greens, however, that could be procured here were the tops of the coccos, which have been mentioned already, as known in the West Indies by the name of Indian kale: these were, in our opinion, not much inferior to spinach, which in taste they somewhat resemble; the roots indeed are not good, but they might probably be meliorated by proper cultivation. They are found here chiefly in boggy ground. The few cabbage palms that we met with were in general small, and yielded so little cabbage, that they were not worth seeking.

Besides the kangaroo, and the opossum that have been already mentioned, and a kind of polecat, there are wolves upon this part of the coast, if we were not deceived by the tracks upon the ground, and several species of serpents: some of the serpents are venomous, and some harmless. There are no tame animals here except dogs, and of these we saw but two or three, which frequently came about the tents to pick up the scraps and bones that happened to lie scattered near them. There does not indeed seem to be many of any animal, except the kangaroo; we scarcely saw any other above once, but this we met with almost every time we went into the woods. Of land fowls we saw crows, kites, hawks, cockatoos of two sorts, one white and the other black, a very beautiful kind of loriquets, some parrots, pigeons of two or three sorts and several small birds not known in Europe. The waterfowls are herns, whistling ducks, which perch, and, I believe, roost upon trees, wild geese, curlieus and a few others; but these do not abound. The face of the country, which has been occasionally mentioned before, is agreeably diversified by hill and valley, lawn and wood. The soil of the hills is hard, dry and stony, yet it produces coarse grass besides wood: the soil of the plains and valleys is in some places sand, and in some clay; in some also it is rocky and stony, like the hills; in general, however, it is well clothed, and has at least the appearance of fertility. The whole country, both hill and valley, wood and plain, abounds with anthills, some of which are six or eight feet high, and twice as much in circumference. The trees here are not of many sorts; the gum tree, which we found on the southern part of the coast, is the most common, but here it is not so large: on each side of the river, through its whole course, there are mangroves in great numbers, which in some places extend a mile within the coast. The country is in all parts well watered, there being several fine rivulets at a small distance from each other, but none in the place where we lay, at least not during the time we were there, which was the dry season; we were, however, well supplied with water by springs, which were not far off.

Reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet © 2019,

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